Category Archives: Computers

Women in the Professional Geek World

I haven’t done too many blog posts on geek topics as of late, namely because I’ve been trying to keep my fitness and software development worlds separate, but I thought that this was too important not to comment on.

There have been a few blog posts I’ve been reading recently on the subject of women developers and IT staff, one at Coding  Horror and another over at Girl Developer, an awesome blog I was happy to be introduced to as a result of Coding Horror.

I have an advantage a lot of women didn’t in my generation: I grew up with computers. For Millennials this is a non-issue, but when I was growing up, the idea of the PC–personal computer–was brand spanking new. I never thought of them any differently than any other game or toy, and it’s how I got started in programming to begin with. One afternoon being bored and coming across a BASIC manual was enough for me to get going. I was no older than six. With the advent of the Internet however, the concept of the computer became “cool”, and smartphones have increased that perspective. And of course, social media took care of the rest.

Prior to the arrival of such things, anyone who had an interest in computers was associated with this type of image:

nerds

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that other guys were okay with my being a geek girl. Prior to then, I was a threat, and the fact that I could code circles around them did NOT help. But when I got older, suddenly guys wanted to hang with me because I could “speak geek”. In fact, I’d call it a second language at this point if not a first. Then of course, there’s my love of science fiction and fantasy. While people were watching “Friends”, I was watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.

And let’s face it, science fiction has better role models for us than pop culture:

fgg2

However…what drives me crazy is that decades later…women are still minorities in this industry. People who interview me for jobs still wax poetic about how “neat” it is that I am both female and a software engineer. I still read on programming forums how women like me supposedly do not exist and if we do, we have less skills than male programmers. There are some men out there, thankfully, who step in on their blogs and inform other men that we do indeed exist. But the fact remains that they still HAVE to, which is utterly ridiculous. In short, it’s 2014, I’m still a purple unicorn, and women like me are met with a great deal of skepticism.

Nowadays women have to deal with the “fake geek girl” accusation because we have the audacity to like a “male” activity. I’m not even sure how activities can be either male or female without it strictly involving biology, but I digress.

geekgirlsfake

It’s no secret that the stereotype of software engineers being introverts tends to hold true, while I do NOT fit that mold. I love interacting with people and helping them out, and it’s probably why a lot of software companies enjoy hiring me: they know I can communicate in addition to being able to be a good coder. I wind up in a lot of client facing roles as a result, which I don’t mind and rather enjoy. As always, YMMV.

So the question remains: how do you get more women in there? Wait, I know! How about speaking out against the following:

  • Accusing women of being “fake geek girls” because obviously it’s impossible for women to really be geeks.
  • Telling women they can’t REALLY be a programmer/gamer/science fiction fan/etc because they’re too “pretty”.
  • Telling people women can’t possibly be programmers/gamers/science fiction fans/etc and even if they were, they’d be less knowledgeable than men.
  • Paying women less in those fields than a man would make for the same skillset and expertise.

And instead, support the following:

  • Foster a positive attitude towards women in engineering, science, and other “nerd spaces”.
  • Raise your daughters to become geeks! My dad did a pretty good job with that. 🙂
  • Encourage teachers and professors who treat women no differently than men in the classroom starting from their youth going forward.

And above all else, don’t overlook  us.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do is bridge the two worlds that I have and love: fitness and software engineering. Beyond a few positions I’ve worked in within the healthcare industry, it hasn’t manifested. So I’ve taken it upon myself to start working on a product that would help the fitness industry and give me the chance to flex my programming muscles. I have a survey for fitness professionals to fill out, actually, which will help me (and YOU!) a great deal.

Calling all people in the fitness business!

I’ve created a survey for fellow fitness coaches, trainers, and people running a fitness related business to fill out. It’s about a potential website online.

Please feel free to fill this out and share with others whom you know in the industry; your answers could help me out a lot. Thanks! 🙂

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/M9XYKRZ

Why I am a proud geek

This sounds awfully “hipster”, but I’ve been a geek long before it was vaguely acceptable. I started out with computers at a young age, taught myself how to program BASIC on a Commodore 64 when I was all of six years old. I had no idea that my curiosity would lead to an eventual career down the road; it just seemed like a great way to make my own computer games at the time! I still remember being the only girl at a summer computer camp, eight years old and surrounded by thirteen year old boys. Needless to say, I wasn’t too popular–and even less so when they found out my coding skills.

I have no idea why computers and programming is still a mostly men’s world. I blame this on latent sexism and prejustice in regards to any woman in the sciences or mathematics in this culture. Even now, I still get told “comforting” things by men such as “Oh, it’s so much better now being a woman in the industry, there’s no prejudice at all!” Um, I beg to differ. I once worked for a place where they made me–and only me–telemarket for them from all of the people on the development team. When I confronted them, I was told that “women sound better on the phone”. A few years ago I was on a forum where the guys there ranted that no woman in the field existed and if we did, we were only junior to mid level and our coding skills were supposedly subpar. Well, this senior level softwar engineer will disagree with that!

It’s true that today there are more female geeks out there: geeks in regards to computers, science fiction, fantasy, role playing games, etc. I was at a discussion at a recent scifi/fantasy convention on what precisely a geek is, and it was determined that a geek is an enthusiastic, knowledgable person in a particular field or topic that is considered to either a) not be mainstream and/or b) cerebral. I am forever grateful to Joss Whedon for providing female geeks on his shows: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kaylee from Firefly are fantastic examples of this one.

Geeks aren’t afraid to not be mainstream. We probably don’t care who won the Oscars. Some of us might be into sports, others not. We’re probably watching shows like Supernatural and Fringe while everyone else is watching Jersey Shore. Some geeks are embarrassed at their interests and try to “fit in” while others embrace it and just don’t care about what other people think.

I ceased to give a crap about what others thought of me and my interests back when I was around eleven or twelve years old. It was around then that I read various essays by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and they greatly inspired me. In particular, quotes like this:

From Emerson:

    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
    “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
    “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”
    “Nothing external to you has any power over you.”
    “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
    “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the sufferage of the world.”
    “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”

And from Thoreau:

    “Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.”
    “Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”
    “I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
    “How can any man be weak who dares to be at all?”
    “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
    “There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.”

I guess I’m a literary geek too. 🙂

It’s these works, I think, which inspired me to deliberately seek out corners where I knew I’d be able to meet more of my “own kind” in high school: chess club, computer club, science club. As a result, I had a blast. As an adult, not much has changed. I hang out in “fandom” corners where people share my love of certain books, movies, and tv shows such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve attended science fiction conventions, read and written “fanfic”, cosplayed, and had a fabulous time just following my bliss.

I’m not particularly likely to care about what people think “adults” should believe, think, speak, or act like. I believe in being responsible to yourself, your principles, and your way of life. People should live according to whatever reaches into your chest, grabs a hold of your heart, and sets your soul on fire. All else is dust and smoke.

And that in a nutshell is why I’m proud of being a geek.

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