According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields but only 26% of computing jobs are held by women. In our Women in Tech series, we dig into what motivates some of our most driven employees to lead successful tech careers.
With one look at Janan Barge, you might never guess that she leads a fearless team of software engineers taking the Atlanta tech scene by storm. For one, she’s a woman — and a woman of color, at that. But why? Why do we, as a society, see Janan’s accomplishments as an anomaly rather than the norm? Why aren’t there more women of color in tech? Well, it’s a complicated answer.
But a huge part of that answer is access — and Janan is proof of the power of access.
A 2016 report from Google found that black and Hispanic students were 1.5 and 1.7 times more likely to have an interest in learning computer science. And while there have been initiatives to increase computer science offerings in K-12 education, black and Hispanic students are still less likely to have access to those resources. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of white students report using computers at home, whereas only half of black and Hispanic students do.
Janan detailed her first impactful experience: Being mentored by her middle school computer teacher.
“She knows now that she was my mentor, but then — she didn’t. She was just my computer teacher. And by ‘just’ I mean that she wasn’t someone that was assigned to me or told to work with me in any way. But she saw my strengths, and instead of me taking my own elective, she allowed me to work with her other classes and be her assistant. So, instead of going to gym, or art, or home ec, I’d just go back to the computer room and work with the other classes. And by doing that, she simply gave me the opportunity to touch a computer more often.”
Having that access is something Janan never takes for granted, and continues to hold with her in her life’s work. She earned her degree in Science Technology & Society at Stanford, with a focus in Computer Science. “So, I took your traditional computer science courses, communication courses, plus courses in things like sociology, identity and race. My honors thesis was actually on the multiracial representation of students in educational software. That’s just a nice way of saying, ‘Do students see themselves in the games that they’re playing everyday?’ For example, in software that’s teaching them how to read, do they see someone that looks like them?”
She folds that line of thinking into her everyday work here at CallRail, challenging her team to think beyond themselves as they build. “These dialogues about who is going to use our technology — whether that be someone of a different ethnic background than yourself or a different gender, a different sexual identity, and so on — are so important. It’s really imperative that our technology can reach all of those different spaces, and we must take a hard look at how that technology can impact these spaces.”
She also explained how joining the INROADS program helped her start opening the doors of her career. “After my freshman year, I started working with General Electric in their franchise finance division. It was interesting, but it wasn’t for me. Then the following summer, they asked me if I wanted to go back to GE but I asked them if I could find my own internship. I wanted to do something more computer science-based. So I ended up interning at Google in Phoenix, and then again the following summer in Silicon Valley, Mountain View.
After I graduated, Google allows you, if they offer you a job, to go work for AmeriCorps and just delay your offer. I ended up doing Teach For America for two years in D.C., teaching 8th graders math. After that, I went back to Google and worked as a software engineer, predominantly front-end. And that’s how I ended up finding my love for project management.”
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies at first. Finding out what you don’t like doing is just as important as finding out what you do like doing.
“It actually wasn’t that good in the beginning. I was very young and I didn’t take criticism very well and it was hard for me. One of the things that my manager told me was that I didn’t take failure very well either. Which is true — I’m a perfectionist at heart. So he told me that I would only put myself in spaces where I could be successful. And by doing that, I was limiting myself.
So he encouraged me to get into the project management space. He gave me a project to manage while I was on the agile scrum team and I didn’t know anything about it or anything about how to manage projects. It failed. It failed horribly. So much so that he had to come in and take over and get the team back on track.
But through that, I learned how to fail. I learned that things don’t go well every single time. And despite that, I learned that software development at its purest form isn’t really for me. I don’t like to sit in front of a computer all day. I love to chat with people and collaborate.” It was extremely pivotal to her career.
But like most women, Janan was afraid to make the jump into new spaces. In her case: Engineering management.
