I know I belong in CS, but sometimes I wonder

Sometimes my Compilers professor will introduce a topic saying, “Who knows what lexical analysis is? No one? What, don’t you guys do this constantly in your spare time? All right, I’ll show you …” I know he’s just joking, but every time he does this, it reminds me of one of the barriers to women in computer science that I am particularly sensitive about: wondering whether or not I really belong in programming because I don’t program all the time.

If my CS experience were limited to my college, I wouldn’t be very worried – I go to a liberal arts college where no one has only one interest. In the first few weeks of my freshman year when we’d ask what other people wanted to major in, it was always, “Classics and chemistry” or “Neurobiology and art history” or another pair of an art and a science. In my social sphere, everyone has broad interests, so it shouldn’t worry me that I like cognitive science, philosophy, Japanese, and knitting in addition to programming.

However, in the past few years, I’ve met more students who study CS in engineering schools. When they talk about how they live to program and never leave the lab, I feel like I’ve been wasting time by having other hobbies when I should have been keeping up with my competition. I worry that my skills aren’t up to snuff because I’ve been knitting or reading Japanese books instead of programming and reading compiler books.

I’m certainly not alone. In Unlocking the Clubhouse, Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher cite this effect as a reason that many girls decide not to stick with CS. In their study of CS students at Carnegie Mellon, they found that men tended to glorify the long hours spent in the lab, while women worried that that they would lose balance in their lives.

The rub for women in computer science is that the dominant computer science culture does not venerate balance or multiple interests. Instead, the singular and obsessive interest in computing that is common among men is assumed to be the road to success in computing. This model shapes the assumptions of who will succeed and who “belongs” in the discipline. [source]

I also know, of course, that programming in “the real world” doesn’t mean programming night and day, and that kind of lifestyle is actually very harmful to both men and women. StackOverflow agreed last October that being expected to work 50-60 hour weeks on a regular basis is unacceptable, and none of the programmers I met during my internships worked very much overtime (when they did it was only to fix last-minute bugs before the release date).

The rational part of me knows that the thought that I don’t belong in CS is ridiculous. While I don’t live to program, I do love to program. I’ve been successful in my classes and my internships and I’ve already had a few job offers for post-graduation work. I love making a program work, and coding makes me feel strong. I should feel pretty validated, but the irrational part of me still worries that I won’t be able to compete when I get out of college. At least I’m aware that it’s irrational.

I anticipate comments urging, “If you’re so worried, program more!” Well, in the next semester, I plan to. For my senior project, I’m making a Google Maps-like app for college campus which I’m really excited about. In general though, I’m not going to give up time from my other hobbies for the sake of programming more. I, like the women surveyed in Unlocking the Clubhouse, am proud of my diverse interests and believe they make me a great person to have on the team, even if it means I have less hand-written code and more hand-knit sweaters in my portfolio.

Edit (2/20/11): Several people have commented that I am asserting a gender issue where none exists, or that I am implying that men do not desire to be well-rounded. This is not what I mean. The culture around coding glorifies the coders who do nothing but code, which (as cited above) “shapes the assumptions of who will succeed and who ‘belongs’ in the discipline.” When my interests don’t line up with the dominant culture, it makes me wonder if I really belong there. According to the research I cited (and even some of the comments I got), this is a roadblock to entering computing fields that affects women more often than men, despite the fact that being a well-rounded programmer can be very beneficial.

In my own opinion, a positive step toward reducing this effect would be for high school and freshman-level CS professors to emphasize interdisciplinary potential in their classes, so they can show students majoring in other fields how useful learning to program can be for them even if they also want to pursue other studies. This approach would be beneficial for not just the girls, but all students: as many people have commented already, being well-rounded is desirable and even prized by employers.

  • http://twitter.com/mindcrime mindcrime

    I mean, yeah, CS does glamorize a certain obsessive mindset… I remember reading a book when I was younger, about Kevin Mitnick and his friends, and there was a scene where they were up al night hacking and it was presented as this really uber cool thing…. and being a night-owl myself, I do like to stay up late coding until the morning light and that whole bit.

