Woman in technology

Usually I avoid topics like women in technology because (1) it is a can of worms, and (2) I can really only speak for myself. For the most part, I’d rather be seen as a person in technology than a woman, but this weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize.

On the Big Web Show, I talked about being a women in a male dominated field (min 7:12). “I was a carpenter before I got into web stuff, so you guys can’t really compete with the carpenters, no matter how unruly you get.”

That is true, but a simplification. Zeldman threw me a chance to speak openly about being a woman in technology, and out of nervousness, I punted. Perhaps I was also afraid to sound strident? Anyway, I’m going to share some of the things that have happened to me, in hopes that it helps people realize that I was lucky to be successful and a woman. I mean, just take a look at the fastest growing careers for women. We are veterinary technicians not veterinarians, dental assistants not dentists, medical assistants not doctors. We like to believe we have evolved, but the data speaks to something else. Being a home heath aide is dirty work with bad hours and heavy lifting — but it is a career women can imagine, whereas, right now, they clearly can’t imagine themselves coding. I want to understand why not…

After conducting a thorough study on the status of female researchers at MIT. The Dean said:

The heart and soul of discrimination, the last refuge of the bigot, is to say that those who are discriminated against deserve it because they are less good.
Dean Robert J. Birgeneau, Dean of Science at MIT

He says it beautifully. Discrimination now rarely takes the form of some guy saying “hey little lady, shouldn’t you let a man handle that?” It is much more subtle, but just as ugly. These days, bright, thoughtful, enlightened people assume that the absence of women in certain fields results from women being unable to compete on merit. The assumption that, if someone creates a scholarship for women, it is because otherwise, women can’t hack it.

I would argue that there are female developers who are just as good as men, if not better, but despite that, they are less likely to stay in school, stick with engineering jobs, speak at or even attend conferences, and be recognized for their contributions. The problem compounds itself as women see no role-models for how to be a woman in this field, and only the very thick-skinned manage to stay in engineering and web development.

Why is computer science a sausage fest?

I believe CS and Web Development currently select for certain masculine qualities that are largely unrelated to someone’s prowess as a coder. I believe it is these tangential code-cowboy qualities women are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their skill or capacity for abstraction, problem solving, creative thinking, or communication — All of which actually make them better developers. In fairness, I think a lot of men would rather not live like code-cowboys, but the unspoken judgement is adapt-or-you-must-not-be-smart-enough-for-CS. The vibe is a competitive rather than collaborative, and leaves many women feeling invisible.

Affirmative action

People mistakenly assume that affirmative action is about granting minorities undeserved privileges. In it’s purist form, affirmative action is about allowing minorities natural talents to flourish by removing artificial, unfair barriers and decoupling the true skills required to succeed in a profession from the cultural baggage that builds naturally within an insular community.

If we separate the criteria that makes someone a code-cowboy from the criteria that makes them a solid developer, I think we would find that women can and do compete despite significant discrimination. Scholarships like the one Google proposes aren’t meant to give women of lower merit something they don’t deserve, they are meant to circumvent the discrimination that extremely talented women still face. If you assume that a scholarship for women exists because women are inherently inferior, rather than because they are simply underrepresented, it might be time to soul-search and ask yourself if there is a bigot inside.

I (don’t) wanna be a cowboy, baby

The code cowboy

  • Stays up all night recoding the entire code base, documents nothing, and forbids anyone to touch it because they aren’t good enough to understand his level of code.
  • Refuses meetings, chats, or any other form of communication.
  • Cares more about being perceived as the brilliant-uber-genius than he does about his team working well together.
  • Gets into silly pissing contests which boil down to “hehe, my brain is bigger than yours”.
  • Finds complex solutions to problems, thus proving his brilliance.
  • Makes a lot of mistakes due to lack of sleep, overcaffination, and ego — but thank god he is around to save the day when the bug is discovered.
  • Is fairly certain clients, PMs, designers, and really anyone he has to deal with on a daily basis is at least three standard deviations below his IQ.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when credit or rewards for accomplishments are offered.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when opportunities to attend or speak at conferences arise.

The good developer

  • Digs the fact that he is making products for people. Likes people and enjoys communicating with them and understanding how they think. Can put him or herself in other people’s shoes and reliably imagine how they might react to different parts of the UI.
  • An excellent problem solver who takes into account all aspects of a challenge when designing a solution – including human elements like maintainability and usability.
  • Shares credit with the entire team or entire internets. Recognizes that no solution evolves in a vacuum.
  • Applies consistent effort and recognizes that working in a way that promotes long term productivity will yield better results.
  • Respects the members of his team, including those who aren’t engineers.
  • Manages projects so they don’t require super human feats of sleeplessness to meet deadlines.
  • Has a life outside of work, other interests, friends, and family — they love code, but they love lots of other things too. If you don’t understand how this makes them a better developer, see item #1.
  • Amazing capacity for abstraction and creative thinking.

The Twit-storm

Women may be less likely to be a code-cowboy, but they can be amazing developers. We are not trying to give anything to anyone that doesn’t deserve it, but instead, to counteract the subtle prejudices that leave women feeling invisible, excluded, and unrecognized for their accomplishments. Now, with that in mind, let’s look at the twit-storm I found after leaving a seven hour mediation session on Saturday. I’ll put my comments inline since I was unavailable to tweet that day.

The doofus that started it all:

RT @googlestudents Google grants for female computer scientists to attend JSConf 2010 // this is disgusting.. i hope there is one for guys.

This stinks of jealousy. Why not be happy for the female students? Why rain on someone else’s parade? Something good happening to someone else seems to disgust fringley. Frankly, it comes off as childish.

Moving on… this is when the storm began to brew.

hProof that no good deed goes unstoned http://j.mp/c37Dev what a d-bag #jsconf

Voodootikigod has the longest twitter name in the universe, and he makes a good point, we should remember that Google has good intentions and perhaps not be quite so disgusted. Fringley, I’m talking to you.

Special treatment for women with no merit?

@voodootikigod maybe they think that giving special treatmeant to someone based on sex, color, age, ect instead of merit/randomness is wrong

Jdalton makes a good point. No one wants to feel like they got where they are because of what is in their pants. On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf. Why should he assume that? In fact, the website says quite the opposite, the women must “have a strong academic background with demonstrated leadership ability.”

I resent the notion that women are inferior and that is why they are getting grants. Google is correcting for women being less likely to stand up and say “me, me, me!”, not for their technical skills or development prowess.

Thinking that I got where I am because I’m a woman and got special treatment (rather than on my own merit) is a painful and insidious form of discrimination. You have to be thick skinned to make it in a field where this kind of thing happens frequently. YES. It happens frequently.

What I’m trying to say is that women face a special challenge in tech because their male counterparts, when feeling jealous, will tend to pin female geek’s success on their gender. We face another problem, when we begin to wonder ourselves, and doubt our own abilities. This is the last refuge of the bigot indeed.

How can we attract more women to the field?

@jdalton would love to hear a better way to increase diversity so conversely the CS profession is not dominated by a single gender?

Yay! I like what voodootikigod says here. I saw Maria Klawe speak at Yahoo! about “Gender, Lies and Video Games: the Truth about Females and Computing”. She said that CS is the only science where the participation of women is getting worse not better. We have a problem. We’re geeks (supposed to be good at problem solving). So let’s figure it out!

I think we should look at:

  • Video games are largely made by and for men. We need to be willing to rethink the genre completely, bust things wide open to make video games appeal more to girls.
  • CS education works best for people who already know how to code before they begin. CS teaches the theory behind a practice in which they assume you already have some skill. Women are less likely to already know, because they don’t play video games as much. In addition, code-cowboys among their classmates are likely to judge them harshly for being a beginner. Are psychology majors expected to already know how to psychoanalyze patients before their first semester?
  • CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context.
  • Women are less likely to jump up and say “me! me! me!” They are far more likely to wait to be asked to participate. We don’t need women to be different than they are, we just need to invite them in a way that works. Hell, I spent 8 years coding CSS before I ever spoke about it to anyone. The first time I spoke at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.
  • Women don’t have female role models. Now, I don’t mean that we need to have deep tear-filled conversations about the perils-of-being-women-in-technology. I would like to talk to geek women about geeky stuff, not about being a woman.
  • At Velocity Conference this year, they had a girl-geek lunch. It was awesome! Just a note, they also had tons of women speakers and lots of female attendees. For a deep-geek conference, I was very impressed. Actively seeking female speakers does not mean accepting lower caliber. It means accepting that women might not submit proposals, but they might agree to speak if you ask them nicely. They might not be *famous*, but they may well be amazing innovators, skilled at what they do.
  • Could we do something like MIT did? They commisioned a giant study, measured everything, and found that women were in fact being discriminated against. Their offices were smaller and had fewer windows, their pensions unpaid, they had unequal access to MIT resources. The study painted a grim picture, but then, with true MIT efficiency, they then set out to correct it. Well worth a read, especially if you think we are all just being sensitive. For the record, the ones that stay in the field are absolutely *not* being sensitive. 😉
  • Recognize the need for work-life balance. Most women still have primary responsibility for children and home. Women need to be equals at home first, but perhaps companies can make it easier for them to get access to awesome childcare and flex time.
  • We need affirmative action to correct the problem. However, other developers need to recognize that the benefits of affirmative action go to women of merit. Not just people who happen to have a vagina.

Problem? What problem?

@voodootikigod as long as there are no barriers for them, and I can't think of one, I don't see a problem.

Um, dude, if your site was loading in 18 seconds but you couldn’t think of any reason for it, would you decide you didn’t have a performance problem?

My experiences with sexism

I don’t usually share this stuff, because I’m not thinking about it most of the time, but these things happened to me:

  • I had a manager tell me I should stop writing code and focus on powerpoint and management, areas he found to be more in line with my talents. Was it because I’m a woman? I don’t know, but it does make me wonder how many women get pushed into management too soon, before they’ve had a chance to prove their technical chops.
  • At one company, I had to change desks because people kept asking to schedule appointments with a VP who sat nearby. Even after changing, they would walk past two guys to ask me. Someone suggested hanging a sign, “I’m not a secretary.” I was in a new job and I just wanted to fit in and code cool stuff not hang signs announcing things. There were only three women out of hundreds of engineers on my floor.
  • A guy whose opinions I usually trust said to me that he believes women’s brains are fundamentally different and that we aren’t wired to understand code. He then said I’m an exception because I’m smart, but I’m still doing something which is against my nature.
  • I once had someone tell me:

    That guy only wants to work with you because he wants to sleep with you. None of your ideas are that interesting, I’m just saying, don’t get mad, it is the only possible explanation.

    Ow. I might never get over that one. It still stings a year later. I don’t want special privileges, but on the other hand, it is easy to see how I’m facing a special kind of discrimination that probably wouldn’t happen to a man. No one is going to assume that a man is on stage because he looks good in a skirt.

    Did the guy want to sleep with me? Maybe, we’re human and those sorts of things can come up. It isn’t a big deal. What bothers me is the notion that if he wants to sleep with me, he is completely incapable of evaluating the merit of my ideas. Thus, even if I am granted the privilege of working with him, it says nothing about my skill, intelligence, or capacity for original thought. It is all about my sexuality.

  • All the ridiculous, but potent, self-doubt that goes along with being a woman-in-tech. I really am my own worst enemy. Maria Klawe calls it “impostor syndrome”.
  • A client asked to have a male coworker on a call with me, though he was several years my junior.
  • I was asked to speak at a conference. A guy whose talk was rejected said “you’re so famous, I wish I was a hot girl.”

Where have all the women gone?

@jdalton having to like dick jokes, having no peers, having ppl make sexist jokes & grope you .. definitely not barriers, nope.

I’m so sorry that rmurphey went through these things, and I’m very glad she stayed in the field because we are all better for it.

Maria Klawe also said that even the best women in a CS program are far more likely to drop out than the worst guys. When asked how they think they compare, these women consistently rank themselves far below their actual skill level. This means women aren’t good at judging their actual skill level or comparing themselves to others. They need mentors and a leg up, to help them do it. Women are also less likely to pester their boss until she finally relents to send them to a conference. Again, we need to actively invite talented women.

When Harvey Mudd changed their CS program admission criteria to accept a broader range of people, and stop selecting for the socially-challenged-uber-nerd, they found that everyone’s grades improved. It benefits everyone to have a diverse group of people in our field.

@rmurphey last time I checked right click view source didn't ask your gender.

Jdalton, you had made some good points, but at this point I’m less impressed. Are you really claiming that gender discrimination doesn’t happen? What we have here is a complete failure to empathize.

@jdalton and your point is? my point is: attending & fully enjoying a conf as a woman is weird & i don’t blame some for needing incentive.

And this is part of why it is great to meet Rebecca and other girl geeks. It is tiring to feel weird and stand out all the time. Ultimately, what we want is to stand out for the quality of our work. In order to do that, we need to eliminate some of the obvious gender inequities and find ways to rebalance the flow of new engineers. I believe this will make our products better, our work life better, and our conferences better. We have to be willing to really change things to make CS fit women better… it shouldn’t only be the women we are trying to change.

.@rmurphey women like you @stubbornella & @amyhoy are well respected in the dev community. is respect not enough for acceptance?

Getify, it sure helps, but it is only one small piece of a larger puzzle.



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205 responses to “Woman in technology”

  1. BANTY Avatar

    Nice work keep it up

  2. Stephanie (Sullivan) Rewis Avatar

    Well said, Nicole. If I weren’t writing a session I have to give at a conference this week, as well as taking care of three boys while my husband’s on the road, I’d love to add some thoughts. I have some strong opinions on brain lead and gender equality, etc. For now though, I’ll leave you with a hellz yea, and thanks for speaking clearly. 🙂

    Your sister from another mother,

  3. John Allsopp Avatar
    John Allsopp

    Well and bravely said Nicole.

    To my mind discrimination is an outcome. If women (or various ethnicities, etc etc) are under represented in a field, then there’s a very good chance there’s discrimination.

    In IT, it’s clear women are very much under represented. It’s all our responsibility to do what we can to fix it.


  4. Ms. Jen Avatar


    Thank you for posting this and calling it a sausage fest.

    I don’t know where to start, but yes, yes, and yes.

    In 1986, when I was 18, I had an appointment at Harvey Mudd to see if the school was a fit for me. After a rather bizarre conversation, the administrator in question suggested that I walk down to Scripps, the woman’s college just south of HM, to discuss admission with them as that would probably be a better fit.

    As there was no engineering department at Scripps, I spent my first two years taking science and math classes at Claremont McKenna and Pomona Colleges, before transferring away altogether to become an art major at a different university.

    In 1995, I returned to my love of geekery by teaching myself html. In the last 15 years, I have run my own web design business, gotten a Masters degree in CS, and every so often I attempt to get out of my girl shell to speak at conferences or apply for a development position at a big company.

    While I have a steady & lovely flow of clients via recommendation and I am proud of my portfolio, I have grown ever more uncomfortable with engaging the larger CS community, particularly the SF Bay Area folks, as I am very weary of the hardcore dev boys club. I am guilty of hiding my talents and self-doubting as it is easier than stepping up & out, as well as to publish & speak.

  5. Rhonda Avatar

    Thank you for writing this. I graduated from college in 1970. Computers were still fairly new then and there were only 30 computer majors in my graduating class. I graduated 1st in the class, the only other woman in the class graduated 2nd. All the men in the class got jobs right away, but it was a struggle for me and the other woman to find jobs. When we did, we were paid less than the guys in the class.

    It has been a struggle for women in this field for the entire 40 years I’ve been in it. I have no doubt that if I had been a man that with the skills and aptitudes that I have, I would have been much more successful than I have been. I’m doing pretty good though, I’m currently the head web developer for a very large website.

    The bad news is that if I ever have to look for work again, I’ll be fighting not only against sex discrimination, but age discrimination as well. Why is it that people who do hiring think 20-year-olds know more about computers than someone who has been programming computers twice as long as they’ve been alive?

  6. JimBastard Avatar

    Hey, I was wondering if you could provide any links of any large Open-Source projects which were created by / currently being maintained by a woman/women?

    Any information would be appreciated, thanks.

  7. Kyle Simpson Avatar

    I obviously respect you (and many other awesome devs in this industry who happen to be women) a lot. And I appreciate the sentiment of your article.

    But, I very much disagree with this assertion:

    “These days, bright, thoughtful, enlightened people assume that the absence of women in certain fields results from women being unable to compete on merit. The assumption that, if someone creates a scholarship for women, it is because otherwise, women can’t hack it.”

    I don’t think women have any characteristics that hinder them from competing in the dev/tech field based on merit. Moreover, I don’t know anyone in my field that would honestly admit that they think this way. I certainly wouldn’t characterize scholarship programs as being aimed at making up for a lack of merit.

    I think the more prevalent reason, not only that which is citied by activists on this topic, but the actual underlying reason that women don’t venture into the “code cowboy’s world” very often, is that a lot of women *choose* not to because they *believe* they won’t be welcomed or that they won’t feel comfortable.

    This perception/fear is probably rightfully earned by the scores of years of ugly overt sexism in this country’s history. But that doesn’t mean such active attitudes are still in charge and making majority decisions in the tech industry today. This perception may just be a lingering after effect in many women’s minds and yet still strong enough to cause them to shy away.

    The reasons for that belief and behavior are definitely varied and individual. Some women probably stay away because they prefer not to play in that “code cowyboy’s” world. Others may genuinely fear rejection based on only their gender.

    But I do think a lot of this has to do with the attitudes that women have toward the established norms of this industry. I think about the counter-examples, where women such as yourself have, through merit, hardwork, and maybe even luck, been able to break through those mental “barriers” and have been well-received and garnered great respect from the dev community. For each example of someone like you, there’s probably 100 women equally of merit who haven’t chosen to break the mold and push away those lingering attitudes.

    I think the many women who *have* succeeded and gained respect and following are not just exceptions but are “proof” that the community genuinely is willing to accept and embrace ignorant of gender.

    I honestly think the real focus of scholarship programs, and of blog posts and discussions on this topic like this, should be to help encourage more women of merit to set aside their assumptions and their fears and assertively put their ideas and skills out there for the community to recognize and reward.

    Focusing on the perception of lingering sexism (and implicitly assigning blame against men who are often decidedly *not* sexist) just delays the time when it will have faded enough that we can all put it behind us.

    I don’t mean to be too confrontational, but I genuinely believe this is just as much an issue of attitude in women devs on the sidelines as it is any remnants of outdated sexist attitudes on the part of the men already established in the community.

    I simply cannot fathom having a thought like “that woman can’t possibly code as good as that man can” or “that code is inferior because it was written by a woman”. When I judge something’s merit in the tech industry, the gender of the author or the proponent doesn’t even enter into the equation. Is that 100% true of everyone in the community? No. But I’d like to hope that it’s more true than not.

    I am definitely not saying sexism is totally gone. It happens, and its effects are still rippling through society. I’m just suggesting that a different focus may help us move beyond it quicker.

  8. Philip Kilner Avatar
    Philip Kilner

    I’d have doubts about the judgement of anyone who can’t see that there must be a reason for the under-representation of women in technology.

    We need to have enough of a critical mass of women in this sector that meeting a woman techie is not unusual – until we get to that point, I’m delighted to see Google give matters a shove in the right direction.

    On what planet can we afford to waste all that talent?

  9. John-David Dalton Avatar

    > Why should he assume that?
    I was responding to Chris picking on some random dev, bashing the guy repeatedly in tweet form because he shared his opinion. He went further and even attacked the dude for being a ruby dev. The links available in the context of the tweets pointed to JSConf EU’s site which had 0 information on the google grants at the time. I think it would be silly to try to jump to conclusions based on a few tweets exchanged during the course of a day filled with yard work, cleaning, and a fancy Italian dinner with my wife. You might also want to check out some of fringley’s tweets in response to the Twit-storm.

    > Problem? What problem?
    In this context I was thinking more of open source not having barriers as my next comment about `right click` would suggest.

    > The code cowboy
    I hope you aren’t suggestion some in the Twit-storm are `Cowboys` (read: poor devs). I am fairly certain there were more than a few pirates :{D

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @John-David Dalton – I included all the tweets that were in my stream, following the path back to the original. If I missed context, I apologize. Like I said, you made some good points, nobody wants unqualified people to be getting undeserved rewards. And yeah, the twitstorm was mainly a pirate thing. 😉

      @kyle – I’m pretty sure you and I agree on 95% of the thing

  10. Sara Chipps Avatar

    Amazing article!!!!

    A few points:

    I agree that women tend not to have the confidence some of the guys do when it comes to pimping and promoting themselves. See CShirky’s rant. I don’t know how I feel about this being positive or negative.

    I have experienced many of the same things you have, however, I’m generally pleased with the level of acceptance I’ve noticed. I often wonder if people in other fields maybe encounter a lot more *ssholery.

    Your solutions are great, we are working on one here in NY that we believe in a whole bunch. Check it here: http://GirlDevelopIt.com

    I believe the best way to combat this is to empower women to ship software. That way we can create the female role models that this field so desperately needs. Because I think we can all agree: being a developer kicks ass. What a great time to be involved in an awesome field!!!

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Sarah – do you have a link to the rant?

      CS is the only science with declining participation of women (EE is flatlined as I recall), so the data says this is as bad as it gets.

      OTOH, I love my work. Most of the guys I work with are lovely, amazing, sensitive and not intentionally sexist. I spend my days thinking how lucky I am to do what I love.

