STEM and Me

As some of you may know, I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Special Education, and extensive experiences in working with children and adults with special needs, as well as dabbling in the fields of nonprofits and disability advocacy.  However, as my sidebar states, I work as a TechOps Engineer, and have been working as an IT person for the past 2 and a half years (for as long as I’ve been “working full time,” basically).

I don’t regret my decision to work in Tech (I’ve realized so much about myself and my ability to learn and adapt, even when I start at 0), though my deep passions are still in the realms of disability advocacy and special education.  Recently, I’ve began to start dissecting and analyzing why exactly I was so heavily encouraged to pursue the liberal arts field over ones like computer science or engineering in my teens.

Snek, Snek, Snek….

In June (or was it May?) I started teaching myself Python from various online resources, courses and books.

I also joined a “Community of Practice” (kind of like a club?) at work for learning programming languages, called “Seven Languages in Seven Months.”  We use the book  “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks: A Pragmatic Guide to Learning Programming Languages,” and spread it out to one a month to learn, practice, and discuss.  I was hoping it would be a Beginner-Friendly community of practice, but seems like the content is more for people who at least already have the fundamental programming experiences, and want to poke around and buffet the basics of other more obscure programming languages.

I am so far lost that I am not even ashamed to admit that we are on chapter 2, learning Io, and I can’t even figure out how/where to download the Compiler to start writing the practice code discussed in the book.  This endeavor is definitely not going as well as I had hoped, hindered by the fact that I couldn’t attend the practice session last month because I was in Japan.

I think I will just sit back and listen during the meetings, and learn a thing or two through osmosis instead. My roommate (programmer by education and trade) was saying to me this morning that the book is way too difficult for a beginner, so I’m not too upset  I have no idea where to even begin.

HTML/5, CSS/3 and PHP made sense to me like reading a book when I was learning them in my teens, but I’m  finding that Python is going to take a lot more concentration and time than it did for me back in the days to pick up.  It was so much easier to learn UI languages and implement new fancy code I learned when I was doing it for funsies, and when it was much easier to spit out a “product” (ie: a blog, updated layout for a website, making a page look fancier, or embedding a new gallery script).  With Python, I can appreciate that typing things in and running it does something in Terminal, but not much else. Hopefully, I’ll slowly make headway.

Looking Back

I sometimes wonder these days why I was so convinced back in college that I couldn’t possibly complete a STEM major.  I am starting to suspect that it had a lot to do with the fact that people around me always told me I’m not good at math or sciences, so I should stick to the liberal arts.

Education as a field was especially pushed, especially by the adults around me, because I was good at working with and teaching children.  But also, when (not if!) I had children of my own, I could share my summer breaks with theirs, and have days off when they had off.  And while they were still very young, I could stay home with them until they start school, at which point I would be effortlessly be able to go back to teaching, since #TeacherShortage.

(The world has changed drastically since my early days; we still have a “teacher shortage,” but of a very different kind… We have plenty of people with teaching certificates… Just not enough qualified teachers, especially in Special Education.  And it is extremely difficult to find a job as a teacher these days, even with a Master’s Degree due to the economy and flooding of the market.)

The thought that I could successfully major in the sciences or engineering simply never crossed my mind through my six years in college, first as an undergrad, and then as a graduate student.

Thinking back now, it’s puzzling why the “Gender Roles” were so strictly contrived in my life, making for a seamless rail towards the end goal of the “suburban housewife with 2 kids in a house with a nice yard” montage, while my sister was encouraged to pursue a STEM future.  (She double majored in math and computer science, and now works as a programmer in a very competitive firm.) She and I showed very different “inclinations” and “interests” when were were younger, to be sure, but perhaps there could have been more encouragements to continue exploring my potential and interests beyond the age of just a few years, before deciding what the best path for me was going to be.

Even as tweens and teens, my sister wasn’t the one interested in code, web design, researching, and looking into creating things on the web.  It was always me.  I spent a lot more time with computers, and could probably troubleshoot your issue for you, and create your small business a website, but it wasn’t me who was being encouraged to take up programming; it was my sister, who had no interest whatsoever in the technology field.

