The Value in Failing: Being a Woman Who Codes at Kenyon

Coming to Kenyon, I never anticipated doing anything related to computer programming. I wanted to major in English initially and was very surprised to get to Kenyon and discover that I actually wanted to complete a major in the natural sciences instead. I actually wrote a whole article about my general feelings on being a woman in STEM and the societal pressures I feel, but when it comes to my feelings about my concentration in Scientific Computing I knew I needed a separate article to really address all my thoughts. 

You see, even though I thought that anything in the computer science field was very outside of my skill set, in some ways it also seemed like the world was leading me right to pursuing that field. My dad graduated from Dickinson College with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and has had a long career in the tech field, plus my sister also has a Computer Science degree and even works as a software engineer. Despite having these two loved ones as influences, in many ways, I still thought that I was somehow unfit to understand computer programming. Some of this might have had to do with the fact that none of the schools I attended ever offered any classes on this topic, but I think that most of it had to do with that fact that a large part of me saw computer programming as a field that was completely closed off and unwelcoming to women in general. 

My sister, Annie, changed that for me. Before my sister started talking to me about learning programming, I had never received any encouragement to even try learning how to code. I thought that programmers had to be specially gifted and talented in some way and that some people were just born naturally inclined to be good at coding—and I thought I knew for certain that wasn’t me. I now realize that my understanding of gender norms also influenced my opinions, as I thought that, since coding is deeply rooted in math and logic, it had to be a “manly” subject and that by pursuing it, I would be rejecting my femininity. Annie helped me to see that this was not the case, but that even if it were, there’s a lot of merit in working to understand something that doesn’t come naturally to you. 

This is a concept that was further reinforced by the computer programming professors I’ve had at Kenyon. Time and time again, I have been reminded that it is okay to fail and that there is true value in making mistakes and learning how to fix them. Computer programming is not something you’re born knowing how to do, and it’s actually not easy to learn for most people who study it. I still struggle with failure sometimes despite these messages, but I am getting better overall with my feelings of inadequacy in the world of scientific computing. I am able to admit that I am far from being the best programmer in my class (in fact, I’m probably near the bottom of the pack), but that doesn’t stop me from learning just for the sake of challenging myself and pushing myself to grow. 

Being a woman who codes at Kenyon has been both very difficult and very rewarding. Sometimes I may get a C+ on a midterm, but other times I may get an almost perfect score on a weekly quiz. The point of it all is that learning to code is helping me to accept myself and own my failures, which is why I can definitely say that I encourage other women to try their hands at computer programming too. You may not be great at it at first, but you’ll absolutely learn and grow, which to me has more value than any letter grade ever could. 

 

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