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Friends Don’t Let Friends… Become PMs

Credit: flickr / Tom T

Recently, I heard about a school that has a mandatory “technology” class that students have to take in order to take CS classes in later years. It features: wood-working, circuit building, and Excel.

This is horrifying. I want to go there with picket signs and stage a protest. Dress up as robots and chant things. If someone deliberately set out to design a course that would put kids off CS without them ever getting an inkling as to what CS is, they couldn’t do better than this.

Wood work? WOOD WORK?

And then, I’m in “training” for something (external) where old white men are telling me how to talk to high-schoolers, and describing what I do – software engineer, programmer – as “builder”. Apparently I have an “isolated” job and it’s the kind of thing that can be out-sourced… really not that high-potential a career. They seem to be saying that students should be blending a little bit of the technical with business and voila they’ll have a great career and let’s all enourage girls to do this, shall we.

And I think, it’ll be a cold day in the hell I don’t believe in before I encourage anyone to study business period, let alone for a technology career.

I cry a little inside because I thought I’d signed up to encourage women to go into tech, not near tech.

Wood work starts to seem sensible by comparison.

Thankfully after that I go back to my team of 50% woman and we keep working on creating something extraordinary. We’re trying to build something that can’t just be in the head of one person, so we have to communicate. We’re trying to build something well, so every piece of code gets looked at by 2-3 others. And later I’m stuck on something and one of them steps through it with me and I realize what I’ve done wrong and fix it. We get creative trying to do things that we haven’t done before. We have so much fun together that our visitor goes back to his office raving about how lovely we were to him and how close we are as a team.

My isolated job, is not so isolated.

Things I worry about with respect to girls and technology. I worry about terrible math teachers and gender-stereotyping convincing them that math is not for them, that girls aren’t good at math. Regularly I have conversations with women not in tech careers and they tell me they were good at math in school, and yet somehow didn’t consider taking it further – it just didn’t seem like an option.

I suspect wood-working classes won’t change that.

Then I worry about girls in university who think “I’m ok technically, but where I really differentiate myself is that I have good communication skills… I could be a great bridge between the technical and the non-technical…” who then go and become product managers. And they never find out that they were just as good as many of the guys in the class, that a technical career was an option. I know, because this happened to a friend of mine – thankfully she rethought it before she took that path and now she’s an engineer. And because it was nearly me, too.

And so my friend and colleague complements me on my communication skills, and I quip that they would be distinctly average compared to people in any other profession, it’s just compared to engineers that they seem good.

My point – being able to communicate doesn’t mean that a technical career isn’t a great fit, just like I don’t think there is much correlation between wood-working and software engineering skills. I’m on a mission to urge university girls – think about being an engineer before you decide being a PM is for you. It’s been four years since I finished my undergrad, and in that time I’ve come to realize – those guys who thought they were great and I figured they must be if they could be that confident? No-one is as good as those guys thought they were. Under-confident does not mean under-qualified. Really.

2 replies on “Friends Don’t Let Friends… Become PMs”

Hi, Cate!

I know *exactly* how you feel about studying business … I can see more of its utility now that I am out of college and have a jewelry business I’m trying to get off the ground, but while I was in college (and, to a large extent, I still feel this way now) I definitely regarded it as kind of a superficial nonsubject. A couple of my friends and I would always make fun of the math classes business majors took…

The communication-skills thing kind of rings true for me as well. I don’t have *oral* communication skills (am autistic, so very much no!), but I’ve always been told I’m a wonderful writer. So I took this as another thing that would help me achieve my goal of becoming a research scientist, since writing is obviously a big part of that.

I also took a class in middle school very similar to the one you are bemoaning here! I thought it was fun, but then I hadn’t really found my academic niche yet, either. I can definitely understand how the woodworking parts of the class would annoy those students who already know they want to study computer science, but for me it was a nice way to get some exposure to lots of different technical fields.

Lots of technical people love working with hardware, wood, etc. I am very physically impractical, I’m not really interested in physical objects and I’m a complete klutz. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to know, woodwork, it’s that it’s completely irrelevant to a career in computing, and if we tell people it is, we potentially put people off. And that makes me so mad!

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