7(+1) Lessons from my tech career, and how did I even get here?
I don’t feel comfortable in my comfort zone.
Come to think of it, not sure I ever really had a comfort zone.
I remember as a kid hearing something about people being bored sometimes. I never got that. Whenever I got bored, I just found something else to do. Of course, not all my teachers liked it, but I had good grades, so no one cared. The other kids surely didn’t like it as I was the class’s outcast for most of primary school.
Luckily, I grew up before ADHD was a thing, so I didn’t have to numb through boring classes.
Luckily, I went to university when ADHD was very much a thing, and I could easily get medication, or else an MSc. in Math would never happen.
But an MSc. in Math did happen. Or actually, when the time came to focus on a subject for my thesis in Math, I decided to pursue a thesis in computational biology instead. And this was a time when I knew nothing about computers or biology. Talk about imposter syndrome? I WAS an imposter.
That’s how at the age of 30 I started coding for the first time.
And I loved it. I loved applying my theoretical and mathematical education and creating something tangible. I loved the logic, the order, the structure. It became clear to me how code and algorithms are the natural extensions of the language of math.
That’s how I learned Lesson #1: Making giant leaps out of your comfort zone leads to gigantic growth.
Then, at the age of 33, when all my friends had already advanced in their careers, I was looking for a “grown-ups” job for the first time.
And… no one returned my emails.
So I studied some more. I took online classes, went to meetups, and discovered that the high-tech industry is not gray and dull but actually fascinating and friendly. I spent two months on a challenging hands-on project and gave a talk at a meetup about this project.
My proactive approach to my professional development helped me look better on my resume, and I made connections that benefited my search.
And then. Finally! I could get some interviews. It took me six months from the moment I started looking for a job until I found what was then my dream job — developing algorithms for an established and exciting startup.
That’s how I learned Lesson #2: It’s never too late to start anything.
My first year as an algorithms developer felt like I was flying at light speed.
I talked at conferences about novel algorithms I developed, organized meetups, and even founded a successful meetup for my professional niche. I was wholly immersed in Baot, the largest community in Israel for senior developers who are women, mentoring women from across the industry, and even had a majority of women speakers at my events. I also started a tech blog and was probably juggling more extracurricular activities than I can remember. I didn’t go to the beach as much as I wanted, though, so not all was perfect.
Sadly, all these grand aspirations did not sit well with my position, and I felt my cue to look for bigger shoes to fill. After just over a year, I was ready to make another leap.
I left my job without knowing what was next, but I was glad to discover that all the connections I made through my extracurricular activities led to a busy schedule with opportunities.
That’s how I learned Lesson #3: Your professional karma is the engine that drives your career. Help your peers, share your knowledge, and good things will come your way.
Nonetheless, looking for a job is hard!
The emotional rollercoaster proved to be quite challenging. I know they say “If you get only ‘yes’s it means you’re aiming too low”, and heck, did I get my share of ‘no’s. In addition, I was keen on avoiding the same mistakes — this time, I was looking for the biggest shoes I could find.
That’s how I learned Lesson #4: When looking for a job, focus on your personal and professional growth, so that as time goes by, you can aim even higher, instead of taking desperate steps.
Ironically, when an opportunity came by to become the first employee for a tiny startup, I felt it was way out of my league. I was aiming my job search so that my next position would prepare me for being the first employee. Luckily — a friend opened my eyes and told me: “Dalya, this is something typical for women to say. The only thing that can prepare you for being the first employee, is to become the first employee”.
So I followed my friend’s advice, took that job, and I was great at it.
I took advantage of the fact that I remained in the same algorithmic domain, which gave me confidence and experience to rely on.
That’s how I learned Lesson #5: Your career can be an adventure! When making adventurous moves, you can lean on a constant factor that will give you confidence.
After six months, this adventure too came to an end, and after two jobs in two years, I was ready to look for more stability. I conducted a rigorous and meticulous job search, especially concerning gender representation. First, I found online sources for hundreds of startups in my region, then I filtered them according to “dry” parameters, such as geography, product, size, and of course — the percentage of women in R&D. Then I contacted women who worked in companies that passed the filter, regardless of whether there was an open position for me or not, and consulted them directly about their jobs. Only companies who passed that filter as well — got my CV.
Eventually, I found the perfect place (even though there was no open position for me when I first applied) — small startup, new algorithmic domain, endless room for personal and professional growth. I also had the ideal manager (who happened to be a woman), with a majority of women in R&D. Indeed, I had a wonderful time there for almost two years.
That’s how I learned Lesson #6: Once you know what you are looking for, a proactive and systematic approach can get you there.
What happened, then, you ask?
Well, as I initially mentioned, I don’t feel comfortable in my comfort zone.
During the peak of the worldwide pandemic, the stars began to align on a dream I was getting ready for — becoming an entrepreneur.
It started with a random chat with a friend that sparked my imagination. It continued with me devouring literature on entrepreneurship and was intensified by me immersing myself in the Women’s Health domain, which is grossly lacking in innovation.
The thought of making Feminism my day job, of applying all my technical background for promoting women’s health, gave rise to new kinds of excitement. I was finally ready for my next adventure.
So this is pretty much where I am these days when I write these lines.
If you read this in the future and already know my name as someone who accomplished remarkable things, now you know how it all started.
And if you don’t know my name yet or never will, well, at least you know I tried as hard as I could and that I am having a great time trying.
That’s how I learned Lesson #7: Only do things you are willing to risk failing at.
Since writing these lines, I closed the women’s health startup I was working on; experienced an identity crisis over the failure of my feminist dream; recovered from that crisis to discover I actually learned and accomplished a great deal; met a new co-founder and started working on a new startup in BioTech, which is so much more aligned with my past and my future aspirations, that it feels like everything I did in my life was all in order to lead me here.
In parallel, approaching age 39, my long-time partner and I decided to expand the family, and it’s like I’m pregnant with extremely non-identical twins — a baby girl and a baby startup. I’ll let you know how it works out.
That’s how I learned Lesson #8: We are always allowed to change our mind. And change our paths accordingly.