Hello World: What‘s Possible for a Young Woman of Color in Tech

Hello World: What‘s Possible for a Young Woman of Color in Tech

In the two years that I’ve been an engineer in Silicon Valley, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. I found that people are really interested in finding out whether the stereotypes they have about the industry are true.

A lot of them ask me about my office space: “do you have an open floor plan, and how does that compare to working in cubicles?” “Do you have unlimited snacks, catered lunch, and beer on tap?” “Do dogs dominate the office at every corner?”

The anticipation in their eyes always made me wish I had a more exciting answer, but the truth is that most of those assumptions are wrong.

Yes, I do work in an office with an open-floor plan and employees can bring their pets and children to work, but most people don’t.

My team does get catered lunch and sponsored happy hours, but not at the frequency that the stereotypes might suggest. Usually those events are reserved for celebrations for the team or an employee (birthday, promotion, wedding, etc). At least, that’s how it is in my team. I can’t speak about other team’s experiences, but I can name departments that have catered lunch every day and refrigerators stocked with kombucha, energy drinks, and fancy cheese.

But, while we don’t have quite as many free snacks as other teams, my team does have monthly sponsored snack times and our fancy coffee and espresso machines are always filled with quality coffee beans and milk. (That is, if they’re not down for maintenance.)

Around this point, people get kind of disappointed that I’m not living “the good life”, surrounded by a bunch of free stuff at work, so I offer descriptions of the work perks that I cared about the most: being able to work remotely, have autonomy over my hours, and completely shut off from work when I choose to.

And yet, despite the glowing stories about how I’ve totally cut down on my Starbucks spending (thanks to the “French Vanilla Latte” option on the HLF coffee machine) and can confidently go to my personal appointments during work hours then resume work like nothing happened, people still have the assumption that my work life must be terrible because I am a small girl in a big tech world.

At best, I get to share stories about my team’s culture for learning and collaboration. At worst, the situation gets extremely awkward and intrusive. Near-strangers casually ask me heavy-hitting questions about how my career prospects might differ because I am female and feminine-presenting: “Do you have a hard time being heard in meetings because of your male coworkers?” “Do people take you less seriously because you wear cutesy earrings?” “Have you been assaulted at work?”

The answer is no. No, I don’t have a hard time being heard. I’m given the floor as much as my male colleagues, even if all I have to say is “I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you on that.”

No, I don’t think people take me less seriously because I wear cutesy earrings. To add, I also don’t think my pastel hair color affects my credibility. In fact, I think it’s been a great personal brand for me: the early-in-career with the fun hair.

And no, (and I say this a huge sigh of relief) I have not been assaulted at work.

I know that I must be part of the very lucky subset, because I also know about the stories of others who have suffered (and continue to suffer) from discrimination, disrespect, and/or harassment because of one aspect of their personhood.

I know that those hard questions should be asked so people can have a platform to tell their story and change the tide, but I also know there are many stories about working in tech that get brushed off because they’re “ordinary” or not clickbaity enough.

I believe those stories about the good should also be highlighted, not to gaslight or invalidate the cries of others, but to show what is possible in the tech industry if the culture and mindset cared for the person’s growth.

Take me, for example: an immigrant from the Philippines with dyed hair, dangly earrings, and (today’s outfit) wide-legged, high-waisted yellow pants. I am in no way, shape, or form the kind of person you would expect to be earning 6-figures and designing IT architecture, yet here I am anyways: making mistakes, thriving, and learning, because my team supports me to be successful.

In no particular order, here is what it’s been like for me as a female engineer:

  • My managers have taken my scheduled 1:1 seriously. They ask me about my career goals and sincerely follow-up on those conversations and my progress.

  • A senior engineer I work with stopped me from apologizing profusely for missing a requirement. He said, “We’re a team here. We’ll figure it out and do the fix if it’s possible from our side.” This same instance will repeat a few more times with other senior engineers/tech leads/IT architects. Every time I’ve “owned up to it”, the senior person on the other side will remind me that we’re one team, focused on the success of each other.

  • I’ve been invited to a special event, where C-levels were having a casual dinner at one of the break rooms before the night broadcast of an all-hands meeting for the Asia-Pacific region.

  • The engineering manager of a “sister” team (under the same director) checked in on me after a heated meeting and reassured me that there’s nothing for me to take personally: "Work is just work. It's not a reflection of you."

  • Co-workers have brought their children to work without any explanation to anyone. When there’s the occasional sponsored snack time, they get to join in on the fun, too.

  • Co-workers have also brought in their dogs during "Bring-Your-Pet-to-Work Wednesdays", and I've taken full advantage of their presence when they're here. (Fun fact: one of them shared my name and it was a very confusing time for me at the office.)

  • I’ve taken long “lunch breaks” to go to therapy, left work early to pick up my brother or boyfriend from the airport, and worked remotely from my apartment (even if it’s only 5 miles away from work) when I wasn’t feeling “right”.

  • I’ve attended conferences on the company’s time and money, so I can learn about the domain I’m in ("Subscribed 2019" is the most recent one; I'm in line to attend Grace Hopper later in October).

  • My fellow early-in-career co-workers and I have openly discussed our work situations with each other. I have both given and received good-hearted advice and support over lunch, coffee, or Happy Hour.

  • I had lunch with my teammate almost every day. We shared stories about friends and family, brainstormed on projects and action items, and laughed at memes on Twitter/Instagram.

  • I’ve been thanked by other engineers for my contributions. My work has been showcased, on more than one occasion, by my manager to the rest of the team and our director.

I want to reiterate that I’m not trying to invalidate someone else’s story about their life in tech, nor am I trying to paint myself or my team as perfect or ideal.

I’m simply offering these stories to illustrate what can be possible in this industry when the people within foster a community for growth.

I offer us as an example to the young girl out there who is considering to walk this path but is scared by the narrative that seems to only highlight the gatekeeping and nightmares in tech.

I offer myself and my stories because, frankly, I wish someone like me had done something like this while I was in college. I wish I knew then that it’s possible for my future team to be welcoming and encouraging, and that bad teams and toxic environments are not the price I have to pay in order to be an engineer.

I wish I knew then what I know now, and that’s the ultimate driving force behind this column series.

I want to share my stories, struggles, and successes, so that people like me can see this industry as a place where they, too, can exist and thrive in.

Tech is not just for dudebros; I'm here to prove it to you.


About Meziah

Hi, my name is Meziah (MEE-sha)! I live and work in the Silicon Valley as a software engineer-slash-junior IT architect. Basically, I design and build software solutions for commerce IT combining my degree in Computer Science (UC Davis '17) with my experience in human-centered design. When I'm not working, I love listening to audiobooks, hosting dinner at my apartment, and traveling with friends or my long-distance boyfriend. (PS, we have a blog about personal and career development on Medium -- check it out below!)

Find Meziah here:

Instagram: @meziahruby 

Medium: https://medium.com/moychoy

Founder & CEO - The Seoul Search

Lactose intolerant, but loves mac & cheese.