Each year, the month of March is used to celebrate the important contributions that women have made throughout history. In the tech space we are especially proud of Ada Lovelace and her legacy of being the first person to write a computer program back in 1842. However, despite the massive strides that women have made since Ada’s days the female workforce is still greatly underrepresented in the tech space. Women make up over 50% of the overall workforce, but less than 30% of all tech jobs, with these numbers declining even more specifically in engineering.
We chatted with Mavenlink’s Engineering Manager, Paulette Luftig, to learn more about her journey and what motivated her to become a coder. Paulette is a true Maven and the co-creator and co-organizer of Women Level Up, an organization that aims to empower web developers who identify as female, non-binary, or are from underrepresented backgrounds.
1. Tell us a little about your background, we heard you used to be a yoga teacher?
I grew up in a home where the value of education wasn’t front and center, so getting into my professional life took a lot longer than many people. When I got into college I ended up pursuing a degree in feminist studies to understand how my identity as a woman was influencing my struggles in life.
I spent time researching and understanding what I had experienced in my life to allow me to move forward. That’s what drove me to my first career. I was a counsellor and ran a home for young single mothers ranging from 15 to 30 years old. That career then led me to yoga, a healing modality that became important to my work with young women and one that was also helpful to me. When I eventually turned to yoga full time and opened up a studio I also invested in a training program that helped me become a professional coach. That coaching practice helped me evolve and is something I use every day in my engineering role today.
2. What inspired you to become a developer and enter the tech field?
When I met my husband, I moved from Canada to the US. That meant I had 9 months where I couldn’t work and instead of opening up a new yoga studio, I decided to learn to code. Fortunately, I just loved it. It made me use my brain in a way I never had before. I could get lost in coding for an entire day.
A good friend in the Bay Area let me know about a new development bootcamp, named DevBootcamp. I was put through some hard challenges before I could join, but I was accepted. It was a very challenging program for me, but I made it through. Once I was in it, I couldn’t stop because I had invested myself so fully. That eventually led me to Mavenlink.
3. You play a big role in Mavenlink’s Diversity in Tech movement, can you tell us a little bit about this program and what Mavenlink hopes to achieve?
Maven Diversity was started in 2016 and while I felt supported by my supervisors, I pulled this group together so I had a place to talk with other women about my unique struggles in tech. I had feelings of doubt and imposter syndrome that I wanted to process with fellow women in the tech space. When we ended up getting everybody together, we realized that we could still create that same supportive environment without excluding anybody and inviting anybody that wanted to come to the table. That changed into Maven Diversity. Over the years, we’ve done many things to create support and opportunity for people that identify differently than the majority groups in tech.
4. You co-started Women Level Up, can you tell us a little bit about that organization and why it is important?
Women Level Up was started originally as a meetup at Mavenlink to create opportunities for women in the community who have passion and drive but maybe don’t have access to opportunities that can move their career forward. We wanted to help women to level up their skills. And today it continues to be very successful and is run by two women who have previously worked with me at Mavenlink.
I’m very proud that it continues to be a source of support for women in tech and not only works to develop their tech skills but also develop their careers. Women Level Up provides tech talks, talks on development and leadership, and more. But you don’t have to be an engineer to get something from Women Level Up.
5. What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Don’t care so much about what people think and care less about what’s on the outside and more about what’s on the inside. It took me a long time to identify and value what was inside me and my intelligence. And once I realized my value, I could run with it.
When it comes to your life goals, reaching the goal feels wonderful, but if you only focus on the goal, you’ve missed your life. There are opportunities everywhere to make the world better and to connect with other people.
6. What excites you about the future of women in tech?
I think the innovation we’ll see as more women enter the field and not only participate in building our products, but also choose to get into roles of leadership will be astounding. We grow up socialized in a particular way based on our gender and I think that sometimes women are socialized to think more broadly and to relate in a way that is caring and space holding. As more women step into leadership, we’ll begin to see more things like true growth mindset being embraced in organizations and empathy being embraced as a default.
There’s a very caring embrace that women can bring to the field. That’s innovative in itself in a corporate culture and I anticipate we will see more of that as more women come into the field. Men and women bring different mindsets on how a company is run. Women can stop, pace ourselves, think a little more, and let the creative and naturally innovative emerge.
The more that we have that balance, companies will take off. Our products will be better. Our cultures will be better.
Thank you for talking with us today, Paulette!