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Michael: Welcome back to the show. I’m here with April Graves. We’re going to talk about getting real with women in tech. And April is a senior software engineer working on projects for the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And has been doing software related things for many decades now. And welcome April.
April: Hi, thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
Michael: Now, I met April through the C.F. United Conference many years ago when I invited her to speaker about because so few women speakers and I thought she’ll be good presenting. And I’m kind of curious to speaking at that conference or other conferences have any impact on your career?
April: Oh absolutely, it had a huge impact on my career. It’s interesting I started the ColdFusion user group in Orlando because I was so excited. I was new in the field. It was 1998 and it was my first programming job. I wanted to learn from people. I was really excited and so, I started the user group actually to learn. And through that group, I think is how you found me because you know, we would all kind of network and those types of things.
And you invited me to come and speak at one of your conferences, and I got really excited about the new technology. It was when W.D.D.X. first came out so, XML. had just set the scene and I had found some really innovative things to do with it. And so, the conferences gave me kind of a way to get out there and talk about it because I just wanted to share with everyone; this is what you could do.
And I think you invited me back a couple times. I’m not sure how many of the conferences I did. But through the conferences, they were profound. I was able to not only really hone my skills because you know, they say that when you teach, you learn. That was definitely my experience, and of course I got to network, and just meet so many amazing people that I’m still in touch with today.
But what it also enabled me to do, I got asked to go write an article for the ColdFusion developers’ journal through giving those talks. And I went to a conference and wrote that. And then, one of the things that you did at the conferences was asked for feedback and we got some really good feedback from people. And so, I was very fortunate to have that happen in the early years of my career.
And so, not only did it just really kind of help round me out as a professional but to be honest, when you go in to interview for a position, and you can walk in with links to all of the people who are talking about and reacting to the talks that you gave, you have your presentations handy. You can walk in with a magazine that you’ve written for… It’s just unbelievable what that does. So yeah, it’s absolutely helped my career. So, thank you.
Michael: You’re so welcome. Thanks for speaking at the event. I mean I found it quite a challenge to get women programmers to speak at the conference. Do you have any thoughts on that?
April: Well, I’ll be really candid about this topic since we are getting real with women in tech. Growing up, we as young girls, we didn’t want to get and front of the classroom, and sit in the front row, and raise our hands, and have all the answers. It really wasn’t something encouraged for us and I won’t get into all of the reasons that I think why. And I’m really not necessarily. It’s definitely a subtle thing and in it’s of course not true for everybody. But generally, that isn’t that the type of things that younger girls saw attention for.
And so for me, I grew up very nerdy; very, very nerdy. I was introduced to computers at a very young age. I was really excited about them. But there really hasn’t been encouragement, or there wasn’t encouragement or an outlet for that at that time. So, I think that may carry over into your career of not necessarily wanting to put yourself out there in that way. And it can be intimidating because when you’re up there and you’re talking, there is always that fear of, what if I sound stupid? You know what if…? There is sometimes an innate confidence I think that men have and carry that women sometimes struggle with. We do respond to things differently. We do tend to be a little bit more emotional. You know that has a negative connotation. But I don’t think it’s negative at all.
I think we bring a lot into whatever situation that we’re in. And it’s great that we see things differently and respond to things differently. But it was definitely a little bit intimidating. But what I found is that being so excited, and passionate about what I was speaking about is what enabled me to get past that. I really had something to say. I really had something I wanted to share. And then, I got such great feedback from that and by my male colleagues that were genuinely interested in the technology that I was presenting and how they could use it, what they could do it. And that really helped me a lot.
Michael: That’s great! I mean I’ve definitely seen that in schools I’m sure I’ve read studies that say, generally girls in school average around a medium grade, and the boys are either really high grades, or really crap grades.
