#57: Hang Le

“I am sad that female developers are paid less than male developers”

Hang Le - Software Engineer at Elekta (Finland)

In the spring of 2017, it was the last semester when the Finnish government still provided free tuition fees for all students inside or outside the EU. Luckily, I found out about this and decided to prepare for the entrance exams. Luckily I passed and started studying aboard. I took entrance exams for two majors: Business Management and IT, and chose to study BM. However, after only one month of studying, I realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. I would fall asleep in class and thought, “Did I leave Foreign Trade University and my family and friends in Vietnam just to sleep in class?” So, I asked the head of the IT department about switching to IT, and he said that since I had already passed the entrance exam, switching majors wouldn’t be a problem, especially in Finland. And that was the beginning of my journey as a developer.

During the first two years, I studied the typical Vietnamese style of studying abroad: taking notes, actively participating in class, and striving for high grades. In my third year, I started applying for internships, and fortunately, a Finnish company (Haahtela) accepted me. I still remember my first job interview, where the position I applied for had already been filled. However, the boss liked the way I answered the interview questions, my can-do attitude, and my enthusiasm, so he created a trainee position for me. This was a lesson for me that first impressions are crucial, and showing enthusiasm during an interview can compensate for a lack of experience :) I worked at Haahtela for nearly three years before switching to my current company, Elekta.

In my personal experience, having a mentor is super important, especially in the tech industry. At the beginning, I sometimes encountered bugs and it would take me 2-3 days of searching on Google to find a solution because I didn’t know what keywords to use or where to find the problem. But later on, I was lucky to have a really good mentor with more experience who could guide me in the right direction when I got stuck. They saved me a lot of time and gave me motivation to keep coding. In my opinion, a crucial factor in learning programming and developing programming skills in a work environment is teamwork, which includes critical questioning skills and not be afraid to admit one’s own ignorance (aka not being shy to say “I don’t know” 😀). Before asking someone, I always try to do my own research within my ability and clearly present my question. For example, if I’m working on project A and encountered error CDE at step B, I would search XYZ but still couldn’t solve it, then I would ask my mentor or colleague for ideas or suggestions. If I asked questions that were already available on Google, I think it would show a lack of respect for my mentor or colleague and waste their time.

As a woman working in the tech industry, I’ve noticed that there are many disadvantages and injustices. It’s really sad to see that female programmers are often paid less than male programmers for the same position and skills. In a recent survey at a tech company in Finland, the results showed that male engineers were being paid 3-5000EUR more per year than female engineers at the same position and workload. I think this kind of discrimination not only damages our self-esteem and affects our career development as female programmers, but also contributes to the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry. In my team of 12 people, I’m the only woman, and it can feel lonely at times when my colleagues talk about topics like cars or online games that I can’t engage in. Even in my current company, the percentage of women is less than 30%. It’s clear that without fairness and balance between men and women, we will miss out on the opportunity to fully utilize the talent and ability of half of the population in the tech industry. It’s important for companies to recognize and address these issues, and for women in the industry to speak up about their experiences and support each other.

Not to mention the fact that women in tech face a lot of social prejudices. When I was in university, I visited my hometown and some people asked me, “What are you studying abroad?” and I said, “Computer Science.” They were surprised and said, “Wow, a girl studying computer science? You must be really smart!” After hearing this “compliment,” I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad because there are still very strong prejudices about women studying computer science. Even my mother used to say that girls can’t do these kinds of jobs, and that boys are better at it. Hearing these things repeatedly made me believe that I wouldn’t be able to pursue a career in IT. I thought I should just get the degree and move on.

But after working in the industry for a while, I gradually changed my mindset. Why is it that when women study IT, it’s considered special, while anyone can study this field? The female brain is not inferior to the male brain when it comes to logical thinking and problem-solving skills. I have met many Vietnamese women who work very well in this field, even in highly competitive foreign environments. They hold important management positions, and I believe that the belief that women can’t study or work in tech is clearly inaccurate.

Women face many obstacles in the tech industry, so I want to do something to help my younger sisters or daughters develop in a more equal environment. I want to break down prejudices such as women can’t work in IT, they’re not good at it, or they’re not equal to men in the industry. I am also working on a Women in Tech project, hoping to invite experienced women in the industry to discuss and build a community together. If you want to connect with a tech person in the EU, or if you want to brainstorm with me about the Women in Tech community, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Techie Story is a digital magazine about inspiring tech people who have contributed continuously to Science, Technology, and Innovation. Please contact us at team@techiestory.net if you want to contribute your inspiring story.
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