I woke up on Tuesday morning and started my day like I’ve done for the past couple of weeks, catching up with my brother about everything happening in the world. Of course we hit the important topics (ex: Drake vs. Meek) and then he mentioned a hashtag that was going around the night before and how he was surprised I hadn’t posted my contribution to it yet. He was referring to the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag that’s been trending for days. I looked into it, silently saying “yasssss” as I scrolled down my timeline seeing photos of rockstar engineers that were women, people of color, or just anyone that doesn’t fit the typical mold on what society thinks an engineer should look like.
The creator of the hashtag is a Platform Engineer that joined the recruiting efforts for her company which released photos of employees and their quotes about what they love about what they do. Her photo was met with sexist remarks, speculation about whether she was a model or a real engineer, and other comments from the kind of people that make you question the good in humanity. So she posted an article on Medium about her experience and asked others to contribute.
Lord knows how many times I’ve had to “prove” to people that I am truly an engineer — ultimately learning that if someone makes judgments about you based on your appearance, there’s typically no hope is changing their bias. I logged into my second Twitter account (the one I use for my life as an industry professional), posted my photo plus quick bio without much thought, then went to heat up some leftover French Toast. By the time I got back to my phone, I wished I had turned my Twitter notifications off. I’m not sure if people were intrigued or surprised by my existence but my tweet like many others who tweeted their photos and story was making it’s way through the Twitterverse… quickly. When it comes to Twitter “communities”, the tweet started off in tech twitter, made its way to black twitter, then gamer twitter (which resulted in misogynistic comments in my mentions #bye), then teenage twitter, nigerian twitter, and then was everywhere.
— dara (@daraoke) August 4, 2015
This is probably a regular day in the life of many of you e-celebrities, but my blog and its following is just about as much public exposure as I’ve been comfortable with getting. Now, my mentions were moving too fast to refresh, I was gaining a dozen followers a minute, and my tweet was included with others shared on The Washington Post, For Harriet, and a dozen other news sites. Despite feeling uncomfortable at first, I realized that this was my way of contributing to a conversation that I think is so important to have.
It’s not fun having to time and time again prove your worth. It’s tiring to be objectified because of your femininity (many people tweeted me things such as “I wouldn’t mind having a female co-worker if they looked like you”… see the problem?). It’s aggravating to fear being outspoken so you don’t get labeled “emotional”, “bossy”, or God forbid the “angry black woman”. It’s especially annoying to have your successes dismissed because others think your race or gender entitled you to some sort of mysterious privileges.
Initially I took screenshots of some of the derogatory responses I received, but they were quickly overshadowed by the positive ones. Men and women from all over the world were thanking me for inspiring them with my story; a story I didn’t even know I had yet. For those reading this because you saw my tweet, those who said “#goals” (the most common response), or those who asked how I got to where I did, I really want to emphasize that I’m just a regular girl who just dedicated time to doing what she loved. I say that because a lot of times we look at people who seem to be thriving and we think that we can’t attain what they have. I got interested in coding at a young age but didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I got to college and started studying Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin. My college experience consisted of many late nights, a lot of hard work, and the high and lows that every programmer faces. But there were also the open doors, organizations that kept me accountable (shoutout to NSBE), mentors, professors, and recruiters who believed in me, and things started to happen when I believed in myself. My journey is only just beginning but I plan to tackle the rest of my life in the same way I have so far. Put in the time and you’ll reap the results. Right now, I’m opening chapters in my life that appear intimidating but what keeps me going is remembering that everyone starts at level one.
Ultimately, the best part about this is the interaction I’ve been able to have with people starting their programming journey and are looking for advice. I’ve made so many e-mentees over the past few days, it makes my heart smile. Take a look at the hashtag (#ILookLikeAnEngineer) and be blessed by all the super dope people doing great things. Women or people of color in engineering shouldn’t be a phenomenon, we exist and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that the next generation of engineers don’t need a hashtag.
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