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Data Engineers: Powerful Allies in Achieving an Equal Future

By Posted in Industry March 8, 2021

In Celebration of International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day, a day dedicated each year to helping girls and women achieve equality. Even from our privileged position in the tech capital of the world, women face inequality on executive teams and in boardrooms, albeit much more comfortably than most worldwide. But we also recognize that we have significant power to contribute to the change we want to see.

The United Nations’ theme for IWD is Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. It “celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping an equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.” We believe that equality is about equal access to resources, and in a COVID and post-COVID world, data is the most critical resource in making change. 

The International Women’s Day movement has identified three calls to action as key to gaining equality: 

  1. Challenge and call out gender bias and inequality
  2. Celebrate women’s achievements
  3. Take action for equality

In anticipation of the day, we invited women colleagues from across StreamSets to sit down to a virtual lunch and discuss how women, and particularly data engineers who are women, can be powerful allies in the goal of achieving an equal future. 

Women at StreamSetsAfter a quick brainstorming and voting exercise, we agreed that the past year’s stressors have created opportunities for change that did not exist before, and it is up to us to take advantage of them. The conversation covered many topics, and some will find their way into future blog posts. But for this one, we’ve organized and edited comments into the 3 areas identified above. 

Challenge and Call out Gender Bias and Inequality

First, we recognized that representation of women in technical roles is essential (and lacking). Less than 2% of tech teams include women. At StreamSets, women hold a variety of technical and leadership roles across the organization. The titles of our participants reflect that–a nice cross-section of functional responsibilities and levels. 

What can we do as data professionals and data engineers to highlight and challenge bias?

“When it comes to AI and ML, there are all of these biases – gender and race. Women need to be represented from the ground up, so we’re building models with bias-free thinking from the foundational stages. And not just women, but LGBTQ, and people of different races – a diverse representation in the data engineering ecosystem.” Raji Narayanan, Head of Product.

“To expand the field for recruiting, you have to look beyond the resume. There are a lot of developers who might be interested in data engineering. And a lot of women who are analysts and could make the move to data engineering.” Judy Ko, Chief Product Officer

“Many analysts are forced to be their own data engineers!” Vu Trang, Head of Business Analytics 

“There’s a responsibility for us, as the developers of these tools, to think about out UX from the perspective of women.” Suzy Tighe, VP of Marketing

“It’s unusual in tech to have a meeting with only women in the room.” Alison Taylor, Technical Writer

Almost half of tech-educated women who have children leave their job. How has the last year of work from home changed that dynamic? 

“Recruiting data engineers is very hard. What can we do to make things better for existing data engineers so they can stay in the game and not be discouraged or attract new people? Maybe that’s what the pandemic has taught us.” Judy Ko, Chief Product Officer

“In 2020, everyone learned that you can have flexible hours and you can get the work done.” Kirti Velankar, Software Engineer IV

“Men being at home and realizing how much work it is to juggle kids and work has led to a different kind of eye-opening, unlike anything we’ve had.” Judy Ko

“Data engineering as a specialty is not actually something that’s discussed a lot in many computer science disciplines. Being a recovering software engineer and falling into the data space, I think data engineering has a lot more flexibility for women, and there are so many applications for it in so many industries. There is a lot of opportunity.” Vu Trang, Head of Business Analytics 

Celebrating Women’s Achievements

“To encourage more women in data engineering or even just in software, they have to see themselves represented. I think we can help with that.” Alison Taylor, Technical Writer

“One of the things I really like about our strategy is that we selected Ana as the persona for the data engineer, and that’s important for representation.” Kirti 

“The reason we picked Ana is because we had women in the room, and because we want to have more women in the room.” Hima Chintalapati, Director of Product Analytics

“It’s still aspirational!” Loretta Chen, Technical Writer

“Being in the room really, really matters, especially as the industry and profession is taking off. Women have the opportunity to help shape it by becoming involved.” Karen Henke, Director of Web

Taking Action for Equality

What would we want to say to young people and people starting their careers about becoming a data engineer?

“Data engineering is a horizontal activity that you can use to tackle all sorts of problems. And that could be very motivating for a lot of women. You can use it to fight climate change or address social inequality. It’s not just about online shopping.” Judy Ko

“A lot of the blog posts I’ve read about data engineering as a profession highlight the salaries. But there are a lot of people motivated by more than a salary. Purpose is really important.” Karen Henke

“We need to provide a road map or a path to a data engineering career for women. Maybe we can do a meetup or a webinar that is especially for women.” Miluska Berta, Senior Field Marketing Manager

“Maybe it’s about families…we need to introduce these concepts early and give young children, boys and girls something to aspire to.” Suzy

Going Forward

At StreamSets, we believe we can enable more equitable access to data as a resource by enabling more data engineers to support 10s of ETL developers, who then enable 100s of analysts and data scientists. The more women who pursue a role as a data engineer, the more influence they will have in using data to tackle the big and small problems we face in the world today. 

We generated many ideas during brainstorming, and we’ll be sharing content throughout the year. Stay tuned for our next piece where we share the story of Ana, the data engineer. You can also check out opportunities at StreamSets and StreamSets Academy with learning resources for data engineers.

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