I have been working as a backend engineer for almost 3 years now as a self-taught engineer, and I've enjoyed this field a lot as I go deeper into system design and strengthening my CS fundamentals as I don't have any CS background in university. In my previous 2 companies, I've got good reviews from my peers and managers, and currently I'm in a team where I'm the only woman and also the youngest.
From networking and discussions, I understand that I am super fortunate to have the current position that I have and I have a lot to be grateful for because I manage to be entrusted with a really big end-to-end project and be equivalent to my peers who are much more senior than me.
However, I'm just tired because every time I need help for brainstorming and pairing, my peers will help me, but not without bragging themselves in the end ("how come you don't know this?", "I managed to be able to do this for the 1st time", etc). Also, I sense some hesitation from my peers to ask me questions (at least publicly in group chats), even for projects that I've done in the past and for which only I have the contexts. I sense this because my peers would only ask me through private chats and sometimes they would even go to the length of asking their other peer who would then ask me because he doesn't know the answer
I really hope that it's an issue with my performance, because then I can fix it, but sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's because of my gender and age and they just don't wanna look more "incompetent" than a "woman" and a "junior". Everytime I do something good outside of work such as becoming a tech speaker or teaching a bootcamp and I share it, I feel like I'm being shot down with words such as "I've done better than that", "Why did you even take up that speaker gig? Are you pretending to be a senior?". I mean, what's with the bragging? The insecurities? If you're more senior than me and you have more experience than me, of course they all look simple to you. There is no need to bring people down when they're trying to grow.
Adding more salt to that, they often joke with stuff such as "I still have slots for 3 more wives" "Why are you not married yet? The rest of us are married already, you don't wanna be an old spinster" and sometimes they would talk in detail about what they do with their wives that morning. All of these are wearing me down and make it hard for me to focus on my job and my passion, which is the tech stuff. I'm scared and uncomfortable of bringing this up with my manager and my HR because I'm scared of being labelled "sensitive" and "weak" for being offended by things like this because of the culture that I'm from. The minority of my coworkers (who are males) have actually noticed this problem and have shared their concerns too with me, but it seems that my manager doesn't want to acknowledge this problem at all and he thinks that it's all perfectly normal and just a banal banter. How should I proceed with this? Any advice? (preferably from females who have gone through this and succeeded in thriving through this). I would like to switch companies as soon as possible, but given the current market and I only joined this company for less than 7 months, I don't think quitting now is an option
First of all, is this in the US? If so, those are legitimate reasons for sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile workplace litigation. Otherwise, you may be out of luck in countries with fewer workplace protections.
Other than that, even in the US, implicit bias is a normal thing for younger people, women, and junior engineers. The engineering field has egos that are just as plentiful as the business, law, and medical fields—people rarely just work to get along in competitive fields. There is a sense of having to earn your stripes and tolerating stressful work conditions until you can move on to greener pastures. I would recommend trying to get into a name-brand company as fast as possible so that people won't dare question your qualifications.
As for tactics, don't tolerate sexist and toxic environments. If you can't sue, switch companies. Those companies are black companies, and even your run-of-the-mill startup has standards and policies to protect the dignity of their talent.
Hi Friendly Tarodactyl,
Thank you very much for your response! Unfortunately I am located somewhere in Southeast Asia where the patriarchal values are still highly regarded (because of religion). DEI values are only being introduced around 4-5 years ago, but most companies (including my current company) just see it as a fad they have to get in on in order to stay "edgy", which means that most of the time the "equality" values are just lip services with nobody actually trying to enforce those values.
My current company is a "name-brand company", and throughout my career I've always been in these "famous" companies in my country and the issues are always the same. I'm actually planning to migrate abroad to countries where the DEI values are better and actually upheld. Do you have any recommendations? However I'm a bit worried that I'll encounter the same situation where my credibility is being questioned constantly, and to be honest it kinda sucks to work super hard for years just to have to constantly fight for that respect and getting it only after 6 months or 1 year after joining a new company.
I was wondering if I can "shorten" that time amount of getting respect. Maybe I could take some certifications? Getting a degree is out of question since I can't afford it both finance and time wise. Do you think if I take AWS or GCP certification it will help me? I've taught bootcamps and become private tutor for CS A Level in Europe (online) but I'm not sure if they help with credibility
The engineering field has egos that are just as plentiful as the business, law, and medical fields—people rarely just work to get along in competitive fields. There is a sense of having to earn your stripes and tolerating stressful work conditions until you can move on to greener pastures.
