Experiences of a self-taught female coder- “Women can’t code?”

This post was featured on Code Like A Girl & Women Who Code.

I remember the good old days of my student life when I was studying English literature. It was the final semester of my masters degree when I had to submit an assignment on Feminism. Back then, I had never experienced what sexism would have felt like.

When I graduated, I did not want to work yet. I wanted to study more, learn more and explore more before settling down for a job. I always wanted to learn to code, it fascinated me how things could be built with some crazy syntax! So I began my journey of learning to code with CodeAcademy’s Python. It was too heavy to start with and I had no idea what was to be done. A friend recommended me to take it slow and start with HTML, you know like you should try beer first and scotch later? Much the same thing.
So I joined Udacity’s HTML and CSS class, I enjoyed every bit of it, but it was not enough. Now I wanted to learn even more out of curiosity. I heard good things about a website called FreeCodeCamp, so I joined it. It was even better than what I expected, within no time I had built my Tribute page and Portfolio page. As I continued learning I stepped into JavaScript Algorithm Scripting and it was hard, but I did not give up. Soon I had built my first app that was a random-quote machine. I was working with APIs and using bootstrap to make beautiful and functional responsive designs. Eventually I built a wikipedia viewer, a weather app, a todo list app and it was all amazing.

I studied about design and Don Norman’s “The design of every day things” had replaced Nietzsche on my book shelf. I did not want to miss anything, I read Zed Shaw’s “Learning Python the hard way”. Since I had read on different aspects, I read on entrepreneurship too, “Hard thing about hard things”- Ben Horowitz, “Founders at Work”- Jessica Levingston, essays by Sam Altman, Paul Graham and what not! I read religiously. I watched hours of video talks on design and coding and tuned into podcasts. My role model were not Bronté sisters anymore, but Jennifer Dewalt. I dreamt about designs and animation classes, I saw css selectors floating over my head, I was in love with something other than literature for the first time in ages. I enjoyed it, it had a certain high to it.
I felt the same way as Harry Potter must have felt when he was holding his wand for the first time, magical. It had been 6 months of coding venture and getting back in shape days. I thought that I had turned my life around, learnt something I thought I never could and lost weight. Yes, I lost more than 30 kilos in these past months. Again came the question of “What next?”

I decided that it was time to start working and not for once I applied for content writer or editor jobs but for front-end-developer posts. I still love to write stories and poetry, I blog them but it was an adventure that I had stepped into now. Along came my first interview, now this is where it got complicated.
I was sitting in a room of engineers and other computer degree holders waiting for the interview. There were around 8 people in the waiting room among which there were only two women, including me. I had mailed all my codes and portfolio to the interviewer a day in advance and when I sat in front of him he questioned me, “You have not studied computers, why are you coding then?” I politely replied that I wanted to learn and explore more so I did it. He glanced at me in such a way that I had existentialism crisis at that very moment. Breaking the ice I asked him that if he saw my codes on github or codepen, to which he replied, “You have studied literature? Why should we hire you and girls can’t code like men anyway?” Every cell of my should we hire you and girls can’t code like men anyway?” Every cell of my body wanted to shout at him, but I kept my cool and left. I ignored it, thinking not everyone is a chauvinist and I should not judge based on one interaction.

Another fine day, another interview waited. I was excited and I had even planned a layout on my laptop for how their company’s website was a bad design and I would love to fix it. I am a very confident person, not someone who would be shy or over-think. I was hoping for this one to go good as the interviewer had mailed me this the earlier day,

Thanks for applying. I am always impressed with people who can move from one field to the other seamlessly. Let’s hear from you. Shoot me an email on ****@**** and we will figure out an appropriate time to talk. Cheers

That does look like a positive response? I thought so too but I never met this man because he refused to see me on a phone call. Well, he was not sure that I could code, being a woman and being someone with a literature degree in hand. Anyway, I never took his insecurities personally. But then same happened with almost anyone and everyone I decided to see. Soon I realised that in India what matters is degree and not the knowledge. You might not know how to create a simple div in HTML, but if you have a degree and you are a man you will be welcomed like a son is welcomed by grand mother in the family. While on the other hand if you can code in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, work with angular js, node, use bootstrap, foundation, create responsive layouts, work with APIs, jQuery, Ajax and after much effort, work with the object oriented programming, algorithm scripting and whatever that comes new in the field is welcomed by you, you will be rejected here. That is simply because you do not have a degree in the same and was born a girl. You can design and code? haha, no you cannot, “you’re a girl”

This does not break my spirit, I love challenges, I will figure something out pretty good and I am willing to wait for it. But the discrimination I faced in the whole experience has been revealing. Never under estimate the power of a chauvinist interviewer. Like my recent interviewer who could not code in JavaScript and did his best to put me down on angularjs, but I don’t care because I know my code was not wrong, the only thing wrong was his attitude towards a self taught female coder.

Like I said I have been open to learning, I will keep on learning and not give up for a bunch of ego-driven interviewers. Cheers to all of you wonderful women who are trying to do something new and awesome!

Don’t let the magic fade :)