This is what I'd tell any women going into a Software Engineering degree
From the perspective of a recent Software Engineering Grad, NZ, 2020.
While Software Engineering is gradually increasing in diversity, the reality hits home harder than you might think. In my final year of Software Engineering, the graduating class of 2020 was composed of 66 students, just 12 of who were female. Despite the warnings and my understanding that I was entering a "male-dominated" field when choosing University courses at high school, facing the reality head-on, every day, is another matter entirely.
I was recently inspired by a talk I gave at my old high school (an all-girls school) to the senior Computer Science class. I was encouraged by the things they were learning, much of which I didn't encounter until my second year at University, and enjoyed the thoughtful questions they asked. And while I eagerly tried to give them as much advice as I could before the entered into this next chapter of their lives, I couldn't help but feel like they just wouldn't 'get it' until they actually walked into that first lecture and started their first assignment. It was then that I wanted to be there - with the advice, with the reassurance. To hear about their lectures, about their assignments and problems. For me, it was at that time that I felt like I needed the most support. When it's early in the year and you don't know anyone and the work is hard and you feel like the rest of you class already knows it all and that you'd look dumb for asking a question. It's at that point that I want to help the most.
Now obviously I can't just hang around in the university corridors at the start of every University year, giving out pep talks and hi-fiving students coming out of lectures. But that's what the internet is for, right? Virtual hi-fives! (whohoo!). No really, it's here that I'm going to try put down my advice for women starting a degree in Software Engineering. So at least I can be there virtually (sort of) at that pivotal point. Here it goes:
It's way more creative than you think
Engineering has a pretty intense rep for being super logical and rules-based - and part of it is. But there is way more creativity involved than what you might expect. This was difficult for me to understand at first - my answer was different from his so it must be wrong. No. There are so many different ways to solve a problem, and your way is just different. That's good.
The guys don't understand it either
Seriously. If you're lost and have no idea what is going on, the guys are too. If you're confused on an assignment, or don't know where to find certain resources, they are too. It's likely through no fault of your own or any lack of your personal 'smartness'. Get the courage to ask around (your classmates, lecturers, tutors) and find some useful answers. You won't be the only one confused. Plus remember that other people's weaknesses can be your strengths, and that just makes you more powerful.
You will have a different learning style than other successful students and that's okay
In one of my first lectures, I was the only person taking notes. At first, I was so self-conscious that I was too scared to even take out a pen and instead just tried to memorise everything the lecturer was saying as he said it. It wasn't long until I realised that this strategy sucked, it was not how I learnt, and God-damn-it, I was paying for this course so I'll learn it in a way that best suits me. And after all that fear, the only comment I got was that my handwriting was neat (although I don't think the standard was very high).
If you're feeling out of your comfort zone, you're on the right track
This one is old but true. When you really are feeling like you have no idea what's going on, but you still are eager and determined to learn then you are exactly where you want to be. As scary as it can feel, if you're not in this position, then try and seek it out. It will grow you like nothing else.
Look for industry experience early - YES you are good enough.
Industry experience is so valuable. It doesn't just give you the extra skills that you need but aren't taught at University, it also provides you with that vital professional network. Building a network is fantastic for so many reasons, and getting started early is always an advantage. Not applying is already a 'no', so at least by applying you're giving yourself a chance and some good practice. You might surprise yourself.
BONUS: "She'll never notice me starring" thought 100 engineering boys sitting in a lecture hall.
Walking into an engineering lecture late can be intimidating. And guys are not subtle. They'll get over it. And so will you.
There you go - that's my five (plus a bonus!) top tips for any women starting a degree in Software Engineering. It won't be easy, but from the other side, I can tell you it's worth it. You'll make some amazing friends, learn a ton, and impress yourself. Now go forth and crush it.