5 Ways to Break In and Rise to The Top of Tech: From Women Engineers

October 7, 2019

Women Leaders in Tech Share a Roadmap to the Top of Tech

Women make up over half of the US workforce, but hold only 26% of computing roles—a statistic that continues to decline. We at LinkedIn Learning are actively trying to change this and so can you. 

If we stay the current course, we will not be able to keep up with the demand to innovate, or worse, we may build the wrong products. 

The tech community has the opportunity to create something vibrant and representative of the diversity of our society, but we need diversity at the table—from the earliest stages of product ideation through to product ship.

This is not an easy challenge to overcome. However, women in technology are coming together all over the world with initiatives to lend a hand to more women navigating this career path. 

Here are five career strategies essential to my journey to VP of Engineering for LinkedIn Learning along with courses taught by other leading women in tech.

5 Career Strategies to Break Into and Rise to the Top of Tech 

1. Get strategic with your career: the jungle gym model 

It’s easy to get attached to the idea of climbing the traditional career ladder, but a lateral move—or even what feels like a step-down—can later result in an even bigger step up. 

Boredom is an important signal that you should consider a jungle gym career maneuver. Your motivations and values change as you move through your career and that’s okay. Try to see the bigger picture. Tell your boss where you are and what you want to change. Have a conversation with a mentor and your boss about how to approach this next chapter. These conversations can look very different: 

Work to identify the change you need with your mentor: I think I need to make a change. Can you help me identify the key inputs I need to make the right change at this point in my career? Do you have any examples of when you felt similar in your journey?

Articulate the change you want to make with your boss: I hope to use this time to discuss an important change in my career. I will come prepared with the specific growth opportunities I’m seeking.

This specific growth opportunity could be something like: I want to work on a project with more complexity at scale or I want to learn how to run a business or other functions within the business.

Learn more about how to strategically navigate your career from Meagan Holston-Alexander, Senior Associate of Unusual Ventures.

2. Find your allies to navigate workplace gender bias

Gender bias is a thing. People think it stops when you get to the VP level. It doesn’t. The hardest thing about bias is that it's hard to describe when it happens. It’s often so subtle. 

I’ll give you an example.

You’re in a meeting and a female colleague clearly states her point of view on an issue. A male colleague says something like “I’m confused, what I think you mean is this.” Her message was clear to many in the room, but a male colleague felt the need to explain it again. Instead, he should have asked questions to let her clarify what he wasn’t getting. 

There are two key allies to cultivate to navigate bias—a group of women and a few male colleagues you can be your full self with. Find women to build a community with and where you can emerge as a role model. We also need male colleagues that want to learn about the bias they exhibit and to be allies in the room to call out when other men are exhibiting gender bias. 

Learn more about how to break gender bias from Lori Mackenzie, Co-Founder of Sanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab.

3. Leverage 'comeback' moments to cultivate your network

Building your network can be a natural evolution of the work you bring to the table—even during your biggest failures.

Early in my career, I was given two weeks to build a system to measure the performance of a new product. The day before I needed to hand it over to my boss, I accidentally deleted the entire program and couldn’t get it back. I swore to him I’d get it done it two days. 

With a lot of work and a small miracle, I delivered it in two days. My boss was amazed and so were my colleagues. Six months later that same boss asked me to join a company where I’d spend nine years. These same relationships led me to LinkedIn, where I’ve spent another nine years. 

When you fail, it’s about how you recover. Your failures do not define you, but how you bounce back can define your career. 

Learn more about networking from Nitya Narasimhan, Developer Relations at Microsoft

4. Build your brand: lean into what you're good at and passionate about

In my case, I’m very high in execution. Plain and simple, I get stuff done effectively and efficiently. I became known as the person that executives find to ensure a project gets done and with quality.

Your brand is the puzzle piece everyone knows you have and when the signs surface that they need someone with your brand (your puzzle piece)—they’ll come find you.  

To make your passion part of your personal brand, it can’t be a best-kept secret. You need to talk about the work you do to support these passions and give a voice and platform to the people and organizations you work with. 

Not only do I love building great products, but I also feel passionate about advocating for women in technology. There are not enough women in tech positions and I’m determined to change that. I put my all into this cause, my identity on the line and stand up for it every chance I get.  

Learn more about building your brand from Syamla Bandla, Director of Product Engineering at Facebook.

5. Find mentors and sponsors

A mentor is someone you turn to for advice. A sponsor is someone who can advocate for you when you’re not in the room.

A mentor is easier to find. These are the people you form close relationships with. You turn to them when you’re having a tough time with a boss or colleague or need advice on your next career move. Look for people you connect with and can be your most authentic self around. 

A sponsor is harder to find. A sponsor is someone who will vouch for you when you’re not in the room. They put their credibility on the line to say that you are the best person for a project or a job. Look for opportunities to prove your ability to leaders in your organization. Continue to deliver work that aligns with your personal brand. 

Learn more about finding sponsors from Rashim Mogha, Product & Enablement Leader of Automation Anywhere

Get even more advice on how to break into and rise to the top of tech: