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Mentoring: The sometimes silent partnership

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Having someone to guide the way can be truly beneficial…

But what do you do if you do not have anyone to mentor you?  I stumbled upon this issue when changing careers, I found myself knee-deep in a new world without much guidance as to what I should do next.  In my previous career, I had a vast network of people to call upon if I needed help, or even just an ear that was willing to listen.  However, as I migrated into the programming world, I quickly discovered that my existing network lacked those that could help me in my new endeavors.

Having a mentor can be a very rewarding experience for both parties.  I know in my experience, I’ve benefited from mentoring others and from having a mentor.  Naturally, I felt a bit of panic having my network vanish beneath my feet.

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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Self Improvement, STEM

 

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“I want to be a computer nerd, just like you!”

computer nerd, programming, life, coder bug

Sometimes I’m just oblivious…

I have to admit that I often go through life completely oblivious of the impressions and impact that I make on other people.  As I am pursuing a greater education, I am realizing that I am developing a following of younger females in my family.

It all began with my niece getting into graphic art.  Now this may fall into both the art and technology arena, but more than her artistic abilities, I recognized her ability to grasp concepts really quickly.  She has been teaching herself how to use Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator — she began this at 12.  My sister, in full support of her, purchased her a Wacom pen tablet for her 13th birthday which occurred a few weeks ago.  Although I support her goal of wanting to be a cartoonist, I really see her passions developing into areas such as animation or even game development.  She currently loves to make cartoons and small animations of the characters she develops.

She is in the process of applying for a high school that specializes in Game Development and Interactive Media.

Our relationship has grown and developed through random FaceTime conversations where I’ve walked her through a concept that she needed a little more clarification if she couldn’t find the answer online.  I am flattered that she looks to me for help in these areas and through this connection we find ourselves enthralled in our own geeky conversations only to look around and find other family members staring dumbfounded.

But wait! There’s more!

Recently, my goddaughter/great niece confidently informed me that she wants to be a programmer like I am.  Her mom sent me a text saying that my goddaughter has been talking about our programming conversation ever since that day and that she told her that she wants to be a computer nerd just like me.  She has always had an inquisitive mind and her mom informed me that she has the tendency of doing extensive research into things that interest her – such as a full research paper on owls – she’s 10.  She’s recently switched her razor focus from owls to programming.  I recognize the spark in her eyes when she speaks about programming.  I remember having the same experience at the age of 12 when I coded my first web site by hand – html tag by html tag.  Somehow this deep passion went unnoticed and it has taken 10 years for me to get back to that place where I started.  Hopefully, if it’s what she really wants, my goddaughter, instead, will spend the next 10 years developing her talent and deepening her passion for programming.

Engagement begins with an invitation

I never once considered that the young women in my family would be interested in programming.  I feel a new responsibility to help them explore the possibility – at the very least.  As fickle as a child can be, I think that it’s important for me to help explore Computer Science as an option.  There are programs that exist today that help with getting young women interested in STEM fields.  I feel like I can now bridge the gap between their initial interest and tangible resources and programs that will further spark that interest.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Programming, STEM

 

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College: When things get tough – Complain

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This kitten is totally unrelated to this post, it just cheers me up… who doesn’t like an adorable kitten?

I’m going to say in advance that I am a tad frustrated while writing this post.  One of my professors just sent out an email to the class acknowledging that some students went to the Computer Science Administration for our school and complained about his assignments.  This professor actually gave us his own crafted assignments that were both challenging and took effort to complete.

It took some substantial planning, on my part, to complete the assignment and I was thrilled to receive 100% — because I truly put in effort.  I say assignment (singular), because the aforementioned students went to the administration only one week into the class.  I enjoyed being able to use the techniques I’ve learned throughout my other classes — I even “whiteboarded” the assignment with sticky notes representing the different elements of my program.  From planning to implementation, I enjoyed the process greatly.  Why?  Because it forced me to think, and to analyze.  I had to come up with ways to implement the requirements of the program while still considering all of the different programming elements I’ve learned so far since beginning this Computer Science degree.

Each of the complicated assignments that I looked forward to, were removed and replaced with the approved curriculum.  So, instead of creating an iterative mock banking system as assignment number one, these students will now be able to: Write a program that inputs 5 numbers and output the average of the 5 numbers and their product.  I almost gave labor to a unicorn when I saw what the original program was replaced with.  Part of me feels as though these complainers robbed me of a challenging experience with this class and I feel really irritated by the fact the school didn’t stand behind the professor.

