The Journey with Mentors and Friends

By Karen Han

Karen Han

Karen Han

Looking back on how I started out, I appreciate how far I’ve come and am excited about the journey ahead. It was late spring my junior year in college and I was anxious because everyone seemed to have a summer internship but me. When I felt like it was too late for me, I lucked out with an internship with the Institute for Women in Technology (now known as the Anita Borg Institute). My job was to help maintain and enhance the infrastructure for Systers, an online global community of 3,000+ women technologists.

I had a broad job description which required understanding a multi-component system architecture, learning a new scripting language, building enhancements in an existing code base, and being a system administrator. It was my first technical job and the first time I was doing many of these tasks. I felt daunted. However, I had difficulty asking for help because I value self sufficiency and feel indebted to others. Luckily, I was reporting to three women who took it upon themselves to train and provide me guidance. I also benefited from their different perspectives and approaches–Anita brought the vision, Kathy the technical expertise and Robin the usability experience.

I remember being in awe that these accomplished women were taking an interest in me, a young college student. They treated me as an equal, both professionally and socially. During meetings, they would defer to me on the technical details. Even after my summer internship ended, Anita invited me over for a small get together at her home. We sat on her deck, enjoying the view, and carving pumpkins.

That summer I learned that I could do a lot more than I gave myself credit. I also enjoyed a more rewarding experience and accomplished more with the support of mentors and friends. I got involved in a strong community of women technologists and activists who truly gave me encouragement and inspiration.

My Lessons Learned:
1. Be confident in your abilities. After years of successfully tackling different types of challenges, I now embrace new challenges as an enriching self-development process.
2. Ask for help and guidance from multiple people (three people seem to be the magical number). You can benefit from others’ feedback and support not only in your daily work but also as you make important career and life decisions. Be creative in how you build this network. Systers grew to be a vibrant, supportive community to help address this need.
3. Give back. Regardless of where you are in life, you can make meaningful contributions. Appreciate the impact mentorship has had in your life and be motivated to carry on the torch.

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