Getting Past Biases

As I was growing up, certain biases were established that I never thought I would get past:

  • Pink is a girl’s color, and blue is a boy’s color. (Oh, marketing folks… social “norms”…)
  • Lawn mowing is a man’s job. (My dad never had my mom mow the lawn.  It was always a job for my dad and my brothers.  Forget that I was actually interested in it.  He wouldn’t have it.)
  • Internals (of programming languages and systems) are for super smart people who need masters or doctorates to understand.  Specifically men.  (Because in college, they didn’t show a lot about women in tech, so they didn’t really stand out.  Sadly.)

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten past a lot of the biases, especially:

  • Even my kids will tell you, colors are colors.  Don’t let the marketing world and their bias of associating colors with genders sway you otherwise.  It’s not the end of the world if either of the boys are drinking from a pink cup.
  • Lawn mowing can be done by anyone.  I had an 80+ year old neighbor start my lawn mower one day because my husband was on the other side of the world for a family trip and I couldn’t stand waiting a week and a half for him to get back… but I also don’t have the strength to start a mower with a pull.  Since that one time and one lawn mower later (EGO! Electric and push button start!), I LOVE lawn mowing.  A moment of Zen…

The one thing that I took awhile to break past was the thought on internals.  I’ve been in tech just over 15 years, and up until recently, this bias had clouded my judgment.  It made me question if I would ever be technical enough to do this.  But… something snapped.

Did you ever find yourself job hunting, look at a job, and know “this one… I need to apply.  This is the right thing at the right time.”?  I had that recently happen.  Now, keep in mind that I left a full-time position at the end of last year so that I could focus on my career and go back to independent consulting.  So some people are going, “wait… going full-time?  Would you really ever consider that again?”  And yes, for the right opportunity, I would.   But… what is the right opportunity?  That remains subjective.

In this case, there was an opening on a team that I had known of and watched over many years.  I saw the position and tried to close the tab and let it go.   There was a mention of internals of a product, and as soon as I saw “internals”, I figured “I don’t know about that…” and would let it go.  However, my mind and my heart had a different plan.  When I woke up the next morning, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t apply.   If I didn’t give myself the opportunity to try… the opportunity to not be afraid of the mention of internals… the moment to realize that the bias I had all along was so incorrect… if I didn’t do that, I would regret it later.

Am I past the fact that internals may be for super smart people and that women can get into them too?  Yes.  My internal dialog switched from “Internals… removing the magic from behind the curtain… seeing what really makes things happen… keeping it efficient. Go masters and doctorates to have enough understanding for this.” to “Seriously, Sarah?!? You loved Mark Russinovich’s Sysinternals talks.  When it comes to languages and tools, you love to play and see where their capabilities are.  You have super debugging skills and aren’t afraid of jumping into a codebase, knowing that your debugging skills are what makes that magic happen.  Programming languages and the tools we use are not that different from the applications you’ve written in the past – you have to see them as applications themselves rather than thinking they are something completely out of your league.  Also… all the things from data structures in college… that finally makes sense thanks to practical use in the field.  So wake up and know that you can do this!  Apply!  You’ll regret it otherwise.”  So I applied.

And….?  Nothing yet, as it’s still early enough in the job application process.  Also, this is holiday season and end of the fiscal year season for many folks, so it’s a bit of chaos now.  But, if there’s interest, who knows what lies ahead.  And if there isn’t interest, well, at least I applied and got past the bias of thinking that internals were just for folks more degreed and smarter than me.

The point is… when we’re younger, it’s possible to form certain biases. As we get older, if we keep an open mind, we may be able to see where the biases lead us down wrong paths and how to grow past those biases.

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