Q&A: Does gender matter in software engineering?

Beth Dickerson, Software Engineer for Elsevier’s Clinical Solutions team, talks about her work and what it takes to advance in technology

Beth at WITS
Elsevier Software Engineer Beth Dickerson watches a presentation at the Women in Tech Summit (WITS) in Philadelphia this spring. (Photo by Alison Bert)

As a Software Engineer for Elsevier’s Clinical Solutions group in Philadelphia, Beth Dickerson helps develop products that enable healthcare professionals to access evidence-based content at the point of care. I met her this spring at the Women in Tech Summit Northeast, where technologists in a wide range of fields and industries discussed the latest trends and while making a case for more women in computer science. Here, Beth talks about her work and whether women are poised to make unique contributions in this space.

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Please tell us more about what you do as a software engineer in your role.

I am a front-end developer. I work on the User Interface (UI) team for ClinicalKey, which is a search engine for medical reference used by hospitals, universities and other institutions.

What training did you do to prepare for this position?  

I left my former career and moved to Philadelphia to attend a 4-month full stack software development bootcamp.

What convinced you to work at Elsevier?

The first time I came to Elsevier was for a tech meetup. Then I came for a few more. I was impressed by their involvement in the local tech scene. Soon after, I met people from Elsevier who put on a local tech conference and I felt like this was a company I wanted to be a part of.

When I started looking for jobs, I wanted to work at a company that could offer a range of resources for learning and improving, and Elsevier convinced me because I had already seen part of their work to be rooted in this city. As I interviewed with them, I learned about internal training resources and opportunities, as well as the experience of working on a team, and felt that they offered the most out of the companies I was interviewing with.

In general, what options do software engineers have for advancement? And what do you think your next career step will be?

Personally, I think advancement occurs in two distinct ways. First, it should be acknowledged that opportunities arise based on who you know. (This makes it tough when you’re new in town.) The other side of advancement results from being able to learn and adapt: possessing knowledge about “the thing,” deepening your knowledge about “the thing,” and being able to adapt your knowledge and skills to the work around you to benefit you and your environment.

What is so exciting to me about where I am in my career is that I am focusing on doing all the things I just said: growing my network, acquiring and deepening my knowledge and skills, and learning to adapt them to my environment – so my next career steps are tied to simply being better at my job.

Does being a woman make a difference in terms of the work you are doing? Does it give you a unique perspective?

Of course it makes a difference. That isn’t necessarily good or bad, it simply exists. It’s more comfortable to work with people who look and sound like you, so if you don’t look and sound like the people around you, you’re unique. This is a realization worth questioning in ourselves. I think there is a direct correlation between the representation of unique experiences at work and the quality of work that is created because of it. Making space for less common experiences in our work improves the products we make and the accessibility of that product to a wider audience. Normalizing one’s experience or perspective creates room for more unique experiences, which makes for better work/code/products/environment.

In the US, women hold about one in four positions in computing occupations. Why do you think men still outnumber women?

This goes right back to the fact that it matters who you know, and a large enough majority of men in tech like working with people (men) who look and sound like them.

“We’re seeking tech talent!”

Beth Dickerson and her colleague Meghan Kelly could be found at Elsevier’s table at the Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia. Their experience inspired this impromptu video.

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Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

As Executive Editor of Strategic Communications at Elsevier, Dr. Alison Bert works with contributors around the world to publish daily stories for the global science and health communities. Previously, she was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier Connect, which won the 2016 North American Excellence Award for Science & Education.

Alison joined Elsevier in 2007 from the world of journalism, where she was a business reporter and blogger for The Journal News, a Gannett daily newspaper in New York. In the previous century, she was a classical guitarist on the music faculty of Syracuse University. She received a doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, was Fulbright scholar in Spain, and studied in a master class with Andrés Segovia.


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