Tell us your story.
I taught myself how to write code when I was 14. It seemed the natural culmination of a nerdy childhood bent on escapism, and it worked for me: I found solace in the anonymity and equality of the internet. I know that for so many women this same ability to remain anonymous leads to sexism and downright degradation online – the digital landscape is riddled with misogyny, along with intolerance of all sorts. We’re more comfortable criticizing from behind a screen. Despite all of our concerns about privacy, we can still in many ways be anyone we want to online, including less tolerant, less inhibited versions of ourselves. But for me, this environment – where you could be a different self, could be anonymous – was a source of relief rather than oppression.
I’ve always been driven by a desire to create, and learning to code brought my creations to life: my drawings became something else entirely with the assistance of Adobe PhotoDeluxe (which I mispronounced “AH-Du-be” all the way into my adult life, including during job interviews, before my father finally corrected me). I built websites to house my drawings, my writing, and the sites themselves were works of art, too – art that was manipulable, tangible, and flexible in a way I’d never experienced. The resources I found online were incredible. They gave me exponential opportunities for growth, which I could immediately see and understand. And I met other people, too, women and men who I never actually met, who helped me learn and who gave me a community (which terrified my parents, but look guys, I’m alive).
Both of my parents worked in Silicon Valley in the ‘80s, and they’re both still in the tech field. Maybe this is why I felt so comfortable jumping online: my parents made it seem accessible and available to me. My mother wrote user manuals for some of the first personal computers. My father is an engineer, and we used to spend hours playing Myst on the family PC (we did also have a first-gen Mac, but this was well before Apple became the cool kid on the playground). Technology never intimidated me.
But I also never told anyone that I spent so much time online. It was embarrassing, substituting lines of code for social interaction. I went to college, shed as much of the nerd as I could, and wound up pursuing other passions in writing and art. I never anticipated that what I’d taught myself in those quiet hours in front of a computer screen would prove so formative – that it would become a point of pride, and a source of respect, later in my life.
As I began my career, I began to realize how valuable this combination of creativity and basic technical knowledge was. Every job I’ve ever held either began with or has evolved to include some kind of technical component. Writing, designing, and understanding code – even at a basic level – opened doors to me that I didn’t even know were there. It empowered me to understand my own value, and gave me the courage to create my own opportunities.
What do you most want other women and young girls to know about being a woman in our digital culture?
First: don’t be embarrassed. Whatever’s weird inside of you, run with it, because it’s your differentiator. I never thought I would publicize quite the level of geek that I am – but the world is changing, and it turns out there’s plenty of room for weird.
Second: the future will be built on technology – the present in many ways already is. Technology is the tool we’re using to solve problems. If there are only men at the table, we’re going to solve men’s problems. If there are only women at the table, we’re going to solve women’s problems. We need to solve people’s problems. We can’t do that without a diversity of perspectives. The gender imbalance in the tech field isn’t a reason for women not to pursue technology. It’s the reason for women to pursue technology: to achieve balance. We need more women in tech, not because women are better, or smarter, but because diversity is better and smarter.
Third: be flexible, be respectful, and always be learning. Believe that any door is open to you if you pound on it persistently enough. And don’t be afraid to make your own doors. Beyond school, all learning is self-directed. If you want to work in technology, even if you’re not going to become a developer, learn something about code. It’s a gesture of respect to your colleagues in the field to learn to speak their language, and to future generations who will grow up eating, sleeping, and breathing technology. It’s the language the world is going to be written in anyway.