Career WISE women in computer science

Honey, I Left the Tech Industry

Credit: DeviantArt / KineticEcho

Nearly a year ago I wrote The Day I Leave The Tech Industry. That’s not when I published it… I sat on it for months. I worried that I was revealing too much of myself, that I would put it out there and… crickets. That I would feel even more alone that I already did.

That’s not what happened. It still gets traffic but worse (or better? I don’t know) it comes up in conversation. A friend talks about her next career decision, says “I keep thinking about your post”. It gets referenced when someone leaves. Turns out, I captured something that many of us felt. What an amazing thing, as a writer. What a horrifying thing, as an industry.

I think I wrote it on this miserable day, one where I didn’t sleep, got to my desk incredibly early. No-one else was there yet, so when I started to cry no-one saw me. I IM’d with a friend, who convinced me I should just go home.

Some guy was being a jerk. In fact the interesting part of that story is that my manager at the time noticed, and did something about it, and a few days later I actually felt optimistic in a way that I had not considered possible. Of course, there is a vast gap between a colleague who actually respects you and one who is problematic enough that anything actually happens to them. I’ve written about the patterns, about the “nice” undermining, some of which I’ve experienced, others only witnessed.

The thing is, when you have reached that point where you want to leave, it never goes away completely. It’s always there, and you come back to it on days where you don’t see any reason to stay.

I know this because I had first reached that point at least 6 months earlier. I had decided it was time to leave and I had made a plan. I checked off the practical things on that list – I relocated so that I was no longer on a work permit, I took care to get a short lease on my apartment, I consolidated bank accounts from countries I had lived in, I filed my tax returns. I responded to recruiters, trying to get a sense of what was out there, and I worked at building up my profile externally.

Finally, six months ago, I asked myself what I was waiting for? Why was I waiting out my job like it was a prison sentence? Because this had been The Plan I had made a year earlier? I had already given up my apartment, decided what I was going to work on… my fear was no longer what if I left but what if I stayed? What if I got just comfortable enough, but never actually happy?

I printed out my resignation letter. I didn’t bother with headed notepaper. I had a 1:1 scheduled with my manager. Before it, there was a meeting with a recruiter I hadn’t managed to evade, trying to get me to reconsider doing Corporate Feminism (something I had quit around the time that I decided to…quit). She asked me, “if there any way to change your mind?”. I thought about the piece of paper in my pocket, and said “no.”

My manager was nice, he had always been nice. His manager was also nice. I was amazed how well I had concealed my plan to leave. They were generous with my exit contract and by the end of that week… I was gone.

Since then I have been travelling (often to speak), and writing, and working on Show and Hide. I have not found the words to write long-form about the why or the how. I have made short quips about how “I only get mansplained to on twitter now”, or commented on no longer having to answer to a white dude. But short quips cannot capture the complexity of what it has meant to walk away.

The biggest freedom has been the liberation from the cognitive dissonance from a world that told me I had Made It as an engineer when I felt so unhappy. From the cognitive dissonance of an organisation that seemed to believe the problem was entirely a problem of graduation rates whilst I and my friends experienced otherwise. I do not recall when I last cried. I no longer worry that I am going mad.

But, this is what I expected. The unexpected has been vastly more interesting and encouraging.

I am more confident as a developer. I actually feel more capable.

I have rediscovered a joy of programming and engineering and testing and creating that I had forgotten.

I get to embrace the breadth of my interests, Show and Hide combines my love of photography with my obsession with mobile.

It feels like most of what I learned in the last 2 years I learned in the last 6 months.

I feel like what I do know is more appreciated, as I get to share more of what I’m doing technically.

I learned how to have opinions again. I did not realise I had stopped bothering, I guess there was always some dude telling me what I should think, mostly on topics that did not matter enough to fight about. This was weird, and hard, but gradually… liberating.