    BUT… that said, I also don’t code to exclusion, and I’ve always had tons of other interests, including some pretty time consuming ones (being a volunteer firefighter for a lot of years, for one), and I’ve still done just fine in the programming world.

    To the women reading this, this male’s perspective is this: Don’t worry about needing to focus on coding exclusively… there are people like that in CS, but they’re more of a vocal minority anyway, and the world has plenty of room for programmers who enjoy doing other things. So if you don’t want to spend all weekend in the lab writing code, that’s fine. The guy (or gal) who IS doing that just might wind up being the next Mark Zuckerberg, but so what? He/she might also be the one who’s 55 years old, weighs 450 lbs, is a virgin and lives in their mom’s basement.

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  • http://basushr.net Shrutarshi Basu

    You should do what makes you feel good. I think that it’s a very personal thing, how you work. I work well in focused phases — working continuously on a problem for a few days and then not touching it at all for another few. Some of my friends work all week and then crash or go crazy on the weekends. Some work through the days and relax in the evenings. Find the style that suits you and makes you most productive.

  • Anonymous

    I sometimes feel like I’m not good enough because I don’t program 18 hours a day. The truth is, I will probably never be as good as Richard Stallman or someone.

    But that said, there are other important tech skills besides programming, and I think for things like running a startup, programming is a critical tool, but you really just have to be OK, and there are lots of other skills you need. I would never have been able to start my company if I wasn’t out gardening on the weekends.

    And even within programming, I think I’m a better programmer because I read good novels.

    I think your professor is right that if you want to do great things, you should be nerding out in your spare time. But he’s wrong that it has to be coding. The important thing is that you’re passionately digging into things that excite you all day long, and that you love it so much that you want to do it after school. But “it” could be japanese or art history or whatever! Your knowledge in those domains will let you run rings around people when you are doing innovative stuff that requires that domain knowledge.

    The real danger is that you’ll stop pursuing things because you’re worried you’re not good enough, or that you’ll spend time focusing on stuff you think you should be focusing on, while you neglect the things that you’re dying to do.

    You’re right on track. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing, unapologetically. If you’re pushing your boundaries in areas you love day after day, you’ll amass all the resources you need.

  • Freefall

    Another guy responding — I’ve definitely experienced the same thing. I’ve very diversified interests, and in each of them, I find myself on the receiving end of the same sentiment.

    I majored in computer science, but I wanted to go into health professions. In computer science front, I often found myself wondering why I was expected to have so many skills right off the bat. At the same time, I got this question from a health careers advisor: “Why haven’t you done more health-related volunteering?”

    This even extended to my extracurriculars. I did a club sport (martial art) in college, but since it wasn’t a primary interest, I wasn’t putting in the same time that others were, so I’d attend the club practice sessions, but I’d lose respect among the more hard-core who were more competitive and thought I should be more serious.

    Not all of us have a primary driving interest that consume our attention. In fact, most of us don’t. As mindcrime said, those that do are a vocal minority. I think this phenomenon is just a manifestation of a group trying to set itself apart by pointing out how they are different (and by unfortunate implication, better). Everyone likes to feel special, but sometimes it ends up driving people away—men and women.

    Ultimately (and I think this matters the most), I’d rather meet you and your hand-knit sweaters over the uber-programmers (men or women) any day. In the end, I earned good grades, I’m a good programmer, my health-career resume is solid, I earned a black belt, and I’ve even had time to pick up an instrument, with plenty of time to practice. So be true to your own interests, rather than anyone else’s. You’ll be an immeasurably better person for it.

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  • http://twitter.com/jergason Jamison Dance

    Fantastic point. The professor I work for now is a shining example of someone who is successful in his field while still maintaining a life-work balance and having wide-ranging interests. He rarely spends more than 45 hours a week at school, and Saturdays and Sundays are sacred for non-work related stuff. He is a fitness and outdoors geek, so the rest of his time is spent biking, hiking, running, or with family.

    He has an interesting anecdote about two advisors where he did his PhD. One was like him, with a strong emphasis on working efficiently while at work, but not spending all your time doing research. Another professor worked 70+ hours a week, and people in her lab were expected to put in similar hours if they wanted her approval. Interestingly, the first professor’s output was much greater than the second. Sometimes you have to sharpen the saw, to quote a cheesy self-help book.

