Throughout history, women have had a significant impact on the world of technology; helping to revolutionize both the industry and sometimes the way we do things each and every day. Women such as Ada Lovelace, Adele Goldberg, Radia Perlman, and Elizabeth Feinler were disrupting the industry before it or the term “disrupt the industry” existed.
Today, the technology industry is one of the fast-growing in the US, offering fulfilling careers and robust salaries ― and it's dominated by males. A mere 28% of the technology workforce is comprised of females; with just 3% of computing-related jobs held by African-American women, 6% held by Asian women, and 2% held by Hispanic women. This made us wonder, how can we help fuel enthusiasm about pursuing a career in technology among girls and women? Here, a few of the amazing women on our team go back to the beginning and reveal what first sparked their interest in the technology world.
From Beauty School Drop Out
To Director, Software Engineering
Born and raised in Guatemala, Angela Herzberg did not use a computer until she was 16 years old. “I got my first taste of technology when my mother enrolled me in a high school that offered computer science and accounting courses. My parents encouraged me to learn, explore and pursue any opportunities that were available.”
It is perhaps for this reason that Angela’s mother also signed her up for cosmetology classes at night. After an embarrassing mishap with someone’s hair, Angela determined that beauty school was not for her. “I secretly welcomed the perm accident,” she says, “because I preferred my high school classes. It was a relief to be able to focus on my studies, especially computer programming. In school, I sometimes failed just like I did when I was working with hair, but it was different because I wanted to just keep going.”
Even though her computer classes were difficult and comprised of mostly men, Angela was instantly hooked. “I knew computer science was for me despite my teachers trying to discourage me from studying it. It was considered a career risky choice because in Guatemala, computers were not something that most people knew much about."
Angela stuck with it and moved on to study Information Systems in college while also working as a front desk clerk at a bank. “One day, the bank started running Microsoft Windows and when my manager saw me helping the other employees, he asked me to train the entire department.”
She completed her final years of college in the US while also working on databases, systems programming and machine learning at small tech start-ups ― and bought her very first computer. While Angela hardly spoke any English, she was fluent in C, C++, scripting, database technology, and mainframe languages. “My job was great, I got to do everything, including dismantling a server from beginning to end. But it was also stressful; there were times that a company’s entire technology system was on my shoulders!
“I feel very fortunate that I was able to explore and try different things to find a career that I love; especially coming from Guatemala, where opportunities are limited and many people do not have access to basic education. My advice to anyone considering a career in technology is to try it out. There is so much that you can do.”
To AVP Technology, CyberSecurity Diva
While most people do not reminisce about balancing a checkbook, Maritsa Santiago counts doing just that as a fond childhood memory. “In second grade, my teacher assigned our class to maintain checkbooks for ourselves,” she says. “The other students and I would get to add ‘money’ when we received good grades or were well behaved or subtracted from our balance when that was not the case. I had so much fun balancing my checkbook and we eventually got to use our money to ‘shop’ for candy and toys at the teacher’s ‘store’!”
A self-professed “competitive, Type-A person” Maritsa also fondly recalls “racing to complete her math sheets in class…and the anticipation of being the first person in the class to turn it over with everything correct.” I loved math so much as a kid!”
While attending college, Maritsa considered pursuing a career as a pharmacist ― she had a great love of science too ― or an accountant but began to feel unfulfilled with her coursework. After speaking with one of her professors who worked as an IT Auditor (responsible for analyzing and assessing technological infrastructure to find problems with efficiency, risk management, and compliance) Maritsa became intrigued with the idea of doing something like that herself. “This was something that I had not heard of before and it sounded interesting because while it presented a new challenge, I could apply the concepts that I had learned about in school. At the time, I really did not realize how big technology was or would become but I finished my degree with an emphasis on systems.”
“When I started working in technology, IT auditing was new. It was right around the time that Sarbanes Oxley mandates began and there were new, strict reforms to improve financial disclosures from corporations and prevent accounting fraud. This required companies to start auditing their systems and many people were pulled out of accounting departments to work in this area. The great thing about it was it resulted in more women working in the IT auditing space.
“Many people think that to work in technology you need to be a software engineer but that’s only one of the roles available. Everything we do now is supported by technology; think about the different systems you have at home. It is a dominating industry, it’s not going away and it welcomes everyone. Technology is where it is at… why not be there?”
To Director, Software Engineering
Given where she is today, it is almost comical that Natasha Reid had no interest in computers while she was growing up in Valdosta, Georgia. However, this was the case even though Tasha’s home was one of the very few in her small town to have a computer. “My mom studied computer information systems in college,” she says. “But I was all about art and debating, that is where my focus was. I spoke competitively during high school and won the National Lincoln Douglas Debate competition for Phi Beta Lambda in college. Technology was the farthest thing from my mind.”
While she was a teenager, Tasha’s family relocated to Idaho (which is where she graduated high school) after her stepfather was transferred to Mountain Home Air Force Base. Just as Tasha was readying her portfolio and applying to colleges, her life took a different turn. Her stepdad retired and her family moved back to Valdosta, assuming in-state scholarships would be awaiting her. This was not the case. “For me, the move meant that I had little choice where I could study,” explains Tasha. “It was basically technical college or nothing. So, I enrolled in a computer information systems program thinking I’d do it for a while and transfer elsewhere later on.”
At first, the program left a lot to be desired. “I hated it,” she says. “Seriously, it was awful. There were only a couple of other women and I could count the black people on one hand, including myself. I was completely different than the archetypal introverted video/board gaming technology students around me. I was supposed to be studying art and creating!” However, Tasha soon learned there was an upside to her computer courses. “I started to like the culture and I found I could be myself, just focus and do my best. During my time there, I always felt it was a bit like being an astronaut ― where there were not many people like me around! But I liked that I could really be myself.”
