In “The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay”, Alana Karen proves that we all belong in tech. With a career spanning over twenty years, Alana has demonstrated her talents as an author, speaker, and award-winning tech leader – showing that a woman can thrive in tech. This experience fueled her to write this wall-breaking book about the challenges women face in tech and how they contribute to the world. Alana has spoken at conferences and summits, led teams in product development, and now she shares her knowledge in this collection of stories about 80 women in tech. Their stories reveal the value of being yourself and the importance of resilience.
You’ve already accomplished so much in your career, being an award-winning tech leader, author, and speaker. While writing this pivotal book about the tech industry, did you learn anything new about yourself?
Over the years I’ve played the role of the organized, orderly person — whether at work, home, or with friends. With the book, I was able to revisit a creative side of myself. While the book is non-fiction and I wasn’t making up the stories, my process to write the book was more disorderly and spontaneous than I was expecting. While I had an overall timeline, I allowed myself to write whatever I wanted to that day, and I didn’t force myself to work on the book’s chapters or pages in any particular order. Doing that let me make steady progress and leverage inspiration, and I ultimately did pull it all together into an organized, coherent book. I learned I like both ways of working! I will also add that recounting my own stories and hearing those of other women was both affirming and therapeutic.
Women have been in the tech industry for a long time. Their roles often belittled or ignored. Are there any women in tech’s history that particularly inspire you?
It’s interesting – for every famous name, I am more inspired by those we likely never heard of, never knew or will know, because they were behind-the-scenes and no one thought to ask for their story. That overall inspiration is what led me to interview over 80 women for my book. I sought out women who were not CEOs intentionally because I was interested in how the “everyday” stories are more common and less heard. There’s a story in the book about a Latina woman who joined a group and felt like the “only” person like her. She initially tried to fit in by being quieter, less loud and less showy. Ultimately she realized she wasn’t the “only”, she was “the first”. That drove her to help her recruit at events and help other Latinas and Latinos join Tech. It’s stories like that which give me the shivers.
“The Adventures of Women in Tech” explores the challenges women face in the industry while building their careers, and how they overcome them. What challenges did you face while writing this book?
I work full-time at Google which can already spill into evenings depending on what’s going on, and I have three children spanning in age from 6 to 13. That was already tough to manage, and then I added a book on top! While I was really passionate and driven to write the book, it was definitely a lot to do. I prioritized the best I could, putting down my pen at peak times at work or at home. At the same time, my children really enjoyed seeing me write the book and would ask questions about the women I was interviewing or what I was writing. I leveraged many evenings and weekends to show them my process while also making progress. And I didn’t see any movies or television for a year! I think this is a really common challenge for women in their careers, and it’s why we hate the dreaded work-life balance topic. It’s on-going navigation and prioritization, and there’s never a perfect long-term balance.
Many of the stories in “The Adventures of Women in Tech” are about women finding their voice and strength to be themselves. This is a powerful sentiment. Do you have advice for any women struggling to speak up and be authentic in their field?
Over and over, I’ve seen women take the same journey: from initial doubt and insecurity, through learning and trials, and ultimately arriving at self-confidence and acceptance. While I think that’s a natural growth journey, I’ve also seen men take it much faster or not at all! I can now confidently say that most of us will ultimately look back and wish we’d spoken up and been more authentic earlier in our careers. With that in mind, my advice is to start experimenting early with asking questions, sharing your ideas, or asking for what you need. Experiments can be small and safe like with a trusted colleague or an inconsequential peer. Starting small helps us build our confidence and over time we can expand into asking for a promotion or raise, challenging status quo in a meeting, or pitching a new project. Finally if you repeatedly see that your true self is not embraced in a role or company, honor yourself and take the steps to deliberately find and move to a better place. Having a support network of friends or colleagues can help you identify when it’s time to take those steps.
A follow-up workbook is arriving this spring as a companion to “The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay”. Could you tell us what to expect from this workbook?
As I was speaking at conferences, podcasts and events for my first book, I kept sharing the same advice over and over again about building our careers. I spoke with my co-author, Marily Nika, and she was having the same experience. We wanted a book where we could point to exercises that could help women grow the major tools I identified in my first book: resilience, self-marketing, asking for what you need and what you want, finding support and owning your awesome. We recruited three contributors with diverse experience and backgrounds, and now we’ve embedded our life-tested experiences and lessons into the workbook. I’m really excited for people to read it and be able to leverage the exercises as a touchstone during their careers.
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