Women's History Month: Liz Johnson

March 17, 2022

What is your personal and professional identity? How do you view yourself?

Professionally, I am a software engineer at Artium. Personally, I'm a wife, a mom, and many other things. However, these lines get blurred because I am always thinking like an engineer; I can't escape that.

I challenge assumptions and how people say things should work. I want to think for myself and not simply accept ideas that don’t logically make sense; this is true for my work and parenting.

Was there a particular moment in your career where gender inequality stood out to you? 

I went to a big school, and I would sit in a two hundred-person lecture hall as one of about four women. I quickly noticed that the people around me didn't share a lot of my interests or hobbies.

That being said, in my junior year, I took a class on operating systems. It was a notoriously difficult class that required a lot of time spent in the computer lab. Through spending so much time together and driving towards the common goal of getting through this class, we moved beyond the things we didn’t have in common. We all just wanted to help each other survive. When you have a common goal and are passionate and motivated, I have found that it helps you get over all the differences that feel insurmountable at first.

What are the ways you have had to change how you act throughout your career based on how your actions will be received?

Like I mentioned above, that feeling of unity is something I have tried to seek out when feeling “other.” At Artium, it's easy to find. We gain a healthy, encouraging, and energizing approach to our work through pairing. Artium has a culture that fosters a feeling of alignment. 

When it comes to client work, I am extroverted and relational, as I think many women are. My strategy has been to focus on these relationships. That connection makes everything feel easier. What you build is equally as important as who you build it with. 

In a male-dominated industry like tech, do you believe you are a representative of your gender community? If so, how do you assert your individuality? 

I do feel like I am representing a community of people. I think it's a bit more than just being female. I don't do what I do for the same reasons as many people in this industry. I don't like computers; I don't like looking at screens or playing video games. What I do love is building things, especially in highly collaborative environments. 

When women get introduced to engineering, there is often an inherent culture that comes along with it. These cultural elements may be common among engineers, but not everything has to be about that. I want to be someone that can show others all of the incredible things engineering brings to your life beyond what they initially think of. 

What are some of the most impactful actions, big or small, that you believe empower women and impact the existing disparity?

For me, a big one is a willingness to be vulnerable in collaborative environments. One of the things I noticed in college was that despite performing better, the women in my program often seemed more stressed about the curriculum. I remember having conversations with guys where I would say, “That test was so hard.” They would say they thought it went fine; then, they would drop the class the next week.  

This unwillingness to admit when you don’t know something can be intimidating for others getting into this industry. It makes people think they’re the only ones who don't know something when that's not the case. For women especially, it's hard for us to feel safe because we are naturally on the outside in tech. Bringing vulnerability to your team will help bring everybody in. 

What is something that you want people to leave this conversation with?

Being a mom and an engineer, I've been asked by parents how they can get their daughters interested in engineering. I think that the biggest thing that made an impact on me was the way my dad taught me to play. If you want your daughters interested in engineering, spend time teaching them how to play with something like Legos. Legos teach them how to think like an engineer and enjoy it. You have to know how the pieces work and how they fit together. You have to think about what you're building one small section at a time and then how to put those sections together. 

This type of play and positive encouragement from my parents has carried me into this profession. Taking the time to play and teach with excitement creates so much value and can drive your kid's future.