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Michael: Welcome back to the show. I’m here with Sami Gardener, and we’re going to be talking about smart developer career strategies, and also how women can get ahead in tech. And we’re going to look at how you can create, having your ideal job over a few years with a strategy which many people don’t even think about. So, some new stuff in there. And also, we’re going to have a look at some of the consequences of how tech careers are currently set up and or how they’re not set up.
We’ll also look at some of the gender confidence differences between men and women when applying for jobs, and doing projects. How to deal with not being listened to in meetings, Job Title Roulettes and how she deals with the desire for job stability versus risk. Also, we’ll look at how to deal with being discouraged from going into tech when you’re in school. So, welcome Sami.
Sami: Hi, thank you Michael. I’m glad to be on.
Michael: I’m glad you’re here too. And for those of you who don’t know her, she is a career stacked nation stopper. So, she helps people come up with smart strategies for career mainly in the tech fields. And she is involved in tech herself.
So, let’s have a look at that. It may not have occurred to people listening that you even could have a career strategy. So, what exactly is that? Why would you want to have it?
Sami: Okay, well, you want a strategy because in 2017, we have come to a point in this post in the job market where a lot of the advice that everybody learned in school, that you’re supposed to find the manager, shake his hand, look him in the eye. That kind of advice doesn’t really work anymore because 1.) You might not find a manager; 2.) The company might not have a physical location. Since we’re dealing with the fact that finding a job is now globalized where we need you all and we’re also deal with the fact this is the most educated generation by far.
It is a bare minimum to be hardworking, competent, and skilled, and have a degree. That’s like saying a car has wheels. Nobody’s going to buy a car just because it has wheels. Nowadays, you have to really position yourself. So, when you’re thinking about the type of job that you want, how you’re going to get there. You have to be strategic especially when you are in something like tech where people want to get into tech.
It’s lucrative, it’s in an [inaudible] 03:06, it’s very much still liberal, it’s not something where you are out of the industry if you mess up your back. So, there’s a lot of reasons why people want to be in tech and you have to be more than just one of the resumes in the pile. You can be that way and there could be not just three hundred, not just like seven hundred, but a thousand resumes in that pipeline. How do you stand out?
Michael: So, having a strategy is deciding where you want to be in a few years time and then, a kind of planning backwards on how you’re going to get there. Is that part of it or?
Sami: Yes, and it does have to do with your personality. In some ways, I am very intuitive. So for me, I was able to determine the type of skills that I wanted to use. I really like using tech skills. I really like collaboration, and I like community. So, throughout my career, I have gravitated towards positions that were like that. I would say serendipity lead me in some cases as well. I mean I got into tech after well being a career specialist. After a career as a librarian.
So, I have been strategic, but there’s also been a spate of serendipity. So depending on your personality, you may need to reverse engineer a couple years along the line, or you might be somebody who kind of goes with your gut. And knows that okay, I like doing those. How do I continue to do this in different ways?
Michael: So, if you’re being strategic and you maybe wanted to work for a particular company, what kind of things might you do in order to get there?
Sami: Okay, so, one thing to think about is that let’s say you want to work for Google. You want to work for Google as maybe a US designer. One thing to think about is that you can reverse engineer that process. Go on to LinkedIn, they have an advanced search bar. And you can literally look what a US designer at Google, what they’ve done, what’s their background, what have they learned. And you can really take that as sort of a guiding point.
Most of the time, people want you to be able to hit the ground running, and I got some feelings about that. I don’t think that is a very smart mentality that we have in employment nowadays, but it’s one that we have. So, if you can get over the fear of maybe not be the quickest guy on the team because of something, but you know that you can learn one step ahead of the process then, you’re going to be able to get there. But a lot of people feel like if they’re not going to hit Goggle, then they should not be in it.
There’s a ton of awesome startups that will give you a ton of experience that will make you full stack because they will need you to wear a bunch of different hats. Not that that is particularly the best idea because whilst that is usually something where somebody really should be separating that to that’s. It’s not the best. But that’s the mentality that we’re working on. If you can’t be a unicorn, then just be an awesome zebra.
