Yet another women in tech rant, with a Soviet slant


Gerard Terboch, Woman Writing a Letter

By Yuliya Falkovich

I immigrated from Moscow, Russia right after I graduated high school. When I came to New York and got into NYU, my choice of major was somewhat limited by the fact that I was not a native English speaker. I was pretty good at math back in Russia, and my dad had a math degree from Moscow State University so I had free help at home if I ever had questions. Thank you, Dad!

I graduated NYU with a double major in computer science and mathematics.

What I’ve noticed in my math classes is that the harder they got, the less women were in them. Sometimes, I was the only one. It was glaringly obvious that women in math courses were an unusual sight.

I always wondered why this was happening, and  I think the reason is that math education in US is appallingly bad in average schools. I witnessed the level of ignorance myself when I was a math tutor in college. Students were struggling with basic algebra concepts, failing basic math core curriculum courses that covered the material that was not even at the college level by Russian educational standards. But that still does not explain the ratio in math courses. And I do not subscribe to the theory that female brain is not as well-equipped to handle math. Also one of my best math teachers in high school and best math professors in college were women.

So, what gives? It is typically blamed on cultural conditioning and expectations. Girls at a young age are told that math is hard and that they are not naturally good at it. Computer science and math is looked at as a domain for nerdy men. Even women that do enter software engineering careers later on get steered into less technical roles like project/product management because they are expected to perform better at the soft skills. I think as a society we really need to change that. Who knows how many potentially talented women are out there that would be brilliant in math. And not just math, but other STEM fields that are sorely lacking in female representation.

 After I graduated college I followed computer science path and started my career as a Java developer. I ended up in the financial industry, like so many other IT professionals in NYC area. The picture there was not much better. Women were far and few in between in an investment bank that I worked at for many years.

Of course, the boys’ network culture of Wall Street was not making it any easier. What I observed is that bright women would graduate college, and get IT jobs on Wall Street. Then as they got older, got married and had children they started to drop out. So women that progressed in their careers and stayed on Wall Street were either single and/or childless or extremely ambitious, even cutthroat people that had supportive partners at home. As I observed this I kept asking myself – what were my career prospects on Wall Street? Would I survive the grind and the stress and make it to the top and if I do at what price? I got laid off and made a decision not to get another Wall Street  job. The pressure and the stress were affecting my health and I wanted to have some semblance of work/life balance.

 I don’t know if Wall Street culture can and should be changed to be made more female friendly, but I think diversity there would certainly help. Maybe it will morph the culture of “big swinging dicks” into something better. Something that will not result in financial disasters that we are seeing so many of in recent years.

One comment

  1. I also had the same experience, and still see the same trend, of women moving into a more down played positions, as they have kids. It’s not just on Wall St. I work for a NJ company, and it’s the same thing here. Tech positions are not family friendly. Very often, they require long hours on projects and a lot of stress. When you have a newborn, and you did not sleep for months, it’s hard to sit down and come up with a decent algorithm to resolve a problem. :):):) The boys network culture is through out the whole IT software developing. When I go to Software development training or conferences, I am in a very small minority of 2-3 women in a place full of hundreds of men. May be women don’t think it’s a female job. Who knows. But there are a lot of push to diversify CS field, by teaching girls what it’s all about. May be it will help to get more women programmers into the work force.


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