April: Really, I would hope that has changed by now. But I’m definitely not read on that so, I don’t know. But I do remember being that; we just weren’t encouraged to act in that way. And it and it wasn’t hey, don’t do that. But again, like you said it was more of a subtle saying that it was the type of responses that you received really from your peers about kind of putting yourself out there and like you said. And I saw the same thing with my children going through school. I have a daughter and I have a son. And I definitely saw a different response that my daughter received for getting good grades, or wanting to participate in the school functions and those types of things so.
Michael: I wonder also if it’s a perceived risky activity because generally, boys are encouraged to take risks in the playground or elsewhere, and girls discouraged to take risks.
April: Yeah and again honestly, I really do and I’m not sure how this would be taken. But again, I think that girls care very much what boys think at that age. And so, there’s that fear of, what are they going to think?
Michael: Yeah, yeah and it’s not just that I think women in general are more socially aware of what other people, how other people are reacting. And while many men are also socially aware. There’s also a segment of men who are not socially aware which makes it a lot easier for them to make complete fools of themselves in public.
April: Well definitely, [inaudible] 07:51 do. But again, it’s very… we’re generalizing. I’m definitely generalizing.
Michael: Yeah, let’s get back to specific experience. So you being a woman in tech for a few decades. What kind of issues have you experienced?
April: Well, it’s interesting. I started my career, I was about twenty five and so, I was generally the youngest in my workforce. And you know, female and I was also raising two children. And at first, I remember it was very difficult to be taken seriously. And I did find… I started at the same time that a guy started. We started at the same time within our programming group. And there was sort of… it did seem a little bit as though he was trusted more with responsibilities and given some opportunities. I always felt that I had to work harder in order to be seen in the same light. And so, I worked very, very hard and also having that responsibility to take care of the kids. And I think it’s great how much men and women do share that responsibility now. I’ve definitely seen men in my field now who take on sharing that.
But at that time for me, I was really the one who was responsible for getting them to school, and the doctor’s appointments, and taking care of things. So, that made it additionally challenging. So, I feel like I had to work a lot harder. Perhaps, that was one challenge is something that I see a lot and I’ve also… I just recently witnessed this with another female colleague out at the Space Center is that for some reason, we tend not to necessarily be heard in the same way.
So, I’ve had cases where I’ve been in meetings and I have said, “I have this concern about X, Y, and Z for this reason” and I would be sort of brushed off. You know, “oh no, no, that’s fine”. And in one meeting, I had a gentleman sitting next to me who about ten minutes later said, “you know I have this concern about X. Y. and Z.” And this same person who kind of brushed me off about my concern said, “oh well, let’s talk about that.”
I’ve gotten so comfortable now in my career and what I have to contribute, I am very comfortable speaking up. At that point I put my hand on the table I stood up and I said, “did anybody else just see that happen?” And they did. They acknowledged that actually did happen because I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I don’t believe it was this person consciously trying to brush me off. I can’t tell you the dynamics behind it or what these causes are. But then, a couple of weeks later, I saw a coworker go through the exact same experience. And she said, “I literally just said that.” I just said that same thing. So, that does seem to be going on still.
I have noticed a difference in the younger generation now coming and I’m working with interns or junior level developers. It really does seem to be different in that generation. So, I’ve definitely worked in places where it did turn out that the women were being paid significantly less than the men. I do see that my male colleagues seem to be better at negotiating. So, it’s something I know they’ve done a lot of research studies on being able to go in there and really ask for what you deserve, or what you feel like you deserve.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve seen studies that say most women don’t negotiate at all when it comes to salary.
Michael: When they’re offered a job, they just take it. Whereas the men will often ask back and say, what can I get this? Or can I get more for vocation? Or can I get more money? Whatever they’re asking.
April: Yeah and you know, I mean we’re so discouraged to talk about salary which I find very interesting when we’re at the same level and same position. But it does come out in this particular company it came out in a way that a human resources person accidently e-mailed the spreadsheet to the entire company. And so, the company had to go back and re-evaluate. And I’ve learned how to use the resources that are available, that do those salary surveys and to just be able to come out it matter exactly based on this is what my education level is, this is what my experience level is, this is what my skill set is, and this is the region that I’m in. And therefore, this is what I know that my value is. So, those tools have helped me but again, it is definitely something I’ve seen throughout the entirety of my career.
