Woman Crush Wednesday: Stephanie Oh‘s Trailblazing Journey from Music Industry to Tech Product Management

For this edition of Woman Crush Wednesday, we‘re celebrating the incredible career transformation and achievements of Stephanie Oh. With an unconventional background in the music industry and writing instruction, Stephanie took the leap into web development and product management, proving that a successful transition into tech is possible at any stage. Her story showcases both the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in the predominantly male tech world.

From Music Industry Maven to Aspiring Web Developer

Stephanie‘s road to programming was paved with diverse experiences far from the typical computer science graduate. After studying English and psychology in college, she landed a gig as an executive assistant at a major record label, supporting A-list artists like Def Leppard and CeeLo Green. While the high-energy, creative environment was exciting, Stephanie struggled to envision her long-term career path in the tumultuous music industry.

"I thought the best I could go into was marketing or PR, but I didn‘t know if I was passionate about those things," she recounted in a 2015 interview with Programming School.

Seeking more career stability and room for growth, Stephanie found herself drawn to the booming tech scene. The proliferation of apps and websites had made programming an indispensable skill across industries, and the creativity of building digital products appealed to her artistic side.

"When that clicked for me I thought, ‘Why didn‘t I move into this sooner?‘" Stephanie said of her budding interest in web development. Without a formal computer science degree, she knew she would have to forge her own onramp into the field.

Discovering Community and Confidence at Coding Bootcamp

In 2014, Stephanie enrolled in Programming School‘s full-time, in-person software engineering immersive to fast-track her career change. The rigorous curriculum and supportive learning environment laid the foundation for her growth into a fully fledged developer.

"Something that impressed me about Programming School was their emphasis on selecting very social, awesome people — almost as a conscious effort to break and change the stereotype about developers being dry, quiet people who don‘t like to socialize," Stephanie noted. "I felt like that was not true at all with my cohort."

Flatiron‘s instructors took an empathetic approach to teaching students from all walks of life, creating a beginner-friendly space for Stephanie and her peers to master the fundamentals of front-end and back-end web development. Over the intensive 12 weeks, she learned HTML, CSS, Ruby, Rails, JavaScript, and SQL by building her own full-stack applications.

Some of Stephanie‘s favorite projects included a Rails app for musicians and fans to connect for informal "house concerts", and a satirical Tinder-style app for adopting pets called "Pinder." These undertakings showcased her ability to transform creative ideas into functional software, merging her music industry background with newly acquired technical prowess.

While Stephanie picked up the syntax and problem-solving patterns relatively quickly, thanks to her experience with foreign languages, the mathematical concepts underlying certain algorithms posed more of a struggle.

"The best and most complicated functions require a high level of math, and that was a huge challenge for me," she admitted.

Rather than getting discouraged, however, Stephanie leaned on the support of her instructors and fellow students to push through mental blocks. Flatiron‘s collaborative, "we‘re all in this together" ethos kept her motivated to continue leveling up her coding abilities in the face of frustrations.

Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Business as a Product Manager

Upon completing Programming School, Stephanie felt equipped with a solid base of full-stack development skills to embark on her new career in tech. She was thrilled to land a product manager position at the marketing software company Constant Contact, where she could apply her coding knowledge in a more strategic capacity.

As a product manager, Stephanie serves as the linchpin between the engineering, design, and business teams to define and execute on the product roadmap. Her responsibilities span user research, feature prioritization, project planning, and stakeholder communication.

"I get to interact everyday with developers and I am looked upon to be very technical in my understanding of their work and how to break it down for them," she explained. "It‘s a super technical position that doesn‘t require being a developer yourself."

Stephanie‘s coding foundation has proven invaluable for earning the respect of her engineering colleagues and effectively managing the product development lifecycle. She is able to engage in informed discussions around technical constraints, performance optimizations, and architectural decisions.

On any given day, Stephanie might be found whiteboarding user flows with the UX designer, scoping features with the dev lead, presenting the quarterly roadmap to executives, or analyzing engagement metrics to identify opportunities for improvement. Her role demands a versatile skill set and the ability to context switch between big-picture strategy and granular execution.

"I feel like 50% of what I do is translating things," Stephanie remarked. "Developers speak in one way and the business side has their own speak. I‘m kind of in the middle, playing translator and making sure that everyone is super clear on expectations and requirements."

Her background in writing and teaching honed the communication skills essential for alignment and transparency across teams. Crafting clear specifications, product briefs, and user stories ensures that the engineering team is set up for success and that the end product satisfies business objectives.

The Exhilarating Challenges and Creative Rewards of Coding

Reflecting on her immersive experience at Programming School, Stephanie is still awed by the potential for programming to simplify and streamline complex systems into intuitive, even magical interfaces.

"I think this sounds really nebulous, but I guess just how coding has the power to turn such complicated things into such a beautiful, seemingly simple, delightful experience to the end user," she marveled. "It‘s presented behind this beautiful veil of front end where every color and button is pretty, and you have no idea how complex it is under everything."

This user-centric, problem-solving orientation continues to drive Stephanie in her product leadership. She takes pride in collaborating with brilliant engineers to devise elegant solutions to gnarly challenges. Empowering her team to leverage cutting-edge tools and architectural patterns to ship features that tangibly benefit customers is immensely gratifying.

Yet Stephanie is the first to acknowledge that mastering programming as a beginner is far from painless, especially without a traditional STEM degree. Self-doubt abounds when you‘re the lone rookie in a room full of senior engineers throwing around jargon. Early on, she often found herself worrying, "I‘m not a code genius, this isn‘t the place for me!"

