Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

with Alicia Liu

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When computing was still nascent, people thought that women should do software.

Alicia Liu

Software Engineer, Entrepreneur, Writer

Lessons Learned

Good coding is about quality and value, not about the social constructs we have attached.

If you lack sleep, you are going to introduce bugs.

To succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.

Telling women to “lean in” to the current business environment sets them up for failure.


Lesson: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Alicia Liu

Step #4 Gender: When computing was still nascent, people thought that women should do software

So in tech we do have this phenomenon where we attach all these ideas about what it means to be a good coder, that really have nothing to do with being a good coder. They are all just social constructs. And the reason we know this for sure, is because back when computing was still IMA-CID, people thought that women should do software because hardware was hard and masculine, like men did hardware. So obviously software was soft and women are more suited to do it. You can do it at home, you can do it while you're raising your kids, which are absolutely true.

Software programming is actually very, very suited if you have families and stuff. But somewhere along the way we made this a very masculine twist to it where you have to be sitting in a basement hunched over coding all the time through the night. There is absolutely no reason for that and actually that type of work environment and working style is extremely detrimental to writing good code. If you lack sleep you are going to introduce bugs.

I read this on Medium under this great collection called LadyBits and it talks about the history of brewing beer and how up until the industrial revolution, brewing beer was a very feminine activity. Women brewed the beer and men drank the beer, and then when the Industrial Revolution came it became industrialized so women were completely removed from the process and it became a men's activity. But now with the craft brewing movement, women are getting back into brewing beer again and yet there are all these men like "What are women doing brewing beer, this is obviously a men's activity," even though there were thousands of year before this where women had brewed the beer.

I think it’s really, really hurtful to have a very gendered society where women are good at some things that are often not valued as highly as when men do the same things or adjacent things. I think it ends up hurting both men and women because men are also restricted from doing things they might like to do, like sew or decorate or things that are seen as non masculine so men are not pushed to do those things neither.

I think one of the things that we need to change is how we view success. So in this society, the way we view success is in traditionally masculine terms and when we think of someone who is traditionally successful like a CEO, they're kind of like these very masculine qualities like having to be very assertive, which when a woman does it, is seen as being aggressive. So there are all these qualities that men exhibit which are seen as being positive, but when a woman exhibits the same qualities, they're seen as negative.

So it makes it almost impossible for women to truly succeed in this type of environment, certainly not in the same way that men can. Even when they do manage to succeed, they're actually often overcompensating by being even more masculine than the men are. So that is just not a healthy way. When we tell women to lean in to that type of environment, that just sets women up for failure.

I like to remember that it's better than it used to be because we actually hear about this stuff. I think that people have to realize that. That before, it wouldn't even be mentioned. I see women who are extremely brave, sharing their stories of sexual harassment that I don't even have the courage to do. So I really commend the women who are making it visible and making it okay for other women to share. I think the #YesAllWomen hashtag was great and just showing men look at all this stuff that is not even on your radar that women have to deal with on a constant basis.

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