Spencer's Smile

I spent as much time programming as I did convincing myself that the idea of me becoming a programmer wasn't insane. It wasn't the "becoming a programmer" part that required convincing. It was the "me". I just couldn't see it, couldn't visualize it. The occasional blurry image that emerged was as laughable as one of your mother breakdancing. In theory, sure, it was possible. Doable. But what in the world is your mother doing breakdancing? Shouldn't she learn a skill that's more ... reasonable? Whatever that means. 

But as ridiculous as that image may be, your mother has every right to pop and lock across the dance floor with a cool, black beanie and a smile dripped in swag. Yet knowing that doesn't take the laughable away. 

Because mothers don't breakdance. 

And people who look like me don't code. 

It's one thing to intellectualize possibilities. It's quite another to internalize them. And that was the problem: getting my heart to believe what my brain already knew, that there was nothing insane about this at all. Knowing that I could do it was enough for me to quit my job and spend my summer buried in books and coding tutorials. But it wasn't enough to stop me from cringing those first few months whenever a friend or acquaintance asked what I was up to, and I told them I was learning to code. 

I braced myself for a smirk. A scoff. A laugh of incredulity. And sometimes it came, and my disbelieving heart grew stronger. But sometimes, many times, most times, they smiled. They encouraged. They told me I'd be great. And the idea that I would be a programmer didn't seem so crazy. The more I learned, broke and fixed, wrote and refactored, the clearer that blurry picture became. Until the details were just crisp enough to grab hold of and carry me through those nights when everything I wrote was broken, and nothing I read made sense. 

Eventually, I found the pieces of my broken confidence hiding in conversations with others also learning to code and waiting at the crest of the high that comes from making. Slowly, I glued back together a fragile shell of self esteem. And by those last few weeks of summer, I'd finally converted a disbelieving heart. 

Then school started. And on the second day, we had the Git Lecture. I'd never understood git. I found the pieces difficult to map out, and the relationships between them unclear. And that was the topic of our morning lecture, based on the reading we should've completed the night before. I'd run out of time and hadn't finished it. For the first 20 minutes, everything was fine. I followed along. I understood. I jotted down notes. And then he started talking about remote branches. Shit. I'd completely forgotten about remote branches. What did I read about them again?  Oh wait, I didn't. Dammit, Saron, time management. You have to do better. Shit, he's still talking. Wait, what did he just say?


I'd lost him. The harder I tried to cling on to his words, the more confused I became. And of course I was, because I didn't belong there. I felt my face start to burn. And I sat in the second row, quietly melting down as my confidence fell and shattered around me. 

It's crazy how the smallest things we do can instantly put people at ease. We lean in, make eye contact, nod, "mhm". They call it "active listening," but it's not really about listening at all; it's about making you feel welcome enough to be unguarded. Vulnerable. Honest. And that's what he allowed me to be. 

When Spencer the TA sees you coming, he puts on a smile. Not a shy smile. Not a polite smile. A bright, warm, big-ass smile. And that smile was exactly what I needed that day. I drowned him in questions scribbled in my notebook. I drew diagrams of what we'd just discussed and repeated what he just told me. Then I walked away, stared furiously at my paper, realized it didn't fully make sense, and came back with a new set of questions.  

And every time, no matter how basic the question, or how stupid I would've felt asking it, I got that bright, warm, big-ass smile. And in that smile was the reassurance I needed to believe that there was nothing else I was supposed to do, and no where else I was supposed to be than right here, becoming a programmer.

And there was nothing insane about that at all.


Smile. Break dancing moms are awesome.