  • http://twitter.com/aveldina Aveldina

    This is an interesting discussion… and I can’t really comment in detail on Twitter so I’ll add my thoughts here. Twelve+ months ago, when I was were you are, I was thinking the same thing. Potential employers for internship and post-grad work were asking me “So what programming projects do you work on outside of school?” My typical response to that was “well with a full course load and working as a TA, I don’t have a lot of spare time.” That was true. Still, I always felt like I should have some pet project on the go like most of the guys I knew had. My male roommate and fellow computer science student always had some C# pet project on the go. Was I doing something wrong? After all, I felt my Friday nights were best spent playing Halo with the rest of my comp sci friends, not pounding away at -yet another- project after programming all week for school. I found myself stressing about how well I’d stack up against the many guys who were graduating with me, and I was the only female student going out of the software engineering track of my school that year. I’d try and get into an open source project here or there, but I just couldn’t make it stick.

    Anyway, fast forward 12 months and I’m done school and been out working nearly a year. Am I disappointed that I didn’t program more? Absolutely not, in fact, once I started looking for a job I found employers valued people who appeared to have balanced interests and were involved in their community. I remember being asked what I do for fun in an interview and saying I play slow pitch and ride motorcycles, and getting “wait, you’re normal?” as a response! After all, people must be balanced to work effectively with other people in a work place. So keep your other interests! You’ll get enough work at school and if you put the effort in those projects deserve, they’ll stand on their own as examples of your work without needing extras.

    Of course, working 50-6o hours per week is another discussion. They seem like similar topics, but in some ways are not. Think about how much time you put into school, don’t count any pet projects. Does it ever seem like over kill? Working becomes this way too, you end up responsible for what you do. The end result is I see a lot of overtime work, and I often work 50+ hours per week. Outside projects are not really the problem here. Trust me, you end up burnt out when you work all the time – but saying “no I won’t fix the servers” when someone calls you at 11pm because they’re broken isn’t the easiest either, at least not when you feel responsible for the code and systems you manage. The stack overflow discussion is really true to the issue, it seems to be a problem with our area of work in general, like employers feel “salary” is equal to “free overtime”. Sure I’m supposed to get time in lieu, but there’s no way anyone really keeps track of an hour here, or an hour there. It’s tough, and in this area of work chances are you’ll find yourself dealing with it some day too.

    Just mt $0.02. I suspect you’re fine. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Schwartz/781378074 Doug Schwartz

    Just a second. If no one supplied a response to “what is lexical analysis”, then what makes you think that writing code in a basement makes you a better CS student? I’ll bet half the dorks that claim they code 24/7 are actually playing video games 12/7. Forget the basement code dens. The most difficult part of software development is the PEOPLE. Learn people skills and you will run the team. I’ve had the pleasure of working for a ton of women in my 20+ years of contracting at Microsoft. Most are not great coders, but they are great at getting the best from the team. Keep it all in perspective. D*mned few CS grads are still coding after 10 years. Look ahead, not at your feet.

  • http://twitter.com/tolar robert tolar haining

    I studied Computer Science at a small liberal arts school, because I wanted to be more well-rounded & thought i’d go crazy if i had gone to an engineering school. I think the balance of studies (not to mention the ability to effectively write/communicate) has helped me to get where i am today. The people in the industry who do nothing but code are intelligent folk, but set up against someone who’s balanced & has other interests can give them perspective over the former.

    From my experience, there are plenty of programming jobs that don’t require you to have the intense skill levels that can be attained at über-engineering schools or by coding night & day, and living/breathing tech. The balance is key! I’ve been out of school for almost 7 years, and it’s never once crossed my mind that i’d be better off otherwise.

    So, keep up those hobbies & do things other than coding, like going outside once in a while :)

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  • HaveWorkedForMicrosoft,Too

    Well, that might be the reason why Microsoft sucks. How can you accept anyone as your boss who is not as good a coder as your are? I certainly can’t.

