Deprogrammed This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 26, 2013
As I glanced around the classroom, an awful realization struck me: I'm the only female in an all-male computer science class. I could tell by their stares that my new classmates assumed I had blundered into the wrong room. I too was wondering if I had made a mistake – whether this elective had been a smart choice after all. I had been in the class for less than a minute and already I felt like I didn't belong. But nothing was less welcoming than having my new teacher ask me, “Are you sure you can handle this class? It's easier for guys.”

That was the first time someone had told me I couldn't do something simply because I was a girl. At first I thought I had heard him wrong, but there was no version of that sentence that was better. I ­seriously questioned if I could handle a class taught by a teacher who doubted my ability without even knowing me. I couldn't believe my teacher meant what he said – and my classmates agreed with him.

I felt like an outsider because of my gender, but I had no intention of dropping the class. I stayed because I wanted to prove to my classmates – and to my teacher – that girls are not somehow inferior when it comes to computer science. But doing that meant working hard to catch up, since unlike the guys in class I had no prior experience with coding. I also learned right away that feeling isolated in class was my new norm.

Before this class, I had never been told I couldn't do something. As a consequence, I went through school with a false understanding of what it means to work hard to accomplish something. When my teacher questioned my ability to handle his class, it caused me to want to work my hardest to prove him wrong and prove to myself that I really could do anything I set my mind to.

How long does it take to get used to ignorant statements? For me, it took a long time to become numb to the sexism I experienced from the guys in class. They would make a seemingly innocent comment like, “Oh, don't you know that command?” but in a condescending way. I struggled not to react to their cutting comments, not wanting them to think I was weak. Facing these sexist attitudes every day was tiring, and I debated if it was worth it. But then something wonderful happened. I became fascinated with programming and resolved that I was not going to let my classmates take my chance to learn more away from me.

My teacher assigned the class to create a game called Brick Breaker. I was scared that my game would seem simple compared to my classmates'. Interestingly, I got the highest grade for this project. This was the moment that I felt I finally proved to my teacher and my peers that women can do computer science just as well as men – or better.

Now I see this experience as a blessing in disguise. I am more motivated as a student, so the feeling I get when I accomplish a goal happens more often. I also now realize that others' opinions about whether or not I can do something are irrelevant as long as I believe I can.

I have no regrets signing up for that unlikely elective. Without this experience, I would not have found my true passion in life.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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