      I do wish the field was more accessible to women who aren’t as thick-skinned as I. Honestly, I know that most of the sexist stuff that goes on isn’t about me at all, I just happen to be present at the time. I think it is harder for girls just starting a CS program, who feel like guys already know all the answers.

  11. Tim Caswell Avatar

    I personally find it hard to avoid parts of the “code cowboy” attitude as you describe it. Especially feeling the need to stay up all night working to prove something The competition in the field is so strong it’s tangible. I also have a wife and two kids who need my time and it’s really hard to balance. I can only imagine someone who’s the primary caretaker just giving in and not pursuing the field, no matter how good they are. It’s simply too hard to be the cowboy and be a good wife and/or mother. (It’s not really easy as a father/husband either, but it’s what society expects).

    I think we just need to tone down the competition part of the culture and have life outside of coding. That will make us all better people.

    By the way, it was my older sister who taught me programming.

  12. Eric Ries Avatar

    Thanks for sharing your frank perspective. We need more open dialog on this topic.

    FWIW, I experience a lot of hostility from other men when trying to talk (and write) about this. So I am always looking for resources that lead to suggestions of ways we can make progress. I thought I’d share two.

    I found this story of the SF Ruby Meetup inspiring:

    And, of course, this preso is a classic, “How does biology explain the low numbers of women in computer science? Hint: it doesn’t.”

  13. Melissa Denton Avatar

    Nicole, You described this so well. As a woman lawyer, I face many of the same things you described so well. The discrimination is a bit less obvious because lawyers are more subtle about it, but your stories rang so true! Keep up the great communication.

  14. Amber-Lee Wolverton Avatar
    Amber-Lee Wolverton

    It was really great to read your article. I have struggled with the “woman in a man’s world” most of my life. As a teenager, I became a karate instructor at my studio. Even though I had earned the rank of 2nd degree black belt, I was still not given the same respect and at times was even forced to prove my skills. And now *many* years later I once again find myself the only woman in the room. It’s a difficult place to be and if anyone believes that there is no sexism in CS they are sadly mistake. In fact I was reading tweets about the Front End Conf this past weekend and I recall people joking about one of the presenters get more tweets about how “hot” she was as opposed to how great her presentation was.

    Don’t think we don’t notice the double take when they find out we are the developer. I manage my front end dev team and I have been fortunate enough to be currently working for a company that has never seen me for my gender, but I can attest that this experience is not the norm. In the past I have had my skills questioned and clients not take my word simply because I am a woman.

  15. agree Avatar

    Excellent post, leading by example, showing yourself to be intelligent, impartial, intellectually rigorous and generally all the things that cowboys are not. As a male working in this industry, I hope I’m not inadvertently falling prey to a negative stereotype when I state that in my experience, the most talented, professional, insightful, creative, efficient and allround just great to work with people have been women. Working with women also invariably contributes to a far more interesting and wide-ranging conversational culture that is not dominated with geeky macho preoccupations. Further, I completely agree with Google’s approach – we definitely need more women in this industry to counter the overwhelmingly macho cowboy-inspired directions it tends in. Well written Nicole.

  16. @ramblingdev Avatar

    Reading things like this makes me want to go and doubly encourage my company’s female developer. She’s part of my development team just like anyone else, and I’ve learned as much from her as any other male developer.

    I think the first step in all this is putting our egos aside. Why not take the opportunity to learn from another talented developer? Just because that developer is female? That’s kind of…petty. Get over yourself.

  17. Brittany Laughlin Avatar

    Great post!

    You said: “The problem compounds itself as women see no role-models for how to be a woman in this field, and only the very thick-skinned manage to stay in engineering and web development.”

    I think one of the problems is a failure to shed light on who the role-models are in this industry. I think it requires more self-promotion by the women leading the way. Caterina Fake and Laura Fitton (two of many) are great role models but they can only be so active- the panels they sit on, the events they attend, the industry commentary they make. We need more participation from those in the industry until we get more female participants.

    Girls In Tech is doing a great job of bringing together tech women but are there other resources to match female tech veterans to mentor those fresh to the field?

    Brittany Laughlin (@blocks8)
    Co-founder Gtrot

  18. Karl Tiedt Avatar
    Karl Tiedt

    Very well written and I would say very valid points across the board.
    Jim: DreamWidth (an LJ branch) has a very high ratio of women in its ranks of devs – I believe it was something like 60% but I could be remembering that conversation a bit wrong.

  19. daniel c Avatar
    daniel c

    i have to disagree. The university I studied comp sci at bent over backwards to encourage and support women in IT. your average male comp sci student also would like nothing more than to be sharing their classroom with more girls (duh). why is it that by third year all females had dropped out of comp sci bar one? youll have to ask them. my guess is there are far more glamorous and appealing disciplines of study involving far less hard work.

  20. JimBastard Avatar


    Link to code repository?

  21. hakunin Avatar

    Men are naturally dicks. They have very different dirty crappy giggling rotten mind set most of the time, and can’t help it. Currently that’s the place evolution has taken us. Some are different, but not enough yet. Explaining things really well is not enough of an effort to make the world a truly mutually acceptable playground for both genders. Douglas Adams talk titled “Parrots, the Universe, and Everything” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZG8HBuDjgc) puts it well — (in my own words) — when environment turns against the natural instincts of animals, the only way they know how to deal with it is to exhibit more of the same natural instincts. This way, the birds living in New-Zealand that learned to reproduce slowly due to the lack of predators, ended up trying to reproduce even slower when predators arrived. They put more effort into doing the only thing they knew. In order to fix that you need not training, but evolution. Evolution takes longer. Funny to think how in fine detail we’re all very reasonable diverse people, but on the big picture, we follow basic animal patterns.

    I’ma try be more specific now. Men need more female heroes to look up to in technology world. Yes men need them, not only women. More of them. I would say, the best way to go about fixing the problem of men contaminating an interesting science with condescending giggles, stares, one track mindedness, idiotic jokes, implications, and other types of ways we can be morons — is to step in and take the fuck over. Screw us, forget us aside, and do it. Thicker-skinned women should be establishing communities where they can maintain interests of women in technology in general. Create places where women can be encouraged to take interest in computer science, and to have fun without distractions (besides at home). (Afaik, this is already being done by people like Sarah Mei.) Keep meeting, setting up women-oriented events, and rocking the field to the point where people can’t live without your stuff. That’s all. Men will have to adapt and evolve. And seriously, screw negative comments about google’s decision. Who cares? There are bigger things to accomplish than addressing this bullshit.

    P.S. Was at your #txjs talk. Enjoyed it, thanks.

  22. Hendrik Avatar

    I guess that men are frightened. I would never take women not as an equal but back in my mind I know there is a difference. Because women and men will never be equal. You can see that in other fields of work were women are for example not trained because men feel that they might get laid off more easily if there is an equal woman.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would love to work with equals were the sex is unimportant. But there are two problems with that. The one is that if a woman gets a raise, men tend to think “It’s because she is a woman.” on the other hand if a female loses to a man you can’t deny that you might think “It’s just because I am a woman”. This, of course, has to stop to allow for women to be equal in a work environment. The right though should always be “It’s because I didn’t try hard enough, i have to work harder, yadda yadda yadda”. This obviously goes for both sides.

    Secondly, some women get extremely emotional about everything. I know that this is not true for all women and there are plenty that are perfectly capable of distinguishing between work and real life. Yet, I am currently working for a woman that takes everything emotional. Sorry, but sometimes this is unbearable. Noone will express criticism because she won’t talk to you for weeks after that. Although this example is one sided this also goes for both sexes. I guess men would overlook any accomplishment of a woman and get emotional themselves when they do not get what a woman has.

    Long story short, it’s a long way where both sides have the evolve to accept and understand equality. I always have to think about the movie “Starship Troopers” on that matter. And I hope that one time in the future there will be equality and mixed showers because this is somehow the image i have for it. There is no sexual side to this mixed showers. It’s equality but also something we might never achieve. Why? Because men will always get horny on the sight of naked women.

  23. Ryan McGrath Avatar

    Very well said. I found myself feeling kind of pissed off at the reactions and arguments that were flying around Twitter (specifically, the first comment by fringley). It’s a completely ridiculous reaction from someone with an even more ridiculous viewpoint. The point of the grant wasn’t even just because it was a “women” thing, it was (seemingly) intended to throw out real role models that people could look up to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all.

    This problem definitely needs more open discussion surrounding it; the way I look at it is this: by the time my little sister hits the age where she can freely use a computer (in regards to parental control issues, etc) she should feel perfectly fine in experimenting with programming. As it stands now, even if you’re not directly involved in the field or the tech side of things, there’s a really tough stigma to combat that I feel like pushes back against females and tech in general, which is just unacceptable. Great role models would do a lot to help combat this.

  24. RSA Avatar

    Quoting “Women don’t have female role models. Now, I don’t mean that we need to have deep tear-filled conversations about the perils-of-being-women-in-technology. I would like to talk to geek women about geeky stuff, not about being a woman.”

    Are you aware that the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a woman? I think she’s a good role model, being one of the most important person in the history of computer science.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @RSA – True indeed, however, I was thinking more of a role model I could talk to or even work with every day. She’s kind of dead. 😉

  25. Philip Tellis Avatar

    @daniel c:

    Why do you think that “your average male comp sci student also would like nothing more than to be sharing their classroom with more girls”, and do you think that that has anything to do with girls dropping out?

  26. cak Avatar

    I don’t object to Googles invitation at all, the more girls I see around the better. I do like a previous posters point, asking about open source developers, or iphone developers. Surely these barriers are very low for girls, since you can work on your own, in your own time, and don’t even need to inform anyone of your gender. I am sure there are plenty of girls who do this stuff, just also at the same levels of participation as other areas of IT.

    I don’t think girls brains are wired differenently, and I have worked with girls as designers before, without being a jerk to them, as well as one developer. I have never worked in a place that has seemed to treat women differently. Possibly there is another reason for this descrpancy?

  27. Jquery Avatar

    As someone married to a female software engineer who gets paid more than me, and justly so, I have to say all this talk of discrimination feels and sounds like sour grapes. I looked at your resume. You graduated in economics and 10 years later are an international evangelist for Yahoo. And yet you still have a problem with the industry. I’ve sen the industry twist itself into knots to accommodate females. Ease stop advocating for gender preferences before you give men a real reason to assume the woman sitting next to them is less skilled.

  28. Sara Chipps Avatar


    Here: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/

    It’s funny, because I was just thinking tonight about how I wish that I didn’t develop some of this thick skin, you know? I think sometimes it puts a barrier between even us and other females. I feel that this environment breeds very vocal and abrasive people. “There is no such thing as a famous programmer, just a loud one.” Hopefully folks like us can initiate change.

  29. Sara Chipps Avatar

    PS LOL @ “She’s kind of dead”

  30. Ari Avatar

    Thanks for wading into the muck here. I am not a coder, but I’ve always been involved in tech and have seen this type of stuff played out over and over again. As a conference organizer, l’ve seen some really inane, appearance-based feedback on speakers. It is always a reflection on the person making the comment, not the speaker.

    One thing you have listed under code cowboy:
    “Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when opportunities to … speak at conferences arise.”
    That doesn’t strike me as a particularly negative trait, unless the person really doesn’t have anything of worth to share and is just trying to get a free conference pass (hmm, can you tell I used to work for sxsw?).

    I think we should encourage anyone who discovers or develops a unique and powerful approach to a problem should share what they know. It helps everyone, and leads to further discovery & development. The “crowing about it” stage should be built into the life cycle of every great project.

  31. vishi Avatar

    As a male, I agree with your overall sentiments, and have sometimes pondered why there are so few women in the industry. However I do feel that a lot of the barriers you allude to apply to ‘normal’ men as well.

    Gender aside, I think the industry generally lacks professionalism and professional standards, is very susceptible to trends and fads, tends to favour those who talk the most/loudest (usually about the latest trend)….. but on the other hand is also filled with insecure individuals who worry they aren’t good enough or something, ultimately creating the unsavoury culture you have identified.

    Similarly, having attended a few conferences over the years, you couldn’t pay me enough money to go to another one (or perhaps you could, but realistically you couldn’t). The ego driven, wannabe alpha geek, cult of personality energy that permeates such events makes me feel ill.

    I would move into another field at the drop of the hat, but I’m too lazy and addicted to the money. I’m certainly not hanging around for the company.

  32. Jon Skeet Avatar

    Nice article.

    I end up *slightly* torn – or at least nervous – on this sort of thing. On the one hand, I *absolutely* want to see more women in the industry. I have no illusions about men being naturally better at coding in general. I have a suspicion that you’d find women are naturally better than men at *some specific aspects* of the overall “software engineer” role and vice versa. I wouldn’t like to guess what those aspects are in either direction, but I believe there *are* differences between men and women. Those should be celebrated and taken advantage of rather than hidden. I do believe that sexism in the industry has had a huge role to play in the disproportionality we see. (I think there are other reasons as well, to do with child care etc. That’s a whole different argument.)

    On the other hand, there’s affirmative action and affirmative action. I love the idea of reaching out explicitly to those who are less willing to come forward – but then applying the same value judgements as with anyone else. (I should point out that I work for Google, although I’ve had nothing to do with this scheme and don’t speak for Google.) That’s great – hopefully it can increase the proportion of women in the industry simply in terms of getting the right people to the right places.

    However, compare that with some forms of affirmative action that are more discriminatory. In the UK, some parties use “women only shortlists” for some constituencies. That means if I wanted to represent my local area in parliament, and I happened to live in one of those constituencies, I’d have no chance. Yes, I could move – but then I wouldn’t be representing my “real” local area. That’s just plain sexist. No doubt it will increase the proportion of women in parliament, but at what cost? In fact, I’d say it’s sexist against women too – it *implies* that those MPs wouldn’t have made it if they’d had to compete against men.

    The quote you provided about affirmative action talks about the *best* of affirmative action, but I think it’s worth recognising that there *are* unfair forms too.

    CJ Cregg (yes, entirely fictional, but…) puts it well in the West Wing: “After my father fought in Korea, he became what this government begs every college graduate to become. He became a teacher, and he raised a family on a teachers salary. And he paid his taxes, and always crossed at the green. And anytime there was an opportunity for career advancement, it took an extra five years because invariably there is a less-qualified black woman in the picture, so instead of retiring as superintendent of the Ohio Valley Union Free School District, he retired head of the math department at William Henry Harrison Junior High.”

    Have I ever been discriminated against like this? Not that I’m aware. I’ve had fabulous opportunities – better than I deserve, probably, although less to do with my gender than an ability to present myself reasonably well. I suspect most men *haven’t* been the victim of discrimination of the form CJ describes. However, I think it’s an understandable fear, and one which deserves to be addressed… so that the label “affirmative action” can attain a more positive connotation.

    If we can make AA more about working hard to find the best people we can, whatever their background, and less about filling quotas, that would be a good thing. I’m sure that in doing so, we will improve the proportions of women (and other under-represented groups) in software and other industries. Let’s make a huge stink if we *do* see genuine discrimination… which I *hope* is becoming less and less “socially acceptable” in the workplace already. On the other hand, please don’t assume that everyone who expresses some wariness at blanket AA is doing so from a position of sexism.

  33. Oli Avatar

    I live in Japan and find myself getting annoyed when Japanese people assume I won’t be able to understand them based on my non-Japanese face. Occasional displays of ‘I just peed my pants a little in surprise because you said “konnichi-wa”’ can also grate. Some may see this as a sign I’m weak or insecure (and sometimes that’s true), but until you’ve been the minority… Maybe empathy really does take more imagination than some ppl have. I just want to be treated as “just” another person, not a *foreign* person or a person who obviously won’t be able to understand Japanese.

    The more women in tech the better I say — power to ya sistahs! .m

    PS by in large almost anyone I got those reactions from was interested in talking to me and not doing it to denigrate — for all of Japan’s monoculture Japanese people are really interested in foreigners. But even when it’s “nice” it still can suck

  34. Daniel Miessler Avatar

    I think you almost stumbled on the real reason there are fewer women in tech when you said that tech fields select for masculine traits. That’s pretty much it, but extend it out beyond just a single field.

    You mention video games. What are people doing mostly in video games? They’re hunting, solving complex problems, and killing stuff. Ask most women and you’ll find that these things are not how they choose to spend their time.

    Look at Wall Street traders. They stand up and scream for hours at a time in a highly competitive environment.

    These are things that most women just don’t *like* to do.

    You can make the argument that society forced women to dislike these things via programming, but the science is showing this to be false. You can take very young children of different genders and they will pick certain tasks or play styles above others right down the gender line.

    There are differences that are innate to the genders, and those differences are reflected in the environments that they choose. Yelling and screaming on a stock floor is not enjoyable to most women–it is for many more men. Hence, the profession is like 95% male.

    Programming today involves endless puzzle-solving and many hours alone focused on lines of text on a screen. Most women don’t find that interesting or compelling in any way. You can’t blame anyone for that. Not women, and not men.

    The truth about these types of things are often unpleasant, but so is the fact that there is no God. We need to grow up and accept reality if we want to advance as a species, and step 1 is accepting that men and women are different and it’s not “better” or “worse” if one gender prefers a certain type of activity.

    And if one gender happens to enjoy, or be predisposed to, things that happen to make more money in our society, then that’s just reality.

    What we should guard against is prejudice against women who DO want to be in those fields, since, as you pointed out, there are no intellectual barriers to their success in the field. In other words, the problem occurs when most men think a woman who does want to be a programmer must not be as good as most men since most women don’t WANT to be programmers.

    That’s where the logic flaw occurs, and that’s what we need to push back against.

    So, the way to do this is NOT to try and ram something untrue down our throats (that women and men want to be programmers in equal amounts, and the bad, evil men keep them out). No, instead we should be teaching that many professions reward masculine traits so MOST women don’t like to be in them. BUT, and this is a big but…when women DO select to be in those fields they have the potential to thrive just as much as men do, so anyone who shows up and says “I want to be a programmer” should be considered an equal.

    That’s the path we should be on.

  35. eric Avatar

    Great article Nicole, thanks for speaking out. I’m always shocked at how little discrimination is understood, especially in relation to gender. This is sad.

    OTOH: If some dude can list two respected women in the field, there can’t really be a problem, right? Right? What more could you want?

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @eric – if “some dude” can name three respected women who are speaking at that very conference, I think what we have is progress. Baby steps, yes, but progress none the less.

  36. Ron Derksen Avatar

    I wonder if this situation is worse in the US than it is in Europe. At the company where I work, there are several female developers, who are as proficient (or more) at their jobs as their male counterparts. I also haven’t witnessed any blatant sexism towards them. The same also goes for my previous jobs.

    However, most women I encounter in this line of work, work as designers, testers or business/information analysts. The hardcore backend programming work (i.e. Java in this case) is done by men. In my opinion, that’s not because the men are being chauvinist pigs, but because women *think* that the job isn’t interesting. If the subject comes up, the women I encounter think that IT jobs are boring desk jobs that are only suited to nerds. They don’t (want to) see the challenge in solving a tricky coding problem.

    But again, the European, and more particularly, the Dutch culture is more open than the anglosaxon (US/UK) culture. That might explain the difference. And yet, despite the cultural differences, female coders are few and far between, even here. And I certainly love working with any good developer, male or female!

  37. Marisa Avatar

    “I hope there’s one for the guys”

    It definitely sounds like jealousy of a cool thing, but it also seems to say that there couldn’t possibly be a fully *rigorous* intellectual competition without including men. Like, the best of the best of women would only rank in the 50th percentile over all. I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds ridiculous. Way to go Google for being a cool company yet again.

    If the contest had been for men only, I’m not sure how I would feel. Probably jaded and relieved that I didn’t feel the pressure to put myself out there and submit. We’re sometimes too ok with letting the opportunities pass us by.

    The comment that women respond better to direct invitations… do you know of any sources that say that? I’ve made that point before when discussing http://www.infosecmentors.com, and I think it’s very true, but I would love corroboration.

  38. daniel c Avatar
    daniel c

    @Ron Derksen: this has also been my experience

    @Philip Tellis: why would this have anything to do with girls dropping out?

  39. Tobias Avatar

    While I’m terribly nervous about what I’m about to say because I rarely enjoy stepping on people’s toes, I do believe that the experiences my wife & I made might shed some new light onto this debate:

    We are both active members of a well-known hacker organisation, which holds several events & conferences on a yearly basis. My wife, a top-of-her-class computer sciences geek, spent years fighting over little things concerning equality within the group & trying to rise the number of female geeks by holding workshops for girls interested in soldering, hacking, coding or website-design.

    Some years down the road we became friends with someone who would turn out to be a feminist of before unknown proportions. She’d quickly established herself in the unwritten hierarchy of the group & pushed what my wife had started forward. My wife did not like where she was heading with this & after a time of trying to consolidate, she heavy-heartedly quit.

    Her “successor” in all things feminist within the hacker-organization gave the female movement within the group a cute little nickname and managed to obtain one large conference room on the site where the conferences are held only for use for these female members.

    This development of course had negative effects: instead of integrating females into the group, this misguided over-gratification led the female hackers to become prisoners, locked up in their self-made tower. By erecting a clear barrier of “Us & Them” years of integration-progress was destroyed.

