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What does it feel like when you’re alone in a crowd?

Image descriptionPhoto from Unsplash by Daniel Thomas

I started at a community college, drawn into a computer science class based in C++ by an enthusiastic chemistry professor who also knew some basic to intermediate C++. The class was intense and interesting and after meandering through a series of courses in a half hearted attempt to prep for medical school and pivot from nursing, I was left with a sense of pride once I finished the class. I had a working project, a (now basic) C++ program that calculated an integral and also performed a Riemann sum until the Riemann sum was within an error tolerance. I was also left with a sense of being alone. The class wasn’t small and out of the people there I was one of only a few women there and the only Black woman. However, everyone in class was pleasant and cooperative and it was a great experience. I didn’t let that sense of feeling out of place stop me, after graduating high school at 14 and starting college at 15 I was used to being out of place with my peers. I spent a little time soul searching then quickly applied and was accepted into a OSU.

OSU was a different experience all together. It took a long time to find other’s like me even with the resources of slack and discord and group projects to this day I only know four other Black female software engineers and a handful of Black men, from my school. All of these I sought out myself and introduced myself and formed a sort of community. I started to do more research and found the disheartening statistics of the field. I read up on factors of why Black people aren’t entering into CS degrees, the difficulties in being hired and seen as competent. I felt the impostor syndrome on a personal level. I learned the history of black women in computing and felt and lived parts of the movie Hidden Figures (2016) in real life.

When I started interning I was faced with even more hurdles and triumphs than I had ever anticipated. I was left with a feeling of exhaustion. I joke with friends and family that the title of the book “Black Girls Must Die Exhausted” by Jayne Allen sums up my life. It wasn’t the work, it was the complex intersection of people and me; It was the raised eyebrows, the looks, the comments, the stares at my different hairstyles, the feeling of needing to police my every breath so as to not cause anymore strain to those who were already offended or standoffish about me taking up space in a club I how somehow gotten admittance to. I felt the words unsaid and said hang around my neck like a weight so heavy some days. Slowly, begrudgingly I gained respect, and each day, each new person was a new battle. I was not presumed to have a level of competence when I walked in. I learned to speak up for myself. I learned to bite my tongue. I learned to learn more. I learned to know the answer before asking the question if possible. I learned to hide my true feelings.

I ran in the cold every night after finishing up work each day at one internship. -5F, ice on the streets, I ran, letting the cold leech out the heat I felt at the day’s events. Letting the burn of my muscles sear away the anxiety and anger I felt. Letting each puff of air I exhaled melt away the stress. 1 hour, 2 hours, sometimes 3. I went to bed too tired to feel, ready for the next day even when I wasn’t.

As someone of two minorities in computer science this is a question I have known the answer to since starting my journey. The answer to this question has been felt in emotions, stares, comments and so much more throughout my education and blossoming professional career. For some who read this post , the topic I am about to discuss might seem like a downer or too heavy for blog I am writing. But when asked to discuss my career and my experiences and my education, I am drawn back to how the world see’s me first. I am not my skills first. I am not my creativity, I am not my drive or passion. I am Black. I am a woman. Everything else comes second when the first two are known.

Black women make up around 3% of computer science jobs (Daley, 2021). This statistic to some seems insignificant. I am sure some of you reading this will roll your eyes and click away citing “woke” agenda or not wanting to read something you have little interest in. But for the rest of you here is how my journey has started in computer science and then I will tell you how I want it to end.

Why does all I have written above even matter?

It matters when you are in a class and it’s a group of men and when during the course of casual conversation a student brings up faking sexual assault to get out of a class and makes it a joke. It matters when you are interning at a company and you ask your boss the best way to stand out and without even knowing you he says “be nice”, with the passive aggressive tone you know to well , reeking of the implied “Angry Black Woman” stereotype you have to tone done your whole being to avoid even giving any credence too. It matters when you are the only woman on a team, time and time again and other engineers make comments, like joking that only a “friend can touch your privates” then laughing crassly , after only just saying moments before “I know this isn’t PC but I will say it anyway”. It matters when they don’t care for your discomfort and only for their amusement.

It matters when every time you are hired, you have to fight the side looks, and side whispers that you are hired for your skin, for DEI metrics, for pictures. It matters when you attend a new intern event filled with over a hundred people, none of which look like yourself, you walk into a room head held high as eyes turn and you are called to the front to show prominently for when there are photos and media taken. It matters when you have to take almost a year off for recuperating and soul searching after a horrible internship experience you have to strongly about if you even want to continue in CS anymore.

And it matters when you choose to come back, and to push on so that one day, some girl who is maybe not even born will be the last person to experience the things you have.

Now you have the answer of how it feels to be alone in a crowd, and not to just be part of the crowd.

“Do the best until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou
Daley, S. (2021, March 31). Women in tech statistics show the industry has a long way to go. Built In. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from

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