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Q & A With Caitlin Long: What is Means to Be a Woman in Technology

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Wyoming chapter.

The Wyoming Cybersecurity Symposium was held on Oct. 17 and 18 at the UW Conference Center in Laramie. Featuring various keynote speakers, Caitlin Long was one of them, who is currently a writer for Forbes.com and a Blockchain investor; she began with Bitcoin in 2012 personally and made investments. Long grew up in Laramie and received her undergraduate degree at UW in Political Economy and is a financial supporter of UW. She started on Wall Street before moving into the field of technology. Long sat down to talk about her role in the tech industry and what it means to be a woman in the field as well.


Q: What is a typical work day like for you?

A: It’s crazy, I’m not officially working, but I’m working harder than I’ve worked when I worked. It’s actually crazy because the pace of change in Blockchain has been staggering. It seems to be accelerating and it’s a full-time job just to keep up with everything. I’m also working on a book right now, so I try to write every day. I am crazy busy with the Wyoming Blockchain work that’s been all volunteer, so we got five bills passed through the legislature as part of Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, which I co-founded with two people earlier this year.


Q: How did you get involved in the tech field?

A: To give some background, during the financial crisis, I got very curious about why the financial crisis happened and found alternative schools of economic thought and through one of these alternative economic groups I found Bitcoin relatively early. Some of them were among the earliest.


Q: Would you say your field is male-dominated?

A: Ohhh, yes.


Q: How do you navigate a male-dominated field as a female?

A: The reason why the Wyoming Blockchain bills happened, it all got started when I tried to donate Bitcoin to endow a scholarship for female engineers, precisely because there are not enough female engineers in the world and I thought, ‘let me just try to pay it forward with Bitcoin gains and try to solve the problem by going to the root,’ which is catching females who may be interested in science and engineering and try to support them. It’s actually not a scholarship, it’s an endowment, a support fund. I’ve given the Engineering college the flexibility to try to use it for female students so it’s not just scholarships, it’s trying to keep females who start in engineering in engineering as opposed to changing majors because it is a tough field.

It’s interesting though, because when I started on Wall Street in the ‘90s, it’s a similar experience in the sense that it was probably 80% male and it’s actually even worse in technology, it’s probably 85-90% in terms of the real, hardcore developers. It’s clearly not an industry that women are choosing to go into, but the women who are choosing to go into it are doing extremely well.


Q: Why is that?

A: Well, because they bring diverse ways of thinking and there’s a desire on the part of the tech companies to hire them so they empirically command a higher salary.  It’s one of the few industries where women are actually paid more than men because they are so few and every company wants to hire-it’s stupid for companies to not pay attention to diversity and that includes all of technology because women have a different experience and a different way of thinking about things. If you’re trying to sell your product to a general consumer, that’s going to include women, so you need women who can think about the user interface who can think about which ways to position the product so that it will sell to women and if you don’t have women on your staff, good luck.

It has been a problem and that is why in the marketplace, the market is solving this problem. Women are commanding higher salaries. It’s tough for start-ups to hire women because they have to be cost conscious and when they’re interviewing women, they tend to have higher salaries, so what I’ve experienced in technology is that women tend to not be in developer roles, they tend to be in product roles or finance and marketing roles within the tech industry. Even so, it’s still a very lopsided industry.


Q: How do you navigate the lopsided industry then as a female?

A: I’m lucky because I was successful navigating it in the financial world for 22 years before I came over, but I will say this, in almost all the circumstances I’ve observed, women are actually treated very well in technology precisely because they are so scarce. When I say ‘treated’ in technology, I’m talking about the developers, the women who code.


Q: Are there stereotypes within your field?

A: Of course.


Q: What are they?

A: There’s definitely a challenge within Blockchain that’s called a “bro culture” and again, I think that’s true of technology generally. In Silicon Valley, there are some notorious stories of the challenges that female developers and also female venture capitalists, have had in this field.


Q: Can you explain what “bro-culture” is with Blockchain?

A: Oh wow, I’ll give you some of the headlines. There was a big conference in Miami earlier this year, and they had a conference event a strip club. So there you have it. Also, I think, there was a woman who was invited to speak there and she did an analysis of the speakers at the event, and it was something like 2% of the speakers at the event were women so that got a lot of people very focused. It also prompted a group called “Women for Blockchain” and it’s women who got together and basically said, ‘look, you know, guys, come on, if you want to do that on your own time, that’s your business. But a conference oriented event that was held at a strip club is not how you attract women to the industry.’


Q: How do you break the stereotypes?

A: It’s interesting, I’m not sure the stereotypes are as big of a problem as the self-selection out [switching fields] by women early on. From what I’ve experienced, there are opportunities for women in technology so it’s not a question of discrimination where the doors are closed, to the women I’ve in fact seen the opposite, where companies are bending over backwards to hire women, because there are so few and they do command a higher salary.

