Saturday, May 5, 2012

Masked Ball - The Imposter Syndrome



I went to a conference held, run and coordinated by Stanford women in the engineering program.  It was called She + + and was specifically for Women in Technology.  It was great and I hope to go back next year.
I had a few motives for going:  a) It was free, b) I am really interested in this topic for a number of reasons, all of which will be discussed at various times on the blog, c) networking, and finally d) to really understand the mindset of women in technology because even though I am not user stupid, and I am also not as user savvy as I want to be.  I am learning how to code, but do not feel as if I can confidently say to someone I can code.  At the moment, I feel like an imposter, and I am scrambling to become legitimate.
So did everyone else at that conference.  Not surprisingly, this feeling got called the Imposter Syndrome and was brought up by Tracy Chou of Pinterest agreed with by Kimber Lockhart of Box.net and became a reoccurring theme throughout the day.  When a question was asked later if anyone else had ever felt this way, every female in the room and a couple of men raised their hands.  We were given the advice "Fake it 'til you make it." Later demographics found that the eldest woman there was 63, and the youngest, 16.  We all feel as if we are sneaking onto the playground.
I found this to be remarkable and I have been thinking about it ever since.  Women feel like imposters in the world of men.  We feel as if we will never know enough, be quick enough, learn code better, hack well enough, design better, even those of us who know we are smart.  This is especially true for those of us who know we are smart.  The playing field changed.  We are not competing in the same way anymore.  And because we don’t know the landscape we have no way to lead the younger women.
In grammar school and high school there were three kinds of girls.  The pretty ones, the smart ones and the cool art girls who were usually smart in a feminist way.  I fell into the latter category sometimes.  Mostly I was just fucked up, and trying to do my own thing and find some peace.
The pretty girls got married and are still in my hometown.  The true nerds majored in biology or engineering with mostly male counterparts, and got married to one of them.  They continue the status quo and find a dearth of women behind them.  They are the ones still wearing jeans, t-shirts and ponytails.  They are still reading fantasy science fiction and still rocking the code.  Old School.  These were the women who were always comfortable with being a nerd, and being immersed in tech.  Being a nerd was not always cool, especially if you were pretty, or an art chick.
The cool art girls who are smart in a feminist way are the ones who are still in the world doing art, being smart, being feminist and realizing that they need to change their knowledge base to keep up.  And aren't sure how to do it.
The smart ones always went to a good college and majored in something that would make them money, and are now in Human Resources or Management and trying to figure out the tech world like the rest of us. 
Because this is a new world, we are still navigating its waters and still trying to figure out how to be both comfortable female and comfortable being tech savvy.  So instead of hiding our smarts to be thought of as more pretty, or not wearing a ponytail or showing that we too read the vampire and dragon books, we went out into the world to discover as we dove into careers, that technology had sped by us, and we have to double step to keep up.  And who has time?
So we make it up as we go along and hope no one notices.  It isn’t a bad thing to be an imposter, but it can be lonely. You can't tell anyone that you aren't cool any more.  Even though people probably know it anyway.

This topic is not done, and these thoughts are not over.  I get the feeling this is a reoccurring theme.