Not a shiny unicorn

The life and times of a girl developer

I’m a web developer, application architect, builder of things or just general nerd. I also happen to be the proud owner of a vagina (or as I recently learned, a growler. I guess it’s a British thing).

Somehow, being the former and having the latter means I am some kind of oddity. I’ve been met with skepticism, mistrust, and probably the most insulting reaction; complete shock and awe.

It’s bothered me forever, and I think I can finally put it into words.

I am not a bloody unicorn.

Please, stop offering me grants, scholarships, job offers, special courses, conferences, books, blog posts, or any other kind of annoying, passive condescension based solely on the fact that I am a girl. Never, for any reason append any professional compliment with “..for a girl” (yes, this has happened). Don’t tell me I’m the “best female” anything.

If I’m offered something, I want it to be because of my accomplishments, and not my sex. I can guarantee you my lack of a Y chromosome has exactly nothing to do with my ability or lack there of. If I suck, tell me. I can take it, I promise.

Bottom line: Girls aren’t any different. We’re different because people keep making us different. Most of these people are well intentioned; they’re trying to help, and I do appreciate the thought. But it’s not helping.

Treating women as if we need extra help, or an extra push or an extra anything doesn’t broadcast to the community as a whole that we are just as capable as our male counterparts. No, it says that we need just a little bit more something to get to the places and do the things that men are able to do on their own.

I have an AS in computer science. I studied C++ and some Java in school, and today I’m a PHP developer. All the PHP I know I taught myself via books, online resources, reading the documentation, etc. So, I feel that I’ve gotten a pretty good overview of the kinds of resources that are available to novice developers trying to scrape together some semblance of a skill set.

Never in all that roaming of the world wide interwebs have I seen a course titled “HTML5 for men” or a summer retreat workshop called “BoyCode”. I’ve never seen GingerCode, either, for that matter. In fact, the only demographic specification I’ve seen in resources is directed at women. It doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve nearly written this a number a times, and stopped myself. The whole thing sounds a little #firstworldproblems. Essentially, I’m complaining about people creating too many resources targeted at me, which might be a foolish things to bitch about.

I think it’s more than that, though. I recently listened to Jeffrey Way on the LaravelIO Podcast talking about Imposter Syndrome. The whole time he was describing it, I was emphatically nodding along. That’s how I feel. All. The. Time. After that episode, I had to look it up.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence they remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

I’ve heard a lot of developers say they feel this way. Developers that I look up to, who I know are good at what they do. This is in no way something is isolated to women, but I think the kinds of targeted resources that are pointed at girls could contribute to or intensify it for girls. For me personally, I think it’s a factor.

This whole rant seems a bit hypocritical considering I recently toyed with the idea of creating a web site focused on Laravel outreach for women. I’ve gotten really into Laravel lately, and it’s a bit early, but I think I’m in love. I want to shout about the greatness of this tool from the tops of mountains and talk about it with anyone or anything that has ears (and I frequently do).

I noticed that I wasn’t seeing any other girls in the community. I’m tired of sitting in rooms full of men and feeling out of place. I know other women are out there, I know they’re building awesome stuff. But prevailingly, the loudest voices are male ones.

I did a little outreach to other female laravel devs to get their opinion, and they responded with words that just as likely could have fallen from my lips if someone other than myself had asked me what I thought of the idea. There were a few positives, but most of them were something along the lines of “Seriously? Really? Why?”

Immediately I felt the wonderful kind of self loathing that can only happen when you realize that you’ve become something that you hate. I was trying to build the same kind of platform I groan and roll my eyes at. There has to be a better answer.

If there’s an answer to the problem, I haven’t found it yet, but I’m still looking. If you find it before I do, feel free to let me know.