.tech and i go way back

This piece is cross-posted in Wellesley Underground.

My relationship with technology is intimate and deeply integrated in my thinking and view of the world around me.

In the mid-1990s, my mother started a company called CompuKidz, teaching children how to use computers. She recognized that technology would shape the future and we can best leverage that shift by supporting computer education for children. There was always a computer in our house loaded with creative games and educational programs. I would type stories for hours and then design accompanying illustrations. By the time my elementary school offered a computer class, I was already bored with the introductions. Didn’t everyone’s fingers glide across the keyboard without looking? Who needed help turning the computer on and finding Oregon Trail? Didn’t everyone have a computer in their house that they could use after their homework was done? The answer, I found, was no.

I attended a high school with a Science and Technology program, meaning that in addition to standard high school courses, the program offered specializations in biology, engineering, and computer science. I majored in computer science and learned to program.

Learning to code was a breath of fresh air. Understanding how to communicate with a computer was like learning to speak my crush’s language. We were both logical. We both broke big problems into smaller, sequential steps. We both processed information and assessed the solution. We were finally speaking the same language. Before, I was communicating at my computer but now I could communicate with it. I was in love. I wrote programs for fun, I thought about how everyday technologies were coded, I refactored my code to make it shorter and more efficient. This, kids, is your brain on code.

In my senior year I applied to a bunch of schools, got into them, and narrowed down to two. I could attend Carnegie Mellon University and study with some of the best computer scientists in the world for free, or, I could attend Wellesley and get an excellent liberal arts education, going on to become a lawyer or writer with tons of student debt. I visited Wellesley and knew this was where I needed to be.I made promises to study English and leave computer science behind.

I broke up with computer science in favor of being around an environment that motivated, challenged, and excited me. I vowed to do whatever it took to be around these brilliant minds that would change the world. (Spoiler: my personal mottos are “Why pick one when you can have both?” and “Treat yo’self”. I don’t do well denying myself things.)

Fast-forward to 2008. It was late in my sophomore year and I was preparing to tell my mother that I’d declared a major. Inhale. Exhale. Dial. “Mom, I decided to major in computer science.” I said as I’d been practicing.

“I thought you wanted to major in English and go to law school.” She had a point. But how could I explain that I took a CS class to fulfill a requirement and free-fell back into the comfort of it. I felt guilty for ever having left computer science; you can’t deny a love like that. I couldn’t leave it a second time, so one required CS class turned into two CS classes, which turned into possibly minoring, which turned into majoring.

As my studies progressed, I became more fascinated in what coding could create. How could computer science concepts develop innovative softwares and solve important problems? Next time, I’ll tell you a story about the jump I made from programming to product management and how that journey is going.

For now, I’ll say that I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to identify and cultivate my passion so early in life. If you’ve identified something similar in yourself, we owe it to ourselves, and our respective industries, to never deny ourselves the pleasure of diving deep and not coming up for air.

With a smile,

Monet

.let karma handle the finances

This piece is cross-posted in Wellesley Underground.

I listened to a student presentation today about how important it is to encourage women to pursue computer science. I listened with an open mind and suppressed the urge to correct “all girls school” (it’s definitely “all women’s college” – who doesn’t know that?!) and “women don’t…” (women are not a solitary entity) in favor of internalizing their message. The presenters talked about the stereotypical relationship women have with tech and computer science the way one would a fear of dogs. “If we can show them that it’s not scary and that it can be fun, women will love computer science. They’ll be cuddling and playing fetch in no time!”

There is a fundamental flaw in this ideology. This ideology isn’t about developing environments for women to pursue fields that interest them, uninterrupted. This ideology is about encouraging women to subscribe to society’s ideals about what it means to be a woman – oh yea, and pursue tech. If women see that tech can be easy and fun (things society assumes women are capable of) they will be comfortable pursuing technology.

Tech can be easy. Women can do easy. Therefore women can do tech.

I often ponder the factors that contribute to tech being a male-dominated field. I recognize that my upbringing (predominantly Black upper middle-class suburb), subject interests (always computer science), and formal education (Wellesley College) skew my perception. I’m even in a co-ed, tech-related masters program that is predominantly women. So, when we talk about the underrepresentation of women in tech I think, “but there are SO many brilliant women in tech around me“. I have to remind myself that this is not the norm. That there are entire business, academic departments, and development teams that can count their women developers with one hand in their pocket.

