female programmers and programmers to beDecember 18th, 2009 by Jeanne Boyarsky
Kathy Sierra has been tweeting about Women in Technology over the last week or so. Today’s tweet really got me thinking.
Tired of being a Woman In Tech. I’m a programmer. I’m female. Does it have to be SO political/significant? Sometimes a coder’s just a coder. -Kathy Sierra
While I certainly haven’t been in the field as long as Kathy, I am a female programmer. And I haven’t really thought about it since college. Until recently. It’s not significant to me; I don’t think it is significant to people I work with. And yet in some ways it is. My response to this tweet was:
@KathySierra sorry; you’re a VISIBLE female programmer & a role model for the next generation(aka me); don’t have any at work so branch out -Jeanne Boyarsky
And this is why I’ve been thinking about it. Whether I notice or not, I am starting to become a role model to some people. I know because they told me! Sometimes it is people I know and sometimes it is people who read my posts on JavaRanch.
Kathy has also been writing about getting girls into IT in the first place.
Do high-schoolers choose a career based on who speaks at conferences? To claim even a trickle-down effect (respect! exposure!) feels wrong. -Kathy Sierra
@jeanneboyarsky agree in principle, just that conference keynoters are NOT on teen girl’s radar and don’t “count” as visibility/motivation. -Kathy Sierra
I agree with her that high schoolers don’t choose a career based on who speaks at conferences. I do think some more awareness of women in tech is helpful though. In the Spring, I volunteered at a high school robot competition. A college professor asked me if ANY of teams had girls on them. With thoughts like that influencing careers, it isn’t very encouraging. I heard my share of “girls shouldn’t go into IT” when I was in high school as well – 1995-1999. (The answer in case you are wondering is of course there are girls on teams. In fact, there were a few all girl teams.)
This school year, I started volunteering as a mentor with FIRST robotics as a high school programming mentor. The lead student programmer is also female. Nobody thinks much of this. Which is the point. People want to be accepted. Being accepted for being a techie is better than people thinking differently of you because you are female. It’s just a part of me as is my brown hair. Or at least that is how it should work.
I think another reason for the dearth of female role models in technology is that less females tend to stick with it over time.
@KathySierra: “women speakers in tech?” I always wonder why ‘women’ are different. Don’t we want good _people_ in these sessions? -Steve Johnson
I think Steve makes an excellent point. Of course we want good people in these sessions. And I do see women at conferences. I just tend to see them in “softer” roles like talking about social media than “harder” programming parts. And absolutely favor strength over gender when choosing conference speakers.
Where I work, there aren’t yet any female architects. And by that I mean the really senior folks who have been doing this 20-30 years like Bear Bibeault and Ernest Friedman Hill rather than the watered down “developer with 7 years experience” definition.
I think this is due to a number of things:
- The culture of the past – If many years ago people were pushed a certain way, it affects the present. I can’t speak to the past since I wasn’t there at that point. But I do think it has an impact.
- The greater chance a woman would go into management than stay in technology – soft vs hard skills? preference? social conditioning? path of least resistance?
- Interest in keeping up with technology – you have to really like something to stay with it in your free time; money isn’t enough
Yes, I want to be an architect someday. But I want to get there because I’m good at what I do, not because I am female.
What can we do
Thinking about three things I and people I know do to make things a tiny bit better:
- Like what you do; be passionate about what you do - Male or female, this is the core of why technology is fun! If you happen to be female, let this excitement shine through and let others see it. I’m volunteering as a programming mentor for robotics because I enjoy it. Being a positive role model for the students is a side effect.
- Point out the “she” - If you are female and someone refers to you as “he” or “sir”, correct them. This is how we introduce visibility into the fact that there are strong techies out there. Scott Selikoff does so if someone calls me “he” in a blog comment. Some people do this so often at JavaRanch that Campbell Ritchie has made it a running joke. But it helps. It serves as little reminders that we do have strong female technical females running around. Not to the the teens of course. But to the existing programmers.
- Look to the future – Things change over time. The senior architects of the today were largely born in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This was before people had the internet in their homes. The students of today are growing up with social networking. Computers aren’t as geeky. There is more social interaction in the job. In another couple of decades people my age will be those senior architects and then there will be more female role models.
[edited to add "when choosing conference speakers." per comments on redit]