  • Guest

    I would like to point out that painting this as a ‘women in tech’ issue clearly implies that men have no such desire to be well-rounded. I don’t think that’s what you meant, so perhaps it’s worth an edit?

  • Nathan

    This is not a gender issue, and you should not try to make it one (it is rather off-putting that you try to do so). It is also definitely not unique to CS.

    The nature of this field is that there are always new things to learn. Those that spend more time doing it will usually be far ahead of those who don’t. The general rule of time put in = reward received is generally true. Especially if you can learn to separate what is worth learning and what is not.

    Basically, if you don’t put in the time, you will never reap the rewards. Rewards being intellectual enlightenment. There are much greater rewards to mastering a profession beyond money, especially CS (open source movement is a prime example).

    Unfortunately for our profession, anyone can be VERY successful without being ANY good at all. So it is totally up to you what level of mastery you want for your profession.

  • http://darwinweb.net/ Gabe da Silveira

    A lot of this is just bluster from people who don’t have anything else going on in their lives. You should be aware of the culture to be able to move effectively within it, but you do not need to give up your life to be a good programmer.

    The truth is that, yes, you do need to program a lot to become a good programmer. However in programming it’s very easy to be distracted and lose focus on your task, or maybe just never properly get in the zone to begin with. All the more so because programming often involves abstract research or synthesizing new ideas where it can be very difficult at times (even for the programmer himself) to know how productive he really is from minute to minute.

    The upshot of this is that if you can find a way to program for say, 20 hours a week, but those 20 hours are incredibly well-focused, then you may well learn faster than someone bragging about spending 60 hours a week in the lab while frittering the time away bit by bit and through general mental sluggishness that starts to set in when you are sleep deprived and in poor physical condition.

    That’s easier said than done of course, but as a 12-year industry veteran at everything from higher ed to early stage startups—and something of a workaholic—I can attest to the fact that time away from the keyboard can recharge and give a significant boost to your productivity as a programmer. If you can summon that excitement and passion every time you sit down to the keyboard, and do so on a regular basis, that is far more important than time card bragging rights.

  • http://blog.paulbetts.org/ Paul Betts

    Do you enjoy programming and solving interesting problems? It sounds as if you do; if you’ve got that, everything else is window dressing – you’ll do great at wherever you end up working!

    However, if the idea of working on your own project sounds like a boring slog, you should switch to a major where spending your spare time working on it sounds like fun rather than work.

    Even that you’re concerned about improving and being good at what you do makes you better than a lot of people though.

  • http://twitter.com/freddealmeida Alfredo de Almeida

    I like the google maps idea for the campus. Would love to hear more about that.

  • Wesen

    Do what you love doing, and don’t worry about the competition. This probably is much easier to say for me, as I am one of those “in the basement coding 24/7″ guys. I left the douchebagginess behind quite a while ago, and I have a wide range of interests now. One thing I see in the comments above is people saying that there is a wide part of programming that is more related to people skills, management skills, etc… That is definitely true, good software is not just good code.

    However, and I say this as a basement hacker, if you want to get technically sharp, you definitely have to put in the hours. That doesn’t mean programming 24/7, I still think you can’t do more than 3-4 hours “good” programming per day. But even that is quite a lot to handle, and then there’s all the learning about technology, programming methodologies, programming languages, computer science literature, etc… As long as you don’t lose sight that technology is stronger than you, that there is no end to the journey, and you don’t get discouraged by the vocal smartasses (why are they being vocal instead of programming some cool stuff and being nice when they are not?), it’s an incredible ride.

    I spent a lot thinking about skill, and one way I see it is that being a basement nerd is kind of like being a 17 year old guitar player. You want to play fast, you practice your scales at 200 bpm, and the competition in the field drives you in order to play even faster. And then you grow up, you realize that there’s more to music than playing super fast. *BUT* and that is my point, once you realize that, you are quite happy that you can indeed play at 200 bpm, because sometimes the music needs it.

    This is a bit rambling, sorry about that. My main point is, if you love programming, and it seems like you do, well then do it without worrying about what other people say. The technology and what you have in mind, what you love will tell you when you need to work more on some problem or skill, and when not. As long as you don’t hurt yourself (too much :), go for it. The people who are vocal are insecure about themselves, and it’s easy to be, especially in computer science, because the technology moves so fast that it’s impossible to keep up even in the smallest niche you can imagine.

