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.
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.
- Reading: The Other Einstein: A Novel, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking, Broken: A Novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
- Listening: 88 Keys by Spotify
- Drinking: Cold Brew @ Starbucks