The whole classroom was busy solving the problem written on the board. It was the middle of the C Programming lecture, sophomore year. The only thing you could hear were scribblings on paper, everyone rushing to be first and get the extra credit. The silence was suddenly gone…
“Computer… computer! Hello computer!”
Baffled, I looked up towards the front of the classroom. There was our professor holding the mouse so close to his mouth that his teeth were shining red from the bottom light. Apparently, he was making a reference to James Doohan starring in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It was this scene:
The whole classroom thought it was hilarious, except a few of us who still didn’t understand what is going on. “Didn’t you watch Star Trek?” the professor asked me, realizing I was not fully admiring his humor. I shrugged.
“How are you planning on being a good engineer?”.
He went on to ramble how we are never going to succeed and have great ideas if we are not taking our time to get inspired by sci-fi. The “problem” was, not only did I not watch Star Trek, I did not enjoy watching or reading any fiction. At that point I hadn’t seen Star Wars, and even today I have trouble distinguishing between Marvel versus DC. So, how was I ever going to be an engineer?
It was the question that has been haunting me from before. If I don’t enjoy playing video games and watching anime, how can I be as good as the guys with those hobbies. Obviously I don’t have the “engineering” predispositions, therefore I don’t have what it takes. My personality is wrong.
This internal battle “sounded” very familiar. I realized this is exactly what my female classmates were telling me. They genuinely believed that they were somehow born without the engineering gene, and no matter how hard they tried they will not succeed or could not fit in. I could never understand how could someone doubt themselves just because they are different. Not until I started questioning my lack of interest in Star Trek, silly as it may sound.
Of course, now as a professional engineer I understand how ridiculous those thoughts were, but hindsight is 20/20. It is scary to imagine that it could have been different. When less than one fifth of the engineers are women, we can easily see how the self doubt and imposter syndrome can easily develop in girls. Having the right tools, role models, and providing encouragement to young women can help bring more brains into designing an awesome future.
Breaking past these stereotypes and paving the way for diversity in backgrounds, interests, and characteristics as to who can be an “engineer” or a “programmer” or a “scientist” is key. Just like many other gender stereotype classified career paths. We can all be anything we want and you can always try many things.
Boris is a consumer electronics engineer designing hardware for imagiLabs and pursuing a master’s degree in embedded systems at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Previously, Boris worked as an electronics engineer in the toy industry bringing little robots to life.