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Hate people? Become a programmer! (And other myths about working as a Software Engineer)

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Tami Reichold, Frontend Engineer A Million Ads

What do the monster of Loch Ness and the implant of microchips through vaccines have in common? 

They are both myths! False ideas about myriad topics have and will always exist. Some of them serve at least the purpose of entertainment – whether that’s deliberate or not – but that doesn’t outweigh their wrongness. 

In 2019 when I moved from HR to Engineering I encountered many myths on my journey. About a decade ago, I believed that anything IT-related is more of a “men’s thing”, for example. Among other wrong ideas, this one definitely stopped me from becoming a Software Engineer back then. However, that is not the only misconception out there – so allow me to unpick some of the biggest ones, so that others don’t have to.

One of the most common misconceptions about being a programmer is that you don’t need to speak to people, making the profession highly attractive for introverts. Software Engineers are often perceived as anti-social, nerdy and distant, while in fact, “programming is a very social thing”, as Catherine Ruggles explained at the Women Techmakers event at Google London in March 2020. She said that as a software engineer you need to be a great manager, and an exceptional team player, in order to create great products.

I fully agree with her. There’s not a single day that I go without having a great conversation at work. It could be about a task I am working on, something a colleague is implementing or some planning and brainstorming towards a new feature. 

Another myth is that in order to work as a Developer, you need a Computer Science degree. A quick online search reveals that this career path can be accessed via different routes, one of them being the graduation of one of the many bootcamps out there. A lot of them even offer some sort of job guarantee. The option of changing careers completely, even after the uni days might feel too far away to be re-lived, is simply brilliant. 

Personally, I had a great experience through the bootcamp route – it was a quick and reliable way into tech. Of course the certificate doesn’t give you a free pass, but the skills you’re gaining and the hard work you are putting into this are definitely speeding up the transition. You don’t even necessarily need to spend thousands of pounds on a bootcamp – there are plenty of free resources and online courses out there for anyone who decided to scrap that bachelor’s degree. Even big companies are being open to recruit developers with “relevant skills” vs insisting on reading the magical word in your CV: university.

And finally, there is a belief that you have to be a mathematical genius to be a programmer. This is simply not true, at least most of the time. Math may make it easier for you at times, but it is definitely not a must. Some general understanding of numbers certainly helps, however, there are numerous programmatic ways to do the job behind the scenes without having to be an algebraic whizz. 

Have I ever been asked to calculate distance using the Haversine formula? Hell yes. And I kindly rejected this task, and instead picked up others that were more aligned with my skills. 

And here I am, working as a Software Engineer in a nice adtech company and have not had to use such a formula since I started (lucky me). My point is, this field is big enough for those with blessed mathematical brains – and those with other valuable skills. 

While there are many myths surrounding many jobs, hopefully my list teaches you at least one thing: always question what you read and hear about professional stereotypes. While I may have discovered later than desired that you can indeed be both a woman and an engineer, I want to give people the chance to follow their passions without being stopped by fictitious norms and biased job descriptions.

And now, back to my dev tasks: looking at zeros and ones flying over my screen in bright-green colour. No wait, that was in the Matrix…