I don’t think it’s a stereotype, it’s the women self-selecting out, that’s the biggest problem. When I compare my experience, I pretty much had a full career on Wall Street and watched women break through. When I started there, it was about 20% [female], now the incoming classes that they’re hiring right out of undergraduate and MBA programs are pretty much balanced 50/50 between male and female. I’m hoping that technology can get to that as well, but we have a harder problem in technology than the finance industry did because in finance, I think it was a lot of discrimination historically whereas in technology, women are self-selecting out. There are not as many graduates and frankly, there are not as many matriculations by women in the STEM fields so I think it’s happening at the high school and even junior high level where women are not attracted to the STEM fields. There are fewer starting at the university level, fewer graduate, and fewer are in the actual workplace.


Q: How do you think women can be more attracted to STEM?

A: That’s why I set up that endowment. I actually [as a student] started in Electrical Engineering and ended up graduating in Political Economy because the math really kicked my butt to be blunt. I would have gotten through, but wouldn’t have gotten straight A’s and I self-selected out. It was the right decision for me, but I think a lot of other people might drop out too early because it is hard. What I was hoping the endowment would do is support women by getting them tutors, creating pizza parties for women to get together and help each other, whatever it is and I trusted UW to figure out what it is. Everybody’s got a goal of keeping women in these fields and if my little part has a positive effect on even one woman staying in engineering as opposed to dropping out like I did, then that’s a win.


Q: Have you ever dealt with any issues as a woman in a male-dominated field and how did you handle it? This can apply to the financial field too, since you mentioned there were more issues there.

A: Looking back, it’s definitely gotten a lot better. I also can say that being a woman helped me in as many cases as it hurt me. What I’ve tended to conclude is that everybody is different, everybody’s got their benefits and their drawbacks, everybody’s got strikes against them and things that help propel them forward. I’ve been able to capitalize on the latter when I had the opportunity to be propelled forward. I took it and I proved myself and I think that’s an important part of it too. I started to see women proving themselves in those management roles.

I ran a business at Morgan Stanley, I was a direct report to the co-CEOs of [sic] in my early 30s and proving myself in those situations was really important. There was a man who said to my face, “you only got that job because you are a woman” and it was ridiculous because I got the job because I had an insurance background and they needed someone with an insurance background. So, I knew what he said wasn’t true but, I also knew that I had an even higher burden on me to prove that his knee-jerk reaction was not true. As more and more women break through and prove ourselves, it just became less of an issue. I’m hoping that over the next decade in technology, the same is true.


Q: What advice would you give women who are looking to go into technology?

A: Stick it out because there are few women and it’s definitely a field that is worth sticking it out because I’ve experienced that women command higher salaries and it’s the opposite of what I experienced in finance when I started out. There are so many opportunities, and especially a woman who has good communication skills and good marketing and finance, kind of a good business sense. If there’s a woman who has great science skills as well as those marketing and communication skills, she will go far. The easy route may be to do what I did, it worked out for me to drop out of the harder STEM fields, but today, I would not recommend that. I think women have more opportunities in the STEM field and that’s why I stepped up very quietly last year to fund that endowment. I had no idea it would have turned into an entire Blockchain initiative for Wyoming, but I’m so proud of that.


Q: What advice can you give women going into a male-dominated field?

A: It’s really the same advice I give men, which is work hard. Hard work does pay off, and work smart. Figure out the system, I think as I look back on the mistakes I made and the mistakes that other women made, we tended to stay in jobs too long where we weren’t appreciated. My best piece of advice to women is what I’d give to men which is, if you find yourself in that situation, just get out. Move on to something else, you aren’t going to fix it and we have so many opportunities now, just get out, don’t stay and try to bang your head against the wall if you’re in a situation where your skills are not respected as you think they should be.


But, don’t necessarily job-hop. You need to recognize that some of the frustrations in your field are self-inflicted, you have to be very honest with yourself in what frustrations you may have but if you conclude that you are doing everything you can and you still aren’t being appreciated, just get out, just change jobs, there’s no stigma anymore. Also I would say in the tech area, women can work for themselves. Be your own boss. If you don’t like the start-up environment or the corporate environment, get out and work for yourself, it’s so easy to be a consultant and go from gig to gig, you aren’t trapped in a single job like women were 40 or 50 years ago, where they were trapped and being paid less and the doors were closing on them. That’s not my experience at all anymore, I think there’s so much more fairness now.


Abbey is a senior at the University of Wyoming and is currently majoring in Journalism. She couldn't imagine a world without Jesus, coffee, The 1975, Twitter or her family. You'll usually find her at a concert or cafe somewhere, which is where she spends majority of her free-time. Talking to band members after their shows is a hobby, along with thrifting & indulging in all aspects of pop culture. After college, she plans to spend more time at concerts, getting paid to write about music and bands.
Hailee Riddle

U Wyoming '20

Writing is hard, but I love it. "Little girls with dreams become women with vision." HC U Wyoming Writing since 2016