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Women in tech: Working in tech without being a ‘techie’

Lilly Chow

May 18th, 2021

Written by

Lilly Chow

Category

Tiny Sparks

When people ask me what I do and where I work... and I tell them my company makes software, the question that almost always follows is: “Do you know how to program and how did you get into that?”

I got into the tech industry simply by following my interests. And I’ve mostly stayed in it throughout my career, despite never being able to speak or write code. 

Recognize what you bring to the table

Many people have preconceived ideas about what working in tech is like and what’s required of you. Some of those ideas may even be deterring you from applying for roles. 

Animated gif of someone doing heavy coding

Being a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry, where technical competence is prized, it’s easy to experience imposter syndrome. Self-doubt can frequently plague you, if you aren’t engaged on the same level as others in your industry. You may even question if it’s where you belong. My advice: stick around for the ride.

Tech isn’t just about building great software. It’s a whole lot more. Airbnb, Tinder, Pinterest, and Alibaba are just a few tech startups that were built by non-tech founders. While there’s no denying that specializations in everything from machine learning to cyber security are valuable, tech companies need people from all backgrounds to thrive. 

It boils down to a simple concept. The technical person needs the non-technical one, as much as you need them. 

How, may you say? An experience that I had at a bootstrapped tech startup, sticks in my memory. We were launching an MVP and figuring out our product-market fit. So, building awareness in the market and driving product adoption was as important as developing a great product. As one of the first marketers who joined, and being able to create campaigns that generated demand, I was highly valued. More importantly, I felt I had something to bring to the table.

My abilities to empathize with people's needs, tell a great story, and create meaningful customer experiences, were all critical skills for the success of that start-up (and every tech company since). And most notable of all, none of those abilities required me to have hard core engineering skills. 

Taking leaps of faith

Success happens in stages. My first ‘real job’ out of university was for a tech startup. But oftentimes, it’s a leap of faith to work for a startup over an established ‘safe’ option, because 9 out of 10 startups fail. Yes, working at a startup can be risky. Some say it's even reckless. I remember being one of the first ten hires and knew my role didn’t have a clear job description...which can sometimes spell trouble. It was also the early 2000s – the dotcom bubble had crashed – and the venture capital funding this startup was chasing, had quickly dried up.

However, my leap of faith proved to be a great decision. 

Gif of a trapeze artist taking a leap

I’ve found that tech startups are filled with people who are passionate about seeing a product come to life. You learn a lot, because you’re exposed to talented people who are driven and their burning desire to build an impactful and scalable business is infectious. 

Joining a small but fast-growing company, also gives you a significantly better overview of the way the whole business works, and what makes it successful. There's usually a reasonably high amount of exposure to the CEO – which is unheard of at larger corporates.

Finally, the lack of structure in a tech startup means there’s more room for creativity and responsibility. In smaller teams, you often wear a number of hats and you’ll have the opportunity to work on challenging projects that stretch your resourcefulness.

Don’t let self-doubt get in the way

Being resourceful goes hand-in-hand with tech startups. There have been many times (and places) where I’ve been the only woman, or one of very few and navigating some male-dominated teams was challenging. 

However, despite being a triple minority (a woman, who isn’t technical, and of Asian descent), I’m fortunate to have worked in some very inclusive cultures where I felt my voice was heard. There’s always been respect for and admiration of the accomplishments of the people around me and I never felt it was difficult to find common ground and interests.

That said, in tougher non-inclusive environments, it’s also important to not let self-doubt get in the way. Always know your power and worth – because finding your place in the tech world, starts with you. 

It’s often said that as women, we don’t advocate enough for ourselves. But once you recognize what you bring to the table, and you use it strategically to do good for the company, then you’ll likely no longer feel that being a minority is a disadvantage.

When it comes to diversity here at Tiny, you only have to take a look at our current snapshot to see how we compare to others in the industry. We’re passionate about being diverse and although we’ve made good progress and are strong in many areas, where we can grow… we speak up, set goals and work hard on achieving them.

Being vulnerable shows strength

Speaking of working hard, one of the most important things that’s helped me in my career, is learning to be vulnerable and knowing when to ask for help. The tech industry contains a lot of genuinely nice people, who willingly impart their knowledge and share their experiences, both failures or successes. For me, that’s allowed me to be open to exposing, sharing and even embracing my vulnerabilities, as opposed to overcompensating and trying to be like everyone else.

Happily, the tech industry has embraced my differences, not rejected them. 

In being vulnerable, I’ve built trust and formed much richer connections with those around me. Truly, that’s really the gem of this industry – that no one ever really expects you to have the answers, to everything.

If you’re keen to continue the conversation on diversity and supporting more women in tech, join the discussion at @joinTiny, or follow our Women in Tech blog series for more inspirational stories.

Women in Tech
byLilly Chow

Product Marketing Manager at Tiny. Enjoys getting into the weeds of customer needs, ensuring products are a good market fit and shaping go-to-market strategies that spread the word to our audiences.

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