Women in Tech: Susan Buck empowers women in tech

Susan Buck advises parents to get their girls involved in technology at an early age.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

Susan Buck - Developer, lecturer and entrepreneur

Susan Buck - Developer, lecturer and entrepreneur

Summarize your experience and what you do now. Please give a brief summary of your current role.

Currently, I wear a few different hats. I teach web design and development, most recently in the Fine Arts department at the University of Pennsylvania. For the past five years, I've been a developer at Photojojo.com - an online destination and store for big photography nerds. And my latest endeavor has been co-founding Web Start Women, where we educate and build community in the web development arena.

Do you think that being a statistical minority in the Tech world has given you that extra push that you needed to become a top performer in your field?

Being a minority in any regard can be a bit of a double-edge sword. On one hand, we're faced with these challenges: just as much as male colleagues may challenge us, we challenge ourselves - it's hard not to when you're often a few out of many. For me, one of the biggest issues is visibility; a lack of other women to associate with, work with, and look up to. In those kind of environments, it's easy to start to wonder how good you really are and have doubts about how you rank among your colleagues.

On the other hand, being in the minority gives us a bit of awareness that might just make you fight a little harder. There can also be a lot of positive pride involved; it's empowering when we can gather a group of women who are excited about technology, and know we're doing something really meaningful.

How did you choose the technical field from all other possibilities that were presented to you?

Long before I made technology my means of income, it was a hobby. In middle school, I dug into books on Photoshop, Flash, HTML, etc. I was hungry for whatever information I could find, teaching myself a lot via my first dial up connection.

When I moved on to college and discovered a major at my university called Multimedia Arts and Sciences I was pretty ecstatic to find out there was a program catered exactly to the kind of stuff I had been tinkering with since I was a kid.

Do you think that the tech field provides the opportunity for you to think more creatively or to innovate more freely than other fields?

I can't speak to all fields, but I know there is a ton of freedom in the tech realm. Web Start Women's co-founder, Nicole Noll, is a PhD in Social Psychology and marvels at the work we can freely build and launch on the web, without the hoops and process she has to go through in her field of study. We have an idea, and we do it - it doesn't cost us anything but time and server fees, and immediately an audience can start to see our work. This opens a lot of doors to innovation and creativity.

If you were asked to mentor a young woman interested in a tech career, how would advise her?

Tinker, dig, build, learn, fail, try. Learn how to figure things out. That's the biggest thing. At the start of each semester, I always explain to students that my job is not to teach them everything there is to know about web development, but to teach them how to think like programmers. Part of that is building the confidence that no problem is unsolvable, you just have to figure out where to find the solution and be persistent. One of the best things about the tech field is the wide dissemination of information; use it!

I had an undergraduate review one of my courses once with a comment that said "I had to spend too much time on Google in this class." Welcome to web development, my friend!

I think this approach is a big part how we can get more young woman in the tech field. Boys seem to grow up instilled with this idea of "I can totally do this" even if they've just failed miserably, ten times over. It's that kind of confidence young women need to continue making waves in the tech field and building awesome things along the way.

How can we help get more women involved in tech?

This question comes up all the time and it's the core of the group we run, so it's something we think about a lot.

One of the most rewarding things that has come out of my involvement with Web Start Women is the instances when we've had dads write in to ask how they can get their young daughters involved in tech and our group. We want to pin a medal right on these parents’ chests!

If young girls aren't introduced and given access to enough tech before they get to college, they're already behind. I remember dipping my feet in computer science classes as an undergrad and wondering where the heck the other (read: male) students had gotten all this information that I seemed to be without. It was clear they had been hacking on the material long before they entered those intro classes. Even with my exposure to tech, at times it felt like trying to keep my head above water.

So parents, get your daughters involved! Get them that computer, that video game, that device, that book, that puzzle. Look at what tech related electives or clubs they have in their school. Sign them up! Push them. We'll all thank you in the end.

Getting more women involved in the tech field is going to require a multi-pronged approach. If you ask us, this is the recipe to do that:

For really young/future girls: Getting technology/tech instruction in their hands earlier (Attn: parents, teachers, and geeks everywhere); this helps eliminate the problem at it’s source, but will take a long time if it’s the only thing we’re doing.

For girls who are already behind boys their age: Making women in tech highly visible; teachers and role models are important, this is doubly challenging for racial minorities because there are even fewer minority women in tech.

For college-aged women and beyond: Visibility is still important. People change careers all the time and many tech careers require skill sets (rather than degrees), which means there are fewer financial barriers to picking up coding skills than there are to pursuing some other fields.

Industry can help: write gender-inclusive job ads instead of ones that reflect that you assume all applicants will be male. With the number relatively low, women are in demand in many areas of tech, so if you want to attract them, work to convey that. See Also:

Women in Tech: Cynthia Rubio's proudest achievement

Women in Tech: Manuela Hutter sees endless possibilities

Women in Tech: Progress still to be made (photos)

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