“But You Don’t Code”
Not long ago I was sharing my work history and how I’d progressed to a Site Reliability Engineering position. I suggested that it might offer hope to other women in the company that it was actually possible to start in one position, develop skills, take risks and move up. Shockingly I was met with the almost accusatory response of, “But you don’t code.”
It took me aback, enough so that I sheepishly agreed and dropped my part of the conversation. In that moment I was sure that they were right about my talents and abilities. I had done so much with my career,and regularly received accolades for my work, but I wasn’t building applications for our site or customers… so this person assumed I didn’t have value to offer as a technical employee. The real irony in the situation is that the person that I was talking to worked on the corporate side of the house, far removed from any understanding of my job or job duties.
This led to the realization that sometimes we place so much value on the “coding” persona in the industry that we often forget the plethora of other positions which both support and stabilize the work that coders do. It has to be acknowledged that technology companies rely on more than just coders to get a job done, and in some cases sitting and coding for 10 hours a day isn’t the only way to actually get that technical work accomplished. Moreover, it isn’t the only position we should be pushing women in technology towards.
Working for a large internet company means that I have plenty of opportunities to interact with and encourage women I meet to take on technical positions, especially when I see latent talent just waiting to be nurtured. If I told the majority of them that the only way they could truly be taken seriously was to learn to code there’s a good chance that most of them would stop right there. Yes, coding is a necessary part of my day to day job, but it isn’t the only thing I do, and it isn’t what a ton of other women who are also very knowledgeable and much smarter than me do either.
In my day to day work I’ve fought for major product changes and bug fixes, and dug deep into website back-ends to fix customer scripting problems in HTML, PHP, and .Net. Now, as a server administrator I do significantly less code work than our developers but the work I do is certainly classified as technical. There are a myriad of roles within the industry that have nothing to do with coding– data center technicians and technical support positions come to mind. But even in those roles there is a fairly good chance that you do more coding than you think, and I came to realize this as I was busy writing up bash one-liners during my work day… which qualifies at the very least as programming.
I’ve spent years learning the intricacies of server administration, but I’ve also listened to people tell me “you don’t code” as a proxy for “you’re not technical / good enough” and I’ve used that definition to construct an idea of what a “Woman in Technology” looks like. It’s even prevented me from going out for more difficult roles in the past. Continuing to operate under that definition wasn’t really getting me anywhere other than more frustrated.
How ridiculously unfair I was being to myself! This is a job I do not just daily, but take pride in doing well! The comment was from a person that couldn’t do the most trivial of my tasks and still I let that doubting voice creep in. There is more to technology than coding, and I can be a woman in technology just starting out in Python and NodeJS, but also rocking it daily keeping up the services and servers that run the internet.
By allowing myself to question the value of my abilities based on someone else’s understanding of what it means to be a “Woman in technology” with the words “But you don’t code,” I let the work I do daily be dismissed. By continuing to agree with that definition I also make it harder for women coming up behind me.
The internet is a massive market full of work that can be as complicated or easy as anyone likes and they can still consider themselves to be a part of the ever-growing experience. I only get to dabble with GitHub in my off hours, but I am technical. With time and effort I know I will get better at coding and will understand more– ultimately I hope to be creating projects that people choose to fork.
There is not some massive race to the finish line or some badge for everyone to earn. If we don’t take the time to learn it in our own style there is no way we’ll enjoy it.