Alumnae Advice for Women in Tech

  •  Jerri Barrett ’83: “Get out of your cubicle and build your network right from the beginning. Make deep connections.” Technical women, Barrett observes, “have a habit of keeping their heads down and getting their work done,” which prevents them from meeting the kinds of people that can advance their careers. Three types are important: collaboratorsmentors, and sponsors–higher-ups tho can speak up on your behalf.” She also credits her MHC network for “significant support” throughout her career. “To this day, my first step after any move is to connect with the local club.”
  • Leslie Barbour 86: A veteran in the tech sector, her advice applies to any field: “Don’t be afraid to speak up–about anything. Ask for what you want–a raise, a new position, help. Don’t be mean to anyone. And double-check your work!” Barbour also notes that a woman who can think critically and write well has a leg up on other candidates. “Last year, I received a resume from MHC grad [Cecily Herzig ’96] who had been home with her son. “I knew that her technical stills were likely to be rusty, but I also knew that as an alum, she’d have the other pieces.”
  • Alyssa Bennett 07: “Don’t be scared off by stereotypes of the industry that say women aren’t welcome. My current team has two other female testers who spend their days coding and developing just like the men. I have never seen any of us treated differently or told we don’t belong. Several of my male coworkers have encouraged me to request more technical work than my rank requires, because they believe I’m capable.”
  • Beth Dunn 93: Because Dunn wanted to “earn a solid private sector salary” and “to be taken seriously” when she decided to leave the world of nonprofit ventures (in her case, a regional theater), she went to Simmons for an MBA (“the only women’s college that offers an MBA”). Was the advanced degree necessary to make the switch? “If you ask someone at my company where the average age is 25, they’d say absolutely not! But that’s what I needed to get to the table. When the end user is business, you need that business background.” Whether or not you have an advanced degree, Dunn says, you also have to “create content. I always tell people to start a blog. You then own that piece of the Internet. Also, this is something that you learn best by doing.”
  • Jennifer Tetenbaum Miller 93: An intellectual property lawyer in the tech sector, is currently in house at Cisco Systems and also on the board of Leading Women in Technology. “One of the things we talk about in LWIT seminars is that some of us hold back, trying to think of the perfect thing to say. We sit there, frozen. Studies have shown that people pay attention to your appearance and tone of voice and only a small percentage to what you say. If you’re in the room, you must talk. Don’t be a wall flower or you will be treated as such forever. I force myself to speak. I practice projecting and sounding confident.”
  • Dawn-Marie Nelson 85: Cofounder of Orion Systems, which provides software to the hospitality industry, stresses the importance of social skills, flexibility, and the ability to act as a liaison between coders and customers. “I recently hired a woman who is not all that technical but she’s had a varied career in public speaking and has worked for an airline. Her skill set was intriguing. We’re an engineer-heavy company. They’re great, and incredibly intelligent, but I wouldn’t put them near customers.”
  • Hilde Weisert 66: When the first personal computers–Apple–began showing up in the early eighties, Weisert says, “I remember thinking, I’ve got to learn to do this. So I piled up issues of computer magazines, and I avoided looking at them. It made me mad. But I finally jumped in, kicking and screaming.” She learn word processing, database management, and spreadsheets and then began training others. Today, she is project manager at Cisco Systems. “In this field, the word ‘silo’ comes up often–one group often doesn’t know what the other one is doing.” Weisert attributes her success to good relationships and her ability to “connect the dots”look at the entire system.

By Melinda Blau

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