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The Boot Camp Diaries Week 4: I Am a Girl in Tech

If you arrived here from my Instagram, you probably know that I volunteer with my local San Diego chapter of Girls in Tech. We will often host, cohost, or attend networking events as a group. At these events, I tend to have conversations that go like this:

Event Attendee: *looks at my name tag* Ah! You are a Girl in Tech!
Me: I am!
Event Attendee: So what do you do in tech?
Me: Well, I’m actually tech-adjacent…

Tech-adjacent. I thought it was clever when I came up with it, and it felt like an accurate description of my profession, but actually… I hate it. Like it or not, in professional settings, we’re typically defined by our careers. We say “I am a _____” as if it’s our whole identity rather than just something we’re paid to do for however many hours a week. Maybe that’s okay for people who love their role and feel it suits them well, but not all of us have the career we want just yet, or even a career that fits the way we view ourselves. For me, saying I’m “in tech” feels disingenuous, like I’m overselling myself, and yet I dislike talking about what I actually do for a living because it isn’t what I want to be doing, and I resist being defined by it. I feel simultaneously like an outsider, a phony, and determined to prove I belong in this world I so desperately want to be a part of.

I had a similar struggle once with calling myself a writer. I wondered: when am I allowed to call myself a writer? Sure, technically a writer is “one who writes”, but I don’t go around calling myself a dancer just because I do the Cupid Shuffle in my kitchen while I’m making dinner. That would be utterly disrespectful to professional dancers with years of training and dedication to their craft, right? So can I only call myself a writer when I’m being paid to do it? But then, why should something as shallow as the exchange of currency be the determining factor in whether or not I’m allowed to claim a particular title – a particular identity – for myself? Eventually, I simply started referring to myself as a writer because it’s what I feel I am, even before I started getting paid to do it.

Being able to identify as a writer came with confidence, both in myself as a person and in my skill with my craft. I was expecting to develop both, the latter in regards to coding, during the boot camp process. Instead, I find myself having a crisis of confidence most days. As we learn new concepts and new code, I keep a list of the concepts I plan to revisit and solidify my understanding of, and that list is growing faster than I’m able to check items off of it. It takes more than a night, a day, a weekend to wrap my brain around some of the lessons. Sometimes a concept makes perfect sense when it’s explained, but as soon as I sit down to do challenges, I realize I have no idea how to apply it myself. If you’ve ever learned a foreign language, it feels like being able to understand what someone’s saying when they’re speaking to you and then drawing a total blank when it’s your turn to respond.

The reason I’m writing about this topic is because I don’t think I’m the only person who’s had this dilemma – in fact, I think it’s probably very common. Part of the reason that transitioning careers is so challenging is because it includes transitioning a small piece of your personal identity, but a fairly significant piece of your public identity, and with that comes pressure to justify or prove yourself to other people. Regardless, it’s also very personal; I am by no means walking around acting like the identity police. If you introduce yourself to me as a dancer, I’m not going to ask for a certificate of authenticity signed by the Rockettes. If you want to define yourself as a rock star because you belt the lyrics to Taylor Swift songs in the shower, that’s just peachy. Heck, if you want to claim that you’re “in tech” because you played a video game once, more power to you. Because at the end of the day, you may not get to choose your career, but you do get to choose how you define yourself.

On Friday my cohort enjoyed an amazing interactive presentation from Yembo, a local San Diego company that is breaking new ground in AI. During the presentation we discussed several open source tools for machine learning, including this one for conducting sentiment analysis. I remembered learning about sentiment analysis during a project I did editing an eBook about Azure, and that is the moment I realized that I am In Tech. It may seem crazy that something so simple could make such a big impact on feeling like I’m part of a community, especially when compared to the volunteer work I do with Girls in Tech, the meetups and events I’ve attended, the projects I’ve worked on, and everything I’m learning in boot camp, but there it is. Listening to Yembo’s presentation and feeling the thrill of being so close to something I’m so passionate and excited about – AI and ML – just stoked a flame that became a wildfire.

The moral of the story is, if you find yourself feeling lost or uncertain in a period of transition, be patient with yourself. You never know what may trigger a moment of self-discovery and evolution, and it could even be something small, so there’s no need to force anything. When you’re feeling impatient to get where you’re going, just remember the wise words of Virginia Woolf: “No need to hurry, no need to sparkle, no need to be anybody but oneself.” Just be and do you, whatever that means at any given moment, and you’ll be just fine.

</ XOXO >

[Photo credit: Adi Goldstein via Unsplash]

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