    I am deeply sorry that @rmurphey and others have had bad experiences on conferences. There is no excuse for sexism. But instead of reacting by spotlighting females and thereby explicitly excluding them from the group in which they are trying to establish themselves, let’s try to think of something more subtle:

    Around the same time my wife stopped her feminist activism within the group, she got to know another female hacker who is now one of our closest friends. This geeky girl didn’t want to hear anything about hacker-feminism. Her statement was simply: “Shut up & do!”. She believes that women will establish themselves by shutting up about their disadvantages of being a woman & creating / building / coding / hacking awesome stuff.

    By creating works that will WOW! peers male & female alike, women can make inequality disappear. But as long as they label their own works “Look, I made this ALTHOUGH I am a woman” this cannot happen. I don’t know about the rest of society, but I am certain that in geeky circles, equality will be established by making geeks forget to think about the differences.

    To bring this story to an positive conclusion, my wife & I by chance moved to the same city this friend of ours did & because there was no decent regular hacker-meeting established there, we started one & our female quota is > 50%. Both my wife & our friend have found very good jobs in this city as usability-consultant & coding-goddess respectively & are respected for their extraordinary works. Not only don’t they have any use for a separate female-hacker-room on the next conference, but they are the ones filling the lecture-halls with their presentations – Just like @stubbornella does!

  40. Ryan Bigg Avatar

    What a wonderfully well-written article!

    It’s always great to see great women in technology doing great things! We need more!

  41. Suw Avatar

    Great post, Nicole. Very well written.

    Our lack of female role models is something that I believe we can do something about, which is why I started Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in tech and their achievements. (findingada.com, 24 March each year). Really, a role model is someone that we admire and talk about, so that seems like a winnable battle to me!

    But it’s a shame that on such a well considered post, some of the commenters haven’t been able to put aside their own prejudices and faulty logic for long enough to examine the issue properly.

    To the ‘I don’t see any women having problems, so no women can be having problems’ brigade: Really? You don’t believe there’s an issue so there isn’t? I suggest you spend some time talking to the techie women you know with an open mind and sympathetic ear, and you might discover a few things that surprise you. Many women who experience discrimination don’t like to bang on about it in public because they don’t want to distract from the work they do, and they don’t want the negative attention that they would receive if they did raise the subject.

    To the ‘Women could do it if they just had the right attitude’ brigade. Hm, now, how do I say this politely? Oh, that’s right, I don’t. Fuck you. Blaming women for the discrimination they experience is epitome of bigotry.

    Some women do need support developing certain career-expanding skills, such as public speaking or how to ask for a promotion, but that’s because the discrimination they face hinders their natural learning curve, not because they have the wrong attitude. Men are encouraged, from a pretty young age, to speak out, to ask for more, to put themselves forwards. Women are taught, from a pretty young age, that such behaviour is unbecoming, and that any woman who puts herself forward is a hussy or – you guessed it – has an attitude problem.

    ‘Men are just dicks, they can’t help it’. Bullshit. That’s actually quite insulting to men – I know many who are not dicks, who do not have crappy giggling rotten minds. Of course, some men do, but to use that as an excuse for why they discriminate is a nonsense. Women should not need to grow thicker skins; they should be respected for their abilities without having to become extra-tough.

    ‘Men and women are different, so can never be equal’. Damn, I’m repeating myself, but bullshit. Equality does not mean sameness. You may be right that companies prefer to train men (goes back to post WWII, after Rosie the Riveter ‘had to’ become Rosie the Home Maker so that returning GIs had jobs to do on their return from war), but that is itself discrimination and needs to be fought.

    ‘Women get emotional.’ Oooooh, fuck you sideways. You may be having a bad experience with a colleague, but to generalise that to all women is just showing your prejudices. (Oh, and about your colleague: have you thought that perhaps you’re being unnecessarily combative towards her? The tone of your comment indicates that you’re not very good with subtlety and nuance, so perhaps the problem is you, not her.)

    ‘Talk of discrimination is sour grapes.’ I think you need to go back to Empathy 101. Given how widespread discrimination is in the tech industry, you need to either talk to more women or even just open your eyes. The fact your wife gets more pay than you doesn’t mean all women are compensated commensurate with their skill and experience level.

    ‘Affirmative action’ is a can o’ worms, but I suspect mainly because of the perception of unfair privilege given to under-represented minorities, rather than because of any actual unfairness. The fact that one example you give is fictional is quite telling. People imagine unfairness because it’s very easy to imagine, but is there genuine evidence of it? Especially in tech? Are skilled men getting passed over because of affirmative action towards women?

    ‘Women just don’t like working hard and solving puzzles.’ What the hell do you think that women do all day? Do you honestly think that our lives run so smoothly that we never have to work hard or solve a problem or a puzzle? I get hired to solve problems. In fact, I’ve spent most of my working life, one way or another, working hard and solving problems. I am not alone. I can’t think of any woman I know who doesn’t have problems or puzzles, sometimes significant, to solve.

    ‘Women don’t think the job is interesting’. Also bullshit. If you’re talking about the general population, most of them don’t think that tech is interesting (in places like the UK, where CP Snow’s Two Cultures divide is rampant, that’s just basic technophobia at work). I know loads of non-coding women who think that being able to build something would be really fucking cool, and who could have learnt coding when they were younger if anyone had bothered to encourage them (many learnt a bit and then dropped it). Learning to code is time-intensive though, and given that many women are not just in the workforce but also have primary responsibility for home and family, finding several hours a week, for weeks on end, to learn *anything* is tough. This is a societal problem, not women’s problem.

  42. Jo Jordan Avatar

    I shock my Gen Y students with this line. You are not responsible for the ongoing discrimination in places like Google, BP or anywhere else. There is nothing wrong with charging them a higher salary for the privilege of having a woman on their team. They made the situation. You have value over and above the work you do.

    I’ll also ask you whether the career route you are taking is necessarily good for you. It may be. But are the mentors you are choosing going to work with you to produce good work or are they going try to shape you in their image and and live their lives for them?

    The second is silly (and vaguely sick). The trouble is that we are attracted to the comfort of a big salary in a large corporation. It is a good bribe. Just make sure that what you are being bribed to do is what you wanted to do anyway!

    And if you are correcting their past discrimination for them, why? Charge! I know it’s a provocation line but think about it. It’s worth 25% on your salary at least!

  43. […] geyser up numerous times over last few years, and while reading another instance of it here I decided to capture my opinion on the topic.I believe the reason there are fewer women than men in […]

  44. Neil Bartlett Avatar

    Nicole, with the greatest respect, it appears that you’re saying that women should be invited to conferences — as opposed to men who can invite themselves — because women are less assertive or attention-seeking.

    Aren’t you reinforcing a gender stereotype yourself right there? These are not inherently male characteristics, and many men are also not assertive or attention-seeking. I am naturally introverted but am now a regular speaker at conferences because I saw the benefit to my career of *forcing* myself to do what I felt to be highly unnatural.

    On the other hand I appreciate that no woman wants to put herself into a situation where she will be subjected to sexist jokes, groping etc. But is affirmative action necessarily the best solution to this problem? Wouldn’t we get better results by severely punishing (and publicly shaming!) the offenders?

  45. Tola F. Avatar

    I read this and I was just like Wow!
    Since my Uni days, I’ve been used to having 6-7 guys in my class for every girl, sometimes even worse and that hasn’t changed since I started working, infact I think it has gotten worse. I guess I’ve just learnt to accept it, hope that it would change and just go with it.
    That said, I have been blessed with the men whom I’ve worked with. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been in the technology industry for that long (close to 10 years most of it Uni years) but I’m honestly not sure how I would take it if some people said the things they said to you Nicole!
    Like you all have said, sometimes it’s about feeling threatened when it comes to the guys. Even if the guys are acting up, I just have to look at the support I get from my women folk and it drives me even more. Maybe this might not always be enough but for now, it works for me.

  46. Dan Avatar

    I came across this through hacker-news today. You have so many great things to say that I’m a bit gob-smacked to have been unaware of your site. I think I’ll enjoy going through it. You “had me” (R.Z.esq) at “carpenter” and “cowboy”. I can tell you that the relevance of your cowboy checklist obtains in science academia, as well.

  47. Pierre Avatar

    I’ve been programming for forty-five years. I have two bright daughters for whom I wish the best. The simple fact is that you have to be an obsessed fanatic, and slightly autistic to excel at programming. Women are too sensible to get sucked into this lifestyle.

    Women are every bit as intelligent and capable. I suspect they just don’t see the point.

    I have a theory that men seek activities that absorb their attention and focus their minds: golf, fishing, sports, whatever. Programming is one way of fulfilling this need.

    Western Civilization was preserved by copist monks. Name a monastery of copist nuns.

  48. Wulf Avatar

    It’s the same the world over, from school to university: elect courses in IT are simply not taken by girls, they don’t usually get a degree in CS, they are generally not interested in technology. Why is it that way? I don’t know but the “sausage fest” and special IT male culture are a result of this and not the cause. What could little girls know of software development or the culture? All they know is that other girls won’t respect them for playing games or being into computers.

    The openings we had over the last few years we tried filling with women but there simply weren’t any applicants. The culture is not at fault. Affirmative action will harm the cause, after all what achiever wants handouts before they even get started?

  49. derloos Avatar

    The problem was tried from the wrong angle for many years – FORCINg women into the trades rather than encouraging them. Special treatment seems like the former, not the latter – at least because it creates more [suppressed] sexism rather than fights it.

    Otherwise I’m effing tired of women this and men that. People. Give me smart people concentrated on their job rather than intersexual fights.

  50. Faruk AteÅŸ Avatar

    Gender equality is where society will eventually find itself, but it is still far from where we are today. Discrimination is incredibly rampant when you know what to look for—much of it is fairly harmless on a case-by-case basis, but the cumulative amount of it weighs down on society quite heavily, still. Fortunately for us, the tech sector is relatively progressive, and I think you, Nicole, can attest to the differences in Tech versus, say, the carpenters world.

    But we shouldn’t let that fact delude ourselves into thinking that Tech is free from gender discrimination. It’s something I’m reminded of regularly when I hear guys talking about widely known geek girls like Justine Ezarik or Veronica Belmont. Girls I know personally, and whom I greatly respect—not for their “pretty smiles” or the presence of female body parts, but because I know they work hard, are talented and dedicated, and do great things.

    Prettiness is a nice bonus, I guess, but the way I hear some guys talk about them you’d think that these girls’ looks was all they had going for them. So terribly untrue, and it speaks volumes about the emotions those guys are dealing with (or rather, are failing to deal with). Meanwhile, it’s something that women have to counteract constantly, while at the same time doing the work that guys do, except women have to do work on top of it to prove themselves.

    The discrimination barrier adds up like a wall made out of a billion grains of sand. It can be overcome, and the more women there are to serve as great role models for others, the more women will attempt to follow suit. But to deny that it’s there is just a cop-out from acknowledging that you’re part of the problem.

    The only reason that gender equality (much like true racial equality, etc.) will be where society will find itself eventually, some day far into the future, is because there are people fighting for it and making a stand.

    And I’d rather stand with them, than in the way.

  51. Damien McKenna Avatar

    It should be noted that in the Drupal community some of the most well respected developers & designers are female, including the co-maintainer for the new version due for release shortly. There’s also an online user group to support the female developers (called “Drupalchix”) and they tend to always have extra meetings during the annual conventions to further aid the movement.

    On a side note, I used to participate in (Gaelic) football inter-school competitions in elementary school. Traditionally a “boys-only” game, though the regulations called for it to be both boys and girls, my school’s team’s best players were girls for several years running, even when they were some of the youngest on the team. On one particular year when our team was very successful and won many games against other schools, it was refreshing to see many onlookers do a double-take when they saw how good our team’s female players were, especially when they were responsible for our team’s record scores 🙂

  52. JR Kincaid Avatar
    JR Kincaid

    Our culture starts genderizing early. Go into a baby store, from clothes to crib sets they scream girl or boy. Maybe we should leave being a girl or boy as a Victorian idea it is and instead concentrate on growing the best people.

    Another insidious trend that I think a lot of people fall pray to is the race towards average in middle and high school. The average American will not be successful. Often kids see slacking as a way to fit in. I can see how girls could fall for this more as they are more likely to base happiness at that age on being accepted and feeling desirable. Not to say people do not transcend this issue (sure it happens all the time) but it does set a bad foundation for the rest of your life if you don’t.

    Just some thoughts. I am usually more impressed when I see successful females in technology. Discrimination, Conservative Gender Roles, lack of role models are very big issues. But I think overall we are trending in the right direction. Setting up successful careers for the next generation is a long term project.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @JR Kincaid – you couldn’t get me out of my tutu when I was five, and yet I love geekery. On the other hand, I do identify with what Maria Klawe mentioned when she said boys dominate computer time. My brother, two years younger, set up a system where we alternated games. The problem was, he was better than me, so his games lasted longer. Over time, this compounded as he got better from more time on the nintendo. Eventually, I was barely playing while he would spin through level after level. I didn’t want anyone to take away my tutu, but as a parent, I hope I’ll step in to even things out a bit if there are obvious inequities. At the time, alternating seemed fair to me.

  53. EstherBCM Avatar

    I think that the issue is that most men have difficulty understanding the sexism that women still encounter.

    I went to an all girls school where I was repeatedly warned of such things and trained to act almost like a man in order to counter act such situations. I went on to study astrophysics, a largely male dominated course, and then went into finance prior to UX Design.

    Now there were plenty of women who were successful both in the university and also at my former employers. The unfortunate assumption however, especially at my finance job, was that if you were successful as a woman you had either slept your way to the top or stripped yourself of your feminity in order to be taken seriously by the men. In fact my male line manager, in one of my roles, told me that the only reason that I managed to get the job was because I was not married with kids and did not seem to have any plans to have some in the future. Had I been in a stable relationship at the time I would not have gotten the job because whilst I was by far the best candidate he couldn’t be bothered to find someone to cover me if I went on maternity leave. The irony of it is that he did have to find someone to replace me as I was promoted within 6 months to a higher role!

    I left that environment in order to create a different working environement at Border Crossing Media. I am still the only woman in the company ( well there are only 4 people!) however we see this as strength rather than a weakness. I have never felt within the company that I am treated any differently then the men and I give my opinions as an equally valued person not a different sex. That being said there are still some of our outsourcers that I need to get my colleague to deal with directly as they seem to not take me as seriously because I won’t understand?!?!?! We don’t work with them for long.

    I think it is a shame when you think of all the hard work that has been put in by women over the last 100 years in order to make it a fairer society for us and yet we still have to face these issues on a daily basis. I am unfortunately a firm believer that there is still a glass ceiling for women working in larger organisations but I hope that there will be some cracks appearing soon.

  54. Sabrina Dent Avatar

    Nicole, with the greatest respect, it appears that you’re saying that women should be invited to conferences — as opposed to men who can invite themselves — because women are less assertive or attention-seeking. Aren’t you reinforcing a gender stereotype yourself right there? These are not inherently male characteristics

    Yes, they are – they may not be genetic but they are heavily socialized by gender. There are many, many sociology studies that tell us women are LESS LIKELY to assign themselves authority – which is exactly what you need to do to put yourself forward to speak at a conference. The same studies tell us women are much MORE LIKELY to work cooperatively, which is exactly what you need to sit on a (yawn) panel.

    When you see no women speaking at a conference, it communicates a message: this conference is not for you. If you do not want to communicate that message, the metrics tell you that you need to actively invite women speakers. You can actively invite them to submit and then pull from that pool and that’s fine, but you need to extend the invitation or you just will not get the numbers.

    You don’t have to like that, but that doesn’t change it.

  55. jdk Avatar

    Does this mean girls (100% even?) with the same SAT and high school GPA of guys should be given full scholarships to study CSCI at university?

    It would certainly increase enrollment and it seems along the same line of thought as Google’s initiative. I want more females in my CSCI classes, but I would definitely object to giving scholarships based on anything besides SAT and GPA (merit).

  56. alicetiara Avatar

    This is a wonderful post and I very much appreciate you posting it. I’m working on a section of my dissertation about gender and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley (the whole dissertation isn’t about that, just one sub-section in a chapter) and the stats for company founders in the tech industry are even worse than the stats for engineers.

    Over and over again, I encountered blatant sexism and discrimination against women in Silicon Valley. It obviously didn’t manifest in “No Girls Allowed” signs, and I’ve worked in tech since the mid-1990s and only felt a few instances of obvious sexism against me. But often, I’ve found, when men imagine sexism, they imagine a man saying to a woman “you can’t get this job because you are a woman.” This is a failure of imagination; obviously, discrimination doesn’t usually happen this blatantly. To say that because there are no obvious barriers to women participating, that there is no experience of discrimination, reflects an awfully basic understanding of structural discrimination (e.g. bias against women, men of color, queer people, etc. is built into the basic structures of the industry).

    I’m happy that many men and women are taking up this cause and working to change it. I do understand why some people– again, men and women– get their hackles up against it, but it is really no skin of anyone’s nose if there are more women in engineering. I think it can only benefit everyone. In fact, there are plenty of studies showing that more diverse teams come up with better solutions and therefore better products.

  57. Danny Moules Avatar
    Danny Moules

    What do ‘code cowboys’ and ‘good developers’ have to do with gender, unless you are making a presumption that women are in some way inherently superior as developer s- which falls into the bigot trap? It makes no logical sense to bring it into the discussion and I’m confused as to why you did.

    Oh and your definition of ‘Good developer and ‘code cowboy’ are, for the most part, not mutually exclusive. A logician can note that he is three standard deviations higher on the IQ scale than his colleagues without being an ass about it. Your gross stereotypes only demean your argument more.

    You also use the term discrimination to suggest that there is some form of discrimination, but provide no evidence for such. You simply state that societal values shape how women think of themselves – which isn’t discrimination – it’s societal dogma, something entirely different and dealt with entirely differently. ie. Positive discrimination won’t help do anything!

    And remember: positive discrimination is still discrimination. Some guy of equal or maybe even better ability just lost his chance at an opportunity.

    And if it doesn’t change anything – since the problem is society, why the hell inject arbitrary unfairness? Karma? The males have it good so get some small measure of revenge?

    An illogical attitude like that doesn’t have a place in a logical field such as development.

  58. aguy Avatar

    I don’t know about other groups, but my group of cs friends (male and female) don’t discriminate against women. You keep claiming that code cowboy attitude is the reason why women are discriminated. My experience is thay code cowboy-ism is not appreciated. There are many women in cs that’s great at what they do; I know women who are good that I don’t actually personally get along, and then there are those whom I’ve known from high school, and hang out with.

    I know someone who I’d consult if I wanted to build a robot; if I wanted to build a blog; and if I wanted to build a site to control a robot in Japanese. All of them are females, and they have my respect (and admiration esp for the Japanese master of robotics student)

    I’ve also met women in cs who didn’t cut the mustard, who are struggling academically, who I do question how they could go so far into the program based on what they have demonstrated.

    Did you consider that by assuming that all guys are discriminating against you, you read everything we do into that mould? We can collaborate with one another on a project, and still be critical on one another’s strength and weaknesses. I’ve been complemented, and been criticized, yet not felt that what’s in my pants has to do with it. Why should you?

    Your analysis gives me the impression that you act like the following: if I praise your work, it’s because you’re female. If I say you’re not quite there, because you’re female. You go through cs like any other person, and we discriminate. You go through cs with a scholarship, and we discriminate. Then the set of things that we do that won’t be taken as discrimination is empty.

  59. Jonathan Conway Avatar

    I have some agreements and some objections regarding this post.

    I agree that, as genders, women have equal intelligence to men.

    I’m not a “geek cowboy” and I find the attributes of that personality very childish and lame. These people get so engrossed in programming that they lose touch with reality. I program for a purpose. I get satisfaction from solving business problems, designing elegant systems and earning a fat paycheck.

    I disagree that “affirmative action” is the answer. You don’t deal with a problem like discrimination by accepting it as a reality and then trying to “compensate” for it. The compensation itself would then become a source of further discrimination and eventual backlash.

    The correct solution is time. As more and more women realize that they have genuine talent and seek to promote it, it will become harder and harder to ignore.

    Daniel Hale Williams eventually received the acclaim and admiration he deserved, despite the racist sentiments of those around him.

    The sexists will be proven wrong by individual female geniuses who’s actions speak for themselves. Not by anti-discrimination laws nor by any kind of “affirmative action”.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Jonathan Conway – Time doesn’t work when participation by women is *getting worse*. There are fewer (as a percentage) female computer-geeks now than there were in 1980. Check out some of the Maria Klawe stuff. Her talk about “Gender, Lies, and Video Games” is mind bending.

  60. DT Avatar

    During my CS undergrad I always felt weird and out of place as well. I generally didn’t find the same things funny as my fellow CS students/profs. I had different interests and hobbies. I viewed my non CS courses as a huge breath of fresh air both literally and figuratively (protip: try deodorant once in a while guys). Did I mention I’m a guy?

    Also please don’t get hung the whole video gaming angle. To me that represents a played out stereotype. Nevermind the fact that some(most?) of CS’ greatest minds were/are not gamers. You want a cool CS role model? Show me someone who is smart as a whip and can code with their eyes closed, tinkers around with their car/motorcycle, makes yummy experiments in the kitchen, eats real food, runs/climbs/surfs/bikes, and generally up for anything. Now *THAT* is a compelling role model – male or female.

