Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my role as a visible member of an under-represented community in tech. And this article that I wrote in September 2018 on my blog is proving to be my North Star. Sharing it here in case it helps anyone else on their journey.
A few days ago, a colleague shared an article with me about the dummy puffins installed on islands to attract real puffins. I found the article fascinating and the puffins utterly cute (they are my new favorite bird). The story resonated with me more that I expected, but I couldn’t fathom why. So I filed it away in my mental cabinet and got back to work.
Today at the company-wide team meeting, we discussed the issue of lack of female leadership and diverse representation in the tech industry, and how we, as individuals, could play our part in remedying the situation. The discussion reminded me of a time a few months ago, when I was frustrated about the lack of diverse representation.
I am fully cognizant of my privilege to do things which I could have only dreamed of a few years ago: like attending the Write the Docs conference that I yearned to attend since I first heard about it, or see my absolute favorite YouTubers (John and Hank Green) speak IRL, or work at a brilliant startup building cutting-edge tech. The 20-year-old-me would be proud of where I am now. From her perspective, I have “made it” in life. I have a seat at the table.
And yet, more often than not, I find myself being the only one at the table that looks like me or sounds like me or does what I do.
For instance, consider the Write the Docs conference. It was the most well-organized, thoughtful, inclusive conference I have ever attended. Yet, I observed a lack of ethnically and culturally diverse speakers. Knowing the organizers’ intent of making the conference as inclusive as possible, the under-representation of minority groups certainly wasn’t their fault. One possible explanation was that the organizers hadn’t received many talk proposals from people belonging to underrepresented groups. That was even more infuriating. Why weren’t more people from diverse backgrounds volunteering to speak at these events?
Another thing I found myself complaining about constantly was the YouTube tech community. I LOVE the contemporary YouTubers in tech: Jarvis, Mayuko, Charli, and others present a realistic view of programming and design careers in tech. But there’s no substantial content about contemporary tech writing. Why wasn’t anyone making videos that I would benefit from?
The probable answer: Imposter Syndrome. As a brown, female, non-US person, I am familiar with the paralyzing fear that the Imposter Syndrome creates. The fear of being judged, being “found out”, coupled with a deep-rooted insecurity and inferiority complex – these are the demons I battle everyday. I know how scary it is to speak up, because if you are wrong, it might not only cost you your reputation and credibility, but also your job, your livelihood. Not every risk is worth taking.
But if I wasn’t willing to take the risk, what right did I have to ask someone else to do it so I could feel represented and validated? If I wasn’t willing to work through my discomfort, how could I expect someone else put themselves through it?
So I made a deal with myself: if I found myself complaining about any form of inequality or lack of representation, I would ask myself if the issue really matters to me, and if yes, I would step up and speak up. If I chose not to do that, I wouldn’t complain about it. Simple. It wasn’t enough to have a seat at the table. I had to use my newfound privilege to make room for more people at the table.
Some of the actions I took/am taking are:
- Started my YouTube channel to talk about tech writing
- Participated in events (like this) that feature non-traditional leaders in tech
- Proposed a talk for Write/Speak/Code conference
- Organize peer-led professional and personal development initiatives for the Women and Allies group at Cockroach Labs
Every step of the way, I battle my insecurities. The Imposter Syndrome makes me question my worth: Why would my opinion matter? There are smarter, more knowledgeable people out there, why do I deserve their attention?
That’s where the dummy puffins come into the picture: I am a dummy puffin. I want to be out there on the seemingly lonely island, just representing puffins, with the hope that smarter, wiser, more knowledgeable fellow puffins will show up and be encouraged to share their experiences and perspectives with the world. Because, in the words of the great Captain Holt: