Observations and Hopes From a Female Techie's Perspective

Ellie Power
#Phase2 | Posted

Google is on a mission to inspire girls to learn to code. The company’s new initiative, Made w/ Code, is an encouraging example of the way the computing community is pulling together to not only start a conversation about gender issues, but begin to make a change. And a change is definitely needed. Despite the company’s efforts to create more gender equality within its ranks, Google’s recent release of its rather disheartening diversity numbers wasn’t particularly surprising. Men continue to dominate our profession. Even so, as a woman who has worked in tech for ~15 years, I do think change is coming. Here are some observations and hopes...

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1. “Brogrammers”are everywhere.

They’re actually called jerks, and jerks are everywhere. I refuse to unfairly credit the tech sector with behaviors that unfortunately have been around for decades, but as a feminist who is a developer, I hope we’ll dump those behaviors faster than other industries. It speaks to the vitality and vocal nature of tech workers that we’re trying to call attention to, and do something about, the jerks in our midst. It’s not tech culture, it’s not male culture, it’s jerk culture that we need to eliminate.

2. Difference is a change motivator.

Speaking of the jerk culture, years ago, a colleague told me he was glad when I was hired as the company’s only female employee because it finally gave him the courage to stand up against the team’s brogrammer culture. I didn’t – and still don’t – know whether to be appalled, honored, dismayed, or bemused. It was a novel use of womanhood, that’s for sure.  And, it worked. No one should have to face this kind of blame, separateness, or humiliation. But change comes in all forms.

3. Estrogen transforms.

Over the years, I’ve often had fun being the only woman in the company or the room – I’ve gained insights and access by being “one of the guys.” And at times, the very fact of my being a female developer has defused tensions or changed the tenor of tough conversations. I was able to bring a new perspective that they hadn’t considered before.

4. The more the merrier.

When WebLogic was released, I thought I’d have to find a new job because it looked like a 6-year-old would be able to develop a web app without knowing a lick of Java. Ha; that didn’t happen. When the dot-com bubble burst, it seemed like all the tech jobs would dry up. But they didn’t. Then, it seemed like all our jobs could be shipped overseas. Still the tech sector thrives, and jobs for developers are bountiful. Despite all the potential for scarcity thinking, there is abundance in this field. There are so many challenges we can solve, and so many minds needed to solve them.  Multiple backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives expand our creativity and our ability to question why we’re doing things, and how. Multiplicity matters. Scratch that – it’s required. Insert all your diversity tropes here – because they’re true.

5. Adults only, please.

Corporate cultures that eschew brogrammer culture really just expect that employees be adults. Companies like Netflix and Phase2 thrive by holding this reasonable expectation. Assuming your colleagues are adults means you can trust each other, call each other on your shit, expect and achieve valuable results, and revel in the power unleashed by vulnerability, dependency, and collaboration. Our “open source, open minds” viewpoint allows us to expand beyond the usual definitions – from technical agnosticism to multifarious developers to creative collaborations, we are open to what’s offered in our worlds and in our midst. At Phase2, we have all that, and game nights too.

6. Lend a hand.

Even  though the industry lends itself to attracting all types of people, the Google numbers are still depressing. A measly 17% of women are counted in their technical workforce, which is also 83% male. Industry-wide, only 25% of developers are women, and even in these days of smartphone ubiquity, that number is declining. Men are seven times more likely to take engineering classes than women. We owe it to ourselves, as individuals, as tech workers, and as members of society, to change this. I teach a “computer club” at my kids’ elementary school to encourage kids to know more about technology than that it’s how you play Minecraft – it’s my small way of helping to inspire the next generation, the next wave, of great developers. Whether you extend it to a child or your newest colleague, magnanimity among tech workers improves ourselves, our teams, and our work.

7. Talk back!

It's time to have an open and honest conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on being, or experiences as, a woman or minority in tech. And no matter your stripe, I’d love to have you be my next superstar adult colleague here at Phase2. Comment below or apply to work here.

Learn More! Spread The word!

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  1. http://girlswhocode.com
  2. http://www.blackgirlscode.com
  3. http://www.hackthehood.org
  4. http://www.girldevelopit.com
  5. http://www.girlsteachinggirlstocode.org
  6. http://www.ted.com/talks/mitch_resnick_let_s_teach_kids_to_code
  7. http://www.ted.com/talks/jay_silver_hack_a_banana_make_a_keyboard
  8. http://code2040.org
  9. https://medium.com/@triketora/where-are-the-numbers-cb997a57252
  10. https://github.com/triketora/women-in-software-eng

 

Ellie Power