  61. Kyle Simpson Avatar

    @Nicole — good, I’m glad we agree more than disagree. 🙂

    @Tobie — I think that’s a fantastic story and a great level-headed example for this discussion.

    @Suw — wow. rant much? is that type of insulting attack how you generally get across your ideas?

    I’m in the “Women could do it if they just had the right attitude brigade” and I make no apologies for it. Sorry if that’s so outrageously offensive to you. But the reason it’s so outrageous is because you completely missed the point.

    The point was not to blame women for the past discrimination. Clearly the sexists own that blame. The point was actually: if a woman of merit is currently not experiencing active discrimination, but she acts in such a way as to be so gun-shy about possible sexism toward her (or borrowed sexism others have) that she never puts herself out there, this is a detrimental attitude to have, and it further prolongs the effects of past discriminations. And btw, any guy that has a similar attitude is also missing the boat.

    You act as if every time a woman dev releases a project, a pack of blood-thirsty wolves descend on her and tear her apart. Like the tech industry is just so flagrantly unfriendly to women that there’s perfectly just cause for droves of them to stay far away. That’s just a ridiculous mis-characterization of how the tech conference world currently works.

    In reality, there are some inequalities in the tech industry, and that sucks. But there’s also a whole bunch of us that don’t care about gender at all and we’re missing out on great women devs and their awesome ideas because many of them have collectively taken the “silent majority” attitude on the side lines based either on a few of their own negative experiences or worse based only on the borrowed “pain” of other women.

    When you insist that the tech industry is still actively sexist or bigoted, you are actually forcing your own hateful stereotype upon the many who, like myself, wouldn’t care in the slightest the gender of a person who brings great ideas out.

    Many of us have tried to move to a more productive and fair tech community, and then we’re reminded that some, like you, are still trying to wallow in the hate. How is that helpful, either to women OR to men?

  62. tiffany Avatar

    @ Jim: Sara Goleman is a major PHP core contributor. Steph Fox contributes to PHP-GTK. Amy Griffis is a Linux kernel security developer.

    Source: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_FLOSS

    Google is your friend.

  63. Steven Degutis Avatar

    Just to throw in my 2 cents here… I think a huge part of the equation is the fact that boys and girls are conditioned to think a certain way from a young age. Look at magazines and TV and ads and movies… girls are taught to be small, quiet, un-intrusive, to take up less space, to care about their own appearance and the appearance of others, to be “sensible” and not take risks, to put others above themselves, to enjoy dress-up games and to think math is hard. Likewise, boys are encouraged to be big, play loudly, take up a lot of space, to take risks, to think of themselves first, to enjoy violence and conflict, to aspire to be a rockstar, to swear, to excel at anything in academia, to smoke and drink. We’re brought up from a young age to try and fit into these stereotypes, or at least a “healthy” subset of them. How many times have you seen developers described as or describe themselves as “rockstar programmers”? Look on craigslist for developer jobs, you will see the question “are you a rockstar developer?” quite often. You will also see ads for programmer jobs which advertise that the company is laid back, often citing that they do things like play video games and use nerf guns in the office! If that isn’t proof, I don’t know what is.

  64. Kyle Simpson Avatar

    @Suw – and btw, you completely fabricated most of the other “crowds” that you address in your comment. You basically just ranted on about a bunch of negative stereotypes that you believe exist somewhere in the tech universe and attributed them to the commenters of this post, which is not only misrepresentative, but propogates the “hate” that you seem to stand in opposition to.

    For instance, if there really are idiots out there who actually say “Men and women are different, so can never be equal” (they certainly weren’t commenters on this post) you called attention to them far more than their otherwise marginalized opinions would have been heard.

    *Fact: men and women do have a lot of differences. That doesn’t make men and women less *equal*, it’ just makes us less *same*. I believe we absolutely can be equal without being identical. It’s actually a great thing to celebrate those differences, because such differences are responsible for most of the best parts of society. A homogenous “sameness” would not only be boring, but it’d be counter-productive.

  65. Chelsea Avatar

    I’m waiting for the blog post that will start talking about men being under-represented in scrapbooking. It’s a crime, I tell ya. We need more men in scrapbooking. It must be intimidating for guy to walk into a scrapbooking session, what with all the women in the room that know how to use scissors and razor blades so well.

    I wonder how many times this question has been explored to no avail. I have a feeling this is one of those things that “just is”, like a dearth of male dental hygienists or female auto mechanics. I certainly don’t have answers. Just about everything said up above by everybody is true to some degree. Yes, some men are dicks. And yes, some women need to grow a thicker skin.

    And where can I go take Empathy 101? Also, does all that sideways fucking make one’s vag sore?

  66. Azz Avatar

    @Jim — Dreamwidth repository is here: http://hg.dwscoalition.org/
    Also, the Organization for Transformative Works’ Archive of Our Own project, http://transformativeworks.org/projects/archive, I believe has more female developers than Dreamwidth. Not sure offhand exactly where they keep their repository, though.

  67. Eddie Avatar

    Hello Stubbornella,

    I appreciated your article. I largely agree with it. There is only one thing I wanted to comment on:

    > Women are less likely to jump up and say “me! me! me!” They are far more
    > likely to wait to be asked to participate. We don’t need women to be different
    > than they are, we just need to invite them in a way that works. Hell, I spent 8
    > years coding CSS before I ever spoke about it to anyone. The first time I spoke
    > at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would
    > have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter
    > that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.

    I interpreted this section as implying the following things:

    A) many women will tend to prefer to be invited to participate rather than join a conversation
    without prompting

    B) joining a conversation without prompting, or submitting a proposal uninvited, is “acting like a dude”

    C) a woman shouldn’t have to act like a dude to get respect

    If I have misinterpreted your remarks, then my comments will be off-base. In that case, a clarification would help me.

    If I have interpreted your remarks correctly, then I cannot comment much on (A) and I agree with (C). (B) however is a point where I think I disagree, and I would like to say some things in encouragement for you to think about it more too.

    I think there are many ways to participate. It is really great to be invited to participate, and both men and women like to feel wanted and welcome. Some people are pretty boisterous and careless about inserting themselves in a conversation or situation. If I had to make baseless generalizations, I might suggest that women in current Western culture are less likely to participate without explicit inclusion while men are more likely to insert themselves into conversations in a way that seems rude or abrupt. I suppose I am commenting on (A) after all, and it would seem we are in a kind of agreement.

    However, there are ways of taking initiative and being assertive and self-confident that I would say are really important things for women to do, and that the women I admire the most do these things. I do not think it is the right emphasis to suggest that women would be “acting like dudes” by submitting talks and papers and joining the conversation on their own initiative. I think that that kind of confidence and desire to join in are sex-neutral and admirable in their own right. I would like to see women assert themselves more. I don’t think that this assertiveness need parade as masculinity — to my way of thinking, there are ways of being assertive that would not be stereotypically male.

    There is an aspect of (B) that I agree with in part. I imagine you might reply to me: Ed, what you are not understanding is that women are operating at a disadvantage with respect to men, and therefore, they are not as comfortable or welcome-feeling to take the kind of initiative you want to see them take. And it is for that reason that, for now, we should do our best to invite them to participate. Here I completely agree. I think that efforts to explicitly include women are very important. My point was only that we shouldn’t move from “women should be invited to participate” to “women taking initiative is ‘acting like a dude’” — I agree with the first and strongly disagree with the second.

    In fact, I would say that the *point* of inviting women to participate is to make it more likely that they will someday soon compete on a level playing field with men and feel perfectly free to take the initiative themselves to participate and never feel again as though being confident and assertive in a technical field means ‘acting like a dude.’

    I hope this advances the discussion. Thank you again for the article.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Eddie – watch my video from The Big Web Show. I was actually speaking from my own experience as a carpenter on a day my boss asked me if I could frame a wall in a kitchen. I said “I think so”. Which to me meant I was reasonably confident despite it being a new task. Then he asked Patty, the guy I was working with, who said “sure boss, no problem”. Patty was put in charge for the day and the moment the boss was out of earshot he turned to me and said “So, how do we do this?”

      I learned a valuable lesson. Rather than trying to be overconfident or overestimate my own abilities, I learned to interpret my bosses question as “Can you figure it out?” To which it was much easier to reply with a resounding “YES!”

  68. YvesHanoulle Avatar

    In the book Blink from M Gladwell the last chapters talks about this kind of problem for women in classical music.
    People said the same thing: women are not that good. Untill they held auditions behind a screen. Al of a sudden, women were selected.
    We need a similar technique in IT. (I don’t see any.)
    Only then more people will value women for what they are wurth.
    We need more diversity in IT teams. Adding women is a first good step. and an easy one.


  69. bhdz Avatar

    Offtopic: On the other hand I hate it when someone throws the “Men should do the first move” mantra at me. And it doesn’t relate only to sexuality, it might be a business move. Nowadays it’s not really clear who should wear the “strong” sex badge. It is ridiculous!

    Obviously it’s even deeper: I wasn’t sure how to translate “the strong sex” from my native language to English, so I used Google’s translator for that, the result was “male”…
    Try it out: “силният пол”

  70. Ralph Whitbeck Avatar

    Just an FYI. I know the dates aren’t firmed up yet but the jQuery Conference in London (likely Sept 13-14) and Boston (likely Oct 16-17) are now actively taking speaker submissions for talks http://blog.jquery.com/2010/07/20/jquery-conferences-2010-call-for-speakers/

    The jQuery team would love and encourage woman to give talks at our conferences. We just need more woman to submit talks.

    We were criticized for our Bay Area Conference in April because we didn’t have any woman speakers. The reason was because we didn’t have any submitted talks from woman.

    Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss your talk before submitting it.

    Ralph Whitbeck
    jQuery Developer Relations Team

  71. Nolan Grupe Avatar
    Nolan Grupe

    Amazing post.. I’ve heard quite a few sides on this argument, but I definitely agree with you. Can’t wait until more women get into the field. Although I think it’s a little disheartening to be around ‘ahem…. male nerds all day too.. May be they want to be seen as a professional and not as the ‘only’ female in the cube farm. Hopefully once women reach 25% things will really start to gain traction.

  72. Kaddie Avatar

    Unfortunately, I think there’s a bigger picture at hand here. After all, look at all of the men who immediately want to jump on your experiences and opinions and devalue/dismiss them. If they haven’t experienced this, it must not be true, right? (There’s a term for this behavior called ‘mansplaining’ – when a man feels that he can and should define and speak to the experiences of a woman through his privileged vantage point, often times in a patronizing, put-her-in-her-place manner, rather than try to understand her perspective.)

    And, sadly, women will do this too. Why? Because – here’s the hard truth – society is growing a deeper and deeper hatred towards women. Think about it. Programming used to be practically the exclusive domain of women. There have been women scientists for centuries. But the anti-woman attitude has grown stronger, and it’s culturally accepted to be misogynistic. It’s also culturally accepted and expected for women to hate other women. Until these situations improve, nothing else will.

    In work situations, men will bond together and look out for one another, where women have a much harder time doing do (for various reasons). The thing is, none of this has to do with how good the work of the person is; it’s all about a cultural norm that rewards behaviors that hurt women. Yes, I have been subjected to discrimination and harassment because I’m a female. I am constantly told that I need to change to ‘adapt’ or else get out; regardless of how smart or talented I am. But what’s even more insulting is how often I’m told that my experiences aren’t valid or real, because I ‘must just be too sensitive’ or ‘[other female] doesn’t have this problem’ or whatever other deflecting, blame-the-victim tactic others want to use.

  73. Lynne Avatar

    Here via my delicious network, mostly to link JimBastard (and anyone else who doesn’t know) to the two majority-female, female-friendly Open Source projects I know of: Dreamwidth (repository here) and the Organization for Transformative Works (repository here.). I’m not sure they fit your size qualification, but I would be interested to know of any that are larger.

    I’m new to dev work, but I can affirm that the DW environment is awesome for women coders, both experienced and newbie. As someone just taking her first steps in Perl, I have female (and male, but predominantly female) mentors that I didn’t see in my CS courses ten years ago, whom I can ask the questions behind the logic of coding that would get me laughed out of the classroom by guys who’d come into Programming 101 with years of experience under their belts that I didn’t have the opportunity to acquire (and at the time, I felt like that was *my fault*).

    Awesome post, Nicole – thank you for writing it.

  74. Amy Avatar

    This is one of the most reasonable things I’ve read on the topic, Nicole! I’m sorry that you’ve had so many bad experiences…

    But… I have to add (for everyone!): it’s important to separate “what people say” vs “how you feel.”

    Most of the traits you described as “cowboy coders,” or other behaviors displayed by misbehaving men, come from insecurity and fear. The people who talk big have the most to fear. It’s pure, simple compensation. That’s not about men, or male developers. It’s not about sexism. It’s just… human.

    Take that boss of yours who tried to push you towards management. Why? I have no clue about that specific situation, but I’ve seen it before — and, at the time, these were the reasons I observed:

    Maybe he (she?) was intimidated by you. Maybe he thought you had unusually good people skills. Maybe he was covering up for the fact that he actually had NFI what you did or were capable of, and felt that if you were middle management, at least his/her ass would be covered because it’d be harder to tell if you were doing your job or not. Maybe it was an issue of pay vs which department budget you’d get money from. Maybe he actually wanted to fire you but couldn’t, for fear of reprisals, and wanted to stick you in a career track where you’d eventually quit. Maybe it was all about irritating somebody else.

    In other words, the chances are good that it was all about him/her — and not about you. But of course, he dressed it up as being about you… and you took that to heart.

    Just like when a person sneers at us, or calls us a name, or treats us badly… we all assume it’s about us. We take it on face value. Then we try to figure out what it was ABOUT US that made HIM/HER DO THAT.

    But this is a complete and utter waste of energy and time. It’s almost never actually about us. Most people lie with their behavior constantly. It’s about them, not us. It’s not sexism, it’s fear. It’s not arrogance, it’s a desperate attempt to cover up cowardice.

    Just about everybody walking around on this planet is a used car salesman of misleading and mislabeled emotions because they are terrified, all of the time.

    That dude who said it was about your body, not your ideas? Just imagine what kind of sad, pathetic, lonely little creature a person has to be do let that sort of thing pass out of his lips. Realize it never, ever had anything to do with YOU. Then pity him, keep kicking ass, and never think of that sad sack again.

    Nothing is going to change in this industry by telling people to change, but once you get to the point where people’s childishness rolls off you, you will be unstoppable. People will have no choice but to admire you (even more!) and learn from your example.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Amy – Exactly! I think that is why it doesn’t bother me much. I don’t spend most of my time thinking about this stuff because I know it is NOT ABOUT ME. I won’t say these incidents didn’t sting a little at the time, or didn’t cause a little self doubt, but I’m NOT doubled over in agony. I love my work, love 99% of the people I have the privilege of working with, etc.

      I’m also glad you mentioned my manager because you are right, I don’t know why he did that. That is why I said “was it because I’m a woman?”. I honestly don’t know and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to draw conclusions because is is NOT ABOUT ME. OTOH, I heard he was investigated for allegations of sexual harassment after I left, but that had nothing to do with me, it was about his relationships with other female colleagues, which were apparently much stormier.

  75. Matt May Avatar

    @Pierre –

    The “simple fact” is that there _are_ no simple facts. If you can’t recognize that, you really aren’t contributing to the discussion.

    Also, if you did any research, you’d have discovered that there were, in fact, copyist nuns. Lots of them. Start with Londegonda of Bobadilla, continue through Diemud of Wessobrunn, and keep going until you discover how wrong you are about making sweeping statements about gender. I’ll even make it easier for you.


  76. Amy Avatar

    Note: I’m not saying that kind of behavior is acceptable, but that if you take what people say/do at face value — without understanding that the root cause is all about them and not about you — you multiply the injury to yourself!

    Just like when I got horribly stuck on all the programming books, which were completely impenetrable to teenaged me, I decided that it wasn’t *me* who was too stupid to understand, but *the authors* who were incapable of teaching well… If I had taken the standard, default belief to heart, well, I wouldn’t be writing this. 😉

  77. Priya Avatar

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective. I am from a different industry (academia), but much of what you said applies to mine as well.

  78. F1LT3R Avatar

    Wow, wasn’t expecting to read THAT this morning! What a great article. I recently picked up a book from the early nineties about coming social problems with emerging technologies and they seem to have missed this one. But maybe that was to be expected… it was written by guys.

    With regards to Neil Bartletts comment… “Wouldn’t we get better results by severely punishing (and publicly shaming!) the offenders?”

    I think you are right in one way and wrong in another. The results may be better if people are shamed, but it is against the nature of most women to cause such a public fuss over something they have the ability to handle internally (by “handle” i’m *not* saying “accept”).

    So you have this classic Catch22 situation where the woman losses because she chooses to act with grace. What would really make the difference is men standing up for women publicly if they see people perving and groping other women, but maybe this stuff is too subtle for most guys to notice anyway.

    A difficult issue to figure out really.

    A question to women: if you another man catches someone treating you improperly, do you want them to call it out for being a douche, or what you rather we stayed out of it?

  79. Kyle Simpson Avatar

    correction on my previous reply to @Suw — several comments were not visible to me at the time of writing. i apologize for mis-construing your rant. but i remind you that an odd comment on this blog post is not representative of the industry as a whole.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Kyle Simpson @Suw – sorry, I’m a slow comment approver. I really want to keep the tone positive. And yeah, I was laughing out loud at @Suw’s comment – so funny, though the guy’s comments didn’t upset me individually, seeing them all listed out like that was hilarious.

  80. Kristina Halvorson Avatar

    Nicole, this post will be referenced and quoted for years to come. Congratulations, and thank you for stepping up.

    Side note: It’s always disconcerting for me to scan the comments on a post about women in tech and see that the dissenters are all white men. I feel quite strongly that arguing against advocacy for underrepresented populations (in any industry) is an easy, safe way to abdicate responsibility in a complex conversation. So, guys, saying that it’s “not a problem” when you’re not the one struggling against obstacles the “problem” creates…well. It’s not a problem for you. Which is kinda part of the problem.

  81. F1LT3R Avatar

    I worded that last question badly. What I meant was…

    If a man catches another man treating a woman improperly, do you want that man to humiliate the other man for behaving improperly?

    Also… re: the cowboy qualities. Some men are driven to exhibit those behaviors by the demands of women at home and I would quip that they are not natural behaviors to as many men as a woman might assume.

  82. Jonathan Neal Avatar

    JimBastard, one possible answer to your question is http://github.com/rmurphey/jqfundamentals

  83. Geoff Avatar

    I’m arriving to the discussion too late to make a fairly minor point.. but I do think that this blog post misses the boat completely on her dismissal of the fastest growing occupations for women.

    “We are veterinary technicians not veterinarians, dental assistants not dentists, medical assistants not doctors. We like to believe we have evolved, but the data speaks to something else.”

    Utterly untrue. Women are not doctors? How on earth can you make a statement like this?

    According to this site:


    “Since 1982-83, the total number of women entering U.S. medical schools has increased every year (in
    fact, the annual increases reach back to 1969-1970). Women’s share of the matriculating class has
    likewise increased. Women went from less than a third (31.4%) of all matriculants in 1982-83 to a high
    of 49.6 percent in 2003-04. In 2007-08, women were 48.3 percent of all matriculants.”

    This data is a little old, I wouldn’t be surprised if women surpass 50% soon.

    This really isn’t a minor correction – keep in mind that there’s a pretty widespread point of view that women are avoiding computer science largely because the have found better jobs. Phil Greenspun’s “women in science” article is probably the best known rant on the subject.

    Women absolutely should not face discrimination in any field where they chose to work, but we should be prepared to at least consider the notion that women have decided that becoming a lawyer or doctor sounds better than becoming a programmer, and that they are more successful in making wise career decisions. Personally, I’m very skeptical that women are taking tame little jobs instead of becoming programmers. I think the women who are capable of doing computer science are instead discovering that they can get even better jobs (and I mean well paid, high powered jobs) in other fields.

  84. wererogue Avatar

    I think that there are plenty of women who see the point, but sadly most of them get told not to become programmers.

    I had a lecturer that used to tell girls that they’d never be successful because they weren’t men. A female friend of mine who was way smarter than me dropped out because of a meeting with him, and she wasn’t the only one. People think that it doesn’t happen, but it does. What really sucked is that he was an awesome coordinator for the boys – really likable. He helped me out a lot. I didn’t really talk to him after he torpedoed my friend’s studies though.

    The jdalton discourse really reads like “I try not let discrimination affect my thinking, and you saying that there is still a problem feels like an attack against me. Look at how not-sexist I am!” Well, congratulations for being better than some, but there’s still a problem, and this scholarship sounds like a great way to fix it.

  85. Lynne Avatar

    And one more link, because it just showed up in my feed reader via Geek Feminism: Restructure’s post If You Were Hacking Since Age 8, It Means You Were Privileged. Good read.

  86. wererogue Avatar

    Also, great article 🙂

    Regarding convention invitiations – do commenters really find it so hard to understand that when you want to attract members of a group that has traditionally been excluded from something, you might need to invite them specifically before you’ll receive applicants?

