Career Lessons for Women in Tech from the Grace Hopper Conference

Perhaps my most visceral lesson from the recent Grace Hopper conference was “Good lord, Google has a lot of money.”

I attended a Women Techmakers event, sponsored by Google, at Epcot Center on the second night of the conference. They effectively rented out the park after-hours. And they serve damn fine party food.

I was at the conference in large part to give a talk about stock options in privately held companies. While I was there, I also made a point of talking to other attendees. (I am a networking machine at conferences. It’s my super power.)

What could I learn about career success for women in tech, as they move through their careers in the industry, an industry known for sexism and ageism? I don’t have to be a career coach to know that planning for and working on your professional life is essential to professional success.

And I want you to have professional success because that’s where those awesome financial opportunities live!

Lesson #1. Your approach to professional development needs to change as you age and change career stages.

This conference skews young. Lots of college students and just-out-of-college young women. I observed far fewer experienced (10+ years in the industry) women. In fact, one Facebook recruiter talked about “senior” developers as having 6 or 7 years in the industry. (I did wonder what a 20-year veteran might then be called.)

The older women (and let me say here that I’m using “older” to mean about 40 and up) I met were largely presenters, recruiters, or “ambassadors” from their companies, intended to woo the younger set.

This intrigued and worried me. All the under-30 crowd were energetic and optimistic about their career opportunities at the conference. But what would happens down the line when these youngsters inevitably become “older,” and still want to work in tech?

When I spoke with these older women, some women simply painted sad tales of losing one job and having to wait a full year (or more) to find another job because they were “overqualified” or their paygrade was too high. Or, as one woman reported, a recruiter flat out told her she was too old for the recruiter to find her a job.

A couple women who had chosen not to move into management level roles, and intentionally remained as an individual contributor, said that maintaining specific skill sets is hugely important to remaining relevant and employable.

Focus on Your Network as Your Career Ages

Most women talked about how the rules of the game simply change as you progress in your career. When you’re early, maybe even mid career, you can still apply to jobs by submitting applications for posted jobs.

But, as one older woman who worked for HBO told me (and I paraphrase lightly here), “If you’re submitting resumes as an older person in tech, you’re not going to get a job. You need to have made a name for yourself in your professional community. People need to know you already.”

The old “it’s who you know, not what you know” adage…but with the explicit addition of “make a name for yourself in your industry or professional community.”  Basically, you had better start thinking about your personal brand, and how to build it into something desirable for employers.

If you’re 30 years old now, then in 10 years, assuming all goes well, you’ll be 40 years old. Or 40 and 50. In the tech industry. Maybe ageism will no longer be a problem. But most likely it still will be, don’t you want to cultivate your professional and financial lives starting now to make sure you have the most choice when you get there?

Lesson #2. Don’t forget about the world of tech beyond The Tech Industry.

The Exhibitor Hall, <ahem> the mind-blowingly big Exhibitor Hall was an inescapable reminder that tech underlies many industries, and that amazing tech-job opportunities can be found outside of Silicon Valley/Alley/Beach.

At the conference, companies from heavy industry (Northrup Grumman, General Electric), the insurance industry (MetLife, Geico), the finance industry (JP Morgan, CapitalOne), and the military were all eager to hire the best and brightest. There were lots of companies in addition to what I tend to think of as tech companies (Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft, BlueApron, etc.).

It’s possible that these different industries could offer you a life/culture/skill fit that the “usual” tech-industry companies can’t. If not now, then maybe 10 years from now. This is something to keep in mind when you’re working on your career path.

Lesson #3. Young women in tech are alarmingly ignorant of their finances.

Now, of course, this is an observation that likely only I would have made at this conference, as I was the only financial planner there (that I know of). But I talked to a lot of women under 30 who, when they found out I was a financial planner, said things like, “Oh, I should talk to you” or more alarmingly, “Oh, I’m so bad finances.” I told so many women to please just go read Personal Finance for Dummies.

The only specific questions I got from these women were about investing in stocks and bitcoin. Which, frankly, scared me a bit. Stocks and bitcoin are interesting, for sure, but on the list of “Things that you should focus on to strengthen your finances,” they’re so damn far down on the list they fall off the bottom. And they make it way too easy to lose way too much of your money.

This is a major reason why I want to work with women in tech. Here are these young women, just a few years in to their career in a profession that  offers such great financial opportunities, which could give them such power and choice in their life 10 years down the line…and they’re too intimidated to learn much about it.

Imagine if all women in tech started learning about personal finance, controlling their own finances, and taking advantage of all the financial opportunities their unfolding careers puts in front of them. What could happen if these women had the financial resources to make decisions they wanted to, not just the decisions they were forced into? I have a feeling it would change things for the better. Both for the women and for the industry.

Lesson #4. I talked with the Vice President of Post Production for “Game of Thrones” over a sushi lunch.

And on that note, I’m out.

Do you want to learn more about how to invest to support your future life? Reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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