Overcoming the Challenges of Embracing Linux: a Different Perspective

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After months of working at SUSE, my Jungle Green t-shirt was finally recognized at a store. “SUSE?” the gentleman asked, pointing at the large white letters.

“Yes, I work there!” I responded, thrilled that I had the opportunity to engage in our mutual love of the chameleon, Geeko, “But I don’t work on the technology, I’m in Program Management.”

“Well, let me ask you this – what is the operating system on your computer at home?” he asked, inquiring to my level of SUSE-ness.

“Just the basic… Microsoft,” I responded.

He continued, “I have a virtual machine with Slackware 1.0 I’m running, and I’ve been trying to get my hands on something old, openSUSE older than 5.3.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when our conversation was cut short and he ran off to help another customer. Slackware? Virtual Machine? All terms I had just enough exposure to know what category they belonged in, yet not enough to carry a conversation. Despite the embarrassment, I knew I wasn’t alone. A 2020 study by the AnitaB.org Institute found that women make up 28.8% of the tech workforce. When considering open source technology, this number further shrinks down to the single digits.

Nonetheless, the number of women becoming cloud native practitioners is growing. Recently, Lynne Chamberlain, CEO of SUSE Rancher Government Solutions, and Denise Schannon, Director of Engineering, joined special host Katie Gamanji for a special feature of OCTOpod in which they discussed their contributions to Linux, challenges they have faced and shared inspiring stories on how they’ve overcome those challenges to get to where they are today.

Both women mentioned that they have been aware of and involved in computer science since school. Regardless of their in-depth knowledge and experience, both shared that there have been countless times when their expertise or experiences have been disregarded by rooms full of all-male colleagues.

Their stories made me pause – Lynne and Denise were able to overcome the challenges by leveraging their knowledge and thought leadership. I, on the other hand, represented myself as someone who could only wear a SUSE shirt, and not actually speak “SUSE”. Or, did I?

SUSE is more than just our product. SUSE is also our people.

In my time at SUSE, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects that expanded access to education and development for women and girls across career experience, business verticals, and geographic location. I’ve worked with people who are intent on breaking the myth that “working in tech” means working with code. We developed an Early Career Mentorship program which welcomed six young mentees in the summer of 2021, and grew to quadruple that in the fall.

I’m proud to say that I’ve embraced Linux, and glad to know I can do so from my Windows machine.

 

Here are some of my favorite soundbites from this amazing talk. Be sure to catch the full recording here

Question: Did you have any mentors or inspirational figures who made the best of what you can do in tech?  

Denise: [My friend] pushed herself outside the boundaries of what [she] was told to do and that has inspired me to… pursue what I want to do. If it is not what your parents, or society, wanted you to do, you can still be successful.

Lynne: There are so many outlets to help you and to help with mentorship. We have Women in Technology… here at SUSE… in those areas, there are so many women who are here to help other women… Take advantage of those opportunities. If you can reach out and ask somebody for help and, ‘Hey can you be my mentor,’ I guarantee you in most cases they’ll say yes.

Katie: There is always a way for you to get second opinions on your problems. Most of the time, what you are facing has already been solved by someone. So reach out and be open about it and find a mentor. Finding the right mentor can take a couple of times… It’s a journey.

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Katerina Arzhayev
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