‘Ask questions, you won’t look stupid’ advice to keep in mind throughout your career according to this #SaltSessions Women in Tech interview with Claire Tran, a Software Engineer previously at Gumtree. Claire shares her journey from Sydney to London in the world of tech.
The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.
Please give us a brief outline of your background and development?
I’m currently a software engineer and have been in the tech industry for 11 years. I’ve worked in different industries ranging from Media, Travel and Classifieds and have worked with and led a number of talented and inspiring people. I’m originally from Sydney and moved to London a few years ago looking for a change and I thought London might be a good place to base myself. Being in tech, there is always a challenge and you are always learning, whether it be learning new technology, scaling systems or growing leadership skills.
What is the biggest deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?
This is a complex topic. I think this starts at a young age and isn’t a simple problem.
Unconscious bias plays a role here. Society plays a part in reinforcing gender roles and thus unconscious bias.
Growing up, technology wasn’t promoted amongst girls very much and I didn’t initially think of a career in tech. Going onto the next level, there is a gender gap at university in degrees like Engineering and again in the workplace, there aren’t a lot of women. So what this leaves us is, sadly a lack of diversity and in some places, unconscious bias kicks in again.
I have had experiences where my opinions weren’t heard in meetings and I often had to repeat the ideas before someone listens.
I’ve been in teams where my manager pigeon-holed me and didn’t provide me with real opportunities.
I’ve had friends who apply for promotions (who have children), are asked if they can take on the extra responsibility.
These are some experiences, but things that can happen to women in the workplace and are frankly unfair and limit our career opportunities.
What challenges have you faced in the work place, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
One of the biggest challenges is breaking the misconceptions/unconscious bias of me. Additionally, I am quietly spoken and I look young, so this doesn’t help me either.
It often takes me about 6 months (at least) before people actually listen to my points of view or realise what my potential is and what I’m really capable of.
That to me is a shame, because I often have to work harder to prove myself and the company misses out on what I can really bring to the table.
In your opinion is it getting harder or easier for women in tech?
It is very slowly getting easier. There is a gender gap and the industry recognises this. It is a problem that will take a very long time to solve and can’t be solved easily.
There are a few initiatives that I see which are aiming to help the problem
- Promoting STEM in schools – groups like Stemettes, Code Club and AppsForGood, for instance, aim to bring tech to students and start showing them the possibilities of tech at a younger age.
- Unconscious bias training – companies realise this happens and by offering training, this can open up the discussion and make people aware of their unconscious biases.
- Training /coding bootcamps – For example General Assembly, Makers Academy and others offered by bigger companies offer a great opportunity for people to retrain themselves, to get internships/junior positions in tech
- Networks – For example, Women Who Code, RailsGirls, JSGirls, LeanIn and many more offer a support network for women to grow in their careers and/or offer tech knowledge sharing
What are you most proud of?
How far I’ve come in growing my confidence. I used to be a shy person who suffered from imposter syndrome. I still am shy and I still have imposter syndrome from time to time, but on the whole, I’ve grown a lot in confidence and have worked on some challenging problems and led teams, which help bring things into perspective. It has helped that I have had great mentors along the way and been involved with Women Who Code that have helped shape who I am.
Who has been your biggest advocate/supporter in the work place and why?
A combination of people. My peers are a great source of inspiration and I am lucky I work with a great team.
I think great leaders and mentors also play a role here too, and in my career, I’ve had people who believed in me (and given me confidence) which really has helped me succeed.
Did/do you have a mentor in your career?
I have a few people who I consider mentors. They are the ones who truly understand me and know how hard I work and how much I care about my work and environment. They have been a source of strength when I’ve needed guidance and I can call on them even though I don’t work with them anymore.
As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?
There are a few things that come into play, here are some things I think can make a company really amazing.
- Tackle unconscious bias – it’s not just gender diversity, but also diversity in thought. If everyone we work with thought the same, we are missing out on opportunities as well as alienate our co-workers
- Create an open culture – people spend a lot of time at work and the best environments I’ve worked in have a great culture. People are encouraged to share their opinions and solve problems together.
- People come first – if people don’t feel they matter, there is no culture and you won’t get the best output from people.
- Provide a learning culture/environment – sometimes we don’t all have the same skills that are needed (or new skills are needed), so providing an environment where people are encouraged to learn and help each other is great. There is a company that couldn’t find enough Scala developers but the industry had plenty of Java developers. So what they did was hire people who they thought could learn Scala and internally ran frequent Scala sessions to help each other learn and share interesting learnings on Scala.