Be able to specialize, network, and you will find the opportunities open. And maybe that goal of working at Google; that might change. Maybe you might find that instead, you end up being an awesome opportunity to work for the [Zalando] which is one of Germany’s top companies. In tech, you never know where you might get. But you will be able to get there. You just have to set some intention and have some like a line of action. And then, you’d be surprise once you start racing the wheels of the universe, what happens?
Sami: Yeah, I mean that’s the thing. I think it was Richard Branson that said if somebody gives you an opportunity, say yes. Because sometimes, that door … Yeah you may not have a social life for about two weeks and you’re going to spend your time studying. But you’re going to get to meet people, you’re going to get to actually do the thing. And if you’re somebody who learns by doing; which is the case for most of the people in tech I know, then the fact that you’re actually doing it on the job is going to help you. And frankly once you learn one programming language, it’s like learning another. It’s not going to be as tough as the first time.
A lot of people sweat the fact that oh I don’t know Swift. But if you know Objective-C, it’s like knowing Spanish and then being able to work on Portuguese. You’re going to have an easier time because you already learned one. A lot of people who psych themselves out because they think in tech, everything perfect. Now half of those guys are Googling stuff. You know like they’re not gurus on high. They’re using Google just as much as anybody else.
Michael: Have you noticed any difference between male and female developers on that issue of being confident? That they can go for a job even if they don’t have all the skills listed?
Sami: Yes, well, I do you have a percentage of men who really do get nervous about not meeting the requirements. I find that in general; course with exceptions. But in general I find that my female students and clients, they almost need to be 150 percent of every qualification that they ask for. They want you to be overqualified, people that applied for something. I have guys who are like, whoo! I have about sixty percent of this. I can do it. Why not? I’ll learn it in a weekend.
So, you have a good different sort of confidence level which that’s going to be something that can really just decrease somebody’s job movement. If especially if you’re starting out. Because if you’re a female developer, you always have to play the networking the numbers again. You just have to send your resume out to a lot of different places. And you have to understand that a lot of job specifications, they are written like their Christmas lists. It’s [inaudible] and the team believe they get together. And they’re like okay, what a big place useful to have this around you know, half the time. And we’ve all experienced this if you have had more than one job, when where you get on the job and like half the things they ask you about an interview you don’t even do.
I had a position at a university and they made me write an essay on a content records management system that I never even used. I had to write a thousand words on my experience with the system for a job where I never even touched it after I was hired. There’s not a whole lot of communication especially with larger companies. They H.R. is pretty much getting a bunch of buzzwords and jargon. But they feel like they have to jam into a job ad and, it’s capitalism. So, they want to get the most for as little. I mean it happens however that works and that is something that can be intimidating to a lot of women; also to men.
I meet a lot of male clients they act really cocky when they’re in the interview. And then we talk, and I learn about their posture syndrome and their problems with their girlfriends, and all that stuff. But they overcome that to at least seem confident on paper. And then I’ll get the 3 a.m. email about, ‘Oh my God! What am I doing? Do you have like a quick program that I can use to learn? I’m like, here you go, you’ll learn it. Drink I’m not a club martini, call me in the morning so.
Michael: So, what you see you mentioned that there’s a problem where companies don’t provide on the job training. What’s some of the consequences of that?
Sami: Some of the consequences of that is the fact that if you are not providing training for folks, that you are always going to look for the people who already have all that and more. Which means you’re usually looking for people who are already employed. So that leads to people poaching. They’re poaching people from other companies and if you tie in the fact that there is discrimination against the unemployed. You find that everybody wants the guy at the next company. Even though a lot of times, they have to retrain the processes and systems that that guy learned over there so he can work here.
However, in tech, most people are only lasting like two years. I saw this study where they looked at how much people stay in Facebook and Google, and it’s an average two years because most people will know that they can double their salary in less than ten years if they move to different companies because there are pay caps. So, you might get a promotion, but if you were hired in from the outside, you’d be making more than it has an internal candidate who has institutional knowledge. That’s one of the things that is mind-boggling to me. As where everybody knows that their company needs some sort of institutional knowledge because there’s always some legacy systems that only one person knows how to do.
