Taryn Ewens

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23-04-22

Assuming a persons intelligence based on their job or formal education

When I was in my early 20s and working a full-time admin role, someone I bumped into once asked me “what are you studying at Uni?”. I informed them I wasn’t attending University and their response was “but I thought you were smart?”.

I was ‘smart’. I was smart enough to get a job as a receptionist with no prior experience. I was smart enough to build up to taking over the administration of a whole real estate office. I was smart enough to manage the admin of two real estate offices when another office's receptionist quit. I was smart enough to take on all their bookkeeping and their marketing.

A few years later I was beginning my career as a pastry chef and had started a little side hustle selling decorated cakes to get practise. A friend of a friend said to me “cake decorating’s not really a career though, is it?”. This group of ‘friends’ treated me as if I wasn’t as good as them because they were all at University and I was not.

It was a career. I completed a Diploma of Confectionary Art with honours and went on to work as a pastry chef specialising in handmade confectionery for a number of years. I managed the production schedule. I taught cooking classes. I did demonstrations at trade shows. I was invited to teach workshops on food & wine cruises.

In my late 20s I decided I was ready for a different sort of challenge and learnt how to code. Now my current role is as a software engineer working for an enterprise software company.

Am I smart enough now? Do I have a real career now?

As a society, we seem to have this belief that those who have the privilege of higher education (and choose that path) and work in a high paying industry, are somehow better than those who don’t. And we treat them differently.

Just by changing careers, I have gone from comments of “... but I thought you were smart? It’s not really a career though is it...” to “Wow you’re a software engineer! That’s incredible! You must be really smart!”.

Nothing else about me has changed other than my job. Sure, I’ve matured in the last decade. I’ve learnt a lot. Gained more empathy. Increased my confidence. But the person I am has not changed.

I’m not any smarter than I was before. I’m not working any harder than I was before.

I get to work from a cozy desk in my lovely home with my beautiful dogs next to me for a short 7.6 hours a day. A bit more comfortable than the 12+ hour days I spent as a pastry chef, on my feet the whole time, stirring giant pots of honeycomb/caramel/toffee/etc, constantly burning myself on industrial oven trays and boiling sugar.

And yet, how I’m treated is completely different.

As a final thought, I do find it interesting that since joining the tech industry a large number of people I know, dream of quitting. Dream of walking away from their fancy career that they got with their fancy University degree. And what do they usually want to do instead? Gardening. Crafting. Creating art. Woodworking. Baking.

Ironic, isn’t it?