I can see this, and I agree with you that competitive and toxic working conditions are more common than we think and they're spread out across various industries. One of the ways for me to cope with this is by training myself to have "auto-translator" in my head. So if my more senior peer is bragging with "I can do this better than you". Then I will react with "really? prove it" and then I'll learn from what he shows and then implement it in my next work. Or if my manager / senior already stops commenting on my technicality and starts commenting on my achievements with "It's easy for you because you are single and have no kids", then I will take it as a confirmation that I'm in the right direction of growth because I inspire jealousy instead of disrespect. Do you have more coping mechanism tactics that I can learn from?
Do you have any recommendations?
I would recommend a Western country where the gender equality gap is small. Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, the US, etc. How do you get there? I have no idea, but that would be the path forward.
Unfortunately I am located somewhere in Southeast Asia where the patriarchal values are still highly regarded (because of religion).
This sounds like Malaysia... Singapore would be your best target. In my opinion, it is the best out of the four little dragons—but you will still see a lot of the patriarchal values instilled in Asian countries.
However I'm a bit worried that I'll encounter the same situation where my credibility is being questioned constantly, and to be honest it kinda sucks to work super hard for years just to have to constantly fight for that respect and getting it only after 6 months or 1 year after joining a new company.
For this, I don't think you have to look specifically for DEI. Usually, senior leadership sets the culture of the company, so look for great leaders.
Maybe I could take some certifications? Getting a degree is out of question since I can't afford it both finance and time wise. Do you think if I take AWS or GCP certification it will help me?
I don't think it will since I don't keep track of who has what degrees and certifications. Consistency and follow-through are two key measures of "competence." I think focusing on fundamentals is much more important than trying to pick up new skills. If you think the certs will boost your understanding and foundational knowledge, then I would do it 100%—but I would not use it as a proxy for credibility.
So if my more senior peer is bragging with "I can do this better than you". Then I will react with "really? prove it" and then I'll learn from what he shows and then implement it in my next work.
I would avoid playing that game as the rules in your situation are not in your favor.
Do you have more coping mechanism tactics that I can learn from?
Read books on this topic, such as:
Get a career coach if you're struggling, specifically, someone who's been in your position before and knows your situation. Don't be cheap.
Super sorry to hear this 😢. I'll be 100% honest here: Your teammates seem like sexist a*holes. I get the Asia thing too. I'm Asian, and while the US is far from perfect, I feel like the general culture across Asia is oriented far more around men/patriarchy than here.
I highly recommend sharing this in the private #women-in-tech channel in the Taro Slack. If you ask for a chat, I'm sure several supportive and awesome women in the Taro community would gladly take you up on it. If you're not in that channel, just DM me on Slack and I can add you.
I don't have any practical advice here as I'm pretty privileged as a Asian male who grew up in the SF Bay Area. However, I'm happy to chat 1 on 1 about this just to lend a supportive ear at the very least. Again, just DM me in the Taro Slack.
Here's a good video sharing some perspective about this as well: What Advice Do You Have For Women (And Allies) In Tech?
However, I'm just tired because every time I need help for brainstorming and pairing, my peers will help me, but not without bragging themselves in the end ("how come you don't know this?", "I managed to be able to do this for the 1st time", etc).
A lot of this is a reflection of them rather than a reflection of you. Their way of thinking can be very toxic because it breeds a culture where looking smart is the ultimate goal rather than learning. Then, everybody on the team is afraid of asking questions, including your teammates who are afraid of asking you questions.
I find that a lot of people with this kind of attitude have never tried to do anything outside of their comfort zone. Otherwise, they would have developed the empathy to understand that everyone has different starting points, but we can work on our weaknesses and improve on them.
Everytime I do something good outside of work such as becoming a tech speaker or teaching a bootcamp and I share it, I feel like I'm being shot down with words such as "I've done better than that", "Why did you even take up that speaker gig? Are you pretending to be a senior?". I mean, what's with the bragging? The insecurities? If you're more senior than me and you have more experience than me, of course they all look simple to you.
It takes a lot of courage to speak or teach because you have to put yourself in the spotlight, so kudos to you for doing that! There are a lot of flaws in their thought process: you don't need to be the most senior person to teach and provide value to others. You also have a unique perspective because of your background. What can matter more as a speaker or teacher is how you convey the material. A lot of times, the most skilled athlete doesn't make the best coach.
