What I learned by “being bad at technology”

November 8, 2019

By Cassie Tatone

I am one of those self-proclaimed people who are “bad at tech”. My younger brother was always the one who managed setting up a movie on the TV or to reboot the internet when it broke. I never installed the newest IOS, only updating when I bought a new phone that came with the newest system or really wanted to use some of the new Emojis I was seeing around. If I couldn’t get the printer to work, or if I accidentally switched modes on my computer and needed help, I would blame “being bad at tech” as the culprit.

In the past year, I’ve had more exposure to the tech industry, both personally and professionally. Friends have moved into new tech roles or gone to a coding boot camp and my partner is a software developer.

The biggest change, however, came from me: I started working for Hackergal, a charity inspiring girls to explore the opportunities in coding. Through them, I started to become more familiar with startups and tech incubators, our office space being one of them. I’ve been learning about seed rounds, the difference between front end, back end, and full-stack developers. I’ve realized that Python is not just a type of snake. I learned there is a difference between Java and Javascript, and neither is talking about coffee.

But when I think about what I’ve really learned, I can boil it down to 5 key points:

1. I’m not bad with technology — I just wasn’t trying

Every time I said “I can’t” to something tech-related it was because I gave up. That is if I even tried (re: updating my IOS). I specifically remember my brother showing me how to work our projector several times, but each time I seemed to magically forget and needed him to do it for me. In all these instances, I didn’t even try. It seemed difficult, and more notably, it felt like it wasn’t important for me to learn.

If this is you: Before you give up the next time something is difficult, just persevere a little longer. The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work and you have to ask for help. The best thing? You learn something new and gain some independence around technology.

2. When you learn how to code, you can build whatever you want

One of the coolest things I’ve noticed about coding is that my designer/developer friends are working on some incredibly creative projects. Often, these ideas come out of something they want to see in the world but doesn’t exist. Or, they see something that doesn’t work the way they need it to, so they design something that functions for them. How incredibly liberating must that feel? I have also been dreaming up some ideas for my own side projects, but already feel limited by my lack of website and app building knowledge.

If you this you: Write your ideas down and see what it would take to learn how to make it on your own. My personal website isn’t a work of art — I used a template and customized it, but it did what I needed and I felt great doing it on my own. If the idea is bigger than your abilities, start talking to freelancers about how to make your vision come to life!

3. There’s still a big gender gap in the tech industry

I’m going to throw a stat at you, because this one really hit home for me. The percentage of women in STEM industries in 1987 sat at 20%. Today, the number has grown to 22%. That is only a 2% difference in 30 years. How can that be?

There are a few reasons. Men are still the ones who are in leadership roles in tech companies, and so the hiring is largely facilitated by men. Additionally, women going into tech programs don’t see a lot of leaders or mentors who they can identify with the way that other industries do. And when they do get to the workplace, many of them feel outcast into a boys club. This turns a lot of women away into different industries.

If this is you: Find other women in your industry and connect. I follow a ton of awesome female marketers on LinkedIn because I enjoy the content they produce. I also occasionally check in with women I’ve worked within the past to ask for advice or to brainstorm with. Doing this in the tech industry is important because it creates a sense of community amongst women, and can also lead to future roles working with them.

4. I’ve coded before. A lot.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time learning how to design websites and pages on platforms like Neopets, Myspace and Livejournal. All of these sites had the ability to customize your page to play music or show a special effect. I remember spending hours teaching myself HTML to specifically play music and simultaneously change the background with every new song. I also learned how to photoshop, and became adept at building collages and headers for these different profiles, and then learned the code for positioning these headers on my sites. I don’t know where I veered away from it or developed the notion that I wasn’t good at tech anymore. Maybe when it became too hard? Alternatively, maybe it was because it wasn’t taught in school and so these skills became redundant over time.

If this is you: Do you want to try to pick up some of the skills you’ve lost? Look for some free courses as a refresher. Unsure where to start? Talk to someone who’s doing what you’d like to do, and ask their advice. Know what you don’t know, and fill in the gaps.

5. Anyone can learn

Coding is learning another language. Anyone can do it, but you have to want to, you have to practice, and you have to be okay with getting it wrong, often. The fact that I was coding on Neopets when I was a kid, and that thousands of girls across Canada are learning how to code through Hackergal speaks to how anyone can learn about technology and access it as long as it is available and you’re willing to learn.

If this is you: The same advice from #1 applies here: just try it. It’ll like be a bit of an ego bruise when you mess up repeatedly, but I like to look at it this way: Think about one thing that you’re really good at, and then think about what it took to get to that point. I bet it was practice. So take that, and apply to whatever it is you want to learn. Take the time to be bad so that you can improve.

Whether you’re “good at tech” or not, it’s going to keep on moving forward, with or without you. You can either get someone to do it for you, or you can learn, adapt, and grow. Having done the former all my life, I’m definitely ready to get in the weeds and see what I can build. How about you?

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