I was recently asked by a friend of mine, an extraordinarily smart and talented young woman who I met while at a hackathon in Boston, to contribute a story about what it means to be a woman in tech. She gave me no parameters, no length requirement. The only request was that the story focused on a time I was a proud to be a woman in tech.
Let me start by saying for the most part, I’ve been pretty fortunate. I can’t speak to how my childhood influenced my career decisions (I went from dreaming of Harvard Law to becoming an actress to becoming a professor to… well, what I do now). I never thought of myself as someone who would build websites, though I always thought it was cool in concept. I thought I was sneaky when, in my sophomore year, I made my knowledge of CSS seem much more in-depth by using a template website.
However, I can mark the significant turning point when I decided that I not only liked web development, but that I may possibly have a knack for it. In January 2011, I took the class known for being the hardest that Professional Writing had to offer: WRA410 Advanced Web Authoring. Almost every student I spoke with that took the class said it kicked their… well, you know. I was already friendly with the faculty member teaching the class, who had been my supervisor while I interned at WRAC, so I figured I was up for the challenge.
The first module was easy-peasy, building our portfolios in HTML/CSS. It was a review of the previous class that I had snuck my way through with templates. The design may have been pretty terrible, but it all worked well together. After that, the pace picked up significantly. We got into nitty gritty PHP and built custom WordPress themes. It was hard, and there were times I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it without the help of my best friend and partner in crime, Kathleen, who had a natural gift for it all. But when the class was over, I called myself a WordPress developer.
The summer after that class, I spent untold hours working and reworking my portfolio to make it something I was proud of. I knew I’d have to present it prior to graduating, and I wanted it to be fully representational of my skills (which meant no plugins, all custom content). Somewhere in the six months before graduation, I realized that I wanted to build websites full time. I realized that I could fold that into my robust digital skill set, really selling that whole “digital writer” title.
I can’t remember a moment where anyone told me, “you can’t do that, you’re a woman.” I do remember the surprised look of some of my current colleagues when they realized I was filling a position previously held by a man. I remember the moment at my first job (as a counter assistant at an auto shop) that I was told to lower my vocal octave because it sounded too much like a woman. I can point to moments that I have been treated differently for wearing dresses and bows to professional events. My fashion choices are extreme in femininity, and I’m not about to stop those choices based on who I’ll be around and what they might think of my gender.
I don’t know when that turning point was or when I knew I was a woman in tech. But I can definitively say that I am proud to be one.