For me, I asked my professor for copies of his original assignment so that I can work on them in my leisure.  I’m going to secretly judge my classmates for the rest of the semester.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in STEM

 

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Walking the Line: Females in Technology, is There REALLY a Problem?

tight_rope_walker_530w13

Ah, this is a topic that I have pondered a lot in the past few weeks. I have a vested interest in the answer to this question considering I want to become a game programmer. A recent situation has left me in a place where I began to question my goals.

The situation…
I have been helping casually with a video game project in my spare time. The task has been intimidating simply because it is new, but I have learned so much and I have found the experience wildly beneficial. More importantly, I was able to kick my feet up, so-to-speak, and be myself. I am the only female on the team, but I haven’t considered that as an issue or even a negative reflection of the company whatsoever.

Recently, during a casual conversation with another team member, I experienced a situation that made me furiously frustrated. Probably more frustrated than furious. We were having a morbid conversation about how odd it is that we did not have a choice to be born [a general conversation about how funny and random life is based on one choice]. But this conversation quickly escalated to a discussion about gender inequality. I mentioned that if I had a choice, I would have been born male.

What?

Yeah, awkward. I mentioned that in my situation, I truly believe that my journey would have been much easier had I been born male. I said this because I have always been driven and have found myself in management positions and moving up ladders. As a result, I have personally experienced the issues that females face in certain areas. At this point in the conversation, I was not expecting a “discussion” in gender inequality, especially because of the light hearted nature of the conversation in general.

Here is where I was wrong. This person proceeded to say that women have it easy in many situations “like when reporting rape and in the law”. Um, what? So, you mean I have to be raped or a criminal in order to gain an advantage? Sweet, let me jump right on that. Oh, it gets worse. I decided that I did not want to get into that conversation, so I conceded on that point (Yeah, I know), and proceeded to take the high road and mention that I was solely speaking of my personal experiences. I wanted to make it clear that I was NOT speaking for the general female population, just me and my insignificant speck in the spectrum.

Since I did not want to get into personal experiences with this guy (some of these experiences had zero grey area, I was blatantly discriminated against), I decided to mention the standard obligatory wage discrepancy in an attempt to get out of the wormhole. He then said, “women can use sex to get promotions.” He then states that we only complain about the bad things and ignore the many things that we have going in our favor. At this point, I couldn’t recall complaining, but again, I did not want this conversation to be escalated.

Ok, let’s sum this up. In order to get an advantage, I would have to 1) be raped, 2) commit a crime, 3) use sex to get a promotion. I’m feeling better about myself already. I should get started on this “to do” list immediately, let’s start with becoming a criminal >.<

Yeah, it doesn’t stop here folks. My sarcasm kicked in and I say something close to, “Oh, right women are just sexual objects here for men to use as they see fit.” His response was “exactly”.

Now, I have been a child of the internet for the majority of my life, and I am quite aware of what a troll is. We shall get to that a bit later, but I thought I would mention that right now.

How did this situation make me feel?

Well, immediately I felt like I did not have a place in that environment anymore.  I felt as though I did not want to have anything to do with him and that I had lost my “safe haven”. I know that I will have to deal with situations like these in ANY field that I enter. I know that conversations such as these can and will happen in ANY work enviornment. One person sharing their views, whether they were being a troll or not. BUT since I do not have to interact with this guy, I decided not to interact with him anymore.

How is this a “Female in Technology” issue, and not just a normal “some people are just naive” issue?

Here’s where I have to share more of my personal experiences.  It’s not a female in technology issue.  Yeah, I said it. It’s a female inequality in a male-dominated environment – issue. I’ve read several blogs about situations where there is shortage of females in technology field. I’ve read articles on how there is a pipeline issue and how there is an environment issue in many of these places. I’ve seen the same infographics visually depicting statistics of women who leave tech positions to do other things.

I’ve also seen the responses to these blogs from men in the tech positions saying that “women need to just suck it up” and “any statistic can be used to demonstrate a point”. I’ve also seen responses of men that agree that there are issues and that the situations and environments can stand for an overhaul.

Well, there’s a world of resources out there where people can get statistics. You won’t find that here. But what I can share are my personal experiences. I have seen the shortage of female representation in other male-dominated industries. I have sat in meetings where I was the only female. I have sat in even larger meetings where less than 10% of the population were female. My view on the topic is not from being someone on the outside looking in. My view on the topic is from both experiencing several blatant examples of female discrimination and from the “thousand tiny paper cuts” phenomenon. Because there is such a major misrepresentation of females in STEM professions, the situations persists.

