In honor of the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing Conference that took place last week in Houston, Texas, I sat down with Calabrio’s Ri Zoldak, lead UX software engineer, to discuss her experiences as a woman in tech.
In this Q&A, Ri talks about her journey to a career in software development, her experience as a woman in a male dominated field, and how we can all help close the gender gap in technology.
Ri: I did not start out as a woman in tech. When I started college as a cultural anthropology major, I had no idea I would end up as a front-end developer and later concentrating on user experience. After I graduated, I sold dog food for a year, which was not the ideal place for me to be. I had an interest in graphic design, so I went back to school to be a web developer.
Ri: Yes. I had my first real internship with Olson, an advertising agency here in Minneapolis. I was the first female front-end developer they’d had in 5 or 6 years. While I was at Olson I became friends with an information architect who was also a woman. And it was through working with her that I realized that I could apply my cultural anthropology knowledge to the field of development and web design. When I realized that, I felt like I had found the career for me for the first time.
Ri: The stereotypes aren’t overt. I haven’t seen a lot of overt sexism in the workplace. But there are some micro-aggressions. There are some assumptions. I feel that I have to prove myself and that I have to work harder than someone in the same position who is male.
Ri: You don’t see a lot of women in machine shops or electrical engineering jobs or heavy research labs. I don’t think that’s the fault of those industries. I think that our culture as a whole reinforces those gender gaps. Boys receive toys that reinforce STEM (science, technology, engineering, math education), like building sets or computing toys. Girls are still given domestic toys or dolls or stuffed animals, soft things that don’t involve cobbling things together to create a new thing.
It’s a feedback loop. There aren’t women in technology because women aren’t interested in technology, because as children they weren’t encouraged to be interested in technology. In fact, they were actively discouraged from it. Women who do pursue careers in technology do so despite years of cultural messages that they should be a princess.
There’s nothing wrong with being a princess, but you can be a princess that holds a wrench.
Ri: The battle for equal representation in the work field doesn’t start at the front door of your first tech job. I feel it’s critical for women to understand that if you’ve made it this far, you’ve been rising up against the stereotypes the whole time. You need to keep pushing those gender expectations aside, but if you’ve made it this far, you already have all the tools you need to keep fighting.