As an outsider looking in, the tech industry can be intimidating.
Do you need to become fluent in Silicon Valley jargon before you submit your resume to that startup? How many programming languages do you need to know? Will you need to leave your other interests behind?
These concerns can be especially pressing for women interested in going into tech because the industry features unique barriers that can prevent them from advancing. That may be part of the reason why women still hold only a quarter of professional computing occupations in the U.S., despite making up around half the workforce. (Also read: Minding the Gender Gap: 10 Facts about Women in Tech.)
The barriers facing women in tech are real; but some conceptions they may have about the industry aren't. So, Techopedia sat down with Lucie Gattepaille, Chief Technology Officer at ALPHA10X, Krista Martin, VP of product and growth at Boardable, and Xinyi Zhang, Chief Product Officer at DecorMatters, to learn more about their careers. From our conversation, we deciphered three common myths about working in tech—and the truth behind them.
Here's what we learned:
Myth: You Need To Code To Succeed in Tech
Turns out, you don't. Sometimes.
"If someone wants to move into tech involving digital data, coding is an absolute necessity," said Gattepaille. "Sometimes people think that math is not necessary, but there is a need for it. You need to be able to understand what lies behind the models."
However, all three experts underscored that the need to code depends on the position you're going for—and there are many opportunities to succeed in tech without a programming background. (Also read: 4 Things Successful Women in Tech Want Students to Know.)
Gattepaille continued, "I have friends that are working in the field of biotech and they’re more on the bench doing actual experiments than on their computers."
"Due to the atmosphere in Silicon Valley, I learned—and tried—to code before; but I am not very into it," Zhang said. "I see many women in tech who don’t code either; but they are still very successful."
Martin agreed: "I have not learned to code and have managed many successful teams and products without it. By understanding the basics, I can effectively communicate with my engineering counterparts. What’s really important is the desire and ability to learn—whether that’s specific to coding or any challenge you face working in tech."
Martin went on to offer advice for women who may find coding intimidating and shy away from pursuing a career in tech because of it. She said:
"If you truly want to succeed in anything you do, you must not be afraid of your emotions. Instead, acknowledge them for what they are and work with them. Even the negative ones. Be willing to take risks and learn from your experiences." (Also read: The Women Who Shaped the Tech World.)
Myth: You Need To Have A Tech Background To Get Ahead
Using the example of a waitress interested in moving into tech, Zhang demonstrated how skills from other industries can prove ultra-useful:
"…she [would know] a lot about the restaurant and customers—like people’s preferences, their audience group, ordering time, budget, taste and menu selection. Also, she knows a lot about the food preparation process and restaurant management. She knows what people like and [dislike], from food to service. If she is interested to be a product designer in IT, she knows users’ needs, goals and pain points…These could be very helpful insights to help improve a better food ordering experience."
Gattepaille expanded on this, drawing special attention to the transferable skills people can gain working in fast-paced environments.
"The actual job of being in food service and the high-paced nature of the industry can be helpful because you have to have a good memory and respond to stimuli that come to you," she said. "Having a good response is a good skill to have, regardless of whether you’re in tech or any other field." (Also read: Top Career Tips for Women Working in Technology.)
"When I take a look at my previous roles before tech, I still use a lot of the lessons learned and skills that I gained in my role at Boardable today," said Martin. "I’ve bartended, waitressed, interned at public speaking firms and, early in my career at a media company, I even experienced the broadcast and newspaper arms along with their tech counterparts.
Here’s the bottom line: All users have lives outside of their experience in your product or technology, and understanding that is key to building the right solution."
Myth: Tech Is A Dog-Eat-Dog World
Martin, Gattepaille and Zhang all echoed how the support they receive at work is paramount to their careers. (Also read: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
"I have sometimes had doubts in my abilities and going into management has given me some challenges in terms of my level of responsibility. In management, you feel like you're leaving tech behind," Gattepaille said. "However, I actually sought feedback after starting the position, which helped me ground myself and reassure myself I was doing a good job. Without feedback, I think I would spiral in self-doubt."
Martin added, "I am so lucky to have a director of talent and culture that prioritizes fair pay and diversity. I have also found that more women are emerging into leadership positions, but there is still work to do."
And, while it's uplifting to hear about the supportive resources currently available to women in tech, Martin's right—there is still work to do.
Luckily, all three experts offered suggestions surrounding how to make the tech industry more accessible to women. Hiring gender-diverse teams, offering flexible schedules and fostering cordial company cultures came up consistently.
"Major problems arise when businesses don’t care about the people they employ," Martin said. "This is why it’s so important for people from different backgrounds to work in tech. Making sure all voices are heard is necessary, especially in the tech world."
On the topic of flexible schedules, Zhang said, "As coworkers, we can be understanding about women’s well-being—like they might be facing pregnancy or [the] newborn baby process. We need to be more patient and supportive."
Martin shared her personal experience in this area, explaining, "I have now had two babies during my career; and showing up after my second was very different in a remote environment than in a physical space. The exhaustion that many feel in their personal lives, whether it’s becoming a new parent, a health issue, or family loss or struggles can be invisible to many in a remote culture." (Also read: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Women in Tech.)
Finally, Gattepaille highlighted how a welcoming office goes a long way:
"When a work environment is only about the work, and less about the people, it’s hard to have a team culture. I believe work environments need to have a culture where people get recognized for who they are and not just their ability to work a machine."
Don't let the misconceptions fool you: Tech is an exciting field to build a career in. And, while companies must dismantle the roadblocks facing women in the industry, those interested in pursuing a tech career shouldn't let fear hold them back.
Or, as Martin put it: "Women make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce. Believe in yourself enough to raise that number."
We concluded our interview with Gattepaille, Martin and Zhang by asking them one thing they wish they could tell themselves when they were starting their first tech job. Their responses paint a crystal-clear picture for women with digital dreams:
Gattepaille: "Don’t be so critical of yourself."
Martin: "Go for it."
Zhang: "Follow your heart; don’t be afraid."
*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.*