Some personal thoughts about the necessity of Tech Sisters

23 August 2012


Hello, this is Esta here and the following is a short (but still awfully long) account of my journey to programming. :)

When applying to university in 2004, I had to decide on two preferred majors. I didn’t have any particular interests back then, but I had been a nerd enough to basically qualify for anything. So I chose Estonian and Finno-Ugric linguistics and… informatics - because I knew I was decent at writing texts and I remembered enjoying the process of creating infantile webpages with Dreamweaver back in 1999. Below is one of the latest versions of my homepage’s front page :P

Anyway, I ended up learning languages - lots of them. But it was all in an environment where other students (mostly female I must admit) seemed to take pride in being totally illiterate in math, physics etc. (I guess it’s pretty common among people majoring in liberal arts.) I, on the other hand, had chosen physics and math as two out of five of my final exams in the end of high school. Not that I was particularly talented in these subjects, but I knew a thing or two (at least back then) and believed this knowledge might prove useful some day.

In addition to this general humanities-spirited aura, I was studying in an environment that wasn’t technically very advanced - even PowerPoint presentations were rare. Instead, overhead projectors were sometimes used, but mostly we had to take notes in an old-school way. I don’t mean to complain or blame anyone, especially because we were sometimes dealing with languages that were spoken in communities, where technologies of literacy were unfamiliar to most of the population. So I suppose using high-end technologies wouldn’t been of much use anyway.

Anyway, once in a while I remembered my fondness of computers and html tags. I took a course that introduced some ways to use computers in the study of languages. It was useful, but too basic to satisfy my needs. So I took up the courage to enroll to a course named introduction to computational linguistics. Oh dear lord, how horrible it was! I survived one lecture and then I gave up. I was the only linguist there, while everyone else seemed to be majoring in informatics and it seemed that you can do some computational linguistics with elementary school level morphology, but not without programming skills. So this is the sad end to my pursuits in academical informatics.

But I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with a great friend named Janika, who happens to be a female Ruby programmer (and a fellow Tech Sister!). So although I hadn’t been programming myself, I very often heard this and that about this world. (Not to mention all my guy-friends who are working in IT!) So it happened that she lured me into appyling for Rails Girls Tallinn in March this year. I was fed up with my current job, so it was a great time for learning something new and useful. Then my introverted and timid side took over and I was thinking: “OMG, there’s no way I’m a proper candidate for such an event. I bet Garage48 Hub will be filled with extroverted and upbeat hipsters and everyone will laugh at me, because I don’t have a MacBook and I have no interest in starting my own business.”

Well, I was wrong to say the least. Okay, so it happened that something was wrong with my awfully sucky laptop and I had to team up with a fellow Rails Girl, but everything else was just pure magic. All my previous learning experiences had been so different and to be honest I was just amazed how fun it can be. Rails Girls’ slogan that encourages women to get excited and create things proved to be dead on target. After this event I began working through Michael Hartl’s awesome tutorial. I do have been close to shedding a couple of tears when wrestling with failing tests and I must admit I still haven’t finished the book (I had to start all over again two times). But I haven’t given up, despite the fact that my daily job is totally unrelated to infotechnology (I’m a textbook editor at a publishing house).

There was still this one “but…”. Rails Girls concept involves creating two-day events around the world and what the participants do after the workshop, is in their own hands. I suspect it’s pretty damn difficult to find the time and willpower to struggle with a programming language on your own, when you’re a newbie and you might not have any connection with this world. I’m all for women starting their own businesses and creating start-ups, but I personally take programming as a hobby and merely a possible new outlet for my creativity. Last year I took up learning how to sew, this year it’s programming - easy as that. Tech Sisters have come together to organize technology-related events for women on a regular basis and I think the ambitious will-be entrepreneurs mustn’t be the only females who can gain something from these events. I personally would just like to be able to spend some time once in a while among supportive and inspiring people, who wouldn’t mind guiding me on my journey to this terra incognita that programming has been for me until very lately.

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