The STEM workforce in the United States is expected to hit an astounding 8,650,000 by 2018. Most of it will be comprised of white or Asian men; for every 100 female undergraduate students who take an interest in STEM, just three continue on to actually work within a STEM field after they graduate.
No doubt, college is important to your career, but it does not teach you everything. Soft skills, some critical to career success, are often looked over in a college education. Skills like negotiation, networking, even management—things that can make or break a career—are usually not learned until you have a few years under your belt.
So, we wanted to know: for those women who stayed on in STEM, what did they wish they had learned? How could they have prepared better for the real world? Or, what helped them get their foot in the door in tech? Here’s what the Girls in Tech community has to say for the next generation of women in STEM.
Step outside the bounds of your textbook
Don’t limit yourself to textbook knowledge, seek out other sources to supplement learning including webinars, classes, and tutorials. Sometimes it will help make the difference in making something click in your mind.
- Sabita Nayak, Project Director for the Science Advancement Program CSTEP/STEP at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY.
Try getting as many internships as you can, in as many industries as possible. You’ll gain an understanding of what your dream job entails very fast. After interning at a startup, I decided to go back to school to complete an M.S. in Information Systems, and I also took business classes. This experience helped me feel very comfortable wearing different hats in a tech environment. Looking back, I now wish I had taken psychology classes; product management and marketing, design and growth all require various degrees of insight into the mindset and emotions of your customer. If your product doesn’t emotionally resonate with your audience, you will not have done your job well.
- Sarah Shaiq, Director, Head of Product Management, PCMag
Learn to communicate.
Coming from a STEM background, I thought the transition to becoming a software engineer would be a breeze. Yet as I started my career in tech, I realized I lacked a key skill, communication. If I were to go back to college, I would have taken more public speaking classes and learned the art of expressing your ideas verbally. I would say half of your days and hours are spent explaining your ideas, your code, your method to your peers. A software engineers job is as much a communication job as it is a technical job.
- Jennie Chu – Software Engineer at Seesaw
Don’t let imposter syndrome get to you.
I felt intimidated – and because of that, I spent more time preparing and thinking about preparation than just doing. Don’t be intimidated, embrace where you are and what you already know and keep learning. The worst thing that can happen is someone says you don’t know what you’re doing – and that’s ok, there’s a learning curve in the tech world because it’s always changing. But having an open mind to learning and getting out there and working, is what matters. Also, follow what you are interested in, the things that make you say “wow”.
- Tiana Laurence, Author of Blockchain For Dummies and Co-founder & CMO of Factom
Have some perspective.
Pursue opportunity, money will come later. A mistake a lot of new grads make is trying to find a high paying ‘secure’ job right away, only to get burnt out really quickly. Instead, think about the environment you want to work in and what you want to learn, as well as what you are passionate about. Look for opportunities that satisfy these requirements rather than just a high salary, and you’ll be much happier.
- Dani Hao, Communications Manager, Procurify