I was told, I don't belong into tech, but I did it anyway #WomenWhoTech
Whatever people say that you don't belong into a space—don't listen to them because if you want to be in a space, you belong into the space.
“You don't belong here” – The first time
When I went to what is probably the German equivalent to High School (the school that starts at age 11 and goes till age 16 or 18 depends on which further education you want to have) I had to take classes after school for 2 grades to fulfil my requirement of after school activities for my grades. Since I went to a fairly small school, the amount of after school classes I could take was fairly limited.
We had this choice: “Art”, “Photography”, “Cooking and Cleaning”, “Soccer”, and “Programming”.
I applied for programming, since I was super interested in computers, and we didn't have any at home at that point and I got denied with the words that “For girls it is required to participate in Cooking and Cleaning for one year.” I was mad, because I was already doing most of the housework at home due to my mothers chronic illness and I had my doubts if that class would teach me anything. But I took back my application to the Programming class and went into the cooking course.
I was not wrong and all I learned was cooking potatoes, making Toast Hawaii and calculating nutritions for my “husband”. 😫
After the worst year of after school classes I applied again the year after, and I was told then, that they are already that far in the classes (since it was a continued course and not a 1-year course) that I couldn't join any more. And quite frankly I would anyway be too much if a distraction to the boys there. I went to the school principal, but he agreed with the teachers opinion and that was the first time I heard “You don't belong there. Maybe you just take the cooking course again?” I didn't but went to Photography instead. I don't regret that class, because it was fun, but I was still mad at the teacher in the programming class.
“You don't belong here”—The second time
After high-school I went into a specific school to get my job qualifications. I worked as a Monument Technology Assistant. I first worked in the field of preserving old buildings and educate house owners on how they can and cannot treat their old houses. Later I switched into archaeology (“Monuments” defined by German Law can be above and underground, so archaeology was still a fitting field).
During that job, I had to use CAD programs and Excel to do technical drawings not only of buildings but even later for the archaeology. It's a lot more maths than you might think it is.
My main teacher was kind of a macho and would constantly tell us girls to not break the computers, to use the mouse the right way around and to better go home to our husbands (??) and not do technical work.
One day one of the computers wouldn't boot up because someone of the computer classes before must have broken something. Unfortunately it was the computer I used. My teacher came to me, yelled at me and said if I can't even boot up a computer I should stay away from all technology and even put an application for unemployment money on my desk. (He would carry them around for when he wanted to terrorize students)
“You don't belong here”—The last time
Five years back I got my diagnosis for ASS/ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and unfortunately it is already called a disorder which makes people around you think that you're not capable of anything any more yourself. This was clearly communicated with me after my diagnosis.
I was told that my condition wouldn't change and from now on we should stop trying to set a foot in anything career or future wise. I was heartbroken. Furthermore, I was told there is no space for me.
On top many people I connected with on social media especially Tech Twitter celebrated a very toxic and ableists way of gate keeping the tech space by pointing out all the things a neurodiverse person would have trouble with and say “these are more important than knowing how to program. If you can't do these, then you don't belong in tech.”
It was stuff like “Body language”, “Self organization”, and also things like “Working in a Team” but also ridiculous things like “Confidence”, “Empathy”, “Focus” .
Here I am not saying these things are not important. But I am saying that you can get around many of those things if you want to be inclusive. You still can be a good programmer even if you lack these things due to disability.
I was even more disappointed hearing many of these things not only from men but also from women who seemed to only repeat the things men have told them. It was disappointing but it stopped being discouraging.
Do what you want to do and don't let anyone discourage you
I didn't care about not “belonging into a space”. I still started my journey into learning how to program. Not only that, but I didn't listen to people who said I need a university degree. Likewise, I didn't listen to people telling me I need to be a social butterfly. I don't want to throw a dinner party—I want to find solutions for problems and want to use my highly analytical brain for it, thank you very much.
We don't have to be “one fits them all” but we can find our place in this gigantic field with never ending job opportunities and positions. And maybe also positions that yet have to be invented.