Agile and #ILookLikeAnEngineer and the perception of things

I’m struck this week by the perception of things. This is not an unusual state for me as often I’m perceived as something different than what I am. My husband often tells people he is married to a West Indian woman. This creates some startling responses when those same people meet me for the first time. The general assumption is that I’m a black woman, so when they are presented with a blue eyed, blonde, very pale white woman, there is a bit of confusion. In addition, I am also 5’4 tall and average sized with an exercise of choice is Kempo (karate) and have earned my second degree black belt. Just another example of conflicting perception versus reality.

As a technical project manager, I am always interested in learning about new techniques and methodologies so like most of us, am familiar with Agile Development methodologies. It strikes me as interesting that many people and organizations will say “they do agile.” Agile is an adjective defined by Merriam Webster as “able to move quickly and easily” or ” having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.” How does one then “do agile?” I understand employing some specific components of agile methodologies, or working towards becoming agile. Organizations would be a whole lot better off if they stopped worrying about doing agile and actually started working towards becoming agile.

This week I was struck but yet another campaign about women in tech and what it means to be an engineer. These types of conversations always frustrate me a bit. I fully consider myself a women in technology, regardless of the fact that I’ve approached it from a business perspective. I’m raising two daughters, one who is very interested and one who doesn’t know she’s interested yet. “An engineer” or “to engineer” all relate to skillful or clever delivery of plans. While I will not minimize the effort it takes to obtain a engineering degree, the engineering mindset is definitely more than a degree.

I did participate in the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign, posting photos of both my daughters today. My youngest is very crafty, often coming up with elaborate stories for dolls and creating amazing worlds in Minecraft (parkour courses, stables with fancy armor, and star trek doors to her fancy chateaus). She also is learning to program so she can create games and websites on the topics she likes. We’ve been spending the summer tinkering with old laptops, assembling wooden model skulls and have plans for making cheese, soap, roominate assembly and arduino programming.

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As I have written about before, my older daughter sits on the periphery of STEM. While she has never expressed an interest in learning to program, or really anything mom and dad were doing. That said, when we proposed a summer internship working for her parents’ consulting company; learning about programming, social media (for business) and using “big data” techniques and software to predict who wins next year’s stanley cup, she accepted the challenge with open eyes.

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All of these are indicative of a larger problem. To make assumptions based on first impressions is harmful to us all. It is within our best interest to approach each situation with an open mind. Be observant; see what the reality looks like, hear what is being said, and then make your assessment.

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