Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

The Oversimplification of Results and Hard Work

Hard work has been overly simplified to “If you work hard, you will achieve your dreams.”

I’ve been meaning to spend some good time writing since my last article and I procrastinated. Today, I am writing this article with the strongest emotions because of an article that triggered me titled, “It’s not luck, it’s hard work.” No, this is not me trying to diss the author. To each his own.

I wanted to, with my story, tell those who are down and out on their dreams that hard work isn’t just working hard but many other components that cannot be controlled. Luck and timing are two of those (so, okay, I agree with the title of “It’s not luck…”). Perseverance and hope are another two.

I have a Masters in Power Engineering with an honors in Digital Technology Management from a very well known German university. But the reason I am proud of these two degrees is not because it is from a good university, but because of the effort that I put in to first get in to these programs and secondly, do well in the exams. I am average at my studies, what seemed to be super easy to my peers seemed strenuous for me. I loved my study program purely because it was interesting, I was not the best at it. As I was studying in Germany, I worked one day after another improving my German skills, working in German companies for 20 hours (sometimes 40) a week combined with 30 hours of lectures every week. To top it off, I was very far from family (they live in India) and I barely had time to socialise and make a “friends like family” group here. But I knew this would all add up soon and make a huge difference for my career, because, hey, Hard Work.

In April 2016, 7 months before I was supposed to graduate, I had already started looking for jobs in Germany. I got called for a lot of interviews, none of which gave me reasonable responses as to why I was rejected. One company made me travel 6 hours to another city and 6 hours back and in between had 8 rounds of interviews. After A LOT of follow up, I’d get a response from a low-level HR manager sending me an automated rejection response,

“We are sorry to inform you that your application has been rejected. Please keep an eye on our talent portal as surely, there will be a job that is better suited for you soon”

This kind of thing went on until my graduation, where I knew that for some of the interviews I was being called in only as a dummy, because there is a rule here that even if someone internally is employed for a position, companies have to appear to consider non-employees according to the union laws. Despite knowing that, and that going to one interview after another was hell, I did it anyway, because, hey, 99% perspiration, right?

Then, in December, right around Christmas, I receive news that my mother had been diagnosed with cancer, so I had to go to India to help around when she was undergoing surgery and chemo. When I went home, I was bombarded with ideas of finding ANY job in India. Including, and I kid you not, an MD of LARGE battery company(a reference from my Uncle) called me and said,

“I know you want a business and strategy role but we’ll talk about that later. Look, you are a girl child and you should stay with your parents. We have a battery factory behind your house, you can work there? See… it’s a blue collared job, you have to wear a uniform, 8 am to 8 pm, breakfast will be served and lunch also. Beta*, this is a good deal.”

*hindi for dear or kid

I learnt German, worked on strategy projects, built IOT energy saving devices, learnt to code in R in a month, worked on consulting projects, studied thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, advanced control systems, wrote 3 exams in the span of 4 hours, barely slept for months, headed a team for project development… for a job in a factory?

NO, nope, nope nope.

I wanted to cry, but no one would understand why. So I sucked it up and waited patiently for my moms surgery to be over. During this time I received a tonne of mail from my family hinting at the fact that I was deserting them, that I needed to work in India, that foreigners will not respect me if I worked abroad and would call me brown skinned girl, etc. I began to laugh at the irony of me being from a family that was well educated to the point of international PhDs.

I told myself,

“everything, comes at a price. And if this is the mental and emotional stress I must undergo, then that is the price I shall pay.”

After much pleading with my father to book my return tickets back to Germany, and after already cancelling one return trip back because he plainly said nope, he said alright, because deep down he probably understood. But the messages and mail from home never stopped. My mother was still recovering and I was made to feel like I was being selfish for wanting to be able to pursue my dreams until the end.

I returned in January hoping one of the interviews I gave would turn out positive, none did. By April 2017, it was a year of me looking in vain.

I know, you want to tell me,

“hey, maybe you did really badly at the interviews?”

Well, let me honestly tell you, no, I didn’t. How do I know this?

As an example of many such incidents:

One company(ironically the company I am neighbours with now), where I had to make a presentation as a part of a case study, first told me they just had 10 minutes for me to present. Team leads, the CEO, everyone was there. When I began to present, 5 minutes into the presentation, they stopped me, called their colleagues and told them to cancel all meetings for the next hour because they wanted to see me present, as it was the best thing they had ever seen a candidate do. This was the final round of the interview, so I can assure you, I was doing better than the average interviewee. Nevertheless, guess what? The company never responded. A large MNC (obviously, I cannot name them here) completely disappeared. After trying to call their headquarters in Spain and asking for their HR, they tell me that no HR with that name works there. I took a shot in the dark and mailed the CEO of the company with firstname.lastname@company.com.

It worked.

He replied, and I assure you this is true. “Aish, after much discussion, we realised we really want you in the team. But the HR who was handling your papers had to quit and therefore we will no longer be pursuing your application. I am very sorry that we have taken so long to respond”.

It was at this point that I completely broke down. I cried constantly for the entire day.

The next day, I woke up and continued calling people and applying for jobs. I got called for an interview at an energy company and I went there completely straight faced. I didn’t want to give a shit to their wonderful coffee machines, foosball tables, free fruits, amazing in-house chefs… nothing. I was so stone cold. So very stone cold. I knew it would be a rejection so I really didn’t care. Nevertheless, the interviews went smoothly and 3 weeks after my breakdown, I got the job.

I am still here at this job, and I love it a lot. I love the people and the work I do a lot. And my mom is fine. I still am in Germany, I have a wonderful boyfriend and I live in a very cute house. All of this, despite my effort, may have never happened, who knows?

But here’s the point: no matter how much hard work you put in, the majority of the time, it is timing and luck.

Side note: The company who rejected me based on the HR called me the same day asking me if I wanted the job under a different new CEO. I said no because their new team lead said during the interview, “I know Indians, I have worked with them. One thing I cannot take from Indians is dishonesty. If you lie to me, I will not bear you. I am only taking you on the team because the company says you did a very exceptional job!”

It really is.

This post wasn’t made to tell people about my triumph over life, or the hard work I put in. This journey has humbled me enough to tell everyone that just because you didn’t get something doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard enough.

No matter how much you try, things will sometimes not work at all, and some other times, things will work with no effort.

So, in response to the article I metioned in the beginning, yes you need hardwork, but perseverance, hope, luck and timing play a role that you cannot control.

In simple engineering terms:

The effort you put in is not in direct proportion to your results, so you never know how much of what will yield what.