Nora Denzel’s advice to women in CS

Happened to watch this GHC 2012 keynote from Nora Denzel, someone who’s broken the glass ceiling in a number of ways. The gist of her advice to women in CS is in 5 crisp points, worth archiving, so here it goes:

  1. Fix your attitude – if 5-7 years into your career, things aren’t going as you’d like, step back and check if the problem is with your attitude. There are no ‘career paths’, just ‘career obstacle courses’  and you need to have the right attitude to counter those.
  2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable always – Growth and comfort are OR-ed bits, not AND-ed bits. You can either be “comfortable” in your career or “growing”. The times when she was most scared or felt most challenged were the times when she was growing the most. The times when she felt relaxed, over phone-calls and meetings that she didn’t have to pour herself into – those were the times when she was stagnant.
  3. Act as if  – When you are uncomfortable and feeling scared/getting into self-doubt, “act as if”. She cites Sally Ride who was extremely scared on her space ride because she knew all the failure points of the system, but acted and came across like a confident, smart and well-put together astronaut.
  4. Control your PR agent – and that’s you yourself! Every message, piece of speech or act/conduct coming from you is your PR statement.  She cites examples of women in her organization who were doing well, but when complimented by senior execs, instead of saying thank you, replied by emptying all their self-doubt  (I wasn’t good here, here and here).
  5. It takes a village – Enroll the help of others. Its not what you know, its not even who you know, its who knows what you know.