I had a chance to talk recently with an endangered Silicon Valley species: Three tech women well into their careers.
Somehow, they have survived and even thrived.
They've done that in a tough environment, even for women with the best qualifications who break through and land good jobs.
The statistics are not good. A technical woman's chance of still being in her field mid-career is 50-50, about double the attrition rate for men. And about half of those who leave drop out of their field to do something completely different.
One corollary to exploring why women leave tech is to find out why some stay.
Was it having a foundation of strong technical skills, the best mentors, the right work environments? Or is it possessing some kind of internal grit that would have seen them through any field?
Those things are helpful, but something else is at work too.
At key moments, these technical women have faced a choice -- whether to stick to what they are doing or step out of their comfort zones.
Cindy Warner, 52, managing partner of IBM's cloud strategy and solutions, remembered when she was at FedEx and deciding whether to become a business analyst.
"I was a substantial introvert," she said, "and the job involved helping people collaborate."
Warner took the job and though she was quite uncomfortable, she said, good mentors pulled her through, encouraging her to stick with it.
"We don't give ourselves enough credit," Warner said. "Partners and mentors believed in me more than I believed in myself. And that's what I tell people that I mentor, 'At times I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.' "
No one can question the technical chops of Nandini Ramani, vice president of Java development at Oracle.
With a degree in electrical engineering, she got her start in software, went into hardware and switched back to software.
One of her pivotal career decisions was whether to go into management.
A technical expert, Ramani said she initially saw the move as a "cop out." There were women in leadership roles in the company, but not many in senior technical roles.
"But I went into management because that's where you control the resources and can drive the projects," she said.
Whether it's a lack of self-confidence or an effort to juggle work and families, women tend to be satisfied with a stable, predictable schedule, she said.
"I try to encourage more women to look for leadership roles," Ramani said.
A critical flight-or-fight moment for a technical woman occurs about 10 or so years into her career, research has found. Tech tends to reward employees who are good at the "diving catch," the ability and skill to quickly rise to an urgent challenge, according to "The Athena Factor," a 2008 Harvard Business Review study.
That disadvantages women, who may be more risk adverse than men and feel more vulnerable if the diving catch goes horribly wrong, the study found. "Without buddies to support them they feel they can go from 'hero to zero' in a heartbeat," the report said.
And as women climb the ladder, their difficulty with risk increases. "It seems that as women gain experience -- and suffer the knocks and bruises of trying, but failing, to catch -- they become more risk averse, which undoubtedly affects their ability to move to the next level," the report said.
With a hardware and software background, Poornima Vijayashanker, 31, was a founding engineer at Mint.com.
Now she is building her own education company, Femgineer, with the goal of getting women into technical leadership positions.
She advises women to take the hard class, do difficult tasks and jobs if they will give women more knowledge and visibility.
Vijayashanker tells women, "Do the hard stuff." But she also says to remind themselves, "I add value."
On Tuesday, April 22, I will moderate a panel discussion "Tech Women on Fire: Igniting Your Technical Career," with these women at the 8th Annual Invent Your Future Conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center, from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The theme for this year's conference, which runs all day, is "Achieving Influence and Impact." More information can be found at www.inventyourfuture.com.