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:
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:
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.
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.