Laura Laugwitz – Take the pressure out of learning and see where it takes you
Rails Girls Berlin “Wall of Fame”
This a series of interviews with women, that have successfully made their way into coding.
Check out their stories, get inspired!
Meet Laura, one of the Rails Girls Berlin organizers team. She visited a workshop to do some research for her bachelor thesis and never left us again <3.
…especially the tech industry has a responsibility to ensure that we don’t leave marginalized groups behind. I love that there in an awareness about it in the Berlin Ruby community and I am positive that this will spread to many other communities as well.
Hi Laura, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background.
So, I have B.A. in Social and Cultural Anthropology and I am now working on a B.Sc. in Computer Science. I often get the question on how this ever happened, so let me explain a bit. Social Sciences have always been interesting to me, but I felt like I didn’t know in which specific area I could apply all the things I learned. Also, many classes at my university were about „those other people“ in those „other countries“ doing „other things“. It felt to me that the racist structures that Anthropology was formerly based on (it was often used by colonizers to legitimize their political agenda and treatment of humans) were often not very well analysed.
While studying, I also worked a a self-taught QA engineer at a small tech start-up and when it was time to write my thesis, I figured I could write about a culture that I already have some insights about and where I wouldn’t do much so-called „othering“. So I decided to write about tech. More specifically on how women create their own spaces in tech. And this kind of introduces the answer to the next question…
How did you get to know about Rails Girls Berlin?
When researching online for my upcoming thesis, I found out about Berlin Geekettes and Rails Girls Berlin. I decided to base my thesis on Rails Girls Berlin, as back then, Geekettes weren’t that much focussed on teaching technical knowledge. So I contacted the organizers team an asked if I could participate in a workshop for participant observation as well as conduct some in-depth interviews. They were very supportive of my ideas and helped me get started very quickly.
Why did you join the workshop and what was your impression of it afterwards?
I joined the workshop in order to observe, but I also participated. I believe I copy-pasted way too quickly, so I wasn’t sure if I got a lot out of it the first time. However, I did get a lot of data for my research project, and that was kind of the intention. A couple of weeks later, I asked if I could join another workshop to answer some final questions for my thesis, and that was when I realized that I had actually learned a lot, because I could already explain a lot to the other people in my group.
Had you any previous programming experiences before?
There is a very far-away memory from high school, but I remember that I couldn’t manage to do what the others were creating and no one had the time to help me understand. Later on, I wrote a simple HTML-page with the help of my dad because I really needed to express my Harry Potter fandom online 🙂
How did you continue learning?
It was very quickly that I joined the Rails Girls organizers team. But that also meant that there was no free time to learn coding, because all my energy went into organizing (well, and my family and friends). I therefore decided to give Computer Science a chance, so that I had the specific time and motivation to continue learning. I am lucky to have my mother’s support on this, because there is no Bafög for a second bachelor. Now, I do have to work, but not as much as I would have without her support.
What was the biggest obstacle during your learning process?
Again and again, my biggest challenge is that I underestimate what I already know. It is really hard for me to show anyone my code, and I don’t enjoy technical discussions that much, because I always feel that eventually, someone will figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. Or they know already and are just looking for the final proof. This, my friends, is called Impostor Syndrome and as much as I know that it happens to many of us, I still can’t get rid of it.
When and how did you decide to change your profession?
I’m still not sure if there will be a „change“ of profession for me, as I haven’t worked in any field for that long. Eventually, I just want to combine Social Sciences and Computer Science somehow.
What do you like the most about your new profession?
The fact that you can create your own tools, create things that are missing in this society. I guess this is true for other professions as well, but especially the tech industry has a responsibility to ensure that we don’t leave marginalized groups behind. I love that there in an awareness about it in the Berlin Ruby community and I am positive that this will spread to many other communities as well.
What is your advice to women who want to learn coding?
Find people to learn with together. Let them teach you, but also teach them. In anything any of you know. Also, you don’t need to become a professional programmer if you don’t want to. Take the pressure out of learning and see where it takes you. Remember that your own insecurities about tech and your tech skills might not be based on facts but based on what we all learn to believe about gender and technology in this society. Trusting your abilities can be furthered by analysing what stereotypes you have ingested and how you can get rid of them.
Your extra question from Laura Wadden: How do you think the world would change if a more diverse group of people had control over technology?
The facts speak for themselves: More diverse groups deliver better products and are more creative, because they can consider many different perspectives and realities that humans live in. But I’d like to think beyond this capitalist note of „usefulness/exploitability“. I believe more diverse groups of people have control over technology, it can help marginalized groups to empower themselves, to build the tools they need, to foster collaboration amongst each other and change the structure of how things work in this society.