#Asia Being a woman developer in a startup

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According to the author, women developers are like unsung heroes, staying in the shadows, and putting in their best efforts when needed

women in startups

The author Mamta D has several years of work experience in the technology industry and is a keen observer of tech trends. She also writes every now and then and her various works have been published in leading national and international publications. She is based in Mumbai and loves films, reading, and travelling.

According to a recent study by Crunchbase, female startup founders are on an upward rise. For instance, Crunchbase reports that in 2009, 9.5 per cent startups had at least one woman founder, but by 2014, that rate had almost doubled to 18 per cent. It is estimated that the numbers will continue to increase exponentially in the next few years. In India, too, in recent the past couple of years, we have seen more women heading startups than ever before.

However, be it India or abroad, the one thing that very few talk about is the presence of women developers in startups. That there are less women in technology is already a widely discussed issue. In a recent survey conducted by Stack Overflow, an online Q&A community for developers, over 92 per cent of the survey participants were male; only 5.8 per cent identified as female. The survey included more than 25,000 programmers from 157 countries.

gender

Source: stackoverflow.com

What then of startups? Considering the horror stories about startups and their culture (though many of these are just myths) floating about, are there any women developers working in startups at all?

Turns out there are. Just that the limelight is often on the women founders, so not many people are even aware that there are women developers toiling away behind the scenes of a successful startup. Often, they are like unsung heroes, staying in the shadows, and putting in their best efforts when needed. Without their presence and hard work though, there would be nothing at all.

Since there are hardly many “women developers in startups” stories, little is known about their work life, the challenges they face, and the perks they find in the jobs they love.

How’s their day at work like? Saniya, who works for CleverTap, a mobile app analytics and engagement platform that helps marketers identify, engage and retain users on mobile devices and the web, says that a typical day for her at work involves brainstorming with the team to find efficient ways to implement a particular problem, and then implementing the code for it.

Neha Nupoor

Neha Nupoor

Neha Nupoor works as a front-end developer for Primaseller, a SaaS-based order fulfilment platform. It’s a cloud-based Point of Sale system for vendors to list their products and download orders from online market places like Flipkart and Amazon. It is geared to provide a seamless experience to vendors, in an otherwise very user-unfriendly market. “Seller panels across channels are known to have very difficult experience for users, where one needsfrequent training sessions. We are striving to tackle that problem, and tackle it well,” says Neha.

The Work Hours

Typically, in a corporate environment, working with an MNC or a well-known company, you can be sure of steady paychecks, an established reputation of the company and you have a sense of security, knowing that the company won’t dissolve overnight. With startups, beyond the success stories, there are also innumerable horror tales about the startup culture. Startup struggles, especially in its initial days, are well-documented. Behind the scenes of a startup’s rise and success, there are often long hours of hard work.

Endless late nights, unsafe commutes, long overdue payments, sudden layoffs, and more. Are these stories myth or reality?

Saniya and Neha vehemently disagree with this perception of startups. “Sure, there are a few days when I work post 11 pm in office but there are also days when I can leave from work as early as 5 pm. It’s not about how many hours I punch in, it is about how much work I get done,” says Saniya.

“Before Primaseller, I was working in IBM, which as you know, is one of the giants in the IT world. Work hours ranged from eight to nine (which would often extend to 10). Here, in my role at a startup, we try and follow the same rule. The aim though is getting things done so there is no rigidity in timings. If a task takes longer, we happily do it, because everyone is focused on finishing their part, and also helping one other. The environment is light-hearted and we complete our tasks even as we have fun. On a general day, I may work for nine to 10 hours, but if I finish my tasks earlier, I can leave early. We rarely put in long hours, I’d say, not more than once or twice a month,” states Neha.

A flexible hours schedule is a USP. Unlike in a corporate environment where the punch-in/punch out times matter greatly and one cannot leave early even if one has completed the work for the day, in a startup, it’s totally different. If the work is done by 5 pm, you can leave at 5 pm. Even if you arrived at 11 am.

Alternatively, if there is a lot to be done and doesn’t look like it will end by evening, the team may have to work until late to get it completed. So, the key focus is on getting the work done, rather than a fixed rigid schedule.

The Dress Code

Though a few companies like Infosys have done away with the long-standing formal dress code policy and encouraged employees in their worldwide offices to arrive in casual attire, largely, most IT companies still stick to the formal dress code policy. Startups though do not follow any such policy. The everyday attire is as casual as their work environment. Colourful, comfortable, and easygoing. Even the founders dress casually. Sneakers with jeans and t-shirts are the preferred look. Unless there is a client, investor, or VC meeting ahead in which case, the founders might dress up formally.