- Facilitate meetings properly – some people are introverts or shy and some are extroverts. To run effective meetings, we need to recognise each person is different and be able to ensure each person is heard because otherwise, we miss out on important ideas/solutions.
- Care about the hiring process – I see a lot of mistakes during this process. From the questions being asked, whiteboard coding questions (people code on computers!), the lack of diversity in the interviewers, to the impression left on the candidate. People need to think about how they would want to be interviewed and design a hiring process to fit this, as well as get feedback from the candidate and feed this back into the process so it’s better the next time around.
Other things I can suggest – there are great books out there to help companies with this such as – “Creativity Inc” by Ed Catmull or “Drive” by Dan Pink
In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Some things I have found that help
- Provide a support network for the women in the workplace
- Promote other their ideas when it’s not heard
- Understand where they want to go in their career
- Be open and honest
- Provide guidance and mentoring
What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
A lot of companies are providing unconscious bias training which is a great place to start. However afterwards, people will forget and need constant reminders or a program/process in place to keep the thoughts and discussions going.
One such example was from a company who really embraced this – they have self-organised subcommittees looking at recruiting and retention, looking into partnerships for apprenticeships with programs focused on diversity, as well as try to run more internal and external workshops helping women in tech.
Another company had started a 3 month coding course (free) for women and at the end of the course select a few people to take on internships with the company.
Regardless of gender what is the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the midst of their career?
Have confidence, humility and empathy. Be confident in your abilities, but also have humility, there will always be something you don’t know and you should be open to learning and hearing something different, as well as be empathetic to your colleagues and users.
Do you have a role model/ inspiration?
I have not really been inspired by the tech superstars (sorry Elon Musk!) but rather “ordinary” people I’ve worked with.
There have been people who have inspired me over the years. The ones left the biggest impression on me are
- The first few seniors I’ve worked with. They were amazing – passionate about technology, great mentors and cared about the team. I wanted to be just as smart, just as passionate and be like them one day.
- A manager back in Sydney – he had been my manager for many years and taught me a lot. Not necessarily tech wise but people wise. He was a great manager and friend and someone who has insights, advice, understands people, provides people with opportunities and solves stakeholder problems.
- Others in leadership (they know who they are!)- in Sydney and in London. They were also my champions and sounding boards and without them, I would not have had the confidence to achieve things either.
Any reading/website you would recommend?
Some books have helped me along the way such as
- The pragmatic programmer (great book, not just about tech)
- Effective Java (an oldie but a goodie)
- Creativity Inc
Website wise, there are so many resources out there these days it’s hard to narrow this down:
- Stackoverflow (I think most people do)
- Medium (lots of great tech company blogs here)
- LRug mailing list (newsletter)
- Ruby Weekly (newsletter)
- DZone daily digest (newsletter)
- Tech Crunch
- Conf freaks (YouTube channel)
Also to add – meetups are also a great way to learn. For example:
- Women Who Code
- Rails Girls
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Exercise. It helps me switch off when I get home and maybe the endorphins play a role too 🙂
Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
If I reflect on my days as a junior, I didn’t have a lot of confidence and wanted to be on the same level as the seniors, I worked very hard but had imposter syndrome for a long time. I wish someone had said these things to me:
Ask questions, you won’t look stupid.
- There will always be someone smarter than everyone, so don’t feel like you’re “dumb”.
- Be open. We often work in teams and need to be open to other suggestions and thoughts.
- Keep learning – whether it’s via books, tutorials, reading blogs, going to meetups/conferences or videos.
- Help someone – this helps cement your understanding as well as help grow someone else. We’ve all been there learning something new and it helps having someone around.
- Find a mentor. I can’t say how much this has helped me so if you can find someone this will really help.
- Have empathy – not just in the work environment, but also on the work we do. Think about the products we deliver and who the customer is for instance.
- Take a break every now and then or you’ll burn out!
What is your professional mantra?
I’m not sure. Maybe this reflects me – Care about what you do, give 110% percent.
Fun fact: I’m travelling every other weekend, chasing the sun while I can!
About Claire Tran
Claire was a Software Engineer at Gumtree and a City Lead for Women Who Code.
Originally from Sydney, she’s specialised in web technologies and worked in Media, Gaming, Travel and Classifieds and found herself in London a couple of years ago. She’s passionate about technology and the community, organising tech events for Women Who Code and volunteering at Codebar.
While not coding or organising tech events, she’s either travelling or trying not to get hit playing dodgeball!
Stay tuned for our next #WomeninTech #SaltSessions interview……….