My attitude to these situations has ALWAYS been that they have made me stronger. My skin is thicker and I am able to face many situations head on without turning back. It is with this attitude that I decided to follow my dream of becoming a software engineer. I have NEVER made excuses or even complained about the situation. I have had the mentality that it is pointless to cry over spilled milk and that I’m better off making lemonade out of lemons.

One thing that I experienced firsthand is that in many (NOT ALL) cases, men did not want females to infringe on their comfy environments. I observed that often, this did not even happen intentionally. When you work 60+ hours a week you tend to communicate with those with like interests or someone that you can be comfortable around. In many cases when I was initially being excluded, one tap on the shoulder to remind my peers “Hey, I’m here”, resulted in welcoming, inclusive arms. But it takes one of two things, men with the mindset of proactive inclusion and/or a female that is not afraid to speak up. I could write an entire blog post about this mini topic, so I will stop there.

So why is this seemingly insignificant situation getting to me?

First, I’m saying that this situation is “seemingly insignificant” only because in comparison to some of the things I’ve encountered, it truly is. This encounter is getting to me because it triggered my “walk the line” response. In the past, whenever a situation such as this occurred, I had to ask myself if it was worth fighting for? I had to choose my battles or I would have been typecast into a role that I didn’t want to be placed in. I had to choose whether or not I would perpetuate the issue by doing nothing, or to stop and make a stand. Sadly, more times than not, I chose to ignore the offense in an effort to keep my job and to keep the peace.

With this recent situation, I didn’t want to have this feeling in THAT environment. I wanted to enjoy feeling included and apart of something bigger than just me. Women in these situations walk a line every day. I know I did for a good portion of my 10+ years in management.

Oh, but the problem goes far past gender inequality…

But first, I have to say that no matter how awesome and lovely it would be for me to be a crusader for change, I have to admit that I have zero desire to do so. Deep down, I know that I need to advocate for others and to try my best to be strong enough to create more inclusive environments. But, really what I want is to feel welcome and included.  I’m not saying that I won’t do everything I can to change the status quo, but it would be nice to not have to do so.

I don’t think that the problem will ever be fixed by women: 1) “Complaining” about the current status quo, 2) Leaving STEM and other male-dominated careers in search of asylum in more welcoming environments, or 3) Not bothering to enter a STEM field simply because of fear and the stories of others. For me (and I stress this is for me), I want to focus on my reaction to these situations. Do I walk the line? Do I mention my feelings about different situations? Do I assess how the situation actually effects me in the long run? Ultimately I still have to choose my battles, but do a better job with choosing them.

I’ll choose to live with the fact that there are inequalities everywhere…

A friend of mine is a new dad and was irritated to find a lack of changing tables in the majority of the mens restrooms that he visited. Another friend spoke to the awkwardness of taking his young daughter to the mens room for her to use the bathroom. Yet another new dad spoke to how hard it was to find “manly” diaper bags. I’m not even going to dive into other areas of inequality, so I’ll stick strictly with the issues in gender related areas. Now, we see more and more “family” restrooms or rest rooms that can be used by both men and women. This makes sense considering all we really need is a toilet and a sink. The situation doesn’t stop there, whenever a male enters a female dominated field, there are stigmas and similar situations. I have a friend that is a male nurse and some of the stories he’s told me would shock the masses. There’s more of these fields: nursing, administrative assistants, social workers etc.

No, a lack of changing tables in the mens room can in no way be compared to severe cases such as sexual harassment or unfair pay. But this situation can be seen as a less eye rolling (i.e. rape, crime and sexual advances) example of how compensating in one direction can be harmful and uncomfortable to the opposite sex. But that’s just it, there are unequal situations all over the place, is it right? No. Should these inequalities hinder me from successfully entering and staying in a STEM field? Absolutely not. Nothing compares to how great it feels when I figure out new concepts in programming. Just as a male who chooses to be a nurse or a stay-at-home dad will have to live with the inequalities in order to do what he loves, I will have to face different mindsets and opinions going into the STEM industry.

As for my team member, here’s what happened and what I have to stay about it…

He sent an email apologizing within the hour. This gesture was both unexpected and appreciated and I genuinely accepted the apology. Parts of his apology stood out to me because it mentioned “trolling” and in the same sentence, “not meaning to offend”. It made me try to recall a situation where someone wasn’t meaning to offend someone by trolling them. Again, this concept is something that I encounter on a regular basis being a gamer. But even so, I believe that the apology was sincere and I appreciated him taking the time to apologize.

I am still not sure how I will handle the situation, initially I just decided to remove myself from the situation so that I could assess my reaction to it. Now, I simply wish that the conversation never happened. At the same time, I have to respect his opinion, regardless of how distasteful it may be.

