Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On growth trajectories for women engineers/developers

I subscribe to a few mailing lists for devs and someone asked a question regarding career path for developers/engineers and keeping up with what I call the "new college grad" syndrome, i.e., early 20's, can do all-nighters easily and armed with the latest/greatest skill set from uni. etc.

So, I shared some of my thoughts in the hopes of helping this person determine what she should do for her career.  She wanted to know what others did/thought and the challenges on keeping up with "young whipper-snappers" - her phrasing, not mine :).


I've been a developer/engineer/IC for over 2 decades in both startups (of various sizes/industry) and multi-nationals.  It has been a very conscious choice on my part which included making decisions based on my needs (skills, happiness, balance, interest etc.).  I have had the good fortune of being a part of many fantastic products and can say that most people around the world use products that execute my code (no, I did not work for Google), when people use their cell phone or tv.  It has been a great way to learn new tech and skills (mostly on the fly) and be dynamic.
In a large company, your choices will probably be limited to either "technical" or "management"/ "pm" track.  And you will probably be asked to choose.  So far, the growth trajectory for most female developers has been to transition to the "management" track or "pm" track.  Very few pursue the "technical" track - there are associated challenges with this particular track which encompass non-technical issues that persist in our industry.

I keep getting pushed by management (especially recently), to move into a management-centric role.  In the past, I have turned down such requests regardless of my skill set simply because I didn't see it as something that I wanted to do.   However, keeping up with the "young whipper-snappers" is very much a conscious thought in making my decision.  If you choose to be on the technical track, this is something you must accept.  You cannot have one without the other. 
Management has it's own set of challenges - I'm sure others can comment on this more than I can.  However, it might be less affected by the "new college grad" syndrome, as I call it :).

A role where you are managing as well as coding/designing, is probably most available in a startup environment.  Balancing the two (sometimes conflicting skill/mindsets) can be a challenge depending on your skills/interests.  You will be creating/building/leading something fantastic and it will be thrilling and fun.  However, the stress that it could create can be quite damaging at times - some trade-offs to think about.

So, it boils down to what really drives you and makes you happy.  Trade-offs come with whichever path you take.

Note that this quandary is common for both men and women.  The difference is that the support system for the two genders is completely different (that is a whole other topic that could take days to discuss).  And the societal/cultural pressures might also push each gender in a particular direction depending on where you live and what role you fill in your personal life.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what's out there and what the trend is.  

Once again, thanks for broaching this great topic and
May the code be with you,
- Rupa