To honor International Women’s Day on March 8, we interviewed some of our female developers, project managers, and leaders about the theme this year, #BalanceforBetter, which is especially appropriate in the technology sector. Each interviewee offers a unique perspective on being a woman in the tech world and talks about what “balance means” to them. And because March also happens to be Women’s History Month, we decided to extend the conversation throughout in hopes of inspiring more conversations about women’s influence in STEM fields.
This week, we’d like to introduce you to Elisa Avilla, a core member of our Service Delivery team based in Monterey, Mexico. Elisa discovered a penchant for coding at a young age, carved her own career in the tech world, and now works to support other women and school-age girls who are interested in STEM fields. She talks to us about what catalyzed her career journey and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Elisa supports gender balance because she believes that there are more women out there who will make a big impact on the world by tapping into their real passions for tech.
How did you get started in coding?
I grew up with two brothers and was always inclined as a child to do more “guy” things. My mom was a stay at home mom and my dad was an airplane engineer who retired recently. My parents bought us a computer when I was young, and I was immediately enthralled. They got us a book on programming for children with some really simple examples, which I loved. My mom even enrolled me in a computer class for children, where we used a program called Logo. I think she thought it would be good for me.
What do you like about being a developer?
It’s a lot of reading and a lot of self-teaching. It’s really cool to work in an area where you have to constantly keep learning. I like to read a lot, so it’s a good fit for me.
Did you have any teachers/mentors along the way?
I had very good teachers in school, but I also was influenced by my mom’s sisters: one was a mathematician and the other was a doctor.
What was the most difficult part starting out?
I had good grades, so I got a job right out of school, but it was working in an office doing general tasks. It was hard to find a job when I first started working in development, but I knew if I stayed in a job just for the security or because the money was good that I would get away from coding. The hardest part was to find a job where I could learn more and practice my coding skills. It took about a year and a half, but I finally found a job at a company where I was doing half IT, half development.
Was it hard being a woman in the field at first? Did you feel it was a competitive environment?
When I first started at that company, I didn’t feel that challenge—it was small, and we made a good team. The problem was that when we grew, I was the person with the most experience, but certain men didn’t like taking instruction from me because I was a woman. They didn’t want to be told what to do by me, but it was like, “I’m telling you what to do because I know how to do it!”
Has there ever been a time that you felt like you weren’t treated fairly because you’re a woman?
For me, being a woman hasn’t been a disadvantage in finding a job—almost all of the companies I’ve applied to have hired me. But when I start working for the company, I’m usually the only woman. I have to learn how to make myself heard in meetings. Or sometimes a man will try to explain things to me that I already know. That’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with too.
Are there any specific challenges of working with mostly male colleagues?
It definitely takes more time for a woman to convince a group of men of something than it does for a man to convince a group of men.
Are there any advantages to being a woman in the tech field?
Somebody once told me that women are more organized than men, more detail-oriented. That helps when working in UI/UX. I’ve also been told we’re good at multi-tasking—but that’s not necessarily something I promote now!
Note: Our Attention Management training at Headspring has taught us the universal value of single-tasking!
Do you feel respected amongst your peers?
I think I’m in a good place. I know I need to keep learning and developing my skills, but because that’s what all people should do!
Who are some of your female role models?
It may sound cliché, but my mom is my role model because even though I was the only girl in my family she treated me as an equal with my brothers. She always encouraged me to do the same things my brothers were doing; she made me believe I could do anything
I also really admire Ada Lovelace, who is one of the first female programmers.
Ada Lovelace is famous for writing the algorithm that would calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. For this, she’s widely considered the first computer programmer, and her method the first-ever computer program.
Tell us about your involvement with the Women Who Code chapter in Monterey.
I actually found them looking for an unrelated event on Meetup.com, then I saw there was a Women Who Code event in Monterrey, MX. I went and I really liked it because it felt like a safe space. You’re surrounded by other people who understand how you feel—sometimes annoyed, sometimes frustrated because men don’t treat you as equal. During our monthly meetings we get together to answer questions about technology, and we also hold workshops to help each other improve soft skills, develop emotional intelligence, and get better at speaking in public.
Is there anything you’ve learned in the group that you’ve applied to your own life/career?
I think, for women, building the confidence for a job interview takes longer than it does for men. I’m trying to be more confident and convince myself that I can do anything.
What can you do to mentor or guide younger girls in the STEM field?
Last year, Women Who Code worked with Save the Children to help high school girls. The goal was to mentor them in Math and English so that they could pursue careers in IT and STEM. But in the end, it was more about encouraging them to keep studying and finish their schooling, because that’s a big problem for girls in poor areas. A lot of them stop studying after high school. We were there to be their cheerleaders and encourage them to do more and keep progressing.
Why do you think it’s important for there to be more women in tech?
It’s all over the world—this idea that boys should do math and science and girls should be trained in things like dance. More women should explore STEM careers because I truly believe they are going to love it. I know it’s good for us. I’m really happy with this career.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to be a technical leader. I love development, I love coding, and I know that sometimes I work better with computers than with people! Part of growing is acknowledging what you like more, and following your passion.
Stay tuned for more interviews with inspiring Headspring Women who are promoting balance for better in the tech world