Today we’re continuing our summer blog series, “Speaking in Code,” which profiles some of the women here at Trading Technologies, focusing on the challenges and opportunities they’ve experienced in their careers in fintech. If you haven’t been following, I encourage you to read the introduction and the first spotlight featuring Diana Dumitru.
Our second profile features software engineer Allison Schwarz, who has been at Trading Technologies since May 2006. Allison joined TT right after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in Computer Science and began her career writing tools in software quality engineering (SQE). She has worked on a variety of teams in her nine years at TT and is currently serving as a mobile developer.
What drew you to software engineering? What about it specifically piqued your interest?
Allison: It was something my dad had suggested to me as a possible major when I was in high school. I always had an interest in computers, but when I took my first programming class, I fell in love with it. It combined a lot of my interests: science, problem solving, even learning different languages. I loved the whole aspect of feeling like I was creating something from nothing. For our final project at the end of that class, I made a Frogger-like game that my classmates really enjoyed playing, and that was that, I was hooked.
What were the biggest challenges on your path to becoming a professional technologist? And did you ever have any doubts that this is where you’d end up?
Allison: It was challenging, especially in school, to be in such a small minority. Walking into a lecture where less than 5% of the students are female can be very isolating. Because of that drastic ratio, I think it was a bit harder for the girls to form a group of peers with whom to work and study. Also, very few of my professors were female, which contributed to feeling out of place. Lacking good role models made me question whether this was for me. In the end, I just loved developing so much, I knew I would not be as happy in another field.
On gender bias, Allison says it “generally breaks down over time once they see what we are capable of. After all, good code speaks for itself.”
Since joining the industry, have others ever doubted your ability as a female technologist?
Allison: Definitely. However, I tend to get more disbelief and questioning from people outside the industry. The typical flow of these conversations is generally shock when I explain to them what I do for a living, followed by some questions where they’re trying to determine whether I’m serious, ending with them talking about how they also dabble in coding in their spare time.
Within the industry, because there are so few women, I believe some guys who haven’t worked with any women at all tend to approach us with lower expectations with respect to our technical ability. The good news is any initial gender bias generally breaks down over time once they see what we are capable of. After all, good code speaks for itself.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Allison: It actually has nothing to do with being a woman. I love working through and fixing a particularly tough issue and designing new features and getting positive feedback on them. I think the only distinct experience to women in this industry that can be rewarding is when you reach the point where you’re seen as just another member of the team and not as a woman specifically.
Allison’s advice: “Give a career in technology a shot—it can be challenging but really rewarding as well.”
How has TT created an environment of equal opportunity?
Allison: It’s not anything specific, but just having a number of women present and visible helps. I’m not quite sure how they managed it, but they’ve hired a pretty good number of women here. Increasing the percentage of women at the company and in engineering will inherently create a better working environment for the women here. I also think more women are likely to choose a career at TT if they are interviewed by women or see the growing number of women at the office. It certainly creates a more welcoming environment. I’ve been lucky with my experience at TT so far in that I have met and worked with a lot of great fellow women engineers here.
Do you have any advice for young women thinking about careers in technology?
Allison: Young women will likely encounter people who will doubt their abilities. They might get teased for standing out amongst their peers (like I did), but they should not doubt themselves. There are plenty of people working in technology who don’t fit the typical nerd stereotype, so they shouldn’t let that be a deterrent. Give a career in technology a shot—it can be challenging but really rewarding as well.