Kiss my CSS

A student writes about her interactions with male programmers in the data journalism industry.

So, what do I know?

That’s among the first questions they always ask me. Do I use “insert-obscure-program-here?” We might be talking about code, but we’re also talking in code. 

Many men I come across assume I don’t know much in my niche of data journalism — especially the code portion. Or they assume I know a lot, and I have to correct them. Either way, those little questions and assumptions chip away at my confidence.

Is it because I’m young? Is it because I’m a woman in an almost male-dominated field?

These men, who’ve been working in code for years, know so much more than I do. Their educations are formal. They can write lines of code in seconds that would take me an hour to look up.

I noticed it most while working as a Google News Lab fellow in Missouri. I was talking to another fellow from a different program about what I wanted to learn because at the time I was restricted to the very basics: HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I wanted to break into other tools I knew I’d need like R, SQL, Python, Ruby and more. 

I was hoping he’d tell me about some tools he knew about because he’d worked as a programmer for a long time. Instead, he decided to tell me I shouldn’t list HTML and CSS in my skill set, because “everyone knows that.”

Suddenly, my pride in having taught myself those two languages was useless. I was just a beginner, somehow, despite all of my hard work. 

It happens more than it should in casual conversation. Whenever I mention my work through Google, it doesn’t affirm my skills — it brings them into question. 

There will always be people who know more than I do, but that shouldn’t be daunting. Too often, I refuse to ask for help for fear of looking like the idiot I call myself in a half-joking, half-serious manner. 

This attitude keeps me back, I know. But it’s also pushed me farther than I thought I could go. I’m more determined to figure something out myself. If I can’t find what I need online, then I come up with alternatives that shouldn’t work, but do. 

The energy that goes into proving myself to everyone, whether they’re watching or not, is exhausting. I compare myself to others in the field, who have been doing the work I want to do for years, instead of measuring how much I’ve grown in just the past few months. 

Even though I’ve already started some of my duties for my full-time position after graduation, I still have moments where I think I’m wholly unqualified to do the job. 

But my bosses are two incredible women who see my skills and want to celebrate them. They want to watch me grow, and that’s more than anyone could ask for from a friend, let alone professional mentors.

So next time a man decides it’s his place to quiz me and ask me how many languages I know, I’ll tell him I know enough to say “Fuck off” as many times as I want.

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