“Young or old, of all shapes, races, sizes, and interests, we have a chance to bring new perspective, innovate, and define ourselves as who we want to be.” – Ashley Huynh
ReigningIt is honored to feature Ashley Huynh’s story. Ashley’s journey is inspiring, her insights epitomizing how women in tech are defining themselves.
On January 6, 2016, I received an email. It was simply worded and it invited me to attend an interview event for a first-year tech internship. I did a double take, certain it was a scam. As I incredulously told one of my friends about the email, they asked me, “Why are you so skeptical?”
I replied that only five months prior I had set foot in my first computer science class, watching words like “boolean” and “encapsulation” float by as question marks populated my head.
My friend smiled and said, “Don’t look at where you were, but look how far you’ve come.”
And six months later, I’m sitting in my San Francisco apartment, scheduled to attend another day of work at my internship at Pinterest tomorrow. As I think about their words, I indubitably believe they were right.
I tell most people I wandered into Computer Science when I was six and taught myself how to code in HTML for Neopets layouts, but the reality is, I was never fully invested in Computer Science. I taught in Python outreach workshops at Georgia Tech and created websites as a freelance web developer, but the passion was never there — it was just another thing for me to do in high school. By the time I reached my first semester of senior year, I had trudged through enough years of science and math to understand that my dreams to attend medical school were limited by my incapability to understand the equations on the board and the words ending in “-ose” in my Chemistry textbook.
I scrolled through lists of majors, crunched salary numbers, and researched program after program as I tried to find a major that I would instantly click with. I expected an “Aha!” moment, some sort of intuition while I was reading the descriptions to countless jobs and requirements that would tell me this was what was meant for me, a chosen career path. I wanted to live a meaningful life, I wanted to be proud of my work, I wanted to make an impact, and I wanted to do cool shit. All of my options seemed interesting, but not quite fascinating enough that I was dying to devote four years of studies to it.
I ended up selecting “Computer Science” from the drop-down menu with very small expectations. In the end, it made the most sense, but seeing the words selected under “Major” just meant that another form had been filled. I went into my first Computer Science class my first semester of freshman year, anticipating changing my major within the first few weeks.
The thing about studying technology is that you begin to understand just how heavily it impacts your life. I slowly but surely developed motivation — and now, in the past academic year, I have pushed myself harder than ever before. I am now pursuing my desire to understand technology and how I can use it to change the world to fuel myself through late nights and 7am labs. Granted, I did not get to where I am without roadblocks — I have had my fair share of failed projects and faulty programs.
I used to avoid “woman in tech” events like the plague. I may have fit the formal definition, but my lack of knowledge made me feel small, like I didn’t belong with this seemingly mystical group. It had seemed unclear to me at the time who exactly a “woman in tech” was — in my mind, these girls had the knowledge to outwit their peers in projects and coding challenges while I was struggling to keep a B+ in my first-level CS class. I’m not worthy of the title, I thought to myself. I have to work so hard to do the things people can do with their eyes closed.
I applied for internships my first year with the desire to pursue an opportunity that would help me gain more knowledge in Computer Science. If you went down a list of startups and technology companies you interacted with on a daily basis, I probably applied for that company. Getting an internship was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life, not in the wins, but in the losses. And there were so many.
By the time December rolled around, I was already making plans to live in my mom’s house for the summer. And then, come 2016, I received an email. And after I received that email, I got another one, and then another one, all companies asking to interview me for summer internship positions. By the end of March I ended up having the privilege of being able to choose between internship offers, and I picked Pinterest.
I am by no means a success story, I am not a master coder, and I am not a prime example of a Silicon Valley-er. But I can say this from my experience so far: a lot of people feel as though being in a certain field, no matter how much you like it, can make you feel discouraged and unworthy if your personal success fails to catch up with your efforts. The truth is, just as you have to eat a food to know for certain if you like it, you have to attempt success to be successful. And sometimes, you have to attempt it again. And again, and again, and again. Success is not always defined as being a CEO or getting an A or having a million dollars in your bank account, even — success can come in all shapes and sizes, all volumes of mediocrity and specialness and everything in between. As most programmers know, sometimes success is a smaller checkpoint like fixing a certain bug or figuring out an algorithm for a specific function. Finishing the entire program is the goal; success can be the million steps on the way to the goal.
If you’re an aspiring coder, but you’re having a hard time, know this — you have to keep challenging yourself. If it feels easy, it means you aren’t learning as much as you should be. It might feel difficult for a very long time, but one day you wake up and you’re able to type out that one line you just couldn’t figure out. And then it gets easier and easier.
If you’re a woman in tech, know this: the personification of a “woman in tech” had no real definition in my mind because we are so underrepresented. In fact, it took me months and months to get comfortable with the title and up until just now to mentally associate myself with it. Aside from the “Felicity from Arrow”s in pop culture, we have a chance to redefine this loose definition of who a “woman in tech” really is. Young or old, of all shapes, races, sizes, and interests, we have a chance to bring new perspective, innovate, and define ourselves as who we want to be. The time is now.
And if you don’t know whether you’re truly interested in what knowledge CS has to offer or if you’re contemplating whether it’s worth it or not, talk to someone. Talk to everyone, in fact; if describing why you’re looking to get into the field isn’t enough to convince you whether you should, raw perspective from others might. My story is realistic, but it is only one story among thousands — yours could be the next one.