By Dr. Elke Leeds
My career did not begin in technology. I started my professional life in banking and finance, only to recognize later in life that careers in technology opened many more interesting and expansive career opportunities.
I don't believe that we do enough to help other women imagine themselves in technical careers. We need to better translate what technical careers look and feel like.
A career in technology is not always an easy choice. The tech industry involves a certain volatility and need for continued professional development or up-skilling. We also imagine isolated working environments, and—with only 26% of professional computing occupations in the United States workforce currently held by women—a perceived disadvantage.
This doesn't translate well into a career vision.
The technology professions need the innovation, energy, creativity, and drive of women. While the technical baselines are critically important in the beginning, the work transforms itself into systems thinking, problem solving, ingenuity, and something many women are incredibly gifted at—simplifying complexity.
It's for these reasons that women who have been successful in the field need to encourage other women to take a fresh look at what technical careers really offer and what they rely upon.
When I started over at 32—in my parents' basement, with two young daughters and a bedroom all three of us shared—I re-envisioned my life and career. It wasn't because I planned some radical change, but because change happened. We needed a job, a place to live, clothes and food, and a path forward.
I earned a degree in information systems. It was a lot of hard work. But it defined the beginning of a new career—one that would accommodate my needs as a single parent and
promised a research and practice field with flexible career opportunities.
After earning my degree, I began a faculty career and then transitioned to administrative positions, where I was able to leverage my systems background to bring innovative technical solutions to higher education. This included developing automated systems, streamlined processes, new learning models, and learning technologies.
Education is important in the IT field. A degree stays with you forever—and you can build on it and augment it with certifications as technologies and requirements change. Certifications are relevant for a moment in time, but to advance in your tech career and attain leadership positions, you need to have a degree.
IT needs more women in leadership positions. I hope to continue mentoring, sponsoring, and inspiring women to redefine what a career in a technical field looks like and what it yields.
Dr. Elke Leeds is the academic vice president of the College of Information Technology at Western Governors University (WGU). As VP, Elke sets the strategic direction for the College of IT's vision and portfolio of programs. She provides college-level leadership, direction, and focus for industry partnerships, new learning models, comprehensive reviews of program quality, admissions requirements, curriculum, and content. She serves as chief public voice for the college for both internal and external audiences, and she has ultimate accountability for business strategy, its associated profit and loss, and the viability (financial, academic, and professional) of each IT degree program.
You can apply your current IT industry certifications toward a WGU bachelor's or master's degree. Visit wgu.edu/witi for more information.