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We need to change our perception about what it means to have a successful career in tech

The tech industry is much more than its coders and engineers.

We need to change our perception about what it means to have a successful career in tech
[Photo: Sindre Strøm/Pexels]

Which of these skills lead to a successful career in technology?

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  1. A deep appetite for and retention of knowledge
  2. Developing solutions in a scenario with no right answer
  3. Motivating a diverse group of collaborators
  4. Identifying the downstream effects of a decision

It shouldn’t be a tough question for professionals working in tech. STEM fields are a doorway to a world of possibility. The above traits all serve as assets to researchers, data analysts, designers, project managers, and a slew of other titles. While on the surface, tech fields seem inherently science-y and code-forward, technology is a means to create,  rather than the end product itself.

Currently, we’re building a future that is geared towards—and depends on—tech industry jobs. But the industry needs to change the conversations around tech jobs in general, not just those involving STEM, to develop a broader, more inclusive definition.

There are two sides to the industry. Yes, the team that’s focused on developing better tools is rooted in STEM. But the other, more critical side focuses on using technology to improve products and services. That’s where creativity comes in.

STEM jobs don’t necessarily require a passion for STEM subjects

I don’t code, and I’m not an engineer. I like to create and learn a lot of different things, and in school, I was fascinated by psychology. But my passions, which aren’t inherently tech-focused, match neatly with an essential role in tech. Currently, I work as user experience designer and business leader at a digital business consultancy.

For a high-profile example of another woman in tech, look at Glossier CEO and founder Emily Weiss, who told Recode‘s Kara Swisher that it’s difficult for her to classify Glossier as a beauty company, or a tech company. “I think we’re both,” Weiss said. Before founding Glossier, Weiss worked at W and Vogue. She shows us that great technologists can come from any background because the technology isn’t the focus of the work, but the means to create.

Great leaders in technology are adept at creative problem-solving

If you think about the purpose of technology, it’s to make our lives better. That might mean making medical devices less intrusive, connecting people with similar interests, or making it easier to buy groceries. And in this rapidly evolving landscape, the only limit to new solutions is our imagination.

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The tools at our disposal make it an exciting time to be a creative professional in tech, working side by side with STEM colleagues. Tech professionals whose roles aren’t rooted in STEM engage in problem-solving that allows for trial and error, exploration, and the possibility for more than one right answer.

Our everyday lives are rooted in technology—and none of it is gender-specific

From social networks and smartphones to movies and video games, we’re regularly exposed to STEM-powered technologies in our day-to-day lives. It might sound like a simple (and obvious) statement, but there’s power in emphasizing it early on to encourage moments of inspiration.

For example, if someone had explained how baking—an activity I loved as a kid—is rooted in chemistry, I probably would have paid much closer attention and asked more questions during my science classes.

This lack of emphasis on potential tech careers for girls starts in the classroom, but it continues to play out in tech companies and boardrooms across the country. 70% of employees and 80% of executives at the 177 largest Silicon Valley tech firms are men, according to a report by the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Meanwhile, Latinas and black women, represent just 2.4% and 1.8% of all workers, respectively—and less than 1% of executives. Empowering girls with a tech-forward mindset early will be crucial to shifting these statistics in a more equitable, representative direction.

Helping girls realize that technology—and the careers that power it—is for everyone will be no small task. Educators and employers need to focus on tying tech to areas of personal interest for girls. They need to start with the message that tech can be a tool for creation as well as a form of art. They need to teach girls to use tech as a challenge (like a game) and demonstrate how it can be a tool to get people to work together.

From amazing organizations like Girls Who Code to internal curriculum to coding boot camps like Prime Digital Academy and General Assembly, the number of entry points for women and girls interested in STEM careers is booming. But our future in STEM requires more than just having more people in traditionally tech careers. We need people who are tech-adjacent and are interested in using technology as a tool or platform to solve an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

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Start with the mindset that tech can be the groundwork for any creative career, then build a framework based on your interests and aspirations. After all, you don’t have to be a coder or a software engineer to have a successful career in tech.


Emily Schmittler is the director of user experience at Nerdery.

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