Career Advice from a Tech Women

Whether you are into tech or not, Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack provides the most honest and straightforward career advices, useful for many – not only for ‘Women in Tech’. I am sharing some of her tips I found most valuable when reading her book.

Getting the job

Show – don’t tell – your achievements and skills in numbers and action verbs. Do not try to cover up lack of real skills by overcompensating with the layout and text of your resume, don’t use big words, superlatives or capitalizing too many or all words (that are not proper nouns, titles, acronyms, or the beginnings of bullet points). Make it as easy as possible for recruiters to get to know you; provide your website, LinkedIn and contact details.

Already after the first few seconds the interviewer will decide whether they will offer you the job or not, based on unconscious opinions they form about the way you dress, self-presentation and nonverbal communication. It is important to understand that discrimination seldom is conscious or intentional, and to distinguish when someone is trying to be inclusive and caring even if may be perceived differently. Tarah makes an interesting observation that ‘women’s likability decreases with their success, while men’s likeability increases with their success’.

If you are worrying about feeding yourself and paying the bills its a different story. But if you can afford it, you should ask yourself if this is the place you want to work for, and were people treat you with respect, and if you feel they ‘will hold who and what you are against you, don’t work there’.

‘Your skill set is the requirement for getting in the door, and the rest of your career is based on how you treat people and how you allow yourself to be treated.’

At work

Tarah provides some US specific tips regarding employment contracts that do not apply to regulations across Europe, but other points are still valid. For example, the risks with working for contract agents, especially if you signed a nondisclosure agreement that disables you from knowing what your work is worth. As a contract agent it may be hard or even impossible to prove discrimination as you work at a company that is technically not your employer. This explains why women and minorities often turn to startups, as they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and hostile work environment.  Tarah also makes the point that women who decide to have children need either a nanny or a partner that will be ready to step up as a primary caregiver, otherwise she wont succeed with her business. Negotiate with your manager your leave and return – in written, and negotiate the ‘second shift’ of household chores and parenting with your partner, Tarah wisely advice.

Overall, treat team members with respect, regardless of mode of communication. This goes for emails too, consider them documents and be careful with being too informal or using emoticons. All forms of communication is crucial, Tarah explains with humour what a professional handshake should feel like (although for us in Brussels we remain confused  what-to-do-with-whom; whether one, two or three kisses on which-cheek-first).

When you have gained some work experience and seniority – share, in other words ‘send the elevator back’. Tarah talks warmly about the value of mentorship and how you learn the most when you have taught it yourself. When you are or aim for being a leader you should expect that people will look for you for inspiration and guidance, therefore what you say matters. Don’t use social media to vent your frustrations and ‘assume that everything you say online will be read by your mom, your boss, your potential descendant, and a background check officer at a federal agency’. Show humanity, don’t be the smartest person in the room, and final point, find your own family, crew, mentors, colleagues and friends to accompany you throughout your professional life.

The book also includes some fascinating contributions from successful women in the tech field, and their stories of how they despite school dropout and lack of degree went to where they are at today. Among others Keren Elazari who did a great TED talk about ‘Hackers: the Internet’s immune system’.

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