The Pay

What about the stories of developers not being paid for months?

Neha and Saniya say they never had any issues with pay cheques at their respective startups so far and were always paid on time.

Saniya elaborates, “My startup is well-funded. There are no issues of late pay cheques. I get my pay cheques within the first week of the month.”

A few other developers, too, echoed the same statements.

Overall, the payments seem to be done on time and if at all, finances are in a crunch, it’s the co-founders who take a cut so that the rest of the staff remain unaffected. Cases like TinyOwl, one of whose co-founders was taken hostage by his employees over non-payment of dues, are rare and an exception rather than the norm.

The Infrastructure

In the initial days, when funding is low, sometimes startup founders may have to cut down costs. Did these two developers ever have any compromise on the infrastructure they worked with, such as machines or software?

Neha is pragmatic in her reply, “No, I didn’t have to compromise, but before making any purchase, we do examine the costs to avoid unnecessary expenditure. We first look for open source products that can satisfy our requirements and if we can’t find anything good, we then buy the products required to build our apps. Today, in a scenario where many startups even with huge funding are running dry, I don’t see a reason why one shouldn’t be prudent with the funds. However, in my experiences with the startups I worked, if we really needed some infrastructure, it was given priority.”

Saniya is more fortunate. “It helps that the startup I work at has good funding in place so they can afford to buy the latest infrastructure,” she says.

Smaller startups can also take advantage of low-cost licensing offers by companies like Microsoft and others.

Security

These days, many startups, even the big ones like Grofers and Zomato, are downsizing and laying off people. Some like Dazo and LocalBanya have either shut down or suspended operations. Their employees found themselves in the lurch.

As developers in rising startups, how are the job security aspects?

Neha is candid. “Sometimes I do fear that we might shut down and I’d have no job, and my parents will be worried. But then again, I know I’ll get hired somewhere else, and I won’t be unemployed for long. So, while job security issues do exist, startups give you enough confidence so you know you’ll get hired one place or other. If you know you are doing your job well and have handled your finances well, there is no reason to get worried about job security.”

Saniya agrees, “Yes, job security is comparatively less in startups. The future is unpredictable for startups, and so there is always the risk of losing your job overnight. But every startup is different. You can judge from talking with the co-founders and the people working there how far they plan to go and predict the risks involved.”

Perks of Working at a Startup

Saniya rattles off the perks one by one, “You can learn a lot in a short span of time. Flexible hours. Work with the smartest people in the industry. A chance to work in multiple verticals. Flat hierarchy – I work on the same workbench as my CTO or CEO, interact with them and put forth my ideas. And finally, working in a startup means good money in hand.”

Neha has more to offer: “For me, the plus point is that the job does not get mundane. You keep doing new things almost every other day. You can make mistakes and move on from them quickly. Things get done pretty fast and you don’t have to wait for three months and 42 permissions for a single line of code change. The atmosphere is mostly positive because those who choose to work in startups, know what they are getting into. You have independence and micromanagement is not present at any level. Your opinion matters and you can see your ideas taking shape leading to people actually using it.

Being a Woman Developer in a Startup

Saniya describes her workplace scenario in detail, “There are far too few girls in development in startups. My development team comprises of 10 developers, and I am the only female there. At the startup I work, everyone is extremely helpful and friendly. Professionally, there are no struggles that I face. I’m given equal opportunities and my work is all that matters here.”

“The only hitch in being the only female around is that there is only so much I can contribute to sports and car talks during our off hours”, she adds jokingly. In male-dominated environments, smoke breaks and beer outings may be routine but this may not always be comfortable for girls especially if they are teetotallers or don’t smoke.

“But all these are minor factors,” she assures and continues on, “There seems to be no reason why females shouldn’t be part of development teams in startups. Startups these days consists of young, well-educated, and courteous people. Such an environment if not good is actually ideal for women to get into development.”

Neha also throws light on another important factor – safety issues. “The only issue I face as a woman developer is lack of safety when I need to leave late from office. No matter what, my colleagues get concerned if I am leaving late, even when I am in a GPS tracked cab. But, that I feel, is a problem every girl has to face in India, startup developer or not. In MNCs, you may get company sponsored cab services, in a rising startup, but you have to manage on your own. What I really like here is, even though you are a girl, you are expected to complete your work like others. There is no special privilege you get for being a girl, and that removes any kind of impressions that others might have in mind. I work in a really open environment. There is no gender discrimination. At the end of the day, it’s the work you do that decides the merit, not the gender. Knowing that makes us want to do our best.”

“Let go of your insecurities, girls, and be a brave part of the change,” Saniya concludes.

Amen to that.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co

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