Of course it is not all joy. Some days the amount of bitterness I feel makes me sad. The vindication of finding other women with similar stories. The jealousy of those who thrived in a good environment. The inadequacy when something causes me to ask myself “should I just be more resilient”?

Of course the fact that I didn’t need to be more resilient is a huge measure of financial privilege. And I still, rationally, believe that we shouldn’t have to be that resilient. Or brave. As my friend Julie observed, “It’s nice that you think they’re all brave, but they shouldn’t have to be. They’re not going to the frontlines of a war zone. They’re going to write code.”

What does it mean to say I’ve left? Because after all, I still write code. I still speak at tech conferences. In some way I seem to others more in tech, because I am more visible in tech. Now that I no-longer work at a somewhat insular place, fear a PR nightmare around something I said, I can be.

Perhaps the meaning lies in the boundary it creates for me. The way it allows me to emotionally disconnect from things that would otherwise be more upsetting. I don’t have to care, I left. Of course it’s bad, that’s why I left.

And yet I still comment on the tech industry. I was re-reading something that I wrote about calling “male allies” out and empathy and it occurred to me that perhaps the point I wanted to make was that pointing this stuff out is in fact a compliment – it’s taking the time to show someone that you believe that they can do better.

That I still comment on the tech industry is that kind of compliment. I believe you can do better. Some days I even think we will.

16 replies on “Honey, I Left the Tech Industry”

Thanks for writing this. I’m going on over 12 years as an electrical engineer and I’ve reached that point twice and worked at four companies. I know discrimination does not end at a single company. It is everywhere and it is pervasive. I’ve gotten my third wind though, and I’m heading back out there to find someone who will hire me so I can do “real” engineering work.

I wonder what it would feel like if I “unload the burden” and your post gives me an idea. I don’t think I’m as privileged as you are with my post-engineering choices though so I might just opt to be a “diminished” version of myself instead of giving up my salary.

I believe in “growth” for everyone, and I’m not done fighting for what I think is right in engineering yet.

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I’m so glad you are going back to do “real” engineering work! It does feel good to unload the burden, but the choice between a paycheck and fading away isn’t a great one – we make the choices that make sense for us.

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[…] been about a year since I walked away from the gilded cage, the conglomerate, London… really many aspects of being a grown […]

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[…] employment market being a ‘last resort‘ option for some employers. Then, there is an ongoing challenge to thrive in the tech industry as a member of a minority by virtue of my gender. Too old, in need […]

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[…] 有足夠多已發表的研究和個人的故事,從那些願意選擇公開共享,才得以確認性別歧視是科技行業中的普遍問題。 […]

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[…] 有足夠多已發表的研究和個人的故事,從那些願意選擇公開共享,才得以確認性別歧視是科技行業中的普遍問題。 […]

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I’ve been in the industry for about 12 years. I left working full-time for someone to own businesses of my own. When that was too unstable for me, I dove back down into corporate tech hell. What I learned is that while the pay is stable, the rest is not stable. I left again to travel and recuperate. And now I’m even questioning if I can even do that again, or if I can own a business. All hands point to owning a business, I’ve always been a free-spirited and independent guy and I think I just need to own up to it.

As far as discrimination in tech, I’m Black, gay, and I look younger than I am. I’ve felt it, I’ve flared my nostrils at it, I’ve fought it legally, I’ve proved it wrong. Even though I’m very experienced, I still get the most condescending questions in interviews and the “oh you’re missing this or that quality” excuse when they fall over themselves to hire me and then meet me in person. And I think I’m to the point where I’m over it. What was a passion of mine is faced with lots of discrimination, political BS. Maybe that’s what happens when you work with most people(?).

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Thanks for sharing. Yeah – I feel you. It shouldn’t be this hard.

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I am also working as software developer but become frustrated I want to start my own business but I do not have an idea which business to start

[…] stats about the attrition of women in technical roles play out in my network, which is depressing. Leaving myself seemed less bad because I thought “maybe it’s just me” or “maybe I was […]

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