ExtraHop is spending this week celebrating International Women's Day (March 8th) by hearing from some of the brilliant, passionate women so integral to this company and the tech industry as a whole. How'd they get into STEM? What advice do they have for other women and girls? Gear up for a whole week of blogs from the women of ExtraHop, from the engineering departments to marketing and everything in between. Happy International Women's Day!
I moved to the United States from Kenya when I was six years old. Soon after arriving, I enrolled in second grade at a local public school. Coming from Kenya, my English sounded different than the other kids. I spoke the Queen's English and many of my classmates thought my accent was "funny."
But there was one language that was universal, and where accents were irrelevant: math. I loved math. It appealed to my keen desire for a "correct" answer. I found it easy to solve problems and understand concepts and that became my bridge to the other kids in the classroom. Sometimes the teacher would ask me to help a fellow student. Sometimes one of the neighboring kids would ask me to explain how to do various problems. What I didn't know at the time was that the universal language of math would lead me to a career in STEM, and eventually to the tech industry.
Seattle in the 1990s was an exciting place to be. The city was abuzz around its burgeoning and disruptive software industry. At the same time, the strong local cellular industry was growing with McCaw Cellular and its offshoots escalating the pace and scale of innovation.
At the time, I was running manufacturing, finance, and operations for an apparel manufacturer, but I really wanted to make the leap into tech. I was excited to become part of the such a high-growth, high-innovation industry. I started applying to some tech finance roles, somewhat skeptical that I had the skills to jump into this highly dynamic market full of brilliant scientists and engineers that were changing the world. Ultimately, I joined a venture-backed company in the wireless space as the one and only finance person.
I learned something very important in that role with the wireless company: business is business. As the lone finance person, I had to figure out everything myself. With no people to fall back on, I constantly relied on what I had learned in the apparel industry, putting those skills to work for my new company in my new industry. It was an important lesson – if you understand the true core of running a business, you can apply that across a myriad of industries. What mattered was building a good product or service that solved a need and made customers happy.
Many years later, my enthusiasm for tech has not diminished. No other industry offers the opportunity to work with such smart, inquisitive, genuine people committed to solving some of the world's most challenging problems.
A few years ago, I was invited to join the board of Code.org as treasurer. Code.org's vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, and the organization advocates for increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color in CS as well as all areas of STEM. I believe deeply in Code.org's mission because I know first-hand how deeply rewarding a career in this field can be.
My advice to women, and to anyone considering a career in tech or another STEM field is this: don't assume the skills you have won't translate; don't assume that what you bring to the table isn't valuable. Tech is filled with people who came from non-traditional backgrounds. What they all share is a willingness to take on new challenges, a desire to affect change in the world, and a refusal to accept the status quo.
Does that sound like you? Join us!