Rachel Shearer’s Letter to her 16-year-old self

Rachel Shearer is a software engineer at Google who works on making Google’s web applications and tools more accessible to users with disabilities. She went to college at MIT and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Computer Science. She also recently rediscovered the blog she kept when she was 16…and was not at all surprised to see that most of the entries are about Harry Potter.



Dear Rachel, year 16:

This is a blog post from the future! 8 years in your future! Behold, while I reveal to you what happens next!


A lot changes for you in the next 8 years. You go to college and study Computer Science. While you are there, you get a software engineering internship with Google that turns into a full-time job after you graduate. You work on making Google’s websites accessible to people with disabilities. When you’re successful, you change people’s lives.

But a lot of things remain the the same. You’ll still have curly hair and small hands. You’ll still love comic books and Harry Potter. You’ll still talk very loud and fast when you get excited about something (like Harry Potter). You’ll still have nightmares about forgetting your homework. And (as your parents have always told you) the world still won’t be fair.

Rachel, it’s not going to be easy to get to where you’ll be in 8 years. You’ll fail tests in college. You’ll have unrequited crushes on boys and do embarrassing things to try and get their attention. You’ll apply for jobs and be rejected. You will have many moments when you doubt yourself – you’ll wonder if you’re smart enough to be where you are, you’ll question whether you’re determined enough to succeed, and you’ll compare yourself to your peers and find yourself lacking.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was you: don’t take your defeats too personally. Good grades and test scores become less important with time and experience. And if you’re curious about something, you should pursue it with all your heart. You don’t always have to have a specific goal in mind – each new skill that you learn will become something valuable, a facet of your personality that is uniquely yours. And you never know when you’ll be able to call upon that knowledge in the future.


You have strengths that will keep you moving forward. Your active imagination (combined with your tendency to worry) means that you’ll be able to hope for the best while planning for the worst. You’ll find that you make a good editor because you can spot problems that other people have missed. You’re persistent and you don’t give up easily. Your excellent memory and pop culture knowledge means that you’ll be an asset in trivia games. And the friends that you’ve made at 16 will continue to be there for you.

Oh, and one more thing: in spring 2006 when your laptop starts to die, back your files up onto an external hard drive. Don’t back up all of your files onto your iPod. Trust me on this one.



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