Coming out in tech: the story of an LGBT developer

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  • In this Belfast Pride Week, we are privileged to hear the story of Andrew Cunningham, who spoke to us about ‘coming out’, staying out and making it as a success as a developer with SaltDNA.

    Coming out was probably the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. Growing up, LGBT+ issues were never a topic of discussion. At home, I was asked about girlfriends and my life was expected to include a wife. In school, I was taught that a man marries a woman and any relations outside of that were a sin punishable by hell; a teacher even said that she would “just cry” if her child turned out to be gay - in the presence of an openly bisexual male in the class. The language that was used between these two worlds showed me that “queer” was wrong, embarrassing and considered lesser. In my final year of secondary school, I was greeted in technology classes with a derogatory term by a class member so often that I’d considered writing a big G-A-Y on my forehead to save him the bother of having to use his voice. However, my fringe at the time was too long and it would have been a waste of ink. 

    Because of all these things, it was understandable that I started to feel different and strange compared to those around me. I didn’t relate to all these ‘normal’ things that I was being told about, and this led to a feeling of isolation which after years developed into depression and anxiety.

    When I did eventually come out, it was a mixed bag of emotions.

    At first, my parents were not supportive; there were some hurtful words exchanged on the evening they found out and I came away a very broken kid with not much hope for the future. I was told various things: how my life would be incredibly difficult and that I would find it hard to get a job. I was to keep things under wraps. 

    Of course, my parents and I have now spoken about this evening and how their words came from a place of fear. As misguided as the words were, they wanted to protect me. Having seen how LGBT+ people had been treated when they were growing up, and considering how they had been raised, they feared the worst for me. All is forgiven and my parents are my biggest supporters, always there to offer me advice and guidance when I need it. My dad even came with me to an Equal Marriage rally with a pride flag in hand, something my younger self would NEVER have dreamed of. Fortunately, it didn’t faze any of my friends; if anything, they were annoyed I hadn’t told them sooner to save me from feeling so low. 

    Despite things turning out a lot better than what I had expected, I always carried insecurity about how my future would pan out and whether being LGBT+ would hold me back. I am glad to report that it hasn’t done a thing. 

    I am currently going into the final year of my Master’s degree in Software and Electronic Systems Engineering at QUB, and I have just passed the two-and-a-half-year mark in my software engineering job with SaltDNA in Belfast (all while being out of the closet). It took me a good few years after finishing school to become comfortable with myself and my abilities, but I have been so thankful to have had such supportive and encouraging colleagues in both university and work. 

    Soon after starting my job with SaltDNA, it became very clear to me that my sexuality was completely irrelevant to the success of my career. At the work Christmas dinner (which ended up in the Kremlin), I told a co-worker about how I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously in the job if they knew about me. I was told very politely to “wise up” because it meant nothing. And two years later, I can confirm that. Without them really knowing it, the SaltDNA team have been a massive help to me shedding a lot of my closeted fears. 

    Given our current education system, our lack of equal marriage and age-old political problems it can be difficult to look past and see that everyone else has moved on. This country has moved, and is moving, in the right direction and it is important to know that being LGBT+ isn’t an issue for the majority of our population.

    Yes, we have a few more hurdles to jump over, but we aren’t alone as we sometimes think we are. Many people before us have fought very hard for our LGBT+ rights, and we ought to remember and be thankful for the work they have done.

    This Pride, know that you are so much more than just one of the LGBT+ letters, but also that you should never be ashamed or embarrassed that you belong to this incredibly diverse and loving group.

    Happy Belfast Pride folks!

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