Female engineers shine the light for future generations of girls

Mindy Lee discusses her experiences being a woman in STEM.

Mindy Lee

Mindy Lee discusses her experiences being a woman in STEM.

Mindy Lee is a Site Reliability Engineer at Google who took time recently to answer questions about her experiences as a female in a STEM field, and also to give advice for future female engineers. 

Question: What are some experiences that have made you question being a woman in STEM? 

Mindy Lee: Many computer science classes in college were too hard for me and I often had to get help from a TA or the professor. However, that helped me bond with my classmates that were also struggling. This made me feel less alone. 

Q: How have mild aggressions against you affected you and made you feel in terms of being a woman in STEM? 

ML: I have been told that TA’s pay more attention to me because I’m a girl, and that I have more opportunities because of my gender, and all of this increased my imposter syndrome.  

Q: How do you feel as a woman working as a site reliability engineer? 

ML: It’s definitely a little intimidating, maybe because my team is still mostly male. And that I haven’t had a lot of industry experience. So I’d say that I’ve worked maybe less than a year as a full-time role. I would say that imposter syndrome is definitely very real. In that case, even though I’ve worked on projects. Yeah, I’ve pushed out code. I have very tangible things to show, too. But, at the same time, there is so much that I don’t know. So, impostor syndrome probably hits more for females than males. 

Also, a lot of men that I have interacted with in the past have done a lot of personal side projects, in CS, on their own and maybe in high school, maybe even throughout college. And that’s something that I didn’t really do. They probably have a bulkier profile of things to talk about and things to show that they’ve done with different software tools. When they are throwing out a lot of words like that I’d definitely think, “Oh my God,” I feel like I still know nothing even though I already have a degree and I work. It’s a double-edged sword: there’s always exploring things to learn, but also it’s also scary that you never know enough.

Q: What keeps you going every day at your job? 

ML: Before as an intern, when I had the features or things that I worked on pushed out to production, it was always really exciting. Even at my first job, when the things that I worked on were pushed into production and then kind of seeing that people in the world actually use the things that I’ve worked on and then getting some type of customer feedback on things that you’ve worked on, I thought that was really interesting. In school, you work on projects, then you put them aside and never look at them again. On the job, when you can push things out in production and get feedback on it and see people actually using it, it’s really rewarding.

Q: What is something you’d like to say to inspire other younger women in STEM like me or something that would have helped you when you were younger? 

ML: For anybody interested in STEM or questioning: being able to find a support group (maybe club, mentor, group of friends) is really important. During frustrating times, when you are in the dark, having a group shows you aren’t alone. It feels vulnerable to challenge yourself, but having a group helps with imposter syndrome. The Girls Who Code club is one such environment where everyone wants the best for each other. Don’t be afraid to question something. (I feel like I never know enough.) Getting over that, and asking the question is a good step. 

Q: How have mild aggressions been normalized in STEM, and what does this mean for women being in STEM?

ML: Blatant sexism is easy to call out and can be followed by consequences as they are more concrete accusations. Microaggressions are uncertain. (Who knows how to tell between a microaggression and simple banter?) Due to this, microaggressions often get

disregarded and covered up with “learn to take a joke,” or “don’t get offended so easily,” but they are a big part of why women turn away from STEM. 

I have tolerated many hurtful comments, as has any woman in STEM. Being called a “girl who codes” mockingly by guys on my math team after starting a Girls Who Code club in middle school, which made it seem that a “girl who codes” was less legitimate than a “guy who codes.” I was isolated by being the only girl on my math team, which further broke me down by making me feel alone in my struggles. Generations of female engineers are passing down the torch to girls in school right now, studying to step into their shoes: know that none of you are alone.