The women of Silicon Valley are making waves both as business executives who deny or embrace feminism, but it’s widely known that most of the women in the tech-industry do not perform highly technical work. In How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’, Ellen Ullman, writes eloquently about the challenges and discrimination she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field, but also, of her love for her work, her curiosity and inquisitiveness that led her to want to “probe the mysterious space between human thoughts and what a machine can understand.”
For those of you who find computers boring, stay with me. Because the second requirement Ms. Ullman describes as being crucial to her success as a software engineer is essential for us all. She wrote that what she and all programmers possess is a “high tolerance for failure” or what the legendary programmer John Backus called “the willingness to fail all the time.”
The article brought back vivid memories from the first time I attempted to load data into R, a simple yet daunting task necessary to fulfilling the programming components of the requirements of my econometrics course. My heart was beating with anxiety and fear, as if I had been asked me to crash-land a helicopter in the fog so that I could rescue a litter of kittens from a burning building. The fear and intimidation of learning a programming language had me convinced that learning this language was something I couldn’t do. But then I recognized the problem – it was just fear. Fear, unlike programming, was familiar to me. Why should this fear be any different?
*Blog title credits to the New School Computer Language Workshop Fall 2013.