  • http://www.ulucaydin.com Uluç Aydın

    As a recent CS grad, I really enjoyed reading your entry and I also think that dedicating your life to a single thing (that is programming) is utterly silly and you will benefit far more by having other skills and habbits in your belt, especially social ones. 95% of the software developers that I know (regardless of sex) are very shy and lacking social skills which is a huge disgrace.

  • Schmidt Eric

    Why can’t you? Management is management. It’s a unique skill.

  • Thehackerfairy

    I don’t think people realise, sometimes, that CS != programming.

  • Santiago

    I absolutely agree with Eric.

    Look at it the other way: haven’t you met people that are better at coding than you, but have no skills in management and leadership?

  • mr wn

    frankly said, those long-hours guys just really, really love computers & it’s the only thing they know & do. You should be proud as you are more diverse then them

  • http://twitter.com/annmariastat annmariastat

    I know exactly how you feel because I’ve gotten those same messages for over 35 years. I had the audacity to begin my doctoral program with a preschooler and then give birth to two more while working on a dissertation. I alternated between writing code and toilet-training.

    You love programming. Fuck everyone else’s expectations.

    My attitude was, “Who made up these rules? If no one asked me when they made them up, they obviously weren’t meant to apply to me.”

    Here is some unsolicited advice from a much older woman – Live life by your own rules. (Assuming those rules don’t allow like human sacrifices, and stuff like that. In that case, ignore what I just said.)

  • krig

    I recognize myself completely in your doubts and difficulties balancing different interests and not focusing on programming 100%. Studied CS and graduated six years ago, definitely picked the right field to be in. Do what you want to do, those other experiences will make you a better and more well-rounded programmer than any of the people who never left the lab during college.
    I can see why it’d look like this is an issue for women in CS, the doubts are undoubtedly (heh) magnified by being in a minority position to begin with… but trust me, we ALL feel the same way. Except those guys, and they are still in that lab, so who cares about them?

  • Made_up_email

    I’m a man who loves to program in his spare time. I enrolled in a CS program, talked my way into upper level CS, and got straight As. But the department didn’t tolerate this and the dean wanted me to enroll in lower level classes. The four year course outline for CS had only two or three precious slots for electives on it. When I talked to the dean, he was such a jerk about it. He accused me of gaming the system and told me they didn’t tolerate people like me here. I almost cried.

    The next day I switched my major to mathematics. I got to study English, Spanish, linguistics, history, acting, and women’s studies. At the time I switched, I thought, “No wonder there are so few women in the CS department, with such a jerk for a dean.”

    People claim that CS is a meritocracy but that’s not true for students. In Spanish, if you enroll in a 300-level class nobody bats an eye as long as you’re proficient. In CS, it’s about paying your dues — you have to give a sacrifice to enter. Later I worked in IT. Once I kept putting in overtime and the quality of my work was dropping because I had no time off. My boss kept telling me I’d get to take vacation soon, but pushed the date farther back each time I asked. Then he dismissed me for not working enough overtime (although I only found out the reason once I claimed unemployment benefits).

    And then folks have the gall to complain that CS majors are no good at communication. Well, that’s what you get when you put students through a four-year track with no room for diversity.

  • Anonymous

    I urge you to follow your passions and interests instead of looking at what others are doing. See if you can combine your coding and interests now. Set up your career path to emphasize your passions and talents early on, believe me.

    I had a similar experience ,though I’m not a coder(I do VFX for a living) and the more passionate guys who did this stuff when they got home and till the early hours in the morning will shoot by you in no time simply because they put more hours in and concentrate on their work a lot more.

    After a few years of employment you’ll feel inadequate, boxed in, bored and under pressure. This is where I am now. It’s hard to suddenly find your preferred career path when you have a car and mortgage to pay for.

