Career life WISE women in computer science

The Day I Leave The Tech Industry

red curtain
Credit: Flickr / Fred Seibert

I know that this will happen, that one day I will have had enough, and I will leave. It’s something I think about on a regular basis, and wonder, what will I do after? Will I move to a cheaper city and make things, consult, and hope to make ends meet? Will I retreat still further, live up a mountain, never speak to a nerdy boy again? Make pronouncements on the tech industry from afar, if I feel so inclined. I ask myself, if I travel enough now, will I one day feel like I’ve seen enough of the world, be content with a smaller life?

I wonder, what it will look like. Will I leave my laptop in a unisex bathroom, with a note that says “this is a men’s bathroom“? Will I carefully print a letter on headed notepaper and leave it on my desk with a postit that says “mansplain this“? Will it just be the slow fade to the day that one of the bars on my gilded cage is loosened, when I decide that whatever amount of money that is there is finally enough, and that I can finally break out?

We joke about it, other women and I, what we will finally do when we leave. Become a barista. Go back to school. “Pull a disappearing act“, one friend says, leaving it to me to explain the chaos she left behind. “Not if I get there first“, I reply. We talk about our escape funds. A feminist hacker commune in Berlin.

Remember that April Fools joke from a woman that she was quitting the industry? The thing about humour, is that there needs to be the element of the unexpected. Nothing unexpected there. Today it is you, tomorrow it could be me. We are careful about who we trust to vent to, sometimes we’ve made mistakes and learned the hard way who cannot be trusted. Look for those who can, who we know will let it go no further, because today it is me, tomorrow it could be you.

We talk to each other about the grey areas, where something happened to make us uncomfortable. Maybe there was an element of truth to it, but it seems disproportionate. We agonise about how to be fair. Well yes, he did say that, but he means well, and to be fair... I’m so tired of people – men – who mean well, and their casual undermining.

I wonder, do we leave because of the big events? Maybe not, fuelled by righteous anger, pure straightforward knowledge that what he said, or did was so far out of line that nothing you did could have merited it. That guy, that guy, we won’t let him win.

Maybe the people we need to, will even take our side in that one. Maybe we will actually be protected.

Of course, that guy will be too. He, his career, will be just fine.

That guy, he probably won’t get me. The system, that might. I wonder, if it’s the grey area that is more likely to drive us away. That will make us feel more crazy, more alone. The thousand tiny cuts that make up life as a woman in this industry. Which are so hard to talk about, because these become conversations about their intentions, rather than my feelings of alienation and insecurity.

Someone, a man actually, once told me that the effect of a communication is more important than it’s intent.

The day that I leave the tech industry, the last thing that drives me away… I expect the intent will be helpful, perhaps benevolently paternalistic. The effect, the effect will be the last straw, the handing in of the security badge, and the new adventure to find a new way to fill my days and pay the bills.

Some people say that women leave the tech industry because babies. I don’t believe it for a minute, and the external data disproves it too. But if it wasn’t safe to be honest, what a great excuse. What else would one say, “it was one mansplain too far“?

One day, I will leave the industry. There’s this red curtain in my future, and I don’t know what is on the other side. Some days it looms close, scarily imminent, other days it is nicely, abstractly, further away.

A certainty, like death, taxes. One day I will leave. I don’t know what will be the last straw, although I might tell you, if I was sure I could trust you, what weighs down the balance. I don’t know what I will do after, or when it will be.

I just know that it will happen.

130 replies on “The Day I Leave The Tech Industry”

I hear you – so well. The unfairness bubbles up in each successive generation. I’ve been in tech for 25 years. And it has not gotten better. Its 2014, and the same idiotic paradigms control. As much as I try to see men as victims too, the plan truth glares: somewhere between 4-10% of VC funding goes to women. Great women, worthy women, women who must be 10 times better than their male peers, or just lucky. Myth of meritocracy, my big, middle-aged, feminine ass…

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I really hear you on this – I’ve been in dev for nearly 15 years and I want to leave, but I don’t know how or what I’d do instead. It’s tough and horrible and messing me up.

That said, maybe we don’t need to leave tech per se but change our idea of what tech *is*, perhaps. I recently joined a mailing list called Ada’s List, thinking it’d be full of devs like me. As it turned out, it’s mostly full of non-technical founders, journalists, CEOs, “ideas people”, analytics types etc. At first I was like “Huh. These ladies don’t work in tech!” and I was pretty bratty about it. But from staying on the list I’ve come to accept that these ladies *are* in tech, just not in dev. Just not the very narrow definition of tech that I previously held.

If you left tech & founded a feminist hacker collective, IMHO you’d still be in tech. If you left tech and went back to University to study bioinformatics, you’d still be in tech. You’d still be welcome on Ada’s List. OK, so that’s not the “definition” of being in tech, but I guess the point I’m making is that if these ladies can call themselves “in tech” then maybe the definition of “in tech” is more flexible than we thought.

As for me, I really fancy leaving development to concentrate more on my powerlifting. But I can’t make money from that and besides – strength sports are a more sexist sphere than tech, if that’s even possible!! Plus I’d probably still do some “websites for people” on the side. Which is still tech.

I hate tech and I love tech and I can’t escape it.

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