As a kid, I loved exploring things. I wanted to be an archeologist after watching Indiana Jones explore tombs and procure precious artefacts and studying them. I love solving mysteries, and I still keep the Nancy Drew yellow hardbacks in my shelf.
I loved tinkering. I'd purposely take apart things that ain't broke, like ballpoint pens, and toasters, just to find out how the pieces work together, and fix them back together. Kids keep asking me to fix broken things for them -dang, should have charged a fee back then...
I loved asking questions. I annoyed or entertained everyone I knew with never-ending "what if's" and "I wonder...".
I loved maths. I could work on a tricky math problem for hours, and even overnight. And once I solved the problem, I'd be beaming all day.
I loved science (except chemistry). Because the universe is fascinating.
I loved video games. This is where everything started. I started learning HTML because I wanted to create a profile page for my Neopet and make scrollbars that sparkle. Then I learnt to script macros to automate my mouse and keyboard to beat video games. HA.
As I grew into my teens, people around me became more concerned about what others thought of them. Some wanted to be the coolest kids on the block, buying the most fashionable bags and latest phones with their parents' money. Some obsessed about their body image, makeup, and their relationship status.
Suddenly, being a nerd is un-cute, especially for a girl.
Science girl? Meh.
Computer girl? Un-cute.
Video game girl? Heavens forbid.
Even adults were saying, "Hey, stop talking about smart stuff all the time, guys don't like that, you're not going to get a boyfriend, and you're going grow old alone."
Good thing I was stubborn as hell and I don't listen, because I was a teen.
I fell in love with programming, it makes me feel like wizard doing magic, and I'm absolutely addicted. I get buzzed and feel high writing code (though it might just be the coffee).
But I'm sad that I had less and less female classmates as I progressed through my academic years.
I'm sad that I frequently get complimented for being a fantastic programmer (and wait for it)... even though I'm a girl.
I'm sad that when I won a speed coding tournament, people say "I can't believe a girl won!", and my female professor hugged me afterwards saying "finally, we have a woman who won!".
I'm sad that I get asked to be at a panel because they need women representation in tech.
I'm sad when I go to meetups and find myself the only women there.
I'm sad, but not offended ok. Just sad.
Because it's lonely being a woman who code.
What the hell happened as we grew up?
The smartest girls I knew that loved science ended up doing business administration, marketing, accounting, economics, sociology, psychology. For some reason they can't imagine doing science and engineering anymore because they think they are not smart enough. (Girl, you got straight As, and you telling me you're not smart enough? B*tch.)
Trains are for boys, dolls are for girls
Perhaps it's that myth that society still perpetuate that trains are for boys, dolls are for girls, and it's not cool / cute the other way around. (I choose neither and picked the mini golf set when I was a kid at the toy store. It was pink.)
I don't know all the reasons why girls lose interest in STEM careers. But at least for me and most women I know, we have been told by folks around us that science is for boys, therefore studying science makes you a tomboy (unless you are studying medicine because doctors are hot), and nobody wants to date a tomboy, and therefore you'll die alone.
It's like the only thing that matters in life is whether you'd get married or grow old dying alone.
We need to stop telling impressionable kids that false dichotomy and exaggerated narrative.
I guess I was lucky in someway that money was tight in my family when I grew up, so I inherited my brother's clothes and toys. Growing up, I just thought the constraints people were telling me about my gender were just absurd.
Yes, I'm a nerd, I love science, I love Neil Degrasse Tyson and David Attenborough, and quoting xkcd.
And maybe I'm a tomboy, I don't like makeup, I know kung-fu. Oh and I really love video games - I build my own PCs just because I want the best hardware to render Civilizations and Divinity in it's full glory.
Or maybe I'm just a girl, I love wearing dresses instead of jeans because it's hot in Singapore and I want to look cute on dates - yes - I go on dates!
And I'm proud of my work as a programmer, because I'm damn good at it, and create things that make people happy. And I'm proud of starting a company, UI-licious, with @picocreator to help developers testing UIs painlessly.
So I'm glad I coded, nevertheless.
Makeup or no makeup.
Skirts or jeans.
Skinny or curvy.
Left-brained or right-brained.
You are beautiful, no matter what people say.
Happy International Women's Day!