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IT Careers For Women: Beyond Coding

Posted: February 7, 2012

Careers for women in the IT industry often stop with 5-8 years of work experience. But, working women in India can look at an IT career transition.

By Sairee Chahal

The Indian IT and ITES industry employs anywhere between 1.5 to 2 million people. Coders or programmers form a big chunk of this pie. While it is one of the few sectors with a decent gender ratio at 25-30 percent, this begins to dwindle as women in the IT industry reach mid-careers.

Caregivers – working mothers, women supporting traveling spouses, taking care of the elderly, army wives leave as they need to assign equal attention to two primary responsibilites. Women in the IT industry with an average of 7-8 years experience and care-giving duties come to a point where work needs to meet life better.

Skill or format: The key question facing most women who have IT, ITES, coding or related jobs is to change the skill or change the work format or both. Many are forced to change the skill, because the format can’t be changed.

IT careers for women: where are the opportunities?

The good news is that the world is your oyster, especially if you are stepping out of the IT and coding jobs. There are options not only in IT and related fields but outside of it as well, since the digital IT supported world is a reality we live in.

Let us quickly run through some key career options for women in the IT industry:

– Tech Communications: More technology means more communication about technology. Organizations like The Writers Block have not only grown the space but also offer options to reskill yourself.

– User interface and design: In a world that worships UI, people with skill and competence stand a very good chance for coolness.

– Testing: If there is an industry out there writing applications and software, someone has to test and certify them. Organizations like QAI India, Pure Testing among others evangelize testing as a career option and host industry forums too.

– Mobile Applications: Did somone say that the coolest applications were written in a 9-6 office? No way! Mobile applications are communication and interface nodes for the smartphone generation and there is a huge eco-system of developers, designers and clients that is feeding this industry. To get a glimpse of this space, attend a Mobile Monday or a similar event.

– Digital: Digital agencies, social media companies, online marketing – all industries with few experienced, trained resources and one of the few that lend themselves to flex beautifully. Organizations like the Internet and Mobile Association of India are a good starting point to learn more. Social media, gaming, cloud computing, crowdsourcing, e-commerce are just some offshoots of this sector and this is the one growing at the fastest pace.

– Niche software: Sharepoint, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, LMS – the space of niche software products and communities is evolving and offers many unconventional options for folks with primary coding skills.

– Support functions: Tech PR, tech recruitment, virtual desking – support the industry you know best, with the interest and skills you have.

– Research and writing: The Internet has enabled the virtual economy and extended options to freelancers. However, the space is a little unorganized and unpredictable. Define yourself within the largesse of the domain and position accordingly.

– Sales: The most understated option of them all – a career in tech sales offers the best growth with a fairly good work-life fit. An understanding of technology and the ability to manage customers is your ‘Brahmastra’ if a great workflex career is on your radar. Break out of the traditional definition of sales – IT product and service economy needs a superior level of selling and delivery skills and chances are you have it.

Making the transition from coding

The devil is in the format and not in the sector. Being in a corporate coding or project management set up is a fairly templatized or over templatized format of work. Support, teams, delivery – comes with a high degree of definition. This works great for organizational efficiency but for individual workers, it leaves little scope to manoeuver and makes it very hard to achieve a mid-career transition that is not in a similar format.

This is further aggravated by the lack of any workflex format in most programming, IT and project management set ups – within large or small companies. Typically no new workers are hired on flexible formats from the start, there is low modularity or granularity and the workflex experiments are limited to offering an occasional work from home or take your work home to existing teams.

The first reaction for anyone at a stage of mid-career transition or leaving the coding/IT space is a feeling of lack of options and helplessness.

This is of little help to the working woman who now is also a primary caregiver – a working mother, has elderly folks at home, has a spouse with a hectic job or just a life to manage for the rest of the family. A large number of working women in India in the IT and programming industry drop out at this stage, owing to the inflexibilty of the system and lack of apparent options.

The first reaction for anyone at a stage of mid-career transition or leaving the coding/IT space is a feeling of lack of options and helplessness. But there are options and the good thing is they are growing. For woman professionals moving away from coding or project positions in IT centric set ups, the trick is in recognizing the basic reason for change and the place where you would like to take your career+personal life. Once there is clarity around that, it will allow you to decide on what potentially fits and what may not.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help at this point. Look at it this way, did we hesitate to ask for help when making decisions for our careers and lives first time round – say after school? Mid-career transitions are even more important, because there is a life to fit with them – and with people who need you the most.

*Photo credit: Ray_from_LA (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

About The Author: Sairee Chahal is Co-Founder, Fleximoms. Fleximoms works towards creating, enhancing and co-creating workflex opportunities for women professionals. It also helps companies harness workflex as a value driver. Co-founder, SAITA Consulting Pvt. Ltd, a management consulting firm focused on SMBs, member of the CII Committee on MSMEs, a visiting faculty at IIFT, New Delhi and mother of a 4-year-old, Sairee is your regular Fleximom. Follow her on twitter @sairee .

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