Starting Fresh – Part 2

I already talked about my excitement about starting fresh at a new job. It’s been just over two months since then and now I want to talk about how my expectations compared to what actually happened. Along with being exciting and wonderful, it’s been a long and stressful two months. I’ve been moving to a new place, preparing my old one for sale, and getting acclimated in a job that truly feels like I’m being thrown into the deep end. The new job has been amazing regardless of the stress that has come along with it. For the first time I feel like I belong as a part of a team rather than either a cog in a machine or a lone developer doing my own thing.

Like most modern development shops, we follow the Agile methodology, and despite the fact that everyone does Agile wrong, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see it being done even remotely the way I always expected. 

Teams are split up into groups based on small aspects of the application, rather than based on what programming language the developer uses. My team has two front end iOS developers, a back end developer, two web developers, a QA person, and a project manager. My understanding is that most teams are similar in structure. 

I went into the company expecting to be the only woman on my team. That’s just how software engineering is, unfortunately. As it turns out, my project manager is a woman. It’s not quite the same as having another woman engineer, but it’s a refreshing change to not be the only woman team meetings nonetheless. Beyond my team, the company is extremely diverse. I was recently farmed out to a second team to help with their backlog, and that team is half women, which is awesome. We have people of all genders and races, and none of them feel like tokens. I don’t even feel tokenized, which is a very refreshing change. As far as I know, I am the only out transgender person, but there are a couple people who are at the very least non-conforming, if not an egg, or even transgender themselves.

My first week was spent doing training videos, which is easily the worst part of the job so far. These were for the most part pretty basic. Videos about managing time, setting goals, email etiquette, privacy, HIPAA, active shooter training, etc. These are, unfortunately, where the first problematic aspects of my new job surfaced. 

Most of the videos are part of Lynda, which is soon to be LinkedIn Learning, so I can’t really fault the company directly. Most of the videos were fine, but there were a few that really stood out to me. Several of the videos can be summed up as “just act like a straight, neurotypical, white, male.” 

Specifically, there was a video titled “Building Trust” with a description as follows: 

“The “circles of trust” model is a helpful tool for describing relationships. In the innermost circle, you work on your trustworthiness and ethical decision making. In the middle circle, you work on your everyday relationships with colleagues and peers. In the outer circle, you project credibility and trustworthiness beyond your usual circle, building relationships that are based on mutual benefit. In this course, author Brenda Bailey-Hughes shows how to strengthen relationships within the three circles of trust. Plus, learn how to build trust in remote teams, repair lost or broken trust, and deliver an apology to speed the rebuilding process.”

Their idea of building relationships and can be summarized eloquently by a friend of mine: “have you tried not having a mental illness?”

Most of the video talks about not being anxious and instead just being confident in yourself, which you know is so very easy when you’re a ball of anxiety and uncomfortable with who you are as a person. There was even an anecdote from a female client of the author talking about a meeting she was in where she was the only woman present.

At first I was going to applaud the video for going there, but it took a sharp turn towards wrongville very quickly. You see, this woman stated that she went through the whole meeting without saying a word because she didn’t feel like she didn’t fit in with her male colleagues. The response was to call this “imposter syndrome” (spoilers: that isn’t what imposter syndrome means). The solution was to just get over it, and make yourself a part of the meeting and include yourself. Of course it can’t possibly be the fault of the men for completely ignoring the woman and not including her themselves.

Things got even worse when I got to the video about business writing strategies. They started talking about pronouns when writing emails to someone whose gender you don’t know, and how a “discriminatory culprit” can be gender assumption. They splashed a slide on the screen with a list of neopronouns, such as ze/zir and xe/xer, Once again I was excited to see that they were going there, but was quickly disappointed. They say to not use neopronouns, because they’re too new and not widely recognized, which is fair, honestly. The initial solution they give is to find out a person’s gender through research before sending them correspondence, which is honestly great advice, but failing that, their solutions were garbage. This is an actual slide from the video:

In order to not misuse pronouns, and also not misgender someone, only one of those four solutions was correct: the bolded one. Obviously “his own lunch” and “her own lunch” are wrong, because they assume genders, but his/her is bad because it neglects that gender nonconforming and nonbinary people exist. It erases people who might use neopronouns, or use singular they/them. The last solution is actually the correct one, and I refuse to send correspondence that doesn’t use they/their, especially when talking about multiple people.

