Privileged and Entitled


iPad pairing with my Bluetooth Keyboard

A Self Reflection

Today I've read two posts that could possibly change my life — or at least, give me pause and make me reassess thoughts I've had, moments I've experienced and the emotions I feel now. I'll be honest — I'm far from where I want to be as a person, but with that comes with the knowledge that we all have to begin somewhere.

On Technical Entitlement

In two words, Tess Rinearson summed up what intimidates me the most in IT. The subheading for her article reads: 'You know that kid who's been coding for, well, forever?', and encompasses that which makes me bristle the most when I read similarly phrased sentences in job advertisements. As though starting early makes you better and anyone who starts late is 'not good enough'.

Because I do feel that way, 'not good enough'. As the IT students around me rattle off about the different models of this or that, about the computers they built from scratch or about the specs in their souped-up machines, I don't feel good enough to be in that crowd because I don't know what they're talking about. Furthermore I don't have what they do. Tess mentions this feeling:

Let me frame it this way: I know logically that I’m pretty good. But I never feel like I’m as good, or as experienced, as everyone else.

But the difference for me is — I don't logically know I'm pretty good. In fact, I think I'm pretty awful and the only thing that keeps me going is that one day I might produce something I can be proud of and stop being constantly ashamed.

Tess makes a good point — technical entitlement is all relative, but this is about as useful to me as saying there are starving children in Africa, which is the argument my parents used to use to make us finish eating our dinner. It's truthfully the same argument as 'there will always be someone smarter than you, and someone dumber than you', or 'there will always be someone richer than you or poorer than you'. If everything was relative and we remembered that we would all feel better about ourselves — there are people fatter than me so I should feel better about myself! (?)

I'm not entirely convinced (but of course I know where she's coming from, which is the crux of my problem, so stop before you say anything).

Macbook. Yeah ;)

I'm sure a few of you who read this could point me off to a few podcasts or posts all about this subject. But the truth of the matter is even if someone sees me as technically entitled for starting 'coding' in Visual Basic and HTML when I took Information Processes Technology in Year 9, I still feel inferior to the person who began using a computer when they were 5, started making C and Pascal and whateverotherlanguage programs as a hobby and were already building their own websites in Year 5.

Then, what does technical entitlement really mean? I can't yet separate it in my mind from a choice and from something they just are. Are the technically entitled just blessed with the chance to begin doing that they love from an early age and given this blessing to grow this interest into something that can support them in their adult life? Or is it those that have this opportunity and that scoff at those that are what they perceive as 'inferior', answer questions in class because they think they are 'smarter' and use superficial scores to base others' worth?

Then arguably are people that are the former but answer questions because they feel sorry for the teachers' questions being greeted with silence, or because they are eager to learn more still being classed as the latter because they are still intimidating and perceived as the latter — even when their intentions are pure?

If it is merely the latter, then I have to conclude that it isn't really technical entitlement which is really what intimidates me at all. But the moment someone introduces themselves as having spent the last 19 years writing code, I'm already ready to step into the next room and be gone. With Tess stating that she has been coding since she was 11, I'm already intimidated beyond belief.

Assuming I'm actually not as horrible as I think, perhaps I do have an 'under-confidence' problem, I don't know.

This paragraph was my favourite from the article:

For one thing, precocity is rewarded in tech. We all swoon over the guy who started programming robots when he was 6. Growing up in tech, I took this as a constant in life—if you’re doing cool things, the younger the better. But it’s become obvious that this is more unique. One of my friends working in finance put it this way: “If I told people I started shorting stocks when I was nine—not that I was, by the way—people wouldn’t be impressed. They’d only say, ‘Who was stupid enough to give you their money?’”

Why is starting earlier considered better in tech and not in other disciplines is an interesting question. But regardless this is a view I also hold.

Silent Technical Unprivilege

Moving onto the focus of Phillip's post though — Tess asks us to imagine someone starting out as a college student taking their first Computer Science course — as Philip was. I know how I felt (I actually felt pretty good back then, ready to learn and take on the world and start learning all about UNIX and Linux), but as Phillip says, there are certain silent technical privileges in favour of white/Asian males.

I'll admit, this post made me have to stop in the middle of reading it before I could come back to it. It affected me deeply. I almost cried, and that is something I try to make a point of not doing usually.

I have a friend who had never taken anything remotely IT before university, but none of us ever realised it until he mentioned it to us, because we all simply assumed that he had taken some sort of course to be interested in IT — he looked the type, stereotypically white, thin, nerdy looking. Although he may have felt intimidated by all that he didn't know, he was included and part of the group and never treated as anything different.

In that respect, like Philip, he was able to fake it until he made it. For me, this is an issue, perhaps less because of who I am but more because of what person I am that I do a bad job of faking it. More on that later.

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As a female in a course largely dominated by males this can be alienating, you can go in one of two directions. Either you strike to emphasise your femininity among the males so are throwing it in their faces or you go the extreme opposite and become a tomboy. I tried to become a tomboy, and while I reflect and don't think I was very good at it, I felt at the time I was making some headway into trying to be 'one of the boys' and tried to be as energetic and engage in less 'feminine' things. I cut my hair short.

I can recall even in high school I was in a girls' school where most of the grade had selected to do science subjects. The school's teachers advised against it, saying we were making a mistake and that girls 'traditionally were better at social sciences', but we held strong and gave the school a better ranking than they had ever seen.

