I’ve never considered myself a “techie” person. At times, my two-year-old daughter seems savvier than I am. In elementary school, I wanted to be an orthodontist. In middle school, an actor. In high school and college, I discovered writing and art history — and leaned in hard.
That passion led me to WillowTree. I saw the values I cherished as a creative reflected in our company’s values. “Sustainable flow.” I think of Mary Oliver. Virginia Woolf. “Realistic optimism.” I hear Amanda Gorman and see Frida Kahlo. “Ownership.” How about Toni Morrison or Georgia O’Keefe?
And yet, I entered my new role feeling afraid. Coming from a non-technical background, would I be good enough at my craft? Would this introvert be able to communicate effectively? As a mom, would I feel included?
Hearing these stories from women and historically marginalized genders in the Women of WillowTree (WoW) employee resource group helped me realize something about the little voice in my head asking those big questions. My colleagues are dealing with the same challenges: imposter syndrome and mom guilt and social anxiety and anger toward the status quo.
I think of that tiny, powerful word: “and.” We can feel burnt out and angry — and push for progress. We can be moms and founders. We can be creative and technical. We can be uncomfortable and lead. Despite it all, we can take up space in this industry.
WillowTree: What advice has helped you navigate your career in the technology space?
Ellie: One moment stands out in particular as I think about the advice I’ve received in my career. I was working in eCommerce, and we were approaching the holiday season. For the eCommerce sector, the holiday season is high stakes. For me, it felt like incredibly high stakes. But, my manager emphasized that it wasn't life or death. Looking back at that advice, I realize it was valuable. What that advice did was lessen the stakes for me. It made the work more approachable and less overwhelming.
WT: The tech landscape is constantly shifting. How can women and historically marginalized genders stay grounded in their values and identities, even as demands and expectations change?
Ellie: For historically marginalized genders, I would emphasize that the industry offers many opportunities for challenges and to embrace changes as the landscape evolves. If that appeals to you, that’s exciting. Jump in. Look for a place that will allow you to embrace your whole self. Those places do exist.
WT: What does an empowered space look like to you?
Margaret: I feel confident when I overcome the fear of speaking up — not only about doing the right thing but also in work environments like the conference room. Women can be outnumbered in that scenario — especially in tech.
I have to remind myself and others that any idea is good, even if you just need to voice it to talk through it. Most likely, someone else in the room is thinking a similar thing.
You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to voice your values or ideas. As you go through your career, say what you’re thinking. Be confident that you have the knowledge to make and share those informed decisions.
WT: What message would you share with another woman or historically marginalized gender about finding their place in technology?
Margaret: I immediately think of my niece. I'm very close to her. This message applies to spaces outside of tech, but I’d encourage my niece to stay curious, open, and kind. In any industry, what we do boils down to creating solutions and solving problems.
Especially in the technology industry, the space is always changing. We’re seeing more and more automation. Keeping a human level of leadership will be the most essential element moving forward.
WT: How have you taken up space as a leader at WillowTree?
Kate: I want to be a strong manager rather than a practitioner in my craft. As we get more senior in our roles, people think about us primarily in how we make them feel and operate as leaders and managers.
I want the people who report to me or whom I mentor to feel coached, have space to grow, and feel supported at work and in their lives. Those are experiences and opportunities I’ve been able to have, and I want to pay them forward. I want to ensure that people have a robust support system and a manager who cares about them.
WT: What’s your advice for women and historically marginalized genders who are looking to break into the tech sector?
Kate: I’m not technical in my role. So many tech opportunities don’t require a computer science degree or even an interest in or appetite to code. All of the functions in any company exist in a tech company. We get to do whatever we're passionate about in this space. So whether that's marketing, recruiting, or another function, those opportunities exist here.
And there isn't a massive barrier to entry. You don’t need in-depth technical expertise. I’ve been able to figure out a lot of that expertise on my own throughout my career. Nonetheless, I’ve still been able to occupy this space in tech.
WT: How did you find WillowTree?
Danielle: I first heard about WillowTree through Girls Who Code at the University of Virginia, a club I helped co-found at UVA.
I’ve used many of the skills I gained as a Girls Who Code leader in my new role as co-chair for the Women of WillowTree employee resource group. Being in Women of WillowTree has empowered me to meet other female software engineers.
WT: Tell us more about your journey to a leadership role in the Women of WillowTree employee resource group (ERG).
Danielle: When interviewing at WillowTree, I asked what support systems were in place for women at WillowTree, which led me to the Women of WillowTree ERG. I knew I was going to feel comfortable and supported here. I couldn’t imagine myself in a place where I didn’t have this type of support.
Males vastly outnumber females in computer science classrooms. And the percentage of female computer science graduates has declined over the past 30 years. There’s a clear imbalance here. That’s why I feel so passionate about organizations like Women of WillowTree and Girls Who Code. They’re encouraging women to stay in the industry.