LGBTQ+ in tech: from building apps to spreading magic—part II
What a month this one was!
June 2020 has been revolutionary for many, as activists and supporters came together in response to many disruptive events. This year, Pride looks a little different. A lot different.
The parades are all virtual, the festivities are limited based on capacity, and while we’ve seen wins for the LGBTQIA+ community, the recent deaths and protests have only highlighted that many are still fighting for justice and equality. Now more than ever is a time for us to celebrate who we are and actively serve as allies—for some, that means education, or activism, or voting, unlearning, or engaging in tough discussions. At Snyk, we are celebrating Pride Month in a way that supports all snykers and our communities. Learn more about our initiatives here and here.
As part of our Pride Month celebrations, we reached out to individuals and organizations in the tech industry and we talked about everything Pride—from their experience being LGBTQ+ in the tech industry, to heartfelt advice to newcomers in the industry, this Q&A blog series is sure to make you smile and inspire you!
If you missed the first part, you can find it here.
And with no further ado, let’s unleash the magic! 🌈✨
Let’s meet our participants!
Alyssa (she/her): Alyssa is a hacker and has been all her life. Since she was very young she always loved taking things apart to figure out how they worked. She married her high school sweetheart and she’s the proud parent of three wonderful children. When she came out as transgender and began transitioning, that marriage was one of the casualties; however, her ex was ultimately understanding and they’re still rather friendly yet today.
Asaf (he/him): Asaf is a 24 years old gay man. He joined Snyk in May 2019, after serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for over four years. His hobbies include staying active, reading, gaming, experiencing new cultures (“food? Yes please!”), and the occasional Netflix and chill! He also speaks 3 languages.
Korina (she/her): Korina is 29 years old and considers herself a passionate web developer and young digital marketer. Her friends describe her as a happy, funny, positive thinker, with a strong and, occasionally, stubborn personality! When she is not coding, you can find her hosting a Tech Radio Show every Monday & Wednesday at 94fm.gr.
Has your sexual and/or gender identity impacted your career, in a negative or positive manner?
Alyssa: Yes, it most certainly has. My transition really opened me up as a person. Where previously I was always a bit awkward, trying to fit into spaces where I didn’t feel right, trying to play a role that wasn’t me, I’m not free to just be authentic. That has made a tremendous impact on my career trajectory. I’ve been able to develop a bit of a platform now and so that’s another reason why it’s so important to me to use that platform to help raise up others.
On the flip side, there have been decidedly negative impacts. It is very awkward in the interview process when a prospective employer asks to see works from the years before my transition and I’m forced to share my gender identity. While it’s not something I hide, I tend not to make it a topic of conversation until it comes up. Worse though, I have been directly discriminated against as a result of my gender identity. I’ve been passed over on projects, passed over for promotions, and have had to endure derogatory and, in some cases, outright offensive talk from co-workers and even customers.
The worst, however, has been social media. The security industry lives on Twitter. Because of my focus on helping build up others, I keep my DMs open. However, that means that I’m regularly receiving some of the most horrible messages from people who discover my gender identity and choose to use that as the way they judge my abilities, my opinions, and my value as a human. Thankfully the bulk of the security community is exceptionally accepting as is my current employer, so I’m usually able to weather those storms.
Asaf: I’d say I’m still at the beginning of my career, and I can’t really think of a time where I felt like I had more or fewer career opportunities because of my sexual identity or gender. Or, alternatively, a time where I felt like I was being treated differently. I think Snyk has naturally cultivated such a welcoming community, and I never felt like I don’t belong—even after moving countries!
Korina: Unfortunately, Greece is not always the most loving society for LGBTQ+ people. For that reason, I decided not to speak openly about my sexuality in the workplace. That being said, I do believe that my current colleagues would be ok with my sexual identity… but I’d rather be safe than sorry!
How did you end up in tech and what do you love most about this industry?
Alyssa: At twelve years old, I saved up money from working a paper route and bought my first computer (my family’s first computer for that matter). I thought myself programming and modem communications, did a few things with some dial-up services that might be questionable in terms of legality, but ultimately those early years sprouted the career I have today. I ultimately ended up in tech by accident. While I was a programmer and hacker from early on, I never saw it being a career. Instead, I started at Marquette University as a pre-med major. It wasn’t until I had gone through three semesters of chemistry that I realized I just didn’t have a passion for that. So, I decided to switch majors. I discovered my school had a computer science program and so I figured that’d be easy since I already knew programming. Well, I secured my first full-time job as a developer while still attending school. After nine years programming for that FinTech company, a manager from the security team came over and asked me to join their penetration testing team. I didn’t know anything about pentesting but she was confident I would learn it quickly, which I did. By the time I was 30, I was managing the entire vulnerability management program of a multi-billion dollar Fortune 200 company.
What I love most about the security industry is that it is so vast. With technology constantly growing and becoming integral to our very lifestyle, we’re called upon to secure it all. I get to learn new technologies all the time. There is never a dull day in the security space and I love that. The community as a whole is also so wonderful in terms of how we share knowledge and help build each other up. 28 Years ago, DefCon was founded for hackers to come together, have some fun, and share their knowledge. We now have thousands of security conferences every year, all dedicated to those same principles. I think that level of community-based information sharing is something that is unique to security. While conferences exist in many industries, security really leads the way in community-organized events.
