I am sitting in the lobby of the George R. Brown Convention Centre in Downtown Houston watching the flood of women attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology flow past me in what looks like a never-ending stream. At various moments in the last two days I’ve had to sit quietly while tears welled in my eyes, trying not to let them fall. Not that I needed to - if any of these women saw me crying they’d give hugs and comfort, and I’m pretty sure most of them could relate to what I’m feeling. I never knew, not really, how it felt to be surrounded by women who are like me. How comforted and proud and connected and delighted. Not only by these women but at the significant financial and cultural support for women on display by so many companies who build the technology that is shaping the future of so many of us.
I didn’t really fit in at school, especially in the early years. I was far more interested in the magic of fantasy novels than I was in my peers who were loud and unpredictable and sometimes mean. When I think about my fellow engineers I have the strong suspicion I’m not alone in that experience. After I found my way into a very fulfilling career in programming I worked almost exclusively with men and have nearly always been the odd one out. This doesn’t feel strange to me as it’s what I grew up with. I’m comfortable standing out and see it as a positive. I take it as a compliment when I get called weird and feel like I’ve let myself down when I fall into the majority on just about anything. As an adult I’ve learned how to build and grow many nourishing friendships, after a few false starts, and they are one of the pillars of my life. But I’ve never aspired to fit in or belong. How can you crave chocolate if you’ve never tasted it?
But being here with approximately 14,000 other ladies, I feel a strong sense of belonging. I fit in. I’m sure there are dozens (hundreds?) of women here with Elvish tattoos who get a rush out of elegantly refactoring Ruby and have an obsessive fixation on - well food in my case but insert your own obsession here. Women who HAD to watch the new Logan trailer that dropped last night because Wolverine rocks and Hugh Jackman is seriously hot. That want to hear about building resilient distributed systems this afternoon and go shoe shopping this evening. Women who love teaching and mentoring and who feel more joy in the success of others than of their own. Who believe that the double-edged sword of technology could and should be used for connection and empowerment first and profit second.
Dammit, I’m tearing up again. This is what it feels like.