On her first day in the tech industry, Anuradha Bhowmick felt like she might not last a full week. Stepping into a software development company as a graduate engineer was a lot tougher than she could've imagined. Thankfully, she did make it through that first week and has spent the past 17 years continuing to climb the tech ladder.
Muddling through the early stages of your career can be tough enough, without the added layer of adjusting to a male-dominated industry.
To set the scene, the proportion of women working across STEM-qualified industries in Australia has only risen from a measly 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2020. This imbalance in numbers only leads to further inequalities. A report into Australian STEM industries showed that the gender pay gap is higher here than in other industries, and five years after graduating, men are 1.8 times more likely to be working in the field compared to their female peers.
Despite working in a male-dominated field, both Bhowmick — who is now Technology Strategy Senior Manager at Accenture Australia — and Dr. Rhodora Abadia, a Program Facilitator at the UniSA Online, love working in tech.
“There is always something new to learn, which means new or better solutions to existing problems,” Dr Abadia tells Refinery29 Australia. “I have always believed in the power of technology to help improve the quality of our lives." Bhowmick echoes this sentiment, saying that she enjoys constantly innovating to find new ways to do things.
So, how can women in general, and women of colour in particular, forge a successful career in tech when the odds are stacked against them? We asked Bhowmick and Dr Abadia to reflect on their careers and share some advice.
R29: Looking back, what professional advice would you give to your younger selves?
Dr Abadia: My advice is not to do too many things. It is good to try different things and be passionate about technology, but you don’t need to be an expert in all these technologies. Another piece of advice would be to be more assertive when sharing your ideas rather than waiting to be acknowledged.
Bhowmick: I wish I had the wisdom I have now, twenty years ago! Although I prioritised my family, work and education life well, the advice I would give my younger self is to have more patience and worry less about consequences — it all works out in the end.
R29: What’s the most useful piece of advice you were given in your career?
Dr Abadia: You can be whoever you want to be and choose whatever career you want, just be very good at it.
Bhowmick: I am lucky to have worked alongside some very smart and intelligent peers and managers. Coming from the tech world, the best advice I ever received was from my first manager, who said, “Don’t worry about what programming language or technology you are asked to work on. It takes a night to pick up a programming language — instead pay attention to the problem you are asked to solve and understand what really needs to be done. A problem may not always have a technology solution”.
R29: As leaders in the industry, what advice would you give to young women or gender-diverse people starting out?
Dr Abadia: There are a growing number of women and gender-diverse people who are taking the lead in the tech industry who can be your role models. Although it is still male-dominated, more opportunities are now being offered to women in tech. The industry is realising that having gender-diverse tech professionals brings alternative viewpoints, which makes companies more successful. It is very important that you are self-aware and confident in what your strengths are and use them to achieve your goals. This will lead to gaining trust and respect from your peers.
There are also a variety of careers in tech and you would be surprised that it is not just programming. It's important that you challenge yourself, try new things and find your passion.
Bhowmick: I studied in an all-girls school, but in university, my cohort had 10%-15% female participation. Every project team I worked with had very few women present. In some teams, I was the only one. After a while, I got used to the fact that I may be the only female in most meetings and workshops.
My advice to all — including young men — is to never hold doubt about your individuality. Every team works towards solving problems that need creative ideas and logical thinking. Make it a winning team by trusting each other’s abilities.
Also, be open to the opportunities you are given. There will be difficult times along the way but always remember you are not alone — you just need to identify people who can help.
R29: What skills should people work on if they want to pursue a career in tech?
Dr Abadia: For me, the most important skills are the ability to adapt fast, identify the right problem, solve it and deliver results. Since technology is always changing, your ability to adapt fast to these changes and quickly learn them are important skills.
When you have all these technologies, and you need to develop new products, processes, or businesses, it is important that you can articulate why those problems need to be prioritised and deliver the solutions to those problems.
Bhowmick: In today’s world with technology in abundance, the industry is struggling to find the exact skills required for a job. It's not always possible to learn a skill in a few days for a job interview.
Instead, technology recruiters are now looking for candidates who bring a positive attitude, are willing to learn constantly and can apply critical thinking towards problem-solving. Cloud technology is here to stay and can be considered a foundational skill that organisations are looking for from experienced candidates.
R29: In an industry that moves so quickly, how do you keep up?
Dr Abadia: Continuous professional development is needed in a career in tech. With the increasing availability of flexible online learning, you can work, take care of your family and study in your own time. I think online learning has provided a platform for women in particular to upskill. I have students who are full-time mums but want to start a career in tech once their children are old enough to go to preschool, so studying online helps them prepare for their careers.
Bhowmick: In my career, I have tried many ways to learn and upskill, such as online micro-learning, certification courses, classroom or virtual training and even spending some hours each week to read up about technology.
However, the best way so far has been learning on the job. I am always happy to explore and take up new challenges and then figure out what applies best. These kinds of learning curves are very steep and long lasting, as you apply your learnings immediately and try out different options if something doesn’t work. For example, I picked up cloud technology only when a client was willing to move away from on-premises data centres and started to migrate to cloud platforms.
To make the move into a career in tech, a degree like UniSA Online and Accenture’s Bachelor of Digital Business is a great way to learn from industry leaders while still studying in a flexible way. The Innovation Academy teaches students how to harness the power of technology and apply it to a range of businesses, so your career options can stay wide open.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.