  87. […] person calling this “disgusting” and “illegal.” Nicole Sullivan has a level-headed and well-articulated roundup of the back-and-forth and some of the surrounding issues, and I suggest you read […]

  88. Lea Avatar

    So, I just came back from speaking at an amazing albeit small conference in Florida called Front-End Design Conference. This year was different/special because the entire line-up of speakers was made up of women: http://frontenddesignconference.com/

    Now, what was something my fellow speakers remarked was that it was refreshing that it was mentioned it was all-female but not dwelled upon during the marketing of the conference. And yet, they actually had more attendees this year (and still male-dominated), just based on good word-of-mouth from their previous year and genuine interest in the speakers and topics outlined. What a concept. 🙂

    I really enjoyed your breakdown of code-cowboy and good dev. I wrote an article Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions, and in the comments my friend, who was raised by scientist father, thrown into “women in science” groups since childhood, and has a Comp Sci degree… completely abandoned code to pursue law instead. Of course, many reasons attributed to that, but she remarked that part of it was because Comp Sci did not emphasize enough “big picture” reasons to code. As in, she didn’t see how she was contributing to anything. I’m generalizing here (emphasis: GENERALIZING for those nitpickers), but women wants to have more reasons to pursue code beyond the just joy of tinkering in code. When tech stuff is being marketed to women, there definitely needs to be more angles to consider and ignoring it is foolhardy.

  89. required Avatar

    That “20 Fastest-Growing etc” list is biased. There are more new women doctors than men since more than a decade.

  90. Lea Avatar

    Oh, and I wanted to add: we were all invited. We didn’t apply. 😛

  91. Cedric Dugas Avatar

    The code cowboy you describe is just a bad developer from my point of you, I don’t see why anyone would want someone like this in its team. I am not quite sure I agree with you on everything that is said here.

    I worked with some female front-end developer, and I had no different working relationship that with a male front-end developer. I never saw a female being treated differently either .

    Maybe it is also regional bound, I mean, you are in a geek environment, expect geek joke.

    That being said, I never went to a conference, or tried to, you know, be more successful than just being a front-end developer working in a company, maybe it is different..

  92. […] Stubbornella » Blog Archive » Woman in technology Too many mediocre men; we need more women: @stubbornella spells it out […]

  93. Benjamin (bangpound) Avatar
    Benjamin (bangpound)

    Thanks for your post Nicole. I’m interested in the mechanisms we have to deal with sexism and harassment. @F1LT3R alluded to the only one I feel development communities can count on across the board: confrontation. For some folks, confrontation carries a lot of heavy baggage. Perhaps it’s not their strength or their habit or they don’t have the social capital (in a male-dominated community) to do this effectively.

    Here’s how I try to work it: Listen to people who have grievances. Denying someone’s grievance is the first step off the cliff! The “confrontation” strategy has to be tuned to the context and the individuals: their needs, their attitudes, their relationships with other folks in a community.

    Being an ally is hard work. You’ve got to deal with all people honestly. Be empathetic even when you think someone’s done wrong. (An aggrieved person shouldn’t be asked to have this empathy or express it. They’ve enough trouble, and they need support not demands.) Don’t make one person pay for another person’s inexcusably bad behavior.

    Perhaps confrontation isn’t the only thing we have, and maybe there are nuances and tactics that work well and others that don’t. I’m all ears!

  94. dw Avatar

    The correct solution is time. As more and more women realize that they have genuine talent and seek to promote it, it will become harder and harder to ignore.

    I recommend studying the history of the Civil Rights movement and what led up to it. For years the argument was “well, time will fix it, so those blacks shouldn’t be so uppity about it.” The Brown decision was 57 years after Plessy. Would that be long enough for you? 60 years?

    Heck, people then argued — and still do now — that Brown happened too fast. Perhaps you’ve heard the ranting about “judicial activists.” But it is different to look back to the Civil Rights Movement and see it as a fait accompli vs. looking forward and seeing the improvements made but knowing they’re not good enough.

    It’s easy, I think, to sit here and feel comfortable about where we are because compared to Back Then it’s “better” than it was. Yeah, there are barely any African-Americans in the US tech world, but hell, 60 years ago they were still being lynched! Yeah, Americans denigrate Indian coders every chance they get, but hey, 60 years ago they were still living in huts!

    Affirmative action isn’t the best solution, and it can be a crude solution (though not as bad as the quotas we had pre-Bakke). But it’s certainly better than time. Time leads to a slow incrementalism that only breeds more resentment between the sexes, and ultimately it continues the concentration of power among the white men that do 90% of the coding in the western world.

    When you insist that the tech industry is still actively sexist or bigoted, you are actually forcing your own hateful stereotype upon the many who, like myself, wouldn’t care in the slightest the gender of a person who brings great ideas out.

    You know, I hear this all the time from other white men, and it’s a really silly line of thinking. For example, I’m an American. Someone says bad things about the US, I do feel defensive, I mean, after all, I’m not one of Those People you criticize, so how DARE you say I am that. But then I realize there’s a distinction between the US as Nation and me as American. There are things I can do to improve the country I live in — vote, volunteer, campaign for issues I think are important — but I am not the nation. I am an individual. And there are certainly problems with my nation, but end of the day I can only do what I can do to improve this place.

    See, there’s the difference. The Tech Industry is actively sexist. I’ve seen it myself. Hell, I’ve probably done it. But I do what I can to try and fight against it. In the web class I taught last spring, I brought in two guest speakers who were women in the tech industry, both whip-smart in their areas of expertise, both great speakers, but both women. And the response from the women in the class was very positive — and hell, the men reported learning stuff from their talks that had nothing to do with staring at their boobs.

    That’s one thing I’ve done. That and actively look for women who know what they’re doing and can speak about it and encourage them to get their asses in front of the crowd. So, see, obviously I don’t resemble the “stereotype.” But at the same time, I know what Nicole is saying, I know it to be correct. I don’t get offended by it. I take it as a reminder to keep trying to do the right thing and push for change.

    And that’s how you — and all us sensitive white men who love women in tech and would never suggest women are delicate creatures that would break should they attempt to write a JavaScript function — should take that. Yeah, you’re doing the right thing, because obviously it’s not you. At the same time, it’s a reminder to keep doing it, to keep self-policing for the dumb things you still will say and do, and to remind others why this is important. Stop getting offended and start taking action.

    Seriously, guys, stop getting so offended. Taking offense is the new Last Refuge Of The Coward.

  95. Jenny Han Donnelly Avatar
    Jenny Han Donnelly

    Thank you, Nicole! You really hit the nail on the head with this one.

  96. Terbie Avatar

    Thanks for this article! I think it was well articulated and very enlightening.

    As a woman who worked in the video game industry, I find my personal experience a little different than the experience you listed here. As perplexing as it is, I found my male co-workers to be much more encouraging and helpful than my female co-workers. All of the female co-workers had ranks above me, but I constantly felt pressure from them that I wasn’t doing my job well enough… whereas I never got that from my male co-workers.

    I’ve never been sure why this is. I personally think that they had a hard time “making it” in their male dominated industry and they wanted all the women that they came into contact with to be absolutely above reproach. I think that they had to deal with proving that they deserved to be there among all the men, so they didn’t want anyone coming in and possibly proving that it might not be true. Not to say that I didn’t deserve to be there, but I was new to the industry so I didn’t come in with as much knowledge as others who had previously worked in it.

    I found that the men were much more willing to teach me and work with me. They also were the only ones who ever gave me positive feedback and did it often. I never got any positive feedback from my female boss or any of the women that I worked with. My male bosses were always excited to have the extra help that I provided and were honestly appreciative of the work that I did.

    My female boss constantly encouraged me to approach all situations more like a man would do instead of how I naturally felt worked best for me. I never got as good of response if I tried to approach a situation “more masculine” than I really felt. I find that when women try this, they are labeled a “bitch” and people don’t want to work with them as much (which was the case with my female boss). It’s not fair that man can approach things directly and more harshly than women can and not be labeled as a “bitch” but I find that it’s been the case every where I’ve worked. The least harsh and direct I am, the better that I’m received and the work goes more smoothly.

    All that being said, I decided to leave the industry and switch into something else. Not for the reasons listed above, but because I decided that I wanted a life. Everyone worked crazy hours (12 hr days 6 days a week) and I wanted a better life balance than that. I want to eventually have kids and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spend the time with them that they needed if I stayed in the industry. I saw all the fathers working there and could tell how torn up inside they were not seeing their families and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do that. I just think that the men there were more willing to do that to their families than I was (and perhaps more than women in general are).

    Just my experience and why I left the gaming industry.

  97. Scott Koon Avatar

    One thing I found interesting about this article is how it focuses on women in technology, even if the information about women in other fields such as medicine and science was incorrect. Within the broader technology umbrella, the “agile” conferences seem to have a higher proportion of women speakers than other conferences. Check out the listing of presenters, there are a lot of women there.


    Shelley Powers had a spirited discussion a while back (like, say the last 10 years or so).


    So the question I always ask is: What is the agile community, which is comprised of men who are in technology, doing differently that attracts a higher percentage of women than other technology communities? Can we take whatever they are doing and spread it to workplaces and colleges?

    As an aside, Microsoft conferences always have a higher percentage of female speakers than other technology conferences. Sometimes there are more female speakers at MS conferences than there are female attendees!

  98. josh susser Avatar

    Thanks for such an articulate and thoughtful post on a difficult topic. It surprises and confounds me that so many decades after the advent of feminism we still need to be educating people on these matters. Nice job, and keep it up.

    As a conference organizer, I can say it’s hard to have gender balance in a program when there isn’t gender balance in the community overall. But that statement can be seen as an excuse or a challenge. I do think that many great presentations are missed because no outreach is done and CFPs aren’t posted to email lists for women (or other minorities) in tech. I’m lucky that my conference program is curated and I have to invite everyone to speak, so inviting women is just like inviting anyone else. The results this year have been gratifying to me. Look at our speaker lineup and see for yourself: http://gogaruco.com/speakers.html I hope seeing more women speakers will result in more women at the conference, and in the Ruby developer community.

  99. Stacie Avatar

    It’s tiring, I often report to people who don’t understand what I’m doing, and I don’t lay down a line of BS. I am often considered expendable, and laid off when budgets need to be balanced. Is it because I am female? or is it because in general people think web producers are expendable, I’ll never be able to separate those two things.

    But I know my creative talents, technical abilities and project enthusiasm are a total package that is not easy to find in one person, and am frustrated by the constant battle to justify my paycheck over the last decade. I never feel like anyone fights to keep me on the team or in the company, even when I’m delivering good projects.

    Perhaps it’s the corporate environment that I don’t fit into, I never really though about larger issues of gender but I did tend to be the only woman on the team, if I had one. (that said, I have also worked with some seriously lovely, respectful, hard working teammates)

    Tired of it, exploring my options.

  100. […] Las mujeres en el mundo de la tecnología (eng) http://www.stubbornella.org/content/2010/07/26/woman-in-technology/  por krisish hace 3 segundos […]

  101. Random Avatar

    I’m not a coder. I’ve done a bit of code but I’ve mostly done support and a load of XPembedded. Currently, the entire IT department I’m in charge of is female, but that’s because the entire department is me. The women in the company outnumber the men, but there’s only one woman with a male underling. The rest are either solo workers – me, the accountant, the boss’s *mother* – or are underlings themselves. In every other job I’ve had this has been the case – if there are any technical women at all, they won’t be the ones who get promoted or noticed. There were three female developers who joined one company I was at and left before the MD announced their “first” female dev – but then she did tend to wear low-cut blouses. She lasted three weeks, because she just wasn’t any good. Sadly, she’s the one who will be remembered, not the excellent coders who came before her and who had already been wiped from the company consciousness.
    The problem often isn’t people’s conscious prejudices, it’s the unconscious ones – people will take a male dev seriously at once, and trust that he knows his shit. A female tech will have to prove herself over and over and over again and that gets old fast. What makes it worse is there’s some people you just can’t convince.
    How many of us have had to drag a random guy in a suit into a meeting to repeat what we say so the client will listen? Sorry, Stuart, I know that bored you silly. I wonder how many women didn’t figure out that trick and just tried something else instead?
    How many of us have been having a good tech converstation with a colleague at a conference over a few beers and then had him suddenly make a pass? Yeah, John, that project you suggested would have been interesting to work on, shame you were more interested in getting laid. I wonder how many women went and did something else rather than work with men who can’t get used to the idea that they’re *people* not sex toys.
    How many of us regularly take the blame when things go wrong and get none of the credit when things go right, and have to watch the reverse happen to male colleagues? How many of us are sick and bloody tired of being told we’re imagining it when everything we say in a meeting is ignored or ridiculed… until it’s re-suggested later by a male?
    The main thing I kept seeing from people when I was interviewing for this job was surprise. The other candidate who made it to second interview – and yes, I was the only woman who even *applied* – looked surprised to see me there when he came out. I wish I could have seen his face when he got the rejection letter, because he would have known he’d lost out to me. Unthinkable! He’s got a beard, how could he fail?!
    The interviewer was surprised by the suggestions I made which neither they nor the other candidate had considered. He expressed surprise at how many different variables I’d considered and the logical approach I’d taken to the issue – I can’t imagine that being the case if I’d been male.
    The sexism in the industry is there everywhere, all the time – but the problem with it is that it’s not overt, it’s nearly all unconsciously done, and that makes it an absolute arse to fight.

  102. Stephanie Hobson Avatar

    Men don’t feel there’s a barrier to entry because they feel at home in their work environments. Would men feel as comfortable programming if all coding offices were painted pink, Monday morning chatter was about the latest Twilight novel, and the office mailing list was used to send around animated GIFs of dancing teddy bears with motivational quotes?

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Stephanie Hobson – LOL

  103. Renaud Avatar

    Thanks so much for writing this article. I am trying to talk my amazingly talented wife into programming. I have been sending her links to you, Steph Sullivan, Lea Alcantara, Jenn Lukas, Molly Holzschlag and others to show her the role models.

    I also have a four year old daughter and to think that there are things she will be talked out of doing because she is a girl drives me bat shit crazy.

    I always wondered why seemingly educated men (and some women) are total idiots when it comes to this issue? I want way more women and minorities in this field because I want the tech industry to solve problems for and by all people. I guess there are jerks no matter how smart you are.

  104. Luke Avatar

    Great article, well-argued. I watched the Big Web Show and also wished at the time that you had gone into greater detail about being a woman in IT, so I’m glad you wrote this up. Definitely going to bookmark and share.

  105. Ram Avatar

    Perhaps, a day might come when I would see lots of women active in the java (put any other technology stuff) mailing list. Perhaps a day might come when I would see loads of commit from women to the open source software.

    There are opportunities here. Where are the women?

    Honestly, it would be great with smart women around. But the truth is not quite what we would like it to be.

  106. Tyler Avatar

    Great article. The school I teach at has recently found that women are actually more valued than their male counterparts by employers at the time of graduation. They’ve been averaging 4% higher job placement (95% for women) and about $2k higher starting salary (62k). While the industry as a whole may be a “boys club”, the employers hiring our graduates are finding value in the women.

  107. Ian Muir Avatar

    I’ve read this post a few times and I’m torn. On the one hand, I agree with you on many points and I 100% believe that men need to do a better job at making this industry more welcoming and comfortable for women. On the other hand, I’m incredibly frustrated that you’ve decided to turn some issues into a gender problem when they clearly aren’t.

    The entire cowboy vs develop section is completely off-base for a few reasons.

    #1. Not one of the characteristics listed in either category is gender specific or even gender-biased.
    #2. Most of them seem to be common issues between front-end and back-end developers.
    #3. You’re making some very negative assumptions about motives.You’ve presented it in a way makes it seem that every man in technology is some uber-nerd who spends his nights and weekends writing code in his mom’s basement just to make your life difficult.
    #4. You seem to put passion and enthusiasm into the bad category. Yes I code after hours, yes I like to go to conferences to learn more, yes I like to speak at events. Are these really things that make me a bad developer?

    I know that your heart is in the right place with this post and I understand your problems with many of the common issues with our industry, but you aren’t helping your cause by implying that men like it this way. In fact, turning non-gender issues into gender issues can cause massive problems. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it seems like you’re re-enforcing the very stereotypes that keep women out of technology.

    Also, please keep in mind that a lot of us aren’t exactly writing “has people skills” on our resume. It’s no excuse for being a jerk, but it’s easy to misconstrue somebody shutting you out because they don’t know how to relate. As a former mathlete/band geek/science club member, I can say it takes a while for some of us to come out of our shells. The guys with charisma and confidence tend to lean more towards sales and politics.

    A specific example might be the guy who thinks his code is too smart for you. I’ve been that guy un-intentionally on multiple occasions. Explaining complex code isn’t always easy. It sometimes requires a knowledge of multiple concepts and usually can’t be explained in a quick chat. It’s like trying to explaining IE6 box-model issues to somebody new to CSS. They have to understand html, basic css and know how it should work in modern browsers. During a busy project, you might just give them a fix without explaining it. It doesn’t mean you think they’re stupid, you just understand that they need additional knowledge before you can explain it effectively.

    Here’s what I propose:
    #1. Identify issues that affect us all, regardless of gender, and show some solidarity. For every woman that’s afraid to get into tech because of these issues, there is a man in tech that is afraid to appear weak by bringing them up. Joining together helps take the egotistical douche-bags who re-enforce these issues down a few pegs.

    #2. Encourage tech conferences to give free passes to women in college and entry level jobs. Unlike some of the guys in the twit-fight, I think this is a great idea. It’s up to us to show women that they are welcome, and if we have to go above and beyond to do that we should.

    #3. Don’t assume all guys are the same. If you assume everybody is against you for too long, the eventually will be.

    #4. Buy girls LEGOs. Kids form mental connections at a young age. We give boys toys that encourage building, engineering and analytical thought, then wonder why they grow up more interested in careers that encourage building, engineering and analytical though. Let’s get some girls building spaceships and castles.

  108. Jamie Flournoy Avatar

    Dear other nerdy white guys,

    We nerdy white guys are predisposed to consider ourselves experts on everything, whose opinions are extremely valuable and must be shared with everyone. Sadly, we are not natural experts on racism or sexism. Our subjective experience is, by definition, not relevant to the conversation.

    These “logical” arguments about wildly unbalanced results proving a lack of systematic bias are silly and would embarrass the hell out of you if you used them to explain the statistical underrepresentation of African Americans in Fortune 500 CEO positions.

    In a language which we white guys typing our unfiltered thoughts on the internets can understand: “STFU n00bs.” 🙂

    Seriously, lads… think and do some research before mouthing off on the internets. For example, how exactly do you objectively measure the worth of a programmer? If you know how, you may be the only person in 50+ years of software engineering management research to have found a reliable means of doing so… so please share. (I know, I don’t need to encourage you to share!)

    Unfortunately for the meritocrats, there is no magic formula for measuring the total worth of a software developer. Software development is inherently collaborative; software developers are not interchangeable parts; every project has a different set of requirements and constraints. It’s damned hard to measure someone’s worth to a software development project, and the only way I’ve found (in reading a lot of books on the subject, and in 15+ years of direct experience) is almost entirely subjective.

    In a subjective world, the people who impress the evaluator the most get the raises, promotions, credit, etc. Guess who those people are? The loud pushy crabby credit hogs, or the ones who take the team out for a party when a milestone is reached and who take time away from their assignments to help others, and who spread credit and quickly accept blame for their own mistakes?

    Finally… consider this statement: “It must be a pure meritocracy… after all, I’m winning!” 🙂

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Jamie Flournoy – I think I love you.

  109. Meg Avatar

    The mansplaining! It is overwhelming!

    Pierre, might I suggest you read http://books.google.com/books?id=1ll6BuF4-kgC&lpg=PA244&ots=5C_zeUmj5_&dq=literate%20nuns&pg=PA244#v=onepage&q=literate%20nuns&f=false It discusses how nuns were literate, but deprived of resources, such as books, by the hierarchy of the church. The reason there weren’t more copist nuns is because of incredibly sexist social structures, not because more nuns didn’t want to write. In fact, if they weren’t literate they wouldn’t have become nuns. It is almost a perfect example, it just doesn’t mean what you think it means. Sexism has had a real effect on society and history, and especially on what parts of history we hear about. The books we do have that were written by nuns we know they had to fight hand and fist to get the resources to record, so they must have considered them worth that effort.

    You don’t have to be autistic to program. You may have to be willing to tolerate behavior from other programmers that would completely unacceptable in any other profession, but that’s not a product of “programming”. Programming is about art, language, patterns, communication, planning and structure, all of which is coded as “feminine” in our society. The first programmers were all women. Maybe that’s why these men are so defensive; trying to redefine programming as “masculine” by societal standards is a big stretch. The whole point is that nothing involved in programming actually requires this exclusive, competitive, fear-based culture that has sprung up around it, and which so many men are apparently willing to leap to defend.

    Here is how I describe the scholarship thing: the culture of programming is not meritocratic and you did not earn whatever recognition you have received. You may have worked for it, but it as though you had just run a marathon by starting half way there. It means something, hey you just ran a half marathon!, but it is in no way equivalent to someone who ran the whole thing. And so if Google wants to give out an award just to the people who ran twice as far, even though you both crossed the same finish line, you should realize that there’s a good reason for it.

