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Focus on diversity

Will women fill the need for more IT professionals?

Lots of jobs are opening up, and enrollment in the computer science major is increasing after a drop, says Valerie Barr, Union College

Companies are increasingly aware of the benefits of gender diversity for innovation


There's good news and not-so-good news for women in IT. The good news is that demand for qualified IT job candidates remains strong, and diversity efforts indicate an increased demand for women.

The not-so-good news is that there are fewer women entering the profession. Valerie Barr, computer science department chair and professor at Union College (Schenectady, NY), says the dot.com bust and "exaggerated media reports of outsourcing" turned people away from majoring in computer science.

Now with baby boomers retiring, lots of jobs are opening up, and enrollment is starting to come back. While the reality is that the picture has improved, "the media is incredibly slow to turn around" and report the positive news, explains Barr.

With a shortage of women in IT, are employers increasing diversity efforts? "No one really measures this, so it's hard to say. However, I can say that efforts to increase women's participation in IT education and work are more visible," says Deborah Keyek-Franssen, PhD, director of academic technology at the University of Colorado Boulder (Boulder, CO) and co-director of the Colorado Coalition for Gender and IT. "I believe some companies are changing their business practices, including recruitment, retention and work-life balance efforts, to appeal to a broader range of IT workers."

Her observations, and concerns, are echoed in a 2012 study from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (www.anitaborg.org). In Solutions To Recruit Technical Women, authors Caroline Simard, PhD and Denise L. Gammal, PhD discovered that companies are growing increasingly aware of the benefits of gender diversity for innovation. They report that faced with "challenges and a desire to bring more top talent into their companies, organizations seek concrete solutions to recruit, retain and advance technical women."

The women interviewed for this article completed their last degrees in 2008 or after. All have landed in an IT role, but some took unusual paths to get there. What they all seem to have in common is an employer that values and nurtures diversity.

Archana Bhattaram is senior QA analyst at Symantec
Archana Bhattaram grew up in India, fascinated with computers. "The fascination has never stopped," says Bhattaram. She has a 2007 BS in electrical and electronics engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Dubai, United Arab Emirates).

Bhattaram wanted to go into engineering, and decided to pursue her degree outside the country. For grad school, she turned to the U.S. and was offered a full scholarship at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR), where she earned a 2008 masters of information systems.

Along the way, Bhattaram completed several internships, including stints as a programmer/developer for J.B. Hunt Transportation (Lowell, AR) and Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts (Orlando, FL), and temporary development roles with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR) and Clearview Staffing Software (now API Healthcare, Hartford, WI).

Bhattaram joined Symantec (Mountain View, CA) in 2009. Symantec is a provider of security, storage and systems management software for businesses and consumers; Bhattaram is a senior QA analyst in the Culver City, CA office. As a member of the QA team, she reviews Symantec's Norton line of products before they're shipped to the consumer. Her work involves developing and conducting component tests, and interacting with the product team for process improvements.

She likes the company's strategic vision and product innovation. She's excited by the challenges of new technology, like the current move to cloud-based and mobile apps. A particularly proud moment came when she submitted a winning idea to the Norton innovator contest.

Bhattaram has a patent pending. Few women file for patents in the industry, says Ellen McLatchey, Symantec's director of global diversity and inclusion. The company supports this and helps its female employees move up to higher levels. She notes that 27 percent of Symantec employees are female, and the goal is to have that same representation in leadership.

Bhattaram hopes one of those leadership roles will be hers one day. It took only eighteen months for her first promotion to senior QA analyst. She's enrolled in internal training classes and is particularly interested in learning all she can about cloud computing and virtualization.

When she started with Symantec, Bhattaram was assigned a senior colleague who serves as her mentor. She's also from India, and followed a path similar to the one Bhattaram is on now.

