There’s another side of the story I told in What is a Web Librarian, Anyway?, the guest post I wrote for Letters to a Young Librarian, run by the fabulous Jessica Olin. The story I told there was true, and I stand by it. But it wasn’t the whole story.
But to be a master of anything, you need to focus on it. And you can’t focus when you’re trying to do it all. When I call those trades “distinct,” I mean it. People have entire careers in every item on that list, and, although there’s overlap, most web design/development shops have multiple people to cover all of these roles.
Now, it’s possible for me to sit back and be proud of the progress I’ve made on many of those fronts. I can look at where I was when I started, and I see how much better I am, now. I’m kind of good at some of those things—teaching/training, for instance, and social media. I might not actually be a bad web librarian. But I’m not a good web designer/developer/content strategist/information architect, and that bugs me.
In particular, I am haunted by not being the coder I want to be. I can get stuff done, but it’s slow going, and my code is messy—some of this is lack of practice, because I’m doing tons of other things, but some of it is lack of training, too — or old, not so good training, anyway.
I sometimes acknowledge this lack of confidence aloud, which is a problem: I’m half of the teaching team for Anchorage Programming Workshop (APW), which means I’m supposed to be modeling confidence to these burgeoning programmers—along with fallibility, of course. I’m also one of the few women involved in our local tech groups, and I’ve already had one of the organizers refer to me as “outside the strictly geek community” and seen people ignore me to talk to my husband, thinking he brought me to events. We need women to be more prominent and better respected, in Anchorage’s tech groups. Also, I am further along the tech track than the folks who come to APW’s workshops, and seeming at all doubtful of my skills will not help them feel good about their own; the context of “I’m not good enough at this for the job I have” is subtle, and all they will hear is “I’m not good enough at this [and neither are you].” I know that.
This problem is compounded, because not only do I feel unimpressive, but I have also been trained, in my current work environment, to downplaythe skills I have. (And this training was driven home hard, very recently.) It’s not OK to talk about your skills or knowledge or what you do well, except in your tenure file—at least if you’re a woman. If you say good things about yourself or your experience, people assume you’re saying bad things about everyone else. So, what little swagger I came in with—and I was a successful engineer, so I had a bit—is gone. I let it go in order to fit in, and I regret that.
My friend and APW co-host (and one of the best programmers in town) keeps getting after me to talk up my competence, instead of focusing on the things I don’t do as well. She’s right, of course. In the scheme of things, I think it’s more important that I build up my competence than that I talk it up, but for our purposes, locally, I’ve got to start really projecting confidence. I need some swagger.
The first part of getting my swagger back will just be faking it until I make it. I’ll work on mindfulness, in that regard.
For all of those reasons, I have never felt like I was any good and never got confident in my programming skills. After my undergraduate experience I wrote off programming as a profession, thinking the problem was me.
Now I’m smart enough to know I’m smart enough, if that makes any sense. And I can teach myself. So I picked up the O’Reilly book Learning Python and am reading/working my way through that. It will provide me the context to really understand the language(s – it covers 2.7 and 3.3), as well as some of the software engineering fundamentals that my undergraduate CS curriculum blithely skipped over.
Possibly in parallel, but certainly before too long, I’m going to work on building the Boston Python Workshop projects. I think, with what I learn doing ColorWall, I should be able to rebuild the Pong game I built using the Coursera Python class’s non-standard GUI module, but using TkInter. The Twitter project will help prepare me to build my own Twitter bot. And … I’m not that psyched about the “cheat at crosswords” project, but I might build it anyway; it might help with another project I’ve got in mind.
Eventually I’ll teach Python for APW. (I admit, having to teach it is a small factor in favor of going through the book, instead of just muddling through until I more or less get it. I feel a responsibility to get it right.) Helping other people learn is a good way to solidify principles in your own mind. And to build confidence.
And I’ve got a further plan, but this part is a lot less certain. There’s this program, where you can go spend 3 months in New York City, for free (except food and rent), and work on your programming skills with approximately 50 other people. Each batch of programmers is 35-45% female, which is a great ratio, considering. Admission is very competitive, so I can’t treat this as any kind of done deal. (Which means, if you’re one of my coworkers and are reading this, please don’t freak out and tell people. My odds of getting in — and affording it, if I do get in — are probably low.) But I’m going to apply for the batch that starts in February, because I really really want to be a better programmer. And three months to focus on getting really good — what could be better?
So, yeah, I’ll fake it for now. And then I will earn that swagger.