I had a strange experience today. I think, for the first time ever, I intimidated someone (a woman who is a coworker, specifically) because of my association with technology. It’s surreal to think that I am now in the position to be the intimidating one. Sometime just recently, I’ve begun to cross the barrier from someone who wanted to learn technology to someone who is learning technology. I’m decently well connected, for a noob. I know about lots of resources around town, and I’ve checked out a lot of them at least once. I’ve had extensive discussions with people in tech in Portland about what they know and how they know it and how they would suggest going about this whole learning and getting employed thing.
I recently got a promotion at my company, and I was excited to learn that two of the women in my new department are starting school for computer science in the fall. I asked one of the women about her upcoming schooling–I was hoping to use that as a jumping off point to make a connection. I was trying too hard, and I name dropped a bunch of awesome orgs because I was hoping we might have one in common.
Turns out, I can say enough tech-associated words now that I can induce impostor syndrome in others. It’s a strange feeling. In some ways, it has caused me to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past year that I’ve been dabbling in tech. It’s helped me realize that I really have learned some things. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but hey, a scratch is a mark.
In other ways, though, it has been a wake up call. A reminder that it’s my responsibility to try my damnedest to reach a hand back to others. It’s a reminder that there is a back now; that if I make the mistake of talking about how I don’t know anything when I know a few things, I am contributing to the problem.
Sexism in tech isn’t just things-that-brogrammers-do-to-women. Sexism is a system, and that system gets ingrained in all of us in different ways. One of the effects is that I have a fine line to walk between over- and understating my ability. Overstate, and other women may give up, thinking I achieved so easily while they struggled, and therefore they must not be “smart enough”. Understate, and I give the impression that if what I know is “nothing,” they have no hope of ever achieving something. My actions have consequences in a sexist system, too. The fact that I have to carry that burden is something sexism inflicts on me, but that’s for another time.