Gender and Identity in the Workplace: An Opera’s Singer’s Guide to Overcoming the Challenges of the Tech World

By Courtney Gold on Mar 8, 2017

On February 2nd 2017, SkyKick's own Sarah Gilbert spoke at Seattle Women in Tech’s first event of 2017: Gender and Identity in the workplace.

Those selected were asked to do a 5-minute presentation on how they identified in the world of technology, how they overcame challenges because of their identity, and what those experiences taught them.

In this post, we quiz Sarah on her journey, and experience telling her story at the event.

Why was participating in this event exciting for you?

This event was an opportunity to share my personal journey as an opera singer and how I transitioned into the world of tech, ultimately becoming a product specialist at SkyKick. I've learnt that while some people assume that there are only a few defined paths to a career in tech, in my experience that's not accurate, and I wanted to help tell that story.

How do you embrace your unique identity in the tech world?

Even as I've made my way in the tech world, I'm constantly exposed to co-workers who have also come from different backgrounds and applied their past skills to their new technical roles.

In my point of view, it's really important to embrace your unique identity in the workplace, and turn your unique skills and perspective to your advantage.

 

As a trained opera singer, I learned 3 different languages, 6+ years of music theory and history, body conditioning to sing above an orchestra, lung strength, writing skills etc. I've learned that each music skill can translate directly to any tech role.

Once I realized this direct connection, I began to understand that the field of technology really could fit with my skill set, once I found the frame to apply those skills in particular ways.

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How did SkyKick come into play and why was it a good fit?

In July 2016, I joined SkyKick and have been really excited to be able to use some of the skills from my prior world, while growing my technical knowledge and working with other innovators in the cloud field.  

At SkyKick, I feel like I'm always learning something new, which makes every day a new adventure. I knew SkyKick was the right fit the moment I interviewed with the company, particularly because every conversation I had was like speaking with a new friend.

The moment I knew it was really the right fit, was when I interviewed with my future director, and found out that he was also a transitioned opera singer! I've since learned that everyone at SkyKick comes from vastly different backgrounds and we learn from each other every day.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome?

Even before I began my journey to the tech world, I was often confronted by work colleagues telling me that my music background meant that I had no applicable knowledge base to use for the technical environment. From perceptions that having a music degree meant that I wasn't smart enough, to choosing this degree meaning that I was just lazy, there were a lot of misconceptions that couldn't be further from the truth.

In finding ways to embrace my unique identity, I've identified in particular three areas that have been relevant to my transition to a career in tech, either as a transferrable skill, or as a previously natural inclination that I had to overcome.

1. A music background led me to embrace versatility and adaptability A music degree with an emphasis in opera required learning 3 different languages: Italian, French and German. It was extremely important to have a level of adaptability that made it easier to communicate with the people in the countries I performed in, which ranged from Australia, to Austria and Italy. In a rapidly changing tech industry, I've found that the ability to adapt to changing technologies and scenarios easily is truly invaluable.

2. Being hardwired to try for the perfect performance needed to change.

Years of operatic training, meant being hardwired to strive for perfection on every performance.  In the real world of tech, mistakes happen, and in fact at a company like SkyKick where testing and rapid learning is encouraged, I had to start reminding myself that it was ok to make mistakes or to try things. Part of being in tech is being willing to constantly learn and evolve and not being afraid to fail.  The great thing about mistakes in the technical world is that you can learn how to fix them, and how you can do things even better.

3. Repetitive practice skills transferred well to tech.

If there was one thing above all from my experience in the world of Opera that transfers well, was the training to do a number of repetitive small tasks as a way to build skills. When I learnt HTML, I realized that a lot of the actions were also repetitive small tasks, but that just like in the world of performance, doing those well directly led toward a larger goal like completing a website page. This is one of the areas where a musician’s skills can translate.

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What advice do you have for other women or people with a unique background trying to make it in tech.

 When I completed my speech at the event, in chatting with a lot of the attendees I found that many people had similar struggles or experiences from their own points of view. Above all, my advice to anyone would be:        

1. Others have travelled the same road. Learn from them.

For the longest time, I thought I was a specific case when it came to being a woman in tech with an unconventional background. It turned out many of the other speakers and people that I've met along the way also come from completely different backgrounds. Whether it's finding the inspiration to transition to tech, or going through imposter syndrome and wanting to quit get out there and talk to other people, to learn how they've travelled the road and what you might take from their journeys.

2. Have no fear in bringing change.

Whether there's a lack of women in your department or you feel like you've been looked over for an opportunity, have no fear in representing or advocating for the change we want to see.  If we don’t speak up, we will never make a progressive change. Fear is paralyzing, but it’s important to face your fears. In my case I did this talk, and found that not only were there more people like me than I thought, but also that sharing my own journey with others could help.  I'm truly proud of myself for doing it, and more importantly can embody change more proactively.

3. Community Building is key

Going into this event, I didn’t exactly know what to expect, but it was both eye opening and therapeutic. It was great to share my own experiences in tech, and also to relate to and empathize with other speakers and attendees as they told their story. As I left, I wanted to know immediately when the next event was so that I could hear even more stories. We build each other up and that’s so important for any under-represented group in the tech industry. As important as it is to find the ways that your unique identity and background can allow you to bring more to the table, another great way to develop is to seek out and build relationships with others via the many communities that exist.

Good luck!

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Topics: Company News