Choosing the right company as a female engineer

Choosing the right company is a difficult decision for any individual. Choosing the right company for a female software engineer in the age of the Google manifesto and lengthy essays from a University of Washington professor about “Why Women Don’t Code” could decide the success or failure of your career. As I read works such as “‘I felt so alone’: What women at Microsoft face and why many leave” I began to feel both a sense of relief and disappointment – relief that I was not alone with my experiences as a female engineer and disappointment that this has been and still is a systemic problem. These realizations prompted me to begin my search for a company that would choose to change the narrative of the stereotypical male dominated tech industry.

To accomplish this, my initial thought was to look at the larger tech companies, assuming they would have the resources to invest in creating a culture where female engineers could thrive. To my dismay, it seemed that for most of these larger companies, culture was already set in stone. Over the course of ten interviews, I made it a point to ask each interviewer about the company’s ongoing efforts to keep women in their engineering departments. Each time, this question was met with confusion as if they had never critically been asked about female retention. Companies that have over 1000 employees with less than 20% of them female showed me that the efforts to bring in female engineers were often an afterthought.

After receiving and rejecting eight offers, I finally came across a company called Okera. I approached this company as I did all others, by asking myself these five questions:

1. Will I be working with the best engineers?
2. Is the engineering culture driven, collaborative, and inclusive?
3. Could I see myself staying here to learn and grow over the next 5 years?
4. Is the problem space challenging enough?
5. Does the company value having women in engineering and in leadership positions?

As simple as this list may seem, Okera was the only company I felt had the potential to fill all five buckets. To start off, the interview process was rigorous and thought-provoking. I had the opportunity to collaborate with senior engineers and an engineering manager that were not only highly intellectual, passionate about strong mentorship, and excited to be at Okera, but also showed genuine respect for leadership at the company. That said, I had already been through well executed interviews with engaging and brilliant engineers — so what made Okera different?

At Okera, I found a unique culture. Engineers actively went to conferences, enjoyed teaching at local colleges after work, and were a part of organizing volunteering and community involvement activities. They made deliberate efforts to be conscious about culture and growth. Furthermore, data security, big data, and cloud computing is a space where I would feel challenged for years on end.
What ultimately convinced me to join Okera, was the incredible support I received when discussing women in tech and engineering. To be clear, Okera has not solved the problem of underrepresentation of women in engineering and leadership in tech companies. Nevertheless, the energy and time Okera has invested into addressing these issues at only 1-2 years in and 22 people deep is something I could not ignore. The crucial detail was that difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion were not just discussed but executed upon. It was also clear that the desire to create an inclusive space was shared by each individual engineer at Okera.
Okera has 6 female employees and it is working to improve the ratio in all functions.

As Okera grows, I believe that this rare culture will grow with it. As a small start up, we are committed to bringing a different voice to the table. We know “you can’t solve problems by using the same kinds of things we’ve used when we created them”, which is why we’re committed to having different minds and perspectives at the table. We are not just offering them a seat but committing to really listening and ensuring that everyone is heard.