But they don’t make it. So, that is a value. So, people don’t feel loyal. They know that they can get more money somewhere else. They aren’t like given that incentive to grow with the company, to stay with the company. So you have that, and since nobody wants to train up, they have to poach. In tech, this is something where there’s enough tech boot camps, and colleges. And enough folks who are willing to wheel and deal that they’re gonna be fine.
In manufacturing technologies, that’s where people are going to come to a problem because you’re gonna have a bunch of 60-year-old machinist who are going to reach higher and there’s no one to replace them. So, depending on where you are in tech, that’s gonna where you’re gonna feel the pinch of not having that on-the-job training. The sooner that people realize that that is something that you need.
Because let’s be real, if you don’t have an onboarding system, if nobody knows how to navigate your system, then it takes them just as long to feel comfortable and be efficient as it does if you just said hey, how would we just give you a month or two for us to teach you some of the skills that you need, how our system works. It’s the same amount of time, but companies don’t want to take that time. Instead, they just want to steal everybody’s engineers and then they wonder, why aren’t people loyal? Because you’re inherently making it easy for them not to be loyal.
Michael: Now, tell me a bit about job titles. There’s a lot of people starting out in programming, aren’t quite sure what to do with job titles, or even aware they could create their own job title.
Sami: Yeah with job titles, there we’re kind of been a Wild West where there is no real standardization. So, you can have where you could be somebody with the skills of a UX designer and that could be called a UX researcher. And another team that could be called a graphic designer in another ad. You also can find that with some companies like Google for the folks who are the entry level. If they will have like engineer one, two, three, four, and it’s only once they get to that higher level [inaudible] 18:22 work. But they actually get like a title that says kind of what they’re doing in its peak.
And that makes it difficult for people who are not already kind of locked into the system where they’re aren’t part of the network. They don’t have friends who are developers. They aren’t part of the old boys’ network, or the old whatever network. They won’t know. So when they’re looking for ads, they’re like okay, my school called this a UX designer. They won’t lose out on a bunch of positions or they might think oh, I’m just supposed to be this level of engineer. They won’t know that there’s a number of different levels. And in fact, their skill set. If they are leveling up in tech, that they could go for a higher position or a different position. Because nobody knows what they’re calling people.
And recruiters don’t make it easier, companies don’t make it easier. When they’re like we need a purple squirrel, or a unicorn, or a ninja. And you’re like what the hell is this? It sounds like a kids show. So, it makes it intimidating and people and also the mentality of playing tech is different. It’s part of why there is an interesting generational gap in women in tech. Because they’ve actually done studies of this where in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was more of a parody in genders. They’re there and that’s why you see that there are women of a certain age who are still in some management positions in tech because there were the ladies who got and in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
And then somehow the ‘90s hit and women were like, I’m not interested in this, and that’s a lot. It seems like to do with the fact that tech became less of the why and more of the how. So, you can even see that in how people used to do lunch and learns, or whatever the company might call it. Where in the ‘70s and ‘80s people would be doing stuff. They would be talking about Eastern philosophy and databases. And then you get into the ‘90s, and it’s like, how fast can we crunch off this code? And it’s more about the nitty gritty which I find unfortunate given our advances in artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
I feel like some philosophy is kind of needed with what we’re doing. And that’s going to be where you’re going to find that there’s going to be a turn-off with people who have more of those; I guess stereotypical feminine qualities, female socializations, where they want to know about the why. They want to really think about the solutions when they’re thinking about the problems. They’re not just like this is a process, this is method.
Michael: Well, what about job stability versus risk tolerance?
Sami: Oh yes and when it comes to gender parodies, that’s going to be something that companies kind of do this to themselves. Where they wonder why they’re not getting more women, or why women are leaving tech after a certain point, after they have children. It’s because we have it built, there’s a desire for job stability. Once somebody has like a family, or they plan to have a family, they want to know how much income they’re having in. And you’re gonna find in tech that a lot of traders especially are complaining about the fact that they can’t fill permanent positions. It’s because tech makes freelance rates so awesome. So you can have a day rate that is going to be four times higher than the daily rate for a permanent position.
