Advice for aspiring female engineers

Jennifer Cobo,

SVP, Global Head of Enterprise Transformation and Cloud Modernization

Published: March 8, 2023

This year for International Women’s Day we are called upon to #EmbraceEquity. To me, that means creating an inclusive world by understanding and providing the unique resources women need to succeed. Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” 

Recently, Virtusa hosted our inaugural “Engineering Equity Hackathon” to help close the gender gap in engineering by spurring innovation in technology solutions that advance equity while nurturing female talent. We did this by bringing career support directly to female coders with built-in mentoring, job opportunities, scholarships and certifications in cloud and other emerging technologies. The response was overwhelming -- more than 65,000 female students participated in the weeks-long event, highlighting the passion of this amazing next generation of digital engineers.

Looking back on my own journey, I fondly recall how I was an 8th grader, learning to code in school, and winning the state science fair by writing a program that mapped the largest cities in Texas with detailed descriptions of each one. I had never won anything before! That experience cemented my love for technology, and it’s my hope that young women, carving out their own paths, feel similar validation of their talent and passion. 

To all the young women considering a career in engineering or another STEM-related field, congratulations on taking the first step on an exciting path full of innovation, creativity and growth! There’s a lot to consider when starting out, so I want to share some of what I’ve learned on my own career journey.

Charting your career path – navigating with self-mastery 

First, it’s important to have clarity on what you want from your career. The technology landscape is constantly changing, and we must act as our own cartographers, placing meaningful map markers for the waters ahead and preparing for unknown obstacles along the way. What is it that you love about technology? Identifying this will give you a clearer path to finding experiences in those areas. Whether it’s AI, data science, or designing new products, working on projects that develop expertise will help you grow. Being recognized as an expert in your field is crucial in tech. Additionally, rounding out technical skills with some non-technical capabilities, such as taking leadership courses and finding opportunities to demonstrate and grow your leadership prowess, is important. In any economy, every company needs great leaders, and while technical skills can be taught, leadership has to be gained through experience.

Conquering self-doubt to take on new challenges 

Early in my career, I benefited from two valuable pieces of advice that were gamechangers for me. The first was to know that I can handle anything that comes my way. Confidence comes through doing things you never thought you could. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and ask for help along the way – there is always someone willing to help. The second piece of advice was to take a class on negotiating and get good at asking for what I want. Technology has traditionally been a male-oriented field. Men created its structures and, despite recent advances, many of the programs for promotion and recognition still often favor the way men work and interact. Negotiation is a crucial skill for women to have in any industry, and even in your personal life. It will help you navigate these structures and become more comfortable and confident when discussing salary, promotions and other issues. It’s important to ask for what you want, and if you don’t get it, you will feel more confident deciding your next move.

Get by with a little help from your mentors 

Identifying a mentor as soon as possible is also crucial, especially in the early stages of your career. In fact, mentors can provide invaluable guidance and advice throughout your professional journey. Finding someone who is strong in the areas you need to develop will help you become more rounded and fill gaps in your skillset. And consider a broad and diverse network of people – across ages, nationalities, genders, personalities, and interests.  I have benefited from mentors throughout my career – men and women – from multiple parts of the world.  Their diverse experiences and perspectives will become an invaluable resource for you.  

Lastly, I want to recognize that your mindset and actions count. What I’ve learned and realized over my professional career is that I cannot wait for things to change; instead, I have to drive change myself and support other women in their journeys. The spirit of International Women’s Day is to celebrate the achievements of women, while raising awareness of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and women’s rights. But it also serves as a call to action for individuals and organizations to be advocates, give back, inspire women, and work towards a more equitable and just society for all. We all have a part to play in Embracing Equity and forging positive change! 

Jennifer Cobo

Jennifer Cobo

SVP, Global Head of Enterprise Transformation and Cloud Modernization

Jennifer is a part of the technology office in Virtusa, leading the Enterprise Transformation on Cloud portfolio of digital offerings. She works closely with business domain leaders and cloud hyperscalers to design and implement go to market solutions that enable the transformation and modernization of our clients' digital business.

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