To be fair, with my parents, I believe that they catered their expectations based on what they thought was the best path for me.  Many of my Asian peers had parents who would not accept anything other than doctor, hedge fund manager, or engineer, and would not allow even the thought of a non-STEM major for college.  I had a friend in high school who was a very much enjoyed art and wanted to be an art major, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it.  So she went into Finance instead, and the only art she partakes these days is a periodic bout of “Paint Nite” sessions.

There wasn’t much “expected” of me, for better or for worse.  I was “allowed” to pursue a non-STEM degree, because my parents were open to catering to my interests and strengths.  For sure, my strengths laid with teaching, and interests with disabilities and special education.  But I wonder, in being so “open” to the non-STEM fields by telling me for years that I can be a teacher, not an engineer, if they didn’t overstep and actually convince me to go into that field rather than giving me the option to choose on my own.

Expectations for My Future = Homemaker

My decisions and educational trajectories were molded with the expectations that I will work for a few years, marry, have children, quit working to raise them, and perhaps go back to work once my children were in school.  And go back to work more as a way to occupy myself than as a career.  I was prepped and coached to fall into this role as a “housewife” and a “stay at home mother” rather than as a “working woman,” whose career would be as important to her as her home life.

Which I believe is a completely valid and important life choice and trajectory, but I think it is only so if one got to decide to become a stay at home mother or a stay at home wife.  I may very well become a stay at home mother or a housewife in the future.

However, at that point, I would hope I had the opportunity to come to the conclusion on my own, and not because I felt that it is my “only way for the future” due to the societal pressures and expectations placed upon me as a woman who wants to be a mother.

Heck, at my age, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about kids, family, and settling down, and have more or less come to the conclusion that if I’m going to destroy my own body and soul for 9 months to incubate a little Cherub Mini Me, I might as well put 150% in raising it myself as well.  (And I do love kids.)

But I also want a career, which would be difficult to maintain or pursue when trying to be the best mother that I can be.  And I also can’t afford to stay at home.  But I also can’t afford daycare ($2000/mo? YIKES!).

At any rate, I can barely take care of myself! Of course I can’t take care of another human being!

There are so many choices, so many decisions, so many “what if’s”… Which… I guess I’ll just think about it more when the time comes… If the time ever comes.

Imposter Syndrome and Me

I loved teaching and I loved working with kids in Special Education, but having worked in IT for the past 2 and a half years, I wish I had the fundamentals others in my field did in the tech side of things.  I don’t regret that I spent my school years developing my skills and learning everything there is to learn about supporting kids with special needs.  However, I can’t help but wonder where I might already be in my career if I had chosen a STEM major rather than Education.

Why was it so easy for me to convince myself I had no aptitude for the sciences or math when I took Differential Equations at a community college my senior year of high school, along with a cohort of only 20 other kids from the whole county?

Why was it- and still is it– so easy for me to say “I suck at math,” when I was selected to be in an Accelerated Gifted and Talented Math Program in 6th grade for qualifying in the top 0.1% of the county’s students?  Going through the program allowed me to begin high school taking Pre-Calculus GT with Juniors and Seniors, and yet I’ve always “sucked at math,” and grew up “knowing” I had no aptitude for science.

I had always considered myself “different” from my “gifted” classmates and a “poser”; the “Imposter Syndrome” poster child.  I was “fooling” them all into thinking I can do any of the things we were doing in class, and it was only a matter of time until I screwed something up and exposed myself.  (I guess I was a really good actress, because no one figured it out in the 12 years of pre-secondary schooling.)

Most of my teachers and peers were completely taken back when I was applying for college and declared a major in education.

“But what about medicine?” “What about engineering?” “What about biology?” “What about math?”

“No way! I suck at math and science! I can’t possibly major in them!”

I had placed in the 99th Percentile in the SATs for the Math section (ironically, my highest score on all 3 portions).

I wonder where I might be now if I hadn’t managed to be convinced of my inabilities throughout the years, and in turn, accepted these words to be the unwavering truth.

I can’t do math.  I don’t get it.  

I suck at science. I couldn’t possibly major in engineering.

The only thing I can do is teach, because I can’t do anything else.

My mentality in the past few years, as life outlook evolved with my illness and moving to NYC, is that I should at least give my 100% attempt, even if it ends in failure. I have countless times surprised myself when I tried something I was sure I would fail in.

