Career

Rolling Up Our Sleeves

Ever have one of those weeks where everything you read seems to just be synthesizing to form a Big Picture that you didn’t really get before? That’s kind of the week I’m having. Mother Jones did a great article this week about Silicon Valley’s women problem—namely that a lot of people in charge are taking cues from Barstool Sports when it comes to how they work with women. (I would link to them but I don’t give those cretins pageviews since this debacle).

I don’t pretend to know the first thing about programming. My project lately has been working my way through Code Academy, a series of free online lessons that teach the basics of Javascript code. It’s hard.  Really, really hard.

I always feel like I can’t chime into the “girls are naturally bad at math/science/logic” debates because…well, I am bad at math. I love science, but you can’t go far with it if you suck at math. And honestly, I never even tried to learn the basics of code because I had an idea that I couldn’t be any good at something that involves so much logic and linear thinking. I am patently not good at this kind of thing, historically. My shop teacher in middle school made us learn CAD (yeah, I don’t know) and at one point I actually started crying in the middle of class because I just did not get it.

I don’t believe for a second that girls are automatically bad at math and science. Starting in about sixth, maybe seventh grade, a lot of girls figure out that if they want boys to like them, they have to tone down their curiosity, rein in their class participation, and basically act dumb (some girls, like my sister, just don’t give a fuck and take AP Chemistry anyway). But I can’t even wrap my head around how much I hate that this same basic principle plays out in tech. A lot of women think that programming is a guy’s game, and the guys don’t seem to be disabusing them of this idea—although of course the guys in question here are not douchey fifteen year old boys but the founders of multi-million dollar start-ups.

But anyway, 10 years later, I have a lot more computer skills and a lot more self-awareness. I realize that have a really bad tendency to give up on things that I’m not automatically good at way too easily—things like math, science and coding.

The way the work works—especially in a creative field, and especially in this economy—is that the more hats you can wear, the better. I don’t have to know how to build a website from scratch, and I probably will never learn how. But I was deluding myself to think that I didn’t need at least some basic knowledge in my toolkit.

The other interesting thing I read this week was this piece on GOOD about how young women are more ambitious than young men, because they have to be–guys just have things go their way a little more easily, and women still have to work that much harder to compete.  Now, I’m not sure I’m 100 percent on board with this (how can you really measure ambition?) but it’s an interesting point. But if women really want to be more ambitious, I think that’s going to mean that we have to stop internalizing what society (or maybe just the public school system) is telling us about what we can and can’t do. I have friends who are engineers and programmers who happen to be girls–but they’re a minority.

Equal Pay Day was also this month. I’m not totally on board with this, either, because they’re total How to Lie with Statistics people (the much balleyhooed figure of “77 cents for every dollar” doesn’t take into account the fact that a lot more women than men have part time jobs that allow them to care for their kids). But anyways. The point is, if we’re really serious about getting on an even footing with the boys, we need to stop being scared of what we think we can’t do, and just start doing it.  I need to stop going around saying “Oh I can’t do that, I’m a right brain person” when in reality, I can do it–it’s tough, but I can learn. (Another thing I’ve realized: the two things I’m going to be a total Dance Mom about are making sure my kids read a lot and take every computer class they can).

I’m starting by continuing to hack away at Codeacademy, and by subscribing to Skillcrush, a newsletter that sends you a “term of the day” about tech, programming and all those other words I hear flying around the web department but never actually understand. I figure I might as well start with what I know how to do best: reading everything I can get my hands on.

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