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I Love Coding, but I Almost Missed Out

The Fear of Inadequacy in Technical Abilities: Biases and Misinformation

Dr. Sugata Mitra’s saying that “knowing is obsolete” could not be more true in regards to the many subfields of computer science and the tech industry. Creativity, critical thinking and the will to learn is far more important than background knowledge. Knowing how to work out problems is far more important than knowing the particular answers upfront.

Since high school curriculums place heavy emphasis on biology, chemistry, physics and math, my first year at the University of British Columbia was a relatively smooth ride, and I achieved academic success thanks to my background knowledge of these common sciences. I cannot say the same for my first computer science class. I took it not because I was interested in computer science, but it was a requirement for another major focused on the brain and cognition. I actually dreaded the idea of having to take the course — this stemmed from my personal biases and misinformation. As a kid, I associated computer science with just coding, and would picture a group boys playing World of Warcraft.

The lack of representation, among other factors, prevented me from venturing into programming in my early years because it never occurred to me that I could be good at it. Entering my first computer science class, I knew I was years behind my male peers in terms of experience and knowledge. There were guys who felt the need to tell me repeatedly how easy the material was while I struggled to understand what a string was. Let’s just say understanding what “Now print ‘Hello World’” means caused me a lot of stress during my first lab. Even some of the guys who struggled as well were still applying for internships but I did not because the idea that “girls aren’t good at programming” was a message I was starting to believe.

Of course, this fear of inadequacy is something everyone in computer science has felt before. Especially for those being first introduced to it in university. The feeling of being way behind is not only scary, but also crippling.

I didn’t want to be a part of a program in which many students held biases against certain groups and their ability to succeed. Despite this, I decided to make the switch and apply to the program anyway. To my surprise, those guys who made me feel inadequate were not accepted into the program. My perception was that only a selected few of women would make great programmers rather, the people who made me feel this way did so because of their own insecurities; they took out their frustration on women who could do a better job than them. Although nervous to continue, my experience as a second year student has been very positive.

In reality, companies have taken a step back to rethink their criteria for what is needed to make products and services of high caliber. A remedy to improve company dynamics is intrusively known. However, there are beliefs that improving diverse numbers within companies in regards to race or gender is equivalent to lowering standards. This misinformation is stemmed from bias when it comes to evaluating women’s work, in any industry. Another falsity is believing there was ever a time in which programmers were hired strictly based on merit. Specific network connections, alma mater and other factors have always been taken into account when deciding on a new hire.

Rising technologies are becoming available to all corners on the map, creating a network of users and clients from very diverse backgrounds and communities. It should come as no surprise that the group of people creating the product should be just as diverse as the group of people using it.

Companies are recognizing the biases themselves, as a result, bringing them closer to seeing reality. It takes intention and effort to let go of stereotypes. The reality is that diversity acts as a catalyst for growth rather than another quota to meet, and while correlation does not equal causation, the success of companies who do follow this route shows convincing evidence of the benefits of a diverse workplace.

Despite all my reservations, trying out a computer science course was the best thing I have done so far during my time as an undergrad. People have different experiences; therefore, various opinions, so I am not trying to prove anything by speaking subjectively.

Assuming that it is possible to accurately compare yourself with other people in a beneficial manner actually hinders personal improvement. Programmers grow the most when they are given the space to work hard rather than compete with the success of others. It is vital that female programmers believe in their own ability to bring about success and change, for the tech community is going places, and forward is one of them.

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