I’ve been proving myself for 20 years, and I’m tired

Adriana Villela
Dzero Labs
Published in
4 min readJul 30, 2020
Photo credit: Dzero Labs (author’s daughter)

There are days when I feel that it sucks to be a woman in tech. Being the lone female in a male-dominated field used to be a huge point of pride for me. I’ve always related better to guys. In fact, most of my good friends are guys.

But let me tell you…the last few years in tech have weighed down on me.

I guess the thing is that for years, I was never aware of these inequalities in tech, until I suddenly became aware.

It really hit me back in 2014, when I was leading a team of Java developers. One of the senior developers on my team was this older guy with graying hair, a disdain for younger people, and even more of a disdain for younger women. He disrespected me, and he disrespected my manager (a man younger than him), and my manager, rather than defend me, did nothing.

I’d say that that was a defining moment in my life, because it was the first time in my software engineering career that I had ever experienced that kind of sexism. Of course it wasn’t the first. I was just too naïve to realize it when I was younger. And if certainly wasn’t the last.

I had a former male boss take my entire team away from me in spite of a stellar year of accomplishments because he felt emasculated by me when I called him out on bullshit. Because if someone says something stupid, OF COURSE you just sit there and let the untruths propagate, because of some unspoken corporate rule whereby you never disagree with your boss at a meeting. At the same time, I had a male direct report who was being an absolute ass to everyone (especially to me), and his bad attitude was all but ignored by my boss.

But nothing comes close to the absolute feeling that of anger and betrayal that I felt from being undermined and backstabbed by two women whom I really looked up to. One of them being a friend-turned-boss. When we were friends, she was great. We joked that we were work wives. I could always count on her for advice and support on work things. Once she became my boss, it was like a switch went off in her head. She went from mentor to adversary. Rather than treat me as a trusted advisor who had her back, she treated me as an a competitor who was after her job.

The other was a female leader who I really looked up to. For almost two years, she mentored me on a monthly basis. It was great. A successful female leader in tech. We are a rarity. I worshipped the ground she walked on. When I grew up, I wanted to be like her. Until I didn’t anymore. Because for all her talk, at the end of the day, she only took me under her wing because she thought I’d quietly tow the party line. The minute she perceived me as going from “pet to pest”, all bets were off. Support withdrawn, I was left out in the cold, alone and with no female tech leader to look up to.

I’d love to say that it stopped there, but it hasn’t.

I’ve been on SRE manager job interviews whereby I was asked technical questions like “how do you do loops in Ansible” and “tell me the difference between a Terraform resource and a provider”. Dude. WTF. I’m not interviewing for the SRE individual contributor position.

I’ve been on teams where my male counterparts mansplain software engineering to me. Dude. I’ve written frameworks that would dance circles around you.

My tech skills have been brushed aside by male co-workers because I have boobs. I can solve problems like nobody’s business. When I learn new tech, I am all in. They can’t see the badass software engineer, problem-solver, and that I am.

I’ve leaned in. I’ve sat at the table with the big boys. The more I leaned in, the harder I was punched. How many times do I have to keep proving myself before the mansplaining stops? Or before the guys in the room address ME when I ask a question instead of addressing the guy standing next to me? Or when interviewers will stop asking me demeaning and asinine questions?

It’s not okay. But I have to be strong. I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I want her to have a strong female role model. Most importantly, I want her to know that while being a woman in the workplace means that I have to work way harder than my white male counterparts, I deserve to be here, and I will keep fighting for a seat at the table, for the courtesy of eye contact, and for the respect that I deserve.

--

--

Adriana Villela
Dzero Labs

DevRel | OTel End User SIG Maintainer | {CNCF,HashiCorp} Ambassador | Podcaster | 🚫BS | Speaker | Boulderer | Computering 20+ years | Opinions my own 🇧🇷🇨🇦