When Saqi first reached out to me about being featured in Women Who Reign, my first instinct was “We share last names!” and then my second was “Do they have the right person?”. Although I’ve been mentored and been mentoring for the majority of my life, I still didn’t feel qualified enough to be able to talk about leadership and mentorship. That feeling of I’m-not-qualified is the Impostor Syndrome talking and instead of focusing on me and my experiences or challenges, I wanted to focus on things I’ve learned and impart that advice to you.
- Build a support base and use it
Technology is really difficult. It’s hours and hours spent in the lab trying to figure out why your code won’t work only to realize it’s because you used a comma instead of a semicolon (true story). It’s spending more time trying to set up your environment than coding in it. There’s a lot of posturing in the field – people exaggerating how many all-nighters they spent in the lab while others talk about how it was so easy they spent an hour on it when you spent closer to 8…or 18. And if you’re a woman, it’s people telling you that you only got that interview because you’re female or feeling the need to question everything you say. People can suck. And so can STEM.
It can be really isolating spending hours upon hours locked up in your room working on a project while hearing people saying they finished it a week ago or when all of your friends are out seeing a movie or at a party. However, there’s a reason that teams build software programs and teams are created at hackathons. It can’t always be done alone. There will be a time when you could use a friend to help you. There have been so many times where I’ve messaged a friend asking for help understanding a concept, had friends message me for help, or been messaged to just go hangout. Building those connections early is incredibly important. Join the local hacker group, or get involved with a meetup.
When I was at JP Morgan Chase, I connected with people from many different parts of the company and at different stages in their careers. By having all of those perspectives, I’m able to make better decisions about where I want to be in the industry and figure out what type of work I want to do. Note: these people aren’t all technologists.
- Feed Your Passions
However, when I came to college it felt like I had to implement a few functions in projects they’d created that did things I wasn’t interested in. I’d be told things I had to do that I didn’t understand the importance of. There was so much time spent working on those projects for classes that it no longer became a joy getting a project working, but rather a sigh of relief.
These classes teach really important basics and are designed to create a solid foundation for more advanced topics like building compilers and operating systems. Yet, they didn’t give me the passion that I got when I was reading books and trying to create website front-ends in notepad (please forgive me, I was in high school and didn’t know any better). Only through the hackathon community and through getting involved in projects outside of class that the passion came back for me. The real world is so different from classes. The work I was doing at my internships was radically different than the work I did in class – the concepts remained, but the applications were completely different. Instead of creating a function that interacted with a cache for a project in class, I’d be creating classes that interacted with each other and queried a database and put that data in a cache for a larger program. While that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I absolutely loved it. School isn’t the real world.
- It’s your life
As a woman in technology, it often feels like my choices are going to be more limited. When I’m handed an offer, I don’t turn it down because what would happen if I did? As a result, I end up overcommitted, overextended, overworked, and overwhelmed. When I took the Directorship for MHacks, I was also on the Core Team for Michigan Hackers, Co-chair of my hall council, supporting friends on the side, interviewing, and also taking some of the most important classes for my major. I ended up sacrificing myself for other organizations and prioritizing some organizations over others. In fact, just yesterday I was meeting a close friend who told me that she felt like she didn’t see me at all last year. Don’t be me.
There are so many great communities and initiatives out there to get involved in, but don’t feel like you have to do all of them or that they are more important than your sleep and sanity. Don’t feel like you have to code all of the time. I love dancing, cooking, photography, attempting really bad rap, and bothering my brother way more than he wants. There is so much pressure to be the greatest programmer out there, but that’s an impossible task considering how fast the field moves. Instead, I’d rather be someone who loves to pursue all her passions with one of those passions being programming.
In an alternative vein, there are a lot of people who are going to give you unsolicited advice (like me). Only follow what’s true to you. I’ve been told I have to take this class or that class or I should structure my resume in a certain way, and while something works for one person, it may not work for you. I’ve been led into what were well-intended decisions, but turned out to be bad decisions for me. Stand up for yourself and don’t be scared to be selfish – it’s your life, you’re not a statistic or someone determined by your mistakes.
These are just a few things I’ve learned along the way through mistakes and bad decisions I’ve made. It’s important to have a community to come home to and to be able to rely on, enjoy what you’re doing, and to have time for yourself. As for a little bit about who I am: I am a leader, follower, explorer, discoverer, dancer, and nosy busy-body giving you unsolicited advice.
While Saqi calls me a Woman Who Reigns, I know I question what I’m doing every single day…and that’s okay. If anyone wants to hire me I’m looking for internships J or if anyone wants to reach out feel free to contact me through Facebook or LinkedIn. This life is tough and having someone who has your back is so valuable.
Shayna Mehta aka that chick you met online