About the Author
In order to write about being technical and pretty, one should probably present one’s bona fides for each. This presents a bit of a challenge. I’m used to defending myself as being a real-o, true-lo technical person and trotting out a few well-chosen acronyms to prove it. But I’m considerably less convinced that I am actually pretty. What I do know is that I can convey myself as a professional woman, which isn’t quite the same thing as being pretty. It means having your outer appearance provide no distraction or incongruity from a Person Who Knows What They Are Doing.
Technical Bona Fides
OK, so am I really technical? I started writing web sites in 1997, using hand-coded HTML on a UNIX system. I spent about 10 years as a web application developer, writing everything from stored procedures, through business logic, up to front end displays. I like databases best. I know how to create an SOA architecture and can tell you how SOA builds on object orientation. I currently have a job where I regularly have to explain the difference between RESTful APIs and WSDL-based ones. Do I know everything? Of course not. But I can and do write real code.
My geek credentials go well beyond just coding, though. I have played in a role-playing game for twelve years now. I played in my first RPG when I was 12 years old. I love the German strategy board games. I prefer RPG-like video games (I love the Fable series of games). I’ve been to Gencon more than once, and I can explain the difference in probabilites between FUDGE dice and a D20 system, as long as you don’t want actual math.
I feel completely comfortable when I tell you: I am a technical person, and a geek.
Pretty Bona Fides
I feel a lot less confident telling you I’m pretty. For one thing, objectively, I’m no better than “eh”. I’m in my early 30s, 20 pounds or so overweight and not stunning to begin with. (My husband and mother-in-law will tell you otherwise. But they love me.) Combine these attributes with a fondness for pockets and a complete resistance to wearing shoes that aren’t comfortable, and you might very get the stereotype of a Geek Woman: obscure jokey t-shirt, baggy jeans & Birkenstocks.
But my path diverged from that expected outcome when I met my mother-in-law. She has been indefatigable in attempting to convert me to a bona fide professional woman. She’s bought me clothes in styles I would never have picked, provided me with makeup (and advice on how to use it), recommended moisturizer in the strongest of terms, gifted me with jewelry, forbidden certain shoe choices (“My arthritic mother wouldn’t be seen in those – and she’s dead!”), and generally pushed me towards making myself look good. Along the way, I’ve added my own flair and style, and figured out I LIKE looking good. And I’m willing to make (tactical, non-intrusive) sacrifices to get there.
I value most the compliments I’ve worked hardest for. I had an interview a few months ago with a Vice President of Professional Services. The feedback I got was that I was the “Most polished interview he had in five years”. There were a lot of things that went into that: deep technical knowledge, presentation skills, oration skills. But part of it was that I looked polished. My hair looked attended to. I had a great suit that really fit. I had nice looking shoes (that I could walk in) that matched the elegance of the outfit. My jewelry added a touch of style. My makeup was understated but evened out my looks. My hands were well kept. I acted polished, and I looked polished.
It’s taken me a lot of time, a lot of heel-dragging, and a lot of “why should I conform to other people’s expectations of beauty” to get to where I am today: which is someone who can show up in almost any professional or social situation and feel confident that I am appropriately and appealingly attired. So am I a fashion expert? No. But I think I might still have learned a few things about how to look as a woman in technology that you might find helpful.