Bhattaram is active in the Symantec Women's Action Network (SWAN) program, one of the company's many employee resource groups. SWAN was established in 2007 to attract talented female employees and support and encourage them to further their careers at Symantec. The program provides a forum for personal and professional networking throughout all levels of the company, enabling women professionals to build relationships and share information.

Becky Medley is a software engineer at CA Technologies
Becky Medley's hands-on IT experience started when she was in high school, through a work-study with Phillips Petroleum in her hometown of Borger, TX. She reconditioned leased computers, doing ghosting and re-imaging.

She liked the experience enough to focus on technology courses at Amarillo College (Amarillo, TX). She got an AS in general studies in 2003.

She enrolled at West Texas A&M University (Canyon, TX), and finished her BS in computer science there in 2008, working at various contract jobs at the same time.

About a year and a half after graduation, Medley was working as a customer service rep at Nationwide Insurance (Amarillo, TX) when she received a call from the career services office at West Texas A&M inviting her to interview for an opening at CA Technologies in Plano, TX. CA (Islandia, NY) offers IT management and software solutions for business.

Medley got the job, relocated to Plano with her husband, and started as an associate engineer in September 2010. Nine months later, she was promoted to software engineer, creating and maintaining software applications. She also writes test cases and performs unit/module testing of software.

"I love what I do and the challenges of programming, especially learning new languages," she says.

Medley has a mentor, and says she's treated the same as the rest of the mostly male department. "We're judged on performance," she notes.

Looking at the industry, Medley sees a lot of opportunities in mainframe computing as IT pros with mainframe experience retire. She's concerned that mainframe languages like Assembler, C, SQL and Rexx aren't routinely taught in colleges now.

Medley hopes to move up to senior software engineer in the next three to four years, but is debating whether she wants to continue as an individual contributor or move into management.

Diane Tran provides desktop support at Yammer
Diane Tran is not a typical IT professional. As with many of her colleagues, she liked taking apart old computers as a youngster. But rather than excelling in math, she tried to avoid it, and wasn't interested in computer science. She initially wanted to be an animator.

Tran earned her BA in behavioral sciences and anthropology at San Jose State University (San Jose, CA) in 2009. Studying for her degree, she worked in an Apple retail store, starting as a greeter and working her way up to the support group. Before long, she was fixing iPods and iPhones.

Almost a year after graduation, a friend from the Apple Store recommended she apply for a contract IT job at Google (Mountain View, CA). A staffing company helped her land a position providing IT support to company employees. "I learned more there than in school or anywhere else," she says.

But it didn't take long for her to realize that product management and taking care of office equipment weren't for her. She wanted to be more on the people side.

Today, she's an IT engineer at Yammer (San Francisco, CA), which creates enterprise social networks. Tran does desktop support for Yammer employees in a Mac OSX environment. "I'm never bored," she says. "There are always new challenges. I love doing this because when people are the most distraught and frustrated, with a little bit of fiddling you can get them smiling again."

In some of her pre-Yammer experiences, Tran found that "when people don't know you, they don't listen to you, especially if you're female." At Yammer, she's able to contribute and is treated with respect.

"Women who are interested in tech should pursue what interests them. Tech will only be a 'boy's club' for as long as we see it that way."

"Yammer's commitment to diversity is reflected in our world-class team," says HR manager Dawn Nott. "One of our core values is a culture of sharing and openness, but we're also known for having a culture of dissent, where employees are not afraid to challenge, explore and discover new ideas."

Nott adds that diversity at Yammer helps create a work environment that celebrates different points of view and life experiences that "enable us to understand each other, and our customers, better."

With no formal IT training, Tran has learned most of her skills on the job. The friend who introduced her to Google is also at Yammer, and has helped get her up to speed. She has no immediate desire to move into management, but she'd like to learn more about security technology.

Learning new skills and technologies doesn't intimidate her. In fact, she relies on her adaptability and eagerness to learn. "You have to be okay with being uncomfortable," she says with a smile.

