Advice upon considering a new career in STEM.
N2K logoOct 31, 2022

An introduction to this article appeared in the monthly Creating Connections newsletter put together by the women of The CyberWire. This is a guest-written article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not necessarily the CyberWire, Inc.

Advice upon considering a new career in STEM.

With the evolving and turbulent economy and major changes in the workplace — from the “Great Resignation” to the buzz around “quiet quitting” — more people are considering new careers. At the same time, the STEM field is still dominated by men. As many are considering a career shift, we wanted to share words of advice from leaders across the industry like Raytheon Technologies, Aryballe, D2iQ, Exasol, Matillion, Qumulo, Starburst, and Wasabi Technologies.

Raytheon Technologies, on behalf of Anisha Patel Sr. Program Manager  

“Men and women both need to put an effort into welcoming more diversity into the STEM field, but I can only speak from my own experiences as a woman in cybersecurity. I was fortunate to have a family that pushed me towards a career in the technology sector, but not every girl or woman has that same influence in their education. If a woman has the passion and interest in technology, I encourage them to find mentors that support them. Mentors can be male or female— and although we don’t need a mentor to succeed, having someone in our corner to encourage and advocate for us is great fuel to continue pursuing STEM.  

For any woman looking to enter STEM, I also encourage her to go where she is valued. As a student, go to networking events and look at who the recruiters and top leaders are. Do they look like you or at least champion the success of women in their organization? That will be very telling to the experience a woman may have breaking into the industry. It’s also important to always question gender stereotypes, because oftentimes, those are what get in the way of a woman feeling like she would belong.”

Aryballe, on behalf of Terri Jordan, President and EVP of Global Business Development

"There is a lot of uncertainty in the job market right now leaving many people questioning what the next step in their career should be. There’s a lot to consider and in male-dominated fields such as STEM, women face additional challenges.

In these fields, women are often told they need to lead like men or display stereotypically male attributes to get the job, be promoted, or even just be taken seriously. Women are powerful on their own, without trying to emulate men. With recent employment trends such as the “Great Resignation” and “quiet quitting”, now is a great time for women to stand up for what they want in their careers and lives. No one should have to feel guilty about needing time away from work to take care of themselves or be active in their families. Now is the time for employees and leaders to break down any previous work/life barriers and know that they can be successful in a career and still prioritize other aspects of their lives."

D2iQ, on behalf of Catherine Southard, VP of Engineering

"The tech industry is a huge ecosystem and there's a job within it that would benefit from your specific skills and experiences. I recommend reaching out to your network – and your network’s network – to see if anyone is willing to talk through their experiences or recommend you for a role. Additionally, for those looking to break into a new career, there are so many free online courses and resources available to help you uplevel your skillset. I started taking night classes in computer science to pivot my career while working full-time – be flexible and don’t sell yourself short. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to try something new. – Catherine Southard, VP of Engineering at D2iQ."

Exasol, on behalf of Solongo Erdenekhuyag, Customer Success and Data Strategy Leader

"Normative conformity affects us all; it is innate human nature to seek acceptance and validation from society. Understanding this concept is important as we examine the obstacles women face in the workplace, and even more so within the tech industry as women remain a minority across the STEM field. It can be particularly difficult to break free of the drive to “blend in” in order to be accepted in our careers. But my advice is this – an encouraging challenge and call to action for all women – to stop internalizing the labels that others project on us. Show up as our authentic selves, always, and never be afraid to go against the grain or stand out. Your unique differences, perspectives and experiences are just a few of your strengths – and exactly what the STEM field needs. 

The tech industry is evolving, and as such, there are more opportunities for everyone. For women entering the field for the first time, begin with what you know and are comfortable with and build upon those skills – anything can be taught! Learning to self-validate early on will give you the confidence to succeed when more complex challenges arise."

Matillion, on behalf of Laura Malins, VP of Product

"I can’t overstate this enough: be yourself. Then, take that a step further, and stand up for yourself. Very early on in my career, someone once told me that if I do not stand up for myself, then no one will. That stuck with me and is something I echo to other women venturing on their career paths in the hope that it will help guide and ground them as it did for me.

In the tech industry, it’s important to be aware that there are highs — including interesting, engaging work and stimulating and intellectual challenges — but there are also lows, such as project delays, things not working out as you expect, etc. To overcome these obstacles, I recommend to everyone, but women especially: keep going and keep learning. Trust in yourself, question what does not work, and continuously grow."

Qumulo, on behalf of Kathy Ahuja, Vice President of Information Security

"Growth and empowerment begin with finding new ways to share your unique perspective both inside and outside the workplace. My best advice for other women hoping to pursue a career in STEM is to seek a role that genuinely interests you. Don’t limit yourself to the jobs you are merely capable of doing if they don’t align with your interests. "

Starburst, on behalf of Colleen Tartow, Director of Engineering

"While technology is a significantly male-dominated field, it has been shown repeatedly that diversity in the workforce, particularly in management and leadership, is a key driver of innovation and revenue. The drive for "quiet quitting" is really about workers reclaiming a reasonable work-life balance, which has become increasingly hard to do due to the pandemic.

My advice for women searching for a new role is to seek out a company with a culture that matches your personal values. Think about what motivates you and what kind of work environment brings out your best work. Speak with existing employees in similar roles and ask them questions about their work life, motivation, and values to ensure the company values align with your own. Ask recruiters for details around benefits packages and how they've changed or improved over the last 3 years as the workforce and pandemic have evolved. Do research - read reviews and blogs, and ask a lot of questions - until you feel you have a solid picture of a company's culture and how you could fit in. Women in tech hold a lot of power and influence while searching for a job, and therefore can be discerning in choosing a role that more closely matches the work-life relationship they're looking for."

Starburst, on behalf of Jess Iandiorio, Chief Marketing Officer

"It's well-known that the pandemic had an out-sized impact on women and minorities. Women who left the workforce out of necessity when daycares closed and schooling turned remote are now looking to re-enter, and the great news is the labor market is hot! My advice to women is to come back in without fear or concern about your absence and get bigger and better roles that pay even more than where you were at. It's completely possible given the labor shortage; don't sell yourself and this moment short. For employers, I suggest you recognize this point in time and as you try to bring more women and minorities back into your companies. Identify "Workforce reentry" programs and market them. This will embrace those looking to jump back in because it acknowledges the time we've all been through together."

Wasabi Technologies, on behalf of Chelsea Rodgers, Director of Channel Marketing

"Something that really surprised me when I first started attending tech trade shows was when attendees would approach our booth and immediately ask me if they could speak with an engineer. There was often an assumption that just because I was a woman, that I couldn’t speak technically about our product. While I’m not an engineer, I am the daughter of one, and have always taken pride in having the technical knowledge to speak effectively about the product I was selling.

So my advice is this: Never be afraid to speak up and share your opinion! In tech, you’ll often find that you are the only woman in a room full of men. That can be really intimidating, especially early on in your career when you’re young and unsure of yourself. Being young doesn’t just mean you’re inexperienced, it means you have a fresh perspective. The best companies to work for and the best people to work with will give you the opportunity to voice your thoughts.

Find a mentor that treats you with respect and gives you the opportunity to grow professionally. Mentors that invest their time in you want to see you succeed. They are fantastic soundboards when you run into obstacles and true compasses when you’re unsure of which direction to take in your career."