Our uncanny valley

I work in a field where there is nary a woman to be seen, on most days. It has its ups and downs.

Dealing with a highly sexually charged environment is one of those skills you pick up, in addition to learning how to tune your estimators right.

“Is it difficult?” I am often asked.

I am not sure what to say. Is it difficult for me? It used to be. I learned some lessons the hard way, I learned some the easy way, and I still find myself learning how to walk through this valley, taking the good with the bad, taking the innuendos hand-in-hand with the extreme brilliance that I find in my colleagues.

“We don’t want you to turn into us!” I am often warned, teasingly.

It would be very difficult not to. All that I see, five days a week, cannot go without influencing me in some manner or the other.

I remember grad-school. The atmosphere had been the same, but made toxic by bitterness and the hundred personal disappointments that men had brought over. Some of them had taken it out on a young, naive, idealistic fool who didn’t know any better. It disillusioned me, greatly. I persisted, with grit more than motivation, in trying to convince myself that it would be all worth it. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it shall be, in the future. I know, with certainty, that I fit in better now, that I like my work, that I like the debates amongst my colleagues, that I cannot conceive myself happier in one of those work-places struggling with Javascript or Ruby on Rails. Yes, I might get a hundred benefits I don’t have today, but I’d also be a zombie bored out of my mind and that has never led to good consequences before. I do badly when in situations I have to make the best of something I am not inclined towards.

The valley is full of cliches. Impact is a word thrown around by many. We want to create impact. We want to deliver great value to our users. Perhaps they believe it. What I do for my living has the potential to be impactful, but not today, and not tomorrow. Does that matter to me? It would be good to see the results live, immediately, but I have fallen into the trap of waiting for the greater reward, and I continue to convince myself that when it comes, the impact will be worth it all. My mother might get to go around without waiting on son or husband. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I am charged with speaking to women, to convince them of our nondiscriminatory, happy, thriving, exciting workplace. I don’t think there is discrimination, except when there is, and that often comes with prejudice born of earlier experiences, and gradually whittles down to nothing when time enough has passed. At least, I think so. Then again, having wanted it all so badly, it is possible I have convinced myself to think so.

“Your life is a Bohemian fantasy,” I remark to a colleague. He sings the song rather well and I try my best to forget that I might have hash-defined true as false somewhere in my life to make it palatable.