On International Women’s Day 2023, I had the opportunity to give a keynote speech to a group of high school students participating in the annual Technovation Girls program. When I first received this invitation to talk about my experience as a woman in STEM, I thought really hard about what I wanted to say to these young ladies with intelligent and impressionable minds. I reflected on my career so far and my journey as a woman in tech and the one thing that was consistent through the years is the fact that I’m a trier. I decided to focus my entire speech on what it means to be a trier.
The dictionary definition of a trier is one who tries hard to succeed in what they do, even if it fails. This definition implies that the end product of trying might not always be success. It implies, if you really read between the lines, that the journey and the learnings from the process are more important than the end result. This has been a guiding principle for my life and my career so far.
My earliest recollection of being a trier in my career was in my first year of university. Computer Science was not my first choice of program to study. Prior to starting university, I had already tried learning how to code but this didn’t go well. The combination of my lack of experience and the stress from moving to a new country with a different educational system was a recipe for disaster, so six weeks into this program, I was ready to quit and do something a little more familiar. I marched to the registrar’s office and explained my predicament. I had chosen a new program and talked it through with the registrar who was happy to support me through this transition. I left her office with information, brochures, and some paper work. When I got back to my room on campus, I told my roommate about my grand plan. When I was done talking, she proceeded to give me what I now recognize as one of the most profound pieces of advice I have ever gotten. She said, “how about you just stick with Computer Science for a full year, and if after the year you still don’t like the the program, then switch“. What she was really trying to tell me was that I had not tried hard enough, or even at all. I took her advice, and the rest, as they say, is history. Let’s not get it twisted though, the program did not all of a sudden become easy and my journey did not come without hiccups. Rather, when I decided to try, I began to unlock new ways of studying that would better my understanding of the courses I was taking. I sought out people and resources that could help me get better as a software engineer in training. I used this same attitude of trying (and trying really hard) when it came to securing internships, working diligently at those, switching to the biomedical computing stream, working on my honours project, and finally graduating with distinction.
At this point, the attitude of trying really hard despite the outcome was fully ingrained in my psyche. I took this attitude to work and decided that rather than being boxed in as a backend engineer, I wanted to be a full stack software engineer. The first time I attempted to fix a front end bug, I introduced another bug that crashed the system. As embarrassed as I was while sitting in a retrospective meeting with senior colleagues, all I wanted to do was try even harder to overcome this mountain, despite this huge failure. (In typical Ebun fashion, I wrote about it). Again, the rest is history.
A common denominator amongst the most inspiring and successful people we read about is their ability to consistently try despite failure. I am very inspired by Tyler Perry’s story. In the early 90s, he put on his first stage play and after spending his life’s savings on it, it was poorly received and regarded as a financial failure. But he did not stop there. He kept on writing and putting on stage plays, films, and musicals. It took him years of trying really hard before he got his big break and today, he is theeee Tyler Perry. I encourage you to be curious about the life and history of the people you admire the most. They most likely did not get that thing you admire without trying. And even when one thing failed, they picked up themselves and tried something else.
As I said to the group of girls in concluding my speech, the world belongs to triers. We know the saying “fortune favours the brave” but I posit that fortune also favours the triers – those who try over and over and over again despite failure.
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Love this piece! Just try! (What if the best case scenario happened and not always the worst we fear) and even then, try again! Great words. Thank you Ebun!
Really – what’s the worst that can happen?
Thanks for reading Maame!