Cisco Canada Blog

Bit by Bit – A young woman’s guide to entering and succeeding in High Tech Careers

August 20, 2012

I never thought I would be a published author. But this June, Mala Devlin and I published Bit by Bit, a guide for young women aged 15-25 considering careers in technology.

Mala and I both have busy careers at Cisco Systems and are married with full lives outside of work – we have a total of five kids and two dogs between us! We wrote Bit by Bit on week-ends, early mornings, and evenings; in our home offices and sitting on the sofa watching our kids do their homework. This led us to the apt title; it was written over a period of three years – bit by bit!

I recently approached Mala to guest blog with me about the writing process and our goals for the book.

Trina Alexson: We started writing a book about women in the Silicon Valley. How did we end up writing a career guide for young women interested in technology?

Mala Devlin: At the beginning of the process I warned you that the book would show itself to us as we did our research! We had a general idea about what we wanted to write about and then started our research phase. After interviewing Caroline Simard from the Anita Borg institute we were inspired to consider the career guide. It hit close to home because both our youngest children were girls and having a resource available to them as they approached high school seemed important.

Trina Alexson: My favourite part of the process was having an excuse to talk to so many cool and interesting women working in the technology sector because their journeys were so inspiring. Do you agree?

Mala Devlin:  Yes! We decided to structure the book in three sections. The first section is reasons to consider careers in technology, the final section is a summary of advice we got during the interview process, but the middle section is the heart of the book. We wrote short biographies of women from multiple companies, and different career paths within technology. We were trying to show how broad careers were in technology but also show young women that you can be “normal” and work in technology!

The number of women enrolled in engineering and computer science has stagnated at fewer than 20% for the past 20 years. One reason often cited is a lack of role models, so we wanted a resource profiling what kind of women are successful in tech careers. Our profiles show women who are creative and artistic, athletic and adventurous, and enjoy working with people as much as working with technology.

Trina Alexson: It was a heck of a process! I recruited my first boss from many years ago to be our editor, my 11 year old daughter helped me to design the cover in Photoshop, and we fought with the on-line publishing tool for 2 months to fix the layout. What can you say about the do-it-yourself approach?

Mala Devlin:  It was 100% volunteer effort because we decided early on to donate any profits from the book. Self-publishing helped us to save our costs for producing the book, but meant we had to learn not only about writing but also about layout and graphics.

Near the end of the process we chose the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology to support their programs and scholarships.

Trina Alexson: Now that Bit by bit has been published, what has surprised you?

Mala Devlin: The reaction of our sons. Our sons were in university when the book was published and their feedback has been amazing. They have told us both that the stories and advice have inspired them as well!

If you are interested in purchasing Bit by Bit, our labour of love, please visit Lulu Publishing.

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