I've always loved math, so when I started college at DePaul University I pursued a bachelor's degree in the subject. I quickly discovered that I also had a love of programming and cryptography (the practice and study of techniques for secure communication), which led me to not only pursue a career in tech, but also a Master’s Degree in Computer Science.
When I initially started my master’s program, I wasn’t afraid. It felt like the natural next step because it was the perfect combination of the two subjects I loved—math and computer science. However, when I started accepting internships, doubt set in and I began to second guess myself. As one of the few women in the room in any given setting, I often felt an enormous pressure to do things perfectly to earn the same respect my male peers received. Despite my qualifications or my accomplishments, even the smallest mistakes made me question if I belonged in tech. Researchers refer to this as imposter syndrome—the feeling that we’ve fooled people into thinking we’re more competent and talented than we actually are.
To help myself overcome that fear of failure, I decided to connect with other women on my college campus by joining the Lean In Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) Chapter. After joining the Chapter, I started a small group with my classmates called a Lean In Circle. We meet regularly to learn and grow together. After a couple of meetings, I realized that I have a lot more in common with the members of my Circle than I had ever imagined. The feelings of impostor syndrome that I felt in my internship were not as uncommon as I thought. Many members shared similar feelings of anxiety and beliefs that they didn’t deserve a seat at the table. Finding people with similar struggles made me realize that I was not alone and that together we could overcome our fears and be more confident in our accomplishments.
Being a part of a Lean In Circle has changed my college experience entirely. I have gotten to connect with many different people with diverse interests who all want to support and uplift women pursuing careers in STEM fields. Because of this support, I have gained the courage to try new things and allow myself the freedom to make mistakes. This ultimately makes me feel confident in the woman that I have become and my place in the world.
As I reflect on where I am today, I have two key pieces of advice for other women studying computer science. One, step outside of your comfort zone and, two, find a support group that will be by your side when you might be afraid to take those steps. To this day I struggle with a fear of failure that can sometimes hold me back from taking bold risks. However, with my Circle to fall back on, it has become easier for me to confront my self-doubt and embrace my mistakes. My Circle has helped me take a seat the table. And now I know I deserve it.
Connect with thousands of CS&E students like Katie by joining LeanIn.Org’s CS&E Chapter, Facebook Group, and LinkedIn Group.