Thankfully, there’s a lot more to being a “woman in tech” than sexual harassment and missed opportunities. If you’re at the right company and you have the right attitude, there’s a vast amount of space to grow, both professionally and personally. I can enthusiastically say that my time at MySpace was an extremely positive experience because I learned so much on both fronts.
Here’s a short list of some of the cool shit I was able to do in the absence of misogyny:
- Learned how to write specs and PRDs
- Became trained and certified in Scrum/agile process
- Ran a live product as product owner and scrum master
- Learned how to interact with third party vendors and vet their products
Essentially, yellowpages.com got me into tech, but MySpace really kicked off my career.
Unavoidably, my horrible experience at yellowpages.com (see The First Was Worst) did leave me with a little residual anxiety when dealing with my bosses, which surely came across as insecure and erratic. (Sorry for that, Phil & DL!) But they were patient and helped me learn my job, and soon I was able to function as if “Fred” had never happened.
While I was growing professionally, my personal life also took a dramatic change for the better – and MySpace played a huge role in that. When I started at MySpace, I was overweight, insecure, and in a toxic, dead-end relation-shit. When I left MySpace, I didn’t resemble that person at all.
Overweight and Insecure
The MySpace office was located in the heart of Beverly Hills – the land of perfect people – and everyone I worked with was young, brilliant, and beautiful. In comparison, I felt like the ugly duckling half-wit.
On a good day, I could acknowledge that I was young and sort of clever – but never brilliant or beautiful. Yet somehow, all these smart, pretty people treated me as if I belonged there. At first I thought they were just being kind, but eventually I became convinced they were genuine. Through the camaraderie of coworkers and the deep friendships I made a MySpace, I learned a little something about self-value and self-care.
This is what I looked like when I started at MySpace:
And this is what I looked like after I “misplaced” about 40 lbs:
And I wasn’t just shedding weight – I also shed my horrible relationship.
Because at MySpace, you see, I met the man who would become my husband. And he was intelligent and empathetic. He respected me and listened to me. And we laughed together. It became so clear what a sad waste it was for me to remain living with someone who couldn’t be bothered to interact with me and consistently treated me as if I were of little value.
So I ended it and made myself available to CJ. And it felt so good to be treated so well for a time.
The first time we dated, it didn’t quite stick and we separated – permanently, I thought. But I was unwilling to go back to my old patterns and habits of dating men who didn’t actually like me. So against “good common sense”, I dated more men from work. I couldn’t help myself. I was surrounded by attractive, intelligent men and I had just had the powerful revelation that I also had something to offer.
My choices were professionally inadvisable – and sometimes resulted in very awkward situations – but I don’t regret a single thing.
But what does getting skinny and sleeping around have to do with being a woman in tech?
“It’s cultural, you see,” said the Anthropologist.
I think the magic of the culture at MySpace had to do with youth and ambition. At the time, MySpace was used by a huge chunk of the world’s population and we all wanted to make a positive mark on it. We had work to do and money to make! No one had time or energy for dilapidated gender biases of the past.
Obviously the story of MySpace didn’t end with it taking down Facebook and Twitter and remaining on the top of the social media food chain, because admittedly there were a lot of things about the product and the company that weren’t quite right. But there is a lot to be said for a culture of getting shit done quickly, helping and encouraging your coworkers, and being open and inclusive of everyone.
Tech companies have the duty to foster cultures rooted in equality and empowerment. After all, we’re working in tech because we want to use it to make the world a better place. This same aspiration for betterment should absolutely extend to how individuals treat each other in the workplace.