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Sylwia Vargas
Sylwia Vargas

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Peaceful coexistence

Well, year three of the #shecoded reflections!

Over the past 12 months I've changed job twice and each time I ended up in a team with mostly guys. In both cases, my initial apprehension quickly disappeared because I simply felt safe. This was a striking contrast to my previous work experiences in tech. So what made these two teams different?

Trust and respect

I feel like my colleagues trust and respect me. This is so basic but, sadly, not always a given. In my previous jobs in tech, I had to resort to a number of techniques to "assert" myself such as casually bragging about my achievements, working really hard to prove my skills, or firmly stating ny boundaries over and over. Why did I need to do it? Imagine a male colleague, who quizzes you (publicly or privately) on minute details of JavaScript intricacies just because "he wants to be precise" so you start watching yourself closely if, for instance, you say "parameter" instead of "argument" just to later realize that he does not expect the same level of precision from the dudes.

Or a dude who interrupts you in the meeting because “in Java this is handled in xyz” way so clearly your solution won’t work. Your solution is in Ruby or React but aren’t all languages the same?

Or imagine an intern asking you, the only woman at a meeting, to take notes. It was not his meeting but he just really wanted to make sure that someone takes notes.

I was shocked when I joined my previous team and as the only Rubyist at a meeting I was referred to as "a Ruby expert" in a serious manner from the get-go and asked to take a stance on a subject. It's not about vanity. It's that the first time I had the opportunity to comfortably say that the question exceeds my competences instead of feeling quizzed and cornered. The feeling of being able to say you don't know and not being scared to lose credibility turned out to be so liberating.

Or, when I'm given a new task and I really don't know where to start, I am not being micromanaged. I am trusted with that I will do my research and ask questions if I don't understand something. In other words, I’m treated like an adult.


Oh, how many times did it happen that a male colleague claimed credit for not only my idea but also work, even if the workload distribution was evidenced by github commits.

At my current team at StackBlitz, we have a tradition of shoutouts where every week we gather to express gratitude and admiration for other team members. This is the most egalitarian space to tell others how much you appreciate them and how impressed you are with their work. It facilitates the culture of giving credit over getting credit. Why don’t other companies have that? Isn’t it time to stop with the ego and competition in the field that’s so heavily depends on collaboration?

"Difficult" team conversations

In my past experiences some of the subjects that are important for me were simply ridiculed by some team members because they did not concern them and yet they had all the opinions about them. It always took a lot of emotional labor from me to lead a discussion in the team, react to the silly or ignorant remarks, present arguments, research, and stats, and finally "convince" them "if I care so much". Examples include both your standard social justice issues like adding pronouns to the slack profile or changing the name of the repo branch from "master" to "main" but also, really, any kind of issue.

I was simply blown away with how easy these conversations went in my current job. The pronouns question was raised by a colleague once and everyone just immediately added them to their profiles - no discussion or opinions were needed. I still expected that the "master" branch conversation would be a bit more challenging because it's A LOT OF REPOs we are talking about but, similarly, before I even finished pitching the idea, my colleagues already created a to-do list with action steps. Mind you - we are not a predominantly American team and these conversations are not a part of our national discourses. Folks could not be further away from why decolonizing tech matters. It's just that every team member is trusted and respected and if something makes them feel safer or more included, why not do that?

And anyhow, even in the discussions when the issue raised is difficult to implement or raises further questions, it is never made about who raised it ("omg here we go again") and a solution is found collaboratively. It turns out that no conversation seems to be difficult if everyone is treated with empathy and respect.

Funny jokes, spicy conversations, and personal boundaries

In my previous teams, there were always some mildly-sexist or sexually-charged jokes that would make me feel really uncomfortable. Being the only woman, I often struggled to explain why a joke is not funny because the choir of male chuckle was just deafening.

Similarly, as the only woman, I would often find myself touched or hugged by my colleagues because I'm "so sweet". I'd freeze every time and when I finally started expressing my boundaries, I was either labelled unfriendly or it was explained that I'm Polish (and thus cold).

Let me not even get started on some of the conversations my colleagues had about appearance of some women.

I only realized the full impact of such microaggressions when they disappeared from my surroundings. It was such a relief when I joined my team and saw no stupid memes, read no stupid jokes, and was not made to feel like a prey. It's really lovely to be truly a part of the team and be able to joke together.

Better work culture exists

I think the fallacy is that we hear about how tech is toxic and oftentimes, the people who are given the platform are tech bros who do not care about social equality (sometimes beyond empty declarations). This makes us think that all tech is this way and we just need to endure it.

However, I was lucky to find two really healthy teams and I do believe that there are more and more pockets of tech that's balanced and kind. Nurturing such work culture is my goal for this year - and a wish for you all to experience it 💕

Cover photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels

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