So, why would somebody go for that permanent position when they can get a better paid freelance position? But freelance contract positions they end, they can end suddenly, they can be really short term. So you’re always on that that cycle of trying to find that next client, or connect with that next recruiter. And that can be something where if you want to just grow with a company, when you actually want to be able to get higher up, when you want to grow, you want some stability. If that’s not as appealing. So, there’s a lot of how tech makes hiring happen that make it so women, people with families.
They aren’t going to want to stay locked in. And you also have aware it’s not just women. There’s also men who are leaving tech because that’s not how they want to work. I thought when part of my background is in library science. We had guys who had been in tech, who are getting into the library world. Because they wanted to have that sort of working environment where they felt more collaborative. It was more thoughtful, there was more stability.
Michael: What about one issue I’ve heard from both women and from some men is that they just don’t get listened to in meetings. They may have a clever idea but they suggest it and no one pays any attention. How do you deal with that Sami?
Sami: That is something that is really common. There’s a lot of tech companies and office places that can be really political where they have kind of a gutless HR. And the company culture just it’s on paper, it’s not in practice. So for me, one of the things that I have noticed being a woman in tech, and just a woman working in general is that sometimes, you have to use what I call a man microphone. So most of the time, you team up with a guy who is willing to be a collaborator, or is an unwitting microphone.
And you kind of have them repeat what you’re saying, whatever your ideas. So people just pay attention. I mean depending on how your personality feels. I don’t have a whole lot of ego when it comes to my ideas. That can be galling or it can be a relief to have that sort of amplification. And the thing is it’s not just your stereotypical, white straight cisgender man. I worked for an organization and that was one of the things that was run by Damon. And that was one of the places where I was listened to the least.
So, it can happen in any environment. And I’ve also heard from clients and students who are racial or religious minorities that they have had to deal with that as well. And a lot of times, that means you have to let go, collaborate, figure out your block, get a little bit political, and get enough people on your team more agree with what you say. And then hopefully, it might sink into somebody’s thick skull and then, you can actually get some progress.
Michael: You mentioned earlier that you were discouraged when you were younger to even go into tech, when you were in school. So, tell us a bit about that.
Sami: Yeah, I mean I have always grown up, when I was younger. I grew up in more rural areas. So, country sort of environments where we’d be like 10, 20 years behind mainstream American culture in some ways. So like most girls, you’re kind of like once you’re born, you’re given a doll and you’re like you’re gonna learn how to nurture this thing. And I found that in school, I was always somebody who liked to build things. I’m very crafty with my hands and I like doing that. So, I really go out for things where I wanted to build stuff. I really wanted to do an electronics Club.
But I was told that because of my score is a mess that that wasn’t something I should do. I should join the gardening’s Club instead. Those guys weren’t doing calculus, they were soldering stuff. I don’t want to like make things melt, and make a radio. And the thing is with my Maths course, I was told not to worry about Maths because I was a girl. And I was like cool, I’m a little bit lazy. I don’t want to do this. So you find; at least I found that I was always directed to something more girly, or more nurturing. So my inclination to build things, to be into tech would be suppressed.
However, I’m kind of the contrary son of a gun so, I usually found another way to work it. Like if I wasn’t going to be allowed to solder things, then by teachers and stuff like that. I found that librarians were really awesome accomplices. So, I would ride my bike to the library. This is before everybody had like a computer in their house. And ride my bike to the library, and I would start building websites. So, I started doing that around 12, 13, and I even had by 16, I was peddling Word Press websites to mom-and-pop shops in my small town. Where for some reason they would be like oh yeah, sure sixteen-year-old girl make us a website. So, I would find ways around that.
Maths was always a continued kind of barrier. So, when I got to university level, I kind of was told your Maths scores, you’re not going to be able to do well in a computer science program. So, what I did was I saw that the library science program had a bunch of tech courses; pretty much. Database management, making websites for communities so, I just went the library science route. Nowadays, most library schools are called information technology or information systems. And with the rise of big data, you want some techno librarians around; that’s for sure.
