I am a Woman on the Fringe of the Tech Industry
It’s hard when you feel like you don’t belong.
Towards the end of middle school I was approached by a friend of a friend and asked “Why do you hang out with them? They don’t like you and don’t want to be your friend.” These were people I had been friends with since kindergarten. Luckily, this didn’t come as a big shock, I had slowly been building up other friends. When I received this message I turned around, walked away, and stopped speaking with those “friends.”
In college, while hanging out with a group of friends one of them made a comment that “those students” on financial aid, scholarship, or who otherwise can’t afford the private school tuition didn’t deserve to be there. Yes, I was one of “those students.”
My first job out of college was as a teacher. I didn’t know anybody at the school. When I went to the lunch room on my first day I sat at an empty table. One by one people came in and took all the chairs from the table so they could sit at other tables with their friends. Nobody thought to ask if I wanted to join them.
No matter how old you are, feeling like you aren’t welcome or don’t fit in is not pleasant.
One might think with all these past experiences I would have avoided a career in technology, where women can often feel like the odd one out. The fact that I work in marketing instead of coding has me even more on the outs. I am often made to feel like I am “less than” those that do code and so I often feel I don’t quite belong.
It’s not that I can’t write code, I can. I took the only two programming classes offered at my high school. I taught myself HTML, JS and CSS. I can code. I just don’t enjoy doing it. I prefer writing words and telling stories.
Eric Raymond, recently described the hacker archetypes to categorize people in tech. I am firmly a translator archetype.
The type that bridges between human and machine: tends to excel at UI/UX development, documentation, policy and supply-chain stuff, requirements analysis, user training, and so on. Highly social, less hard-core technical than others, but in a way that helps them help other hackers understand how non-hackers see and interact with technology.
The idea you only have relevance in tech if you code on a daily basis is ridiculous. I enjoy technology, I enjoy teaching people, I enjoy telling stories. These skills are valuable to help communicate, shape thinking and positioning. Being able to describe technical features and concepts in ways technical and non-technical people can understand is a needed function for most companies.
Hearing people joke and berate people in sales and marketing as non-technical helps to enforce the feeling of us versus them. Judging people based on their title is no different than judging people based on any other trait.
I regularly hear feedback that submissions from marketing aren’t accepted, when I submit articles to publications. They like what I wrote but it needs to be from somebody with a “more technical” title. If the content is good why does it matter what my title is. The work should be judged on the content not on a title.
There’s a lot of talk about making tech more inclusive for under-represented individuals. I am all for this, but we need to expand that inclusivity to include all tech roles. It doesn’t matter if they code, work in ops, sell, write, or generate leads. We have similar experiences. We attend the same conferences, we are often the only woman in a meeting, and we have to work harder to prove that we belong. Having to battle condescension and “jokes” from other women in tech does not help.
We should be amplifying and supporting women in tech no matter the role. It’s hard enough being a woman in tech without feeling like your experiences don’t matter because you don’t write code or are in a “non-technical” role. A title does not indicate an individual’s technical skills.
I have worked in technology for 18 years.
I write technical content.
I can explain technical concepts to technical and non-technical people.
I am a woman on the fringe of the tech industry.