Asaf: I was always drawn to technology as a young boy. Whether it was graphic design, building websites and applications, or working on home-automation projects, I knew tech is where I belong. I spent a lot of my youth studying and experimenting a lot and that definitely helped me build a strong foundation. During my time in the IDF, where I served in a cybersecurity unit, I earned a lot of invaluable experience and skills that then served as the first major stepping stone in my career.
Korina: I ended up in tech because of my incurable drive towards new challenges that I can explore! Working with state-of-the-art software makes me even more thirsty to contribute in any way I can. There are lots of things I love about tech—and some I don’t—but if I had to choose one, that would be the innovation tech drives and how this innovation can be used to immensely help and revolutionize the Health sector. Tech is making our lives easier and better every day but the benefits that tech offers to the Health sector are, in my opinion, technology’s greater achievement and service to humankind.
Are you actively engaged in LGBTQ+ communities in tech? If yes, give us some examples of the magic these communities create!
Alyssa: Perhaps surprisingly, I am not. For me, I’ve worked very hard to establish myself based on my expertise, abilities, and experience. Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that the minute the gender identity subject comes up, that becomes a primary component for my identity in the minds of other people. Transgender is an adjective. I am a transgender woman the same way I am an Irish/German woman, an American woman, a caucasian woman. So, while I don’t hide who I am, I choose not to make that a focus at all in my professional circles.
As I look back on where I’ve been, I realize that while I’ve had to earn everything I have today, I’ve also benefited from some measure of privilege that other women and people of color don’t typically get to enjoy. So, it’s become very important to me to advocate for diversity and inclusive culture across the security industry. In security, perhaps more than any other, diversity has such a direct impact on our successes and failures. There are tangible examples of where a lack of diverse ideas and backgrounds has led to technology fails. So, I focus every day on my personal hashtag of #DoBetterBeBetter.
My professional advocacy for LGBTQ+ in professional spaces comes from my visibility. I am a woman in tech, people know this. Many know that I am trans as well. I do connect with other trans people in tech. As I said, I’ve developed a bit of a platform—public speaking, a large social media following, and other activities I take part in help me to be visible. I think for many LGBTQ+ people, just being able to see one of their peers functioning daily as an authentic human without the overarching label is very inspiring, I’ve been told as much. I think that is needed as much as creating communities. So, while LGBTQ+ communities in tech are crucial and I’m thrilled they exist and do all the wonderful work they do, I haven’t made it a focus at this point to be actively involved in one.
LGBTQ+ people are often faced with significant difficulties—compared to other parts of the population—when choosing their careers, mostly due to unfavorable circumstances within the family. What tips do you have for young (or not!) LGBTQ+ people out there who aspire to build a career in tech?
Alyssa: Discover yourself and allow yourself to be who you are without apology. Those who seek to hold you back, to push you aside, to tear you down, often use your own insecurities against you. Recognize the aspects of who you are that you don’t feel comfortable with and acknowledge that. Be able to forgive yourself for not being the perfect image of who you want to be and understand that who you are is perfect. The stronger you embrace your true authenticity, the less power others will have over you.
On a more career-based level, build your network. Good people attract other good people. Don’t be afraid to engage with others who you see as experts in the field. They’re all humans too. Share your passions, your ideas, and your solutions with others and be prepared to hear theirs as well. Use social media, community events, and other social opportunities to meet new people. If you’re more of an introvert or awkward in social situations, that’s ok. Be open about admitting that too. Finding one or two strong allies and letting them know you need help meeting others is a perfectly appropriate approach. Recognize that everyone gets where they are by standing on the shoulders of others at some point. We all get help from each other. No successful career was built on individual effort alone.
Finally, understand that there is a myriad of technologies and subjects to learn and neither you nor anyone else is expected to be an expert in all of them. No person possibly could be. If you see that person talking about a topic you don’t know well but wish you did, ask questions. Remember too, they don’t know everything. They may be an expert in that topic, but you have knowledge in other topics they don’t know anything about. So kick the imposter syndrome to the curb and keep building and growing.
Asaf: Nowadays tech is very accessible, and it’s becoming increasingly simple to pick up a new skill or a programming language. Find something that interests you and dive into it! Don’t be afraid to take on a coding challenge, build an application, or play around. It may not look like it at first, but it will serve as a really good foundation!
Korina: Mentoring youngsters is a challenge, so I would advise them to chase their opportunities, even if this seems difficult in the beginning. There will be some tricky and rough moments but things will eventually work out at the end if you invest in your dreams and opportunities. People at Tech industry are a bit more LGBTQ+ friendly but that doesn’t mean there are not some of them who don’t like the culture.
We do hope you enjoyed this Q&A! We want to give a big shout out to all the participants and express our huge appreciation and love for their openness in sharing their personal experiences for everyone to read and learn from it—you all rock!
Make sure to check out the first part of this Q&A here.