Lana Levinsohn has worked in tech for ten years as a Quality Assurance (QA) Specialist. She currently teaches the Careerist course QA Automation.
According to statistics, only about 30% of tech workers are women. You said that you started by testing games at a company specializing in mobile games. Were there many women there?
Yes. Initially, I worked for a fairly small startup. I was in the localization team, and at that time, I had already started game testing. Localizers and translators were mostly women from linguistics, but programmers, who directly worked with the software, were men. There was not too much game testing at that time—often, the programmers themselves tested. When they began to hire testers, little by little, they were mostly guys.
I know that you created testing courses for women. Can you tell me more about these courses?
This is a very good question. The idea was quite interesting. I brought many interns to the startup where I worked because we needed interns for testing. We had both women and men among interns. I noticed that during the general sessions, the men actively asked questions, but the women were shy. The women often wrote to me separately after the sessions to ask their questions.
I attended several courses on test automation and noticed the same situation there. The men were just super active, doing something, and the women were only asking one or two questions. Often, the men would make comments about the questions women asked, and it would embarrass the women.
I think many people still have a mindset from childhood that women have no place in tech. Therefore, I wanted to create a place where it would be comfortable for women in tech to ask questions.
I started doing small courses with my colleague, who was involved in automation for our company. We invited friends to sign up. The first stream was free because we wanted to see who would come and their level of interest in our course. We taught test automation, which was very similar to our Careerist course. It was much shorter, and we started at a more basic level. Among the participants were some women who did not understand anything about programming. At Careerist, we require at least knowledge of Python. We do not accept students for our automation course if they have no knowledge of programming at all. At our early courses, we trained people from scratch.
How many times did you run this course?
We only ran it twice, and then I moved to Careerist. It was cool—the first course was free, and we charged a small fee for the second one. The first group consisted of nine or ten women, and the second group was about thirty. By the second course, friends and even acquaintances of acquaintances were coming very actively. We received very positive feedback, which was nice.
You said that there is a mindset or myth that there is no place for women in tech. How can we overcome this myth? Can it be overcome at all?
I think it is hard to do something right now. First of all, it should come from the parents.
I remember when I was back in Russia and thinking about going to study tech. My parents said to me: look, tech in Russia is a bunch of boys. And to get a job here, you have to be two or three heads better than the boys. Otherwise, you just will not be hired.
It was a sobering but truthful remark. Knowing the laws of the Russian market, this was accurate at that time. But if you continue to cultivate this myth now, it will be the same—a girl is more likely to become an accountant or financier than to join tech. Parents need to understand that tech is just an industry, the same as everything else.
Later, when I came to tech, I still had this fear that I would have to work very hard to get anywhere. In reality, it is not so bad. There is no strong discrimination against women in tech in the US, it comes up very rarely, but this fear was always with me.
You mentioned that there is no such discrimination in the USA. Do you feel that you are treated differently in some situations just because you are a woman?
I did not mean to say that there is none at all, but there is much less discrimination than in Eastern Europe, and it is not felt in the same way. No one will say anything negative or discriminating to your face in the USA.
Women are also less likely to apply if they are not 100% sure that they are qualified. This makes it seem like women lack some confidence in their skills and value. How do you think women can improve their confidence and get better results during salary negotiations?
At first, it will be very scary to ask for more money because of how women are brought up. Many things are forbidden because you are a girl. Some women are more shy and submissive. There is a fear of failing. It is important to step over yourself and make the first attempt, ask for more. It comes with experience.
I remember the first time I asked for an increase in my salary. It seemed to me that they would refuse me, and it was very scary. By trial and error, you can move forward, but you can not be afraid to use your voice. The main thing is not to be afraid.
I heard that some companies are trying to be more friendly for women with children, allowing them to take breaks during the day or work in blocks so that they can be with children while working remotely. Have you encountered this?
Yes, however, think about who will receive a promotion in this case. Even when a company allows you to work intermittently and provides a flexible schedule for working mothers, a man who is not distracted by anything will do his job more efficiently and get the promotion.
This is true. Having worked for ten years in this profession in different countries, do you think the attitude towards women in the technical sphere has changed?
The situation has become better everywhere. In the USA, I feel comfortable working with the men on our team. Everyone is very helpful because it is customary, and not because I am a woman.
It is difficult for me to talk about the situation in Eastern Europe now. I watched a recording of a lecture where a Java programmer, being very serious, said that the brains of women work differently. I was deeply surprised that only one of the women in the audience objected. It was embarrassing.
Do those dinosaurs still exist?!
They do, and it is annoying. On the other hand, there are a lot of positive cases. There is a feeling that the world is changing.
You have been with Careerist since its launch, almost three years. Why is Careerist valuable to you, and what do you like most about the company?
Careerist is a good place.
I am quite familiar with all the people who were at the roots. I met co-founders Ivan (Tsybaev), both Maxes (Max Glubochansky and Max Gusakov), and many people who had come a long time ago. There is a good relationship between those who work here. I feel comfortable here. I am not afraid to ask questions, give feedback, and share ideas for potential improvement. I feel free, and I am not afraid of criticism or that people will impose their ideas.
I think that Careerist is doing a very good job helping more people to get into tech, especially people with the most different experiences around education, age, and nationality. This is wonderful!
Thank you for the second, very cool interview. I believe that many women have thought about entering tech and just need some encouragement to pursue this career path. Hearing from an experienced woman in tech can inspire and motivate other women to grow professionally.
The questions and responses in this article have been edited for clarity.
Note to readers: US federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Forbes. Here’s the Real Reason There Are Not More Women in Technology