JAXenter: Shannon Dennis on Women in Tech

Originally posted on JAXenter, written by Sarah Schlothauer.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Shannon Dennis, Director of engineering at LogDNA.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Shannon Dennis, Director of engineering at LogDNA

Shannon Dennis is a technical leader with decades of experience supporting enterprise software products and the teams that build them. She’s currently a director of engineering at LogDNA, where she leads the teams responsible for developing and testing all of our products. In the last year, she’s spearheaded a new employee resource group at the company for women in tech, called WiT. With her partnership, the group has become a community for women in the company to share their experiences, advocate for the causes that are important to them, and build skills to grow their careers.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

My dad was highly engaged in math and, as a young kid, he blew my mind with how quickly he could calculate in his head. As a result, I was always interested in math and had two really great friends — also women — who were in the STEM-type classes offered, including the programming course offered at the high school, and my interests grew from there.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I was working at a magazine fulfillment house to put myself through college — they would pay for my courses. I was slow and too meticulous at opening mail, so they moved me into a different area, where I worked with two older women who didn’t know anything about technology. It’s a funny story that I noticed it was taking hours for Joyce to complete a change of address for a subscriber. Once I asked her a few questions, I helped her build a query to search quickly based on zip code, last name, etc., and she thought I was a hero. At that point, the rest of the organization noticed I might be better doing something else and I started programming the payment remittance machine and data entry system a few months later. I didn’t expect to start programming professionally at 19, so it happened a little sooner than I thought it would, but it’s where my career was headed anyway.

As far as obstacles, it was difficult to break into tech at that age and as a woman (though I feel I was hardly a woman — more like a girl). Mostly the challenges were learning at a rate of speed that seemed acceptable to me and to those around me. And to be taken seriously — and for that, my mom took me shopping to buy a lot of new clothes because, at the time, that seemed to matter. And while it really didn’t matter, it did give me a confidence boost. The lack of support from women in the organization was definitely a challenge, and there were a couple of incidents that left me questioning if I was in the right place and time.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My family was very supportive of everything I did in life. They didn’t understand what I did, really — but they appreciated my intelligence and always applauded my achievements.

My role model would be my dad. He passed away a few years ago, but I hold dear so much advice he had given to me about everything from how to be fair and honest with people, how to make light of a tense situation, and on and on.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Yes! Early in my career, an older female co-worker was particularly challenging to me in that she would withhold information, spread rumors, and try to get me into trouble. I realized later that she lacked confidence and I added to that. A great learning experience for me that I carry with me still.

And later, a male boss had overlooked me for a management position that I had been doing for a year as an interim manager before hiring an external person for it. I eventually did get the role — and I hope that the male boss also learned something.

A day in Shannon’s life

I joined LogDNA in May of 2020 as the director of engineering, initially leading one of the development teams, and then moving into a broader role over the development organization here. Since we are a global company, my days start with a catchup to see what’s happened overnight, then on to meetings, and on lighter meeting days, I focus on a long list of things on which I need to make progress.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Navigating through challenging situations at different organizations and helping people feel valued throughout.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

Perhaps because of the stigma around tech being “a man’s world,” like operating backhoes or flying fighter jets. When I speak with female STEM students in high school, they often ask questions like “Is it strange to be the only girl in the class?” It is evident in the conversation that there are many who believe that high school STEM classes are as far as they will go with STEM. Mentors are needed to guide and help with concerns.

Girls are often taught to be softer and quieter as they grow up, but I feel that’s been undergoing a sea change, and I’m sure that will continue.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

There are a few obstacles women in tech need to overcome when joining the field, like equal pay; a bias related to starting or raising a family; and using language that is more assertive, as many women soften statements to gain acceptance.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

It would all work flawlessly! In all seriousness, more women working in STEM would lead to overall improvements. “Femtech” is largely underserved or developed without enough input from women, which would ultimately improve lives. Improvements in wages for women would result in better living situations for children as well as an improved economy overall. It’s also a question of dignity for women — to have higher-paying jobs and be enabled to exit poor living situations. Also, the diversity in thought would drive better working environments as well as products.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

From an engineering perspective, there is an uptick but it is very slow, and the pandemic caused a lot of women to leave the workforce because of family pressures. I read that women in technology only increased 2% over the last 20+ years. The diversity discussion isn’t entirely new to us, but my hope is that the current movement will pitch us forward to a more balanced workplace.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

A few tips I would like to give women pursuing a career in tech are:

  • To feel equal, you must believe you are equal.
  • Be assertive, use language that shows that you are.
  • Don’t be afraid to confront those who throw darts at you. Some of the best lessons and supporters are found this way.