Exactly one hundred long, grueling days and my semester is finally over. I celebrated by going ice skating with my friends; within five minutes my feet started throbbing. I wobble-slid around as tiny humans, half my size, dashed by at light speed and occasionally performed spins and jumps. And afterwards I had the world’s sourest cup of limeade at a café. #superfun. Clearly good choices were made by all.
Moral of the story: I now have luxurious swathes of time to use at my discretion to do things like guiltlessly binge watch Netflix shows with my friend and color-coordinate my entire closet. But most importantly, with my own graduation date looming closer, I’ve been contemplating life after college. Sometimes exciting stuff: How do I want to decorate my new apartment? (Time to put those years of watching HGTV to good use) The practical stuff: What will it be like to use public transportation? Do I have to set an alarm so I don’t miss my stop if I take a nap? Is that a normal thing to do? And then some scary stuff: What is going to be like to work at an OFFICE? (Am I going to become a boring adult?!?)
In my opinion, the transition from college to the workplace is the most intimidating one. As a woman, the workplace definitely can seem like a murderous, Amazonian jungle at times, especially with some of the stories I hear floating around. Thinking about it reminds me of my internship from last summer.
We all know that the gender ratio breakdown for tech is pretty abysmal, with the percentage of women in tech floating somewhere in the low-twenties and tens depending on which report you read. It’s not even uncommon to hear about a woman being on a team of all guys. I knew all of this going into my internship. I follow a significant number of lovely Facebook pages, all dedicated to smashing the patriarchy and other bogus societal constructs, that constantly churn out articles that make it hard to forget how unfair women and other minorities have it it in the workplace. But of course they also put out articles with ideas to overcome all the unfairness and positive progress pieces to counteract all the negativity.
But I just wasn’t really prepared to see what those statistics visualized in real life. Because back at UT, I was used to having my really strong support system and having tons of women in CS to talk to – something I had probably started taking for granted.
So it really shocked me to just walk around the office and see tech’s gender disparity with my eyes and realize that I was one of two female interns. Keep in mind this isn’t something specific to this organization, but a phenomenon in most tech companies. The result of the surprise, coupled with the fact that this was my very first internship, was enough to diminish my confidence to crumbs. I would sit there agonizing over my inabilities and wondering if they were judging me – judging me because I’m a woman. And wondering if they were thinking that all women in tech were incapable because of me. I felt like I was letting women down everywhere. So I made the most rooky-intern mistake of all and didn’t ask enough questions and let myself flounder and stew in self-pity, which obviously was a terrible idea and didn’t help in any way.
The thing is that I was surrounded by lovely people who, with a high probability, weren’t even thinking any of the things I thought they were. So I ended up taking on this immense mental strain over something I shouldn’t have been worried about. To be fair to myself, it’s a completely normal response to being placed in that kind of a situation. However, in hindsight, I realize that I could have avoided it completely. After a couple weeks of beating myself up, I started asking more questions and adjusting to the workplace until I felt completely normal again. I ended up crushing my internship, loving my project, and giving a kick-ass presentation at the end of the summer that I’m still super proud of. #happyending
Going through that experience wasn’t pleasant, but it was good to learn from it and get it out of the way early in my career. Moral of the story: Put a leash on all inner demons and feelings of inadequacy. In any situation – not just the tech workplace. The world already makes things hard enough for me; I don’t need to be helping it. It’s probably all in my head anyway. If anything I need to be there to vouch for myself and support myself. Except this probably doesn’t apply to ice skating. I still suck at that – like a giraffe on skates.
Happy Thursday! :)