2/3 - Trust, Progress, and Retention

13 Jun 2015

I've been quiet about my 100 Day Project progress, but we're about two-thirds through, and I haven't stopped doing it. I haven't written code every single day, but the grass is notably greener on the right side of my GitHub contribution graph (I've been making an active effort to write more code during my work day, so not all of my commits are publicly visible).

Tobi, our CEO, is a strong proponent of the idea of a trust battery: Every relationship inherently has trust associated with it. When a relationship is new, trust typically begins at about 50% - most people are not intrinsically distrustful, but full trust is also not granted instantaneously. Trust can be built or damaged over time. When trust is high, there are obvious benefits - more autonomy can be granted, and mental facilities can be freed from worrying about problems that you trust not to arise.

I've spoken openly in the past about my university experience as a female software engineering student. In university, my trust in the people making up the software community as a whole was deeply damaged. My experiences were fairly typical - the gender ratio was extremely skewed, so the few girls in the program were constantly bombarded with a combination of sexual advances and gender discrimination. Over and over again, people who I expected higher of would either try to make an advance on me, or would make cruel comments about how I didn't belong, or in the most infuriating cases, both at the same time. I tried all possible combinations of baggy clothing, boyish clothing, feminine clothing, make-up, no make-up, bitchy attitudes, friendly attitudes, and everything else that I thought could change the way that I was treated by my peers, but it ultimately didn't matter.

I'm now working in a very positive, welcoming environment with truly supportive coworkers, but it still takes a substantial amount of time to re-fill a trust battery in a group of people as broad as "the entire software industry". This is why attrition is so high for women in the tech industry - it takes a significant amount of time, and a herculean effort on behalf of the individual to recharge a trust battery that all logic and intuition says should be abandoned for dead. How could it possibly be a good career decision to stay where you are, if you can't trust that the people around you see you as nothing but an object that doesn't belong?

The main problem with leaving the tech industry is that I don't really have any other profitable skills. The second problem is that I have no desire whatsoever to leave. However, if I'm going to stay, and build a good career for myself, I need to overcome the damage done to my trust by so many ignorant teenage boys, fresh out of highschool and ready to drink some Colt 45 and yell at girls.

When phrased like that, it suddenly doesn't feel so heavy.

The main problem that I've faced since leaving university is that in draining my trust battery for my peers, my interest in the subject matter took heavy collateral damage. I knew what it felt like to sink into a programming problem and deeply enjoy it. I know what it felt like to build something from scratch, and feel an immense sense of accomplishment. However, by the time I ditched out of university early like a bad party, I didn't feel the same way about code anymore, and it's taken a long time to build that back up.

While I haven't committed to the 100 Day Project with the unrelenting, day in, day out continuity of some of the people I follow in Instagram, I've enjoyed writing code in the past few months more than I can remember enjoying it in years. I'm extremely close to launching a side project I've been working on for months, I've learned a huge amount, and I've been throwing myself deeper into my work than ever.

I've been at Shopify for about two and a half years now, so it hasn't been a quick process. I also can't bundle my experience into a neat package to be applied by other women. What if my workplace wasn't as welcoming? What if my experiences had been worse than heckling and endless misguided invitations on dates from my lab partners? I can't answer those questions.

There's obvious problems with the pipeline into our industry, but that's not a problem that I can solve today. All I can do is to be transparent about my experiences and difficulties, and to keep driving forward with as much determination as I can conjure.