Michael: Yeah, I think it’s a very common issue and I think it’s partly because women don’t negotiate as much or as well. So, that would be a great thing for us to. Maybe this is a similar thing as you’re experience in a meeting where people don’t hear you. The subtext of not being heard as a woman in tech.
April: absolutely, absolutely
Michael: And if you’re not being heard, I could imagine that it would make you less lightly to speak up at the key points in your career.
April: Well, maybe for some people.
Michael: But not you.
April: For me, it just makes me. I tend to speak a little bit louder perhaps. You have to be careful because there’s definitely a tendency. It’s very easy to fall into the aggression trap where you can be seen as aggressive because what you’re trying to do is to be heard. And sometimes, that’s the only way to get heard and so.
Michael: [crosstalk] 14:21 danger of being labelled with the ‘B’ word?
April: Perhaps, and I’ve also been very surprised some of the things that when I was younger in my career. It is a very competitive field I have… there are issues with ego and arrogance and people feeling like people might be threats. And I noticed that coming in the way I did; young and female. I was kind of underestimated a little bit.
People really didn’t have a lot of expectations of me. And the reason I know that is because I had been very specifically told. Hey, I really didn’t have very high expectations and you’ve exceeded those expectations. And it always surprised me. Yeah, I’ve had a few men that I’ve worked for who have told me that. And I’ve come to enjoy that. I actually would prefer to come in underestimated and pleasantly surprise people.
I worked with this really amazing woman in my first programming job. She was incredible. I mean just so sharp, really good at what she did but, she was labeled the ‘B’ word absolutely by the men on my team. She was in a supervisory position and of course, there were certain remarks about how she got the position that she got.
April: If you get what I mean. And I was astounded because she was so clearly intelligent and capable. But she was aggressive, she was very blunt, she was [inaudible] 16:03 point. And I can’t say that that’s why. But it is a fine line that we walk making sure that we’re heard and getting our voices heard because we do have a lot to contribute. And the way I see it, now that we’ve got these millennials coming into the field, they think differently than we do. They see things differently, they respond to tech differently. And to be honest with you, I think they’re quite brilliant and that’s really exciting to work with them.
And one of the things that I say about working with this younger generation is the same thing that applies to women in tech, and men in tech, and different cultures in tech is that everybody has something to bring to the table. And when you can get these different minds, and perspectives, and experiences together, and everybody has a chance to be heard, you can produce some really amazing stuff. I’ve seen junior programmers come in and have these amazing ideas that we wouldn’t have thought of. Because sometimes, we’ve been doing it a long time and it never occurred to us to look at it that way.
And so, we have such a creative field and there’s just so much space for ingenuity. And I think that it’s any companies benefit to have the diversity around the table and in all fashion. It’s not just the male and female diversity because you make a much better product. And I’ll tell you when you can get that diverse group of people to agree on something, whether it’s a user interface, or a database design, a system architecture; it’s probably going to be pretty good.
Michael: Yeah because if you’re wasting the talent of a large chunk of your team, it’s clearly not going to be good. I think this whole topic is important not just for women in tech but everyone in tech. When certain people on a team are ignored, it’s not good for everyone.
April: Yeah, it’s me that’s really where leadership comes into play. I’ve seen good, strong leaders who don’t tolerate that for anyone. They’re there to ensure that everybody is heard and treated fairly. So for me, it really is something that needs to be important at a leadership level and when it is, you get the benefit of that. I’ve also seen cases where leadership really wasn’t that involved or concerned about it and just let it work itself out. And those are the teams that I haven’t seen work as effectively together.
Michael: Yeah I mean just to expand on what I was saying earlier, a lot of developers are introverted and have difficulty speaking up in meetings. And this applies to them; if they’re male or female just as much. And if you’re the leader of the team, facilitating everyone to contribute. It’s a great skill.
