After reading an article headlined “Technology still has a problem with women- but change is in the air” in a July issue of The Guardian about the large, yet slowly shifting, gender disparity in the tech industry, I decided to do some research to see where Philadelphia stood in terms of representation of women in tech.
It turns out Philly is on the forefront of working towards gender equality in the tech industry. The Philadelphia Business Journal featured a report in April called “Scoring Tech Talent” by the CBRE Group which analyzed the tech talent in 50 U.S. markets. Philadelphia placed first in the category of tech occupations being held by women with 31 percent, over 8 percent above the the national average.
I spoke with several female tech professionals at Bentley Systems, Comcast, Frontline Technologies, and Randstad Technologies to get their take on women in tech in Philadelphia. They talked about the importance of STEM education, touched on the tech bonanza that is Philly Tech Week, and gave advice for women looking to break into the industry.
STEM and the Female Tech Community
Technology professionals agree on the importance and prevalence of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs in Philly as a way of creating a more equal gender balance in the tech scene.
Alicia Bressler, Corporate Recruiter at Frontline Technologies, recognizes that STEM programs are helping to close the gender gap in IT by helping spark an interest in women and girls to pursue a career in tech, as well as fostering a tech community for women in Philly.
“In our hiring today, we see a predominantly male applicant base for most of our open technical positions, but groups and organizations like Girl Develop It and Girls Who Code are certainly helping to make the shift for young women to start thinking about careers in technology,” explains Bressler.
There is definitely no shortage of STEM groups and events in Philly. Some other ones to check out are TechGirlz, SheTechPhilly, Philly Code Camp, and Philly Tech Meetup.
Besides groups dedicated to women in tech, companies are also encouraging and supporting women to get into the tech industry. Comcast is taking a large role in making women in the tech field feel comfortable and empowered.
Leslie Chapman, Principal Software Engineer at Comcast, attends Comcast’s First Friday Coffee, a monthly gathering for female employees. There is also a Women’s Network at Comcast, complete with Twitter, that works to grow, attract and retain successful, professional women throughout Comcast. With all of the tech-based organizations and programs continuing to make roots in Philly, Chapman feels she is part of a community of women that didn’t exist ten years ago.
“There’s a large call to action of women coming together and meeting each other and networking and helping each other through their careers as well as trying to inspire younger women,” says Chapman.
Philly Tech Week and Women
Comcast also sponsors Philly Tech Week, a week-long celebration of technology and innovation in Philadelphia.
Rakhi Wani, Senior Database Administrator at Frontline Technologies, appreciates the vast amount of opportunities that the event offers.
“For an example of the city’s passion for cutting-edge technology, look no further than Philly Tech Week. With app demos, robots, digital marketing events, networking opportunities, an outdoor arcade, a day of dev-focused activities and so much more, 2015 Philly Tech Week exemplifies the connection between this city and the future of technology.”
During Philly Tech Week, there is a whole day devoted to women in tech in the form of the Philly Women in Tech Summit. The 2015 event featured a range of female speakers, including NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.
Why Choose Philly Tech?
There’s no doubt that having a career in the tech field is rewarding, and there is an entire array of opportunities in terms of job descriptions and professional development. Kara Mancinelli, Recruiting Director at Randstad Technologies, highlights the breadth of the field.
“There are a lot of different ways you can pursue a career in IT. If you were to ask someone that is not specific to the IT industry, ‘What do you think of when you think of a job in IT?’, they would most likely say you’re either a developer creating a website or you’re on the hardware side where you are fixing a PC/Mac. What’s interesting is that IT career paths really run the full spectrum, covering business intelligence, data analytics, project management, quality assurance and cyber security along with the more traditional application development and infrastructure opportunities,” says Mancinelli.
Not only can you get involved in Philly tech in a countless number of ways, there is also plenty of room to move up in your career. When choosing a place to lay roots, Wani knew that there would be plenty of opportunities for her to advance in tech.
“As the fifth largest city in the U.S. and the second largest city on the East Coast, Philadelphia is a place that is bustling with opportunity in many areas, especially tech. To have a career with maximum potential for long-term growth, you want to live in a city that has opportunities available. Since you don’t always know how your career will evolve, it is important to make sure that job options are available not just for your current position, but for your entire field. This way as you grow, the opportunities will continue,” says Wani.
Advice for Succeeding in Tech
Chapman explained that “getting your foot in the door” can be difficult in IT, especially with so many people applying to individual jobs. She gave IT-specific advice for young people going into the field.
Although it is easy to send the same resume out to every position you apply for, Chapman says you present yourself as a perfect candidate if you only include what they’re looking for on your resume.
“Don’t send out canned resumes. If a job is asking for Java, Sequel, and GIT knowledge, focus on those experiences in your resume. If you do have experience in those three things, you don’t need to mention that you also know C++.”
When you get interviews for a tech position, be prepared to take a test on Java or another related program and technical questions. Although you are expected to have a strong knowledge of certain programs, it is difficult to know every nuance of a program. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, there is a better answer than ‘I don’t know.’
“I would love to hear someone in an interview say ‘You know what, I don’t have the answer on the top of my head but I can just hop on Google and go to Stack Overflow and I would find the answer.’ That to me is an A+ answer because the ability to be autonomous means you’re a good researcher and you can figure it out,” explains Chapman.
And a Little Bit More Advice
Want some more advice about making it as a woman in tech? Check out the tips below, and then go make your mark on the tech scene in Philly.
Kara Mancinelli, Recruiting Director at Randstad Technologies
“Before you graduate, it is imperative that you secure a paid or unpaid internship or work-study program. In recent years, entry level has been redefined in the IT space. Entry level is now one to two years of hands-on experience. For this reason, it is crucial that college students take advantage of internships or work-study programs prior to graduation.”
Mary Hamric, Development Lead and Software Engineer at Bentley Systems
“Going into the tech industry will require tenacity for keeping up with all the advances. It seems that every few years the next new thing is coming out, [and you need] tenacity to keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening and still be able to master what you need to know for doing your job.”
Lauren Williams, Senior HR Specialist at Frontline Technologies
“Just go for it. You have all the opportunity in the world! Make sure you network and you find a company that values your worth. Make sure you know what you’re worth. Make sure that the work you’re going to be doing is something that you can excel at. Get into a company where they’re going to help you learn and grow.”