Being a girl in a world of developers

By audrée lafontaine

During a third-year class in university, I received a text saying : “Hey, have you realized that you’re the only girl in the class?” The answer war no; I wasn’t seeing it any more. It had become the norm. Being the only or one of the rare girls in the group had stopped bothering me.

I chose to study computer science because I liked to code and I have an analytical mind suitable for problem solving and writing code. I didn’t really realize or paid attention to the fact that it’s rather a male domain.

Did it scare me when I started studying in college? Of course. Did that make me reconsider my career choice after the first year? Yes. Do I regret persevering? No, not at all.

The beginning of my academic journey has been difficult for me on a social level. I have two sisters and almost only had girl friends in high school so ending up studying with only guys has been a relatively hard transition. I had some apprehension regarding other people’s perceptions. Therefore, I was paying close attention to all my actions. I didn’t want to do things with guy friends so not to make my then boyfriend jealous. I didn’t want to give the wrong impression to my guy friends when I was single. I didn’t want to pass as the stupid girl who can’t perform in computing. So it took me time, patience and the support of my friends to find my place in the domain.

In the past, I have lived unpleasant moments in this context. I have received comments that I perceived as sexist. I have been in contact with people representing the stereotypes of the nerd or the macho. However, I had the chance to meet gentle and sensitive guys that eventually became close friends. What I can say is that I learned to work with boys. I managed to adapt to this typically male environment. The next paragraphs report what I learned.

First, I learned that my colleagues didn’t always realize the impact of a joke. There are many types of jokes : laugh about your environment, about politics, about an event, etc. However, there is a type of joke that is very prevalent among guys, which is to ridicule something someone said. As soon as you say something that can be misinterpreted, be ready for certain boys to take the occasion to turn the comment into a joke. We could call it being arrogant.

Since the comment’s intention was serious and it’s being ridiculed, it can be taken the wrong way and become personal. Nonetheless, the guy who joked simply wanted to make people laugh, not hurt them. He doesn’t make the joke with bad intentions. Thus, he doesn’t realize its impact and that it can be interpreted as laughing about the person.

In recent years, I try not to take these comments personal. When it happens, I withdraw from the conversation or the group, I live my emotions and then take a step back to analyze what happened. Finally, I usually go to see the person to share my comments on the joke and most of the time, he is being receptive towards them.

Then, I learned not to take for granted that my male colleagues will understand what is left unsaid. I should not expect others to understand what I want to do or offer it to me. I have to go get it by myself and be honest and direct in my interactions.

For example, I always had an interest for everything that has to do with the user interface. I often waited for others to give me the opportunity to do more in a project. I didn’t want to ask too much of my team or my employer. I didn’t want to take too much space and be demanding. My male counterparts certainly had fewer difficulties taking their place within the team. Then, during my evaluation, I was told that I wasn’t taking enough space and that I should say it if I wanted to do a task in particular. Over the years, I have realized that I can be selective about what I want to do and that I should not expect others to offer it to me.

Thereafter, I learned that the unsaid can also be found in other situations like personal relations. I have been in several situations where I was waiting for others to understand what I was feeling when I actually only needed to explain that I was hurt or even completely outraged by the conversation.

Another example : one of my colleagues was frequently cancelling our meetings without telling me. I was embarrassed about asking why he didn’t seem to get up from his desk to go to the meeting or why he was out of the office when we had a meeting planned. I had the impression that our meetings were unimportant in his eyes and that I wasn’t important enough for him to tell me why he was cancelling them.

Ultimately, I told him about all that and he was not realizing that simply forgetting our meetings could have an impact on me. He told me that I should not be shy to come see him and share my concerns directly with him. You need to be clear and honest if you want to be understood. With time, I became a much more honest person and now I don’t beat around the bush to say what I think and what I want.

Furthermore, I learned that the advantages of working in a typically male domain are numerous. Between boys, negative comments are rarely said behind the back, in other words, there’s less gossip. A world of software developers also brings a candid and friendly atmosphere where we have fun working together. Anyway, the final result is very interesting.

Finally, I understood that when you choose a business to work in, you also choose a corporate culture and values. So, if you properly select the company you want to work with, you will have people around you that share your values and vision of what a healthy work environment should be. In my case, I chose Pyxis, a company where I have help planning my career, where a Scrum Master is part of the teams to allow better cohesion and focus and where I have the opportunity to touch other related fields (business development, wellness committee, client contact, etc). In the end, I don’t regret being in IT and I would even recommend it to any girl!

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