Through a partnership between her technical college and Valdosta State University, Tasha became one of the first participants in a new computer information systems program at VSU, where she was able to put her precious in-state scholarships to work. She was then presented with another challenge. “My new program required me to take on an internship, so I hit the Yellow Pages ― this was a LONG time ago ― and began cold calling companies offering to build them a free inventory database. It worked and I ended up with three opportunities!
“Looking back, for me none of this was planned,” says Tasha. “I was not always in love with working in technology, it just happened. But once I started working with data I discovered I loved it. Maybe because it means I use the artistic side of my brain. Working in technology truly has exercised my mind in so many ways… understanding it, consuming it, looking for patterns inside of it… all of which I genuinely love. I know this is 1000% my calling!”
From Open-Minded Adventurer
To Senior Systems Engineer
Sarah Fabius is a woman who lives by the credo ‘it’s never too late to start something new.’ She’s always been open to trying new sports ― her current passion is paddleboarding — sampling new cuisines and traveling to new places. She even lived in Montreal for a few years, which is a far cry from the tropical climate of her hometown in South Florida. By keeping an open mind and accepting new challenges, Sarah also sparked an entirely new career and uncovered talents that she did not know she had.
While growing up, computer science was not on Sarah’s radar. “I went to a small high school that didn’t offer any computer classes,” she explains. “Since it was not an option in school, I honestly never considered it. I used computers for typical teen stuff, like doing homework, chatting with friends, downloading music and playing video games but I never would have imagined doing anything more than that, let alone having a career in technology.”
After graduating from Florida International University with a degree in International Relations, Sarah landed a position working at a local start-up. “This was where I got some exposure to technology and gained work experience in general because it was a small company with no IT department and not many other resources either,” says Sarah. “I pitched in and quickly learned how to develop websites, did CRM, data entry, marketing…you name it, I did it.”
Sarah eventually began to crave something that was more defined, a career rather than a job. “I realized I wanted more. I was looking to not wear so many hats and I wanted to work at a larger company where I could focus my skills and grow.” It is for this reason that Sarah interviewed for a project management position at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. The universe had something different planned for her, however.
“The hiring manager told me that they saw ‘something in me’ and asked if I would consider an entry-level position as a systems engineer. I had no idea what a systems engineer was, and no experience, but the hiring manager explained that they could train me on the technical aspects of the role but that my dedication, communication skills, passion, etc. were things that you just don’t learn. He also thought my other skills around collaboration and working with customers were valuable, so he took me on and I trained on the job.
“I remember thinking ― are they sure? Is this a mistake? But it just felt right. From Day 1, I was surrounded by such a great group of co-workers. I had numerous mentors who provided guidance and training. It was a big learning curve and I loved it! I loved being in a room filled with some of the brightest people I had ever met and being able to absorb and learn so much." For many years, Sarah was the only female on her team. “I loved that we were culturally diverse and I know that as a woman without a formal technology background, I brought an element to that team that was different. I had unique perspectives, thoughts and suggestions…that none of the others on the team would even venture to consider on their own.”
To Dances with Codes
As a child in Mumbai, Shalaka Algeri practiced Bharatnatyam — one of India’s oldest dances, which is regarded as the genesis of all Indian classical dance forms. Shalaka did not realize it at the time but while she was learning the art form, she was also training for the career of her lifetime. “Now that I work in technology, I can see how my dance training helped prepare me,“ Shalaka says. “Everything about dancing — from how the steps flow into one another to performing a dance by repeating steps with precision — can be applied to coding and technology. In fact, if I were to write out instructions and steps for a particular dance, it would be very similar to a computer program.”
Shalaka’s first exposure to computer technology was in a class offered in her high school. “I was good at it,” she shares, “but having one’s own computer at home was a rarity in the part of India where I lived, so I didn’t have the chance to explore and learn more.” Inspired by an uncle who worked in healthcare and her love of science in high school, Shalaka initially planned to pursue studying medicine in college. Like many young students, she had a few other ideas as well. “I enjoyed my science classes in high school and I did well in them so I thought that maybe I would become a physician. However, after getting the opportunity to study coding languages in college and getting my own personal computer, information technology became another potential major for me. So by the time I needed to choose a major, I was thoroughly confused! Fortunately, my parents supported me and respected that wherever I landed needed to be my decision."
In one of those rare instances where peer pressure leads to something good, Shalaka decided to listen to her friends and cousins, who were all abuzz about studying computers. “Everyone was talking about information technology and it was something I enjoyed and was good at, so… that’s the path I chose for a major. By the time I began working on my final year project in college, I realized how much I loved studying technology and was thrilled that I had made the right choice!”
“My first job was at a company based in Bangalore and I was involved with automation testing. I was on a team with multiple coders, and experienced a huge learning curve and my career just grew from there.
Working in technology truly puts me in a state of bliss; I enjoy ‘cracking the code’ of complex problems and am deeply satisfied when I achieve something new and/or surpass a target.“
Today, dance still plays a part in Shalaka's life. “When the pandemic hit I resumed learning Bharatnatyam so things have really come full circle!”
Women in Tech: We are here
One of the many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, the Women in Tech ERG is committed to boosting the number and representation of women in company leadership roles, supporting the overall growth of women in the organization and fostering a culture where women feel included and engaged. Visit LexisNexis Risk Solutions Careers to learn how you can become a part of the team.