A Reflection on the Importance of Believing in Yourself & Networking

At some point in your life, you think about your future and wonder if that’s it for the rest of your life.

— You Know the Story —

You’re not happy with your current career path and you want to jump careers to the subject you went to school for. You don’t have all the necessary recent experience or all of the qualifications, but you want it so bad, you quit your job and start looking at entry-level positions, possibly accruing skills along the way to help you achieve that goal. The problem? You don’t know very many people.

In the reality of today’s tech world, it’s increasingly difficult to land a position somewhere without a referral. Indeed, many employers offer benefits to employees whose referrals were successfully hired; like hires like. This is especially true for fields in digital arts, such as visual effects, gaming, mixed-reality and the like (regardless of position, including non-technical). Unless you’re applying and you already have industry work experience, the chances of receiving even a phone interview seems unlikely, or at least that’s my experience.

If you do manage to get an interview, often companies simply don’t have the bandwidth or desire to hire entry-level. Training people can be costly, especially if it doesn’t work out. The tech industry as a whole prefers to hire senior-level artists and developers.

You could be the most gung-ho, determined, aspiring person out there, but if you can’t even get an on-site interview, you’re being overlooked. I’ve heard people hiring are more interested in somebody passionate about their field than somebody who is simply looking for the next paycheck and doesn’t really care. Not to downplay the importance of skill, of course. Don’t expect to become a developer or such overnight. You have to put your own time in to learn.

…there is always going to be someone out there with “better skills” than you or me, but that doesn’t tell how good of a worker that person is. This is your chance to shine!

The truth is a male name is more likely to get interviewed. While roughly 58% of the US workforce is female and more than half of its population, a quick Internet search will show that only between 10–20% of a tech company’s tech workers are female.

— How I Relate —

Is the low rate of female tech force a fault at the company level? Not entirely. It’s also part due to the self-worth of the individual applying, myself included. There are times I want to give up, feeling like I’m not good enough, that my skills are lacklustre and there are always more senior-level applicants than me, so why would anybody want me as part of their team?

Does this sound like imposter syndrome? It’s not far off, but I know I have skill and passion waiting for the world to see… even if it is easier to beat oneself up when you’re experiencing a low.

The thing is, there is always going to be someone out there with “better skills” than you or me, but that doesn’t tell how good of a worker that person is. This is your chance to shine! From my own few years as a developer in tech, I’ve seen far more experienced developers come and go. I’ve even had to fix their code.

At my last company, I was recruited into engineering from a customer support role because the CTO saw I was JavaScripting things for clients to fill in gaps that didn’t exist yet as part of the software architecture. Paired with a knack for CSS and HTML, I was recruited as a front end developer and stayed in the role for just over three years.

I had no idea what a variable was, what a string or Boolean meant, but that didn’t stop me…

Being in a small company, the company needed help elsewhere in marketing and I unenthusiastically agreed. I felt a sense of loyalty to the company that I’d been with for so long, even though by that time, I’d already missed my field of study, Film/TV/Radio. I wanted to be part of the storytelling process, particularly where movies and video games were concerned.

— Finding My Inspiration —

Before I knew I wanted to be part of the movie-making process, I had already taught myself my first programming language, BASIC, in a PC game engine called DarkBASIC. I was only 16 or 17 at the time and I felt way in over my head. I had no idea what a variable was, what a string or Boolean meant, but that didn’t stop me from tinkering with the included demos to eventually creating and releasing some of my own Indie games for free in the early 2000s. Not only had I taught myself to program logic from scratch, I had learnt to 3D model, rig and animate, texture, and write a script.

I was able to get into community college at almost 20 years old thanks to my mum pushing me and helping me figure out financial aid. I graduated and enjoyed my experience learning camera operation, stage lighting, singing & acting, and most of all, video editing.

Just after college, I wound up in New York City for a few years and ended up bartending in a restaurant before moving to San Francisco. I flew here with a one-way ticket, a single piece of luggage — no job, no home, no family, no friends, and no backup plan. I bought a laptop the same day and began looking for a place to live. I found one the next day for $600 a month. Having moved out to San Francisco with what I thought was a lot of money at the time, $3000, I quickly found myself proven wrong.

I was working at Starbucks and I was falling behind on rent over the following months due to low scheduled working hours and I lost a lot of weight due to lack of funds and eating ramen every day. One day, on a pick-up shift for a co-worker, another co-worker pointed at me and exclaimed, “she’s good with computers”. The president of a small tech company came over to speak to me. Two interviews later, I was working in my first tech job. I worked there for the next six and a half years.

— Circling Back & The Importance of Networking —

At some point in your life, you think about your future and wonder if that’s it for the rest of your life. It could be the industry you work in, it could be the team environment (or lack thereof), or a combination. I don’t want to live the rest of my life not having fun at work and feeling like I’m not part of a team.

Hindsight is a great teacher, however, and it’s only recently I’ve realised how important it is to network…

What I’ve realised in the time that before I left my former employer is that landing interviews is difficult. It’s not necessarily difficult because I’m a woman, it may or may not help depending on how large a company is and whether or not they have quotas, but from my experience the real issue is not having a reference. You have to network.

I wished I had spent the money to go to the recent Lesbians Who Tech 2018 summit. Hindsight is a great teacher, however, and it’s only recently I’ve realised how important it is to network to get anywhere. This is true for most anyone looking to get into tech, but especially women, queers, and people of colour. Being both woman and queer, I can’t say I feel comfortable subscribing to “traditional” gender roles, I’m still both fairly feminine in appearance and Caucasian. I know that I have it easier than others and I should do what I can if I’m ever in the position to see to it that those less privileged are given a chance to at least have an interview.

I’m grateful to have made the friends I have the last year to be able to have some sort of networking. Being in San Francisco also helps.

My advice is that, even if it’s expensive, don’t make the mistake that I did. Go to events. Go to that big conference. Put your best self on, get out there, and show how passionate you are. At the end of the day, you really can do whatever you put your mind to if you want it bad enough. Never settle and always strive to become the better version of you, and most importantly, remember to love and take care of yourself.

With that in mind, I hope somebody out there can relate to my experience. Whether you’re in a similar situation or a young adult with hopes and dreams, your future ultimately lies in how well you believe in yourself and your ability to put yourself out there.

Network. Make friends. Do great things (and have fun doing them).

P.S. Thank to you all of my friends who believed in me in my lowest of lows and for being there. Without you, I would be lost. I love you all. With you there, I know my future will shine bright.

Emerald May is an aspiring technical artist with a production and developer background. In her free time, she is probably editing videos, learning new programming languages and computer software, or simply upping her sewing game (which is atrocious, but she *has* made some cool costume pieces). With friends, she binges all the lesbian, sci-fi, and fantasy TV shows; do stage combat choreography at conventions; and play video games. She’s also a subscriber to r/PrequelMemes.