Two Generations of Women in Tech
March 8 is International Women’s Day. The day honors the extraordinary accomplishments made by women everywhere. It also serves as an important reminder to stop and take a minute to highlight people who may be otherwise overlooked.
I sat down to talk to Kathy Willhite, In Time Tec Product Owner, and Lisa Watson, In Time Tec QA Test Lead. Kathy and Lisa are not only mother and daughter; they also offer unique insight into working as women in STEM fields.
Kathy has worked in tech for over 36 years as a Senior QA Engineer, UAT Lead, Lead Test Engineer, Senior Quality Assurance Lead, and Product Owner. Lisa, her daughter, has served as a Product Owner, QA Test Lead and recently completed a degree in Business Administration.
Choosing tech careers
Kathy initially started in software development in 1985, when her brother was a programmer at a small software development company. She started as a receptionist but quickly took on more duties, ranging from Marketing to Programming and much more.
Over time, those skills grew. By the time Kathy left for another job, she had built a database, created demos and tutorials on how to use software, wrote documentation, and made the help system for the company.
Lisa said her mother was her most significant influence in working in a STEM field.
“Honestly, it was a suggestion from my intelligent mother,” Lisa said. “She called me one day and said ‘Man, I’m working at this place and I see you fitting in here.’”
Lisa said she was initially reluctant since she was hesitant to change fields from business to a job she initially didn't understand. She said Kathy helped her make the switch.
“When I first started, my mom made an entire list of things that I would need to be proficient at my job,” Lisa said. “I actually spent weeks studying that list to make sure I had everything I needed to bring quality to my team.”
Average day on the job
Lisa’s day consists of Scrum meetings, meeting with coworkers on projects, QA work for our Information Technology client, and acting as a Product Owner for a project with AEYC. Part of the Scrum project methodology, a Product Owner focuses on maximizing the value of the resulting product.
The average day for Kathy entails troubleshooting errors and checking in with her team.
“I look at the backlog, create user stories, go through bugs, and I work with the team to make sure everything’s running smoothly and on track,” Kathy said.
Passion for technology
Kathy’s passion for technology started with high school computer classes.
“Back then, you were using the keypunch and things like that (for programming), but I loved it,” Kathy said.
Lisa said she loves working in technology since it enables her to create things for people.
“I love being a part of the creation and I love making people happy,” Lisa said. “So it’s a win win.”
What helped them along their careers
Lisa said studying and self-discipline helped her the most in learning things along her career. She also mentioned a supportive community that helped her thrive.
“Reaching out to coworkers to ask questions and my leaders just being supportive of my role,” Lisa said.
Kathy attributed some of her STEM career success to an aptitude for learning new things quickly and managers who believed in her.
“When I first worked at that first software development company, the CEO knew what my abilities were,” Kathy said. “So he’d put a software package on my desk, knowing that I was going to pick it up, learn to use it and learn to use it well.”
Favorite part of their jobs
Kathy said she loves to see when one of her projects comes together throughout her career. Be it through her work in QA, documentation, public sector work, or much more.
“Being able to have a vision of what the product will be before starting it, working through the development as it evolves into a viable, quality product,” Kathy said. “When a product is released, knowing that I was involved with testing and delivering that product, and knowing that I worked with the team to deliver the best quality product we could, that is very rewarding. ”
Lisa said getting into QA was a perfect fit for her.
“Just to be able to learn about what is needed to make a product or service work to its full capabilities,” Lisa said. “It’s been fun and challenging at the same time.”
Tech careers now versus then
Lisa said that the technology field has only grown since her mom started.
“We use tech in everything we do,” Lisa said. “It’s in our cars, our homes, and our communities.”
Kathy said Lisa’s career trajectory has accelerated faster than her own.
“It’s taken me 30 plus years to get to where I am and I’m looking at Lisa and thinking ‘Wow,’” Kathy said. “Things are changing so quickly, and she is learning so quickly. I’m really, really proud of her.”
How to get more women to pursue STEM careers
Kathy said getting the word out on STEM careers could help more women feel encouraged to pursue them.
Lisa thought similarly, saying we should target younger groups to engage with for spreading the love of STEM. Things like code camps, presentations, and talks, can help reach kids and teens and expose them to a new career they might not otherwise encounter.
“My mom has over 30 years of experience in this field and I’ve only actually known about her role and what she does for less than a year,” Lisa said.
She also stressed the importance of tech role models to mentor young women and encourage them to continue in the field.