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Blog: WIT WISE: Women in Software Engineering

WIT WISE: A Community to Support Women in Software Engineering

The WIT Network and Global Champion Partner, Red Hat, have launched WIT WISE (Women in Software Engineering), a community to support established and aspiring software engineers who identify as women.

Hilliary Lipsig, Principal Site Reliability Engineer and Team Lead at Red Hat, conceptualized this community to raise awareness about the vast spectrum of software engineering positions available that women may not have considered. This community also helps women develop the skills and confidence they need to get into the roles they feel passionate about, ultimately strengthening and changing the industry.

"I’m involved with a few different communities – one is Latinas in Tech", says Yesenia Yser, senior product security engineer, Red Hat, and a WIT WISE founding community member. "I wish I could share my LinkedIn inbox and the amount of people who reach out to me. I love it and appreciate it and welcome people to do it. Everyone who reaches out to me needs guidance and they don’t know where to go to get the information and support they need. They don’t know where to start or how to start. There’s so much overwhelming information, especially in engineering and security, that it’s challenging to sift through it and get real answers. This community will give them the guidance they are seeking."

Community leadership and volunteers will provide workshops, mentorship, coaching, and training for all aspects of the technical stack. WIT WISE hopes to inspire more women to enter software engineering and remain in the field through events, blogs, networking, knowledge-sharing, and a coding coach program. 

The reality that WIT WISE wants to change:

  • There are over 687,276 software engineers currently employed in the United States
  • Only 25% of all software engineers are women
  • 54% of software engineers are Caucasian
  • Female software engineers earn only 91% of what male engineers earn ($79,035 versus $86,611 on average)[i]

As Susan LeGendre-McGhee, a senior software engineer for Red Hat and WIT WISE founding member says, "We want to make things more equitable for everyone in this field, not just women. We want to make the industry more welcoming to the neurodiverse, people of color, and underrepresented communities. But we must start somewhere, and women are historically underrepresented."

To change the industry from the inside, we need to get you through the door

The community will offer a coding coaches program to help combat the intimidation factor of the coding test and interview, and to arm women with the skills they need to pass the process. 

"We’re going to help people understand how to be successful at the code test by sharing some unspoken rules and advice for how you talk through it", says Lipsig. "The first code test I did I failed because I didn’t talk through what I was doing. I sat there and stared at the board as I went through the logic of what I would implement in my head. But to them, it looked like I was staring blankly, lost and confused. That did not translate well. There are tricks and tips to help you get through that process which no one teaches you unless you go through an agency that charges an arm and a leg – but we’re going to share this information as part of the program, and it’s all included in your WIT Network membership. You won’t find that level of support anywhere else. We want you to be successful and get into the industry – because that’s how we are going to change it, from within." 

"We want to change the toxic hiring process, but before we can change that, we need to overcome it", says LeGendre-McGhee. "We need women to open the door and have that conversation and build that community where we all lift each other to where we want to go."

Get the support of a community behind you

Software engineering is hard for women to break into or break back into if they’ve taken a leave. Job postings often list unrealistic and unnecessary ideals that can be intimidating. The interview process and coding test aren’t equitable, and, all too often, the value of thinking differently is overlooked as candidates are hired because they think like the person hiring them instead. In addition, taking time away from the industry can be seen to impact a candidate’s skill set negatively.

That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t go down this path. It means they need to have the confidence to take the risk and use this community for encouragement, support, and mentoring.

"Taking risks is important. It’s scary; I know it is. But if you don’t take the risk, you don’t reap the reward", says LeGendre-McGhee. "We know it’s hard to break into this industry, but that’s why we are creating this community and giving women access to coding coaches and mentorship. When you have a network of women supporting women, you’re going to have the community you need to help you get where you want to go. Whether that’s directly into software engineering or not. Use the community to help you figure out what your passions are, where you want to go with your career, and how to get past the imposter syndrome so many of us feel."

One of the most effective ways to break into software engineering is to have a referral or to have someone in your community say, Hey, I think you’d be awesome for this. That recognition is powerful. WIT WISE is a really good way to build your network, find something you’re interested in, and not just build skills but also build relationships with other like-minded people.

"My passion is to help the moms coming back, especially those forced off during the pandemic, that are trying to tackle everything that goes along with being a parent and trying to get back to work, which can feel like an impossible amount to handle", says LeGendre-McGhee. "But you can do it. And if you find a very supportive place that gives you the community that inspires you to grow and values you as a human, then you can go back to work if you want to. It’s not as scary as it looks. It’s possible. And I think the first step is finding the community to help lift you there. I want WIT WISE to be that community."

Find out more about what the community has in store HERE