There’s been so much bandied about today about how to support the growth of women in technology fields, and also a great deal of attention on how high-tech companies are notorious for pushing women away.
I wanted to hear the real deal from a woman who’s succeeding at high levels in tech, and was excited to catch up with Angie Ruan, Head of PayPal Retail’s engineering team. Under Angie’s lead, her engineering team played a key role in creating the first PayPal mobile product to enable merchants to take payments easily anywhere. Prior to this role, Ruan served as Director of Engineering for eBay where she steered the company’s mobile strategy. Her team won a number of innovation awards, and she owns more than four technical patents. She was recognized by the eBay CFO for Operation Excellence in 2010, and her team delivered the first eBay iPhone notification project, which enabled eBay to present at Apple Developer Conference in 2009.
Kathy Caprino: Angie, how did you succeed in tech? What you did do specifically throughout your trajectory to succeed and ascend to leadership?
Angie Ruan: I grew up with the concept of “working hard and smartly with great results will determine success.” This mantra helped me greatly throughout my schooling and in the early days of my career. Then, I hit a point in my life where I seemed to get stuck. So, I began to problem solve and find ways to help me breakthrough my rut.
Here’s what helped me.
Mentors, coaches and women-helping-women channels
I turned to mentors, coaches and women that could help guide me. My first mentor was Terri Jordan, Vice President of eBay operations at the time, and she bluntly told me, “I have to work on every part of my career to assure promotion. Your career is something you have to take control of explicitly.” This was the most powerful advice I ever received and helped me change how I viewed my career path early on. Another mentor who had a big impact on my career is Judy Lane, a professional executive coach. She inspired and believed in me, which helped me to take more risks for different opportunities. I also have made a point to connect with lots of great men and women leaders along my journey to use them as mentors, and several even became my sponsors or advocates. Bottom line, I have leaned on successful professionals and never stop learning.
Taking risks and tenaciously seeking fun opportunities
In late 2007, I was a true believer in mobile commerce so I applied this passion to my job. I took a risk and evangelized a mobile strategy at a time it was being deprioritized. I convinced cross-functional leaders to create a virtual mobile team. We delivered eBay’s first mobile app with the Bid Alert notification, which was even demonstrated by Steve Jobs at Apple Developer Conference. This launched my career as the tech leader to own and build eBay’s first mobile platform team. This experience eventually helped me to land other opportunities, such as running PayPal Here, a leading PayPal mobile initiative.
I’ve also learned to not shy away from opportunities because they may not sound “sexy.” My most fulfilling career experience was my most unexpected. Along my journey, I was asked to help with productivity issues and lead the eBay engineering systems, which included source control, build, release, monitoring, tools, etc. The first day on the job, I had hundreds of escalations that were filling up my mailbox. I told myself this job can only get better with a little structure. Under my leadership, we reached our audacious cycle time reduction goal, rebuilt the organization culture, and completely moved the needles for the eBay release technology and processes.
Leveraging being a woman in tech
Surrounding myself with amazing women has had a huge impact on my career. I joined eBay’s Women in Tech (eWIT), a grass-root organization in eBay founded by my first mentor Terri Jordan, and it helped me tremendously in learning and connecting with other leaders and mentors. It’s a safe place for me to lean in. Because of my passion as a woman in tech and a true believer in the program, I later became the president of eWIT for two years. And, I’m proud to say that 2,000 people globally are now part of this organization.
My belief in Karma
Another key to my success is my belief in Karma. “How can I help you?” is the question always in the back of my mind during my one-on-one mentor sessions and in my daily interactions. The desire I have to help people is always going to bolster me in the long run.
Caprino: What are the concrete steps women should take to get into tech fields and succeed in them?
Ruan: I believe many women can be intimidated by technology or feel they don’t have the right background. You shouldn’t let this stop you.
Here’s how to succeed:
Become comfortable with technology.
There are so many types of technology jobs. Some are related to writing low-level code, graphic design, interaction design, testing, project management, content management (to name a few). These jobs can be very fulfilling; some might be really fun for you and many can help you to achieve your personal goals by leveraging different strengths you have. In our culture today, it’s hardly possible to not interact with technology in our daily life, whether it’s email, playing games, chatting online, Facebook or online shopping. If you are comfortable with these, you can get to the door of a technology field since most of the tech folks are leveraging tools like these to do their work.
Start something simple.
You might be surprised by your own technical capability, including an ability to build a website quickly by drag and drop with templates. You can go to Web.com, Square Space, WIX, Weebly, or even Google.com to try this out.
You can decide if you are interested in going deeper in graphic design, flow design, or some of the coding work by just enhancing your pages. If you decide to dive deeper into coding, there are so many tools for you to build other fun applications. You can take online courses, like computer science 101 from http://online.stanford.edu/courses. It’s not really about getting a degree or a certificate. It’s about learning something to be comfortable and more excited about it. There are so many other great free courses to create mobile applications too. The more you do this, the more you can feel that creating software can be part of the daily process. And, it’s rewarding.
Like any job, getting better and being technically successful requires knowledge, passion and energy. Technology can help you to be more creative. And, you can grow into leadership roles as well. I have observed that more women are into front-end application development with user interface interaction design. I also see lots of great women in engineering leadership roles who are super good at product design and process engineering. I would suggest you focus on your strengths and interests where you’ll maximize your fullest potential.
Caprino: What specific steps do tech leaders need to take to pave the way for more women in these fields?
Ruan: I would encourage tech leaders to consider these steps.
Internalize your commitment to supporting women.
It’s very compelling when leaders (both male and female) internalize in an authentic way their commitment to personally support women in tech initiatives. I have seen this work numerous ways, for instance, with male leaders who connect to their strong belief in the talent and abilities of their spouse and daughters, and carry that forward. They end up being very authentic in their desire help more women succeed.
Hire, hire, hire.
Leaders should hire at least one woman tech leader who can be a role model and provide meaningful direction to the organization. It’s said that the tipping point of a culture change requires at least 25% of the population. Creating a culture that paves the road for more women in the tech field starts with the leadership team and with more role models in the organization.
What works in many organizations to help women succeed in tech is to establish key enablement processes, such as women talent sponsorship programs, calling out gender perspective in talent review process/succession planning processes, and adding women in the promotion board and hiring board.
Focus too on fostering a grassroots networking group within the organization. It creates a safe place for women to help women. I truly enjoy the eWIT program and it’s been an asset to me. Tech leaders should consider sponsoring programs like these grassroots organizations for women.
College recruiting for female talents can be a great pipeline. You should participate and sponsor organizations like the Anita Borg Institute (for women in technology), STEM programs, Geek Girl Dinner events and the Dare 2B Digital conference.
Don’t forget about the environment.
The office environment, the parking, the maternity policy, the mother room – these are just a few of the critical features that will help attract some of the most driven and smartest women in tech to your organizations.
Click here for more about Angie Ruan.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.