Career life Programming women in computer science


Tlazolteotl 18:7:13
Credit: Flickr / Amy Palko

I was having a conversation with one of my mentors last week about a specific challenge I was facing, and she made this observation, and gave me a brilliant piece of advice that completely transcends that discussion and put so many things in context for me.

If it’s affecting your confidence, then we have a problem.

The tech industry is stressful. That’s just how it is, and you have to manage it. Expectations get overstated, priorities get changed, deadlines get missed. Most programmers seem have a degree of control freakery, and yet what we have control over (our own code) is the least of it. Writing code is invariably the least stressful part of my day. A day when I do nothing but write code is by definition awesome.

And how much of the external stress matters? Some, but not all of it. A lot of it, I just need to let it go – and that’s something I need to get better at. I care, deeply, about the things I build, and the process and standards that are part of that process. In many ways that’s a good thing, but it’s also often a source of angst.

This advice, I see it as a framework for evaluating stress. OK, that sucked. OK, that was hard. That, yeah, that annihilated your confidence, that’s the real problem.

She’s completely right – at a functional level, nothing has ever been more damaging to my productivity than having my confidence shattered. Unhelpful feedback that has left me not knowing where to turn or what to focus on. Having my decisions second-guessed and having to endlessly justify them. Getting steam-rollered in a discussion, when it seems like my points aren’t being heard. Gaslighting – because nothing makes me question myself like questioning my view of reality.

In fact anything gendered, or historically-gendered – it strikes at my core fear that I am not a nerdy boy, and thus don’t really belong. Maybe that bit is impossible to avoid, but for my own sanity it needs to be minimised.

To be clear, this isn’t every interaction where I am in some way, lacking; it’s those interactions where I am some way lacking, and I have nowhere to go with that information. I got some really helpful, constructive feedback on Wednesday. It was so clear – this is what you should be doing, here’s something realistic to aim for. And then, I was so productive. Things just seemed to make more sense as a result. Knowing that there’s something I need to do better, or more of, is not a confidence annihilator. It’s helpful.

Anyway, that’s what I am doing and thinking about with this piece of advice, and I’ve found it really helpful – passing it on in the hopes that someone else might, too.

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