Last March, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the “Women in IT” conference that was held in Delavan, WI. This event preceded the Spring Technical Conference for the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association. I found myself among a large and diverse group of women who were either retired from the IT field, currently working in IT, or just starting out in their careers. The icing on the cake was that we all have a background on IBM i! Also in attendance were college students from Gateway Technical College, and students from local high schools.
This was, by no means, a day filled with grumbles and gripes. Rather, it was grand networking opportunity aimed at having productive conversations about our career paths. This included discussions on how to improve our career skills, and sharing personal stories on successes as well as handling challenging situations. Even more important were the conversations on how best to provide mentoring and encouragement to a younger generation of women in computer science.
Everyone in the room was quite aware that we are the minority in this field. Yet, I did not find that anyone in the room let that be a hindrance to what they wanted to achieve in their career. Sure, there were a few “interesting” stories, but nothing these ladies could not handle. Similar to my experience, several attendees did not originally start out with a career in IT as their goal. Rather life threw us a curveball, and the fork in the road led us down the path of IT.
I have been lucky to have several technical female mentors in my life – some through formal programs and others through informal relationships. I encourage the younger generation considering a career in IT to seek out a mentor(s). I have also had the honor of being a mentor to high school students and IBM interns. I would like to address a common concern that I hear quite often from those young ladies. It goes back to the old stereotype that techies are “nerds”, and that acquiring a Computer Science degree will mean you will sit at your desk in isolation and code all day long. In my experience, that could not be further from the truth.
I have leveraged my Computer Science degree at IBM to work in many different roles including software developer, software tester, technical writer, team leader, and IT consultant. At the “Women in IT” conference, I was pleasantly surprised to see the varied roles of attendees: administrators, analysts, independent consultants, managers, software sales, software product account executives, those that wear five different hats every day in their IT shop, and those that just love to write code all day. As for my 13 years of “writing code” for the IBM i OS, I found that experience has been highly collaborative with a lot of moving parts, and has required a big team effort to deliver a release.
I left the conference feeling reinvigorated and grateful for the career path I chose some 20+ years ago. Thank you to all the remarkable women I met for a great day!
Stacy Benfield wrote this week’s blog about her participation in the Women in IT conference in 2016. This is timely with WMCPA holding their fourth Women in IT conference on March 24, 2017. This is a free event, open to everyone (no, you do not have to be a woman to attend). I participated in 2014 and it was an excellent professional development conference.
This blog post was originally published on IBMSystemsMag.com and is reproduced here by permission of IBM Systems Media.