Do I Belong?
Self doubt: it plagues us all
For as long as I can remember, I was sure I would pursue a career in a technical field. Growing up in a family full of software engineers, I was familiarized with technical terminology and computers very early on. While I never really pursued computer science seriously until high school, it was definitely a subject I was fond of throughout my schooling.
I was so sure that this was what I wanted to do – that is, up until I stepped into the classroom of my first official CS class in high school. At first I thought it was just because attendance was low on the first day of classes, but by the time week 2 of 11th grade rolled around I realized that I was only one of 2 other girls pursuing CS at my high school.
The lack of representation made me question whether I was really cut out for the classes I was taking. Even though I would consistently be among the highest scoring students in class, there was a thought at the back of my mind that made me wonder when I would run out of “luck”. Most A+’s felt like flukes and every failed code block would reinforce my fear of not being good enough. I guess that’s quite dramatic but unfortunately it’s not something I’m concocting for a blog post. Thankfully, this attitude really began to shift when I attended Purdue.
Walking into CS180, the sheer number of women in the room greatly encouraged me. It made me feel capable and the gender gap in STEM suddenly seemed far less formidable. Even when taking difficult CS courses, I felt like my struggle was not just specific to my individual experience. The representation in CS, even if it is lesser than I would hope it to be, allowed me to approach difficult concepts without feeling the need to prove my worth and letting every minor mishap be a discouragement. For the most part, I don’t think the discomfort of being a minority in tech really resurfaced until I had my first internship offer letter in hand.
Confused? So was I. Getting an internship was supposed to be a happy thing, right? After a busy application season and many trying interviews, I was happy to see that all my efforts paid off. I felt so encouraged and motivated…until I was called a diversity hire. I was shocked. I thought I was past the stage of feeling insecure, I’d assumed the imposter syndrome had gone away. But at that one comment, old fears rushed back and I suddenly felt undeserving of that offer letter.
Following that experience, it took me a while to straighten my shoulders and face the world confidently again. I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a lot of pep-talking, Doja Cat, and solving LeetCode to convince myself that I belong. As a woman in today’s STEM corporate landscape, you may find yourself in situations where you’ll have to remind yourself, like I had to, that you are where you are because of your hard work, and not just luck.
I’m grateful that over the years I’ve had the chance to be a part of incredible organizations, like Girls Who Code and The Girl Code, who are working very hard to bridge the gender gap in computer science. While I worked as an instructor/coordinator at these organizations, I noticed that women in tech tend to question themselves and their ability far more than their male counterparts. Hopefully, this mentality will change as trends in representation shift. However, I believe that it is essential for us to encourage ourselves and lift each other up along the way.
I know that this fear of not-being enough or being out of place will surely crop up again, but it is up to us on how we want to react. The world is filled with inspiring individuals who belong to underrepresented communities in the fields they shine in. I look to them for inspiration and strive to emulate their resolve while I work towards carving out my own career path. This has greatly helped me and I encourage you to do the same. To all the students who may feel out of place at Purdue CS, to you I say: you belong.