Americas

Between Worlds

For the longest time I could not decide what to write about this week. I’ve settled into life as an intern in New York City pretty well and I felt that another post about food in the city would be a tad silly. So I had decided upon writing about the subway and some hilarious stories but then I read one of my friend’s comments about appreciating moments when you’re in a room full of female scientists because they’re rare. And she’s right.

Obviously Wellesley provides me with a completely skewed reality. I know this, all of us Wellesley students do. But it didn’t home how skewed it was until I walked into a meeting at my internship. I was the only female in the room. And I was an intern. It was remarkably upsetting to see absolutely no senior female computer scientists at this meeting. And it was then that I realized that I wasn’t just transitioning from living in a college to living in the “real world” or from an academic to corporate world. I was also moving from an all-women’s to a co-ed environment.

Grace Murray Hopper, one of the most important computer scientists at the beginning of it all

And the transition from Wellesley back into the rest of the world has been starker than I ever thought likely. I forgot that people still say “gay” as a negative description. I definitely never expected other interns to say “It’s really cool that you’re a girl and doing computer science. It’s so strange.” Well, I’ll have you know that the first software engineers were women because the men believed that the hardware was the difficult, more important part of computers. There was a belief that software was boring, easy, clerical work. Little did those men know.

When the women began making more complicated code that expanded the powers of the machines that the men were making (even gave pointers of improvements that should be built into the machine) men realized that it was through programming that the full potential of a computer could be explored. And slowly men pushed women out and turned the computer science world into a male-dominated field.

But at Wellesley I don’t see that. Obviously everybody within my major is female (or biologically so, I am going to make a generalization but mean no offense to those who are trans) and seeing a guy cross-registering is a little strange. Even while in London, I did not pick up on how few women were in my classes. And in my internship, considering that my team is 1/4 female, I’m on a pretty nicely represented team. That fact is so strange to say and accepting it as a mark of progress is somewhat upsetting. 1/4 is an outstanding gender breakdown in the computer science world and that’s just sad.

In the end of it all, it just makes me want to succeed in this field more. I also, subconsciously, chose to go by my full name in the office. Not Sam but Samantha. At Wellesley and in past jobs, I have always been called Sam. It’s almost as if it’s a reminder of the different environment I am in now.

Now that I’ve experienced the corporate world, I’m not entirely sure it is something I’ll survive in for long because I do like changes in scenery and environment. So maybe not the cubicle world but some other avenue within the corporate world. I also know that living in a city isn’t everything I hoped for. Partly because I’m trying to squeeze so much in to such a small window of time. Partly because it is difficult meeting people casually outside of the college bubble. And now I am adding pressure to myself to learn the ropes of working on a computer science team, proving that I can be a useful member no matter my gender or liberal arts background. Navigating those waters has been a bit difficult as I get to know personalities and how to approach different problems with different people.

Half of my internship has passed and I definitely have to say that traveling between different existences is rough once all the glitter or travel excitement has worn off. At the beginning I was only thinking of what I would learn from the experience and not what others might learn from me–either in my role as employee or coworker or whatever. Now I’m working things out that I never expected and struggling to find ways to lay stones for more girls to succeed in computer science in the future. I don’t want to be ineffective in case it prejudices my supervisors against female CS majors. No worries, I also realize I do not represent everyone and I would work to be an effective member anyway but I cannot deny the existence of this additional stressor. Nor can I help thinking if this transition exists in other worlds. How much does my gender and experience at an all-women’s college skew my perception everything else? Of travel? Of the world? Of the office? What is the transition like in those areas? How did Rear Admiral Grace Hopper do it?

Sam Wu
Sam started traveling on the wrong foot and was every traveler’s pet peeve–the bawling baby who just couldn’t be silenced. Since then she has fallen in love with planes and boats and going places. Sam once studied abroad in London but is now slowly growing more roots in NYC.

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    2 Comments

    1. oh man do i feel your pain! as a wellesley alum, i think this is something that we all go through. when i moved down south after college, it took a lot for me to adjust to even simple ideas like chivalry and the expectation that the men carry the heavy objects instead of the women. when i rowed on wellesley’s crew team, i was the one people called for heavy furniture to be moved. it’s hard to explain that to my marine boyfriend, but he’s starting to get it. GREAT article.

      1. exactly! my friends and I were talking how sometimes when we demur the man can become obstinate. I wish the chivalry wasn’t based upon societal pressures but actual polite intentions and that women were allowed to do the same.

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