Checking In: A Thoughtful Q&A with SEP’s Women in Tech

March 21, 2023
Personal Development

Do you want to hear a startling statistic? As of 2023, women hold 26.7% of tech-related jobs. In fact, that percentage has actually decreased in the last two years. During Women’s History month, we highlight and celebrate the women working within our walls at SEP who continually lead us, impress us, and inspire us.

In this article, you’ll meet five women with skills and responsibilities that span all types of our work at SEP. Each shares her unique perspective on what inspires her in her role, how she got to where she is today, and what advice she would offer those who will come after.

Meet SEP’s 2023 Women in Tech

Meet a group of women who volunteered to share their experiences and insights as women in tech right here in the Indianapolis area.

Katelyn Blum, Jr. Systems Admin

Laura Buckles, UX Designer

Jyotsna Raghuraman, Lead Software Engineer

Olivia Smith, Associate UX Designer

Kelly Wilson, Director of Marketing & PR

SEP Women in Tech headshot collage

SEP’s Women in Tech Q&A

Did you always know you wanted to do something techie, or did something change that interested you in this work?

Jyotsna: I always knew I wanted to do something in technology or engineering, especially with computers. I studied Chemical Engineering, but my heart was in Computer Science, Math, and Physics.

Olivia: I definitely did not. I started with aspirations to become a professional dancer. As I grew older, I became interested in cosmetology and teaching. It wasn’t until the second semester of my first year in college that I started toying with the idea of computer graphics. My former yearbook teacher urged me to explore it.

Katelyn: I come from a family of blue-collar workers, and there was a lot of value placed on being able to fix things yourself and working with your hands. I have been an artist for as long as I can remember, and I have always been around tech, but like most women, I was not encouraged to get into it early on.

I pivoted to tech during the pandemic.

I pivoted to tech during the pandemic. As a stay-at-home mom, I watched my husband exhaust himself working 24/7 at the local hospitals. My dad, a self-taught hardware engineer for Raytheon, put me in touch with some of his buddies at Buckley, who encouraged me to go after what’s known as the “trifecta” of entry-level IT certifications so I could hit the ground running when my kiddo went to pre-school.

Laura: I don’t think I knew I wanted to do something techie until I took Project Lead The Way (PLTW) engineering courses in high school. I had always liked puzzles, problem-solving, and math, but I also had a strong love for art. The defining moment when I knew I would pursue an education and career in tech was a Paint Purdue Pink event. My PLTW teacher sent me to this event designed specifically to help high school girls explore STEM majors.

My mom went with me and told me that I absolutely lit up when we got to the presentation about combining art and technology. That possibility had never occurred to me, and I previously thought I would have to choose between the two. The Paint Purdue Pink event gave me the information to search for a major that combined my two passions.

Kelly: I’ve always been drawn to tech, but didn’t start my career there. I minored in Computer Applications in college and dabbled in web design for fun but started my career in insurance/financial services. It wasn’t the most exciting industry, but I learned a ton. As I saw that industry making a shift, I knew I wanted something different. I had several opportunities that pointed me toward tech, and—although I had zero experience—I knew it was an industry that would be around for a long time!

Tell us about someone who has impacted your career and helped you get where you are today.

Laura: My mom has definitely helped me get to where I am now. She had a career as a mechanical engineer, and I think it subconsciously gave me the perspective of, “Why wouldn’t women go into STEM?” Her experience normalized it for me. Looking back, I think she gave some subtle nudges to help me find a major that would set me up for success and bring me joy. She helped me so much with finding the right major and also with my internship search. Thanks, Mom!

My mom has definitely helped me get to where I am now. She had a career as a mechanical engineer, and I think it subconsciously gave me the perspective of, “Why wouldn’t women go into STEM?”

Kelly: It’s an interesting answer because the people who have helped me grow have come from two different areas:

Bosses who encouraged me to take a leap of faith and try something new. They encouraged me to do something I’d never done before “Because I was young and that was the time to do it.” That really stuck with me. I worked hard, took chances, and got out of my comfort zone—I wouldn’t have done that if they hadn’t pushed me.