Her advice to aspiring developers is to push past the discomfort and commit to nailing the fundamentals inside and out. "My first piece of advice is to learn how to code a little bit, at least the basics," Stephanie counseled. "You don‘t have to be at the level where you‘re banging out web apps left and right, but verse yourself in high level architecture of how the web works, because that‘s going to be so valuable in no matter what role you have. If you come armed with that knowledge, people will respect you more and you‘ll be able to join in on the fun right away."

Championing Women‘s Advancement in the Tech Boys‘ Club

As a woman navigating the male-dominated tech ecosystem, Stephanie is fired up about galvanizing more women to code and promoting inclusivity across the industry. Despite some progress in recent years, the statistics remain grim:

  • Women make up only 28.8% of the tech workforce, compared to 49% of the overall workforce (AnitaB.org, 2022)
  • A mere 10% of women in tech are in executive leadership roles, 3% at the C-suite level (Korn Ferry, 2020)
  • Female founders secured only 2% of venture capital funding in 2022 (PitchBook, 2022)
  • 38% of women in tech report that their gender has negatively impacted their career advancement (TrustRadius, 2021)

For Stephanie and countless others, these bleak numbers fail to capture the daily slights and barriers faced by women pursuing careers in tech, from unwelcoming "bro cultures" to biased hiring and promotion practices. Imposter syndrome runs rampant when you seldom see leaders who look like you.

To help counteract these systemic obstacles, Stephanie urges women to seek out peer networks and mentorship. "It‘s so trite to say, but you have to exude as much confidence as you can," she emphasized. "It‘s really still very much a boys club in the tech space, so go in there with confidence and find other women who can support you in your journey. Meet people at tech meetups, and know you‘re not in it alone."

Organizations like Women Who Code, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Female Founders Alliance, and many others provide invaluable communities and resources for women pursuing tech at all career stages. Having a squad in your corner makes it easier to brush off microaggressions and keep believing in your abilities.

When it comes to startups and entrepreneurship, Stephanie cautions women to stand firm and negotiate hard for their worth. The rampant gender pay gap in tech, lack of funding for female founders, and dearth of women in leadership point to the urgent work still needed to achieve equity.

"It‘s easy to think, ‘It‘s a startup, so maybe I shouldn‘t ask,‘ and I think a lot of women get shy about that and they take the short end of the stick," Stephanie observed. "Be aggressive about that, don‘t be shy."

Fortunately, a growing body of research and advocacy has begun to quantify the business case for diversity in concrete terms. Studies show that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their national industry median and that diverse teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. With women driving 70-80% of consumer spending through their purchasing power and influence, building products that resonate requires teams that reflect the demographics of users.

For women on the hunt for leadership opportunities, Stephanie advocates targeting customer-facing roles like support or success as an entrypoint to startups. "Get your foot in the door and speak up!" she advised. The relative lack of hierarchy and process, high rate of turnover, and blurred boundaries between functions at early-stage companies can be fertile ground for learning and upward mobility for go-getters.

Embracing Lifelong Learning and Reinvention in Tech

Now nearly a decade into her tech career pivot, Stephanie has risen through the product management ranks to oversee teams at hypergrowth companies like Airtable and Webflow. Yet she readily admits that her education in tech is far from finished.

With the relentless pace of innovation, Stephanie has continued expanding her toolkit into data science, machine learning, and no-code tools through online courses and certifications. She sees the engineer mindset of continuous iteration and improvement as essential for long-term success in tech.

As of 2023, Stephanie serves as the Director of Product Management at Webflow, a leading no-code visual development platform. She leads cross-functional pods to define product strategy and roadmaps in service of a bold company mission to empower anyone to build powerful, flexible websites and applications.

Outside of her core role, Stephanie gives back to the women in tech community as a frequent speaker, mentor, and volunteer for organizations like Women Who Code. Her career trajectory exemplifies the winding, often unexpected pathways into tech and the outsized impact that welcoming more underrepresented talent could have on the industry.

With women still making up less than a third of tech workers, Stephanie Oh is determined to be a visible role model and change agent. Her message to women eyeing a transition into the field?

"Don‘t count yourself out before you‘ve even started," she exhorted. "Tech needs our voices, our insights, and our creativity more than ever. If I can go from a music industry assistant to a software engineer to a product executive, you absolutely can too. Come join me in building a more vibrant, inclusive future!"

Recommended Resources

Hungry to learn more and get involved with the women in tech movement? Check out these organizations and resources:

  • Women Who Code: A global nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers through skills-building events, job boards, conferences, and local networks
  • Girls Who Code: Offers clubs, summer immersion programs, college loops, and career support to close the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs by 2030
  • Female Founders Alliance: Provides community, capital, and curriculum to accelerate success for female founders
  • AnitaB.org: Supports women in technical fields, as well as the organizations that employ them and the academic institutions training the next generation, through networking events, mentorship, and research
  • Elpha: A private online community for women in tech to talk about careers, ask questions, share knowledge, and connect with each other
  • Diversify Tech: A collection of resources for underrepresented people in tech, including scholarships, events, job listings, and blogs
  • Power to Fly: Connects women with companies that value diversity, equity, and inclusion through job postings, virtual events, and career coaching
  • Skillcrush: Online coding courses and career resources aimed at making tech more accessible to women

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