“Is this a safe place?”

We’re into week 5 now. Quiz and performance review today— group project #1 starts next week. AKA “shit’s getting real.”

Yesterday we had a guest speaker (Morgan J. Lopes from Polar Notion) who was there to give us a glimpse into what we could expect from life as junior developers. His talk was great, learned a lot. One of the take aways from his talk was that companies look for a “culture” match with candidates above most everything else, that they want any new hires to get along with the current development team. I’ll be honest, the concept of prioritizing my fit with a company over everything else is brand new to me. I’ve considered it in a smaller capacity before, yes, and theoretically I knew it would be more important now, but I hadn’t gotten as far as asking what personal requirements that would imply. As part of this discussion, we were advised that its not a bad idea to try to get a sense for how supportive a company’s dev team is to new hires who will inevitably struggle and stumble along the way. That its not a bad idea to ask ourselves “Is this a safe place?” when we are interviewing. As in a safe place for us to screw up. In the annoying way that is ‘too much caffeine on too little sleep’ behavior, my brain took this question and then ran away with this in a completely different direction — Is this a safe place for me?

In my typical but not universal experience as a female in STEM, there are certain ways in which I just never expected a company to be “safe.” I always kind of thought of it as the “mom, I want a pony!” situation. A company/job that does something I’m interested in, pays a reasonable salary, has coworkers I don’t want to strangle — that was the goal. An environment where I felt fully supported, that’s a dream. I’m coming to development from engineering (the kind where there’s calculus). Also from an engineering school (the one on North Ave). Also from a few years with an engineering/science consulting firm with a fairly traditional culture. Yesterday in the group for the lecture (including 2 cohorts and staff) there were 28 people, 7 of us were female, for 26.9%. So in conclusion, not exactly shocking numbers for me. I’ve always wanted my personal approach to gender equality within my discipline to reach for “let’s just get shit done together.” I can handle being uncomfortable if it means we do well as a group (and I’m still in the group)—but up to a point:

Lets try to talk directly in short declarative statements but also throw in apologies wherever possible.

Lets do the research and join in the football talk, but make sure to throw in multiple serious and planned questions to create teachable moments.

Lets set a threshold for disturbing happenings at which you no longer have to keep your face blank and pretend to be absorbed in something else. (mine is ‘ironic porn on the projector’ if you’re curious).

I’ve never really held out for anything other than that, and I fell into a pretty good balancing act and can mostly skate the line between keeping my integrity and hoping that being female won’t be an issue if I am only obvious about it when I really need to be. I realize that there are many fundamental issues underlying and resulting from this approach, but its mine nonetheless.

However, it seems that finding a good fit for me personally should now be an easily visible priority of mine when employers start taking a look. I can now ask for things and need to be myself, so I’m sitting there off and running with my mental panic:

‘Wait — come back — how far am I supposed to take that?”
Am I supposed to just ask straight up about diversity? Can you do that? If I casually ask ‘oh and do you have any female devs on staff?’ in an interview, doesn’t that just make me look weak and in need of a herd? If I don’t ask anything of the sort in the interview, then what litmus test should I use to detect the kind of sexism that is going to interrupt my workday? What if a team has >50% women devs? Do I even know how to work with that many women? Have I done that so infrequently that I’ll need to plan for acclimating to that?…..But bottom line, what I really want to know is will anyone here habitually interrupt me when I’m talking?…..Oh wait, scratch that…new bottom line, what if I’m ever pregnant at an inefficient time professionally?!
Can I ask about these things now? Do I need to use code words so we can pretend we aren’t actually talking about it? Or can I just come right out with it?I’m sure there are various blog articles about handling this. Probably starting on the end of thought that requires lots of confrontation to the ones with lots of impartial stats to the ones that say go with your gut. I should probably leave now and start reading.

Since I was having a bit of a crazy moment (probably partially precipitated by the political climate this week and the coincidental perusing of this amazing post by Rachel Thomas) I spun around in this spiral all day and got nowhere.

I guess I’m writing about it now because the intent is to document a code school experience. Which this week for me included a hazy selfish moment where I got lost in the realization that what I can expect from an employer has essentially leveled up and I have to learn my procedure for that just like I have to learn the latest JS libraries. So here we go.