Why I Almost Didn't Go into Programming

August 6, 2017

With the Google Manifesto (or "manifestbro") that hit the news recently, I've seen many internet comments written by men explaining why more women don't go into programming. Although there's no simple answer, it's definitely not due completely to biology, and it's not because women are hardwired to like working with people while men are hardwired to like working with things. (See this response from an engineer who previously worked at Google as a Distinguished Engineer for why this reasoning is flawed.) Even if it was due to biology, we humans must have really evolved as a species in the mid 1980's when the ratio began to steeply decline. We don't know all the reasons why women don't go into coding at the same rates as men, but I thought I could at least give some insight on why I almost didn't become a programmer, because until I was 19 I was one of those women.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to become an engineer. However, although my mom is a programmer (programming in MUMPS actually!), it was never once suggested to me to also become a programmer. With my personality type, it should have been obvious, because growing up I was always completing more and more books of logic puzzles, always asking my dad for more riddles to solve, I spent ungodly amounts of time on the internet, and I taught myself some basic HTML on Neopets and I was running my own pre-made HTML font page for posting on the forums. I didn't actually write a line of non-HTML code until I was 19, trying out a programming class in college for the first time. I think much of this is due to how I perceived programming, instead of what it actually is.

I thought programming was just "sitting in front of a computer all day" (It's not!)

Although programming does involve large amounts of time working on a computer, what office job nowadays doesn't? People have told me, "I couldn't be a programmer and sit in front of a computer all day" when that's exactly what they do. I'm not actually in front of a computer all day either, my job involves its fair share of meetings, collaborating with coworkers, and talking with people to plan out how best to solve their problems. To someone who hasn't learned programming yet, my computer screen might look like a big blob of mumbo-jumbo. But what I see is a giant logic puzzle that needs solving or a neat system that I'm building upon with ideas from my brain that I translate into code - how cool is that? When I'm working on an interesting problem, in my mind it feels sort of like a video game, either investigating how to fix a bug and chasing down its root cause, or figuring out the best way to build a new feature.

I thought programming was like what it's portrayed as on TV (It's not!)

On TV shows while I was growing up, the programmers were usually ultra-nerdy guys sitting in a dark basement coding in the terminal the entire time. If it was a woman programmer, she was over-the-top eccentric. That's not how I thought of myself, and sitting in a dark basement staring at letters on a black screen didn't sound appealing to me. I have noticed that lately, women programmers in media have began to be portrayed more accurately. Elsie Hughes from Westworld and Tracey Hughes from Office Christmas Party are two women characters who just happen to also be programmers I've noticed most recently. (Also I just realized their characters have the same last name, maybe they're from this fictional family of badass women coders?) I'm not working in a basement either - my previous job had an office slide and a keg, while my current job's office is bright and colorful with a stocked bar that's larger than our biggest meeting room! My coworkers aren't all super nerdy TV-style programmers either, most of them are around my age and super cool and fun to work with.

I thought programming was boring and monotonous (It's not!)

Lots of people think programming is boring and the same each day. In fact, it's probably one of the jobs with the most variation from day to day and company to company. Each day brings new and interesting problems to solve and features to build. Not only is each day different, but there's also a huge variety of companies to choose from since every type of company needs programmers. For example, my first internship was at a dry-bulk commodity logistics company, then I worked on a web application for a childhood cancer foundation, and now I work at an ecommerce company.

I wanted to work with people to solve their problems and make a difference in the world

This is actually exactly what I do! Back in high school when I was thinking about what I wanted to study and do for the rest of my life, if someone had told me that programming is all about using my brain and ideas to solve problems and make life better for many people, I would've decided to study computer science right away, instead of changing my major a couple times until I finally fell in love with programming.

Questions? Comments? Don't hesitate to contact me!