A look back on my tech journey

August 10th, 2017

I’m sure you’ve all been aware of what’s been happening in the tech industry, and it saddens me that we still have to deal with these issues and that this type of toxic thinking is still prevalent. I thought about writing something on it, but there’s better articles out there by people who can articulate their thoughts better than me.

To combat some of this negativity, I wanted to reflect on the positive things in my career and what I’ve learned, because we could all use a bit of positivity, right? This doesn’t mean that everything was smooth sailing because I’ve had my fair share of frustrations and toxic people. However, when I look back on the journey as a whole, I am happy to say that it’s been a positive one that I’m glad I took.

(SORRY THIS IS LONG.)

1. I still love what I do.

Just last month, I hit my 10 year anniversary of working in the tech industry. In college, I chose to major in Computer Science, and from the very first semester, I found that I loved it. This interest didn’t falter through my four years there (even if there were some classes I hated). 10 years after graduating, I’m still in the tech industry, and I still love what I do. This is an accomplishment I’m really proud of.

2. I didn’t expect to change my career path.

I started as a software developer, then promoted to senior software developer, and then promoted again to development manager. I’m currently working towards the director level.

5 or 6 years ago, I remember my parents asking me if I wanted to be a manager. I immediately answered “no”. At the time, I was a tech lead, and I wanted to keep being a developer. I did not want to manage people. Somewhere down the road, I realized I was good at it, and it interested me more than I thought. Well, here I am now, managing one of the larger developer teams in our company, and I don’t regret this choice.

3. I’ve realized I don’t need to be at a well-known company.

Back when I was interviewing for a job, a lot of people around me were striving to hit one of the big, well-known companies. I felt pressured to do the same, but in the end, I didn’t. I had interned at IBM, and it made me realize it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a bad experience. It just felt so big that I didn’t feel like I had a meaningful impact. Instead, I went for a local start-up of 20-30 people (which now has 300+ people).

I’ve also realized that I don’t need to be my product’s target audience. I thought it would make an impact on how much I’d enjoy working on it, but programming is much bigger than that. The excitement comes from solving interesting problems and constantly learning new things. I’m glad I gave a smaller company a chance.

4. My manager made a huge difference.

I’ve had five different managers, and two of them managed me two separate times. I didn’t do well under manager #4. He wasn’t a bad person, but his management style and my working style didn’t mix. In that short period, my productivity suffered, and I got a less than stellar review. Fortunately, manager #3 started a new project and took me back under his wing.

I don’t think I’d be where I am today without manager #3. He gave me a lot of guidance and saw that I had leadership abilities, which he encouraged me to act on. I’ve also gone to him during times when I was terribly upset or frustrated, and he listened to me intently, took me seriously, and then acted on it. Without his support, I don’t think I would have accomplished as much as I have.

My current manager has also been very supportive, even checking up on me to make sure I’m doing okay and to see if I need any help. This has made me realize how important it is to be a good manager, and I’m trying my best to do the same for my own developers.

5. My peers also made a huge difference.

In my second year of college, I joined the officers program of a computer organization, and the other officers became close and long lasting friends. Ones who were my year studied together, and ones who were older would help out and mentor us. It was such a friendly atmosphere and played a huge part in how I viewed my major.

Now, I find that I truly enjoy working with my coworkers. I appreciate that I have a mutual respect with the other senior developers, such that we ask each other for second opinions and refer our developers to each other for help based on our expertise. There is nothing to be gained by acting arrogant and thinking you know everything. I’m so glad that the people I work with realize this.

6. Company culture makes a difference too.

I know some people think company culture is bullshit, but working at a company where there is a healthy culture, I can tell you it’s not. Not only do we want bright people with the skills we need, but we also want to make sure they’re people we actually want to work with. After all, no one wants to work with an asshole, and that has shaped who we hire, who is still here, and how we deal with work place issues.