That wasn't the only incident though — we needed a minimum number of students for classes to run (8 students). While running Information Software Technology wasn't much of a problem in Year 11, by Year 12 numbers were dropping so low my classmates and I feared that the class would not run at all. Luckily we just made the cut, but lost two more classmates during the year. Of course, there was never even the slightest chance for Software Design and Development to run (whereas the year below us only had SDD and no IST class).

I think as a female in IT, most people expect you are either good at the management and business aspect of it or good at the more graphical aspects of it like web design or graphics design, for example. This is more than likely how I ended up where I am today, despite having the greatest respect for programmers and developers, yet being unmotivated (and unskilled) to fully follow the path I admire so much. Maybe stereotype threat is to blame as much as merely my own low self-esteem (maybe as a result?) is holding me back.

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Despite it being nerve wracking and me falling asleep in more Programming Fundamentals lectures than I can count (owing to it being held early in the morning) and thus missing out on some sometimes crucial material, it was fun. I liked learning it, working on projects with my classmates and seeing things come to life in front of me.

My brother was enthralled at the time as I first struggled with learning Java. He wanted to learn how to code (and lazy me didn't want to teach him since I barely understood it myself and didn't know how to fake it). I asked him why and he said that it was amazing to see things happen just from lines of code. I was beginning to see what he meant.

But then I took a break in programming for a semester to do my first internship which made doing Applications Programming that much harder without the knowledge base I needed, but had forgotten since I had no opportunity to use it during my internship, while stuck in an administrative position. I fell behind, I didn't understand what was going on and stayed away from Java ever since, even though I had liked it so much before. (Whether this is more a matter of the system or my own problem is open to debate — I don't see anyone else having these problems.)

I can relate with Philip's story of his friend:

Here was someone with a natural interest who took the initiative to learn more and was denied the opportunity to do so. I have no doubt that she could have gotten good at programming – and really enjoyed it! – if she had the same opportunities as I did. That spark was there in her during freshman year but was snuffed out by one bad initial experience.

However I can't help feeling that it was merely my fault that I didn't entrench myself deeper which is why I am at where I am today. Perhaps it was and perhaps it wasn't, I am unable to judge this objectively. Philip mentions one trite retort is that his friend shouldn't have given up and tried harder — this is what I feel that I have failed to do and that I can't blame the system for what I have neglected to do.

Anyway, in my internships I had to do as part of my course, I never completely felt at home in the teams of male programmers or managers like Phillip seems to have:

I was actually pretty squishy, chillin' in my cubicle and often taking extended lunch breaks. All of the guys around me (yes, the programmers were all men, with the exception of one older woman who didn't hang out with us) were also fairly squishy.

Although I admit to surfing the internet for subjects not pertaining to work in any shape or form, I did not dare openly chill or take extended lunch breaks, although there were a few times I accidentally forgot the time. In fact I recall my manager asking me 'What is so funny?' once, something I'd heard from teacher's mouths enough times to fear (I still have a child's mentality for some things).

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The Psychology of it

I don't know if I'm a victim yet. What do you think? I think we often have tendencies to blame ourselves for things that might not have necessarily be our fault even if we view it as such. I have enough objectivity to understand that, but not to understand if this is my fault or not. At heart I believe that it is my own laziness and lack of motivation to try and try harder that means I have let myself down, yet at the same time in some ways things have always been against me, whether true or not.

I have always felt at a disadvantage as others mentioned what they had programmed and created in their SDD classes, yet I was unable to take the class because there was no other interest in the grade. Yet at the same time, I was able to take IPT which counts for something.

I understand that it takes hard work, and it takes over 10,000 hours to really master something. Those that are elite have practiced for many, many years. In this sense, it's merely my own fault for not being committed — but how do you stay committed? All the same, I can't help being resentful to those that started early, were able to start early. It's like a bright and wonderful future you could have had was snatched away from you because you weren't given the opportunity to pursue something as a kid. Or perhaps because you didn't win the genetic lottery?

By the time you have practiced to reach the level of ability as your idol, they are already 10 years more wise than they were 10 years ago. It's an endless catch up game.

I'll admit that I'd forgotten until recently — I was given a chance when I was in high school. My dad wanted to build (read: reassemble) a computer with me, but at the time I was interested in other things (like a new obsession with anime and manga, perhaps) and at the same time I didn't have any idea what he was talking about. What was a motherboard? What were graphics cards? What in the hell does a CPU do? What's Pentium and Ghz about? I nodded my head and pretended I understood, and I don't know if I'm still just doing that — nodding and pretending even after a completed IT degree.

I convinced myself I wasn't interested in hardware, just the software to make myself feel better; and then convinced myself again later I wasn't interested in making software, just using it. I used my ignorance as a weapon against myself, and picked up the meanings of the words I didn't understand back then painfully and slowly over the next 6-7 years without really understanding it. Really, isn't it just my fault?

Now that I've reached the end of this rant, it's posts like Implicit Privilege that make me want to delete this or hide it and leave it in drafts forever, because it reminds me that there are people worse off than me. That there are children who have to take care of their parents. That there are children who cannot financially get into university. And you know what — life's pretty swell for me then since I don't have those kinds of responsibilities. I recognise that, I feel bad about that. But then I would feel bad that my life is so great all the time (and I do), but this is me, being honest on my blog. And now that I've been honest, maybe I'll be able to set this behind me and work harder towards my goals.

Even if I'm still jealous of the girl/boy that started coding when they were still in diapers.