Why Are You Here?
That was the first question my interviewer uttered when he stumbled into the meeting room. At the time I was an independent consultant looking to work with other consulting companies and staffing agencies on any open contracts that related to mobile application development.
“Why are you here?”, he grumbled.
What I heard from that opening line was: “You don’t belong here.”
“I’m looking for an Android developer and that’s not you”, he continued.
Even though I was put off by his dismissive nature, I still tried to make the most of it. I explained how my Xamarin development skills crossed over into both Android and iOS development.
He laughed, shook his head, and said, “Well I’ve seen your online blog, and that you have spoken at conferences. You’re popular in the Xamarin community. What will your followers think if you suddenly decided to be an ANDROID developer? Isn’t that going against who YOU are?”
His question wasn’t really in earnest, but more in jest. He didn’t respect me from the offset. He didn’t look at my online profile as proof of my accomplishments. Instead, he used it to explain to me why I wasn’t a fit for HIS team. He used it to pigeonhole me, and to rationalize that my technical ability was shallow, singular, and finite.
I looked at him in disbelief and replied, “I am not defined by a single technology. What defines my success is my ability to constantly learn and stay on top of the changes in the industry. I have been programming for almost 20 years. If I only stuck with what I knew since day one, I would still be programming in VB6.”
Once again he laughed, and shook his head at me, talking down to me as though I were a naive little girl. “If you were to join my team tomorrow, on a scale of 1 to 10, how productive do you think you would be?”
“I would be a 9. Hands down”, I replied.
More laughter on his part. More head shakes.
Needless to say, I didn’t work with that consulting company. This interview was just a joke to him, and he had simply used this time to diminish my skill set. My online profile served only as fuel for that big dumpster fire that he lit.
That was about a year and a half ago. Months later, I landed my dream job with the greatest company in the world. With a supportive manager and a strong team to work with, it continues to be the highlight of my career.
Before you reply with “Well it all worked out in the end!”, like so many often do when they hear a story like this, that doesn’t mean the events leading up to that didn’t negatively impact me for a long time.
Since that interview, I have not published a single, solitary technical blog post. I have learned a lot in the past year, and I have written many posts as I went along. When it came time to publish any of them, those words reverberated in the back of my mind: “Why are you here?”
It didn’t stop me from questioning myself, and what value I actually brought to the table. With every post I wrote, I questioned, “Is this something anyone will learn from? Or is this just more fodder for those that think women don’t belong here?”
I poured myself into my job, where I was valued and appreciated. But I held back the work I was doing in the community.
Those blog posts never saw the light of day. Near the end of 2016 and throughout 2017, when so many women had found their voice, I had lost mine. Make no mistake, it was of my own volition. Nonetheless, it was lost. I was lost.
Lost when I no longer felt like my technical posts were worth publishing.
Lost when I tried to reduce the number of technical speaking engagements I participated in, because my heart was no longer in it. (Yet somehow, I got pulled in to a few more talks than I planned on. Looking back, I’m glad that happened.)
Lost when I considered saying something out loud, but held back because who cares what I have to say?
Lost when there were countless social media posts I wrote then deleted because I didn’t have the energy to deal with any criticism some of them may have caused.
Lost ultimately because I had been faced with misogyny throughout my life, and I was just completely and utterly exhausted.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was the catalyst for me making the decision to virtually walk out, instead of lean in.
Now, if a single man, whose name I can’t even remember, has that kind of impact on me, even with my experience and successes to point to, imagine what it must do to the women who are just starting their careers in the field. Imagine how much it’s wearing down those who have been in the field 5, 10 or 15 years in, and are close to their own breaking point.
Now ask yourself, what can you do in 2018 to support and encourage them?