It was ‘standing-room only’ as 50+ women in tech, students and professors packed a room at Stony Brook University on October 11th to hear from a panel of Women Leaders in Tech. Co-Sponsored by the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program at Stony Brook University and Long Island Women in Tech, the event helped shed light on the conventional and unconventional ways women pursue careers in technology.
I had the pleasure of hearing all about it from panelist, LaShana Breland (Shana), a Salesforce Administrator at 2U. She, along with four other panelists, fielded six questions ranging from career path, to challenges, to advocacy and internships. “The session was very engaging and you could tell the answers given resonated with the audience. I especially liked that I got to experience the answers from the other panelists as well. They gave great insight for my own career.” I asked Shana what she thought of the panelists backgrounds and career paths. “All 5 of us had various backgrounds” she answered. “Some completing their education and staying in tech and a few, like myself who shifted into technology after taking a risk at work.”
Shana shared that her tech career path was unconventional at best. “I took a side job while studying Sports Medicine, and became the leader of a major Salesforce Enhancement project.” Completely unprepared for it, she buckled down and studied the system. Shana ended up ‘knocking it out of the park’ and this led her to shift to a full-time career in tech.
“As one of the panelist that was early in my career, being just 5 years in. I felt close to the audience and shared some ‘no-nonsense’ responses that I think they truly needed to hear. Sometimes I wish I had someone tell me these things before I finished my education.”
Everyone on the panel shared their career challenges. We all have them and as women in tech, they are often similar and unfortunately related to gender bias.
“I tried to be real with my answer here because sometimes you need to hear it from a peer to understand it,” Shana explained.“Basically, I conveyed that your reactions and investment in a project; i.e. your passion can be misconstrued. Disagreeing on a specific area that the team agrees on can turn into a situation – especially as a woman of color. You can easily be perceived as the ‘angry black woman’ and I find myself walking on eggshells to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
That doesn’t mean Shana sits back and becomes the ‘yes-woman’. She shared how she approaches situations where she disagrees with others or wants to provide an alternative option. “I work hard to tame my passion a bit when proposing an opposing viewpoint at work. Men in the room are easily able to be passionate or outspoken. I truly wish there wasn’t this double-standard but I’ve learned that my tact must always be respectful but assertive.”
Talk of tact and assertiveness lead the discussion into negotiation tips. Shana shared that she’s just started learning how to properly negotiate. “When negotiating, do your research. For example, if it’s a pay negotiation, know the pay range. Be reasonable but understand your value to the market,” she advised. “Also, stick to your guns – trust your information. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘No’. Another opportunity will come along.” Internships was a hot topic on the panel. “I think the one answer we all very much agreed on was around internships. Yes, they are invaluable and yes you should start as soon as possible.” Shana explained. “Internships add to your worth not only in the experience they provide but the connections, the challenges and the true on-the- job education. There are truly no ‘coffee internships’ anymore. You will be put to work and you will learn.”
Building a network of support was another topic the panelists were passionate about. Shana shared that it’s not just networking with your superiors. “Building your network isn’t always about networking up. It’s about connecting with your co-workers. Inviting them to work together with you on a project, for example. It’s about spreading outwards instead of just up. Start conversation. You would be surprised of what you learn from the person sitting next to you.”
Last but not least, the panelists shared their top piece of advice. Shana centered on “Never stop learning and giving yourself a new challenge.” She gives herself a new project every quarter, writes down the goal and just goes for it. Last quarter Shana buckled down on coding and now is working that skill into her day-job helping her advance. This quarter she is starting to contribute to open source.
“I advised the students to continue to flex their brain muscle. It’s the one area you have full control over. It’s important to never remain stagnant”.
What paths did you take to a career in tech? What challenges have you come across? I know oftentimes, just like Shana, my passion is misconstrued as anger, or I’m labeled as ‘too emotional’. As a woman in tech, I have to work doubly hard to ensure my words are clear and concise. But, I’ve found once a team gets to know me better, they appreciate the emotion and passion. I’ve learned, I have to give them time to get used to me, since I’m often the only woman in the room.
What advice would you give yourself earlier in your career if you could? What advice would you give to someone entering the tech community? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments; or, share them with us at our next event.
Moderator: Dr. Monica Bugallo – Faculty Director of Stony Brook WISE program and an associate professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University
- Yuliya Astapova – Software Engineer at Netsmart Technologies – BS ’17 Computer Science & Applied Mathematics
- Lissette Lugo – Electric Forecasting Analyst at National Grid – BE ’06 Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics
- Melora Loffreto – Executive Director of kidOYO
- LaShana Breland – Director at LI Women in Tech and Salesforce Administrator at 2U
Karina Mikucka – Senior Director, Product & Project Management – New York Road Runners – BS ’99 – Applied Mathematics