Ugh. I hate crying. Especially in front of people. And especially at freaking work. But there I was, on a Tuesday, working for a company that referred to itself as a “start-up” even though it had been in business for several years at that point. I think they used the word “start-up” as a way to attract talent while burning through devs.
I was one of 30 programmers working for a mobile development team that had really large corporations as clients. This was one of the things that made this company exciting to work for. I got to work with really big brands on projects they touted were using “bleeding-edge” technology. It was really just bleeding technology. Someone needed to take it out back and shoot it to put this code out of its misery.
I was one of two women developers on the team. This didn’t bother me. I have always been more of a “guy’s girl” — outgoing, sarcastic, funny, loud. I’m totally fine being the only girl in a room full of men, in fact, many times I prefer it. I am NOT someone that you would think would be hiding in a corporate bathroom stall on the fifth floor crying. But that ASSHOLE drove me to it. And yes, I was crying. Not because I was weak, or emotional or, God forbid, hormonal. I was crying because he sucked at leading the team, he sucked at coding, and he sucked as a co-worker and I had had e-fucking-nough.
He was the one who came up with the original code base and project so he was basically untouchable. Complaint after complaint was made about him by the women in the company, but nothing was ever done. No one cared.
The worst part was that this attitude of disrespect came straight from the top. The lead developers and managers within the company felt it was perfectly fine to take lunches at the strip club next door and come back to work with glitter all over their faces. I was told before a company potluck that I looked nurturing and would be baking cupcakes and taking care of everyone.
Nurturing?! I thought that was hilarious! If you aren’t my child or family member, then I have a “suck it up, buttercup” attitude. My husband is the best cook I know, and the only thing I can cook well is tacos and wine, and I’m not that great at the tacos.
My first day on the job, I walked in the door and the programmer who stumbled across me looked totally confused. I told him it was my first day and he ran through about three positions before I could say that I was a programmer. “Account Manager?” No. “Project manager?” No. “Sales?” No, I’m a programmer. “Really??” Yes, really, can you pick your jaw up off the floor and please tell me where to go?
When I had been there about two months, another woman came in for an interview. The hiring manager asked if I would interview her with him. What?! That didn’t make any sense to me because I wasn’t part of management and I was literally the newest person on the team. Why the heck would I interview her? Oh. It’s because she is a woman and I am a woman and we must be some type of alien species that can’t be communicated with properly during a stupid interview except by someone with the same chromosomal makeup.
I agreed to do this completely awkward task and while I was in a small office with a glass window interviewing the woman, my asshole team leader moved his seat in front of the window to look in and glare at me. Apparently he did not like anyone infringing upon his territory.
After the interview the hiring manager asked me what I thought of her. I told him that she seemed like someone with a lot of skill, but because of the type of coding she did and the type of coding she expressed interest in, she might not be a great match for this company. He basically asked me the same question 100 different ways until I just said, yes, she would LOVE to work here, this is a perfect match, hire her on the spot. If he would have just handed me a script, it would have gone a lot smoother. Making me think he wanted me to think independently, and then undermining that, was just annoying.
It wasn’t all bad. I really liked the guys on my immediate team. They were hilarious, fun, and we agreed that the guys at the top were total jerks. I had a good time working with them and they made the rest of the stuff bearable.
I had a sit-down with the asshole to go over code for one of our biggest clients. He had hard-coded some variables, which is a big no-no, and it kept causing the site to break. He kept telling me to change out the old hard-coded values to new hard-coded values. This made no sense, because in another week we would be sitting there having the same conversation.
The client was already furious. The account managers were blaming me because I was in charge of the support for this project. I had told the account managers over and over again that the fix he was suggesting would not make the client happy, because it wasn’t a real fix. Finally, during this sit-down, I told him that we couldn’t do it this way, it made no sense, it would break again and the client was already furious.
Silly me, thinking of the client. The result was my manager was cornered into either admitting that he had done it incorrectly OR spouting off a bunch of recommendations using buzzwords and terminology in an attempt to intimidate me into handling it myself.
Which do you think he chose? You guessed it! So maybe you’re thinking that I, as a programmer, should have re-done the code myself in a way that would permanently fix the project. This is where the “he sucks at coding” part comes in. The code he wrote was so bad it would have involved a major rewrite and re-architecting of the code. My company didn’t want to pay for that, and the client sure as heck didn’t want to pay for that.
My manager was speaking to me in an aggressive manner and talking down to me like it was my first day on the job. I could feel the anger and heat rise into my cheeks. Ugh. Please don’t cry, please don’t cry, please don’t cry, don’t give him the satisfaction!
I held it together until he walked away. Then I got up, left my desk and walked into the hallway bathroom. The tears started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. I remember thinking, what am I doing to myself working in this horrible and abusive environment!? At that time I had more than 10 years of experience in the digital field, I had two kids at home, and I was doing contract work on the side. I definitely didn’t need this crap.
The depressing part of all of this is that it wasn’t my first rodeo. This was far from my first time being treated disrespectfully at work, it was just the worst. I would love to say that I got my stuff, told that guy where he could stick this job and walked off into the sunset, but I had a family to support. I didn’t have that luxury, even though it would have felt SO GOOD.
Instead, I got in touch with a previous client who had contacted me to say they needed help. It turned into an awesome contract opportunity that let me work from home and make more money. It was perfect timing. The icing on the cake was that when I went to HR for my exit interview they asked me why I was leaving. I gave them the safe answer, which was that I was going to work from home and make more money, basically, I was leaving for a better opportunity. The HR manager told me that I was making the right decision as a woman, to be home with my family. Um, what?! 1. I didn’t ask his opinion on my personal career choices and 2. It’s not like I was going home and doing arts and crafts with my kids while working. They go to daycare, like everyone else. It was meant to be a nice and supportive thing to say, but it came across as “good thing you are going back to the kitchen where you belong.”
So, where has this left me? Well, I turned that one contract client into a successful web development agency. I busted my butt and did everything I could to build my business, get clients, and — now that I’m a little wiser — fire clients. I still deal with condescension and situations on a daily basis that aggravate me, but I have more freedom to select who I am going to work with and what I am going to work on.
I love technology, I love programming and I definitely love taking the condescending and intimidating attitude out of tech. Tech can be overwhelming, and just plain hard to understand. Especially if it’s not what you do.
If you are a business owner, your job is your business, and now, with technology and social media moving at light speed, it can be a full time job to understand how you should be promoting yourself and your business. Not everyone has the time, skills or patience for that. If you do, that’s awesome, I commend you! If you don’t, I get it, I don’t blame you!
This is exactly why someone like me has an accountant. I can get someone set up with an amazing website and digital strategy in days. Ask me to file my taxes and I will have a nervous breakdown. Accounting is so HARD to me, and I don’t want to do it, and that’s why I love my accountant. If you are a business owner, you should love your web developer, because she should be your trusted advisor on all things digital. If she is talking to you in a way that makes you feel stupid, or overwhelmed, or afraid to ask questions, GET RID OF HER.
Women Talking Tech is a Facebook group where women can discuss their websites, digital strategy, social media, programming projects, basically anything tech. No intimidation, no buzzwords, no condescension, just some good, collaborative, help and conversation.
*Note Women Talking Tech is a closed group and once you request access you will be added ASAP.