Your peers' feedback are largely irrelevant because they are assuming that you can't provide value to your audience and students. Only your audience and students can tell you that information, and I'm sure that they'd tell you that they've learned a lot from you, which is what matters the most :)
0) Full disclosure and disclaimer on my background so you can take everything with a grain of salt: I'm Filipina and Asian American woman SWE and TPM type from a non-traditional background, seen as self taught but I've been scripting and coding since the 90s, dropped by CS major and came back years later when bootcamps apparently started, which I never did and only did certificate programs, and still want to go back to my Masters. I review the fundamentals on a regular basis, but most people think I have a PhD, oddly, long before I published a book on my subject matter expertise--I guess I just 'sound smart,' when I casually talk about my stack, when it comes to pair programming, I stumble sometimes because I forget things carelessly being neurodivergent, so when I see some things as a n00b, junior mistake (like I forgot about ES6 using const instead of other variables, basic jargon on various updates because I spent a long time not coding JS and focusing on AI). It is often because I'm switching between stacks (and I hate the term "full stack developer") when you're moving from iOS to spatial computing to front-end and AI, it's hard to be a jill-of-all-trades and keep up with everything all the time, that something that seems like a 'junior mistake of why don't you know this yet' actually really isn't. The more I learn about a subject matter area, the more you see that the so-called senior 'experts' with PhDs or MS don't necessarily know everything about a particular subject (in fact all AR VR developers I know that don't do AI won't understand what all the game AI people were doing in AR VR even though they all work on the same part of the industry), it had nothing to do with seniority and everything to do with exposure and experience. People will often talk about their subject matter expertise to seem more SUPERIOR, when it fact, they are not, people are just different and will debate all day about what they know in the field, but it doesn't mean they are necessarily smarter, better, more right, they might just have a few more years of experience than you, or focus on another stack entirely, so I would take any feedback about 'why don't you know this yet' with a grain of salt.
2) That being said, changing companies within the same region of the world would MIGHT help make a difference, but it might not -- much since it's SEA or Asian countries in general and Asian American communities can be hella patriarchal, but some places are like this NOT all--I'm sure in the US there is stuff like this all the time.
3) I think it really depends on your team, you're direct report boss to bring up stuff like this and if is this isn't something you feel comfortable bringing to HR or fail to have a good response from your boss, I'd look elsewhere. I've heard lots of horror stories from senior SWE black mentors about racism in the workplace from supposedly "good" tech companies in Silicon Valley, it all varies and depends everywhere you go, the culture, the team, the management, founders, investors etc. Not all female friendly environments (or female founded and invested) companies are the ones rigorously pushing innovation unfortunately, some are, and some also can have toxic cultures even if they preach being safe environments that don't burn you out, or have things like fertility benefits. To me, it just really depends on the people and is a case-by-case basis even though systemically as a whole, women in tech have a dropout rate, there's bias if you want to get pregnant, get pregnant, want to have kids. My friends who are technical co-founders and CEOs and Chinese in the AR VR MR XR / Spatial Computing space all managed to raise money while pregnant (their Series B round), so it is also completely possible to have healthy work environments and beat the odds--unfortunately this is rarer in cases, not the rule and I hope that changes.
I'm involved and have been heavily involved over the years in various women in tech and technical groups, everything is really about networks, who you know, and we flag regularly what spaces are safe and are not. For me, I thought I'd never work at Uber but I also have a friend who is a a senior Asian American (South Asian American) woman engineer (director) and worked there (even after a lot of the sexual harassment lawsuits and public news that was all pretty bad for diversity) and claim to be really happy at the company. I still have other Filipina American woman friend who works as IC (SWE) there at Uber as well, something I thought I'd never do. But it just really depends on you and your preferences that make you most happy.
What I will say is that some of the comments are less about your gender, and can be entirely about your status being non-traditional, self-taught and junior -- I've been there and I totally get it, it sucks (trust me it does), and sometimes the comments like that are so condescending it is not worth sticking around. It's hard because intersectionality exists and so you can be discriminated and attacked for both your gender, age, and 'junior' status at the same time. It sounds to me like you're being attacked on both ends, and for me at first when I read the beginning of your post, I thought they were just treating you like that because you were junior, being on an all male team and getting comments about being married or whatever, clearly makes this a gender issue too which isn't cool.
6) I would ask yourself what you get out of this company in terms of upward growth technically, or in pay or career trajectory. (think of this as a program, if this, else...IFFTT)
Also certifications help, but it's not like completing a full MS, you can try to use this to help your case to show what you know, but tbh idk if that will help much here, more like something to help you professional develop and learn more and gain more confidence, which is a good thing.