Elizabeth A. Dvoroznak develops secure mobile solutions at the FBI
Elizabeth Dvoroznak knew early on that she was destined for a career in IT. "IT helped me in high school," she says. Using what she learned in QBasic and Visual Basic programming classes, Dvoroznak automated her studies to help prep for tests and exams.

She started working in the field as an undergrad. From 2000 to 2002, Dvoroznak interned twenty hours a week at the office of administrative services (OAS) in the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Washington, DC). Her job was designing, implementing and maintaining websites for the OAS and the office of security. She attended classes under the department's Stay in School program.

For the next five years, she continued taking classes while working as an IT specialist for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the systems architecture and engineering group of its business systems modernization and operations unit.

She earned her BS in computer science at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) in 2004, and received a masters certificate in IT project management in 2006 from George Washington University/ ESI International (Washington, DC). She also has project management professional certification.

Dvoroznak was happy working at the IRS, but she had always wanted to work for the FBI. "I believe in the mission of the organization," she notes. When she saw an opening on USAJobs.gov, she applied and joined the bureau six months later.

She started as an IT tech specialist in 2007 and has moved steadily upward. Today she's a computer scientist developing secure mobile solutions for the FBI, enabling access to internal systems like virtual machines.

Ensuring a balance between capabilities for users and IT security policy is the most critical part of her job. She's trained agents to use technology that's meaningful to the mission and is proud of the feedback she's received. "The people here are all wonderful," she says. "Their eyes light up at new technology. It's like a brand new accomplishment each time."

Working full time has not slowed down her education. In 2011, Dvoroznak got her MS in information technology with a specialization in information assurance from the University of Maryland University College (UMUC, Adelphi, MD). She's on track to finish her MBA at UMUC this year.

The FBI has implemented a series of initiatives that reflect a strong proactive approach to EEO issues; working in a mostly male department has never been an issue for Dvoroznak. "I'm equally, gainfully employed," she says. In fact, she was nominated as an emerging leader by her supervisor from her old division. Even after she transferred, that supervisor has been very supportive.

An understanding of IT security, both public and private, is important for most IT careers, says Dvoroznak. She urges those following a similar path to "develop non-technical areas like people skills. You don't work alone on projects."

Jennifer Klick is in a rotation program at the Hartford
Jennifer Klick works at the Hartford (Hartford, CT), a provider of insurance and wealth management services for consumers and businesses worldwide. She's in her first rotation as part of the company's technology leadership development program (TLDP), a three-year program with rotations typically lasting six to twelve months, each in different departments.

She loves what she's doing, even though it wasn't the path she initially started down. After high school, Klick went to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Boston, MA), but found it wasn't right for her. She moved back home to Norwich, CT, enrolled at the local Three Rivers Community College and earned her AS in business marketing in 2009.

She went on to earn her BS in business administration and business information systems at Eastern Connecticut State University (Willimantic, CT) in 2011. After a three-step interview process, she was offered a spot in the Hartford's TLDP.

Even her rotation selection was a bit unusual. After she got her acceptance notification, Klick was excited and tweeted about it. Her tweet caught the attention of company managers, and she was asked to do her first rotation with the social media team in the digital commerce and customer analytics department.

She notes that her school did a good job preparing her in IT and she's seeing a demand for skills like Excel and SharePoint that her professors pushed. In addition to tech skills, TLDP candidates need communications skills and the ability to work well in groups.

Her team's job involves developing a process to help employees with internal and business use of social media. This includes strategic planning and programs that need buy-in from the legal and marketing teams. Her next project will involve YouTube.

It's a great fit for today's connected graduates, "but I find myself explaining to my friends that I don't just sit and play on Twitter or Facebook all day," she says with a smile.

"The Hartford values and respects the unique characteristics, skills and experiences that each employee brings to the workplace," says George Burnett, AVP of TLDP. "On a daily basis, diversity and inclusion are evident at all levels of our company, in the way we listen and respond to our customers, our community and each other. Our company is committed to an environment of respect and inclusion, where everyone's viewpoint is heard and valued."

