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Am I the stupidest person in the room? The life of a female tech writer

Vicki Lynn Cove is a professional technical writer and amateur cat-sitter from Nova Scotia, who currently lives in California. She has a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biology and a minor in English literature from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and an Advanced Diploma in Geographic Sciences from the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. In her spare time, Vicki Lynn enjoys climbing up rocks while tied very tightly to a rope, creating knitting projects that are inappropriate for the Southern California climate, and explaining the Westminster parliamentary system to Americans. Vicki Lynn has very strong opinions on a wide variety of subjects; the ones expressed here are hers alone and do not represent the Government of Canada or any of her affiliates.

My first real experience in the tech industry was crossing the border. I’d been studying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the Centre of Geographic Sciences for eight months and I had a job interview with the California-based company that made the majority of the software that I’d used while at school. When I arrived at customs in Toronto for my pre-clearance the officer asked me where I was going.

“California. I have a job interview with a company that makes mapping software.”

He looked shocked. “You have a job interview with a software company?”

“Yes.”

He didn’t seem convinced, but he stamped my passport anyway. “Ok, welcome to the United States.”

It’s hard to know from that short interaction what the border officer was thinking. Maybe he’s always like that, but to me he seemed surprised that I was interviewing for a tech job at a software company. And not in a “I’m really happy for you and I hope that you get it” kind of way, but in a “I’m shocked that anyone would ever consider you, you really don’t seem like the type” kind of way. I was already somewhat insecure about my upcoming interview; my tech experience consisted of eight hectic months of an Advanced Diploma where I’d started off learning what GIS stands for and ended with applying for a job with the most important GIS company in the world. The border officer didn’t know me, didn’t know what experience I had or what the job would entail, but his judgment stuck with me. I probably wasn’t good enough. I probably didn’t have anything to offer.

Six months later I was sitting in my first team meeting at my new job and I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t even know what words everyone was saying. All I knew was that I was the stupidest person in the room.

I wish I could go back to that meeting now after working for almost two years to see what it was really about. Chances are I would know exactly what was going on. Unfortunately, I can’t relive that meeting and I still feel like the stupidest person in the room. It’s a feeling I’ve had for a long time, and one that many women in tech probably share: the feeling that we don’t belong, that we’re not good enough. It doesn’t matter that my company has an inclusive and diverse workforce and that their hiring practices are head and shoulders above Silicon Valley when it comes to women and people of colour. It doesn’t matter that my colleagues and supervisors are supportive. It’s a feeling that I’ve had for most of my life, a nagging in the back of my head that gets stronger every time a person looks at me, surprised, and says “you work for a tech company?”

I do work for a tech company. I do a really good job, too. So do all of the other women I know working in STEM professions.

I am not the stupidest person in the room. We are not the stupidest people in the room.

Hopefully I am from the last generation of women in tech that will need to remind ourselves of that.

Vicki Lynn in Cape Breton Highlands National Park overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cabot Trail.

Vicki Lynn in Cape Breton Highlands National Park overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cabot Trail.

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