    There aren’t more women in computer science not because women don’t want to code, but because they don’t want to code *enough* to put up with the bullshit entailed in being a female programmer. It’s not that they “don’t see the point”, it’s that they have to work harder for men for less reward and make themselves vulnerable to abuse, and so their decision curve looks different. If you look around at the jobs where people are writing complex scripted Excel sheets for tasks that aren’t worth a programmer’s salary, they are almost all women. Those positions are less well paid, but they don’t have to deal with programmers who share your attitudes.

    hakunin, you are ignoring that it’s not that easy. It takes money, which overwhelmingly goes to male entrepreneur, and education, which has similar barriers to industry and also requires interacting with teen-age men who aren’t held responsible for their actions. It’s not that men are all dicks, it’s that men are rewarded for being dicks by the people in positions of authority (who happen to be men or women who have succeeded under these circumstances.) Most women have said, “Fuck that noise” to dealing with the hypermasculine culture of programming, but they don’t keep programming, they leave. The field of software engineering is poorer for it.

    There are plenty of women role models, if men were willing to look. But instead of talking about Dr. Goldberg, the Rubiests interested in Smalltalk design talk about Mr. Beck. Instead of talking about Admiral Cooper people talk about Mr. McCarthy. Instead of talking about Ada Lovelace people talk about Alan Turing, plus they conveniently forget to mention that he was gay (see, as reference, the recent piece in Pragmatic Programmer Magazine). Women’s participation has held steady at around 20% from the time the field was founded. I can certainly believe that people don’t encounter female professors in school (did you read the MIT study? It describes some structural reasons for this well), but men who ignore the women who are out there, who work at places that “just happen” to never hire women, who don’t notice the female speakers at a conference or just happen to never go to those talks, they are all part of the problem. They are being willfully blind, so that they can continue to believe that women “just don’t see the point.”

    We see the point. We just also see that we have to work with people like you.

  110. Sam Avatar

    As a woman (not a girl!) who has worked in IT at the largest online retailer and at a software giant, I’ll ad to the conversation that IT departments vary greatly, although there are, a handful of common scenarios.

    In many instances women who volunteer or assert themselves are shot down in favor of the next man to volunteer, based on gender alone. In some contexts there is an innate gender bias, I’ve seen this many times: Female’s who volunteer or toot their own horn are seen as hyperactive and somehow as not fully grasping the problem by insensitive Managers. The bias is that Men who volunteer or toot their own horn are seen as confident leaders whose ridiculous false-swagger is somehow overlooked and is deserving of gratitude and compliments simply for volunteering (regardless of product or final contribution quality).

    Woman can bust their chops, but often have additional hurdles to obtain all the relevant info from coworkers to design an elegant solution. Often if you have a insensitive disorganized Manager (unfortunately common), than some coworkers in competitive environments will withhold relevant details to try to maintain the edge. They may do this to some men also, but many times sexism does comes into play. In certain IT environments (not the good and most productive ones) Women often have to work twice as hard and be twice as coy and humble to produce work they are proud of. Then, they don’t get the recognition they would have, if they were of the other gender and it had been easier to achieve.

    To the first commenter, putting women on a pedestal and saying they are too good to work in IT, and of course they weren’t welcome to live in a Monasteries in old times, or really any other pursuit other than bearing children and cooking and appealing to men. Are you saying: don’t ruin your feminine charms being smart and employable in a role that might be interesting and rewarding? Also, are you saying only men have Autism? Just curious, I don’t see anyone jumping on the most ancient sexist tripe yet a women’s counter-sexist post is jumped on by many.

  111. Sam Avatar

    I had a similar experience to Terbie’s with Male/Female Managers. Weird, right? In a few instances, I wondered if the woman Mangers where self-loathing of their gender.

  112. Renaud Avatar

    @Stephanie Hobson: Very funny! I have worked in a marketing department where I was the only male. I loved it. And our corporate colors were pink! And we did have to start a corporate email signature standard because the motivational quotes (too often set in Papyrus or Comic Sans) were getting out of hand! This was pre-Twilight, thank God!!!

  113. Blake Avatar


    I think there are a number of dynamics at work.

    First, some of the prominent supports of Agile have spoken out about gender (even though the Agile Manifesto was signed only by men.) Martin Fowler, for example, weighed in on the CouchDB thing vocally and Jim Highsmith at least acknowledged openly the issues with having leadership teams consisting of only white men. It means that women who go looking for information about Agile are less likely to get turned off by abrasive public figures or alienating introductory materials.

    Second, some of the dynamics agile is trying to address are the same dynamics that put women off of programming in the first place. In fact, pointing to Agile is a great way to illustrate that the problem isn’t with women and programming, it’s with women and the culture surrounding programming.

    It has been shown that pair programming in intro programming classes reduces the drop-out rate of women (as well as reducing the drop-out rate for men, though less significantly). It increases skill, and confidence in that skill by providing immediate feedback, as well as introducing students to a different culture. Testing does the same thing; it provides a reality check on your ability that you can’t get from either self-assessment or external assessment, both of which come with baggage. Tests either pass, or they don’t. It encourages team-based recognition, since nothing is the result of a single programmer, which can help overcome some of the disadvantages women face in promoting their own work. Agile teams also tend to look for somewhat-quantitative measure of success, rather than subjective measures that can be easily swayed by cultural affinity. In fact, a lot of the recent push for quantitative metrics is coming from the Agile community, something which has helped other fields achieve better gender balance.

    Third, I think it’s self-selecting. The men who enjoy being dicks to people don’t work on an Agile team; there are plenty of other places that will reward them for their attitude. People who imbue their code with ego don’t work on an Agile team; someone else might refactor that code tomorrow. It requires discipline and a different approach to programming, both of which require maturity and reasonably-stable self esteem. Finally, because of some of the early culture (though not all, *cough* Uncle Bob *cough*), I suspect some sharp women who would otherwise quit programming instead found Agile teams to work on. Thus, Agile has the crop of older, experienced women with the confidence to speak at conferences and the connections to be invited.

    So we might be able to apply some of it, but as you can see in this thread, applying a model of mutual respect to programming is not a particularly popular approach and goes against years of embedded assumptions of sexism.

  114. jdk Avatar

    @Jamie Flournoy Doesn’t the meritocracy approach hold sound for university programs where there are good metrics for quantifying performance pre/post admission (and girls are probably winning)? Are you saying the inhospitable tech industry is responsible for the abysmal enrollment rates of females in university CS programs?

  115. seutje Avatar

    I have no strong feelings towards Google’s scholarships, bad or good. If I was forced to take a stance on it, it would be on the “good” side, since it doesn’t change a thing for men (which I am btw), and (might) create chances for women. Is it discriminating? Hell yea! Do I care? Hell no! It’s Google’s money, so it’s their choice what they do with it. It becomes a totally different story when governments start doing it though, because then my tax money is being used to discriminate me. This is pretty common practice where I live, but I still don’t really care that much. Mainly because of the mechanics behind it, if the situation called for it, it would be the other way around, but also because of the small fraction my tax money is in the big pool.

    If you think women in tech have it bad, go up to the diner on the corner and apply for a job while wearing a hijab, then try while wearing a clearly visible cross… yea…

    Like I posted on Rebecca Murphey’s blog: I have friends that completely gave up on their industry of choice because they couldn’t get a job, being male, and ended up settling for a stereotypical male job.

    I’m starting to feel that the Drupal community is sort of an exception to all this, I count 12 occurrences of “Drupal” on http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_FLOSS and a quick glance at the schedule of the upcoming con (http://cph2010.drupal.org/news/initial-program) shows at least 10 women presenting.
    Did you catch that crazy rampage about the Drupalcon Paris website last year? The design included a silhouette of a typically French burlesque icon, which they named Yvonne and threated sort of like a mascot, saying she would also be attending. This was totally misinterpreted by some as being the representation of all women attending the conference and “sexism” was shouted left and right. I feel really bad for the people involved in that design, it looked like they went through a lot of effort to make it scream “Paris” as much as possible. Pretty much the next day the design was changed, I was a sad panda, as I felt a piece of French culture was ripped from it. And then some started claiming that the stylized Druplicon was sexist because it looked like it had a mustache… -_-

    Also, why is it that nobody ever complains about the lack of women in industries as construction or waste handling?

    Tell a person 20 times a day he’s a moron, and he will eventually feel like a moron.
    Keep saying it’s hard for women in tech, and they will eventually think it’s too hard to even try.
    – just saying…

  116. Kyle Simpson Avatar

    @dw — so, you’re justifying that someone can label the tech industry as a bunch of sexist males but that in reality that criticism doesn’t apply to *me*, a male in the tech industry, as an individual, only the group as a whole? that’s a clever escape clause, have to admit i’ve not heard that one before.

    i know i’ll now sleep better at night knowing that all those foreigners that talk down about the US don’t really mean *me* personally. they just hate my country as a whole, but i’m sure if they got to know me they’d think i was really a great guy.

    “Stereotype: A fixed, commonly held notion or image of a person or group, based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behaviour or appearance.”

    if *i* should just dismiss broad stereotypes (like “men in tech are actively sexist”) since it doesn’t necessarily apply to me, then why can’t everyone who is stereotyped just dismiss such blanket statements as well?

    if i say all women are bad drivers, that doesn’t mean that i’m saying any one particular woman is a bad driver. So it’s defensible as not being disciminatory since any woman who challenges me on that characterization, i can just say “oh, i didn’t mean *you* specifically.”

    “I hear this all the time from other white men”. so… i guess that because all these other white men say the same thing as me, then i should be lumped in with them as being a group that, on the whole, should be discredited?

    the reason why we all know that even latently held stereotypes (and bigotist opinions) about broad groups of people are bad is because those thoughts and feelings generally lead to actions against individuals.

    discrimination occurs when we take that stereotype and start using it to guide our behavior toward an individual person. so… what about the several times here, and countless times elsewhere, when *i* personally have been discredited simply because i’m a male and haven’t (or can’t) see the industry through the eyes of a woman?

    or what about how *you* yourself just made a broad generalization about a bunch of white men and then singled me out to say that because *they* are using silly reasoning, so must i be?

  117. Jamie Flournoy Avatar


    Good metrics for measuring what kind of performance exactly? (How often do you use Leibniz’s notation?)

    B-schools can’t produce good executives, and that’s a pretty old profession. Why should we expect CS programs to produce good programmers?

    >Are you saying the inhospitable tech industry is responsible for the abysmal enrollment rates of females in university CS programs?

    Yes, yes, OMFG, yes. The guidance counselors and parents and fellow students and university professors who say that females are mentally unfit for technical careers are also responsible.

  118. HitecHippie Avatar

    I loved it! Thanks for sticking your neck out there to speak the truth.
    Just because I love to code doesn’t mean I love you, IT guy :S

  119. riethmayer Avatar

    You really help me to reflect upon my behavior.

    Yes, I tried to push a female CS into management/design, rather subconscious, but I see it now, after reading this article.
    Thanks for fixing that.

    Keep up your awesome work!

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @riethmayer – seriously, so very impressed that you admit that. The whole point of my post was not to feel sorry for myself, but rather to shine a light on what is. I think just by noticing, things begin to change.

  120. Jamie Flournoy Avatar

    BTW I am just another internet dork mouthing off. Feel free to disregard my opinions on education, the root causes of gender bias, etc.

    The point I really want to make is that the people not subject to a particular negative bias have no business arguing that it doesn’t exist entirely. (Absence of personal empirical evidence is not evidence of absence.)

  121. GS Avatar

    Great post Nicole and thanks for reminding me of a few things. I do research on gender inequalities in developing countries, especially in the African continent and it’s very easy to forget that there is still a lot to do at home, in those places where we think that gender equality is an achievement. There is still a long way to go and your perception, discussion and the way you exposed this issue is admirable.

  122. […] to result in pointless hand-wringing and, if anything, harms us tech women by calling us out. But stubornella’s excellent blog post stirred up my thoughts, and the relative civility of her commenters gave me hope. Also this latest […]

  123. Mike Avatar

    I can completely understand Fringley’s Twitter post about “hoping that there was a scholarship for the guys”. Yes, there was a smudge of jealousy in there – and why not? I went back to university to finish an old science degree. I remember looking for scholarships and bursaries in my 1st, 2nd and 3rd years – and the only ones available were for women in science. There was no stated academic requirements either – if you were female, you could get a bursary … and you were automatically qualified for consideration for the scholarship. I remember feeling quite jealous at the time. The majority of the students in our science department were female and could get financial aid. If you were a guy, not so much.

    There were 9 grants and bursaries open to female science students in 1st, 2nd and 3rd years. The only bursary open to male students required that you or your family own a woodlot in the province (whacky British Columbia), and they preferred that applicants be of Scandinavian descent. Seriously. If you weren’t, then the only financial aid open to you was a single 4th year bursary of $600 – which anyone, male or female, could compete for.

    So was I jealous of the opportunities presented to the female science students? Absolutely!

    (although I can’t complain too much – in the end, I managed to win that 4th year bursary 😉

  124. […] Woman in technology | Nicole Sullivan This weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize. Google is correcting for women being less likely to stand up and say “me, me, me!”, not for their technical skills or development prowess. Thinking that I got where I am because I’m a woman and got special treatment (rather than on my own merit) is a painful and insidious form of discrimination. You have to be thick skinned to make it in a field where this kind of thing happens frequently. YES. It happens frequently. What I’m trying to say is that women face a special challenge in tech because their male counterparts, when feeling jealous, will tend to pin female geek’s success on their gender. We face another problem, when we begin to wonder ourselves, and doubt our own abilities. This is the last refuge of the bigot indeed. (tags: tech women conference) […]

  125. Jesse Armand Avatar

    I know that women are minorities in this field and most of the time discriminated. It’s right that it’s not about whether women have the same capacity or intelligence to perform in this field of work.
    But, I think the major cause of this situation is the lack of interest from women in the field. Especially in the software development field where you need to put lots of effort to be an expert, or even just to be productive.

    In my 20s, I only have about 3 years of software development experience, although I’m naturally a geek since I was a boy. In my experience, it’s not really “that” interesting. It’s more exhausting than interesting. It’s a very competitive field where what you know today could be irrelevant and a total mistake the next day. Unless if you’re at the top of your game, where the software industry could be bent according to your will (rhetorically speaking).

    Let’s consider this case, if a woman is capable to be productive or to have a fully-developed and enjoyable life in other fields, would this woman choose to be a computer scientist, software developer, etc.? Is being a computer scientist or a software developer such an attractive career? Compared to other careers such as running a business (not a software business), design, arts, entertainment, etc.

    Men are dominating this field because most of the time the work environment is culturally attuned to their habits and lifestyle. A man who could be better in other fields may not choose software development too.

    Software development is actually an area where anyone could actually contribute without prejudice. Because the core of the activity is to write code and produce good software. It doesn’t need our skills in politics, persuasion or our physical appearance, etc.

  126. Jeff Younker Avatar
    Jeff Younker

    I take exception with your assertion that women are not becoming veterinarians and doctors. The classes in veterinary schools are overwhelmingly female, and they have been for at least a decade. The percentage of women matriculating from medical school has also been steadily increasing for at least thirty years, and men and women are at near parity.

    The reason that these are not “the fastest growing fields for women” is that the number of these upper echelon positions are going to grow much less quickly than the fields that support them. For example, over the next eight years the number of veterinarians is expected to increase by only 20,000 or so. The majority of those will be women, but each vet will employ several veterinary technicians.

    Similarly, over the last thirty years the annual number of medical school graduates has remained roughly constant. Instead growth has been focused on increasing the number of lower level positions (medical technicians, etc.).

    However, I agree whole heartedly that women are discriminated against in many technical fields. I just take exception to the factual inaccuracy that women are doing poorly in the female dominated field of veterinary medicine or that women are significantly under-represented in medical schools. (Although there are certain medical specialties which are an old-boys club.)

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Jeff Younker – good point. Obviously the data I was using was simplistic. I did say the CS was the only science where participation by women is declining (which I got from a much better source, Maria Klawe). The real point here is that, if women need a career they can get into relatively quickly with minimal study, make good wages, and have a lot of flexibility, CS rocks! Rather than filling support roles, they should consider going into CS. Not just in the upper echelon.

  127. Steve Avatar

    “I had a manager tell me I should stop writing code and focus on powerpoint and management, areas he found to be more in line with my talents. Was it because I’m a woman? I don’t know, but [obviously it is]”

    Wow, being passive aggressive much? It’s points like this that make your whole argument go down the drain.

    Also, an honest question: If you’re always treated differently, how can you tell when you’re being treated the same as all the guys? Isn’t there a risk of “why isn’t he looking at me? Is he ignoring me?”?

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Steve – I think you read my tone incorrectly. I was *honestly asking* if gender had anything to do with it. There are many other ways to explain the same data. As to your question, I think most of the time I’m treated well. Am I treated like “one of the guys”? I don’t know, should I be? (And why would I care if they are looking at me? I don’t understand)

      Also, please do try to keep comments respectful, even if you disagree. There is a real live human being (with feelings) on the other end of the comment form. I’m trying to understand things better, so I did some research, and then I shared that research. Like I said in my post, I much prefer a collaborative, “let’s figure this out together” approach.

  128. teekirol Avatar

    You make some great points, and I’m really glad you wrote this article because I don’t feel like there are very many out there that are non-scientific and that describe a woman’s perspective of this field.

    The “cowboy attitude”, if you will, of aggressively fighting and clamoring for every opportunity is the cause of a lack of women in other careers such as high-powered business execs, not just in tech. I recommend reading “The Sexual Paradox” if you haven’t already.

  129. John-David Dalton Avatar

    Nicole, you haven’t responded to email, so I will post here.

    > On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf.

    I assumed no such thing. I think it’s lousy that you have continued to pass off your interpretation of my assumptions/tweets as matter-of-fact, even after my initial explanation (which was buried by the mass of comments). Your carelessness is hurting my reputation. Please correct the post and either exclude my tweets or reword your statements more carefully.

  130. Rajesh Roy Avatar
    Rajesh Roy

    I would love to see more women in computing but I don’t think it is possible unless equality prevails in other parts of life and everyone’s thinking. (Including women).

    Also, you are focusing on negative stereotypes of men and positive stereotypes of women.

    Take this.

    Code-cowboy man : Works hard because he has primary responsibility to earn living or does open source work for love of profession.
    Developer Woman : Spends too much time in meetings & decorating trivial things rather than getting real stuff done under disguise of being good communicator and understands people.

  131. fringley Avatar


    Firstly, I was glad to read your article (and subsequent comments) which discussed the situation in more detail than can be expressed via twitter. However, I now regret ever making the post in the first place. It seems that many people believe that it was fuelled by jealously, which could not be further from the truth (I am not at University, so have nothing to gain from a grant for students anyway).

    My reaction came from imagining that I was an eligible male student and how I would feel if I was unable to get a grant to attend a conference that would benefit me, merely based upon my gender. In my humble opinion, this to me; does not seem fair. It was not my intention to ‘rain on anyones parade’ or be bitter about the grant in the slightest. I am happy that students are given these sort of advantages.

    Maybe my tweet was a little insensitive and I sure as hell will be keeping my opinions to myself from now on, as people have now based a long lasting impression of me from one short comment – I was angry and upset to find people (publicly) calling me a ‘d-bag’ and a ‘doofus’ having never met nor spoken to me.

    Put yourself in the shoes of a male student that can’t get a grant just because he is male. I’m no expert on the subject, but isn’t it that the sort of behaviour that caused gender divides in the first place?

  132. Wastedhours Avatar

    Whilst a lot of the points in the argument are true, I don’t believe they necessarily reflect a solely gender-based argument. The majority of the points highlight traits such as shyness, self confidence issues and facing your own personal barriers to entry – and have nothing to do with owning a particular set of reproductive organs.

    I for one, am very shy, don’t like talking to people, don’t like putting myself forward to be selected for tasks in case I’m seen by my peers to fail. I’m also going it alone at a comparatively young age without a formalised education in the field – and almost all of your points ring true for me.

    The actual sexism is a wider society issue (which should be reported); whilst totally reprehensible, there’ll be the sexist jokes and harrasment at an investment bank or a Wetherspoon’s on a Friday night. It’s not something we should sit and accept, but it’s not a “nerd-doesn’t-know-how-to-treat-women” thing.

    I do, understand the argument that special treatment shouldn’t be offered based on gender – I could be the poorest, most talented developer, but if there’s nothing like this to help me get a foot in the industry (only because I own a penis or have a skin colour which is that of the majority of people in my field), then ultimately, I might just fade away.
    Which is the exact argument that’s being proposed here: “if there’s no support or if there’s discrimination against me because I *don’t* own a penis, I might just fade away.”
    Similar arguments about an industry that cares about people already on the “inside”. People on the “outside” (regardless of gender) just aren’t that well catered for.

  133. Anthony Ginepro Avatar

    A really great post, with a thorough description, Thanks !

  134. […] first I thought very little of it but after seeing Nicole Sullivan’s and then Murphey’s more in-depth posts, I followed through to the rest of the […]

  135. Andrea Avatar

    Talk is cheap. Show me the code.

  136. Lois Avatar

    Personally the only way to survive as a female in a technical role is to be a self employed contractor so one can keep out of all the politics and power plays.

    As soon as one becomes an employee and under the rule of a narrow minded manager one is destroyed in confidence, self worth and ability to function with any creativity or enthusiasm.

    Why would any self respecting person (female or male for that matter) want to go daily to be constantly belittled and shredded? Because that’s what seems to happen to far too many of us in the workplace.

    For me the move to employment was necessitated since as one gets older the work opportunities (particularly at the moment) got to few and far between and I thought that doing some sort of engineering job would be better that the alternatives.

    I also made the mistake in believing all the HR glossy stuff about equalities etc.

