Over the recent years we’ve seen an explosion in content about and for women in the workplace, and women in tech specifically. Broadly speaking, there are two types of approaches to this subject:
Play the game: Represented by the esteemed and critiqued book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, this type of content focuses on getting women to succeed within the existing framework, hopefully getting them into positions of power where they will be able to help others.
Smash the patriarchy: Represented by the 2020 book The Fix by Michelle King, this type of content focuses on highlighting all the ways the system is broken and has to change for women to succeed.
Smash the patriarchy is often opposed to play the game advice because they feel it’s literally playing into the hands of the existing power structures. While this is true in some ways, I personally think waiting for the revolution to come is not the best course of actions for all individuals, we should probably try to do both, in appropriate contexts.
There is a 3rd genre, represented by books like Brotopia by Emily Chang. This type of content can be summarized as “everything sucks, you’re not imagining it, it’s not your fault”. I’ve stopped reading this kind of book because I already know I’m not imagining it and it’s not my fault (though not everything sucks, at least not all the time), so I feel it doesn’t help me grow, it’s just depressing. This content is important to understand, but not for me, not right now.
Most of the content written about women in the workplace targets women on the management track. I think women trying to make their way up in technical roles face a unique challenge which is not being addressed yet. In this post I will try to share my perspective on some of the obstacles in our way and how to overcome them.
After my last post on how I got my career back on track I was flooded with (at least 3) requests to share my advice on what I did to “level up” my work so other people could get ahead the same way.
The easy answer here would be “I can’t say”. Each person, each manager, each organization, each situation is unique and who am I anyway to be giving advice on things I’m still figuring out myself. That said, my “obvious” might be someone else’s “mind blown”, so here goes.
My career started pretty normally, I guess. I went to a respected university and finished a BSc. in computer science and an MBA with good grades. I was working as a student at a well respected international corporation and was offered a full time job. I was totally set up for success. Somehow, 12 years passed and I found myself in a dead-end job with a feeling that I’d missed out on my potential and I would never make up for lost time.
In this post I’ll share how I recovered from an unknowing attempt to kill my career, and how within a few years became a senior engineer with my eye on higher IC levels (maybe staff engineer in a couple of years? Keep your fingers crossed).
So… you’re looking for a job and you get a call from a recruiter. The conversation is going well and they’d like to move you into the technical interviews stage. Or maybe, you’ve already completed all the technical part and they want to prepare the job offer. And then they ask the dreaded question: What are your salary expectations? And you freeze. Or, at least – I freeze. I’m no good at this part… I think I know what I’m worth – but what if I have it all wrong? Or what if they can pay more than I expect? Or they can’t afford what I’m asking for and they won’t want to continue with the interview process?
We have a family story about our savvy-salesperson cousin Izzy who (legend has it) used to offer the following sales advice: Imagine you’re selling two birds in a cage. A buyer comes in to your shop and asks “how much?”. You answer: “$50”. If they blink, you sell for that price. If they don’t – you say “for the cage”. They ask: “How much for the birds?”, you answer: “$20”. If they blink – sell for that price. If they don’t – say “each”.
Note: It’s quite possible none of this story is true, but that’s how I heard it and now it’s mine to tell as I please.
How does this translate into salary expectations?
First, I do my research. I know how much I make now and how much of an upgrade I expect. I ask friends and use my network, check salary surveys, ask in suitable forums etc. Once I understand what the expected salary range for me should be, I want to maximize how much I can get within that range. That’s where cousin Izzy comes in.
You may think a career is an old fashioned concept out of the 80s which could be safely ignored. I sure used to… I thought a career was for banking professionals in suits, not for me! I was young and cool and wanted to work for a living, of course, but I couldn’t care less about climbing up the career ladder. Well, I changed my mind.
I’m not saying that a career should be everyone’s focus at every point in one’s life. Just having a job is a totally legit choice. But if you want to to have a career, in the sense of progressing throughout your work life, expanding your horizons and opportunities for personal and professional impact, here’s a list of 8 things to avoid doing.
1. Don’t plan ahead
It’s easy to just flow with opportunities that present themselves, go on a few interviews, take the best offer you get, stay for a few years, rinse, repeat. That will probably work for getting small raises and some variety in your daily work.
I’m an engineer, but I also have an MBA and for this post I’ll be wearing that hat. I was seriously considering buying an actual hat with “MBA” printed on it, but some good people talked me out of it, so unfortunately it’s a metaphorical hat instead of a real one.
I often see engineers complain about recruitment processes: They are long, they seem totally irrelevant to the job, everything is stupid. We just don’t get it. Unfortunately, we’re probably right — some employers don’t have any idea what they’re doing, but does it really have to be that way?
One of the very best courses I took during my MBA was a course about recruitment processes and the research behind them. It left a lasting impression on me and affected my perspective on recruitment processes when I was hiring and as a candidate. When I hear these rants, I often try to explain the rational behind a good hiring process, and I think this is insight which can be useful for engineers and recruiters, which is why I’m writing this post.