So I ponder. Today I had a revelation.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Satya Nadella’s complete screw up, in telling women not to ask for raises, but to let karma bring it to them. He attended the prestigious (and well attended) Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, sat on a stage in front of several women, and advised them to let karma handle the finances. In a world of women being told to Lean In, Nadella suggests we leave altogether.

As I thought about my colleagues in the audience listening to a successful man encourage them to not be pushy or aggressive, to wait it out and let things come to them it hit me: society refuses to recognize that women can do hard things. Of course women can navigate salary negotiations, pursue STEM career paths, and climb the professional ladder. (Also, do not soften the things women can do by throwing in “and have dinner on the table by 6!” Who doesn’t know that?!) The gender divide is not the professional equivalent of cynophobia, and cannot be solved with soft strokes behind the ears or puppy licks.

People are working to create environments in which women can pursue tech. Successful allies in the field (let’s just say men) support and extend the message because diversity is good. We are effectively asking women to subscribe to a system that has systematically put them at a disadvantage, and promise that tech will be different. Women in tech are brilliant, powerful unicorns until someone tells them to let karma handle the finances.

Every time a woman is discouraged away from tech, I imagine some patriarchal figure cooing “Don’t you worry your pretty little head off about that.” Nadella is basically saying that being a nice gal will get you ahead. But wait, didn’t we learn that nice finishes last? That hard work, determination, and pursuing the rewards you rightfully deserve are respected and encouraged in the professional world. The Boys have different rules and even in their advice to women, women still get 77 cents to the dollar.

A statement was released. Nadella took it back. But does that change anything? Not really.

While it’s disappointing that we’re still having elementary discussions about gender equality, its important that we continue to show up. That we encourage women (in and out of tech) to understand the issues, care about the impact, and show up.Create forums for successful women to advocate for collective interests and offer informed advice to other women. Push girls to pursue the things that interest them, to become women that show up for the things that interest them.

And anyone will tell you: when you show up, you better show out.

.induction speech

In the days before my graduation ceremony I was inducted into the Wellesley College Alumnae Association. The induction ceremony felt long, though looking back it is easy to convince myself it was a few short minutes. I sat with cupcakes and champagne at a table filled with the women with whom I’d shared this spectacular journey. Sometimes, that moment seems like yesterday, other times it feels like another world entirely.

The induction speech was delivered by Professor Dan Chiasson of the English Department. I mostly remember listening to his words, waiting for the moment to sink in. In reality they’d be sucked into the tornado of graduation highs. Yesterday I reread the speech, catching every word, pausing at every joke and reflecting on every Wellesley reference. It was a perfect and watery-eyed moment, two years removed.

Life is long, and you spend much of it alone. What you fill that aloneness with is up to you: you can fill it with envy, or jealousy, or resentment, or with mere logistical planning, or with worry—I certainly spend many, many moments lost in all of the above. Or you can treat your inner life as merely a zone for imagining your outer circumstances: I’ve done plenty of that, imagining prestige, success, worldly triumph, glory, and all the rest. But I hate myself when I do it, and sometimes, when I am very, very down, it is because I simply have lost the ways I once had of being carried away by all those free or low-budget and repeatable experiences I am recommending. It is true: one has days when even poetry, even a slice of pizza with spaghetti and meatballs on top, fail to console. My dear friends, when you hit those dark patches, get thee to the weirdest, most out of the way and amazing falafel place, and order what the chefs eat.

Induction Speech, reposted on girl from the north country.

Thanks for sharing, @laur_saurus!

With a smile,

Monet

.welcome back

A lot has changed since I last posted.  That’s a good thing  because my last post was over two months ago! Alas, I am back with the same spunk and a new twang. For one thing, I am a college graduate! I am still unveiling the wonders of post graduate life, but so far so good. I will be moving in a few weeks to begin an internship at a small web start up. I am very excited for a change of pace but more than anything, I am looking forward to all of the opportunities the working world has to offer. I hope my internship manifests into a full time position, but I am taking everything one beautiful day at a time.

Lots more updates to come — promise. The end of my college career was a roller coaster. Tons of events, gatherings, assignments, finals, papers, tests and memories to keep me busy. With all of that tucked in a neat folder of the past, I can look forward and start by blogging again. Stay tuned!

With a smile,

Monet “MissControlZ” Spells

.recipe for insanity

1 15-page paper

1 10-page paper

2 exams

1 graphic design project

3 problem sets

Combine ingredients in a bowl until batter is on the verge of tears. Set in library to bake for 7 days. Periodically, poke with index finger to check breathing. Done when laughing hysterically for no reason…product will be delusional and sleep deprived.