From Artist to Coder: How I Found Myself as a Woman in Tech
I'm an artist first and foremost.
However, it wasn't until the past year or so that I finally felt comfortable introducing myself as one. Growing up in an Asian American household, I was taught that art was a pursuit for those who couldn't excel in math and science. "There's no money in it" was just one of many concerns my parents had in protecting my livelihood. Although they meant well, their insistence of the creative industry’s so-called “inferiority” resulted in a subconscious divide: art was art, and science was science.
Because I wasn't allowed to partake in art electives, I would reserve my weekends and holidays for creative projects. While at school, I signed up for a computer science course (side note: I had no idea what "computer science" was. I literally enrolled because I heard that it would give me a competitive edge for my GPA). Turned out that the joke was on me because it became one of the most difficult courses I had ever taken in my life.
Despite having almost 8 years of self-taught experience with HTML and CSS, learning C++ was entirely something else. It didn't help that I was only one of 3 girls in my class, guided by a pretty intimidating teacher, and surrounded by classmates who all seemed to have deep knowledge on the topic already. But underneath all the trials and tribulations, I discovered something profound -- the thrill of writing efficient solutions. It was a fact: I loved programming.
Then something unexpected happened; I was accepted into the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS). While I am eternally grateful to TAMS for the opportunity to study as a full-time college student during my last two years of high school, I also think being surrounded by high-achieving STEM classmates further tunneled me into believing that pursuing science was my only path in life.
When I graduated high school and transitioned to college, my parents were still encouraging me to find job security in medicine. I honestly didn't mind studying biology, so I (half-heartedly) told everyone I would become a doctor. Blinded by external pressure from my parents as well as internal peer pressure from observing my fellow TAMS classmates pursue similar paths, I went on to major in Molecular Biology, minor in Neuroscience, and even participated in a STEM teacher training program as a career backup plan. By the time I graduated three years later, I had taken my medical school entrance exam and was certified to teach high school biology, chemistry, and physics. Yet, I still felt dissatisfied. Deep down, I always knew I didn't have the passion or personality suited for these roles.
Upon graduation, I took a gap year to do some serious soul searching. I traveled, drew video game assets for a friend of a friend's mobile game start-up, and generally spent my time trying to avoid thinking about how much I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, the single overarching fear that loomed over me was, "What if I don't figure something out? What if my gap year turns into a gap decade? Into a gap life?!"
I'm thankful I waited instead of jumping straight to the next phase of life. Saying yes to all those opportunities in my gap year post-graduation helped me to mature in a way I couldn't have while I was still in school. My travels taught me independence and curiosity as well as the importance of experiences over materialism. My work with the mobile game start-up confirmed that I didn't enjoy creating art on someone else's agenda, helped me realize that I thrived in the start-up culture, and, most importantly, reminded me how much I loved and missed coding!
And just like that, I began seeing ad's everywhere on the internet for local coding bootcamps. I felt as if I was sent a sign -- a second chance.
My decision to enroll was initially met with a lot of resistance from my family who didn't believe in "shortcuts" in life. But choosing between going through another four years of university as opposed to a four month course, my answer was clear. Even if I discovered that coding wasn't my thing, at least I'd have the reassurance that I gave it a shot.
Fast forward to six months later, I was on-boarding for my first full time job as a web developer consultant, and I couldn't be more excited! While the rebellious creative inside of me was dreading assimilation into the nine-to-five societal norms, the logical side of me also welcomed the regiment… and financial stability. Moreover, it was a consulting position, which gave me an opportunity to work in a fast paced environment where the projects and clients always changed.
It's now been almost two years since I started my career, and I still love it. My job as a programmer allows me to take a break from my creative work and vice versa! And the best part is, I can pursue my art freely without any monetary obligations.
In retrospect, I finally understood why I struggled so much with my identity growing up -- I was caught between what society had defined as two competing fields: art and science. I could never feel comfortable hanging out with other creatives because I secretly felt like a nerdy alien, and I didn't fit in with my fellow math and science enthusiasts because my mind was always elsewhere, busy creating art.
But in reality, art and science aren't as polarized as we've been told. When it comes to creative design, artists must overcome certain limitations of time and space to convey their message. Similarly, scientists seek solutions using the known laws of the physical universe to actualize their own vision of the world. Everything we do, regardless of what we identify as, calls upon the natural curiosity and creative problem solving skills intrinsic to us all as humans.
Where they differ comes down to the process by which artists and scientists approach these problems. Science is very procedural and methodical. Art is more chaotic and whimsical. By this definition, I believe that everyone is both an artist and a scientist, but tend to sway in one direction or the other depending on the types of problems they face.
The most important lesson I've learned reflecting on my experiences as a multi-passionate artist and scientist is that I'm not confined to pre-defined labels. As someone who constantly seeks new adventures and is jumping from idea to idea, I naturally lean more on the artistic side of the spectrum. But, I am an artist who can appreciate the sciences as much as any fellow scientists.
The biggest change was in recognizing that I don't have to settle for any less than who I completely am.
And neither do you.
Nomi is a creative adventurer seeking to push the boundaries of the audio-visual experience. She currently studies computer science full time at her 9-5 web developer job and reserves her mornings evenings for her creative pursuits! You can often find her @piquetures brainstorming new videoscapes, capturing memories, and writing postcards.