Today is a good day to code

Computer Science is Hard no Matter What Type of Human You Are

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Programming | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I read the NY Times’ article on women in computer science, as well as an excellent rebuttal by another blogger named Hillary Mason. I wanted to put my $0.02 cents in on the subject.

Basically computer science is hard. Are there issues for women? Sure there are. Are there issues for men? Sure there are. There are issues for everyone in choosing to become a software engineer, especially one who has a goal of building their own startup. There is going to be personal sacrifice, hard choices, and fighting to get through the glass ceiling. It is an incredibly competitive environment, and being a minority is an additional strike against you. I have found through experience that you just need to be better and work harder than everyone else. Does it suck, yes, is it fair no, nor should it be. It is just the way it is.

Creating some sort of affirmative action in the long run is a bad idea, so is segregating your potential startup from the system that is causing you problems. The goal is to integrate into the environment, not to stand apart from it. I have continuous issues balancing my family life with my professional life. Not to mention my mental health as well as needing to be continuously coding and reading to stay competitive. To claim that women can’t do this is counterproductive to the argument, plus just patently untrue.

In many companies for which I have worked, I have been the only African-American software engineer, but not because someone made a program for me to get me in, it was because at that time I was the best human being for the job. One day I hope to build a business of my own and run it, not as an African-American entrepreneur, although that happens to be what I am, but as an entrepreneur. I will sweat, sacrifice, and claw to do it. If I can’t get funding, then I will try something novel like charging from the start, and slowly building a business that is always profitable and always in the black.

My reaction would be to agree with Holly Madison, suck it up and get busy building a quality business based on your ideas. Know that it is going to be hard and that it is not going to be fair and that there will be times where you will be utterly alone and be the only one who believes in what you are doing. Know that you and your family will have to make terrible zero-sum-game type of decisions. This all comes with the territory for anyone. To complain that you didn’t come from Stanford, that you don’t have a computer science degree, that you can’t work 60-80 hours a week, that you are a minority, that you are a woman, are all just excuses. Get past them and get busy making something that no one can deny. The playing field is level enough that if you are careful and do things just right, something wonderful will happen.