Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being a girl in tech

I wrote up several versions of this post over the last couple of years, but never really had the guts to hit "Publish".

The reason I was reluctant is because the world had been pretty kind to me. I'm a little ashamed to be bothered by experiences that pale in comparison to AnnMaria's and have few similarities even to Tracy's. Their posts should be read before mine, and their words should be taken more seriously than mine.

My school has a "co-op" system. We spend every other four months interning at companies. Starting from third week of class every term, those lucky enough start their interviews. At the end of week 6 or 7, we get to choose where to go based on which companies gave us offers. 

A good chunk of jobs are tech positions. At a time when every company is trying to boast the amount of female engineers they have on board, the few girls that apply for tech jobs seem to have a much easier time, getting positions that seem too good for their qualifications. This phenomenon was pretty widely talked about (at least around me), but unfortunately I don't have data to back up the anecdotes.

A stranger story I heard was about a company who told a male candidate that the company had "several qualified female candidates" lined up for next term, in hopes that this would convince him to take the internship offer.

Another company (unrelated to my school) was hiring their first female engineer. They decided that they really needed her to make the female:male ratio nonzero, and that they would continue raising her offer if she tries to take a position somewhere else.

These are all just stories, and some of them might not be bad per se. (Heck, even Google had a rule about how a certain percentage of their engineers had to be female!) But they did always make me question the internships I got and the reasons I got them. How much did these companies want me for my skills, experience and potentials, and how much was it about increasing "the ratio"? Worse yet, how many people who were more qualified than me were rejected because of me? 

But things turned out well for me, didn't they? Tracy pointed out that one thing that we can do to help women in technology is provide mentorship. I got that. I had wonderful mentors in all the companies that I interned at, and they helped me make real contributions while growing as a person. All the people who made hiring decisions were great people, who I'm sure tried to make the best decisions they could for their companies. So maybe this was a good thing.

Maybe this is the reason why my experiences differ from Tracy's.

I don't know.

The ethics of affirmative action is pretty difficult to ponder. All I can say is that it's not perfect. I've had my fair share of the Impostor's Syndrom, which it probably amplified.

Perhaps it's not too bad if it makes things easier for the next generation.

End of Entry