5 Women on the Thrills and Challenges of Working in Tech

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In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting some of the most badass, boundary-breaking women we know. At the top of our list are ladies, like the five below, who have pushed the envelope to achieve major success in traditionally male-dominated fields, including technology.

The tech boom has simultaneously simplified and complicated our lives in massive ways—our smartphones insta-deliver news, entertainment, communication, food, and even dates, but basic systems like the presidential election are now vulnerable to digital hacks. Another gripe people have with a tech-fueled world is that it’s not creating the number of jobs you might expect, given how it rules our lives.

No matter how you feel about the tech revolution, there’s no avoiding the challenges and opportunities it presents on a daily basis. I talked to five women about the careers they’ve created in the tech space. Jobs at Tinder, Candy Crush, and other digital mainstays might not be easy to come by, but the people who do them drive our everyday experiences. And to hear them tell it, tech is becoming increasingly friendly to ambitious women who are determined to break in. Below, find out more about how they did it—and how you can, too.

It sucks that women in the gaming world get targeted by trolls on a larger scale than men.

The Game Designer

Yonna Ingolf, 26, Narrative Designer at King for Candy Crush FranchiseStockholm, SE

“I’ve always played and loved games, but didn’t think about it as something I could work with until I was around 20. I found a school focusing on game design and everything fell into place. My days can look very different, since I work with a couple of different games and a lot of different teams. In a week I can work on stories for new episodes, themes for different live events in the games, and new gameplay features. My office has a very relaxed vibe. There are definitely stressful periods, like any job, but there is a lot of playing around and fun events surrounding the industry. My biggest challenge has been, and still is, to not become my job. Working in a creative environment you constantly put yourself out there, and feel a personal attachment to the work you deliver. I’ve learned is that if I have an off day, that’s OK—and normal.

While I’m outnumbered by men in my industry, I’ve never felt underestimated by the people I work with. Where I have felt underestimated is rather in some toxic communities surrounding gaming. It sucks that some ‘dudebros’ doubt that I work in the industry, that I like games, or say I should be a ‘booth babe’ instead of a designer. It sucks that women in the gaming world get targeted by trolls and hate on the internet on a much larger scale than men who say or do the same things. It can be hard, but there’s no better way of fighting that toxicity than from inside the industry. If you’re interested in going into gaming, make sure the school you go to has an internship period—that way you’ll experience the industry and get to know people. See if there are any game dev meetups in your area and get to know people in the industry. Learn a little about everything! Make some art, try out 3D modeling, write some code or script, create some sound effects. If you don’t have the opportunity or tools to do it, then you can at least read about it.”

It’s not as simple as ‘build a website and they will come.’

The Virtual Assistant

Michelle Mangen, Virtual Bookkeeper at The Virtual Assistant, LLC, FL

I first learned of virtual assistants as a result of reading a romance novel. It was a few years later before I explored it in more detail. I started as a general administrative virtual assistant and have, over time, evolved and now I only offer bookkeeping services to small businesses. Most of what I do in a day is bookkeeping related-paying team members, reconciling bank statements, preparing financials, etc. I work at home, so most days I’m in comfy clothes. The biggest challenge was getting my first client—it’s not as simple as ‘build a website and they will come.’ I often considered throwing in the towel and finding a corporate America position. My best advice, if you want to be a VA, is to get tech savvy and don’t ever quit learning! Be brave and reach out to established virtual assistants and see if they’d be willing to hire you as an intern.”

MORE: 10 Things Never to Do in a Job Interview

Rosette Pambakian

Pambakian with at Tinder HQ with Communications Manager Evan Bonnstetter / @rosettep

We all need to do our part to mentor and encourage other women.

