I started studying computer science quite late into my college career. I took a class on the subject as a sophomore, and I soon found that I enjoyed writing code and solving computational problems. I decided to enroll in another computer science class the following semester, and more after that.
Coming from a liberal arts background, studying computer science itself was not easy for me. I spent much of my time completing homework assignments over the weekends, attending office hours on a weekly basis, and revising algorithms over and over again.
Studying a hard subject is not easy, and studying a hard subject as a woman in a male-dominated field is even harder. As I enrolled in more upper-level classes, I found that there were fewer women in the classroom. It not only became harder to get called on in class, but also harder to find partners that wanted to work with me on projects. I felt the constant need to prove to others that I “belonged” in computer science.
I only started to feel less alone and more confident in myself when I sought out communities that aimed to connect women in computer science to each other.
Lean In, an organization that spans multiple chapters, helped me gain more of an official mentor and friend. As someone interested in pursuing a PhD program in speech or natural language processing, Lean In connected me to a fellow PhD student at my school who was studying the exact same thing I was interested in.
While more and more women are starting computer science coursework at the undergraduate level, graduate programs are still waiting to catch up. Seeing a woman in a higher academic position conducting work in a lab made me feel less alone, as if I could also see myself doing it one day. Though I am no longer in school, I am still in touch with my mentor.
If you are a student and hope to be a part of similar communities, I would recommend joining student clubs that have a focus on computer science. It can be tough to put yourself out there, but remember that these clubs don’t require an invitation, and they exist to help you.
Many upper-level students actively involved in these clubs were also once in your shoes. Because of that, you’ll find that a lot of events revolve around study groups, company visits, and mentorship pairings. This was the case for my Women in Computer Science club on campus.
If you find that there are no clubs on your campus that exist, you can either start one or get involved in online communities. #BUILTBYGIRLS is an official mentorship program that pairs high-school and college women with women in the software engineering industry. You can sign up as a mentee or a mentor.
If you are no longer in school, Tech Ladies is another great community to join. They not only connect you to close to 30,000 women in technology via their Facebook group, but also have a job board that forwards your resume straight to hiring managers with some of the partner engineering companies they work with.
Women Techmakers, an initiative by Google, offers free membership to women at any level in their career hoping to leverage relationships with other female technologists.
Joining a Meetup group is also a really great way to get connected with anyone about pretty much any topic or idea. I am currently a member of Women Who Code NYC, a meetup group that spans multiple chapters and cities.
I really enjoy their speaker series and lightning talks, in which they invite women who are already in the industry to discuss their work. This is a networking opportunity in and of itself, and I’ve been able to connect with multiple industry women who were both speakers and attendees by attending these events.
The software engineering world is slowly making progress towards creating a more inclusive community for all, but until that happens, know that many communities exist either around you or online that will help connect you to others.
Being a part of all the above communities I’ve listed has not only helped me meet new friends and mentors, but it has also encouraged me to keep studying computer science and pursueing a career in technology. If you’re looking for someone to commiserate with or help answer a question, attend an event on-campus or go to a Meetup. You have nothing to lose—only something to gain.