Because apparently, it’s not me.
Take a second to just write down the first three words you think of when you respond to that question.
My answer was nerdy, smart, and has poor fashion sense. Which, to be fair, when I look around my office, is kind of true.
When I picture an engineer in my mind, I think about someone who looks like my dad. Wears old tech t-shirts all the time, jeans that have seen better days, walks out the door without checking his hair. It’s super easy for me to think the paper guy above is a developer.
I usually wouldn’t think too hard about this, because what does it matter?
Every profession has some kind of stereotypical look that you can easily associate with them. You see someone in a white coat and you think doctor, or a person in a suit and you see business associate.
It just seems to me that the uniform for a developer is a slouchy shirt, ill fitting pants, thick glasses, and running shoes.
But it mattered to me last week when a coworker of mine assumed I was a project manager instead of a software developer, and was astounded at the fact.
When I asked why they thought I was a Product Manager, they said that I just looked like one, and not like an engineer.
What do you mean I don’t look like an engineer?
I want to be taken seriously. I want people to look at me and not question my ability to be an engineer. I want to look like an engineer, but I don’t want to have to wear the uniform.
It’s like we see someone who dresses nicely, wears a bit of makeup, and generally just puts in some extra effort to their appearance, and we think: HR, secretary, people-oriented.
I mean just look at the photo below —
One look at her, and engineer is definitely not the first word I’d think of to describe her. I don’t know who she is, I don’t know what she does for a career. But she could be the best developer the world has ever seen for all I know.
The point is, that of the ten people I showed this photo to, none easily accepted that she might be an engineer.
Tech is one area where investing in your appearance isn’t really needed to fit in. You can usually show up to work in sweats and a hoodie and be totally fine. But we become so used to that look that when we see someone who doesn’t fit that, we have a harder time accepting them as a developer.
Just look at the response to Victoria’s Secret model Lyndsey Scott. She’s beautiful and sexy, and because of that people couldn’t believe she also had a brain. She was mocked and memed and belittled despite being an accomplished coder, just because she also happened to be a beautiful woman.
You don’t see a lot of enticing female developers become publicly prolific because this is the response they’re met with —
If you look beautiful, people won’t believe you’re smart.
If you put effort into your appearance, you detract from your credibility as a developer.
If you don’t look like the stereotype, it’s just harder to believe you belong.
It discourages us from wanting to dress up, and honestly it just makes me feel like I need to change my appearance if I want to fit in more.
We want to support women in tech, and so many organizations and articles talk about encouraging us to move past imposter syndrome and believe in our abilities, but what about the non-technical side of things?
Beauty seems vain, and it seems like it shouldn’t be a factor to consider when we’re trying to support women in a field like tech, but to me it does.
It does because I’ve always struggled with how I feel about my appearance, and I’ve gotten past that largely through fashion and makeup.
I deal with imposter syndrome every day, and I struggle to feel good about my body. So to go to work and feel like I should give up on my looks to assuage my imposter syndrome is kind of an impossible feeling.
Wanting to feel more like an engineer makes me want to feel less beautiful (and how stupid is that).
I would love for there to be a day when engineers are generally thought of as the epitome of sex appeal and fashion, but that won’t happen anytime soon (as evidenced by Reddit responses). The tech culture just isn’t like that. At least it isn’t yet.
And until it is, I’ll just keep feeling weird about wearing a bit of concealer and mascara to work.
We don’t focus on what a developer looks like as a big issue when trying to improve the tech environment, and that makes total sense. We need to build the esteem of women and minorities first so that we can get them into the tech field. Then we can start working on changing the game from the inside.
It’s not super important. In fact, this article is probably one of the least important articles I’ve ever written, but it matters to me. It matters to me because I don’t want to feel like I have to sacrifice my self-esteem to feel credible.
It matters because we should be encouraging girls and women to feel both smart and beautiful.
It matters because we should want women to feel like they belong in STEM in all aspects — and they should be encouraged to feel confident and accepted.