Advice for women in technology: Seek mentorship, exposure

Andrea Bowers is a computer engineer at Etna Interactive in San Luis Obispo.
Andrea Bowers is a computer engineer at Etna Interactive in San Luis Obispo.

In high school, Andrea Bowers took a programming class and was hooked.

“It was the logic, and it was the problem-solving and playing with the language a little bit to see what I can get this to do,” she said. “I loved it.”

Years later, after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, Bowers had a successful career in education, teaching math to middle school students. She enjoyed teaching and intended to continue; however, when she moved to California in 2003, her Nevada credential didn’t transfer and she picked up another job — this time in computers.

“I got a job in SLO at the EOC, which is now CAPSLO, doing IT for them,” she said.

There, she was encouraged to pursue programming and redesign the organization’s website. After taking a programming class at Cuesta College, she took a job at Etna Interactive, a Web marketing firm catering mostly to medical professionals, where she’s worked for nearly a decade. She started building websites, and after five years, became a Web systems engineer, developing specialized forms and database-driven photo galleries, as well as troubleshooting for the company’s site.

If there is one thing she could tell women in tech, it’s to find a mentor, she said.

“There have been several influential people I’ve either known socially or worked for that knew things I was interested in, and these amazing people were willing to share their knowledge,” Bowers said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Exposure is the key to sparking young girls’ interest in technology careers, she said.

Last year, at the urging of Etna, Bowers and some co-workers taught HTML programming classes at Hawthorne Elementary School in San Luis Obispo. She recalled one little girl’s reaction.

“She was proud she was getting to experiment with stuff the other kids were nowhere near trying,” she said. “She had this cool confidence, like she knew she was good at it.”

Times have changed, Bowers said. She remembers looking around the room as a student in the 1990s at only a handful of girls. Now, more women are choosing technology careers.

“I would say give it a try,” Bowers said of her career path. “If you’re interested in something where there are always problems to be solved and always new things to learn ... then I say go for it.”

Julie Lynem

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