Did you know that October 13th was Ada Lovelace day? Did you also know that Ada Lovelace was the first female programmer? In 1850 she worked alongside Charles Babbage in developing his mechanical computing device.

And yet, even as barrier after barrier is broken down, as more and more women choose to join STEM fields, young women still don’t receive the encouragement they deserve to work confidently in highly technical careers. Consider Isis Anchalee, a software engineer who received accusations of being “too hot to be an engineer” after posting a selfie- at the behest of her employer- proclaiming she was a software engineer.

NushiCarreraGovDataDownload recognizes the need for enabling passionate career choices. For this next installment in our “Women behind the Technology” series, we reached out to Nushi Carrera- Account Manager, Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) for NetApp.

Much like Ada Lovelace, Nushi also represents a first, as the first female programmer in her workplace in 1982.

Keep reading below to see what Nushi had to say about how she overcame societal expectations and became a powerful role model for women in technology:

GovDataDownload (GDD): Given the changes in technology and an increased focus on IT, how important is it to close the gender gap in IT careers?

Nushi Carrera (NC): I’ve been in this business since 1982 and I was the first female engineer at TTC. When I became a manager a couple of years later, I hired several women. I didn’t hire them because I was a woman or because they were women; I hired them because they were qualified candidates that just so happened to be female.

I don’t believe anyone is obligated to close a gap as it may apply to any sector of society. People should be judged by their abilities and their expertise. It doesn’t matter- race, gender, sexuality, nationality- none of that matters. Talent is what matters.

I have been in charge of product development, multi-million dollar contracts, and launching new services nationwide. And, now that I am in sales, I am very focused on individual employees following through on what they’ve promised to ensure that our customers are satisfied.

I look for talent and dedication more so than gender or any other characteristics when vetting new hires.

To that end, to me, when I try to answer how important it is to close the gender gap in IT careers- I say- It’s important to hire talent. The mission should always be to bring on board qualified, talented people- no matter their gender.

GDD: What do you think is the best course of action to enable young women and school aged girls in pursuing a career in technology?

NC: This really is an issue of the media, social media, and lessons taught (or not taught) in the home; it is a cultural and societal issue.

Our society encourages women to be pretty, fragile, cute, and popular whereas men can be ugly, fat, short, tall. Society judges a man by his wit and intelligence. Very few women, in IT as well as our greater society are judged by their wit.

This is a societal and cultural issue that we have to break that down first before we can do anything else.

I am a good example of this myself. I am the youngest of six children. I have four older sisters and one older brother. None of my sisters pursued a career in technology. I think that is in part due to the mindset my parents had when raising me as opposed to my older sisters.

By the time I came along, my dad wanted another son so badly that he treated me like a boy. He raised me to believe that I could do anything I wanted. That was integral to my becoming a computer scientist in 1982- a time when women in IT were not just a minority but also ground breakers.
I became the first female engineer at the first company I worked for at a time when some people did not even know what a personal computer was.

It was all because of the way my dad treated me. He treated me like a boy in that he encouraged me to follow my interests. For example, I started college at 16 with a major in Nuclear Physics. I was in for a long haul, and he knew that. But, by encouraging me early in life to do what I was genuinely interested in, he gave me the tools and encouragement I needed to follow a technical path.

GDD: To that end, how important is this encouragement of younger female generations to closing the gender gap to the American economy?

NC: The majority of the statistics I’ve seen recently support the idea that in the U.S. more women than men are graduating from colleges and universities.

In that case, then by the virtue of numbers, we should have more women represented in technology. For the sake of argument, let’s say 2,000 women and 1,800 men enter the workforce each year. If the ratio is 10%, we should have 200 women entering STEM fields.

But, instead we have only 20 because they are not being encouraged; they’re not being built-up; they aren’t pursuing education early enough and so on. All of these elements inhibit them from pursuing a career in Math or Science.

Again, just by the virtue of numbers, we are losing out on talent and potential in IT because the numbers are not working in our favor. Talented, bright students are choosing other fields.

That’s what is really important- not that hires or students are women- but that each young girl who is interested in Math but chooses something else- is an untapped talent.

STEM fields lose potential talent each year as a result of societal and cultural ills that discourage bolstering a young girl’s inherent love of Math and Science.

Again, it all comes down to encouragement and expectations.

In my own position, for example, I have a reputation of being a strong leader.

But, while a man is looked at as a strong leader, in such a position, a woman who is just as strong runs the risk of being looked upon as bossy for exhibiting good leadership skills that anyone in an authority position would be expected to demonstrate.

The problem starts at home and in schools, not necessarily corporate America.

GDD: Lastly, you have daughters of your own. As a woman in a technological career, do you encourage your daughters to follow a similar path? If so, how?

NC: I have twin girls and a son. My girls pretty much followed the same educational track through high school that my son did. In fact, all three of them completed the highest level of Mathematics offered at their high school. To them, Math, Biology and Chemistry were just as much a part of their education as English and Literature.

My kids have always known that I was a minority in the IT field. I really believe that people should follow their passion, and so even though my daughters are exceptional in Math and Science, they both chose not to go into a technology field.

However, one of my daughters attended the U.S. Naval Academy, a fantastic Engineering school, and she is now a U.S. Naval officer. She is a lieutenant, and she is the surface warfare officer. In that capacity, she has been in charge of weapons, engineering, and operations. Currently, she works for the 6th fleet in Naples, Italy, and she is the Navy attaché for the Baltic Countries.

I am incredibly proud of all of my children. My son is a prosecutor, and my other daughter works as a marketing coordinator for a nationally known high-end senior living community. Ultimately, not one of my three children chose a career in IT, but I encouraged all three of them, equally, to pursue their own passions and provided a strong fundamental education in STEM.

To learn more from NetApp’s Women behind the Technology, click here.