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Nevertheless, She Coded: Melissa Houghton

Melissa Houghton
Lead Software Engineer at Azenix, Microsoft MVP, international conference speaker, and active member of the tech community.
Originally published at melissahoughton.dev Updated on ・5 min read

In honour of International Women's Day, I #ChooseToChallenge, starting by creating awareness and sharing my journey as a woman in tech.

Choose to ChallengeMe raising my hand to show I am in and that I commit to #ChooseToChallenge

What Do You Want To Be?

Adults constantly ask kids what they want to be when they grow up.

The trouble is, many of us do not know what we want to be. Too often, society pushes us into becoming something we do not want to be or pushes us away from what we genuinely love.

And now, and for the coming generations, we are likely to hold jobs that did not exist or were unheard of when we were young.

My mom always says that she still does not know what she wants to be.

If you told me I would become a software developer, I would have no idea what that meant. I would certainly not know how much I would love it.

Growing up, I did not conform to the traditionally girly pastimes and often challenged the status quo. As a kid, you could find me up a tree or playing sports while also playing with Barbies and having tea parties.

One of my most memorable toys was an Intel Play QX3 Microscope which could connect to a computer. I would spend hours with it, examining things up close and getting very creative with the software.

MicroscopeMe with my Intel Play QX3 Microscope, circa 2000

My parents supported me in doing what I wanted. They provided me with opportunities to explore all areas — eventually leading me to find my love for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Yet life in tech is not what I would have expected for myself, although looking back, I should have known.

My Journey Into Tech

I didn't find tech; tech found me.

As a kid, I spent lots of time having fun on the computer. For a middle school project, I created an animation about cave dwellers in PowerPoint. In high school, I spent hours customising my MySpace page, which, unbeknownst to me, meant I was working with HTML and CSS.

When it came time to apply for Universities and choose my major, I knew I wanted to get into STEM. Computer Science did not even occur to me as something I would enjoy. I chose Mechanical Engineering because I knew it had a lot of math and science, and my dad was a Mechanical Engineer.

Into my first year, I realised it was not for me. I changed to pure Mathematics, which has always been my favourite subject. Under my Maths degree, I took an Introduction to Java course. We had an assignment to change an image to black and white using code. The visual presentation of the code coming to life made me fall in love with programming.

After that, I changed my degree to be both Mathematics and Computer Science. The following summer, I landed an internship as a developer and have never looked back.

I was lucky to find an area I loved and the confidence to pursue it.

Yet, I still had a constant pressure to do certain things, to like certain things and act in a certain way.

Nevertheless, I Coded

Walking into my first Computer Science University course, I found myself one of two females in the whole 200 person lecture hall.

Nevertheless, I coded.

I avoided the computer lab as much as possible. When I did have to go to the lab, I could feel the room full of men staring at me, wondering why I was there. I felt very out of place and that I did not belong.

Nevertheless, I coded.

Men in bars would tell me, "You are too pretty to be studying Computer Science; you should be a model instead."

Nevertheless, I coded.

I have been called bossy. I have had ideas ignored, only for a man to suggest the same thing and have others listen.

Nevertheless, I coded.

To this day, I am often the only female in the room. More often than not, I am assumed to be in a less technical role than I am.

Nevertheless, I coded.

I have been told I only got the opportunity because I am female.

Nevertheless, I coded.

I could go on.

Despite my parents best efforts to put the world at my fingertips, society decided to push back. Thankfully, I have been strong and continued on my path. I have continued to ignore all the bullshit and do what I love.

How Did I Do It?

I got involved in the tech community. There I found likeminded people and networks dedicated to supporting women in tech.

Bankwest Girls CoderDojoMentors for the Bankwest Girls CoderDojo, April 2018

I surrounded myself with those who did not care what I did. Those who saw past my gender and appreciated my hard work and skills for what they were.

I learned to believe in myself. To get over my impostor syndrome and learn not to care what others thought.

My Advice to You

My advice to you, no matter your gender, industry, or role, is to support those around you. Make others feel welcome, leave biases at the door. Approach everything with an open mind.

Bring others along for the ride and help them break out of their comfort zones. They might be too shy to do it themselves. They might feel out of place or that it is not suitable for them.

But it's never too late to explore and find out what you love, no matter what society tells us to do.

Inspire the next generation to do the same and challenge the status quo.

You can choose to challenge, call out inequality, change your words and actions and advocate for others.

Know that you are not alone, and nevertheless, #WeCoded.


Resources

International Women's Day: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

DEV #SheCoded Celebration: https://dev.to/shecoded

Women in Tech Communities:

Watch a discussion from Microsoft #NewBreakpoint about tangible ways you can support Women in Tech


Discussion (1)

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miriamtocino profile image
👩🏻‍💻✏️ Miriam Tocino

Thank you for sharing, Melissa. So many takeaways from your blog post that I don't even know what to highlight!

I especially loved reading about your mom, and how she always says that she still doesn't know what she wants to be. Lol. I'm stealing that from her!

It makes me sad to read about your stories, and how you, nevertheless, kept coding. There's something magical and powerful about being in tech. So here's to inspire the ones who're coming after us! 🚀

Are there any other women in your team now? We need more women in the room!