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Reprogramming the Engineering (Wo)manager

Collaboration Workshop

So I’m sitting in an interview, asking the software engineer sitting across from me a series of questions and now it’s her turn to ask me something.  She asks me the very simple question: “What made you decide to become an engineering manager?”.  As I take a moment to think about my answer, I am suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.  I am reminded of my journey that led me to where I am today.

I grew up in a home where my two older brothers were given encouragement and opportunities to take risks and excel, whereas I was always sheltered and told that mediocracy was acceptable.  So I realized at a very young age that I need to speak up and challenge this double standard.  When I was told that girls shouldn’t play competitive sports, I made it a point not only to compete in just about any sport that I could get my hands on, but to challenge myself against my male counterparts so that I could push myself beyond the expectations that others had set for me.  So it was no surprise to anyone when I decided to pursue a career that was dominated by men.  I recall my university days where only 25% of my classmates were female.  I couldn’t understand why – I loved what I was learning and I felt that other women would too if they only gave it a try.  But looking around me, I could see how it could be intimidating for a woman to try and embed herself into this boys’ club.  I was determined to share my academic experiences with other non-males and persuade them to consider a career in technology.  I wanted to change the stats – I was sure that I could change the stereotype of a techie!

However, once I entered the workforce, I quickly saw just how difficult it was to attain my vision.  I’ve often been the lone female competing against a clique of men.  My career has turned into an endless struggle…to get my ideas heard…to win my colleagues’ confidence that I could take on more challenging tasks…to stay composed when I’m constantly being interrupted during meetings…to not feel hurt when I’m always expected to take meeting minutes…to not feel shunned when I’m excluded during technical discussions, and on and on.  No matter how hard I worked and how much experience I had, I was constantly being second-guessed and asked to prove my competence in the workplace.  I felt like I had no respect from my peers, almost embarrassed to be sharing the same job title with them.  I lost my voice and felt intimidated to even share my ideas.  I started to doubt my own abilities.  What happened to me?  Have I accepted this as the norm?  I will always be a woman competing in a man’s world; and because of this, I have to work that much harder just to barely keep up with the rest.  Although I was able to progress and eventually become a manager, the inequity was still stark.  I have worked in toxic environments where I supervised men who were paid more than me but had less experience and didn’t work as hard as I did.  Enough is enough!  I refuse to accept this injustice.  Now that I’ve climbed my way up to management, I am determined to change this systemic problem.  I can guide both men and women to create a healthier, more inclusive workplace. But a systemic problem needs systemic action. We need to work together to make things better – and I will be an agent in creating this change.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a company that shares common values with me – one with a diverse culture that promotes growth no matter who you are or where you come from.  Here, I feel safe enough to express my opinions, and in fact, I’m even encouraged to do so.  I am the first female engineering manager here and I see more women at all levels of the organization, but I feel that I can help further balance our demographics.  With a company that is so progressive in the way that it operates, I am hopeful that we can set a new standard for what an equitable workplace should look like.  I genuinely believe that I was hired so that I could act as a catalyst for this change.  After many years in the workforce, I have finally found my voice again.

So… why did I decide to become an engineering manager?  Simple – it’s because there aren’t enough female managers out there and this is something I’d like to change.  By being here, I can offset that imbalance and inspire others to do the same, one by one, until that imbalance is abolished.  I want people to understand just how fulfilling a career in tech can be when there’s nothing holding you back other than your willingness to learn and grow.  I now draw from my experiences to help others, especially those with fewer privileges, to find a voice and excel in their career.

Anne Vo

Engineering Manager