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Nevertheless, katy lavallee Coded

katy lavallee
Self-taught. Been working as a web developer / software engineer since 2006. Currently working at O’Reilly Media.
・3 min read

How I got started

Growing up I was always told I was smart. I was never the smartest kid in class, but at least top 10% and it was easy to get there. I took pride in it even though I didn't work for it.

Eventually school did become difficult. Due to anxiety and depression I skipped too many classes, and when I was there I fell asleep at my desk. I was failing classes, but not because I wasn't smart. I was still smart and I still took pride in it.

That pride, though unearned, primed me to be "good at computers". I always thought I would be some kind of artist -- a painter, a musician, a photographer -- until I found out I could understand software better than other people. Working with computers came naturally, whereas art was hard work. I wasn't used to hard work. And I was "smart", not "creative".

It's a weird way to get started isn't it? ...To fall into work I love by being wrong about everything. I'm lucky I also had a passion for bending the machine to my will, or I never would have been able to stick with it when it inevitably became challenging. Building software made me feel powerful, and it was a rush.

How I progressed

Due to mental illness I was quite the late bloomer. It took a long time to get from "I'm going to click on all the things and know this computer inside-out" to "I'm going to control this computer with code". I didn't actually write code until I was 26, and it totally saved me. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't been like "Yeah I can build your mom's ranch website" and "I'm writing the same HTML over and over there has to be a better way" and "This would be so much better if she could add the new adorable baby horses herself every year with some kind of form".

Anyway the rest of this story is kind of boring. My friend's mom's ranch website gave me something to put on a resume, which got me a junior developer job, where I stayed for a long time... blah blah blah... failed to run my own business ... blah blah blah ... "You're not a web developer, you're a software engineer, we're going to pay you more" ... blah blah blah ... microservices.

Ok yeah I was really lucky to always work for awesome people who recognized my ability and potential. I wish everyone could have that boring story.

My story as a woman

Growing up I also took pride in being the only girl who could hang with the guys. I liked science and math, I wore jeans and t-shirts, and I was oblivious to sexism. I felt special. I was "not like other girls" and therefore more interesting and different. I was sexist.

As such, once I found my path, I never had thoughts I couldn't or shouldn't code. So, the only advice I can give other women is to push those thoughts away -- they are not true.

And I'm not different. I've learned there are plenty of women out there like me. There are plenty of women out there who started coding for the same reasons, who are driven by the same motivations, and who are certainly just as intelligent as their male counterparts. I am not a rarity.

Discussion (3)

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Nancy Deschenes

I used to really like being told, "oh, but you're not like other girls". Until I realised just how weird and wrong and sexist it is.

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Devin W. Leaman

As a guy who said this in school, I'm cringing thinking about my past. I had no idea how bad it really sounded.

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katy lavallee Author

Exactly. Took me a while to figure out.