Well, week 3 has come and gone. It was certainly an interesting one.
Week 3 was our first week primarily dominated by unstructured project time. We were working in pairs on a CSV project that created a Farmer's Market Finder. Each morning, we had a small lesson, and then we spent the rest of the day implementing what we had learned and problem-solving. We had four different CSVs that we had to relate to each other in specific ways, and we also got our first taste of rspec. The project itself was decently interesting, and I definitely have a stronger knowledge of and appreciate for CSVs and test-driven development. I even went back and rewrote my limping adventure game to incorporate CSVs, and may add some rspec testing to check some of the functionality.
The big take-away from this week was pairing, though. We have pair-programmed on several different projects before, but this week was completely different because instead of sitting with different people every day and working together for a few hours, we sat next to the same people the whole 40-hour week and worked with the same partner that entire time. It was definitely a different experience. It sounds like some pairs fared better than others. My partner and I worked out very well, but it definitely went smoother later in the week than it had in the beginning.
It definitely brought to the fore some of the differences in working with a group of ambitious, motivated women as opposed to working with a mixed-gender group of mixed interest in the project. Going into Ada, I had feared that working so closely with so many motivated, ambitious, intelligent women would be difficult. I was afraid there would be back-stabbery and the overwhelming belief that education is a zero-sum game. Thankfully, I was completely wrong on this. At Ada, education is cumulative and not fixed.
Everyone is very accepting and positive, but this creates a whole new set of challenges--specifically, what I'm calling You're So Smart syndrome.
You're So Smart syndrome works like this: two people are working together on a problem. Person A comes up with a solution that works, but is clunky or only solves half the problem. Person B suggests an alternative that seems like it will work better. Person A says something along the lines of "That's a great idea, You're So Smart" (alternatives include things like "You understand this a lot better than I do" or "Of course you came up with that, you're a genius.") This statement is usually at least a little self-deprecating, flavored somewhere on the spectrum between Whoops,-Why-Didn't-I-Think-of-That and I'm-So-Dumb-I'll-Never-Understand-This. It's important to note that from this point onwards, Person B is screwed.
Person B has 4 options: she can 1) respond with self-deprecating humor (diminishing herself to raise Person A's relative status), 2) respond with positive reinforcement (frequently sounds patronizing or self-deprecating ["I never could have done it without you," "You understand X other thing way better than I do"]), 3) awkwardly say "no" and trail off, 4) say nothing. My response the first few weeks was mostly just saying "Oh, I have way more experience than you do," but I am pretty sure that I need a much better response than this.
I think a lot about imposter syndrome and its impact on my life. It is absolutely, 100% true that everyone in that classroom is brilliant and amazing, especially the women who never coded anything in their life before the first day of class. I am humbled every day by the intelligent, brilliant women I am surrounded by. Any time someone in that class calls themself dumb or makes a joke at their own expense, I want to stop everything and make them realize their own brilliance...but there has to be a way that doesn't bring me down, too. This can't be a zero-sum game. There has to be a better answer. There must be a way to counter this negativity without also diminishing yourself. This is especially important for women, since women are more prone to imposter syndrome and are also more harshly judged on their social skills and willingness to value others over themselves. It seems impossible to balance the two, but there must be a way, right? Right?
This week, I think I am going to challenge myself to greet the You're So Smart syndrome with the following response: "Thank you! I'm proud of that idea, too. We make a great team." It acknowledges the compliment without diminishing it or me, it responds positively to the idea, and it stresses the teamwork that facilitates critical thinking. I am also going to try to not be self-deprecating when praising others.