Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Ignore All the Tests

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

and just go be an engineer. If you want it, go for it.

Career tests, personality tests, aptitude tests — all these tests and guides pointed me away from engineering, yet here I am.

In tenth grade, everyone had to take a career aptitude test. And in tenth grade, I had no idea what I wanted to be yet. So I answered it as honestly as I could and ended up with results in the field of communication and art.

It told me I would do well as a lawyer, or as an animator, or a designer. And truth be told, all of those things sounded awesome. I love fashion, I love art and design, and I love media.

Nowhere on that list was there anything about engineering or computers — and really, I’m not surprised in the slightest because I know who I am.

I’ve taken a personality test every year since tenth grade. It’s usually the one on and I always end up with the same Myers-Briggs classification. Can you guess?

I’m an INFP.

What does this mean? I think the picture kind of sums it up. lists things like author, counselling, and psychology as suggested career paths for this personality type. Here’s an excerpt from their page —

Where Mediators will not thrive is in a high-stress, team-heavy, busy environment that burdens them with bureaucracy and tedium. Mediators need to be able to work with creativity and consideration — high-pressure salespeople they are not.

I agree with this excerpt, because it’s true that I’m not great under pressure. I also know that I struggle to comprehend logic and algorithms. I would describe myself as more creative over anything else.

So if I — a computer engineering student and burgeoning web developer — don’t have the personality for engineering, who does?

Well, an article on Forbes lists ISTJ, INTJ, INTP and ENTJ as people who would do well in engineering.

What do all these have in common that I don’t? Well it’s mainly the T — Thinking. As in, thinking over feeling, logic over dreaming, analytics over emotion. These are some of the qualities that we usually describe engineers and coders with — they solve problems, deal with math and physics, and tackle high stakes projects.

Obviously we want the people designing our banking systems and cars to be logical, otherwise modern society would be in shambles.

Put yourself in the shoes of 16 year old Allison, who just took the career and personality test, and now has to decide what courses to take.

Well, based on these, you (and I) would think that I’d pick cool communications and media classes, maybe law, maybe something like creative writing. And 16 year old Allison (and 19 year old Allison) would probably have loved those courses.

So why didn’t I take them?

It’s not like I had this burning passion to be an engineer or a physicist. I was perfectly content reading and writing, and doing things like painting and knitting in my spare time.

So why didn’t I take the courses that probably would have made my high school experience that much better?

Because I didn’t see a career in any of them.

I wasn’t an excellent writer, and I had trouble doing people-oriented classes because I’m a natural introvert. I didn’t see myself being able to make something great of myself through my passions. For once, I was being realistic because this was a high stakes decision with my future on the line.

So instead, I put myself into all the science courses my school offered, all the math courses, and some coding courses.

Did I love it? Absolutely not.

Come 12th grade, university application time, I was stressed out and miserable. Calculus was hard, physics was harder, and now I had to decide what I wanted to start a career path in.

Truth be told, up until the last week before applications closed, I thought I was going to apply to law or medical programs. I thought I’d find my passion in being a high profile lawyer or doctor, because how cool would those be?

Then after doing tons of research into different law and medical programs, I just freaked out. I didn’t want to do any more school than I had to, I absolutely hated how stressed out I was all the time, and how closely I tied my identity to my performance in school.

I started looking at alternatives that would only take me an undergrad degree to get a career in — I thought I could at least make it four or five years (but definitely not ten).

So here we are again, last week before applications close. 16 year old Allison has no idea what to apply to, because the two things she thought she’d go for, she has abandoned.

At the time, all I wanted was to get a degree, get a job, and then retire early. My main goals were to minimize my time in university, while maximizing my salary, and hopefully living out the rest of my life on a beach somewhere.

Who did I know that did that successfully? My dad.

My dad is an electrical engineer, and one of the best that I know. But where he excelled in math and science, I struggled. I take more after my mom I think. She’s good at artistic and creative things, and she struggles with math and science like I do.

In my mind, my choice was simple. Sure I was terrible at all the subjects that engineers had to take. Sure I wasn’t great with logic puzzles and algorithms. But my dad did it, so I, being half him, might be able to do it too, right?

Those coding classes I took in high school were fun, and I used to love playing with things like K’nex and Meccano. So maybe there were things in engineering that I would like.

That was what I believed was the optimal choice at the time, so I took the plunge and only applied to computer and software engineering programs.

I was not born to be an engineer,

but I’m trying really hard at it.

I am not good at math and science,

but I’m good at design and experience.

I struggle with my courses in university,

but I haven’t given up yet.

I am not the best coder,

but I’ve come to love it, and I’m learning.

I chose to go into engineering despite the tests we took in careers class in high school. I picked it in a rush, pretty much solely based on the fact that I’ve seen my dad succeed in it and was inspired by him.

He never tried to push me into engineering, in fact he constantly tried to push me away from it because he knew I could be happier doing other things. He gave me the tools as a kid to start solving puzzles, but he never made me pick them up. And when I eventually put them down in favour of more creative activities, he let it be.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m now working my way through my degree, trying as hard as I can to be the best in a field that I struggle in. Thankfully, people have recognized that I have diverse talents to bring to the table, and have given me a chance to learn and grow. I’m determined to make the most of those opportunities, to come out successful in a field even I didn’t think I could be successful in.

I was not born to be an engineer — and hell, half the time the things I have to take classes for I hate, but I’m passionate about it, and I’m trying as hard as I can.

You don’t have to be built to be in tech in order to be successful in it.

Hard work and passion can make up for almost anything. And it’s that motto that I keep telling myself whenever I feel incompetent or insecure.