Disclaimer: The thoughts below are mine and not of my present or past employers'. I have not been compensated or asked to write this article.
I am just crossing the 10 years mark of my career in the software industry. With that milestone, I have been thinking to write about my journey in tech, especially the last ~5 years. So here is how it went.
In the beginning of 2015, I decided to leave my employer of close to 4 years. I had received successful ratings and steady salary appraisals from them, but they repeatedly denied me the title of Sr. Engineer. My manager wasn’t able to explain the reason or provide me a path to get there. I was told that there is another employee who has been with the company longer and they can’t give me the promotion without giving him a promotion, too. I decided to leave the company to join a financial startup.
At the financial startup, I was working remotely and was paired with two engineers to learn a legacy codebase. One of those engineers constantly belittled me for not knowing enough about retirement and financial software. He once said, he wished he didn’t have to work with me as he is not used to working with others and his throat hurts from all the talking. That was quite funny honestly! During a visit to their HQ, I got sick with a constant cough and fever. I asked my manager if I could take a day off to recover. He said, I should still come to the office and try to get some work done as they have paid for my trip to the HQ. This is how sickness spreads in the office folks! The combination of not-so-exciting software and the strange work culture forced me to start looking again. I quit that startup in 4 months to join another.
The new startup had interesting work, supportive co-workers and a good culture, but they couldn’t keep the interest of their investors. I was laid off within 3 months with two weeks of severance pay. They ran out of money and the whole company closed down soon after. Well that was a short happy stint.
2015 was a rough year for my career. Multiple job switches had taken a toll on my finances, but my mental health was in a poorer state. I was questioning everything. Is tech the right field for me? Can I have a successful long term career in it? Why did I leave my sexist employer? I was better off there, at least I had a decent paying job? Maybe I really didn’t deserve the promotion? Can I still afford our planned wedding? What are my friends thinking about me? Maybe I am the problem? The constant struggle with the tech jobs was doing a big harm to my confidence. I was losing the will to do another tech job.
Then one day, I got an email from a recruiter that was filling a contract Software Engineer position at Nike. They probably found my resume on one of the several jobs portals that I was browsing for 10-15 hours daily. I remember that the subject of his email was along the lines of “It is a great time to be a Java developer at Nike”. I didn't know why Nike would need Java developers. Didn’t they just make awesome shoes and clothing? Yes, their videos are amazing but that must be all agency work, right? Three years later, I can say with confidence that indeed, it was (and is) a great time to a be developer at Nike. Also, it was naïve of me to think that in 2015, any company wouldn’t be investing in technology. I was hired for one year contract role at Nike. My husband and I moved to Portland at the end of 2015 to start my new job. I had decided that if this fails, I would quit tech to find another industry that would be more welcoming for me.
In the last few years, I have read several heartfelt horrible experiences of software engineers from underrepresented groups. As I read their stories, I felt a big rush of emotion. I was angry with what they had to go through. I was thankful that they shared their stories with us and exposed how toxic the tech industry could be for the underrepresented groups. I believe them and I hope that they get the outcome that they deserve. At the same time, I feel compelled to share my story as it represents both sad and happy parts of my tech journey. I heard from a college student that she doesn't want to enter the software industry because it sounds awful for women. We live in a world where we hear bad stories everyday and forget to give a voice to good ones. We need to spread good stories to give us hope because sometimes hope is all we need to continue working towards our goals.
Working at Nike has been the most rewarding career opportunity for me by far. I was hired as a contractor, but was quickly converted to full time when my co-worker recommended me to a hiring manager. I was hired with a salary that I negotiated for. I was given every opportunity to succeed with clear KPIs. When I met them, I was given the recognition, salary increases and the title promotions that I should have been given. When a co-worker didn't behave according to Nike maxims, my manager took appropriate actions. My gender identity didn't become an issue when the senior leadership had to decide who would be the technical leader for a very visible and important program. Day to day, my peers support the right things and sincerely try to create an equal and inclusive environment for all.
It would have been fantastic if I didn't have to go through the experience of my sexist employer and the toxic financial startup. At the same time, quitting a field that I am passionate for would not have made me happier. I am grateful that Nike showed up for me and gave me rewarding opportunities. I am also grateful for the lesson that we shouldn't quit our passion due to rough patches. My bad experiences have motivated me to evolve constantly while the good ones have given me courage to challenge myself in new ways everyday.
I hope readers, especially women in tech, can take away that among all the chaos, there are still good stories. Those stories are worth seeking, for the hope that we all deserve and need!
Of course none of the good can happen without allies. I would like to give a shout out to some of the folks who have helped me find the right opportunities, encouraged me to power through and the ones who work hard to make tech a more reasonable place for underrepresented groups. I have a long list of such allies, but these are the highlights of my 10 years: