Workplace Stories

The Day I Was Told I Don’t Look Like a Programmer


This happened to me three years ago while studying in university.

I was studying in Design and Web Programming and we had one course specifically designed to help us create and develop a portfolio and brand for ourselves.

During the class we were categorized based on our skills and best portfolio pieces. I was categorized as a programmer which completely suited my skill strengths and interests. With that in mind we were told to create a portfolio showcasing works that highlighted our skills within that category and to then brand the whole thing to show our individual personalities.

On occasions, all of the students would go on “field trips” – visiting companies where professionals would review our portfolios and resumes.

So far all of this sounds great right!? Well… I vividly remember my interview with them.

I entered the office confident – thinking I had found my own personality as a front-end programmer. But soon enough I realized they had something different in mind…

They said although I had the skills and great work to prove it, I would NEVER get a job in my field.


Because I didn’t look like a programmer.

Because my portfolio was not even worth looking at.

What’s the big deal?

Well, my logo was purple and my brand was perceived as being “too feminine” for a REAL programmer.

“Make it geekier,” they said (and I don’t even want to get started on that comment…).

I want to specify that both men and women recruiters were present that day. I was mad and confused. But mostly, I felt humiliated. Why would I need to lie and pretend to be something I’m not in order to get a job that I am perfectly qualified for. It’s ridiculous.

But I said “yes, of course”. I smiled and I re-branded myself the way they wanted.

Why so? Not because I was afraid to confront their outdated nonsensical ideas. But because sometimes, the best thing to do is to nod and walk away from the naysayers. Some people just don’t deserve the energy it takes to argue and challenge their beliefs.

As I mentioned earlier, I re-branded myself but it was just temporary – to pass the class.

Once I graduated, I stopped apologizing for myself, for being feminine and a woman, and I started freelancing.

By some MIRACLE my “girly” brand didn’t seem to scare away clients. It didn’t stop me from being employed by one of the most prestigious Universities in North America. It didn’t stop me from making it. 

All of that with my purple logo!

– Rebecca

Are you sure this happened three years ago? As in 2014?

It’s sad to see that we are going around in circles. Your story feels like I reached my hand in a bowl of chips but it was actually a disastrous party-mix of everything wrong.

Critique is a good thing when it’s done with mindfulness and intelligence. But hearing something like a woman cannot make it if she doesn’t tone down her “feminine side” is so unbelievable. It starts with the little things.

The danger with shame is that it’s a powerful, paralyzing, self-negating force. However, you fueled from that emotion and used its power to transform shame into determination.

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your story with us, we really appreciate it.

For those of you who feel they have a story of their own to share (good or bad).