By no means is it concealed that software engineering is a male-dominated field - nor is it that a push for gender diversity in tech has been a recent, necessary development (for which I am grateful for). Nonetheless, in my experience, there still exists a looming feeling of otherness when adapting to the label of "developer" as a woman - yet another layer of feeling like an imposter. I'm still in my infancy as a software engineer and one of my biggest hurdles thus far has simply been the adjustment of identifying as one.
For the majority of my life, I've opted towards the arts as my primary career path. At an early age, I picked up photography and film, which followed me through college. I grew up with two boys as my best friends - both of whom are still very close to me - that were likewise interested in computer science. A solid line was drawn in my brain early on: they were logical thinkers, and I was the artsy one. That’s how it ought to be, right? I was a girl, they were boys. Though I was always intrigued by technology and other "boyish" interests, there was a certain glass ceiling that I hit every time I tried to pursue them past entry-level. I lingered on the sidelines of my friends' projects, attempting to learn enough programming to join in, but consistently flickering out. Making the decision to switch my career path to software engineering did not come without an internal struggle. It felt right, on one hand, since programming had always been a backseat interest of mine, and I had been surrounded by it since youth. Yet, there was - and to an extent is - a lingering cognitive dissonance when I think about myself as a developer. Although women joining technology and sciences is becoming more common, I didn’t feel like I could be of those “special” girls. And, in a sense, it feels very one-or-the-other - either I'm a girl, or I'm a "one of the boys" girls - defeminated.
In the midst my struggles making the decision to pursue software engineering, I came to a realization that has been key to pushing forward. This line that I’ve drawn so solidly in my head, between logic and art, film and programming, boy and girl, is just that - in my head. The world doesn't exist in black and white, and software engineering is no exception. Moving beyond the binary is crucial to expanding self-identity in many cases. Furthermore, not doing so reinforces arbitrary and limiting gender norms rooted in our current social schema.
Though this realization has been freeing for me, I want to underline that my looming discomfort with identifying as a female developer is still apparent. I am proud of myself for pushing through and taking the leap, and I can say with confidence that is a label I feel comfortable identifying with. That being said, it remains a plight. When I fail at understanding a concept or solving a problem, it hits twice as hard - I fail as a beginner developer and I fail as a woman. Aesthetics tend to be overtly masculine. The community - made up of mostly men - is opinionated and prompts gate-keeping. At each turn, it feels reinforced that this space isn't meant for me.
I don't anticipate this fading away any time soon. That's okay. I can applaud myself for being here, and I can find comfort in knowing that other females and non-binary identifying people are here, too - among other affected minorities. It's a cross to bear, but one that elicits a stronger and more diverse community.
With ❤️, keep programming. I will too.