Any industry dominated by men, specifically white men, leaves little room for inclusive workspaces. Based on her own professional experience in the tech industry and her involvement in mentorship programs, Susanne Tedrick made it her mission to encourage and enable women of color to pursue careers in tech.
Susanne is a Northwestern University grad who received an interdisciplinary degree in communications systems. It was this degree that led her to become a technical sales engineer—a job requiring technical specialties as well as project management and public speaking. Susanne acts as a translator, decoding the technical language to potential investors. It is her job to convey how software can operate in a concise and persuasive manner.
Her love for tech
Her book, titled "Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators", is a culmination of interviews, knowledge and tech know-how. It aims to highlight the diversity of directions one's career can take within the tech industry. Susanne believes it is vital as a tech professional to have both the hard skills (applications taught in the classroom) and the soft skills, a.k.a. people skills, to become successful. But in all honesty, her book is applicable to all women of color looking to move forward in any field.
Her love for computers was not something that developed overnight. During our conversation, she explained how she always had a knack for technology but did not understand how she could make a career out of it. While completing her degree, Susanne volunteered and attended different boot camps. She found joy in giving back and inspiring the younger generation. These aspects, external to the technical side, are what propelled technology from a passion to a profession. For many, like myself, who are somewhat ignorant of the range of jobs within the industry, Susanne wants to make it clear—there is so much more than just coding.
The range of tech careers
She believes some preconceived ideas limit how people see the tech industry. There is this notion that working for a technology company means very little personal interaction or communication. She mentions, "For some people, looking at lines of code for 80 hours a week makes them think, 'Yeah, I don't want to do that'. That's why I loved [how] I was able to explore different things matching my requirements, passions, and talents."
Throughout our chat, I was beginning to realize a person does not have to sacrifice what they like in order to find a challenging and appealing job in tech.
The large company names associated with tech are known as FAANG or Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. Huge brands that probably see hundreds of applications weekly. While these companies are notable and great, there are many more that are just as innovative and, from Susanne's perspective, in need of female employees of color.
On her blog, she has written about the multiplicity of careers in the tech industry: data science, web design, cybersecurity, technical sales, business analysis, and others. A degree in computer science is not always the sole requirement, but instead, an understanding of contemporary tech issues paired with a different major could lead to a job at a bank, news publication, or clothing brand. By highlighting the many avenues of tech, the hope is to inform and enable women of color to join.
The lack of diversity's impact
In one of Susanne's more recent blog posts, "Pivot or Persevere," she wrote about a Twitter thread she came across that detailed a black female software developer's frustration with her white colleagues. This woman was being micromanaged and felt as though she was not being heard. The reactions on Twitter were divided. While all of the responses were sympathetic, some encouraged this woman to forge on despite the difficult work environment, while others thought she should leave the company.
When I asked for her response to this dilemma, Susanne offered, "Women of color are more likely to pursue certain careers if they see their counterparts or people with shared experiences in them [and] being successful. But at the same time, this is just one who is [being asked to] take on the hopes of society." While it is vital to make tech a more inclusive space, it should not fall on the shoulders of one or two women.
The purpose behind the passion
Her writing illustrates that there is no right answer to this situation. Instead, it is dependent on the individual woman and her financial and emotional capacity. Nonetheless, Susanne has made it clear throughout her career she has seen very little diversity. She hopes in the years to come, she can witness a gradual change in both innovation and representation.
Her new book is an informative and impressive analysis of the current state of demographics in the tech industry. She is able to provide an optimistic tone that will most definitely spark change.