Article • 6MIN READ

7 Pieces of Bad Advice for Women in Engineering Leadership

Have you ever attended an event in which you were asked to give advice to someone starting something new (career, baby, wedding)? Whenever confronted with that question, my answer is "don't take people's advice." Not because all advice is bad, but because all people are different. I am unique, and some advice applies to me, and some not.  Here are some of the items people have advised me, and why they may, or may not work.

1. “Don’t be too technical... or not technical enough.” Both?  Sure…  I cannot tell you how many times when functioning as a systems engineer, I was told, “You know how developers are…" Well, yeah, I coded for many years. And how often do we hear that  the stereotypical engineer should not be a manager because of social awkwardness or the inability to delegate? I feel that it helps a team to have someone with hands-on experience lead them - somewhere in the middle is the best.

2. “Don’t bring treats to the office.” I can’t tell you how many articles say that if you bake cookies you’ll never reach “the corner office.” Why not? I guess baking gives the impression of being a submissive woman. People play golf, collect baseball cards, even brew beer.  It is a hobby.  And I love to bake. I made the most amazing ginger molasses cookies for a birthday last year. (Recipe at the end of the article!)  It is also a stress reduction technique for me. In a former job, we did a management simulation for a class.  We found that one way to keep morale up was to feed your team. Overtime? Get pizzas! Celebrate birthdays and accomplishments! We did really well in that exercise (until we were confronted by a debilitating snowstorm). But if I’d listened to the bad advice of many people - I wouldn’t bring treats to the office!

3. “Be assertive.” It is important to be assertive. And I am much more so than I was coming out of college. And maybe if I were better at saying no, I would not be writing this article… However, as the adage goes, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” On another note, there is something to be said for allyships, or the “good cop/bad cop” method.  If I can keep the team happy and engaged, and someone else in the management chain or my tech lead may sometimes need to help me get a point across, would that be a bad idea? It shows teamwork and trust. Don’t over-index on assertiveness at the expense of collaboration and learning.

4. “Shoot for the corner office.” I have no desire to be in that space, figuratively or literally! I sit with my team and don’t mind interruptions (OK, maybe I need a “usually” on the interruptions). The past few assignments, I have been lucky enough to have the “Wal-Mart Greeter” desk, so I can be aware when people come by with issues, and I can experience the team banter. The idea of aiming at a corner office as a goal alienates you from team members.

5. “Working part-time hurts your career.” I worked part-time for almost twenty years, and was home after every school day to make sure my daughters were fed, taken care of, and got their homework done. How did that affect my career? Well, I got fewer raises and fell behind my full-time colleagues. But I learned to multitask, I learned time management, and I ended up with two amazing strong daughters who followed in my footsteps to become engineers themselves. You get to decide what’s important for you - and working long hours is not always the right thing for many people.

6. “Don’t have interests outside of work.” I am a big hockey fan, I read, I take nature walks and photos. I love live music, my favorite being metal. Again, how many stories do I have of people who think of me as a mellow music person (is it the cookies?) But, think about this, if you had a stressful day of work, and you are headed home in your car with the radio on, would it be more satisfying to hear, “You Don’t Bring me Flowers” or “I Sleep with One Eye Open?” You can guess my answer! Focusing solely on work will not only detract from your ability to connect with colleagues, it’ll create a life that you won’t fully enjoy.

7. “Look like a manager.” I will put it out there; not only am I female, but I am old, I am overweight, and I have blue hair. This is probably where I could go on a diversity rant. I’ll just say that the more uniform your team is, the more likely you’re missing out on some important outside-the-box ideas and perspectives. It’s far more important to be good at what you do and a strong team leader than to look the part.

So next time you give or take advice, or assume you know the job of someone you see in the office or the grocery store, think about what makes us, us; not what about us makes us who we or others think we should be. Appearances aren’t everything - and listening to the wrong advice can be worse than not taking advice at all.

As promised, the delicious cookie recipe: Lara’s Tender Gingersnaps


1 cup packed brown sugar1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, room temperature1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup molasses1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour1/4 cup sugar

In a large bowl, beat brown sugar and butter until blended. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves; gradually add to brown sugar mixture and mix well (dough will be stiff). Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Shape dough into 1-in. balls. Roll in sugar. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets.

Bake until set, 9-11 minutes. Cool for 1 minute before removing from pans to wire racks.


Nutrition Facts:

1 cookie: 100 calories, 4g fat (2g saturated fat), 15mg cholesterol, 70mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate (9g sugars, 0 fiber), 1g protein.


This article was written exclusively for Dev by Judy Johnson, an active member of the Dev Interrupted Discord community.

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