Programming became my comfort zone, but I felt conflicted. Women were not supposed to be good at coding.
My father showed me how to use computers at a very young age. In fact, I started typing on a computer at the age of three before I even learned to write the alphabet. I was fortunate to study in a school where we were taught programming in fifth grade. At the age of 10, I started programming with Logic, followed by Basic, Visual Basic, SQL, and finally C++. I felt like problem-solving came naturally to me. Programming became my comfort zone, but I felt conflicted. Women were not supposed to be good at coding. As a result, I felt embarrassed by my passion for computer science.
Growing up listening to these stereotypes, I began to develop many self-doubts and fears. I wasn’t sure if I should pursue what I was most interested in. These self-doubts and fears stopped me from taking on challenges and trying new things. I had a lot of trouble moving past failures.
When I started college, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The book inspired me to continue pursuing computer science despite my hesitations. I joined the Lean In Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) Chapter and started a Lean In Circle on my campus. Lean In Circles are small peer groups that meet regularly to encourage one another and learn new skills together.
Even though I was nervous at first, as the leader of my Circle, I felt responsible for setting an example for other female students. I pushed myself to lean in so that my Circle members could relate to me and lean in with me. We motivated each other to apply for internships and scholarships and to create new mobile applications. I started doing things I had been too afraid to tackle, like contributing to Open Source (source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance) and networking with other technologists.
My Circle helped me get back up and start again every time I fell. They helped me gradually learn how to prevent failure from affecting my self-confidence. Instead of feeling out of place for being a female coder, I started feeling powerful.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t let society define me when I was younger. I shouldn’t have let anyone tell me how to behave or which career to choose. If I could go back, I would have believed in myself more and told myself that I shouldn’t be reluctant to do something I feel passionate about.
My advice for other women studying computer science and engineering is to not be afraid to break the invisible boundaries set by society and to never stop learning. Engage yourself outside of your college curriculum, contribute to Open Source, participate in hackathons, attend tech meetups, and build real relationships with those around you. No matter how experienced you become in coding, there will always be something new to learn, even if it’s discovering something about yourself. After all, you might be surprised by what you can learn when you lean in.