A female software developer discusses the unique challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field.
Lately there have been a lot of articles sent to me about geekettes
, the new wave of normal (read: cute) girls entering the IT workforce. I attribute this trend to a few things. First, geeks are the new cool kids. Your mom was right: as we get older the people with good work ethic, who are smart and focused, are where its at. We women have seen the fun you guys have been having, and we want in.
Also, there is a deeper component to this demographic change in software programming. What happened to the Birkenstock and flannel wearing woman developers of the past? Some of you may not like my explanation, but hear me out, Im going to tell you a story.
I have often written about my social awkwardness as a child. I was homeschooled and not often around children my age. When I was 14 I let my parents know I wanted to go to a real school, so I entered the local public high school. It took a lot of adjusting, and many embarrassing situations but after a year or two I developed a group of friends.
One day the topic came up, If you could be smarter or more beautiful, which would you choose? I answered first, knowing exactly what the right answer was: Smart, of course. I was greeted with a sight I had become quite used to at the time blank incredulous stares. Are you serious, Sara? You wouldnt want to be prettier??
I remember reeling from that response for a long time. I believe that this attitude drives this generation. No longer is it good enough to be the smart girl, in fact its much better to be the pretty girl. Look at every piece of media that enters our brains all day: perfect proportions and beautiful faces. Before you judge us for being easily manipulated, please think of the last time you did something about this particular social issue. What magazines do you read? What video games do you pay for? What shows do you watch?
Frankly, the smart girls know what is marketable.
Does that make us inferior developers? No way, in fact I would say that we girls have to fight harder to beat the stereotypes. You learn very quickly that all the smiles and laughs wont get you far, and so far Ive seen many ladies exceeding expectations and raising to the challenge. Im proud ladies, I really am.
So, youre considering hiring one of these geekettes, what should you expect? Well, it will probably be less of an adjustment than you think. Though were nerds of a different gender, were still nerds. We love this stuff for the same reason you do. A lot of us have the same habits and hobbies. Even those women who dont like BG, STNG, xkcd, or MMORPG still can contribute a great viewpoint to your team just like any other developer. Developers : Comic-Con is now like Designers : Hybrids; the majority lean that way, but you dont have to in order to make a difference.
Also, we think its sweet when you guys are on your best behavior for us. However, we would rather everyone feel comfortable. Its an awkward balance in the beginning. My tip: wait for the cue from her. If she touches on some more controversial topics shes inviting you to do so as well, just make sure your new lady feels that she can tell you guys when to stop. Once you reach this balance you wont remember what it was like without her introducing a lady to the team creates an awesome dynamic.
The only downside I have experienced and something you should watch out for is the pissing contest that seems to go on in these places. I used to roll my eyes when women said they were forced to act like men in the workplace, but now I realize how true it can be.
Its frustrating, at times I feel like I need to seriously throw my weight around and let guys know they cant verbally push me around. It sucks because Im just not like that, and I think any effective development team tries to hunt that out and destroy that behavior.
But there are some men who feel that if youre in the tech workplace you should be able to stand up to them. So, it turns into a corporate bulldog faceoff and nobody wins. This is sad and unproductive. A team needs to have trust, and you cant trust someone whos always just trying to get you riled. Be sensitive to this, there is no need to initiate a woman by making her feel like an opponent, its unnecessary and detrimental.
Lastly, be sensitive to your wives. Im sure if some young single guy was going to be working closely with her every day you might get that twinge of jealousy. Make introductions right off the bat that way everyone can get along. Its always been great for me to get to know the spouses of the guys I work with. Theyre usually very nice and its nice that someone else knows what I go through during the day with the burping and the mom jokes (okay, its usually me making the mom jokes).
Women will really balance out your existing team of testosterone extremely well. The IT ladies Ive met are all talented and motivated. I think this new move for ladies being keyboard jockeys is inspiring, and I hope this generation of software engineers inspires yet another great one.
I reiterate, its a great field! We appreciate you guys welcoming us, and we look forward to contributing great solutions and beautiful code along with you. If you still need some convincing, dont forget: we make the place smell better too.
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