Blur the Line

On "tech" and "non-tech" discussion, and how it's a toxic lie.

This post is somewhat random. Various parts of this text have been in my notebook for almost 2 years. Honestly, I don't know how to make concise and logical post on this topic, so please read it like a poem.

"I accidentally became a programmer"
I often use above sentence to describe how I end up in my day job - a web application programmer.

It sounds like a joke, but it's mostly true. I never tried to be a programmer. There was no life-changing decision to teach myself to code or to go to a coding boot camp. When an opportunity with "developer" in job title was presented, I was equipped enough with some JavaScript skills and I took the job.

I have worked in sales, product planning, admin, and press relations capacity before holding a job getting paid to write code. I often get asked, "How did you switch your career to tech?"

In my mind, I never switched.

I grew up doing craft and art. I learned to crochet and knit in elementary school. I stayed up late folding origami. I sew bags and skirts. I cooked.

My dream job at 3rd grade was to be a painter. I also dreamed of being a performer at some point in middle school. One of my more recent realistic career dream was to work in media, explicitly as a facilitator.

In college admission essay, I wrote about how I find various news outlets report a piece of information differently, and how it changes our perception of the world around us. I want to be the facilitator making the information transfer smooth & nice. "I want to be a lubricating oil of communication" was the sentence I used, which sounds funny to write it in English. This essay was written in Japanese.

Listening to Sara Hendren's speech at Eyeo Festival 2016, I learned that what I wanted to be was an impresario. I HIGHLY recommend watching this talk if you haven’t.

Whole another side of my upbringing was technology. I grew up very technically inclined. Dad was an electronics engineering teacher & Mom was a math teacher. Growing up, computers were always around in my house. Taking things apart and putting back was normal activities. Logical thinking and making a case for something you want was a norm.

While I showed zero interest in programming when dad introduced me to Logo, I did have enough sense of technology to figure out HTML and FTP at 12. I signed up for free email and free server hosting myself. And actively participated in social web...BSS back then.

Having technical foundation brought me a lot of mileage in college. I studied communication in Film and Theater school. Many final projects were loosely defined and a lot left for creativity, I made websites while my classmates wrote papers. I submitted interactive demo while other classmates made powerpoint presentations. I am proud of the research and content I put in my work, but I have no doubt wow factor in the use of new-ish medium back then played some part in my grade.

I worked on a cross-department project one semester with students from Computer Science department. I had no imposter syndrome, nor inferior feeling about my knowledge of technology. I never thought about CS student to be "wow they know how to code, so smart".

Things gradually changed as I got into the tech industry.

I looked for a job in "internet company" because I liked the web as a medium of communication. I did not think about job role too much. I applied to be a web coder, content writer, customer support, press relations, and admins. I ended up in small tech startup with loosely defined job role. Now I would call what I did there as Product Management, but back then I didn't know what PM was.

I made presentations to clients, wrote budgets, managed schedules, made sales calls, wrote UI mockups and documentations - everything except writing code.

While my job was loosely defined, there was a clear separation in the team who write code and the team who does not write code.

I remember having to argue with an engineer about CSS selectors. A code snippets client submitted did the same thing as our own markup, but there was a bug with unknown cause, and the client wanted us to “correct” the way we wrote CSS.

There I was, basically being told "do you even know CSS" from my engineer while trying to keep a good relationship with the client. I knew it won’t fix the bug, but it did the same thing so wiping out client’s doubt was more important to the project.

Two years passed, and I have lead projects, caused a major disaster and million other daily oops, but I adapted to recover and learn from the mistake. I was writing plan on how many servers to put in system and what kind of Java services we'll need in a project.

I cried from pure rage once. When I got assigned to lead greenfield project, I had difficulties getting buy-in from tech lead, and felt frustrated for lack of respect in my work with the smell of "do you even know how to code" attitude.

Since then I cried from same frustration countless times. I stop counting.

After my move to the US, my green card application took a while. I simply needed to do something. When you are ambitious 25 years old who had led a major project, overworked, but with good career trajectory, 3 months off was enough vacation. After 3 months, any free time became the source of impatience to lose touch.

I started doing online free coding tutorials. I thought once I get my green card and get back to PM job, I'd be a better PM knowing how to code.

I started my career in the US as Ad Operator embedding tracking pixels into HTML emails but soon switched to be a prototype developer. The company I worked for was starting new "innovations" team. I knew just enough JavaScript to manipulate DOM. They needed someone who is "not a real engineer" - literal word given by my coworker in Engineering team - but who can code. So I transferred.

This job came with who turned out to be a very bad manager, but it did give me developer title on my resume and paid me money to write code. When I just had enough with the said manager, I found engineering job elsewhere. The same engineer who said "not a real engineer" congratulated me with a smile for now being a real engineer.

This past November was my 10th anniversary in the tech industry. I've spent a fair share of my time in various different teams and job functions. My last 3 years were spent in a job writing code.

Somewhere, sometime in my 10 years in the industry, I developed a sense of tech and non-tech categorization. I certainly called myself a "non-tech person turned programmer" or said, "I used to be on the non-tech side."

As I got more comfortable with the job writing code, I started to hate the idea that there are some boundaries between people who write code and people who don't.

I stopped using "non-tech" in my words, but the categorization is common and strong in this industry that one’s vocabulary won’t change things overnight.

It’s strange to have experienced both sides, and I’m tired of it being a separate thing.

I'm tired of being treated like I have some special skill compare to people who do not write code.

I'm tired of being called "relatively new to tech" from people who code.

I'm tired of the word and sentiment "coding is like magic".

Machines are dumb, that's why we have to write precise logic in letters and numbers machines can read. Humans run much more magical operations in our mind every day.

I do not understand the fact getting jr engineering job comes with a tax of learning it and remembering how to perform job even before getting to a job interview.

I don't think the industry hire jr sales associates by asking how many contracts they've closed in their particular client list. I think we rather hire by aptitude for great communication, then train them from business knowledge to how to make phone calls. Give them training sales pitch scripts before they can develop their own.

Why can't jr software engineers get hired by aptitude for great logical thinking? Get training for how to write code, and glue templates together before they can make their own?

Don't even get me started with wage gap.

The fact some people say "I'm interested in coding, but I'm not a math or science person" rages me. Not to the person saying it, but to the whole industry that creates the atmosphere for those statements to be made.

I don't know what is the solution for this. Here is what I'm doing in my corner of the tech industry.

Treat everyone with respect. Not knowing how to code does not make someone less qualified to produce great software. I don't want anyone to be rage crying in the office at night from "do you even code" attitude. It's miserable, I've been there.

Stop using categorization of "tech" and "non-tech". Describe things by function, not social perception.

Change your mind that we are all technical. A lot of us use email accounts and computers, know how to structure a sentence to Google, and know how to navigate linked documents. The fact one knows how to write code does not make them more technical than a person writing excel functions for sales reports or a person cataloging documents for effective team communication.

Stop treating coding as magic. Remember, computers are extremely dumb. People who write code just know how to talk to dumb computers. That does not give them an advantage or magical ability to solve problems.

I would address and rectify wage gap if I was in the position to do so. Sadly I'm not there yet.

I hate myself for falling to the attitude of tech industry thinking I am/was "non-technical".

I hate myself for treating my move to "tech" side as if it was career advancement.

It’s toxic. It’s a lie.

I never moved. I always stood in the same place. I just expanded my horizon in a certain area.

Here is to a new decade in my career where I won't fall for these shit again.