6 tips for women—and everyone—to build strong tech careers

4 min read
Claire Karjalainen
  •  Mar 14, 2017
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Viewed from its end, a career looks like an inevitable trajectory from one milestone to another.

In real life, careers can be messy. They rarely follow a script. This is especially true for women and underrepresented groups in the technology sector.

We can all look back and see things we wished we’d known before we started. While no advice is universal and everyone’s career is different, words of experienced wisdom can be a tide that lifts all boats.

“In real life, careers can be messy. They rarely follow a script.”

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As part of celebrating the women of InVision for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we asked women from across the company to share their best career advice—for everyone in tech, but especially for women who might aspire to stand in their shoes one day.

Our panel:

1. Speak up and ask questions

EMILY: My advice? Learn, work hard, do work for free to gain experience, talk to people—including men—and go to events. Ask hard questions. Ask if you are being paid fairly compared to your male coworkers.Twitter Logo

JENNIFER: There are tons of companies out there with positive, healthy work environments. If you’re working at a company that doesn’t promote gender equality, leave.

Letting an awful company use your skillset perpetuates the stigma that women being treated poorly in the workplace is acceptable and the norm. It’s not even remotely acceptable, and it’s definitely no longer the norm. Times have changed.

“If you’re working at a company that doesn’t promote gender equality, leave.”

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When you stand up for yourself and call out unacceptable treatment by organizations that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes, you’re contributing to a better future for the next generation of women.

ERICA: Yes! Be persistent. This journey is not easy, but if you stay the course, it’s an exciting and satisfying ride. Know you had a hand in carving a path for women and girls after you. Thirty years from now, hopefully their experience will be much easier than ours are today. We make a step toward positive progress with each generation.

CAROL: Learn to speak up—but do it coherently and with something real to contribute.Twitter Logo Substantive comments produce much better visibility than just speaking up for the sake of speaking up. Gain visibility for your work and make sure that you receive recognition for a job well done—that way people remember you when it comes time to discuss promotions and career advancement.

Getting visibility and learning to speak up are great skills to have at any stage of your career. It’s great to do good work, but ultimately your work needs to be visible and credited back to you. This is something that I’m still actively working on because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

2. Never stop learning and pushing yourself

LORI: I think it’s important for all of us—not just women in tech—to continue to grow. It’s okay to take a job that’s a bit above your abilities, to stretch a bit, and be more than what your experience allows you to be, because it encourages you to keep growing and learning.

CAROL: Yes, for someone starting out, I would recommend being proactive and approaching everything with the mindset of wanting to do a great job and being a great person to work with—but also to learn and soak in as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid to take on projects that may be outside of your job scope. It’s the best way to learn and grow, and perhaps discover something that you like or dislike that can guide you as you move through your career.

Related: The surprisingly unknown history of women in computing

JESSICA: I would also say: Don’t be impatient about attaining job titles, be impatient about learning.Twitter Logo So many people I speak with obsess over getting that Director title or VP title and not on what they need to learn to become to best Director or VP in their industry. Job progression will come when you prioritize career development.

3. Stay humble and open to feedback

DANA: Being hungry, smart, and humble are the keys to being good at anything you do.Twitter Logo

JESSICA: I second being humble. No one likes to work with a jerk, no matter how smart you are.

Learn to get comfortable with feedback and seek it often—from your peers, direct reports, and managers. Not being open to feedback is deadly to your growth and career.Twitter Logo

DANA: Yes, and practice compassion. Even if people are being nasty to you, think about what’s going on that makes them behave that way. People aren’t code or binary—we are multifaceted.

4. It’s not worth it to try to be someone else—be authentic

LORI: Women in technology should be empowered to be who we are.Twitter Logo We shouldn’t feel pressured to become a more male-energy version of ourselves. Lots of times what I see is women course-correct themselves to fit the environment. And I don’t think we should do that or have to do that.

Be the authentic you, and eventually we’ll all come join you in that authenticity. Being the true you also helps make authentic change happen. If you’re not being yourself, then you’re not really changing anything around youTwitter Logo, right?

As I’ve done work with younger women in technology, that’s the first thing I say: “Let’s be the authentic us. Let’s not pretend to be other people.”

5. Build your confidence early

LINDSEY S.: So much of success in the business world is about confidence and believing you can do something even if you haven’t done it before. When I look back at my early days, I was waiting for someone to tell me how to find “the right answer” just like in school and I assumed everyone else knew more than me.

Related: I thought I had a confidence problem. Turns out I was just selfish.

The further I’ve gotten in my career, the more I realize that no one knows exactly what they’re doing. Instead of worrying about the next person, get confident in your ability to find solutions—people want problem solvers. Once you have confidence in your ability to “make things up” on the fly and trust your instincts, people start taking you a lot more seriously.

Or maybe you have lots of ideas, but you feel like your idea isn’t as good as others, so you don’t say it. Getting over that can help you make a big leap in your career too—having that confidence to realize your ideas are just as good as everyone else’s. That’s what helps you succeed.

6. Be proactive—ask for raises and go after promotions

LINDSEY S.: Ask for a raise, every year! Never assume that you aren’t qualified for that next step or promotion. Stick your neck out and ask for something—you’ll be surprised at how often people say yes.

JESSICA: This goes for creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable asking for things, too. Whether you’re male or female, and no matter what role you’re in, find ways to build a culture that elevates and promotes women. It’s not up to your head of HR. it’s up to everyone.

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