And I was reading an article of The New York Times that came out a few years ago about a Google effort to make their teams the best world. And one of the conclusions they came to is that everyone has to have a fair contribution to the team. You can’t let some people dominate the team which will be normal traditional way teams will run.
April: Absolutely, I worked on a team that… Well, I had a team that was part resources in India and part in the U.S. And so, there was a big cultural difference there; very big. And I do have a pretty out there personality and I do like to [inaudible] 19:54. And I was leading this team. And so, I had to be very cognizant of taking that step back and allowing the team. Now, we had geographical distance, we had time zone, we had technology and between us enabling us to communicate.
And so, I would have to stop and very specifically ask each person as we made decisions. Okay, do you agree with this decision? What do you think about this? And what I found is that people who were very quiet, when you gave them the floor to speak, had really, really great contributions. But you had to give that space. And I think that if that was something that was applied more then, this whole thing about women struggling maybe to be heard wouldn’t be an issue. If the rule of thumb was everybody gets that chance to speak on the issue at hand; whatever it is we happen to be doing before decisions made.
Michael: I think that’s great advice for anyone who’s leading a team or managing developers. Sometimes, the quiet people have more to contribute, or just as much as the loud ones.
April: Oh absolutely, absolutely. They didn’t probably think about what they have to say before they say it so.
Michael: Right so, any other experiences around being a woman in tech over the years?
April: No, I mean I think those are pretty much the main things that I have found. It’s such a great field. We have a great field and at the end of the day, it really is about what you have to contribute. And it can be a struggle sometimes but, it’s worth it. It’s worth the struggle. It’s made me a better person. It’s made me have to have more confidence, really think about what I’m contributing to make sure that what I’m contributing does have value, a lot of patience.
I’ve had to learn a lot of patience and people skills and you know. But I am so excited about encouraging that next generation to come into this field and especially these young girls who obviously I have a very strong connection to those girls who do love Maths and love Science and like to spend their time sitting around writing code which I know they’re doing well in elementary school now.
Michael: So, what can we do to encourage a younger generation of women to come into technology?
April: I really think I really believe in mentorship. I’m a big believer in mentorship. And I recently gave a talk at the Orlando Science Center. They had a woman in science event that they were doing. So, I had an opportunity to go speak to six to twelve year olds and it was geared obviously, women in science. And to talk to these girls and really to let them know that … And this is what I talk to them about: sit in the front row, raise your hand, speak up, and that what an exciting field this is to be a part of. And so, I think that for women who are where I am in my career, that if we have the opportunity to reach out and really work with the generation coming in.
And it might be college students who are interns, or it might be middle school elementary school students; whatever. It doesn’t matter what the age and it’s really important that we don’t see those coming in as threats. I learn from the interns and juniors and even these high school kids. I learn just as much from them as they could for me. So, I think that’s the best way we can help bring that new generation in and encourage those younger girls that you know just to let them know hey, I was that girl. I was that nerdy girl and I’ve gotten to see these really amazing things in my career and have these great experiences. And so, if that’s what you’re excited about, go for it.
Michael: So, not just mentorship but of course, providing role models to younger people.
April: yeah definitely
Michael: I could go do that.
April: Yeah and to really show them what it’s like. I did the event part of the NASA speaker bureau and so, I did the event as part of that. So, I got to show what a software engineer can contribute to NASA in the broader sense. And I was able to show work that my colleagues were doing that is actually leading into how astronaut’s train to work at the space station. And the Mars rovers and just we really do get to contribute in so many ways to so many fields that… When you can just show how exciting this field is and that this is how you get there, and that you can get there.
Michael: Great! Well, I really appreciate you being on the podcast, April. If people wanted to find you online, what’s the best way to do that?
April: I think LinkedIn is definitely the best way to find me at this point.
Michael: So, find you as April Graves on LinkedIn. I’ll put the link to your profile in the show notes.
April: Excellent! Thank you so much. Thank you for having…