Last week I helped out at an #ILookLikeAnEngineer event. There have been lots of write ups about the event, but I think my favorite, and not coincidentally the most critical I’ve read, was from Re/code. The last paragraph in particular sums up my mixed feelings about the event.
#ILookLikeAnEngineer was a nice gathering for people with first-hand knowledge of the problem. But having any lasting impact before the next Internet meme sucks all the air out of the room will require a bigger meeting place and a different guest list.
I understand the need to have safe spaces for underrepresented people, because that shit can be draining out in the real world. But if we only ever stand in an echo chamber then we’re just making ourselves feel good and sticking our heads in the sand (to awkwardly mix metaphors).
As a general rule, I have stayed away from women in tech meet-ups that only serve as a place to vent. I would rather spend my free time exhausting myself helping others to learn. To help women get good and get proud of their own accomplishments. I’d rather spend my time mentoring at an all women hackathon or one on one mentorship or helping out our interns.
I say all of this about my mentoring because I worry about coming off as “I got mine” or making it sound like we just all need to “lean in”. I will admit that a lot of my engineering career has involved the lean in philosophy for myself. I worked my ass off at a boot camp that only had 6 women. Interviewed at a bunch of places that were all dudes and ended up by sheer luck at a fairly diverse first engineering job.
Before all of that though, I dropped out of the computer science program in college because I was the last woman standing. I still regret that decision, but it has made me tougher. I’m not willing to compromise now. If I’m the only woman in the room, I’m still going to do my best work. I’m still going to work my ass off as an engineer and continue to help women into the space because I believe in strength in numbers.
I’m not sure where this puts me in the spectrum of engineering feminism, which I think is my main problem. I find dudes easier to talk to in general. My favorite engineer/mentor/friend is a guy. The only managers I’ve ever had an issue with about my role as a woman in tech were other women. So I continue to follow the path I’ve set out for myself. Blogging about culture, mentoring women, learning and being the best engineer I can. Every once in a while I poke my head up to see where other women in tech fall on their paths, but none of their paths look like mine.
So this feels like a lead up to some great revelation, but sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have one. I plan on continuing to “do me”. Helping out where I can, being selfish when I need to be, and continuing to grow as an engineer. Also I really enjoy off-color jokes – does that make me a bad feminist?