A Conversation on Hiring Women Engineers

Alexandra is a founder of mschools.org. We met thanks to Claire’s article in NYT on Women in Technology. We connected on our common desire to create inviting work environments. Alexandra asked me about what I thought was needed to create a diverse team.

Do tech teams need heroes?

When I first started working in technology, I had a manager who couldn’t code. We were in a small company (80-100 people). Every-time a customer reported bug came in, he would beg one of the engineers to stay late and fix it. When it was done, he would announce loudly to the whole world – “You’re my hero! Man”. It was a great ego boost for the engineer. I used to be a Hero too.

I have worked for many different tech teams, but, there is always someone who is considered by management to be the Hero. Most of tech company management is about keeping the Hero happy. A new VP once asked me – who’s the “GoTo guy” in the team. If you’re not the “GoTo guy”, you were not worth his time. Managers prefer to have a Hero in their team – someone who’ll stay late and fix the latest fire (often used term for production issues).

The Heroes are most concerned with keeping their Hero status. So, they stay late, fix production bugs, and are told in the morning standup – “You’re the hero!”. Heroes don’t share knowledge. They will tell you all about how late they stayed, and how much red-bull they drank. But, will never mention that it was their own code that blew up. Heroes rescue, they don’t lead. Heroes (often called Rock Stars) create toxic work culture.

Alexandra wants to build an inclusive team. My first warning to Alexandra was – don’t hire a Rock Star wannabe Hero. Look for a developer who doesn’t know everything, who is willing to learn, can share their knowledge, is able to guide and lead. Not only will it help her build a more gender-balanced team, but a team with diversity of thought as well.

Where are the women?

Alexandra was also concerned about reaching out and making sure she includes female engineers for interviewing. She asked where to connect with women engineers. I am not quite sure. I go to tech meetups sometimes. There is rarely any women engineers there. I’ve been to a few women-in-tech events. I meet a lot of women working in technology companies. But, again, I meet very few women engineers there either.

The best I could come up with was to try and post flyers at the kid’s schools. Some of the mothers might be like me – that can’t work for a company or team with huge demands – but, that might be interested in working with Alexandra in a more flexible and rewarding arrangement. I know a few female drop-out engineers – that wander in and out of the tech world – looking for their place in it. Many of them are knowledgeable, experienced and are looking for a way to contribute, but, can’t find one. 

What’s passion for coding?

Alexandra was open to talking to engineers who may have left tech because of cultural or personal reasons, and wanted to get back into it. But, one concern with hiring such a person is – how do you know they din’t leave because they disliked coding? In the information world, there is a significant difference between what someone who is interested and engaged creates, and what someone who’s just looking for a paycheck builds. Many job postings will ask engineers for their open-source code commits as proof of their passion for coding. I know many engineers (men and women) who work at home on their own projects, or take initiative to learn a new technology – all of which shows interest in what they do. I know hardly any that engage in the ego-driven world of open-source. My last advice to Alexandra was to encourage engineers to talk about their personal projects, not necessarily a public one.

Apply for the job at mSchools.org

mSchool is growing and Alexandra is hiring. If you are interested, please use the job listing to apply – Lead Developer To Drive Technical Strategy at mSchool.

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