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Judy Cha
Judy Cha

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Nevertheless, Judy Coded

Growing up, I was seen as a bit of a wild child.

Not so much in the sense that I was up to no-good or getting into trouble with the neighbourhood kids, but when I wanted something, I went for it head-first with not much thought for consequence. On top of that, I was a tomboyish kid (still am), and I loved physical activity. That's why I was always covered in bruises and scratches from rollerblading too fast, or getting hit by a baseball bat, or being too reckless on the playground.

My parents still make fun of the fact that, at any given day, I had a toy sword in one hand, and a toy gun in the other. I loved playing with transformer robots, legos, guns, and anything else that appealed to me because of its functionality. In my under-developed child brain, guns, swords, and robots were the best things because you could use them to fight evil and bring justice. This ideology bled through into other interests in pop culture like TV, movies, and electronic games.

The point I'm trying to establish with my little anecdote is that I've never been one to adhere to more traditional gender roles as a young girl. It was not innate to me, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who understood this, and didn't enforce such expectations on me (or maybe they tried, but it didn't take :P). I was decent at math and sciences, and I grew up to continue down the path of STEM. I studied Biology (Cell Bio & Genetics) at a nearby public university, and worked in the Biotech field as a molecular biologist for a stint after graduation. I can still remember how excited my parents were for me when I got my first co-op job in the Biotech field, and how proud of me they were for pursuing a STEM career.

And soon after these high points in my life, I came to a major crossroad. After being introduced to the reality of the business of Biotech, I felt I could no longer morally stand to work in a field that I believed prioritized revenue over people. I loved working in a lab, and I loved the science behind the innovative techniques used, but I had felt they were used to hold people hostage, not to help them. Maybe I would've felt different had I worked for a smaller company. But Biotech/Pharmaceutical industries are not feasible as startups as a full development of a product can take up to/more than 10 years (due to clinical trials mostly). I wanted to work on genetic therapeutics for more rare genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy, but Biotech was not a place that would have supported such endeavours easily. So I quit.

Then, came the lowest points in my life so far. I didn't know what to do with myself after that. Not only did I lose my job, I had also lost my purpose, and by relation, any confidence in myself. From the moment I learned about the Human Genome Project and Dolly the cloned sheep back in high school, I knew genetics was what I wanted to do, and I was so certain that it would be my life. So, when I stepped away from that, I became empty. I didn't have any backup plans. Just like the time I was racing down a giant hill on my rollerblades as a kid, I didn't have a plan B and I crashed and burned.

My family understood, and they were supportive through everything. Truthfully, I had never considered working in software engineering or web development. I loved playing computer games, and I had even built my own custom PC, but I never connected the dots together. It was my brother who suggested that I pursue a career in coding. His coworker had graduated from a 8 week bootcamp and was a pretty successful web dev at his company. He understood my propensity towards STEM, and he thought programming would be a good fit for me.

And he was absolutely right.

I took the bootcamp, graduated, and got a job where I've been working as a fullstack web dev for the past 3 years.

I've been privileged enough to have all the resources I need to work in STEM, in addition to a supportive and loving family who never discouraged me from it. And even for someone like me, whose life has been aligned very closely to STEM, there have been struggles to get to where I am. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for women who haven't had the support system like I had, and I know so many women come from families where being self-sufficient, or knowledgeable in STEM is discouraged, whether it's outright or passive. My heart will always break for the fellow female cohort in my bootcamp buckled under the pressure and dropped out of the program, echoing her father's words that "she was never meant to do math." Only 3 of the 11 that graduated from the bootcamp were women. Looking back, I wish there was a better support system for women in that bootcamp, so that women like her were less likely to drop out.

I wasn't able to reach her or provide her with enough support then, but now that I'm working in the field, I believe I have more resources to support women in tech, and I vow every day to elevate other female developers in my community in any way I can.

Because sometimes, it really sucks to be a woman in STEM. Femaleness is readily ignored and put aside for a male voice. Even with all of my expertise in genetics and coding, I've been ridiculed by men for saying that "genes and code are quite similar." I've had my ideas shot down multiple times for another male developer to pitch the same suggestion, and receive praise. But society's ignorance is not enough to stop me in my pursuit of good code.

I continue to code in 2019 because it's the most effective way I can bring my ideas to life and help others.

Women code.

Women have coded, are coding, and will continue to code as long as humanity and technology sustains. And women should code.

We should celebrate, and encourage women in our lives not only to code, but to engage in math, sciences, and engineering more enthusiastically. If their refusal to join these fields isn't because they're not interested, but because they're afraid or believe that they're "not meant for math/science/engineering/programming", then it's our duty to challenge that line of thinking and break the stereotype.

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