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Irina Koski: What have I, a woman working in IT, learned from my male colleagues?

19 Jun 2018 by Maria Kotaniemi

This text is written by Irina Koski – If you’d like to star as a guest writer on the Talented blog, let us know at

After The Power of Feedback meetup for female developers and designers organized by Hackeress and Talented, I was asked to write my thoughts on the question “What can we women learn from men in IT?”.  I hate to generalize, and in my opinion, this question doesn’t really sound right, as there are men and women working in technology and they all can learn from each other, so I wouldn’t divide IT professionals by gender. The only thing that matters is the level of expertise, which usually depends on the amount of work experience in the field.

But, I see where this question is coming from. Do you know, how many women work in technology? Although, IT careers are lucrative and computing skills are in demand, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), only 26% of the computing workforce in 2017 were women. Well, I must say, it’s not enough! And we don’t have to go far to see that it is actually true. I have been doing programming since 2010 and now I work as a Full-stack Developer at a small Finnish company called Citrus Solutions, which develops its own product for GDPR. I’m the only female coder in my team, and during my whole career in software development, the situation has been the same in most of the cases. I like working with men, but I’d really love to have more fellow female IT specialists around me.

I would like to rephrase the given question as “What have I, a woman working in IT, learned from my male colleagues?” and now I can actually answer it. As I already mentioned above, I don’t like generalizing, and I would like to emphasize that all underlying things I described are my own thoughts and opinions, and they are based on my own experience and some studies I’ve read.

I would like to summarize things I’ve learned during my time working in IT mostly from my male colleagues and my husband, whom I met at the same University where I started to learn Information Technology in 2010. Since that time till now, he has been my most important coach and my source of inspiration in the “job of job hunting”, career development and professional growth. I still constantly learn from him, not to say, he is a feminist and very supportive of all my initiatives.
Well, let’s start:

Be brave and bold, tell them, you will learn!

When you are looking for your first job or internship in the field or you are changing the workplace and going to interviews, do not be afraid of challenges. Only by stepping outside your comfort zone you can grow as a person and as a professional. Even if you don’t know something the employer expects you to know, tell them you don’t know yet, but you will learn it quickly!

The abilities to learn new things, adapt fast and look for information are basically what you need to succeed in the modern world. Remember, nobody can know everything!

Find and offer support and surround yourself with positive people!

We are all biosocial animals, and we are not able to live and function in a total isolation. We need a family, a friend, a partner, a person, who will support us in good and bad, who will listen to us, who will share our ideas and help when we are in need.  Surround yourself with people who lift you up, and not the kinds who put you down.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice, and be kind to others and lend them your helping hand when they are in trouble. People who help others and do not expect anything in return were even scientifically proved to be happier and more satisfied with their lives.

Know your value, do not underestimate yourself and your skills!

At some point, I was participating in interviewing people for open positions at one of my previous workplaces. And I have to say, I’ve never heard men downplaying their skills, even if they weren’t actually that good in reality. But I’ve heard quite many times women saying they aren’t good enough and do not deserve this and that.

And I won’t lie to you, I also felt and said the same things at the beginning of my career, and even now I sometimes feel so. I guess there is something really wrong with our society if so many women think like this.
Please, do not belittle your competence! Love yourself! Never say you are bad at something or not worthy! This attitude needs to be changed!

Don’t be too harsh on yourself, you are not a robot, at least not yet! 🙂

Some studies show, most of the women are never satisfied with themselves and tend to be perfectionists, while men are usually more content. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of chauvinism in our world, and there are a lot of companies, where female employees are not treated equally. Of course, this fact makes women feel they need to learn more, try harder and be at least twice as good as men just to get the same salary for the same job. Ask yourself: “Do you want to work at such companies?” I believe, the answer is “no”, so then why to stress out? Look for decent employers, who understand the value of diversity in their companies!

Maintaining a good balance between work and social life is hard, but possible, and it is super important for physical and mental health. Don’t forget a good night’s sleep, it directly affects your cognitive abilities! Obvious? But not obvious, many people think they will have time to do more if they sleep less. Wrong! But let’s wait for artificial human brains and bodies, then we can talk again. 🙂
Do not compare yourself to anyone; everyone has their own path. Compete with yourself, not with others! Every day try to be a better person than you were yesterday!

Ask for more!

When you get a job offer, don’t agree to its terms and conditions right away, read your contract carefully and always try asking for more. It doesn’t hurt to ask, in the worst case you just don’t get what you want, but you can also get exactly what you asked for if they really want to hire you.

When I was searching for my first job in IT, I was really desperate and would agree for any job and salary offered, just to get at least some experience in the field. And I really appreciate that back then my husband, who was my boyfriend at that time, told me to value myself and my skills and ask for more. For that advice and everything else, I’m really grateful to him!

Here’s another example. Once when I changed a job, I was offered two weeks of paid vacation as a bonus. In Finland, when you change a job, a new employer is not obligated to give you any paid vacation days, and you have to collect them first before you can use them. I was really glad to get this bonus and I signed a contract. Later I found out that one of my former coworkers, a man, was also coming to the same firm as me, and I asked him if he also got these two weeks of paid vacation. He suddenly told me he got four just because he told the employer two weeks were not enough, and he encouraged me to try the same. Well, after that I called my supervisor and asked him to remake my contract and extend my paid vacation, and he did. Nothing bad happened to me, and I learned my lesson, and I thanked my male colleague for the great advice.

Ask regularly for salary raise, at least once per year. If you don’t get paid better or your tasks start to feel boring and you don’t feel like using your full potential anymore, change a job. Technology professions, especially software development roles are in huge demand now, so don’t be afraid to start a new chapter in your career. If you don’t have time or strength to look for a new place yourself, use recruiting companies’ services.

Remember networking and afterworking!

By going for a beer after work (or in Finland, you will most likely have a beer in sauna :D) with your colleagues you will get to know them better. It will improve team spirit, and eventually, some of these people will become your good friends, and then you will get to know their friends and expand your network further. You might even find interesting job opportunities with help of your friends and acquaintances.

Tech events can be a lot of fun! Go to your local meetups, meet new people and fellow IT professionals, grow your network, connect on LinkedIn, especially when you are just entering the field! It certainly will affect positively your career development. When you have many contacts, job hunting becomes really easy!

And the most important thing: be nice to people, nobody likes meanies! 🙂

I have to admit that I don’t always follow my own rules, since, unfortunately, I’m a perfectionist. I’m often harsh on myself and don’t feel that I deserve certain things, or my level of expertise is enough to get money I want, so by writing these things down, I’m actually reminding myself I should fight these wrong thoughts! I hope my statements weren’t entirely useless, and they will help advance your career!


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