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Open Source / Tech Culture

A Linux Hobbyist’s Path to a Career in Tech with 7 Recommendations for Women and Minorities

Sep 25th, 2014 4:11pm by
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As a Linux hobbyist for over a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work with to some of the most exciting systems technology of our times. I’ve been able to watch it grow into something that not only powers the Internet, from Facebook to Amazon, but enter the pockets of the majority of smartphone users in the form of Android. Being familiar with the tools that drive our modern world is not only empowering and exciting, but I’ve been able to build my successful systems administration career around it and am deeply passionate about the open source infrastructure work the team I work on does for OpenStack at HP.

My career has also given me an opportunity to travel, which I’ve always wanted to do. In 2012 I took some time off of work to travel with a non-profit to Ghana to deploy desktops with an NGO on the ground there.  In the past year I’ve traveled to 3 continents to participate in events and give talks about the work I do. I also work with a local non-profit that works to put Linux-based systems in regional public schools.

In short, technology is full of fantastic opportunities and a path I encourage people to get on.

Unfortunately the path into technology isn’t always easy for women and minorities. A lot of attention has been paid to this topic over the past couple of years, and fantastic organizations like the Ada Initiative. I have sprung up to empower women with the tools they need to succeed, teach conferences and events how to handle problems that crop up and host events at companies eager to improve their diversity practices.

But there is hope and many women and minorities do succeed in this exciting industry. The following have helped me incredibly as I progress in my career.

Be Passionate

I love what I do, and it shows. I still may look forward to Friday (woo, fun weekend plans!), but I don’t dread Monday. I put my heart into my work and care about what comes out of it. Even before I was being supported by my employer to speak at conferences, I attended several where I paid my own way and would routinely attend tech-related events in the evenings (I even ran a couple of the events!).

Stay motivated

It can be tough to stay motivated, but I’ve found that stepping back and getting a whole picture of what you’re building helps a lot. Learn who is using the software or infrastructure you’ve put work into. Watch videos from conferences and events where companies are celebrating their use cases. Go to events where other people are excited about technology. Stop by a support forum to see how new users are using what you’ve built and help them on their way – the excitement of newbies is contagious.

Join the Community

Whether it’s attending local events or joining a mailing list, putting yourself out there in the tech community is very valuable to success. This can be a bit scary, and it took me some time to get comfortable, but it pays off if you’re able to get past the initial apprehension.

Seek out groups and mentors.

I had a tough time finding professional mentors early in my career, so I joined some women in tech lists. There are a lot out there now, supporting women in various technology spheres and programming languages. I’ve been involved with Systers and LinuxChix  for years. Groups like PyLadies for Python developers have been highly successful and have support from the broader Python community. Find your interest and seek out a group, mentors will arise from your networking

Non-women focused groups are great as well, through friends I was introduced to some amazing mentors through my Linux Users Group and got my first systems administration job through connections gained there.

Mentor Others

I’ve made some of my most valuable professional connections through people I’ve mentored. Early on in a mentorship relationship it may seem that the mentor is putting in the majority of the work, but as the relationship develops the mentee becomes a valuable professional asset to the mentor. I’ve been invited to speak at conferences and given countless other opportunities directly because of the relationship I have with people I’ve mentored.

Volunteer with an Open Source Project

It’s fantastic to get paid for all the work you do, but volunteering for a project can get you valuable experience and self-driven training – and it’s free and isn’t dependent upon getting hired somewhere! I built up a large body of open source work that is now on my resume and has helped me not only technically, but has shown potential employers that I have good collaboration skills and am highly motivated.

Have fun, Don’t Give Up and a Bit More

I love technology. Explore, find your niche, and have fun.

Learn more about me and the work I do by reading my blog, where I talk about everything from the OpenStack Infrastructure team to my cats.

You can also find me on Twitter and G+

Are you a tech company seeking to hire more women and minorities? Check out my slides from LOPSA-East this past spring for some tips on how to support women and minorities in the industry.

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