They go even further and state that alternative solutions would be to make everything plural, which, hilariously falls into the trap of using their, or to ignore pronouns entirely. Once again, here’s an actual slide from the video:

Ignoring pronouns bothers me more than anything. Sure, it can be a good solution to not knowing someone’s pronouns, but I’d much rather the norm be to just ask. The more you ask cisgender people their pronouns, the more that it becomes normalized, and the less that asking a transgender, non-binary, or non-conforming person their pronouns feels othering.

Really though, those videos are the worst that it’s been. I thought about talking to HR about them, but I like my job and don’t want to rock the boat. I did, however, complain a little bit to my manager.

Every three weeks I have a one on one meeting scheduled with my boss. I was extremely nervous going into my first one, but it was an amazing experience. The conversation started out with him asking how I was acclimating to the job, and to discuss goals for myself that are a part of the company’s performance management program. He informed me that the biggest hurdle to becoming a senior software engineer, which is what I originally applied for, is that I need to prove that I can mentor newer developers and to familiarize myself with the development stack and newer tools and languages that the company uses. Fortunately for me, familiarizing myself with the development stack will just come along with the rest of the job. Unfortunately, getting myself into a position that allows me to start mentoring is going to be much harder as a new employee. 

After the technical and professional aspects of the meeting were over, he brought up the company culture, and wanted to know how the rest of the company was treating me and how I was fitting in. Specifically, he wanted to make sure that my coworkers, both on and off my team, were treating me with respect and being cool. The answer was a resounding yes! He knew everyone was accepting and progressive in that regard, but he honestly asked in order to just verify it and check in with me. It was such a good feeling, and one of the many aspects of this company that make me feel like I’m cared about as a person, and not just as a cog in their software creation machine. We also briefly talked and laughed about the training videos I was subjected to, and how everyone hates them, though not necessarily for the same reasons I did.

In the following few weeks, things have continued to be pretty awesome. It really feels like I’m welcomed and a part of the company as Mattie, and not as Matt. The one issue I have to report on is that misgendering is sometimes still a problem. I can’t tell if it’s because of the male default in software engineering, my lack of ability to pass, or people just being assholes. I really like to think it’s not the last one, but the thought still crosses my mind. Regardless, it’s not like everyone is misgendering all the time, or even some people misgendering all the time, which definitely makes it not feel malicious. 

The last good thing to note is that I was immediately welcomed to their “women’s engagement” program, which is incredibly validating, though I haven’t had the opportunity to actually partake in their services or group meetings yet.

All in all, my new job has been amazing, and I couldn’t be happier at work.

Update: I posted this on my lunch break. As I came back to my desk my boss caught me and stopped me. In my usual anxiety ridden fashion I immediately think I did something wrong and I’m in trouble. As he’s scrolling through emails looking for something he asks me if I’ve ever done an employee speed dating interview before. I respond in the negative, and he asks if I’d be wiling to represent my company at one. It turns out that event is a Women/Hack event in St. Louis. I’ve never felt so validated and included at work before, and it’s an amazing feeling.

Now I just have to hope that I can represent the company well and find us even more awesome people.

One Reply to “Starting Fresh – Part 2”

  1. The they/their thing is fascinating from a grammar perspective, imo — the reason that slide chooses “everyone brought his/her lunch” as correct is because “everyone” is a singular noun and the grammatical standard most people are accustomed to doesn’t allow for the singular “they” or for “their” as a possessive pronoun with a singular antecedent. But the singular “they” actually used to be commonly used, going back to the 14th century and possibly earlier; there are tons of articles about this but here’s one from the OED: https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

    I’m saying all this because I feel strongly that using the singular “they” in this context is a best practice for any progressive company, esp. in public-facing materials. Anyway, so glad you’re loving the new job — congrats again 😊

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