The other side of this career impact was meeting women who took me under their wing. Some were consultants, some were Ball State alumni who crossed my path at some point and helped me figure things out for not only myself but for the company. They encouraged me to jump into unknown areas (like HR!) and try them out. They held my hand along the way and helped me discover my own strengths in life-changing ways.

Jyotsna: I don’t know if there is one single person I can credit with helping me in my career. It’s been all the people I have met along the way. My professors in college, my friends in high school and college and after, my colleagues at my places of work, and my managers here have inspired me to try new things—things I would not have imagined attempting on my own. Seeing someone succeed motivates me to think, “If they can do it, I can do it too.”

What challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Kelly: When I became a mom for the first time, I was in a job that required me to work 8-5. I never felt like things were flexible. I never felt like I could leave for appointments, and that was HARD. You feel guilty as a mom and employee; no one ever really coached me on dealing with that. Once I became a parent, it quickly became apparent how flexible my employer really was compared to what they said they were. That’s when I started to evaluate what I really wanted for my family and my career…and was blessed to find SEP.

Jyotsna: My main challenges have been self-imposed, feeling different in my surroundings as a woman of color, and being in the midst of brilliant people. It was hard initially, but several of my colleagues and managers trusted me and treated me well, and I have learned over the years to accept myself and thrive.

My main challenges have been self-imposed, feeling different in my surroundings as a woman of color, and being in the midst of brilliant people.

Katelyn: I made the choice when I was twenty-one to drop out of Art School to follow my now husband across the country for his pediatric residency. It was an extremely hard time for us, as we lived in a dangerous city with a high cost of living. Even with him working 80 hours a week, I was still having to work 40 as a department manager at a popular clothing store that shall remain nameless. It was hard on both my mind and my body; I felt like I was constantly in fight or flight mode and it left no room for continuing education. Our last month there, we experienced the Freddie Gray riots firsthand and left on the heels of the National Guard to move on to another state so he could continue his training in Genetics.

I worked four jobs the first year we were there just to help keep us afloat. Eventually, I found my place in the hospital lab system fixing lab errors and ensuring we complied with our yearly audits from the American Academy of Pathologists. I think it was there that I learned the importance of data lifecycle and maintaining that data accurately. It’s a skill I can carry with me now in IT, and I’m forever grateful for that.

I can honestly say that where I am today is due to my husband’s dedication to our partnership. For six months, he managed to work twelve hours a day, come home and hang out with our 2-year-old so that I could take a boot camp style training three days a week to obtain my trifecta.

Laura: I think I’ve gotten pretty lucky that I don’t think I’ve faced too many challenges in my career. I got pretty used to being the only woman in my classes early on. All four years, I was the only girl in my high school engineering classes. Informatics classes were a little less skewed, but there were definitely fewer women than men. I never really saw being in the gender minority as a challenge, though. I just did my best, and it all turned out well.

What encouragement or advice can you give to women considering a career in tech?

Laura: Go for it! If it’s something you enjoy and you’re passionate about, go out and do it. The fact that it’s a male-dominated field shouldn’t scare you off. You can only control yourself in this situation, so go out and do your best. There are companies out there where you can excel regardless of gender. You have to find those places where you can feel like an equal and focus on the fun part of doing the awesome tech things.

Kelly: There are so many successful women in tech. Follow their journeys, read their blogs, listen to their podcasts. It’s inspiring to hear how other people are making an impact and it can be easy to just do your own thing and not aspire to do more. Hiding behind a screen doesn’t give you all the same experiences as meeting with someone face to face.

When I decided to get into tech, I met with at least eight different women who gave me solid career advice. They told me where to look, told me where NOT to look and made the search so much easier. Hiding behind a screen doesn’t give you all the same experiences as meeting with someone face to face. They learn more about you and frankly feel more comfortable introducing you if they have experienced you outside of a computer screen.

Jyotsna: Technology is everywhere, so being in the tech industry now is very satisfying. Not only are we rewarded by the long-term impact that we can have on our end users, but also daily as we solve the tiny, gnarly problems that are ubiquitous in software.

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