Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy: It's Not Just Your Job

4 min read

This is part of a series of posts about my experiences as a tech feminist killjoy. The order and background matter a bit. I recommend starting at the beginning.

Problems are easiest to resolve by finding a new job --- this is what I do (thankfully the new job is much better).
— from My experiences in tech: Death by 1000 paper cuts in March 2013

The new job is still better, albeit less shiny and new. I work on a good team with people who are both kind and smart --- a combination often difficult to find. Nobody pats my head or patronizes me about my work. I am rarely asked to take notes in meetings (and when I am, it makes sense). My title is software engineer, and I get to focus on front-end web development. My specialization is considered valuable, and my knowledge is respected. I am paid a competitive salary. It’s not perfect, but these experiences are a pleasantly stark contrast to previous ones described in that post.

You might theorize that over a year in a much-improved workplace would also greatly improve my feelings about working in tech. That it might give the paper cuts a chance to heal. You would be wrong.

The thing about working in tech is that it’s rarely just your current job. I had jobs before this one, and I will likely have jobs after. This pleasant job seems like an outlier, and working in tech has never just been about the job. You are expected to go above and beyond to be truly successful.

Read blog posts. Learn new languages. Attend user groups. Have side projects. Participate in communities. Contribute to open source. Build your personal brand. Attend conferences. Write blog posts. Mentor. Speak at events. DO ALL THE THINGS.

all the things

If you aren’t doing this, you are seen as less. Less passionate. Less skilled. Less valuable. So I do these things. Sometimes because I want to. Sometimes because I feel like I have to. Sometimes it becomes hard to tell the difference.

When I was a server, I got to leave work at the end of my shift. That job was stressful, demanding, and often demeaning. I wouldn’t want to go back to it, but it did have one benefit --- it was a distinct and timeboxed part of my life. At the end of the workday, I took off my apron and the job went with it. Programming has never been like that. I don’t get to take the job off at the end of the day. The job comes home with me, and the extracurricular activities are waiting for me when I get there.

Many of these activities require you to interact with a wide variety of other people --- locally and globally, in person and online. Places where the paper cuts have continued. Places where sometimes it is much more than a superficial cut (a story for another post). Changing my job wasn’t going to change the problem. It only removed one source while many others remained.

These negative interactions with people and communities remind me how few options I have to participate in the community or find future jobs. This isn’t an idle concern --- software engineers tend to change jobs every few years, and I have already mentioned the importance of community involvement. The ever-growing list of people and places that seem questionable, hostile, or even dangerous makes the landscape look bleak. It can feel like the walls are closing in, leaving you with fewer and fewer places to go.

Sara Ahmed recently wrote a post titled A Killjoy in Crisis. So much of what she talks about echoes my experiences.

You also know that you can’t always choose your battles; battles can choose you. Sometimes the things you come to know seem to feel like another wall, another way of signalling that you have few places to go.

The painful parts about being a tech feminist killjoy are not just about my job. It is about realizing that I have to choose between enduring unpleasant and painful situations or seeing doors close for me. It is about having fewer and fewer places to go. It is about burning too many bridges because the alternative was to burn my values. I’m almost 30, and it already feels like my options are limited. Being a tech feminist killjoy makes it difficult to imagine a long-term future for yourself in this industry.