What I am taking away from this…

The planet is massive. There are over 7 billion of us co-mingling and attempting to interact authentically. Each of us attempt to carve out a sliver of this planet to call our own. We spend our days with things that we are obligated to do mixed with the activities that simply please us. Each of us are unique. We present ourselves as a cultivation of different ideals, skills and talents, all influenced by different ethnicities, nationalities and upbringings. We are the physical representations of uniqueness.

Because of our uniquenesses. We will clash. I will clash. When I do, I can only respond authentically and adjust accordingly.  For those that ignore that there is in fact an inequality problem, you’re definitely entitled to your opinion.  For me, I’ve experienced it firsthand and regardless of the statistics that are floating around on this website and that blog, I know what really happens in certain environments.  As for females in technology, it is and will be an uphill battle for the near future.  But the battle will strengthen our resolve and make us stronger people in the long run.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in STEM

 

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Women in Programming – The Great Debate

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Recently, a friend of mine in the technology field asked me a very interesting question.  She wanted to know why in the heck did I choose to go into the software development field.  She knows of my history with being a female in management and was curious as to why I decided to go into an even greater male-dominated field.  The only response I could think of was to tell her that I hit like a girl.

Huh?  You hit like a girl?

Well, recently I saw an ad by “Always” that asked adults to demonstrate how to run and throw “like a girl”.  The adults (women included) ran dramatically and flimsily, basically demeaning themselves and every female they ever met.  When they asked young girls to run and throw “like a girl”, they ran with all of their might, and threw as hard as they could.  Why? Because they ran like themselves, strong young women.  Their minds had not be hindered to think that doing anything “like a girl” was demeaning.

I have been blessed to have a strong mother as a role model, and I’ve always believed that I can do anything that my male counterparts could do.  I don’t think of this consciously, it’s engrained within me.  Actually, my thought process is if someone else can do it, then so can I — male or female.  So, when I told my friend that I hit like a girl, I meant that I made the decision based on my passions, not based on current industry standards.

But her question forced me to think harder…

I remember the feeling of always being the only female amongst my peers, and in many situations the only African American.  I come from a family where race didn’t matter, but it was hard not to notice in situations where there was a room full of white males, and then there was me.  I remember feeling excluded even if it was only because they edited their usual conversations in hope of not offending me.  There were situations where I would find out about outings where they would bond, but I was never included.  Yes, this was not the main point of running a business, but regardless, the feeling did sting.  I learned to be strong and self motivated.  I learned to do everything harder… study… sell… learn… train…

I honestly have never worked in any other environment.  I want to be a game developer because I am passionate about games and creating things.  I feel epic amounts of joy when I figure out new ways to code and push myself to learn as much as I can.  I feel amazing when I learn a new programming paradigm and language.  I understand what I’m getting myself into, but that never stopped me in the past, it will not stop me now.

Does the absence of females in programming mean that we are bad programmers?

Absolutely NOT!  From birth, we were encouraged to be domesticated.  We were given dolls when men were given fire trucks.  Marketing and advertisements have portrayed us holding babies while men are portrayed behind computers and wearing suits.  This trend is shifting as of late, but much of the change has happened in recent years — not enough time to offset the affects.  There is an epidemic around the world that still casts women in the mere shadows of men.  It will take time to change this epidemic, but in the meantime, women have to shed their fear and follow their dreams regardless of the terrain ahead.  Long story short, our absence does not make us bad programmers, we just need to open our eyes and our horizons to the possibilities.

Toxicity and the Good Ol’ Boys Club…

Both professionally and personally, I have been in contact with the painful outcomes of male-dominated environments.  Professionally this club manifested itself in me being passed up for well deserved promotions and me making far less than my peers for many years and in several different positions.  Personally, I’ve experienced the gaming community where girls were treated like inferior beings that deserved to spend their time in the kitchen.  Yet, I carved my way in both environments.  I let my work ethic speak for itself and in gaming I was accepted through playing well and being consistent.

Is what we face as women fair? 

Not even slightly, but neither is life.  I can say one thing, I am a stronger person because of my experiences.  I have so much perseverance and I believe in my capabilities.  I also know that I can push myself past my limits to achieve things that I didn’t even think were remotely possible.  The best I can do each day is try to dispel the notions that doing anything “like a girl” is a negative thing.  The best I can do is work hard to learn enough to be a valuable asset within any company that I choose to work.  Last, but certainly not least, I can bring myself to work every day.  I don’t want to be “one of the boys” — I want to be a girl, that just so happens to be a programmer.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in STEM

 

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