Jenna Netland on CS Women

Jenna Netland, senior in computer science at Rice UniversityJenna Netland, senior Computer Science student at Rice University, reflects on the high number of women in her courses.  “You don’t notice that women are in the minority in CS at Rice,” she says. “Out in the workforce you hear comments –not bad comments necessarily – but things like ‘good for you for being a woman in a technology field.’  At Rice, no one ever says that.  I get called out for being a CS major because CS is hard, NOT just because I’m a girl in CS.”

Her experience in the workforce allows her to make the  comparison to Rice.  “Every summer, I had an internship.  After my freshman year, I was working in Chevron’s IT department, using technology to make business decisions.  They had just bought some new software and I was testing it to see how it could speed up business processes.  When I discovered I could write macros to automate processes, and showed what the software could do, they were really excited.”

After her sophomore year, she interned at Microsoft. “The Explorer program with Microsoft is geared toward freshmen or sophomores as a way to test jobs in both product management (PM) and the development side of a software company.  It let me try out both sides of the shop and see what I was good at and what I liked.  I found I liked both, but no matter which side I picked up, I would understand the other side because of that summer.”

Google hired her for the next summer.  “After my junior year, even though I loved Microsoft, I wanted to try another company.  I went to Google to focus on software development and that was great, but I realized I really did want to work for Microsoft and focus on product management.”

Comparing the inclusiveness of her Rice courses with her internship experiences, Netland recalls a defining moment.  “As I was waiting for a shuttle to take me back to my place after work one summer, I entered into a conversation with another woman.  She asked what I was working on and I told her I was an intern coding a specific project.  And I’ll never forget her comment. ‘Good for you, we need more women in technology.’  She didn’t praise me on how good I was at what I was doing, but just because I was a girl.  It didn’t feel like a compliment.  It diminished my self-worth – I wasn’t being praised for doing a good job or the information I had learned and what I knew. I was being praised simply for being a girl who happened to work in technology.”

She struggled with her decision over competing offers from Google and Microsoft.  “It was a difficult decision,” she admits.  “I had an offer from Google to do software development, but then I applied for PM at Microsoft.  It was weird seeing my friends apply for development jobs and wonder if I should be doing that.  But software dev is less of what you do in school, and more of figuring out why things don’t work. At the end of my internship in dev, I wasn’t looking forward to going to work.  When I look at PM jobs, I realize I tended to do well in groups, organizing projects, setting up a timeline.”

Netland said having a CS background allows her to work well with developers as well as  troubleshoot code. “But [in product management] my daily job wouldn’t actually be coding, so I felt like I might be letting myself and other women down.  If I am completely honest, that was an important detail for me in making my final decision.”  Although she went with product management, she felt “like I was letting other girls down because I didn’t stay with the coding.  But in the end, I needed to be true to myself because PM is what I enjoyed doing.”