Adding Myself to the Conversation: An Engineer’s Journey in Public Speaking

JAN. 11, 2018

As a software engineer who also happens to be a woman, I’m frequently asked for my opinion about how to get more girls and women into tech. While there is much focus on getting girls at a young age to become and stay interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), I believe it’s equally important for women who already work in STEM to be role models. Without role models, girls and women who are interested in STEM may not realize that they can make a career based on their interests. Even if they do, they might be discouraged from pursuing or even continuing a STEM career when they don’t see anyone who looks like them getting recognition for their work.

Without role models, girls and women who are interested in STEM may not realize that they can make a career based on their interests.

When I first started working at Square Root, I realized I could do more to be a role model for other women in tech. I had previously given a few short talks at Women Who Code Austin meetups. However, I really wanted to improve my public speaking skills and get out of my comfort zone in order to reach more people in tech.

One of the great perks Square Root offers its employees is an annual Learn Anything budget. This Learn Anything budget gives every employee an allowance to spend on learning that would further their professional or personal development. So last year, I decided to use part of my budget to help me become a better public speaker.

To start, I chose to attend the Write/Speak/Code conference, a hands-on conference specifically tailored to help women in tech hone in ways to share their expertise. All of the speakers at  Write/Speak/Code were women, a stark difference from any other tech conference I’ve attended where 90% of the speakers are men. Hearing their talks inspired me to come up with several topics I could speak about at a conference. After the conference, I set a goal of submitting a talk proposal to a conference within the next 6 months and enlisted my co-workers to keep me accountable.

The first talk proposal I submitted was to ChefConf 2017. ChefConf brings people together to discuss bleeding edge technology related to DevOps and best practices of using Chef, a DevOps tool. A recent hot topic in the Chef user community has been the challenges of getting engineers to use Chef and become involved in DevOps. Chef is an integral part of Square Root’s tech stack and I led the successful effort to get my fellow engineers to use Chef so I knew I could become a thought leader in this ongoing discussion.

Since DevOps involves a set of practices that ties together engineering and IT operations teams, it’s an area of tech heavily dominated by men. I wanted to share my knowledge at ChefConf to show that women are active in DevOps. It was my hope that my presence on stage would encourage other women to work in this burgeoning area of tech.

It was my hope that my presence on stage would encourage other women to work in this burgeoning area of tech.

When my talk was accepted and put on the conference schedule, I was ecstatic but also so nervous about giving a talk at a national conference. Thankfully, the rest of the engineering team was very open to hearing me practice my talk. This proved useful at ChefConf when due to technical difficulties, I couldn’t use my prepared notes! I was still able to deliver my talk about how good DevOps practices were established at Square Root and the challenges we faced so that other engineering organizations might be able to avoid them.

Afterwards, some women attending the conference thanked me for giving the talk and told me how seeing another woman on the stage made them feel more welcomed in the tech industry. My talk at ChefConf definitely made me feel accomplished and I’m no longer afraid to speak to large audiences about my work. I now know that I have a lot of knowledge to share and will continue to give talks as much as I can.

If you’re looking to be welcomed in the tech industry or want to work somewhere that supports a journey like the one I had, we are hiring! Check out Square Root careers now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ANNIE HSIEH

As a member of our engineering team, Annie is our resident API Wrangler. She is focused on back-end web development, and loves setting up apps to consume data from APIs or developing them for other systems to use. She is constantly inspired by solving the unsolvable problems—which is probably why she believes anything is possible. Outside of Square Root, Annie is a self proclaimed astronomy nerd and helped build a satellite while in college that NSAS released on one of the last space shuttle flights. She also loves live music, knitting, and fosters dogs regularly. Annie received a bachelor’s of science in Computer and Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.