    Have learned to keep my mouth shut, to follow instructions (even when wrong) and not to offer alternative views on anything.

    Very disillusioned and dispirited.

  137. kioopi Avatar

    I just hope that this whole stir-up won’t keep any of the developers who might get the chance to come with a ‘google-ticket’ from accepting out of fear of being at the center of attention one more time for the wrong reasons.

    jsconf is great, javascript is very much in motion right now. i’m looking forward to it, expecting it will be very rewarding. please come and see for yourself.

  138. david wright Avatar
    david wright

    Aren’t there just fewer female geeks? Aren’t females better at “people skills”?

    Many geeks retreat to technology because they find it so much easier to deal with than people, to the extent that they can spend all their time doing it without the need to get a life!

    So if you need to be a geek to excel in technology (particularly software) and there are more male geeks than female, there will necessarily be more males in technology.


  139. Tao Avatar

    Joining the party late, but I don’t think I’ve seen my view represented above:

    – I seriously think it’s naive (and counter-productive) to argue that under-representation MUST be caused by discrimination. (I am not arguing that it isn’t a factor, or even that it’s not true – just that the unchecked assumption is silly/problematic)

    – Rather than talking about a “Field” in which women are under-represented, I think it’s interesting to look at certain attributes of job function: In particular, I believe that women are rare in white-collar job positions that do not involve customer contact. You could argue that this is because sex sells, in a world where men still hold a majority of economic power, you could argue that it’s because women have innate people skills that men don’t, you could argue that it’s all sociological – but I think it would be interesting to look at it this way: are women simply excluded from “people-skill-less” positions because they (objectively or by perception bias) compete better in “people-skill-full” ones?

    – I’m not arguing, of course, that people skills are not valuable in tech, or specifically in development/programming, but rather that it’s easier to get by without them.

    – I suspect that this is lurking at the back of many minds but not stated. For example, above you mention “practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men).”; why?? You’re just echoing that “women think differently” crap!

    – I believe your “I don’t want to be a cowboy” rant is misguided. Women are perfectly competitive/competent “cowboys” in many other fields – consulting, medicine, etc – fields where a social element is recognized.

    Basically, I think we need to look a little harder at the biases at work; I have nothing against “Affirmative Action”, but to this problem it seems (to me) to be simply an ineffective PR stunt.

  140. Meg Avatar


    Nerdy men don’t ignore each other. They talk with each other, bounce ideas off each other, listen to other men’s ideas. Sometimes women do get ignored; it’s our magical powers of invisibility. It’s how men believe there aren’t any women in computer science. There can be good attention (related to work! looking for our input! listening to our experience!), bad attention (expecting us to make coffee! expecting romantic interactions! expecting us to conform to gender stereotypes! scornfully treating us with disdain! explaining why we are Doing Female Wrong!) and alienation (ignoring us! restating our ideas and getting credit! preferring to talk with other men! not inviting us to the business/social events because your wife might be suspicious!) It is perfectly legitimate to complain about both the second and third types of interaction.

    The “you wouldn’t want to be just one of the guys” is a red herring. Would I prefer if the culture was different? Sure. Could you possibly say something offensive I haven’t heard in my lifetime around nerdy men? Nope. I’m still here anyway. I know the difference between being treated like a nerd and treated like a female nerd; it has to do with how seriously people take me, whether they interrupt me, whether they assume my observations are false until I prove them when men in the room are assumed to be right until proven false, whether they avoid eye contact with me but not other people, whether they assume that I want to go into management. Sexism isn’t subtle; if you are sexist, the women you interact with have probably picked up on it. Whether or not they can productively do anything about it is a whole different matter.

    I can provide an example. There’s a guy at work who doesn’t respect my opinion. I have actually had the experience of sayings, “Let’s do $X,” and him replying, “That’s a stupid idea. Let’s do $X.” He got promoted to team lead and singled me out for observation, replacing my existing tasks with busywork and excluding me from any meetings where decisions are made. He speaks in a patronizing tone, and says things like, “why don’t you focus on the tasks I’ve given you?” when I make observations about pieces of the product I wrote, back when I was allowed to write code.

    Now, it could be he genuinely wants these clerical-level tasks done, doesn’t feel like I communicate enough and has never found my contributions valuable. It could be that he disrespects me because of my age, my communication style, my coding style or my lack of an advanced degree, though other people on this project share all those characteristics.

    Or it could be that I’m the only woman on the project.

    I can’t prove it; if I could I’d have HR down here right now, but it isn’t passive-aggressive not to hurt my career by getting HR involved when I don’t have any evidence, even though the logical explanation for this is gender-based. I can’t confront him about it without making the problem worse; I still have to work with him the next day. After talking with my supportive boss, I am transferring. Will this hurt my career? It could. Being known as a “whiner” or “quitter” at my job is devastating; you are rewarded for working with difficult personalities. When it comes time for promotions, will the fact that I transferred of his team hurt him? Probably not. Will it hurt me? More likely. But there wasn’t another good options.

    I don’t think my wishlist is particularly unreasonable. I want to work with people who believe people are humans first, coders second, and then maybe gender, while being aware that not all humans are like them and not expect people to act like (straight, white, cis) men in order to get recognition (it doesn’t work, anyway, as someone else pointed out; people respond differently to the same behavior depending on the gender of the actor.) I want to be able to go to lunch with a colleague without worrying that it will be misconstrued as a romantic advance. I want my ideas to be taken as seriously and not have to choose between living with discrimination or advancing my career. I just want to write code with a team of peers who consider me a full member of the team.

    Just because we don’t always get what we want doesn’t make our wants unreasonable.

  141. Brandon Avatar

    I have mixed feelings on your post, Nicole. I am only 28, but married and father of two boys (under 2.5yr old). I see where you are coming from in a lot of what you are saying, but I am very much a “self-server” in that I believe if somebody wants something they should go get it.
    It is hard for me to see industries, companies, instituations cater to certain types of people, seek them out, and throw “the world” at them when I, as a white male in America, have had to pay my entire way through college, ask for nearly every raise I’ve ever been given, and change jobs 3 times in 5 years to get where I’m at today.
    Yet I also see points in what you are saying that because a type of person may have an inherently different dimeanor, it SHOULDN’T be something that works against them. In a way, however, this is, to me, a form of darwinism.

    Be strong, be assertive, be confident, and you can accomplish anything your counterparts can – as you are clearly demonstrating.

    I completely acknolwedge there are some unfounded biases and blatant discriminations out there, but I also acknowledge the frustration of those passed over by “freebies” given to poeple who are of lower caliber on the basis of anything other than their performance. To justify that last comment I’ll say I was a TA in college for CompSci classes; I saw more than one student who was on a full ride to the university (mostly for ethnic background) that performed at a much lower caliber than other students w/o scholarship. I also had friends who were riding on full scholarships based on their race or country of origin (as they admitted to me) whom I consistently outperformed.

    If I had a daughter (maybe some day I will), I would do everything I could to foster whatever interests she had. If those interests were in Math or the Sciences, I would never dissuade her. Likewise, however, I would do my best foster in her a confidence to KNOW she can do it, and to GO for it. Not to sit back and wait to be handed her opportunities.

  142. vlaz Avatar

    Maybe I have been ignorant on this issue, but I always assumed there where not many women in IT because it simply was not an interesting career choice for many women. I have never seen a women be ‘pushed’ out of the field and into another career and I have never heard anyone tell a woman that a career in IT was not for women. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just saying I have never seen it. rmurphey talks about groping… I’m pretty sure a sexual harassment claim should take care of that… and what kind of a place are you working at where you get groped? Certainly would not happen anywhere I have worked.

  143. […] an article unearthed by Chris Shiflett written by female developer, Nicole Sullivan. The article, "Women in Technology", has been quoted by many on Twitter with the phrase "Why is computer science a sausage fest?" The […]

  144. Seagramdrinkingmanlyman Avatar

    I don’t support discriminating, but if women aren’t flocking to engineering and science, what can you do? It seems not much.

    Perhaps the stereotypes exist because reasons for their existence exist. Perhaps chicks just don’t dig digits. Perhaps the world will always be the way it is, whether we want it or not. Perhaps it’s no use complaining. Perhaps this is just another useless discussion. Or perhaps change is on the way. Probably not.

  145. dawnc Avatar

    To Pierre:

    Hate to say it, but you are wrong about women not liking the challenge and absorbtion of “actual” programming. I am a developer and I love all aspects of my job. The challenge of finding solutions no one else can (I am the only developer in an internal IT group). The challenge of writing new things and even more, I love to do graphics programming with my sons at home. However I am a mom of four children and a grandmother of one… I know when to take time off from programming and do other things. Funny the programs always wait for me to come back and don’t seem to mind. Even better sometimes the solutions just click right away when I come back to something 🙂

    I also know I am not the only woman that is like this. My best friend, we met when 10, has all the same abilities and does the same type of work.

  146. Ken Zook Avatar
    Ken Zook

    I got as far as your comment on the third tweet…”On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent…” You are being hypersensitive. His point was that qualifications were made less important than gender. He did not imply that those women were not deserving, as I’m sure you would not intentionally imply that they ARE deserving just because they are women. I’m also fairly sure you don’t understand that you SEEM to imply just that.
    You also SEEM to imply that the only possible reason women could be under-represented in technology is discrimination by men. While I’m sure such discrimination happens, I have never witnessed it in my 10+ years as a coder. How many women choose other careers based on their interests? How many go elsewhere, not because they are discriminated against, but because they are sure they WILL be discriminated against in that particular field?
    The vast majority of PEOPLE aren’t qualified to be coders, and of those, a smaller majority choose other “less boring” jobs. (less boring for them, I love coding) So you can’t be saying that womanhood equals programming talent or interest. Women, as a group, need to set their expectations higher. The fact is, men have no need to discriminate, because so many women sell themselves short.

  147. Juliana Avatar

    Just got out of a meeting where I am being asked to move into a management role. Been asking to do more coding for the past 9 months and have had lots of compliments on how good I am.

    Strange that this happened one day after reading this article.

  148. T800 Avatar

    Even on forum/site where I participate there isn’t many (any?) women, and more often than not, they are transgender persons.
    Watcha think bout that?

  149. concerned Avatar

    another thought:
    1. suppose for a minute that the same number of men and women are in the workforce (i don’t actually know the percentages, but just try it as a thought experiment).
    2. as long as there is even ONE profession that is out of whack percentage-wise, there must be others that are out of whack percentagewise. so…
    3. Can we really talk about the difference in # of women in tech without talking about the difference in the # of men in nursing?

    Maybe nursing is irrelevant, per se – but the presence of any profession that unevenly distributes across genders is going to be reflected in other professions. Some of the subtle bias you described above, in tech, happens to a friends of mine that is a male nurse at a hospital. So for every perceived issue, I think part of the thought exercise is to take a step back and examine similar situations where the gender balance is reversed – is the issue a “normal” bias likely to occur in any profession with unbalanced gender? or is it a specific issue to the male gender or female gender in this situation?

    I recall hiring several excellent female software engineers out of college. They weren’t just the best women engineers I could hire, they were among the people I was most excited about hiring overall at our firm. Unfortunately, 10 years later, only one or two of them are still writing code. Well, wait. Is it unfortunate? One of them is a vp of engineering at a major tech company now. Another one owns her own small business. And the third is, still writing excellent code and amazing people with her skills.

    The case of the VP: within one year of starting at our firm, she moved into a dev management position. I advised her that it was too soon to move into management – that management skills were relatively easy to learn, and mostly required emotional intelligence and life experience to execute well. But coding skills were difficult to come by (at her level) and would be the best route to differentiate herself in years to come. She thought I was holding her back (perceived gender bias). I thought she was “bailing on code” too soon in her career. I doubt she’s written a line of code since. But she’s been very successful. So, you may perceive people to be pushing women to promote to management early, but my own experience was the opposite – that they were all too eager to give up coding and move into what they perceived to be more respected and important roles. Of course, the people who write code don’t respect management more than other people who write code, but there is no convincing the young that you have learned this lesson already 😉

    My larger point: there are so many truths that each of us have lived and experienced. We form our conclusions based on the data we can see, and our own biases and conceptions. Yet we still have to be open minded to the idea that our own personal truth isn’t absolute, and may not even be accurate overall. Thanks for sharing your experiences Nicole. I hope more women software professionals will stick with it and do more – our industry would benefit greatly from the diversity, and the talent.

    of course, one thing that often goes unnoticed is that the boys in our society are falling behind in education overall… we have a crisis brewing but we don’t see it very well because the statistics of previous generations still dominate the data (at least when you’re looking at working age population).

  150. Keith Reedy Avatar
    Keith Reedy

    GREAT post. Really well done. There is no one great developer than can do it all well. I feel it takes a team. And while members of that team need to have things in common, they also need to be different. Lets face it, different people from different walks of life…see things well differently!

  151. Michelle T Avatar

    WOW…Nicole that was awesome. I find some of the men’s comments extremely humerous, but I grew up in a house hold with that exact same attitude. I have 5 sisters and one brother, and a father that felt there was no reason any of us girls should go to college. He owned a construction company, and all of the girls could scrap out a house faster than the guys on his crew. I could frame a wall in by the time I was 16, and tape and texture a room or run the wire and put in the outlets. But because I couldn’t hang the sheet rock, dad said “I should use my brain for a job, go be a receptionist ect until I was married.” Well, 200,000 in student loans later (because I couldn’t get a scholarship guys– even with a 4.0). I have undergrad degrees in psychology and math and graduate degrees in Software Engineering and Database Technoligies all with gpa’s no lower than 3.8.

    Yes I gave birth during finals week with all 3 of my children, and I still managed to thrive. I had math prof’s that would subjectively grade tests and my points would always be lower than the football players that I tutored. I had Pascal teachers that didn’t give women A’s because their code was always “shabier” than the guys and ended up with an A-. But probably because of the way in which I grew up, I just took it as a challenge and kept right on going.

    I have learned over the years that I have to work harder to prove myself, I’m not a me, me, me person. I love coding, I love the puzzles and business processes. I was a tech before I was a programmer, and I’ve been in IT for over 20 years. I have taught my 14 year old son both how to build a computer and how to code in Jave, C# and C. I will also teach my 5 year old daugher and my 4 year old son. I think the problem solving ability should be a gender neutral concept. 🙂

    I have been blessed with wonderful bosses and not so wonderful bosses. I have always been paid less than my male counterparts, and no I don’t think it’s right or fair. But keeping that in mind, I still make more than my chiropractor husband LOL, and I try to keep a since of humor about it. With that said, as bad as the economy is, and even with the restriction that I place that I will only work from home, anytime I have been umemployed, I have found a job within 3 weeks of searching.

    So…what I would like to see is more female coders out there. But part of that is selfish, I would love to be able to discuss new ideas with other women that understand that I can cook dinner, redirect children and still come up with ideas that have merit, and that actually understand what the hell it is I’m saying. 🙂

    Your article brought out some really good points! I hope to see more women that can look past or fight thru the subjective sexism so that a more rounded IT field as whole can emerge. Women have a unique perspective, as many of us have heald the jobs these applications are written for, and we have the added bonus of being a little more empathetic to the end user.

  152. […] Stubbornella » Blog Archive » Woman in technology – Usually I avoid topics like women in technology because (1) it is a can of worms, and (2) I can really only speak for myself. For the most part, I’d rather be seen as a person in technology than a woman, but this weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize. […]

  153. […] just came across this blog post by Nicole […]

  154. Laura Avatar

    One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons has a dog looking up at a cat in the tree. The dog says, “Okay, you can come down, but only if you agree to be a dog.”

    To Daniel Miessler’s comment about how it’s just that CS fields have more masculine traits so women choose not to participate, I think Daniel isn’t aware of just how deep of a problem he’s describing. Why do programming fields tend to select by masculine traits? Why is it that games are mainly hunting, first-person shooters? Could it be that women are not part of the creative process, the decision making process?

    Men are de facto definers of the male-dominated micro-cultures by merit of the mere fact that they had the initial exclusive. The fact that women don’t like to play macho workplace games isn’t an excuse, guys. Squatting rights may define the reality, but they don’t justify how that affects people who come later. What if these cultures were defined by men and women. What if? Until then, I’m afraid we’ll continue to see this discussion arise every few months (alas, every few months).

  155. William Avatar

    As a male librarian I have felt a tiny taste of what it is like to not fit in with my professional peers (who are largely women), and I definitely feel like active encouragement of difference – especially at conferences – is to be lauded. Thank you for your thorough and reasonable take on this issue.

  156. Anna Avatar

    Thanks so much for this post. I think it is hard for many male programmers in the field to understand that there is everyday bias that makes it more difficult for the female programmers.

    The biggest one for me is the lack of a female role model/mentor in the workplace. And I have to agree that I am my own worse enemy. I have no abilities in judging my own skills accurately

    I would also like to add my favorite sexist remark — when I tell people that I am a web developer they immediately assume that I am a designer. No way could I be a programmer.

  157. Dan Strohschein Avatar


    I’ve been coding professionally for 12 years. I’ve only had the pleasure to work with a female developer 3 times in those 12 years and each time I was better for it. This past year, I decided to go and get my undergrad in Computer science. The first year, we had 5 females in the course. By the end of that year, we had 1. I’ve asked the females who left why they dropped the program, and unfortunately the answer was the same “After I got into it, I figured out that computers just aren’t for me. I don’t dig the geek stuff that much.”

    This makes me wonder, quite honestly, how many females share the same ideology – how many females just aren’t interested, compared to ones that are.

    I would wholeheartedly like to see more female scientists/engineers/developers in the field.

  158. […] Anyway, this post by Nicole Sullivan says it all much better than I could.  Here you go. […]

  159. "Cowboy" Ben Alman Avatar

    Oops, looks like I’ve got the wrong nickname for this conversation…

  160. Taisha Avatar

    Courageous post.

    I am an attorney so please trust that I understand the obstacles in traditionally male-dominated fields. We lawyers are a stodgy group and if you peek at portraits of partners at large law firms, it is reminiscent of staring at photos of our founding fathers.

    But the one thing I disagree on (and I cannot believe I’m even writing this) is the need for affirmative action (at least as the policy is understood in the US). I am both black and female and have likely reaped some benefit from affirmative action policies. However, while I am not yet prepared to join Ward Connerly in abolishing affirmative action, I am convinced that it is, at best, a short-term solution with long-term adverse consequences.

    In the short-term, affirmative action policies can open doors for under-represented groups (women, minorities, disabled, etc.). But, I believe that the long-term impact is more divisive as you clearly see in the comments to your post as well as have experienced in your own rise in technology. I graduated from the first magnet school in Nashville. I had earned enough AP credits prior to graduation to eventually be able to graduate early from college. There were only 101 students in my class so the expectation was clear that all of us would attend the most selective universities in the nation. I had classmates who were accepted into nearly every Ivy League school. I chose the University of Michigan and, thankfully, it also chose me. But this did not stop a high school “friend” who had also applied but was not accepted into Michigan from saying to me that the only reason that I got in was because I was black. I had two choices at that point-beat his a** (I am a defender of what is just so I have beat down many a bully in my day) or do what I did, which was simply say-okay as I packed up my life and rolled out to Ann Arbor.

    And there have been many other instances where my credentials, my ability, my intellect, and my talent have all been questioned. Although I find it irritating, it does not hinder me from speaking up and trying my best to be both seen and heard. For many women, however, as you indicate, the mere belief that affirmative action is in play, is sufficient to silence them. I have witnessed it first hand with many of the successful women and people of color I know. The long-term adverse consequence of this is that when people from disadvantaged groups attain success in their respective fields, they go silent. They, like you, put their nose to the grind to prove that they are worthy of being there. They try not to draw too much attention to themselves (which could explain why some talented women don’t volunteer for speaking engagements in tech or to work on open source projects) because they are just so damn happy and relieved to be there.

    Instead I would advocate that we skip the affirmative action and focus on empowering the women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups who are already in positions within leading, cutting-edge and innovative organizations to recruit, mentor and create opportunities for others. This rarely happens now because of the baggage that accompanies the label.

    You have obviously paid your dues and earned the respect of your industry. The next step is to work with others in your industry, men and women, who want to support you because they respect your work. I know that we cannot do this alone but I am a firm believer in not asking for permission to be who I am and to do what I feel my skills and talent allow. And affirmative action feels too much like asking for permission.

    I wish that I had already figured out a viable alternative but I haven’t, which is why I can’t yet bring myself to vote against affirmative action policies. But I would love to brainstorm with others about a better long-term solution and one that will not result in just a few chosen people breaking through the barriers. There is a tipping point and we need to do more so that you aren’t the only woman at the table.

  161. Glenn Avatar

    Not sure I buy all this. I have worked as an Electrical Engineer and Computer Programmer for 20 years. Known several Ladies in the industry. Some good Developers Some bad. Several were friends. One is really close, known her for 20 years. They never told me about any frustration with the work environment that we all did not feel.

    I also have friends who are nurses, and a physical therapist. They say that there are challenges to a female dominated field but they did not feel subject to unfair standards.

    Firemen, Police, Engineering, Programming, EMS, etc. are all fields dominated by men. We are not born with a blank slate. Do men have a natural ability, or is there really a better approach to education in these areas? It will take DATA to figure it out.

