Originally published on my personal blog
We need you.
Yes, I know, public speaking can be some scary shit. Mentorship takes time, and maybe you think that you don’t have much to contribute. And I know you’re probably afraid of screwing up, or forgetting a slide in a presentation, or saying the wrong thing, or sounding dumb. You’re not. You need to tell your story.
We need more female role models in tech. We need to hear your experiences, your lessons, your failures and your successes. We need to hear them because you can never be sure who you’ll influence and whose life you’ll change.
In high school I enrolled in the only programming class offered in 2005. I learned Visual Basic. I built a couple of tiny, shitty apps and presented a PacMan clone as my final solo project. I was hooked.
The problem was, I didn’t really have any role models who were pursuing – or had pursued – engineering or Computer Science degrees. The women I had followed online had gone onto different professions. One became a math major. Adults told me that a Computer Science degree wouldn’t involve actual programming.
“It’s a glorified math degree,” they said. “You’ll be able to do research, but you won’t really be a programmer.”
I loved math. Hell, I was a frickin’ mathlete (it wasn’t entirely social suicide). I didn’t, however, want to pursue a career in research. I wanted to code.
A good friend and I were talking about wanting to become game developers at some point. Other adults told us that you’d need to go to a design college in California for that. Design wasn’t really my thing, either.
My parents encouraged my love of computers, but were in business and didn’t really know which direction to lead me toward programming. I don’t know why, but software engineering was never really presented to me as an option by guidance counsellors, and for some reason I never made the connection.
So, I went to university for English and Political Science and assumed I’d end up in law school. Really, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
In my first year of university at McGill, I was required to take a certain number of electives. There was an “Intro to Computing” class that fit my schedule and I figured, “Hey, I like math.”
Jade Raymond, a producer at Ubisoft and all around bad-ass, gave a lecture at McGill during the second or third week of that semester. She had a Computer Science degree, had worked as a game developer at Sony, and was – at that time – an executive producer at Ubisoft.
Her decision to speak at McGill changed my life. The following week I made an appointment with a university guidance counsellor, applied to change my program, and became a full-time computer science student.
On this past International Women’s Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much my career and life have been shaped by women who have supported my growth and education. There have been plenty of supportive men along the way but in those early early days, a small community of female developers between the years of 1998 and 2003 helped me discover a passion that has now become a career I truly love.
Whatever you can do for the community, do it. Mentor. Teach. Talk. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes a week. Hell, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a month. You never know what impact your story and your contribution to the community may have.
From someone who owes her passion and career to former mentors and teachers: thank you.