What Advice Would Women in Tech Give Their Past Selves?
This week saw 2022’s International Women’s Day — an internationally observed day of recognition for the achievements of women every March 8th, an annual marker of what the U.S. has declared Women’s History Month.
The day is an event with special significance to Code.org, a nonprofit trying to both expand access to computer science (CS) education in schools and increase the participation of young women and other underrepresented groups in tech.
So the group found a unique way to celebrate at the beginning of March. It teamed up with Rewriting the Code, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women pursuing careers in tech, to ask women in tech and college students a thought-provoking and inspiring question.
What advice would you give to your past self?
What would you say to your high school self? To celebrate #WomensHistoryMonth, we partnered w/ @Rewriting_Code to ask college students & women in tech about the advice they’d give their past selves. Do you identify as a woman in STEM or tech? Join the conversation w/ #IWouldSay! pic.twitter.com/sri831d7RH
— Code.org (@codeorg) March 1, 2022
The question brought some remarkable videos — shared on Twitter with the hashtag #IWouldSay — all offering encouragement, enthusiasm and some constructive suggestions informed with the benefit of hindsight.
As recently as this Friday, Siobhan Duncan, the lead developer at the educational startup Robotical, joined the women who were taking the challenge. “If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, I would just say not to worry so much,” Duncan said in a video shared on Twitter. “Engineering has been the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Duncan added with a smile that “taking it as a career has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.” The message the developer would send back in time? “Just dive in, and enjoy — enjoy the experience.”
‘Stand Up and Be a Leader’
Also responding were some undergraduate CS students. Emma, a junior at the University of North Carolina, offered this advice to their past self in high school: “If there isn’t a door that you can find, then make one of your own and go through it.”
Since the CS community is constantly changing, Emma said, “no one should be afraid to stand up and be a leader and to start something new … If there isn’t a local club or community, make a club. Start a program in your school on in your library.
“The most important thing is to let people know that we are here.”
Continuing the theme, Cindy, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, just wanted to tell their past self to not be scared, to go ahead and “take those engineering or CS courses or join those clubs like robotics … And ask them if they can teach you a few things about what they’re coding, instead of just watching them write the code.”
The student added, “You know, just like — not being scared to take a chance.”
Anna, a Stanford University engineering student, wanted to first reassure her younger self that she does have all the ability she needs, “to do an engineering degree and to be successful and complete it.”
But in addition, she’d tell her past self not to feel overwhelmed — and that “There are a lot of people who are in your corner, and want to help.”
“Take it one day at a time!” — Anna, an engineering student at @Stanford would give this great advice to her younger self. Share your own advice to your high school self with #IWouldSay during #WomensHistoryMonth. pic.twitter.com/8zIHtDpWEZ
— Code.org (@codeorg) March 4, 2022
Asking for help was a common theme, also echoed by Catherine, a sophomore at UCLA. “I think that held me back a lot — that fear that I was asking something pointless, when I really needed help,” the student said.
“And I think, looking back, I wish I had asked those questions earlier, because then I wouldn’t have needed to struggle so much in figuring something out.”
Catherine remembered being afraid to ask questions, and a little voice inside warning that maybe the question might be a stupid one. But looking back, the Catherine of today sees it differently: “If you ask it, no one cares. They will answer your question, and you will have learned something.”
But Desiree, a junior at Widener University majoring in computer science, also recalled feeling a lot of self-generated expectations in high school. Speaking to a past self that was constantly pushing “to go above and beyond, and prove that you belong there and that you’re just as smart as everyone else,” Desiree offered an alternative.
“Be kinder to yourself, and know that the only person you need to be competitive with is the you from yesterday.”
A Future at Code.org
Said Shipley: “I would love to tell my high school self about all the progress we’ve made in diversity, in tech and in coding, and that I will in my career be surrounded by people who celebrate diversity and who will accept me as my authentic self.
Amy Berkhoudt Woodman, a curriculum development manager at Code.org, would send this message to themself in high school: “I think that the jobs that will be waiting for you when you graduate probably don’t exist yet.”
So instead of pursuing straight A’s, Woodman recommended finding a passion that can serve as a guide in a changing world. “It’s better to be in control of your own path by following your own north star — and not necessarily the one that your parents or teachers can point you to right now.”
“Find something that you’re passionate about!” — Amy, a @codeorg Curriculum Development Manager, offers advice to her high school self.
— Code.org (@codeorg) March 2, 2022
Code.org even shared a response from its own international partnership manager, Ghada Zribi, whose message for their past self is “Let’s think of this dream of yours as a house we’re building.” There’s the skills you might already have to work with, and then the other skills waiting to be acquired — as well as individuals and organizations that can help.
Zribi closes with a reminder to ask for help when you need it — and to also be patient with yourself. “We’re only human beings. And this journey will be very fun. Good luck.”
Taken together, all the videos had a cumulative impact, bringing visibility and voice to what’s still an ongoing change. Xan Black, executive director for Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, would send this message back to themself in high school: “All this work will add up to something and there is a place for you in engineering!”
And Aleyna Storms, a computer science teacher, wanted to send this message: “You make a difference. You will be a role model, and not just some woman that blends in with the crowd. You become stronger than you think. You will give girls and other women thoughts and ideas to be their true selves. You will be unapologetically you.”
Ultimately all the affirming videos seemed to share the same commitment — to hope, to progress, and to a better future ahead. And one especially inspiring message came from Dwana Franklin-Davis the CEO of Reboot Representation, a group working to boost the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women earning computer science degrees.
“Dream big, and don’t be afraid to take up space,” Franklin-Davis says in the video, “because your resilience and your innovation will impact generations to come.”
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