So, I got to have like all of my like tech nerdiness and jamming on that. I got to happen in the library program and I was surrounded by pretty much a bunch of women, and a couple of guys. But they were the minority for sure. So, that’s how I worked around it. But then again, if somebody closes a door, just walk through a window, or go across the street. You’ll find another door there.
Michael: That’s a great way to deal with obstacles in your career. So, is there a reason that companies have difficulty getting enough women in tech positions?
Sami: Yeah, there are so many awesome programs that companies are enacting. In Google is Google, Facebook they’re all making programs that. Some of them go into inner cities, and they help young girls of color. They have it where they’re going into Native reservations. However, when you actually look at who their recruiters go to and you really think about it by the numbers. The number one school that these tech recruiters, these tech HR people to have endure is where they go is Stanford.
Stanford as you might imagine is not the most diverse school that you’ve ever seen. As three percent African-American, it was very proud to announce in 2015 that it had finally gotten more than 200 women in its computer science program. So you can have all of the programs in the world, and you can be throwing money after money into after-school programs in middle school. But if you are not going to the schools where these girls end up going to college and recruiting there, you are not going to capture them.
If you are always going to recruit at the same places where you are actually getting these people when they’re juniors to get them into internships, then you can’t be surprised that all of your interns look the same because you’re going at the same pool. And even when it comes to networking for these senior positions because once you’re not in school, you’re no longer going to get internships. So okay, now you’re looking for your juniors. Most times, these companies aren’t spending the money and the time to post junior positions on job boards because it costs money. And you can just literally go to your devs and say hey Steve, who do you know? And then, there you go, you got a bunch of free recommendations.
So, if you’re always going to the same universities, you’re always asking the same guys who went to that same university who they know. It’s gonna be the people that they went to college with. And then you ask yourself, why is this always happening to me. Why am I always hiring the same people? It’s like if you’re dating and you go to the same bar each time wondering why you’re getting the same person. It’s because you’re not widening your scope, you’re going for the same wells. And if that’s your strategy for diversity, you’re never gonna meet that. It’s just not gonna happen. So, that’s why you find that tech while they have all these programs. They put money hand-over-fist. Things aren’t changing because fundamentally, they are hiring the same people over and over again.
Michael: So, we’re wrapping up in a few minutes. I’m kind of curious, why are you proud to be a woman involved in tech?
Sami: I’m proud to be a woman in tech because tech is everywhere. And when we are racing towards a future where everything can be controlled with a voice, when you have artificial intelligence, virtual reality. You need more perspectives. You need to have somebody else who is there to be like hey, it’s not all the same. I’m also proud to be a woman in tech because I love this stuff. I like helping people work on their careers. I like getting into the backend of a website and working on. I still do all that today. I do all my own tech stuff when I build my own freelance career services.
For me, it’s just this awesome … It’s kind of like how I would imagine people felt like in the Wild West days. Where you’re going on through and you’re just seeing like there’s so much to discover. So for me, that’s fun. I’m like a little monkey. I like learning new things. I like doing new things. I like getting my hands implementing something and tech really allows me to do that. I’m for all the prompts or are in check. It’s also a really cool industry. It’s full of people who saw Star Trek and was like, how do we make some of that stuff happen?
And I love that. I like that environment. So for me, there’s so much that tech is that improves lives, and I’m really grateful to be part of it. I do think that in a world where we’re going to be having computers learn everything, we might want to have more perspectives or else, they’re going to be learning some of the worst part of humanity as well. So, I don’t know. I’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that if we don’t program these computers right, we’re going to have a bunch hounds running around, and we’re gonna have to figure out how to deal with a smart house that we’re trapped in.
Michael: Well, that sounds entertaining. So, if people want to find you online, what’s the best way to do that?
Sami: If they want to find me online, they can go straight to my personal domain which is samigardner.com; that’s S A M I Gardner.com. And that will get you the links to my Facebook page, and my LinkedIn, and all that good stuff.
Michael: Great! And we’ll put all those links in the show notes. Well, thanks so much for being with us today, Sami.
Sami: Thank you Michael. I had a really good time.