I teach a Novetta “Intro to Python” class, and one evening as we were wrapping up, the students and I got into a discussion about my teaching style compared to the other instructor, who was a man. “Will is more matter-of-fact,” a student said, “And your style is more nurturing.” The student meant no harm with his comment, but I took issue with the term nurturing. I associated that word with someone who was soft, a pushover who couldn’t make tough decisions. I think of myself as a technical leader, someone who works to find an answer for every challenge and earns respect from her coworkers. I didn’t want to be thought of as the Work Mom.
How often is a supportive, male teacher described as ‘nurturing’? The question nagged at me. When I asked my husband that night, he insisted the phrase was a compliment and meant I was a good teacher. It was a valid point. I designed a class that wasn’t scary and that helped students get over the first big hurdle of learning programming. The tech community can be intimidating when you’re first starting, and if you happen to stumble into a group of experts, it can be a tough place to ask a “stupid” question.
I created a class that taught Python following the playful ethos set out by the Python Software Foundation. By being open, respectful, and considerate of my students, I strove to create an environment where they could learn to love Python, analytics, and data science as much as I do. In that way, I was indeed nurturing new programmers. The student’s description was accurate, but I took issue with the term because I automatically associated it with inferiority.
Now, years later, I am a mother to a wonderful little girl, Evelyn, and I am proud to call both my husband and myself nurturing.
Nurturing, with all its sweet and soft connotations, encompasses the qualities of the type of leader I strive to be: listening, communicating, relationship building, and tough decision making. As I’ve grown into my leadership role at Novetta, I have found there is no more powerful combination for getting results than high expectations and a nurturing approach.
Would I still bristle if someone called me nurturing today? Possibly, but that has more to do with the context than the traits the term represents. I am proud of my skills and how I incorporate them into my overall leadership and communication style.
Laura Drummer – Director, Cyber & SIGINT Division
Laura has over 15 years of experience in analytics, prototyping, and leadership. She was the winner of the 2015 Novetta Innovation challenge and a recipient of the 2017 DCFEMTECH award for Data Science. An employee of Novetta since 2009, Laura is a firm believer in the necessity of continuous research and education to keep one’s technical capabilities sharp and relevant to an always-changing customer landscape.