I grew up in the Midlands in the UK, a little town called Brackley, which is close to Oxford. I didn’t notice any diversity there because there wasn’t any! It was a very white town. I also didn’t notice the amount of privilege I had. Looking back, there are so many things that don’t sit well with me now, particularly some of the attitudes held by my parents.
As a child, I was never able to be myself. I felt influenced to be someone else in order to be loved and to fit into what society sees as acceptable. I didn’t have exposure to difference. I didn’t have experiences or opportunities to understand that it’s not cool to treat people unequally. This resulted in fear of difference coming through. Until I recognised that I was different, I was incredibly closed minded due to my upbringing.
Then I went to university, where I had a revelation: ‘Wow, there is a whole world out there! And I’m changing, I’m different, what Mum and Dad told me is not always right.’
At the age of 21, I came out to my mother who told me that I didn’t know the difference between right and wrong and asked me to leave the house. I ran away to London, and I was a little lost for a period of time, desperately navigating life with a skewed sense of confusion about who I should and shouldn't be.
My whole moral guidance had been thrown on its head. Mum and Dad were telling me I was wrong. But it couldn’t be wrong for me to be me, could it? And who was I anyway? I had to find my own way. That thought process opened my eyes to the fact that it was okay to be different. However, it also pushed me to a point where I wanted to be loved and accepted, so I was trying desperately to be validated by being successful at work, making a lot of money and concentrating on how I looked. This was an unhealthy route toward perfectionism. So I still had to find myself and my own voice, challenging inequality, while still battling with wanting acceptance.
I was really lucky. I was successful at work. I found a gay football team that was all about inclusiveness and removing homophobia from football. It was a really big thing then. No footballers were out as gay at the time. People threw abuse and stuff at us on the field, but we were really successful, we let the football talk for itself, never retaliating or bringing ourselves to their level of intolerance. And we won! We represented England in the Gay World Cup. We were the most successful gay team in the world!
In 1988, a famous gay footballer killed himself when he was put on trial for sexual assault because he didn’t believe he would get a free trial due to his sexuality. We campaigned in response to that. We marched, we protested, and we created a safe place for people to play football. This was activism, but it was also the community, solidarity, and practical action. We came together in response to hate crimes.
I feel so blessed and lucky to be part of a generation where same-sex marriage is now accepted. While I never felt afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand when I was walking down the street, in the industry I was never honest about my sexuality. I was young. There was a different generation in the IT industry. I was too scared to be myself. I came out in other places, but it wasn’t until I worked at Thoughtworks that I felt I was 100% able to be myself and feel accepted at work.
Work and money were an important early part of being validated. I had to go through an experience of leaving my career and not having any money and recognising that health, family and people and doing things for others are far more important than self-centered gratification. Being others-centered is what gives meaning in my life today, with everyone being treated equally and living an honest and open-minded way. I had to find that. It is sad I didn’t find that earlier and spent too much time being selfish and concentrating on me or putting money in bankers pockets, rather than helping others. I did a psychotherapy course for a year, and I was going to leave my career to do that, as a way to serve others, before realising that I can actually have an equally powerful impact through technology.
Here at Thoughtworks, I can combine my technical path and helping people. Thoughtworks enables me to do pro-bono work, to give technology to people who can’t afford it. I want to be involved in more social and economic justice work moving forward.
Early on in my career, I had a great mentor who worked with integrity and gave me moral guidance. I was lucky to have that mentor, and I’ve always tried to encourage people to be themselves and be human, make mistakes and grow, just as he did for me. Whenever I see a blame culture or people being put down, I try to address it. I want to support the victim and help them to overcome the issue.
I’m involved in LevelUp, Thoughtworks program to bridge the gap between classroom and industry, for that reason. There is nothing more exciting than seeing people evolve. If we talk, work and support each other as a team, we can be amazing, and we are never alone. Those light bulb moments are what help make people grow, and it’s amazing to be part of that. I wake up every day grateful for many reasons, but I'm incredibly grateful for the family I have found in Thoughtworks and the opportunities I have to help others here.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.