The Hartford offers a number of diversity programs to encourage better problem solving, broader collaboration, creative thinking and innovation.

Klick is amazed at the company culture. "People here love their jobs and work environment," she says. "I love coming to work every day." She only wishes that TLDP were longer than three years so she could explore more departments.

Lilia Paradis works on the Office Labs team at Microsoft
Lilia Paradis came to the U.S. from St. Petersburg, Russia in 2001 when she was nineteen. She earned her bachelors in computer information systems at Metropolitan State College of Denver (Denver, CO) in 2004.

Her major was an easy choice. Like many IT professionals, Paradis had excelled in math and science in high school. Choosing to attend college in the United States was also an easy choice: "There were newer technologies and more relevant information here," she says.

After college, Paradis worked for a year as a test engineer at Gaming Labs (Golden, CO) before going back to school for her 2007 MSCS at Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO).

As a grad student, she interned at the Broomfield, CO location of Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, CA). She worked in web development, writing scripts and applications in Java, Perl, JavaScript and JSP. In 2007, Paradis joined Microsoft (Redmond, WA).

She spent her first four and a half years as a software development engineer in test working on the SharePoint, Live Labs and Silverlight teams. She's now a lead software development engineer in test and works on the Office Labs team, planning and executing test strategies for projects and technical incubations that can eventually become new Microsoft Office technologies.

Paradis likes to understand how code works. It's a good thing because her work involves writing automation and testing code. "I try to break the code and find bugs," she explains. She also gets to play customer in her tester role, which allows her to have more interaction with people. Making sure the software is performant, secure and globally ready is another aspect of her job.

Paradis is most proud of her team's work on SharePoint 2010. It was her first product, and one that was important to the company.

Paradis has been helped by formal and informal mentoring. She's never felt extra pressure being female, although women are in the minority on her team. "It depends how you present yourself," she says. "We're all engineers and our diversity helps bring different ways to look at problems."

Paradis is on the steering committee of the Women of Office group, which is dedicated to promoting career growth of women within the Microsoft Office organization. She's also on the organizing committee of the Anita Borg Institute's Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing, and serves as co-chair of the poster committee for the 2012 conference.

Good test engineers are skilled at coding and development, but they also need a "break it" attitude, and the ability to see a software project as a whole, says Paradis. She urges students to take as many tech courses as possible, particularly a range of programming languages. "Doing internships as early as possible also helps."

Marissa Coleman supports internal customers at TI
Marissa Coleman is an IT customer engagement business analyst at Texas Instruments (TI, Dallas, TX). TI provides analog, embedded processing and wireless technologies.

A Dallas native, Coleman spent two summers at TI as a business analyst co-op while studying at the University of Oklahoma (OU, Norman, OK). The company liked her work and offered her a job before graduation.

Coleman earned two degrees at OU, a BS in business administration/management information systems and a BS in European history. When she entered school, she wanted to pursue business but wasn't sure what area. An intro to MIS course hooked her. The history degree satisfied an ongoing interest in the subject and built on the many advanced placement classes she'd taken in high school.

In her current role Coleman supports internal accounting and finance customers and acts as a liaison between the business and IT. "I handle small day-to-day IT requests myself or work to route requests to the correct department or person," she says. A typical request might be for assistance generating a report.

Coleman does not do software development. Instead, she participates in larger IT and business projects including system upgrades, building large reports, internal re-orgs, and more. These projects may encompass all or part of the project lifecycle. For example, she knows SAP, a business management software solution for enterprise resource planning, and helps her customers use its reporting tools to generate reports.

She holds a Business Analysis Certificate Program designation. "While I'm required to have some technical skills, the most important part of my job is professional and clear communication," she explains.

"TI values the diversity of its worldwide workforce and seeks to leverage that diversity to sustain our competitive edge," says Terry Howard, TI director of diversity and inclusion.

