In college, I was one of a handful of females in a 100+ class of Information Systems students. In my master’s program in the same field, I was the sole female in a sea of 42 white males. It was a daunting environment, to say the least–I often felt slightly out of place. It was intimidating to be surrounded by people discussing the components of the computer they had just built, or how they’d been programming since they were 4.
There are so many articles out there already trying to explain why there aren’t more women in programming, what we should be doing about it, and how to change the numbers. There are even whole organizations in place to address these questions.
For me, I have found the root of the issue to be a matter of confidence, or a lack thereof. (There’s a term for feeling like you don’t belong in the field you’re in–impostor syndrome, anyone? Both hands raised right here!) I hope that in sharing just a little bit of my own experience, someone reading this who is anxious about entering the field might take courage and feel confident about joining the coding world.
While I have increased in confidence significantly, there are moments when my minority-ness gets the better of me. In my undergraduate and graduate programs, I was fiendishly motivated by a need to prove that I belonged in the program based on merit and not as a part of some statistical requirement. I have mixed feelings about companies’ minority-promoting programs because, in some ways, they validate my insecurity. I feel my uncertainties bubble up, too, when water cooler conversations remind me that my coworkers’ interests seem to blend well with each other, but they are so different from my own.
And while I could try to change my interests to blend in, or quietly leave the field, I stay because I love what I do. I love seeing a need and creating a technical solution to fill it. I stay because I’m gaining confidence in my interests being different, and I want to be part of the critical mass of diverse contributors that changes the way technology impacts our lives. While stereotypes exist, this isn’t a field for one kind of person, and the more each of us embraces that, the stronger this field will be. Not because we’ve achieved some perfectly balanced demographic, but because we’re a community who will have figured out how to use those differences to create.
And creation is the heart of development, and what keeps me loving it every day. When I code, those insecurities fall by the wayside, and the adventure of problem-solving holds my attention. And when you’re debugging, diversity is the very thing you want, because obviously, the way I’m approaching it isn’t working, so isn’t it great to be surrounded by people who see the problem differently? Coding is for the creative and the algorithmic. For the planner and the adventurer. For the old and the young. For the hesitant and the daring.
Innovation is the byproduct of solving problems in new, creative ways, and creativity happens when we’re able to approach a situation with new eyes. Let’s stop trying to fit in and embrace that we each perceive the world differently. Let’s let our unique abilities collide and see what happens. I know it’s hard to feel different and confident, but I sure hope you’ll join us!