The Tinder Exec

Rosette Pambakian, 33, VP of Communications and Branding at TinderLos Angeles, CA

“Growing up, I always aspired to make a difference somehow. It may be cliché, but I believe creating connections across the world is making that difference. Experiencing friendship and love is so powerful, and I’m proud to work at a place where I get to help people do that. Every single day at Tinder is different. Our company and product is constantly evolving, which is what makes my job so exciting. One day I’ll be in Europe meeting with reporters, the next day I’ll be discussing branding strategy with other Tinder executives, and the next day I’ll be in the office planning product releases for the upcoming year. The tech industry can be difficult, though. People work long hours and pour their hearts into products that may not work out in the long run. Instead of letting that intimidate us, we use it to push ourselves to be our best. I often spend more time in the office than I do at my own house, so the people I work with really feel like family. 

I think the tech industry is a great place for women to succeed and stand out, and the Tinder workplace is such a creative, fun environment that fosters creativity and collaboration. It’s empowering to work in a male-dominated industry and come to the table with results and ideas that are just as impactful, if not more so, than what the men are doing. The industry is evolving, and more and more women are thriving in tech, but we all need to do our part to mentor and encourage other women. If you’re looking to go into tech, my best tip is that if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. I said yes to a few huge moves in my career that propelled me to where I am today. I knew there were risks when I joined Tinder, but I also knew that there was a possibility for a great reward.”

When you can work from anywhere, you end up working everywhere.

The Digital Entrepreneur

Michelle Dale, 35, CEO of Virtual Miss Friday & 1nSourcing, usually in Greece

“I quit my job and left the UK when I was 23 on a one-way ticket to Egypt, which was when I realized I wanted to live abroad full-time and be able to travel the world whenever I wanted. I started looking for how I could work online and I came across virtual assistance, which became my source of income and passion, and led me to create a virtual assistant assistant training program. An average workday for me involves working through items that my team needs assistance with; planning and implementing projects for clients; devising new ideas for online launches and products; blogging and vlogging. For me, it’s all about the lifestyle: working online, living the dream, breaking away from the 9-to-5, being your own boss, earning more money, doing what you actually enjoy. It’s about working around your lifestyle, rather than the opposite. In any service-based industry, particularly when you have your own business, the challenge is to make plenty of time for yourself. When you can work from anywhere, you end up working everywhere, so it’s not unusual for me to check emails in the middle of the night, work on weekends, and hours just roll into other hours. You have to find the right balance.

Virtual assistance is one of the fastest-growing online industries, mainly because the demand is growing so much. I don’t think anyone, man or woman, can make you feel outnumbered or underestimated unless you allow it. It’s about focusing on yourself, developing your skills, delivering value, and having the confidence to go out there and do your best because you know you’re worth it. My best advice is to find a role model, someone who you can look at and say, I like what they’ve done, I like their lifestyle, and I want to learn from them. So many people offer online courses, training, and mentorship—myself included!—so take advantage of resources, hold your head high, and go for it. Never wait for everything to be perfect—there will never be a perfect time, place, circumstance, financial situation, family situation. There’s now, so work with it!”

As a woman, you’re naturally outnumbered.

The Engineer

Anna N. Schlegel, 48, Senior Director, Globalization and Information at NetApp and author of Truly GlobalSilicon Valley, CA

“I never set out to be in Engineering! I fell into it through different high-tech job assignments in Silicon Valley, and taking risks within these companies. I started working with Cisco in the 90s, and from there I went on to working at Xerox, VMware, and NetApp. I have been a general manager and CEO for two globalization companies. An average day at my current job entails a lot of global calls with Europe and Asia to align, evangelize, and monitor our program goals; talking to our suppliers and agencies; and reporting back to executives on progress, or escalations and wins. NetApp has repeatedly been ranked as a great place to work which is hugely important to be able to work within a respectful environment. There’s a lot of room to innovate. 

High-tech engineering environments have low numbers of gender diversity. As a woman, you’re naturally outnumbered. The key is to work in groups where all participants value your opinion and prepare yourself to be part of environments where you will be the minority. Unconscious Bias trainings can help. Find out who’s leading gender diversity in your company and try to volunteer to help change with our companies. For women looking to become engineers, my advice is to learn how to present in public; communicate succinctly in writing, calls, and presentations; join forums of your craft to hear how others resolve similar issues; and find mentors and talk to them regularly.”

MORE: How 6 Women Became CEOs Before 30

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