#19: Tham Le

Tham Le - my journey to becoming a female software engineer

It was the story of 18 years ago. My whole life was in the suburb. By the first time I got to know how people type on the computer with their ten fingers, I was in the 9th grade. “How cool,” I thought. It struck me that I must pursue this badass career, whatever it takes. I signed up for any class that related to computers. After the senior graduation, my parents forced me to stay home because they assume “Girls shouldn’t spend too much effort studying.” But heck, I bypassed it. Reaching sophomore year, I started to pay my own tuition fee.

My career path has roadblocks—a lot. My first interview was with a CEO, but my direct leader was another guy. The leader was cranky, and I had no idea about it. A week later, he called me in.

“Woman is unable to work in programming. I suggest you choose another job. Or come back to your hometown and find some work in agriculture.”

I was stunned. The ego told me that I must remove myself from this environment. I handed in the resignation offer the day after. But it’s weird. That small talk didn’t prevent me from keep going. In fact, it pushed me harder on the path of becoming a developer. I signed up for College class and stepped into the 2nd company as a data entry staff. The HR Head offered me to become the Lead, but I turned him down. “I can’t. What I want is to keep learning and working in programming”, I explained.

“Where would you think that can lead you to? That industry isn’t made for women”, he replied.

It pissed me off. “Tell me that I can’t, I’ll show you I can” was the only thing in my mind back then. The next company wasn’t better as well. They framed me in copy-paste scope, which was boring. These years taught me a lot through the sufferings and overcoming my own ego. I didn’t receive respect until I came to the 4th company. This leader dropped me a website. My main work was to make it alive. I finished it in a week. It was a bomb to him. “How come you did it so fast without any previous experience?” he surprised. And if you ask how I felt back then? It felt like I was capable of saving the world. That’s when I know it’s possible to pick up and succeed, as long as you have the necessary support.

Personally, I’m not sure it was because my ability wasn’t good enough, or people actually looked down on females that much. I just wished those first 3 companies rashly jumped to the conclusion without giving me the time to prove my competency. But that also proves a point: Consistency stays as the critical key, no matter what we do.

Females in tech face many prejudices and disadvantages. Besides the class combo of “Have you married yet” and “When will you have kids,” the income range is also lower than male colleagues. We must train our mindset and keep it stable as much as we could. Find your will to keep living with the dream and fight for it.

Female coders deserve more open doors to unlock their potential. After all these years working in tech, I’ve realized that patience helps keep me on the right track. And put what you learn into practice as much as you can. We’re surrounded by many opportunities to upgrade and improve ourselves. Most companies now have prioritized the training session for freshmen and juniors. But to grow up, there are some aspects we must dive into and work it out. Anything to the guys? Well, I just hope male programmers can look for the bigger picture and spend more time listening to our perspectives. I’ve gone through a rough patch to get where I am now, and I hope things can be better for anyone in the next generation.

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