Why I’m not doing diversity work anymore
Junior software engineers from under-represented groups should feel ok focusing on their technical work.
I recently got my first software engineering job. As someone from an under-represented group in tech, I’m constantly reminded of the inequalities in access to the web development industry. Of 80 developers in my department, I am one of few women, one of two mothers and I may be the only black woman (the department doesn’t track data on this yet).
This balance feels wrong to me. It feels unjust. I don’t understand why this job, which can be done by anyone with the passion for it, clearly has weighted access to a certain type of person. When I feel this way, my automatic response is to start solving the problem.
I signed up to the Diversity group at work. I gave an internal talk about how to support new developers. Colleagues started inviting me to more forums and presented me with ideas for things that we could do.
Soon after starting my job, I realised that my days were filled with meetings. I was hardly getting a chance to sit at my desk and code. Tanya Reilly’s tech talk, “Being glue” made me realise that by doing all this work, I was risking my career. I was becoming like glue – doing the non technical work that makes a project or team succeed.
If I don’t focus on coding, the main activity of a software engineer, I will struggle to become good at it. If I struggle with this, I may not get promoted.
A colleague put it aptly, I may be tagged as a junior who will quickly move into management, as soon as she gets the chance.
This isn’t what I want. I didn’t work the hardest I ever have to become a software engineer, just to be labelled as “not technical enough”.
Therefore I cancelled all my non technical commitments.
It feels sad, because there are so many changes I would like to make happen in our department. However, I also really want to learn my craft and eventually get promoted. I wasn’t hired to be a diversity lead.
I want to understand our technical projects and be able to solve problems autonomously. I want to be a great developer. I hope that I will help even more people as a senior developer, confident in her technical abilities.
Does that mean I can’t do diversity work? No, it just means that I need to influence and persuade others to do it. There are colleagues who may be in positions in their career where doing this work won’t hinder their progression. Perhaps those who have already proved their technical ability. I want to persuade those people to start contributing to diversity work. Let us, who have just entered the industry, find our feet here and become the senior developers this industry so desperately needs us to be.
If you are from an under-rep group, please don’t feel under pressure to do lots of non technical work. It’s the responsibility of all of us to do this, not solely those from under-rep groups. It’s achievement enough that you’ve got your junior developer role. Focus on that.
For those of you in senior developer roles or management, what is your contribution? Please check out my ffconf talk, “How to become a developer with no time and no money”, which gives lots of ideas as to how you can contribute, or read my article on a similar topic. Thank you for being part of the solution.
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