“I did not have any direct management experience before I started at CallRail. I had worked with huge project management teams and was responsible for very large budgets. I worked for AT&T, managing some of their major launches for things like the iPhone and internet service for almost 5 years. The last project I had at AT&T was a $10 million budget. I say all of that just because I had been in these spaces with a lot of responsibility. But for me, taking on the responsibility of directly managing, even if it was just one person and their career, and having them look to me with that pressure was huge.”
“My friend told me to just apply and go all the way through, no matter what I thought. I actually almost delayed and almost said ‘no’ to the full interview process because I was so afraid and scared. I didn’t feel like I had the experience I needed to be a manager. And it’d be my first time in the startup space, I’ve always worked for large companies. So I just felt like all eyes were going to be on me, especially since I’d be one of CallRail’s first engineering managers ever.”
Which brings us to another answer to the question of ‘why aren’t more women in tech?’ — perception.
While everyone’s bound to fail at some point in their career, when women fail in the public eye, it’s viewed as a harder fall. In fact, a study of GitHub users found that code written by women was accepted 78.6 percent of the time, which is 4 percent more than code written by men. But that was only when the coder’s gender was kept secret. (Even J.K. Rowling chose to use her initials as her pen name because of perceived bias!)
But fear didn’t hold Janan back. She leaned on her parents’ advice: Be fearless.
Now, Janan is thriving as an engineering manager. When she started at CallRail, she became very passionate about optimizing the engineer onboarding process. She championed our initiative of doing all that we can to remove bias in the engineering application process, and works to break down the perceived barriers to application altogether.
“Depending on how you word your job descriptions, you can unintentionally filter out a lot of women and minorities across the board. So we actually reworked our job descriptions to do things like have less bullet points. It’s known that if you have say, 5 bullet points, most women will believe that they have to hit at least 4 of those 5 in order to even feel comfortable applying. Whereas a male might feel comfortable applying as long as he hits 1 or 2 of those bullet points.”
Janan is also passionate about helping her team find their way, just like her manager at Google did. “When I have new engineers come in, I tell them that the reason why I love engineering management is because my engineering manager actually helped me find out that I love project management. I think that engineering managers are extremely important in helping folks find out their passions and where they fit in. I always encourage my engineers to go into spaces that they will fail in. And failure is not seen as a negative thing — it’s seen as a growth opportunity.”
“I am just really interested in people in general, and so that carries over into me asking my engineers what they’re passionate about. One of the questions I actually ask engineers when they’re interviewing here is what they’re passionate about. And many times, they start out on the tech side, naming what languages they like to learn and what they’re currently coding. But I really like to hear about what they do in their free time — just so that there’s a possibility we can bring that passion into the work they’d be doing here everyday.”
Outside of work, Janan is an avid cook and baker. “It actually allows me to do what I love from an engineering perspective all the time. I love the structure, particularly of baking, the measurement and combined science behind it.” But the nurturing spirit she embodies with her engineers spills over into her life outside of work, too.
“I’m passionate about getting students of any background, but predominantly students that have parents that aren’t super knowledgeable about the college application process, into schools that really fit what they want to do in life.
I help with SAT prep and college placement interviews.” She also mentors several young women that are studying computer science and looking to get into STEM careers. She does what she can to pay it back, offering a lift and access where she can for young women early in their careers.
“Women are very underrepresented in tech spaces. So that means that the software and hardware that’s being created is not including that perspective. In general, there’s a huge talent pool that just isn’t being tapped into. One of the reasons I’m extremely passionate about mentoring is that I know that if I didn’t have the computer teacher that I had, I wouldn’t be here.”
She likened it to how when a kid is good at arguing, we tell them they should be a lawyer. “Why aren’t we doing the same thing for STEM?
There are young girls waiting out there that have extremely bright minds that are just not being shown that the STEM world can be for them. It’s extremely important that we have that perspective and that we bring in that talent.”
Janan’s helping pave the way for more women like herself. And getting women of all identities involved in tech is not just about ticking the boxes — it’s the only way we can ensure technology works for all of us.