    So be totally honest with yourself on what you like and want to spend your time with. Forget what others are expecting of you or what they are passionate about. Figure out how to make a living by mixing something you like ok(coding) with something that makes you miss sleep and dinner just because you love it so much. You’ll set yourself up for success AND career satisfaction simply because you’ll work a lot harder and learn a lot more naturally.

  • http://twitter.com/juliano_q Juliano Aliberti

    Relax, I had the same feeling when I was at college but I noticed that many of the people who lived to programming didn’t have a successful career because they don’t have other skills and cannot communicate well. If you love programming, is smart and have other skills you will be a much better professional.

  • Greg

    Im a programmer by trade, and I also have a number of side hobbies which include , Legal research and representation and cycling. Although I have ambitions to learn Erlang, complete SICP, create Android Apps and Money making startups I simply dont have the gumption to get back to tech after a long day doing it in the office and especially not at the expense of my other hobbies. I find that too much tech can lead to tunnel vision , and burnout and an inability to think outside the box which is essential for any great idea. A geek will spend his time trying to mine data from a national statistics database for which clients have the highest probability of needing their windows cleaned, and a lateral thinker will just ask the paperboy!

  • Anas Elghafari

    I come here via a link from HackerNews, but I’ve been thinking about the value of spending much time on programming.

    It’s not a gender issue: I am a man, and I wouldn’t want to spend most of my time programming. I don’t think it is a problem. My thinking is: There are so many technologies and standards and languages and libraries out there, that it is practically impossible to learn all of them, or even half of them. What one needs to learn is, above all else, the ability to learn quickly and efficiently.

    Of course, a programmer needs to know programming languages, and needs to able to think through code flow, sequentially and logically, and needs to be *aware* of the tools and protocols available. Much of the details are transitory, mundane, provide no greater insight, and are merely required to get a job done. I don’t think that knowledge is worthy in itself, and I don’t learn it until I need to. This might make me slower than other programmers, but that is a trade-off I am fine with.

  • Aze

    Having this many hobbies just makes you unique. Today, there is lots of programmers and students who are doing their best to become one. If you wan’t to get a special job, you have to be special yourself, being like everybody else just gives you a normal job. I think you should take your differences as a strenght and not as a weakness.

    (sorry for my approximate english)

  • http://www.noxdineen.com/ Nox

    Go find the TED talk by the two women who found that they could use knitting to model a type of math that for hundreds of years had been described by brilliance mathematicians as impossible to model in the physical world.

    Broad ranges of interests give you a powerful base of knowledge from which to creatively solve “impossible” problems.

    That said, I know the feeling. I’m just starting a CS degree (following my anthropology and communications degrees). My programmer boyfriend lives to code and read about code. It does make me feel guilty and less dedicated to watch him curl up with a LISP book on a weekend while I’m working on a photography project.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve found that having a broad set of interests has made it very difficult for me to get a CS job since college.

    In college I studied Entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, German, and CS. I had dreams of starting my own company after saving money for a while after school. But I found out very quickly that taking business classes when I could have taken algorithms or SE courses cost me very dearly when it came to being a junior level hire. Most hiring managers expect their juniors to have a very specific set of skills that I missed along the way because of my other interests.

    I ended up learning more about business from reading Fred Wilson’s blog and watching CNBC anyway. It would have been better had I taken a few extra systems admin or database courses in college and been able to answer 90% of interview questions instead of 75%.

  • Sunir

    Frankly it is rather demeaning to men and women and gender equality to paint this as sexism. There is nothing gendered about the raw fact that putting more time into something separates the best from the rest, regardless of the activity or it’s supposed gender.

    Focusing on gender pushes the locus of control to outside of you and weakens you. In reality it is within your control to devote more time to compsci or to choose other activities you think are more worthwhile. I imply no judgment what is better; compsci is only one part of software development and life.

    The fair discussion in your post is whether specialists or generalists are better life strategies in our competitive world.

  • thedufer

    The difference here is between the good programmers and the incredible ones. In my experience, you can be a good programmer working 40 hour weeks and not doing any other coding. An incredible programmer, however, needs to cut work to 40 hour works so they can code in their free time – its equal parts hitting that venerated 10,000-hour mark (which makes a difference in programming as much as music, art, etc.) and keeping up with ever-changing technologies.

