There is a hint of sadness in Melissa Zgola’s voice as she recalls her early career.

Today, Zgola is very happy with her role as a faculty chair with Capella University’s School of Business and Technology with nearly 20 years of experience in the tech industry behind her. But a career in tech seemed out of reach in the early days of her work life.

Although it wasn’t necessarily Zgola’s first choice career, her initial job out of school was working as a therapist, having studied psychology in college. Zgola explains she always had an affinity for technology, but when it came time to start exploring majors in college and identifying potential career paths, “tech wasn’t an option.”  She remembers not feeling encouraged to pursue a career in tech, feeling as if she “wouldn’t belong,” and that “tech was for boys.”

The sobering reality is that women of all ages are needed in tech – badly. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2017 women held just 28.5% of all computer and information systems managerial positions in the U.S. In 2017 women comprised just over 8% of all U.S. computer control programmers and operators.  

For Zgola, her winding career path thankfully did eventually deliver her to the career in tech she dreamed of. But it wasn’t easy. With the wisdom of experience, she shares the following advice for women—both young and not-so-young—who are interested in a career in technology:

Envision a career in IT – Literally. Close your eyes and envision yourself in the tech career you are interested in. Then say to yourself, “I can do this.” Too often we women count ourselves out before we even get to the door. I did, which was a mistake. A career in tech starts with the desire and belief you can do this. Today there are tons of roles that women can play in technology. I just think women don’t know about all the different career paths available. Too many women envision IT as simply sitting in a cubicle coding all day. You don’t have to be that person. You can be using data to help save someone’s life in a hospital setting. You could be driving the next hot social media advertising campaign for a Fortune 500 company. The list goes on.

It is important for women to research the areas of IT they are interested in to learn about the field and roles available. Ask around the office to find out what IT professionals are doing, search job sites for IT-related positions, or follow tech influencers on Twitter to learn about IT industry trends. In other words, immerse yourself in the world of IT. That will help immensely in envisioning your own career in the field.

Find like-minded individuals– Too many young girls, as well as mid-career women, steer away from careers in IT because they fear they will feel they won’t belong. Often times, women need a sense of belonging when they are thinking about a career.  When it comes to IT, so many girls and women don’t even consider it because they feel they won’t fit in to what is perceived as a hyper-masculine field. I know from experience that women do belong in IT. They will find the camaraderie they crave. That sense of belonging does exist. You’ll find your tribe, rest assured.

Harness your strengths– The truth is: men and women are not the same. Women bring unique skillsets and strengths to the table. For example, on the whole, women are more compassionate and empathetic and collaborative. Believe me, IT needs that as much if not more than any other industry. Your femininity is your strength. Don’t ever forget that.

Believe in your hard skills –This is often the first and seemingly insurmountable hurdle women face when considering a career in tech. Many women subscribe to the false belief that women don’t have the “hard skills” that their male counterparts have. That’s not true. Women are just as capable of developing math and analytics and other IT hard skills, period. There is no difference in the likelihood that a boy or a girl will develop the math and analytical skills to be successful in IT. Girls, and women, are every bit as capable as men to have a successful career in tech.

Don’t be afraid to change careers to IT – As I know first-hand, you are never too old to reinvent yourself and launch a career in IT. Women who come to IT from diverse career backgrounds have so much to offer. That diversity brings a breath of fresh air. It drives innovation, which the IT field needs to grow and remain vibrant. If you are interested in exploring a new career in IT, job shadow someone who is doing the type of work you are interested in to get a feel for whether it would be a good fit.

“Women have every bit the aptitude, desire, and capacity to succeed in in tech as men,” Zgola concludes. “And women are so desperately needed. The only way we are going to fill the jobs we need to fill in IT is to harness what women have to offer.”

Learn more about Capella University’s programs in information technology.

Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography, and degree field, affect career outcomes, and Capella does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, or other career growth.