thoughtwisps One commit at a time

no ducks in a row

a long farewell to the tech industry

I suppose one could say that I’m losing hope. In fact, I’ve always been losing hope, one small papercut at a time. Yet, after the publication of the black hole image, the rate of loss of hope has accelerated dramatically. After news broke out of another ‘diversity manifesto’ incident - this time at Microsoft, it accelerated a bit more. Sometimes, I have to wonder, why I keep coming back to a place that clearly believes I can never be as good as my colleagues because of the way my body looks. In an industry that always makes a point to talk about “the future”, “progress” and that dreadful word that in practice means the complete opposite than what says in the dictionary, “meritocracy”, we get quite hungup on someone’s external characteristics that have no bearing on how they will do their job. I thought I could help us fix that, but it looks like no one truly wants to fix the problem unless it’s a quick brushup for an upcoming photo-op.

This change may seem sudden, but in reality I’ve always nursed small kindlings of discontent ever since my first job out of university, which by all accounts, was as close to a dumpsterfire as one can get. It’s always fun to watch as my teammates rate the appearance of a woman job candidate from 1-10, scavenge her facebook account for pics. Another woman candidate’s coding test was passed around after her coding interview so that it could be torn apart, mocked and laughed at. “For the lolz, you know”. Furthermore, you know it’s a complete dumpster fire when the manager of the said team observes the proceedings with a smirk and then laughs it off with a “I guess I should make you stop”. Yeah, I guess, my dude.

The point when those kindlings blew up into a fullblown fire was the day the image of the black hole was published. News outlets had stories of Dr Katie Bouman, the MIT researcher, who had written the algorithm to generate the image of the black hole from observations made by a global team. Within hours, internet message boards were full of messages discrediting her contribution. The supporting evidence was found when someone dug up the Github repo with the code and calculated the percentage of her contributions (in terms of lines of code written). Every person in software engineering knows that lines of code is a shit metric to measure someone’s contribution, but alas, the internet bros were at it again.

Shortly after this debate flared up, Mekka Okereke, engineering director at Google who I follow on twitter, wrote a thread about it. Dr Katie Bouman “survived” this challenge, to quote Mekka, because she had all of her ducks in a row - enough ducks and good enough ducks to satisfy the nasty commetators looking to discredit her - a PhD from MIT and a professorship at CalTech. That is how good, how amazingly excellent you have to be, to survive in this industry.

Amongst all of this, I can’t help but think, that I have finally become one of those ‘mediocre/terrible women developers’ that Amy Nguyen wrote about, the awkward type that won’t fit on any kind of diversity poster (which I suppose was my only purpose to begin with) and in a post-black-hole-gate world, I wonder if I should just call it quits now, before someone realises that I don’t really have my ducks in a row, I have barely any. I never studied CS in university. I don’t have a degree from a well-known place. I don’t have stints of work at the Big 4 (or is it 5 these days?). All I have is this, the work I’ve done, which is ok, the stuff I’ve written which is kind of ok and the talks I’ve given (also kind of ok).

Perhaps all of this sounds too gloomy and self-defeating, but I honestly see no way forward for me in this career. In fact, I can even clearly pinpoint the day when I realised that my progress in this industry would always be slow. As a recent graduate, I participated in a graduate program at a company in London. There were five of us in the group, I think, and I was the only women. Three or four other women (out of a department of 60 or 70 engineers) worked there.

During my graduate program, I had expressed, to my manager, a strong interest to join the team working on our backend component to learn more about the project, but no one on that team seemed terribly enthusiastic about the prospect of me joining. I asked if the senior engineer, who I shall call X, would be available to pair program for a little bit to show me around the codebase. This request was met with a smile and a “X doesn’t pair”. There. That’s it. He just doesn’t pair, especially not with you.

I wasn’t defeated by this. I had previously navigated large codebase without anyone guiding me, so I was confident that with enough overtime, I would be able to navigate this one as well. What really killed it for me, was a conversation that took place in the kitchen during snack time. Another senior engineer from the backend team was talking to one of my colleagues from the graduate program. ‘We’re really looking forward to you joining the team’, he said with enthusiasm and I remember how my fellow graduate’s eyes lit up. I felt jealous, because throughout my program, it felt that no one else, except for perhaps the support team, was enthusiastic when my rotation (we all did those in the graduate program) with the team began. More bad things happened at this workplace, but the stories are too long to put in this post and too sad for a Sunday morning.

Similar patterns reappeared at the places I worked after this. The constant need to prove yourself before acceptance into the team. Clients who refused to accept technical explanations from me until one of my male colleagues corroborated them. It became embarassing to always have to take one of them with me when I went to speak to other teams or users, but I swallowed my pride (and tears), because this was the best for the project. I’m not sure I can keep proving myself again and again at great cost to other parts of life and I’m quite confident that the end result will be the same. Nothing will change and I’ll be relegated to writing and re-writing that script no one else wants to touch over and over again.

If you made this far in the text, thank you! If you’ve successfuly transitioned to another career path after tech, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to drop me a note on camillamon[at]