I had always been drawn to computers and electronics as a child. The flickering, colorful visuals of the CRT screen, and the sound of the computer whirring to life had been some of the my first interactions with a computer. It was while visiting my uncle that I was first introduced to the bulky, cream-colored contraption that would drive my interest in STEM. To my eight-year old self, these sights and sounds piqued an interest that drives me even today.
The more I interacted with electronics, the more I wanted to know. And it wasn’t long after that I started deconstructing electronic gadgets to fully understand how they worked. I started taking apart remote controller units, and calculators. Staying at my uncle’s place would turn into exploratory voyages where I would tinker around on his computer and play games like Pokemon, WarCraft and Age of Empires. It was also at his place that I first discovered PowerPoint, a simple presentation application that would fuel my childlike sense of wonder and amazement as I played around with slides, animations and sounds on it.
But as I reveled in a world made up of virtual pixels and complex equations, my parents started worrying about a daughter gone awry. They would occasionally sit me down for scolding and lectures on my interest on electronics would lead me down a bad path, a path that would turn me into a disobedient child. The fact that our financial condition was not very strong only led to further discouragement from my family. Thankfully, I had a fairy godmother, or in this case, a fairy godfather—my uncle—who made it a point to pass me unused and damaged gadgets to keep my interest in gadgets and electronics alive. I studied these gadgets with a profound rigor. I would even go as far as dismantling his computer partially, and rebuilding it. The best part, my uncle never said anything as I experimented on his expensive machinery.
My fairy godfather went further and supplied me with books on computers that kept my interest in computers intact. By the age of 11, I was already knowledgeable on subjects such as RAM, ROM, motherboard, and hard drives. Being able to confidently answer questions that my teachers asked in class only further cemented my ambitions of entering the STEM field.
What started out as a childhood hobby slowly turned into a career. With my uncle’s passion for gadgets and technology as guiding light, there was no doubt in my mind about what I wanted to pursue after high school. When I told my family about my future plans, I received some discouragement from my relatives, who voiced opinions on how as a girl, my interests would be better guided to the field of management rather than STEM. Regardless of what my relatives thought, however, my parents had seen my budding passion for technology from an early age and they understood my passion, encouraging me to do what I truly wanted to in life. So, armed with my parents’ blessings and my gadget fanatic uncle’s inherited passion, I enrolled into a Computer Information System program. The reason I chose this stream was because I did not just want to limit myself with breaking machines, I wanted to know how do machines worked inside and outside—I wanted to reverse engineer everything I laid my hands on. The curiosity that drove my 8-year-old self was still alive and driving my future.
The undergraduate program showed me new avenues in technology and computing while also revealed the underlying disparity and difference between men and women in the field. This was clearly evident from the moment I walked into a classroom of 48 students, 6 of them women. Further cementing the gender-gap, during my internship, I was the only woman in the development and solutions department in an IT company. The final nail in the coffin was when people treated me, like I didn’t know anything about computers and even after going through a rigorous undergraduate program, people assumed that my knowledge on computers was limited to working with Microsoft Word. It was then, that I truly understood the gravity of pursuing STEM in a developing country like Nepal. There are many underlying stereotypes like, ‘girls aren’t good at math’, ‘the field requires a lot of dedication which would take away time from your family’, and ‘computer games are meant for boys while girls should be helping out in the kitchen’ that still drive personal narratives. But when I come to think about it, in a country where menstruation is still considered as a taboo and impure, these discouragements don’t seem out of place.
I consider myself lucky to have found such an encouraging and helpful role model but I also understand that not all girls gets to have a fairy godfather who would encourage them to do what they want to do instead of following societal norms. Not every girl has parents who at least understand what their daughter wants to do with her life. And, this is where we need to strive for change. If it had not been for the many role models who entered my life and guided me, I would never have had the courage and determination to enter the STEM field. Every child needs some kind of push now and then, and I just wish that people gently nudge that child towards their dream rather than binding the child to societal pressure, we should encourage the children to explore their passion.
I have a dream that someday no girl will ever feel like they have to toughen up and change themselves to fit in a system that is inherently flawed. I have a dream that every parent and relative encourages little girls to become what she wants to rather than what the society has drafted for her. I have a dream that just like ‘HeForShe’ there will also be a ‘SheForHe’, so that no child is left behind when it comes to letting their curious mind to explore the vast and infinite world. And in the end, to all the little girls out there who dream of entering the STEM field, I’d like to say: “Yes, you can do it. Yes, STEM is for everyone. And yes, you can break as many machines as you want!”