Why I stayed? Because I was the best.
A praise to mediocrity
I will now tell you a story about an amazing woman. When she was 18 years old, she moved out of her suburban family home to a small apartment in the city. She had just graduated high-school. It was hard for her to figure out what to do, because she was broadly interested and gifted in almost anything she tried. Her first step was to go to college to study pharmacy where she learned a lot about physiology, chemistry and medicine.
Her grades were about average, although she was not that invested in her studies. After two years, she was halfway through.
But then, she decided to try something new, something completely different, something to challenge her racing brain. She was never particularly interested in technology, but its rapid advancements intrigued her. So she changed her course of studies and enrolled at a different university to study computer science.
It was a scary thought for her to be one of only a few women in that field, especially because she is goofy and extroverted, never afraid to speak her mind. She also wondered if she was intelligent enough. Yes, she had always excelled in math class and was generally quick to learn new things, but she had not yet written even a single line of code!
Nevertheless, she set out to be a freshman, again. Indeed, she found herself surrounded by mostly young men. And yes, she appeared to stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone was nice to her, telling her about some computer scientists who made it big, and they were women, too! They all seemed genuinely interested as to what lead such a feminine young woman to this field of studies.
As she could not properly give a genuine answer, this question lingered in her mind. Was it her skills in science? Was it her pursuit of an interesting career? Was she really interested enough to study computer science?
The first challenge for every new student was to pass a math-test. This amazing woman answered every question and genuinely enjoyed doing so. As the results were published, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Out of every new student, she managed to achieve the highest score! Her Professor even asked her to work for her, helping her teach the new students to come.
This is how our protagonist knew: She had every right to stay.
I hope you paused on that last sentence and thought it was a little odd. Actually, I hope you thought this whole story sounded a little weird. Why did she have to find a good enough reason to study computer science? Why did nobody question her decision to study pharmacy? And, the biggest of all, what would’ve happened, if she had not been the best?
I can tell you exactly what would’ve happened, because that amazing woman is me. I managed being top of the class in almost every course. I got amazing opportunities to work at many different projects. Last year, I even landed a pretty big scholarship.
All of these things did not feel like achievements, though.
They felt like necessities.
If I had just been average, I would have listened to the voices, in- and outside of my head, telling me to pursuit a more suitable path for a young woman.
While there truly are exceptional women in tech, I notice a severe lack of those, who are just average. The average male in tech does not seem to have to vindicate his decision. He is not repeatedly told about all the great male scientists who made it big. He is not questioned as to why he chooses to stay in his field. He is accepted as a common computer scientist, probably on his way to be employed by some company, doing stuff that the average computer scientist does.
In my experience, there are two options that feel most accepted as a women in tech:
- You are way above average and therefore an exception. Your voice will be heard because you’ve proven it is worth hearing.
- You are below average and therefore meet the expectations. You will be tolerated and welcomed as a “nice addition” to a team, because “women have such a refreshing way to look at things”. (Yes, this is a quote I’ve been hit with.)
As one might notice, these are two ends of a spectrum. When looking at the bell curve of a normal distribution, my observations may be a good explanation as to why there are still relatively few female computer scientists. The big masses are made up by people who give an average performance. This, however, is where females tend to have the hardest time. Therefore, the women who seem to be accepted most to stay in this field, are the few ones located further away from the peak.
It is just not common for a woman in tech to be common.
There is no blame in my words. Read that again.
I don’t want to blame anyone for anything. I don’t even care why this is the situation I live in. All I care about is moving forward, and encouraging people to be aware of themselves, their surroundings, and the interactions of both.
This is what I want to tell our amazing protagonist, actually, every woman in tech, every man in tech, really just anybody who needs to hear this:
You have every right to be where you are.
Embrace your own mediocrity.
Embrace everybody else’s mediocrity.
It is enough to just be good enough.
I need to give a disclaimer here. These are the observations of a highly perceptive person, not backed up by data. I do know how to gather and analyse data to create statistics to back up my claims. And because I know how simply that is done, I won’t bother to bore you and me with numbers, just to prove a point. These are my own thoughts from my limited point of view, which I am always happy to reevaluate.
Instead I ask you to utilize your own brain and perception!
Have you ever noticed any of the things I described? What are your experiences on this?