Another letter from graduated student

As professor, I often ask graduated students who are now working to share their experiences and give advices to students who are still in school. Last month, I send out an email to remind them and I received several replies. I like to share with you the letter from a former students:

“There are still very few women in technical fields such as Computer Science (CS) or Software Engineering (SE). While the number of women in Information System management (ISM) has been increased significantly but this field is focusing more on the management aspect rather than technical. At Carnegie Mellon, I was the only woman in the class of 32 students. Many friends told me that I was very brave to study this “Difficult field” but I did not think it is difficult. Let me share with you some of my experiences both in school and in industry.”

“I grew up in a family that had three boys and one girl, and I was the youngest. All my brothers were computer “Geeks” so to “survive”, I had to learn computer too. As my brothers learned to program and wrote applications on their personal computers, I also learned C and C++. When they played computer games, I was challenged to play with them too. If it not been for these things and the confidence they instilled in me, I probably would NOT major in Software Engineering.”

“My oldest brother studied Computer Science in college and had a job at IBM. Few years later, when it was my turn to go to college, he advised: “Take Software Engineering, you would learn more than Computer Science, you already knew how to program and you were good at it. There is not much that they can teach you”. I could not believe that the brother who always teased me until I cried, told me that I was good at programming. That kind of comment gave me the courage to go to the best software school: Carnegie Mellon.”

“At CMU, I met some female friends that also wanted to “try” Software Engineering. We took the Introduction to Computer course together but in few weeks, they all changed their minds. At that time, I knew that if you have never programmed before, that computer course was difficult. It was also very intimidating to take classes where most students already knew the material well because they have been programmed before, especially all of them were male.”

“Although I did well in programming courses during first few years, I was having problems in upper classes where team work was required. My team was “NOT NICE ” to me at all. I could work for 12 hours straight, forget eating or sleeping, like them but I could not stand being treated differently. What frustrated me was the team had some “Stupid” boys who think that because they know how to program some obscure Dot.Net operation commands, they are superiors and you are nothing. One time, a team member told me: "This is serious work, not easy stuff for someone like you”. I was so angry, I could kick him (I had a yellow belt in Karate). Suddenly I realized that he was just an ignorant young man who probably never went anywhere further than his computer desk. Probably he would never get too far in life anyways. Now, as I thought about it, I found that for some reasons, technical areas have so many people who are not well adjusted and backward thinking and I felt sad for them.”

“The day that brighten up everything for me happened when the professor told the entire class that even though I was quiet when others talked a lot. I was the best student in class and had the highest score in the most difficult class of the program: The software architecture course. That day changed everything. No one dare to look at me differently and I was “Officially” accepted as “one of them”. In the “Capstone project”, we had to implement a system for a large aerospace company. The requirements were tough with a lot of details that no one in my team understand. It was me who called the company manager and discussed with him about the project. Eventually, I became the “project manager” and command respect from the team. I did most of the architecture and design and constantly on the phone with customers while the team just implemented what I told them. Our project was so success, it was rated the best of all the capstone projects that year.”

“The most surprising thing happened afterward was the aerospace company manager came to school and offered me a job. I did not even have to apply or attend the career fair like others. My future was set and I found out later that I had the highest salary offered than anyone in school that year. My experience in industry has been very positive. Within three years, I was promoted to project manager and few years after that, I became the youngest woman in that company who had the title “Director of software”.

“I wish more women would go into Computer Science, Software Engineering or Information System Management. These fields are wide open with opportunities, probably more than you can imagine. I also found that in the past few years, more women have made it to the top positions in large companies such as Ms. Carly Fiorina at Hewlett Packard and Ms. Meg Witman at eBay. Harvard University has a woman president, Ms Drew Faust and the chairman of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon is also a woman, Ms. Jeannette Wing. I believe today, technical career is no longer for man but everybody. It is a very good career for everyone, especially there are so many opportunities to choose from and so many advancement paths that one can select. I strongly encourage all of you to look closely into these technical fields”.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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