I’d like to note that a third of our engineering leadership is female, and every project my team works on has multiple women involved. (Of course, half is ideal, but a third is high for the industry.) We’re obviously not perfect, but I feel like these wouldn’t be possible if we had a toxic environment.

TLDR I’ve been in the tech industry for a decade, and I’m still happy to be here. I would not have gotten here alone though. Having supportive mentors, peers, and a healthy school and work environment have played a tremendous part in my journey. I just hope that one day, a journey like mine is more typical than the other negative things that are happening now.

10 Responses to “A look back on my tech journey”

  • Liv says:

    Awwwwww I love this! Thank you for sharing the positive points of your journey as a woman in tech! I don’t think any of us could go through this tough path without the positive reminders that there are good things to happen.

    I used to not want to be at a well-known company, but that was when I was in New York and all the well-known companies were not tech related. I wouldn’t mind spending a few years working at a tech giant or major startup here in SF, but I definitely also feel my interest lies in small startups.

    I learned a while back at a network meetup here that managers are among the people who will influence your career the most. You’re very lucky to have had manager #3! Right now I tell my recently graduated friends that their careers may be defined by their seniors, so to look out for those at potential workplaces.

    Company culture is very important. I can tell you that I’ve gotten interviews at places where my skillset wasn’t enough but they brought me in just for the culture. Didn’t get those jobs of course, but it showed me that it’s not all about technical stuff.

    I hope too that positive journeys will be the norm in the future.

  • Pauline says:

    2017 and we’re still hearing these saddening stories in the tech industry. My heart sank when I was reading the incident at Google. That mindset is too many steps backwards. Although he lost his job for it, I’m still shocked and saddened by the people who did agree with him. I’m currently reading a book about women in science and realised that many male scientists had put it all over textbooks and publications and in the public in general about how women are incapable because of their “biology” it’s insane and baffles me completely.

    I loved reading this post though, congratulations for being in tech for 10 years! Your progression is inspiring and shows that careers do change and you have to be flexible! I’m so glad you’re loving your more people management role, I can imagine you being awesome at it (I mean I’ve seen the tweets of how you take care of your team, you’re awesome!!!!)

    “I would not have gotten here alone though” This hit home. I know some people think that they can just be super successful by working hard; whilst this is true, doing it alone is never going to get you anywhere IMO. Teamwork is at the heart of every successful person.

    I love your company culture <3 And DIVERSITY WOW. It's sad but I don't hear that often – a third!!! female – that's incredible.

    Thanks for sharing this Cat <3

  • Nancy says:

    That essay from the former Google employee was outright disgusting. It’s great that you’ve taken this opportunity to reflect on the positive things.

    Congratulations on hitting your 10 year anniversary in the tech industry! It’s respectful that you’ve worked your way up and want to aim for the director level. Go Cat! I’m glad to hear that you still love the field and the things you do. Our thoughts definitely change over time and maybe for the better! Ok, I always tell people that if I am still in this audit/consulting industry, I wouldn’t want to become a partner. Let’s see if I’ll say the same thing in 6 years XD.

    I agree with you, you don’t need to work for a well-known company. I know I enjoy working for a relatively smaller firm, especially when I feel like I am making a difference! Kudos to you for having that mindset. At bigger companies, you’re just a number… I’ve heard of stories within the Big 4 where people throw each other under the bus for job security and such. Definitely not a place to be! Annnnd there are more opportunities for growth at smaller firms.

    Glad that you had managers who supported you the whole way! I had a manager who wasn’t the best and felt like I wasn’t making the most out of my experience. Glad you moved on from manager #4! I agree that company culture makes a difference. Hope all companies will work for a diverse workplace where people are given fair opportunities to succeed and grow in the future!

  • Liz says:

    I didn’t read precisely what the guy wrote (can’t handle the stress for my mental health), but it did make me realize how surrounded I am by people who work in the tech industry. 😅

    Congratulations on your 10-year anniversary!