If only the idea had even crossed my mind to try, back in my late teens.

I wonder.


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  1. This was super interesting to read. I can totally understand your feelings about career vs children it sucks that it’s such a difficult choice, but it does feel like taking time out will mean getting behind in ones career, not to mention child care costs. I also feel you on the imposter syndrome. I am an engineer despite failing all my exams at school and I still feel like I’m useless at maths and science because my teachers then said so….goes to show how our teen years impact us. I think it’s amazing that you are working so hard at a different path despite not having a background in it. And I don’t think that’s it ever too late to start again, or to learn and develop new skills. One day you could be in DevOps with your hard working attitude and willingness to fail I’m sure 🙂 It is sad and interesting that your sister was made to feel more capable of stem career than you were though.

  2. Loved reading this! Deciding what you want to do for a career is so difficult, especially when other people’s expectations of you come into play. I was always pushed towards academic/STEM subjects, but I knew it wouldn’t have made me as happy as creative ones would. So I ended up taking English and writing and I’m so happy I did. I don’t think you have to be the best at sonething to study it, as long as you’re passionate about it and work hard you can do anything.

    I’m so scared about what will happen if/when I have children. I love working and would really want to continue, but childcare would be so difficult. Hopefully it’ll all work out by then!

  3. Kudos for taking the initiative on learning a new programming language. I’ve been wanting to learn one, like javascript, but am finding it hard to motivate myself, haha.

    I like the message behind your post – which is that basically it’s easy to fail when you’re not confident in your own abilities. I think that this is very true! I also feel like pressure in Asian households is totally a thing (I’m Asian) and it’s easy to go along with your parents expectations, especially the more traditional they are.

    Whatever path you decide to take – you can do it! My sister is a high school English teacher and I very much admire teachers after seeing firsthand how hard it is.

  4. Lol you wrote so much and I have so much to relate to, I don’t even know where to begin XP I’m currently entering my fourth year of college in business. My family suggests me to go into finance, but I’m a little interested in marketing and retail. :/ I also find it annoying when I just think about the long-term.. society’s expectations of working, then marriage and children, and then perhaps returning to the workforce. I’m sure although this process may or may not occur (in chronological order or not), we’ll all have different experiences anyway. There is so much more to the world though, and sometimes we all need to take a different approach of viewing life instead of simply thinking: “hmm, we all just live and then reproduce, and die, etc.”! I just read your post about your illness and I’m sorry to hear about this 🙁 it must’ve been hard. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow to anyone, though. I strongly recommend you reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. Morrie is an old professor of Mitch’s, and he developed an illness causing him with a few months before his passing. It’s such an interesting and eye-opening read with a new perspective on life, death, aging, marriage, career, etc. ^^ Let me know how you think of it if you do go on to read it. Hope you’re enjoying Quiet- it’s one of my favourite books, by the way. ^^

    All the best, girl!

    Simplee Nikkie

  5. Learning seven languages in a month sounds interesting and fun! That’s too bad that it wasn’t beginner friendly though. When I was going through my CS degree in college, taking algorithm and data structures classes were a lot of help. I felt it really built the foundation of learning programming languages in general.

    Reading about your education and career journey was really interesting. It’s weird how your parents were different with you and your sister. The same thing happened to my brother and I. My parents supported my choice to go into Computer Science, but for my brother, they were disappointed he didn’t go to medical school, yet they never pushed the medical school thing on me. In a way, it’s nice that your parents were trying to cater to your interests, but it should also be up to you. It’d be nice if a CS class was required in middle or high school, so that more people have exposure to the tech field early on.

    I also agree with you that being a stay-at-home mom or housewife is totally fine, as long as it’s the choice of the person. I don’t like it when it’s the default expectation of women or when people think it’s weird for men to take that role. This is actually something my husband and I have talked about, and we’ve decided that when the time comes, it’s more likely that he stays at home. (I make more than him, and he seems to actually prefer that role over working.)

    I find that impostor syndrome is so common! It’s unfortunate when talented and smart people don’t think they’re good enough. It’s a very hard thing to overcome. Even if you didn’t get into a STEM field early on, I don’t think it’s too late. You can still learn a lot!

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