Coleman appreciates the company's commitment to diversity. Employees can have many careers at TI, she says. She's already stepping up. As networking chair for the IT department's new employee initiative, she's helped recruit interns, participated in university relations development, and is a member of the IT mentoring program.

"A business degree is a good thing to have," notes Coleman. "Aspiring IT professionals need to keep an open mind."

Roya Akhavain is a design and systems engineer at HP
Growing up in San Diego, CA, Roya Akhavain was always building things with Lego and other construction toys. She also excelled at soccer. When Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) recruited her, she was attracted to both its engineering program and its soccer team.

She graduated from Purdue with a BSME in May 2011. Along the way, she did two summer internships at Hewlett-Packard (HP) back home in San Diego, and has a patent pending. HP (Palo Alto, CA) provides products, technologies, software, solutions and services to consumers, businesses and government entities.

After graduation, Akhavain received two offers from HP and started as a design and systems engineer in the same department where she had interned. She was already familiar with the company culture, the department and even some of the people, which made the transition from school to work a lot easier.

Akhavain works on what she describes as seventy-pound, three-foot-long ink cartridges for large commercial four-color printing presses. She creates and manages databases, and designs components and jigs. She is also responsible for creating the documentation for failure analysis of the printing component, autopsying it to determine reasons for component failure, and proposing further modifications to the design.

Her role offers a rare exposure to both the design and system sides of a project, typical of the depth and breadth of experiences and perspectives that HP encourages as part of its diversity efforts and programs.

HP sets employees up with informal mentors in their work groups, and encourages networking to find outside mentors as well.

"HP continues to see strong demand for technical hires around the world. Strong candidates demonstrate experience with core skills, and we also look for folks who are customer centric, results and performance driven, with business acumen and leadership capabilities. Energetic, passionate and team-oriented individuals integrate well with HP's collaborative culture and values," says Jennifer Rickard, HP's chief diversity officer.

Shannon Steinfadt works on bioinformatics at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Shannon Steinfadt is a scientist in the bioinformatics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, NM), a U.S. Department of Energy national lab that conducts multidisciplinary research in fields like national security, space exploration, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology and supercomputing.

Steinfadt grew up near Cleveland, OH and earned her bachelors in CS with a minor in English from Hiram College (Hiram, OH) in 2000. Her literature classes were fun, but she wanted the challenge of computer science. "Computer science was like puzzle solving to me," she explains.

She went on to receive a two-year Ohio Board of Trustees Regents fellowship under a program designed to keep talent in the state. She used the fellowship to get her MSCS from Kent State University (Kent, OH) and continued there for her 2010 PhD in CS. Her research involved parallel high-performance computing for bioinformatics applications, and she now has a patent pending for the work.

In June 2009, she started at Los Alamos as a graduate research assistant. Over the next year, she worked with the performance and architecture lab to investigate potential performance with advanced processor devices.

Steinfadt finished her PhD and was offered a fulltime job in June 2010. She is now working with the bioinformatics group in the lab's component of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute. She works with metagenomic data, trying to reassemble and analyze data sequences to determine which pieces of gene sequence belong to what organism in a mixed sample. She tries to put this puzzle together by working to solve complex and computationally challenging problems.

Her work moves at a fast pace and is always changing. The problems get bigger and more challenging, which Steinfadt finds quite satisfying. One of those challenges has been learning a new professional language, as most of the people she works with come from a biotech background.

Many of her colleagues are male, but Steinfadt says that any pressure she feels as a female is self-imposed.

"At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a diverse workforce of multidisciplinary teams fuels the creativity and innovation that are essential to address emerging issues and solve problems of national and international importance," says lab director Charlie McMillan. "To be successful in our critical mission, it is essential that we embrace diversity and create an inclusive work environment where all employees feel welcome and fully engaged."

Steinfadt sees opportunities for more women in the industry, and urges them to take more classes that develop competence in programming. "It's a tool, a means to an end, but not the end itself," she says.

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