Saturday, 14 November 2015

To settle down and feel content

In 1997 I started working professionally as a programmer, to the surprise of my family and friends. I really have a masters degree in economics and sociology, majoring in marketing. This, however, felt boring to me. My real interest was art and computers. My brother bought a ZX Spectrum when I was 11 and we spent a lot of time in front of it, writing basic and inputting game code from magazines like Sinclair User. After the Spectrum, I went with Atari, which also was the computer I wrote my master exam on when I graduated from university. I've often wondered if they could ever read that floppy disc...

So when the web came along, I started creating web pages. Art and computers baked into one! Around 1995, I spent my time doing web pages for the organisation I was really supposed to write a marketing plan for. In 1996 I worked in health care, and instead of doing my job as a controller, I worked on an application in MS Access where the wards could do their own financial monitoring. And then I realised it was time to move on. I started my own web company and 6 months later, I was sucked into the blossoming dotcom industry in Stockholm.

In the beginning, I was fascinated by the new industry. The career path seemed clear. You were supposed to start with front end development, considered lowest in rank, move to back end or the data layer and then advance to project management. The companies were young and the people were all the same age, but already split into two teams. Developers, casually dressed and not trusted to meet clients, and project managers, dressed in suits and handling all the external communication. I was especially fascinated by the fact that the 25-year old women with the same engineer exams as the developer blokes were all project managers. Was it because they were the ones who could talk to clients, because they didn't feel comfortable in the developer group or because of the higher status? Almost 20 years later, I don't know.

I went into the industry because I had a great interest in developing applications that would make life easier for people and organisations. I don't have an exam, I've never studied any technology. So the first 10 years, I always felt insecure. I felt like I didn't really belong, I didn't know the correct terms, I didn't dare to push my views forward because I was always being put down by someone who knew more than I did. And it was easy to put me down, since my self confidence was at rock bottom. Because - I was still a developer. 10 years in the industry and still a developer! What's wrong with me?!

And I fell into that trap. The title trap. Am I really only a developer? Didn't I design and build that CMS? Didn't I design and build that betting sportsbook? Am I not really - an ARCHITECT? At least I should be by now. My employer definitely wanted to sell me as an architect, since it meant more money. And wasn't it really strange, not having the ambition to become anything more than a mere developer? To top it off, being a FEMALE ARCHITECT! Wow, I could probably get my own TV-show! So I went along with it. I went for a Microsoft Professional Architect Certificate. And the years following that was the worst years in my working life.

Why that was, I've tried to dissect. Maybe it was me, with my lousy self confidence, feeling I wasn't living up to the standard I should have. Maybe it was the organisations, having different views on what an architect should do. Maybe it was the younger blokes in some places who made my life hell. Maybe it was my feeling of being hired because WE NEED WOMEN IN TECH and I constantly had to prove I was as good as a man. Anyway, I woke up many Monday mornings and thought about doing something entirely different. Like, maybe, work as a waitress or something... Something I could manage.

The thing is, once you're in that position, it's hard to back out of it. You tell your manager you don't want to have that role. They say they're happy with your work and wants to help you move forward instead of back. And you have that bad feeling that if you back out, you're a failure. Because just saying that "In 3 years time, I still want to be a programmer, only much better" isn't really the level of ambition most companies expect.

I could say it's only me, but when I look at my fellow developer contacts on LinkedIn I see Senior Developers, Solution Architects, Team Leads etc etc. And I wonder, for us as an industry where we developers talk so much about self organising teams, joint responsibility, flat organisations... Where did this need to rise above the rest appear? Why do we feel the need to say that we are SENIOR developers?

For my own part, I've left all of that behind. I'm a developer, in an awesome team, where everyone chips in and I never have the need to lead anything anymore. With that I mean I never have the feeling that tomorrow, when I get in at work, I need to know exactly what to do and how because everyone expects that of me. Mob programming have changed all that around for me. We build awesome things together, I contribute with my knowledge and experience as do every individual in the team. And every day, I learn something new. I go home feeling that it has been a good day, I don't work late when the kids have gone to sleep, and I go to work full of energy the next day. And after 20 years of building web sites, I actually think that this is the best time I've ever had. :)

Maybe one day I'll write about this WOMEN IN TECH-bit.

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