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Code Like A Girl

A personal and sweet story from one of our femgineers on how to build self-confidence in the engineering industry.
Code Like A Girl

Shortly after I graduated with a bachelor certificate of software engineering, I started my career as a developer. I was 21. It was a startup and we were five programmers, four men and one woman — me!

All of them were senior developers, and they each had more than five years of experience in the coding and software industry.

I can clearly remember the feelings I had during my first weeks of work. It was terrible. I did not understand a lot of the technical words they used when they talked about different problems. I could not tell them my ideas, because I presumed that all of them were wrong. I thought I was a college student surrounded by multiple Mark Zuckerbergs!

I was a good student at university, and I was comfortable with coding. And also, my colleagues were kind and helpful. So why did I have these feelings?

Well, there were 20 girls in my class at university, but just three of us could write code. The others depended on their boyfriends, brothers, or male classmates to do the practices and write the code for them.

From my very first day at university, I was hearing subtext everywhere that men are better coders — from our teachers, our male classmates, the media, and the worst thing, from the women themselves! There was an implicit consensus between all of us, at the university and in society, that men can think more logically, and women should do art, not technical things.

It had been reinforced for me for years that because I am not a man, I cannot be a good developer.

Consequently, I soon became discouraged. I had never thought about how many years those men had worked until they became experienced. I had never thought about how many mistakes they made before they could reach their current level. My mind was focused on the idea that they are better than me because of their gender. At the time, I didn’t know that my mind was biased. I was not aware that I was facing imposter syndrome caused by sexism and gender stereotypes existing in society.

It is proven that when our mind is biased about something, we cannot comprehend reality, and cognitive biases mislead our brain. While we believe we are making rational decisions, our mind is unconsciously under the effect of cognitive biases.

This is what happened to me, and perhaps what is happening to female programmers every day. Many think that coding is a male job, so they presume they cannot cope with it.

According to a research study, female programmers with over eight years of experience express the same confidence in coding as men with no experience.

This is terrible, but this occurs because men overestimate themselves while women underestimate their skills. There is a vicious cycle as we underestimate ourselves, and we suffer more from a lack of confidence. Each one makes the other one worse, and it will never end until we interrupt the pattern.

At some point in the cycle, we should stop these thoughts.

We should stop the stigma — and do it in our own way!

We should believe in ourselves, break the cycle, and code like a girl!

I eventually did this some years ago. I can recall that day vividly, and with each day, I became more and more confident in myself.

The purpose of writing this article is to talk about my own experience during these years, from being an intern to becoming a senior developer. I want to make women aware that some of the obstacles we experience during our career are things we have influence over, starting with our confidence and our own beliefs. Here are some hints I’ve put together on how to become a competitive programmer in this male-dominated industry.

How To Thrive As A Femgineer

1. Be aware of gender stereotypes

As I said, some months after I started my first job, I became seriously disappointed. But what stopped me from giving up?

I have started to give this some thought. I talked to my female developer friends and also read a lot about other female developers around the world — their problems, failures, and their path to success. Although there weren’t a ton of examples to draw from, I found out that there are very similar experiences among all women in the software industry. It was the first time that I became familiar with our internal biases and also the causes for them, which were discrimination and harmful gender stereotypes that make us berate ourselves constantly. The logical conclusion you eventually reach, assuming you don’t interrupt the cycle, is that programming is not your thing!

We know that the first step to overcoming any issue is to acknowledge the problem. So before you do anything else, read about these unconscious biases and think about your own behavior in the workplace. Which of your thoughts and decisions are ones you create on your own, and which don’t really belong to you at all?

2. Find your voice

I can recall many times when I had ideas, but because I was not confident enough to talk about them, I was completely quiet in discussions at work. Then someone else said exactly what I was thinking, and everyone liked it.

Improving my self-esteem gradually helped me find my voice and be vocal about my ideas. And then what happened? With each idea that was accepted by others, my confidence increased a lot, and that encouraged me to be more active in discussions and learn more each time. After some time, I found myself in a virtuous cycle, a positive feedback loop.

3. Stop worrying about what others think of you

Focus on what you do, not on what others think of you. Learning from colleagues at work is one thing, but overthinking and obsessing over what they think about your work is another thing. It will lead to self-doubt. So just remember that most people never pay much attention to what they say to us, and it is usually just a passing thought. 

Be wise enough to receive opinions that are constructive and specific to you!

4. Stay up to date and code a lot

Recently I saw a job description that said, We like to add female programmers to our team, but we do not employ you just because you are a female! It makes sense. Companies need developers who can write high-quality, clean and maintainable code. So push yourself beyond your limits and never stop learning.

Read a lot, but code much more. I was a programming teacher for a while, and I found out that women read a lot, but they code less than men. Any expert developer knows that you would never become a senior developer just by reading books or articles. So implement the ideas you have. Examine every algorithm you read by writing, running and debugging it. You should get your hands dirty and jump into coding at your earliest opportunity.

5. Be active in online communities

It can be discouraging when a woman starts coding and she browses online forums, yet she rarely sees another woman respond to the questions. According to Stack Overflow Survey 2019, only 8.5% of respondents are women, whereas that number drops to 3% for Github.com.

To improve this, we should participate in discussions in different answer and question websites or open source communities to encourage our newbie female counterparts to keep going, and also to make these communities a more advantageous resource.

7. You don’t have to be a geek

It’s a dark room, and there is some leftover pizza in its box on the table. We can see multiple monitors in different sizes, while some green text is passing rapidly on the displays, and a man with a black hoodie is typing strange things very swiftly.

This is the image people have of developers because it’s how they’re portrayed in the movies. But we do not have to fit that profile to be good developers.

During the first year of my career, I imagined that I must be like my male counterparts in order to be a successful programmer. I tried to conform to masculine stereotypical traits in the clothes that I wore, the way I behaved, and the way I worked. I was not being real. I was just imitating men because I presumed a good developer should be like that. After a while, I saw that I wasn’t acting like myself anymore.

It was upsetting, but I tried hard to be myself again. I got help from a psychologist and also rediscovered some of my feminine traits that made me happy. I kept pursuing the professional aspects of my career, but I also made space for myself to be a lifeguard swimmer, a teacher, a bookworm, a watercolor painter. I could pay attention to different aspects of my character at the same time. As a result, I became an authentic version of myself who is now a happy programmer!

Last but not least, we should make a consistent effort at our companies to raise awareness of gender-biased behavior. Six months ago, I started working at Babbel. Here, I have learned that we should constantly work on making people aware of diversity and gender equity through meetings, inviting experts to give talks, and creating supportive groups like the Femgineers+ to help other women find their way in this male-dominant industry.

Doing all these things (and a lot more) is the reason why, after working for almost 9 years in the software industry, Babbel is the first company I have never, even for a second, felt any differences between me and my male counterparts! This is the first time that I’m experiencing the feeling of equity. And I should say this feeling is incredibly enjoyable!

References used for this article :

Header Photo by Christin Hume Photo on Unsplash.

Author Headshot
Elmira Farahani
Elmira is a passionate Android developer at Babbel who believes we can reach any goal by doing hard work and being determined! When she wants to recharge, she goes swimming or running in the morning and when she wants to increase creativity she makes art works using watercolor.
Elmira is a passionate Android developer at Babbel who believes we can reach any goal by doing hard work and being determined! When she wants to recharge, she goes swimming or running in the morning and when she wants to increase creativity she makes art works using watercolor.

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