    I enjoyed reading about your tech journey. 😊 I usually struggle to read people’s journeys/histories through something because I’ve always run into textbook/biographical styles, and it’s very draining. 😓 But yours was interesting. I find it cool how you didn’t want to manage anything before and changed career paths!

  • Amy says:

    It’s sad to hear that this is happening. You’d think by now it would have changed, but unfortunately some people are still very close minded. At least you get to work at a supportive company with a supportive bunch of people.

    It’s great that you get to do something that you love every day. Not many people are so lucky. Hopefully you enjoy it for many more years to come!

    I can’t imagine going into management. Although the money’s better, I love being creative and I don’t know if I’d want to swap that for organising people and their roles. I’m glad you’re enjoying it though. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll change my mind like you did. Good luck with furthering your career – I’m sure you’ll do great!

  • Chynna says:

    I can’t believe these issues are still happening, especially in this day and age. Nevertheless, I’m glad it’s been more of a positive journey for you and lets hope that future women entering the industry experience the same!

    It’s so satisfying when you find the industry you know you’re meant to be in – and it must be great to say you love your job! Congrats on hitting 10 years :)

    I’m glad to hear that your managers have been supportive. For a productive workflow, the manager has to know what he/she is doing to get the most efficiency out of their team without overworking them. I remember with my first internship my manager taught me a lot which I’ve carried forward onto other jobs I’ve had!

    “no one wants to work with an asshole” < This is SO true. I'm so glad that I work in a place where pretty much everyone gets on – it definitely makes work a lot more fun and easier. Good luck in the future for your career, Cat – you're gonna do amazing <3

  • Bhairavee says:

    10 years! wow! Congrats Cat!
    I am just starting out my career in the tech industry, fresh out of college, with just one experience of 6 months as an intern.
    The managers do play a huge role in shaping your career. In my internship, I was working under a senior manager who just didn’t know what to do with an intern. He didn’t assign work, he didn’t bother to check if I was learning properly and when he did it was too late and the whole purpose of the internship went for a toss. I hope in my full time company I get a good manager whom I’ll get along with.

    All the best for your further career!

  • Michelle says:

    Not all changes are big, some are small. 10 years is a great milestone! I’m glad that your coworkers are great and while I bet there can be disagreements but I know that no one hates or resents each other.

    Managers matter too. Have a bad manager and the workers are miserable but if you have one that cares then it helps the work environment.

  • Tara says:

    10 years is a long time! And even though I am not in the same industry as you, I can relate to so many of your points here.

    While I didn’t do a major career path change like you did, I’ve switched from directly working with kids to working the front desk, and it’s definitely different. I’m still not sure which I prefer more, but I hope to eventually become a trainer. I am not sure if I can manage people, but I’ve never been in the proper position to do so, so it’s too early to tell!

    Managers definitely makes a difference, and they can make or break a job experience. I’ve had couple good ones and couple horrible ones, and I know I thrived way better under the good ones. Your co-workers can also make or break a workplace, too. I would rather work with people who are respectful and hard-working than those who are arrogant and such.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  • Katy says:

    Firstly, congratulations on 10 years! That’s quite the milestone. I’m glad you can look back on it with positivity, and it is always nice to read a positive post.
    Still loving your job after working for so long is wonderful, and something I doubt many people feel! I’m really happy you still look forward to your job! It’s great that you advanced so far too even when you didn’t think that’s what you wanted! It’s odd how these things happen!
    Seeing the company you work for grow from 20 people to over 300 must have been so exciting! You must have been able to form some really close friendships. Manager 3 sounds like a lovely person, and a great team leader! I’m glad you were able to thrive so much while working with them. I agree with your sixth point totally. Sometimes, my working conditions are less than ideal but because of who you’re with, you can overcome it and get the job done. If the people I worked with weren’t so nice, I’d have walked out a long time ago!
    I’m so glad you have so much happiness around your job – and I hope it continues into the future! =]

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