It was exactly four years ago when I took my first training class in Computer Networking.
At that time, I was working night-shift as a tech-support at a call center; and my brother told me about a Cisco certification class being offered at a University nearby.
“It was popular among my male peers,” he said.
I asked if he knew any woman who took the course and he said no. Something about that “no” got me excited.
So I signed up, passed the exam and never looked back.
Mine is just one of the many stories you will hear from women Network Engineers; on how we try to navigate our career in an industry that, somehow, is still dominated by men.
Earning More Than $100K and Still Being Dismissed
Claudia De Luna lives in Mexico and freelances as an independent consultant. After working for more than 20 years in the industry, she earns more than $100K. However, even for someone in her league, her biggest challenge in being a woman Network Engineer is about taking the time to establish her credibility.
“There are times when I’m initially dismissed, or if I’m with a male L1 engineer, he becomes the focus of the conversation,” she said.
Claudia also believes that the industry is still dominated by men. “I have to blame the social environment we live in, parenting, and the educational system.”
For girls who wish to be Network Engineers, Claudia highlights some important qualities to master. “Be technically excellent, listen to your clients/customers, share your knowledge, always consider the bigger picture, know how to convey your designs and technical arguments without the technical jargon and in a simple, easy to understand manner, know how to document your design and decisions with detail and excellence, and never stop learning.”
Being The Only Woman in Every Team
Pavithrs Venkatraman has been working as a Network Engineer for the popular web-domain registrar and hosting, GoDaddy, in the United States for 9 years.
Although GoDaddy is quite a well-known player in the industry, Pavithrs still finds it challenging to be a women minority. “I am the only one woman so far in every team I worked as a network engineer,” she said.
One of the reasons why the industry is still dominated by men, according to Pavithrs, can be due to how the job requires a lot of night-time work for maintenance.
“For girls who want to become Network Engineers, please do!” Pavithrs said. “We want to break stereotypes!”
And the best way to do that is to commit to learning and upgrading your skillsets.
It’s About Your Capability.
“Technology is Change. If you want to be successful at your job, you need to keep up,” said Dierra Footman, who is known for her blog CCIEby30–a technology blog chronicling her career journey as a Cisco Network Engineer.
Dierra advises young women Network Engineers to remember that every expert was once a beginner. Thus, they need not suffer from Impostor Syndrome.
“You are in the position you’re in because you were the best candidate for the job. Be upfront about where your gaps are, and do what it takes to fill them. This won’t happen overnight. This is a journey,” Dierra said.
Having worked in the Networking field for 10 years as a Senior Network Engineer in the United States, Dierra also thinks that the industry is still primarily male-dominated.
“Whenever I attend networking conferences, I’m one of the few women there. I think, to attract more women to the field, we need to do a better job of promoting the field in general–but more specifically to young girls and women”.
Dierra thinks that one of the biggest challenges in being a woman network engineer comes from the people who doubt or second guess her work or input; simply because she is a woman or perceived to be less experienced. “It’s important to remind yourself that you got the job because you are the best candidate for it.”
Find a champion & mentor
This is a more or less similar scenario for Shala, a Network Engineer who runs an IT blog (and the Finalist of the IT Blog Awards!). Shala said that she had to work twice as hard to stand out. People would assume that her men counterparts were the team leader, while as a woman she is automatically perceived as having fewer experiences.
Shala said people would often call her “unicorn” because after more than 10 years working as a Network Engineer, she tends to be the only woman working in her company’s male-dominated teams.
“Find a champion, a mentor who is excellent in the field, and willing to teach you and help you. Through social media or at work, try to find other women, learn from them, and empower each other,” said Shala, advising young women who wish to enter this field.
Most women Network Engineers I talked to agree that the industry is still male-dominated. Most faced challenges to prove themselves or even to get acknowledged in their work–because people think they are less experienced; simply because they are women. Despite the challenges, there are 3 key takeaways from our conversation, though:
- Women Network Engineers should be confident; knowing that they are hired for their capability and they are the best candidate for the job.
- To keep up, though, they also need to keep improving their skills and knowledge, and when necessary, do not hesitate to find a mentor, a group, or a community of women network engineers that can give support and advice.
- There need to be more efforts in promoting this field of work to girls. Sure, companies and the industry, in general, need to do this. However, we also need more senior women Network Engineers as role models: to share their stories, their love for what they do, and their professional advancement in this field.
What about you? How’s your experience as a woman Network Engineer; or as a Network Engineer working with women teammates? What’s your thought on this?
And shout out to the cool women Network Engineers you’ve ever known and worked with!