Voices of Experience: Talking with Women in Technology (Lucky Seven Project "Aside" #2, part 2)

I started down the path to Trinkle from Dupont around 6:55 PM last night. I’d wanted to finish helping with our video editing project, but I figured things would go well without me and we could present on Tuesday. I was running a bit late, so I picked up the pace. I ducked into the back entrance of Trinkle’s basement, home of the computer science department, and made my way down the hall to the only lit room that I could see.
It was filled with professors, students, and even some alumni. I waved hello to Dr. Anewalt, my current professor, and sat down nearby. The president of PERL, Jessica Zeitz, introduced the six women who would be answering questions for us. The first question asked the women how they got their jobs and what they do. Several of them “just needed a job” and found that they were perfectly capable working in IT or programming for a company. One of them majored in Mathematics “before computer science was a major” and got the opportunity to pursue a Masters in Computer Science once she was working for a company. One of them who particularly caught my attention majored in Computer Science (after needing a job, teaching herself a bit of programming, and realizing she was good at it) and Linguistics. She wasn’t working in computational linguistics, but it was still exciting. Most of them simply majored in Computer Science, and I think half of them were UMW alumni.
Another question asked them if they had any advice for the next generation of computer scientists, gender-specific or otherwise. They talked a lot about internships, and in fact I think there was a separate question all about them. I’m really considering looking for an internship next summer (as I think it’s probably too late to start looking now, and I didn’t know that I was qualified for one yet–I thought I needed more classes to be useful to anyone), and it was good to hear so many positive things about them. Most of the women said that it’s important to be good at what you do. I think that’s good advice regardless of gender or discipline 🙂 One girl also said that you should have a sense of humor; she explained that sometimes guys will say stuff, not to be mean, but because they just don’t know what to say. She told a story about how she was in a group to work on a project. She was the only woman, and a man came in and said, “You’re…a girl.” She laughed about it, and it was a very funny story to hear. Another woman said that she always felt that she should dress more professionally than the others because she was young and she felt that whenever they would go out after work, others would think of her as just “the secretary.” And one of the women said that women are ready to rise to the challenge, so there’s no need to be afraid. That one made me smile a bit 🙂
All in all, I thought it was a good session. I got to hear lots of great stories from great women. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for drinks and snacks, so I can’t comment on how tasty they were. (Just kidding, I’m sure they were great.) One thing I’d have to say, though, is that there were no current graduate students. I’m seriously considering graduate school in my future, and I really want to hear from someone who’s there right now, doing what I’d like to do. They were probably aiming to have just women who are already in the workforce, however, and I still think it was great.

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