  • Jessica

    It looks like you already have a lot of comments here, so I’ll try to keep mine short. I also can understand where you’re coming from. As a female who started studying computer science after getting a BA in Spanish, I always felt like I somehow wasn’t measuring up because I didn’t code constantly like the guys in my classes and because much of the terminology was unfamiliar to me. (Never mind that I always ended up with the top grade… Feeling like you fit in is a funny thing.)

    My husband is also a programmer, and I sometimes feel like I don’t program nearly enough when he talks to me about these pet projects he’s working on. But, at the same time, he doesn’t fit the typical male nerd stereotype. He doesn’t live in a dungeon, and he loves cinema and creative writing. We’ve both found as we apply for jobs/internships that employers value prospective employees who have skills above and beyond being able to program. We are both good communicators in addition to our technical abilities. And knowledge of a foreign language is a bigger deal than you might think. (Keep up with your Japanese! You won’t be sorry.) These are the things that make an employer take notice, the things that make you stand out from the crowd.

    I also might add that there’s nothing wrong with liking to knit. I enjoy sewing and cooking. So what. :) To paraphrase someone who commented before me, being normal is not a bad thing.

    I’m glad you’re not planning to give up your hobbies. I think we need more well-rounded men and women in computing.

  • http://twitter.com/Sycren james lethem

    I dont think you should worry. In fact, I would suggest that branching out is better. Programming can often be seen as an art form, learning it from this point of view taking other things in to account to affect your programming strategies. So for instance, I like 3d art (modelling), psychology.. This allows me to try and attack problems from different directions and solve them in different ways.

  • Anonymous

    Twice, guys at work on discovering that I’ve never seen star wars (or star trek) joked, “what’s wrong with our hiring process?” I know that a love of sci fi does not imply better programming skills, but (maybe similarly?) I had a moment of “wait, what am I doing here?”

    Actually though, we need diverse perspectives to build great products that serve the diverse needs of humanity. So, keep enjoying your other interests. At some point it may even give you an edge, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll be a more interesting conversationalist.

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  • http://twitter.com/ThatAndromeda Andromeda Yelton


    I did go to an engineering school in the 90s (not Carnegie Mellon, but Unlocking the Clubhouse is pretty much exactly my life). And one of the reasons a CS major didn’t appeal to me was because sleeping all day and staying up all night in a windowless basement room to code and drink Mountain Dew didn’t appeal to me. And I didn’t know there were alternatives.

    I’m now kind of turning into a technology leader in my often-nontechnical field, and I program a lot, but I took a roundabout way of getting here. And the roundaboutness informs a lot of my code and my leadership.

    Meanwhile I’m married to a software engineer who fits a much more conventional model (but still works 40-hour weeks, even if he sometimes codes for fun, and sleeps at night and wakes up during the day). And I have a ton of friends in software (engineering school, dotcom boom…) And the ones whose careers got stuck often are the ones who never did anything but code; the ones who’ve advanced are ones who can talk to people, understand how code relates to business strategy and user needs, *as well as* code. And I look around at high-quality software projects that get adopted, and having a solid technical core helps, but so does having design and usability and personality on your team.

    And, really? There’s no shortage of code that gets written for obsessive code ninjas, because they write it for themselves. There *is* a shortage of code that gets written to serve other needs, because there aren’t enough coders in those groups, so people don’t see the need. A friend of mine is putting together a software project based on her hobby that she assumed people would have written years ago, because the code isn’t actually that hard — but most people in that community don’t know how to do it! And she has a really solid business plan that may end up making her a ton of money. Why? *Because* she has the diverse interests; because she can see relationships between unmet user needs and code.

    tl;dr rock on with your bad self.

  • Melissa Dunlap

    Wow, I read this and thought “that sounds like me.” I feel the same way, I’m just getting started in my programming courses going for Mobile Application Development. I’m nervous about whether or not I will succeed. I love to code but wonder if I’m cut out for it. I’m determined to finish my degree, get a little experience and then move to San Francisco and get a good job there. (I currently live in Raleigh, NC) :) Feeling a little inspired by your post.