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Starting Out as a Female in Science and Technology

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…some of the Participants from She Hacks Africa Coding Boot Camp -Cohort 10

It is common to find out these days that many women and girls are not taking up careers in science and technology but from history it was never so. You can read more about this “secret” history here, where you will find out about how women started in science and technology back in the years, what went wrong along the line, and it will make you realize that we need to get more women back into science and technology.

One reason I think we are not finding more women in this path is because of the notion that science and technology is hard and taking up a career there is tough and not sustainable in the long run for women. That is wrong! If you believe you can do it, you are right and if you believe otherwise, you are also correct. It is all in the mindset.

Recently, I get a lot of questions from girls trying to start out in the path of tech. They are interested but do not know how to begin. It then leads me to show you in this place how you can start. Starting is just the first step but continuing is the greater leap. Sometimes, starting is harder but like I always say, “Just start. Start small. Start anyhow” and you will be glad you did. I will not just show you ways to start but I will also identify things you can do to help you stay focused on this path you are choosing. Just stay with me.

Steps to take in starting out

1.  Ask Questions

I am very sure that there are people already threading the path you also want to thread and you can find them. It is wisdom for you to ask what it is like being in that field and what will be required of you to succeed there. Questions will enlighten you and will also encourage you. Some of the people you will be asking questions from will also be so nice to tell you their own story of how they started too and who knows, you just might get a mentor from your discussions and questions just because they see your interest and they can see that you will need help. The more questions you ask, the more insight you gain. Questioning prepares your mind and helps you think deeply about your decisions. If you are also confused about the several opportunities available to you as a person in science and technology, you will find answers through your questions.

2. Visit sites of operations

You might be wondering what I am thinking with the above statement. Visit sites of operation. For example, if you are looking into taking up a career or doing something along the lines of engineering, take an excursion to an engineering site where you can see how they do things there. If you want to be a software developer, you can visit a tech startup. Ask questions too when you get there. There is something powerful about sight and seeing. What you see is what you get! That singular act will solidify your decisions to say, “I want to do this” or “I don’t want to do this”. It is very important that you understand what you are getting into before you even start. It wouldn’t be so nice for you to start only to give up right in the middle. So, go for that visit!

3. Understand why you are starting

I have this maxim and it goes thus: “Before you quit, remember why you started”. A lot of people go into science and technology blindly. Some follow friends and some just feel that being a female in science and technology make you really unique; one girl amongst a thousand men (smiles). Yes, you are unique but there is no career path that doesn’t come with its challenges and troubles. Understand that you are getting into serious business when you choose to tow the path of science and technology and when I say serious business, I just mean that you are coming to solve problems. As a scientist and technologist, you are a problem solver and if you understand this and are ready to be just this and nothing less, then start now. 

4. Forget what you hear

In making a decision about wanting to be in science and technology, you will hear a lot of things. Most are targeted at you to discourage you and make you give up your dream of ever getting started at all. You will hear, “it is hard”. You will hear, “you are not a man”. I have been told before. It can even be your parents telling you this. It can be your friends. Some will say, “you are not strong enough” and they can even say, “you are not good enough”. Some male folks may even think you want to start competing with them. You will get all kinds of reactions from men and women alike and a lot of them won’t be pleasant to you. You know what you want and that should be enough reason for you to forget whatever you hear that is bent on discouraging or pulling you down. I believe you are strong and I believe you can do it. Go for it!

5. Take action and start

This is the most important step of all. It is not enough to have asked questions, paid the visit, understand the why of starting and still not start. That will make all the other efforts futile. Just start. Starting will require that you pay some sacrifice. You might need to save money to get tools if there is a need for that or stay up late into the night to read up and acquire knowledge for your chosen field. You will need to put in the hard work as well. This hard work is required as you will need to show something for all the efforts. If you don’t take action, no one will ever believe you can do it. Taking action is the only way to get yourself into science and technology and to get more women and girls to join you to do this, even as you will inspire them with your bold step of starting out.

Staying focused after starting out

Now that you have started, you will need to be focused. What are the things you can need to do stay focused? I know you can get lonely on this new route you have started to take. I also know that without motivation or inspiration, you might just be wanting out very soon. You can do the following:

1. Join a community

I cannot overemphasize the importance of communities. No man is an island and we will always need like-minded people around us to motivate and push us to be better people. If you are struggling to find relevant communities around you, you can register on meetup.com to find available ones near you. You need communities to help you realize that you are not alone in this and there are many people out there just like you, females most especially, doing what you do.

2. Keep learning

You cannot afford to rest on your oars now. You have made the decision to start. You can only stay relevant with knowledge. Science and technology is one field where you need to continually learn to keep up with whatever goes on in your field. You will not want to go extinct very fast. Learning will help you stay focused on that chosen path and you will be better off for it. There are several online courses out there with contents for science and technology. There are physical trainings, conferences and workshops too. There is no excuse for ignorance.

3. Never give up

If I tell you the road will be easy, I will be lying to you. Now that you have started to climb the ladder of science and technology, it will look like you are down at the bottom of the ladder but if you keep striving without giving up, in no time, you will be right there at the top of the ladder. A lot of things will want to make you quit. You will feel like giving up at some point. I can assure you that. The only thing that will keep you going is your determination to never give up and if you don’t give up, you will have a beautiful story to tell about how you started and have made it to the top.               

As a woman or girl looking to start out in science and technology, no matter your age, I just want to tell you that you are needed and there is space at the top for every woman or girl who wants to create an impact right here and right now. My advice is  – just start.                                                                                                                                                 Written by: Mary Abiodun, SHE HACKS AFRICA Alumni