Choosing a career in technology turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
At one time, however, it seemed counterintuitive to enter such a male-dominated industry. I'm not an engineer. I don't have a degree in computer science. The only traditional tech skill I possessed was a small knowledge of HTML programming language, which I at one time used to put up static web pages. Today, that skill is useful only for editing blog posts.
What I was trained for was design. I moved into technology because it offered me a fresh way to leverage those talents while having a bigger impact. As a designer, I was taught to understand the context of a problem and to generate insights and creative solutions. I switched from a career in print design because technology was providing exciting new ways to reach people. I found it fascinating and wanted to be a part of it.
Apparently, I'm in the minority. A Forbes article cited research from Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College, in listing some of the main reasons women don't choose tech careers. Many believe that they won't find a career in tech interesting, while others fear they won't be good at it. A third concern is working in such a predominantly male bastion.
I have to say that my experience on all three counts has been just the opposite.
It's been a fascinating ride. My deep interest in the industry and sense of being creatively challenged have only increased over the past 15 years. Technology is a part of everything we do and is changing just about every industry. I've had the opportunity to help improve healthcare, create new retail experiences, and contribute to transforming the ways in which people work. We are now entering the Internet of Everything (IoE) age, which promises the biggest wave of innovation and transformation yet.
I found a role for me. If you think careers in technology are only for computer programmers, then you are severely limiting your possibilities. While I strongly encourage anyone who wants to work in technology to get a computer science degree, I have succeeded without one -- though I admit there have been isolated days when I wished I could code! My role involves applying technology to solve problems in innovative ways, often resulting in the design of a new solution. It's important to remember that there are plenty of other roles to play in the industry, from business analyst to interface designer to communications specialist, to name a few.
We are also seeing more and more examples of women in technology leadership roles with and without computer science degrees, including Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks. Another tech champion is Angela Ahrendts, who transformed Burberry in large part by embracing digital as a core strategy. She will leave Burberry this spring to become the retail lead for Apple.
I've never felt like an outsider. There is a big disparity between men and women in technology careers (according to a 2013 National Public Radio Report, women represent 57 percent of the overall workforce in the United States, but only about 20 percent of all programmers are female). I understand why many women fear they would not enjoy working in a male-centric environment. But women should know there has been a gradual shift in sensibility overall. While most of my colleagues are male, the fact that I am a female has never been a factor in working together. I know that's not the case for all women, and that I have been lucky. Perhaps it's because I work for a company where the CMO, CTO, and CIO are all women, and the CEO is committed to inclusion and diversity (recently, John Chambers urged all members of his senior leadership team to read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In). I'm cautiously optimistic that attitudes elsewhere are shifting.
I believe that tech presents great opportunities for women. Technology jobs are increasing at a rapid rate and are expected to remain one of the largest areas of employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computer and math-related occupations in the United States will grow twice as fast as the average for all other occupations. CompTIA, a research firm, projects that by 2020, the total number of IT jobs in the United States will jump by 22 percent.
The competitiveness of all companies is reliant on how well they tap technology to drive business innovation. Increasingly, this means embracing the explosion of connected devices and the many new e-services and touchpoints that are emerging and being enabled through mobility and cloud computing.
Tech companies and non-tech companies alike need women. Women are already leading in the adoption of technology across nearly all Internet-enabled devices. They have driven the explosive popularity of texting, e-shopping, and social networking, while buying more e-readers and connected healthcare devices. A Pew Research study found that higher percentages of women use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Men lead when it comes to LinkedIn. Overall, women spend more time online, accounting for 58 percent of all online purchases, according to comScore's Women on the Web report.
The point is, all companies will benefit from having a female perspective; indeed, if they are to drive great impact in the world, it will be essential.
So, don't let outmoded perceptions stand in the way of considering a role in a technology company. Wonderful opportunities abound, and I would hate for women to miss out.
Rachael McBrearty is participating in today's Women of Impact Conference for Cisco's employees, customers, and partners -- a full day devoted to the development and advancement of professional women. Follow the event at #WOI2014 and learn more on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about the conference, click here.