Female engineers say it’s important to break into the ole boys’ network

Don’t shirk from or dismiss the ole boys network. You have to break in if it matters.

If you want a job or a promotion, understand what the company is trying to achieve and pitch your skills to help the firm.

Finally, don’t get bogged down constantly proving your competence. Passion, excitement for a project counts more than a set of skills.

Those were some of the key takeaways I got from a panel of female engineers I moderated Tuesday at the Invent Your Future conference in Santa Clara. The women involved were also featured in a column I wrote about what it takes to make it as a woman in the tech industry.

While other industries like medicine and law have become more female, with women doing the critical work, the numbers of female engineers has remained low. And about half of those who break in don’t stay, as I wrote in a column, with women with technical training saying they felt uncomfortable and unsupported.

And it seems that there is a tech gender flare-up every month or so over a company’s treatment of a female employee. The most recent example is GitHub, where a female engineer resigned after accusing the company of ignoring harassment. This week, Tom Preston-Werner, one of GitHub’s co-founders and a former chief executive, stepped down, as the New York Times reported, after an investigation into gender-based harassment found nothing illegal.

But listening to the female engineers on this panel, I heard a positive, hopeful message and a lot of advice for women who want to succeed in tech.

Watch it here:

Above: An image of the Invent Your Future conference panel, “Women on Fire – Ignite Your Technical Career.” April 22, 2014. 


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  • Steve Hammill

    >>>don’t get bogged down constantly proving your competence. Passion, excitement for a project counts more than a set of skills…

    I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that touted as a takeaway. Does that mean, “You don’t have to be good, you just have to…” …have to what?

    Then you mention GitHub as if Tom Preston-Werner is a vile dog even though there was no evidence of illegality. The NYT did the same thing.

    It would be prudent to read this link before assuming the position.


    While the column is written anonymously, it has a ring of truth. The anonymously-written pamphlet “Common Sense” rang true to the colonists reading it, so true, in fact, that they declared their independence and fought for freedom from Great Britain. So at the least, fair-minded journalists should attempt to affirm or discredit the story told by Jane Doe and not liable and slander the man and the company until they have done their job competently.

  • Guy Fuller

    Prejudice (not necessarily racial) is sown in the figurative heart, even if you breach the circle you’ll deal with other “stuff”. Many have blazed this trail to help others.

    Those willing to endure the arrows are true champions in some cases and fools in other cases. Its not always easy to determine one from the other.