A note from Rach Smith's digital garden

It's okay for me to be wrong

Added: June 28, 2022

Tags: development wellbeing

I’m trying to repeat this one until I believe it:

It’s okay for me to be wrong.

Seems like a simple idea, but for the formative years of my career, I came to learn very quickly that it was not okay to be wrong, at all.

In 2004, when I first started a Software Engineering degree. I was the only girl in every tutorial class, group project. It was assumed by my peers that I would be useless or stupid. If I put a foot wrong, I’d be proving them right.

I transferred out of that degree after a couple of years, but found my way back to programming later in life. I was working professionally as a developer by 2011. I spent the first two years of my career doing short term contracts.

Over an over again I was told the same thing: “I’ve never worked with a developer who’s a woman before!“. I felt like the weight of their impression of an entire category of people: developers who aren’t men, was on my shoulders. If I was anything short of impressive, they would write us off.

Over the years men would make the comment on Twitter or to me personally, “I worked with a woman once, she was the highest performer in the whole team!“. I would think: because she had to be, there is no other option.

I’d try to encourage non-men coming in to the field as junior developers, who couldn’t manage to be amazing and impressive. They were just regular, meets expectations developers. They were rewarded with being disrespected by colleagues, PIPs, disciplinary actions, and being fired.

Every time it happened, the narrative for me was reinforced. It’s not okay to be wrong.

At my last two jobs, I’ve been lucky to work in small teams that I feel safe in. I could and can be wrong in that context. That is fortunate, as if I felt like I couldn’t be wrong I would be a nightmare to work with!

But outside of work, on the internet, with you here. I still really struggle with getting things wrong. With taking a chance. With giving an opinion.

It is unfortunate that I had to deal with all of that pressure at the beginning of my career. But what would be more sad is if I let that hold me back 10 years later as a grown-ass 35 year old woman! So I’m going to try and share a little more with you than I have been, with the caveat: It’s okay for me to be wrong.


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