  162. Johan Strömhielm Avatar
    Johan Strömhielm

    One “code cowboy” trait I think needs to be added is: It’s not about being élite per se, but rather to make an explicit point of being so – and of others NOT being so. Differences is what matters (as long as it means I’m better, that is).

    Also, I agree completely with the commenter (whose nick I failed to find again) pointing out that the biz is competitive to men as well. The “code cowboys” appear all over and we all have to participate in the “pissing contests”. I can buy the fact that women have to work extra hard in many cases (though I try hard to counter that where I see it), but that does not mean that men get away for nothing. It might just be that we are more prone to “flaunt” our own excellence (think peacocks 😉

  163. Michael Smith Avatar
    Michael Smith

    Tone? Respectful?

    Is referring to a field which may be or is male dominated a “sausage fest” being respectful?

    I find it curious that when women complain about men or being treated unfairly (as they see it) they frequently bring penis into the discussion in some intended slight.

    Maybe Freud was right.


  164. ncloud Avatar

    I’m a bit confused. I am a male professional software developer and I also dislike the attitudes/expectations/behavior you classify as “code cowboy”. In fact, I’ve left jobs where these were the norm because they are just bad development practices in general. But I never expected anyone to remove these barriers for me, or to subsidize a career change because I didn’t like them.

    I agree with Kyle:

    “I honestly think the real focus of scholarship programs, and of blog posts and discussions on this topic like this, should be to help encourage more women of merit to set aside their assumptions and their fears and assertively put their ideas and skills out there for the community to recognize and reward.”

  165. Dennis Avatar

    Let’s stop putting each other in boxes. Men and women have far far more in common than we are different. Let’s focus on that.

    There are fewer women in tech because it is not marketed to them. Often it would not even enter their heads as a career choice. The place that changes is in school (high school), where they can be given the option (preferably by a suitable role-model in the field).

    Men in tech, believe it or not, like having women in tech. I met my girlfriend studying for my masters and defer to her when it comes to low level algorithm, and she defers to me for system level stuff. She’s not good at one thing because she’s a girl and I’m not good at another because I’m a guy… we just are.

    Also stop bashing “sausage-party” behaviour. There are no girls around, we are going to act like a bunch of guys. What would you rather? Introspective musings? Self interested pop-philosophy?

  166. […] yet another mishmash of contradictory opinions about the supposed underrepresentation of “woman in technology” […]

  167. arlen Avatar

    Two stories, to illuminate where I’m coming from:

    During my time in the Air Force, I was privileged(?) to serve under an officer who clearly didn’t deserve the position. The position required a minimum score on a standardized test, but in the interest of promoting minorities in the profession, “bonus points” were added to the test scores for being, in this case, a woman and an african-american. The result was to put someone in charge of the system that controlled ICBM targeting who could not manage to understand that the terminal in her office was *not* a trainer, but was in fact talking to the actual system that would control just what areas on the planet might suddenly cease to exist.

    My wife had a four-year degree in accounting with 5 years experience and was working on her CMA. She sent her resume to Robert Half, and was given to their representative that handled bookkeepers. We thought that strange, so the next day I called in, with her resume in front of me, and after answering questions from her resume, I was immediately given over to their accountant rep.

    From the second, I came to the conclusion that anyone who says gender discrimination doesn’t exist is a fool, plain and simple. Sorry to be so blunt, but the facts are in front of your face and if you can’t see them, then you’re probably part of the problem.

    From the first, I gained a distrust of affirmative action programs. But, I’m rational enough to realize this brush doesn’t paint *all* AA programs, just badly-designed ones. And from what I can tell about the Google scholarship mentioned in this article, it’s not targeted at admitting people to a field that can’t do the job; it’s targeted at getting people of a particular class that *can* do the job to come participate in a conference. And that’s a horse of a different color.

    John Medina’s book “Brain Rules” shows a scenario that leads to lower levels of female participation, which appears to be based upon differences in the brains of men and women, and computing in general and OS in particular exhibit nearly every single hindering behavior he notes. If I may interpret some of his observation, he observed that while both male and female brains interpreted “I win” as a positive, only male brains seemed to interpret “you lose” as a strong positive — the girls were interested in seeing who else succeeded, while the boys were interested in seeing who failed. The approach of the schoolgirls seemed to be “I’m smart and you’re smart, too.” while the boys seemed to home in on “I’m smarter than you.”

    As for the question about female OS maintainers, I can start with webchick, a Drupal maintainer. Last I checked, Val Aurora (nee Henson) would qualify, both for her kernel hacking and for her work on ZFS. Margarita Manterola maintains some debian packages. Modesty may have prevented the earlier mention of http://github.com/stubbornella/oocss/network (a small project, true, with only 85 nodes in the network graph, but it counts nonetheless). Then there’s Allison Randall over at Perl. And Sara Golemon at PHP… well, let’s save some electrons and stop the list here. There are enough to prove the lack isn’t because of gender deficiencies, but there are few enough to prove the problem exists.

    I have also seen a woman discover a major security vulnerability in an OS project, and seen the maintainers ignore both the patch *and the problem report*. Guess how many more bugs she’s going to look for and fix? How many times do you tolerate having the door slammed in your face by people that talk meritocracy and act a completely different scenario, before you walk away?

    I went into the list above because the commenter’s tone made me think the point was women weren’t doing (possibly because they weren’t able) those things. They are. But, as the next paragraph indicates, we’re making it harder for them than we should, hence there are not as many as there should be.

    I think it was Fowler who wrote: “I can’t choose whether someone is offended by my actions. I can choose whether I care.” Too many of us have chosen not to care. And *that* is the heart of the issue. If more of us care, the grants won’t be needed.

    Obviously caring too much about it is another problem. But right now the problem is we don’t care enough. We dial it down a bit when we’re with friends, because we want to, because we value them. Why can’t we widen the circle just a little bit value a few more people who might happen to think a little differently than we do?

  168. Joe Avatar

    I would like to offer an alternative view for your first point in the ‘a good developer’ itemization. I don’t believe one needs to like people to be able to relate to or understand them. For myself, understanding people is a lot of the reason that I don’t like them.

    Having said that, I love to help people. In fact, my first love is teaching. One cannot reasonably support a family on a teaching salary, though, as horrid of a State of the Union statement as that is. Programming was the next logical step for me because it combines my desire to help people and my love for analytical thinking, and there is a teaching aspect when training end users.

    At the time I got into programming in the early 80’s it was the abysmal user experience that attracted me. It was clear that programs were written to *do* something rather than to *help* someone. I watched users work almost as hard or sometimes even harder to use software that was in theory supposed to help them do their jobs more efficiently. I also saw that the difference between horrific software and excellent software was often nothing more than the difference in user experience. I knew that was a perfect fit for me, and I have done very well with it for more than 25 years. And, I really love programming.

    One of my very favorite things is seeing my clients and end users faces light up when my deliverable works better than they thought it would, and they can see how much time and effort will be saved. Even after all these years that still gives me as big a rush as it ever has, and is pretty much the whole reason I do this.

    But that doesn’t mean I have to like people to perform my job well. As paradoxical as that might seem it is fact none the less.

  169. JMiller Avatar

    First, your presentation at Velocity was great.

    Second, you make a crucial point about role models that (as a white guy) I’d never had to stop and think about before: “Being a home heath aide is dirty work with bad hours and heavy lifting — but it is a career women can imagine, whereas, right now, they clearly can’t imagine themselves coding.” (emphasis added if the commending allowed it to be.)

    Because while I can say “Look, I’m sorry people are jerks and programmers in particular tend toward adult-onset Asperger’s, but what do you expect any policy to do about it?”, what I can’t say because it never even occurs to me [white guy!] to ask is “why ever would you be afraid of feeling out of place?” because the suggestion that you can be out of place implies that the narrative of meritocracy (which we like to drape ourselves in as reassurance that our successes are well-earned) isn’t the whole story:

    If somebody isn’t feeling encouraged to do their best because they don’t have a grasp, conscious or otherwise, on what their best can be, then their ability to build and succeed on their personal merits is mitigated.

    Given that, a crucial role for ongoing affirmative action is to encourage early movers in underrepresented demographics to provide other people in their demography with a grasp, conscious or otherwise, of what they might be able to achieve or surpass in the hope/expectation that the (or rather, any given) meritocracy will be expanded and thus more accurate because potentially high-performing people won’t be censoring themselves out of it.

    Anyway, I hope that I’ve properly interpreted at least that portion of what you were talking about because it’s super-lucid to me and is something that a policy (like Google promoting not just a conference to women, but also women at a conference to women) can work to solve for.

  170. RandomDude Avatar

    Your article was an interesting read but you seem to be mixing software development and computer science education interchangeably. All your statements about what it takes to be a good software developer are entirely correct. I don’t know many Male “cowboy-coders” working as professional software developers. This is a legacy of an earlier time when computers were not significantly abstracted and did require cowboy coders to stay up all night reading obscure manuals and figuring out the system. Fields tend to progress along the lines of Science -> Engineering -> Technical. Software dev is more or less in the Engineering stage right now.

    Now, I’m not denying that Sexism exists, I’ve seen it. I fully believe that women are just as capable as men in the technology field. I believe we don’t see many women in getting a Computer Science education for the same reason I watched about 75% of my first year class drop out before making it to 4th year. People think, “Software is a good job, I’ll just get a degree in Computer Science and I’m set.” Make no mistake, CS is a science, it is not there to train you to be a software developer. You don’t go into Physics without expecting to spend oodles of hours in the lab, late nights etc. Same with CS – though there is a recent trend at some universities to dumb down their CS in order to facilitate these career seekers. I hope the m-f ratio evolves as technology is becoming more accessible, but to truly excel in CS, it is like any other science field. You have a passion and put in the time. CS is a sausage fest, because most of us that survived it were the ones that, at 12 years old, were reading obscure manuals and tinkering and hacking and cowboy coding instead of socializing, playing sports etc. I know several brilliant female Computer Scientists and guess what? They shared the same “cowboy” traits. To put this into context, I don’t know many female physicists, chemists, who did not emulate certain “cowboy” traits in their field. I was friends with one during my time at Uni and we called her the “Lab-Rat” because she spent most of her time there.
    You state:
    “CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context.”
    That is not the job of a University professor. They explain the theory, you take the theory, explore it, learn it, understand it, make it yours, ask questions when you need to.

    Sorry I get a bit carried away, the stigma that CS is just to train developers grates me. I watched my University systematically remove everything that made it a great science program to facilitate training developers. There are tonnes of IT Tech schools that are better suited for this.

    Now, out of the class room and into the business environment. This is a different story. Cowbody coding utterly fails here. All your points about what it takes to be a good developer are entirely accurate. I don’t believe there is any mental issue separating women from men. I know a lot of good female developers. I work at a company where half the developers are female. The profession is evolving thankfully.

    What can we do to get more women in the field? We need to start young and teach women that is okay to be assertive, it is okay to be confident in yourself, it is okay to take credit for something you did.
    Yes, those that only say “me, me, me” are bad, but really, if you can’t sell yourself, how do you expect someone to buy you? Business environments are highly competitive and by nature selective. You need to assert your abilities. I find that in a lot of fields were there is a perception (real or imagined) of discrimination against women, it’s more often the case they were just overlooked because they did not assert their abilities. This happens to a lot of men as well. Managers are not omniscient. They don’t see all that you do unless you point it out.
    We need women to stand up, succeed, and show the upper echelon that they are just as capable.

    Another thing that needs to be done is increase the interest in the field for women. There is still a stigma of “geek” and that it’s not cool or socially acceptable. Everyone needs a rolemodel to gain inspiration from. We need women in the field to act in this capacity. A lot of it has to come from within. You need to find your own interest in things. This is not something we (guys) can do for you. “What do women want?” F*#k if I know. I’ll be a billionaire when I figure it out!
    It will take a collaborative approach. Both Men and Women need to change in certain ways. Women need to show that it’s okay to be assertive. They need to provide rolemodels for other women in the field, and generate their own interest. Guys did it for ourselves, we created “guy” games that interested guys. Women, you need to tell us what you want!
    Men need to change their perception of women. Part of the problem is the “boys club”. All men are guilty of it. They need to be critical of other men that are acting in a discriminating manner. Guys, you need to ask women what they want.

    Lolz – this was a lot longer than I meant to rant. Anyways, I think the demographic has more to do with interest. Guys know what guys want so we make stuff that interests us. The interest fuels more men into the field and thus perpetuates.

  171. Ellen Spertus Avatar
    Ellen Spertus

    Great post!

  172. Ravi Avatar

    Nicole, I think you have made some very good points here. I would say there is no simple solution to this, but we would need a fundamental change in people’s perceptions. Remember in the olden days how female doctors were looked down upon? No one cares now, and hopefully CS and engineering go the same way. All one should keep in mind is that the person across you is a PERSON, and he/she is capable of anything irrespective of gender.

  173. […] Stubbornella » Blog Archive » Woman in technology July 28, 2010 // 0 Usually I avoid topics like women in technology because (1) it is a can of worms, and (2) I can really only speak for myself. For the most part, I’d rather be seen as a person in technology than a woman, but this weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize. via stubbornella.org […]

  174. Emily Avatar

    I am a senior in college studying CS. Gender bias in my major is something I see every day. It doesnt come in the obvious, spoken ways. It’s way more subtle, but it exists in the attitude.

    See, it’s not about whether or not you, sitting right now at your computer reading this article, think women are less qualified then men. Or that a male developer DOESN’T have to earn your respect based on merit.

    It’s about when you walk into a room full of CS developers – say, 25 men and 2 women – The men start at a neutral level in which you neither question or respect their ability, but the women start at a level where you question why they are there, who brought them along or if they know what they are doing.

    It’s about the fact that if a woman sat in the back of a high-level CS class and never asks or answers a question, you would question her ability to keep pace with the class. If it was a guy, you would just assume he keeps to himself or is quietly a genius.

    It’s the innate bias that exists where women have to PROVE their technical chops before being taken seriously at all. Men are assumed to be qualified and are in a position only to disprove their abilities.

    I love my field, but I am constantly having to prove myself.

  175. retrorambler Avatar

    Great article. I would take some of the thoughts a step further and say that the CS culture lends it’s self to sexism. It started out with men, men who are nerds. These nerds are alienated from women and probably could not even speak with one for the most part and can only comment on blogs. This kind of alienation can lead to a “to hell with them” attitude and therefor “I will treat the few that I have contact with in the way I see bravado guys.” This will most likely lead to a culture of glass ceilings. Its Mad Men for nerds.

  176. Florian Avatar

    Going into the same direction as Ian, I have to say that every time this discussion comes up, I feel a bit torn. Affirmative action sounds so great, but really, aren’t the real issues very much not gender-specific?

    The train of thought almost always seems to be “It’s a jungle out there, and men on the whole are so pushy. We need to support women so they can compete”. Maybe even with the added (in theory great!) idea of “it will be better for everybody, because it will make everybody less pushy over time”. That’s not a gender thing though. I don’t feel competent enough to decide whether men, on average, are more pushy than women (that might very well be); but even if so, affirmative action does not look like a solution to the problem. What you tend to do is put the non-pushy men at disadvantage, while supporting, out of all women, those that are just as pushy as the “average man”.

    On the other hand, if you found a way to actively work against the perceived jungle mentality, you would make the field much more accessible to people that don’t feel accepted in there yet. That will probably include women then, and you killed three birds with one stone: fight the jungle mentality, get women in, and not perpetuate the sexist stereotypes you try to fight, by making out men as tougher and more pushy than women on average.

  177. Dain Kennison Avatar
    Dain Kennison

    Late to the flamewar but… mad props homegirl, mad props.

  178. Martin Avatar

    I have two comments:

    Comment 1:

    “The good developer: Digs the fact that he is making products for people.”

    I think there is also room for people who dive into the problem of inventing algorithms and such without thinking about their practical application in consumer products. However, you don’t have to have an arrogant attitude about it, like the code-cowboy would.

    I dislike code-cowboys as much as the next person because it’s really hard to work with them and their egos. I just think that sometimes the geekery that is low level abstraction programming gets a lot of undeserved flak in this kind of discussions. I think it’s perfectly alright to enjoy writing code for the sake of writing code, regardless of gender. It doesn’t necessarily make you a code-cowboy.

    Comment 2:

    I work for a software development company where there’s probably at least 90% males. There are many different types of people working there. There are code-cowboys, there are shy introverts and there are people that are very collaboration-minded. As always, it is the alpha male code-cowboys that are the loudest and the most obnoxious (and therefore seem to be more in numbers than they actually are). They make male developers question their own skills too. What I am saying is that the code-cowboy is a problem not only for females, but for males too. This sometimes gets lost in the debate.

    Being a guy that has gone to school with and worked with mostly other males my entire life, I can tell you from experience that alpha males are a pain to be around, regardless of field and gender. There’s always going to be a certain percentage of men that are oppressive a-holes to everyone. Maybe it is social programming, but it is my personal belief that the alpha male condition is there from birth for some men.

  179. brown Avatar

    I love that most (all?) of the dissenters and dismissers are white dudes. You know, because they know better than anyone what it feels like to experience discrimination.

  180. Zip Avatar

    Joe Clark just owned this post SO HARD: http://blog.fawny.org/2010/07/28/stubbornella/

  181. Dave Balmer Avatar

    This blog strikes a chord with me. Not only is ego-driven table-thumping cowboy behavior a barrier for diversity, it impedes productivity.

    Women in Engineering have a tough job, and not because of the work. The general attitudes range from patronizing to outright exclusion by many of the more vocal males in most places I’ve worked. As a result, I see many more women move over to management, QA or the product side of the equation. I really wonder if many moved there because they got sick of the “macho nerd” crap. I certainly am.

    I’m looking forward to Engineering departments which don’t tolerate this type of crappy behavior. Sadly, many quietly encourage it with the misguided notion that stereotypical white male jerk nerds make better stuff. I’ve got a good share of ego about my work, but I’ve found over the decades that keeping it in check is way more effective. Getting people on board with an idea (“socializing” for you corporate types), collaborative development, and at a minimum using hard facts to make a point are all superior to the cowboy way.

    Come on guys, stop acting like programming is a martial art. Stop thinking with your hormones, and start using your higher brain functions. It seriously helps you code better.

  182. Samantha Avatar

    I never really thought of myself as a female programmer, just someone who codes and happens to be female. I heard a lot of “oh you can’t do physics because you’re a girl.” or “oh you can’t do calculus because you’re a girl.” when I was younger. It bothered me a lot, yes, but I never let it hinder me from doing what I love. I eat, breathe, and sleep code and math, but I also have a lot of hobbies outside of work with somewhat of a social network. I don’t really see a need to choose one or the other.

    It was really different after I got out of high school. College was something else. I was the only female in a classroom of 60 other guys. We were all there to code and beat the pants off each other in Tekken after class. No one cared. It was nice.

    Work’s pretty much the same. Maybe it’s different in the casual game industry, where we can sit and discuss what sort of hardware can run Starcraft 2 properly or how the raid in an MMO went last night. It might be different because I’m the one who loves math the best out of the team (the only two females on the team are the mathematics fanatics. Go figure, right?).

    Well I’ll tell you the advantage of being a female programmer. The women’s bathroom is always empty.

  183. Ni Avatar

    I frequently hear about discrimination against women in CS, and maybe it’s just because I haven’t had to deal with the social dynamic of a big job out in the field (instead, smaller projects, and the whole CS department here at my University), but I really have to say that I haven’t experienced much of an issue with it. Sure, being a woman in a huge group of guys is a bit tough; you feel like you’re getting more sexual attention than you might like, and cultivating close friendships within your area becomes nigh impossible, but none of the problems I’ve faced have been related to discrimination. On the contrary, since I’m a girl in CS and am good at what I do, people acknowledge my talents. I’m treated like a valuable commodity, and awesome benefits are available for me.

    I’m sure that the individual experience varies from person to person, but in my case it’s more of an inconvenience than anything.

  184. Chris Avatar

    Great post. Great responses. I have not read all the responses (150+), but great to see that @fringley has learned something from your post. Unfortunate that @jdalton hasn’t. Wonderful to see allies like @Jamie Flournoy, @John Allsopp . Wish there were more people like them.

    Please don’t change your text based on a @jdalton’s request. Based on an apology, perhaps. Based on him learning the errors of his ways, perhaps. But his request seems like another privileged child, used to always to getting what he wants. This is the exact behavior — not a necessarily male thing or female thing, though it usually falls along those lines — a privileged person expecting someone he deems should be passive (a female) to do exactly what he wants when he wants it. A brat.

    Instead of asking you to not quote his crap, perhaps he should stop spewing it. He doesn’t even seem to find the women he denigrates to be worth following.

    @jquery Sour grapes? Just because someone is successful, they don’t have the right to state how they feel? Are blinders to reality requisite for those who succeed? you make no sense.

    @Kyle Simpson: I know you’re trying, but you’re not quite enlightened yet. Try wearing a skirt for a week. Not that all women wear skirts, but it may give you a bit of insight into what it is like to be made to feel completely out of place – looked at, gawked at, made to feel like you don’t fit in. The comments you receive won’t be the same ones a woman in tech (wearing jeans and a freebie t-shirt) receives, but just knowing what it is like to get comments from people when you’re not even in a conversation with them and what it is like to get comments completely unrelated to your work from those who you used to think were ‘professional’.

    @david wright Yes, in general, women are better at people skills. It’s not genetic. It’s learned. Women are just as geeky. It’s just that they are capable of more than one skill: coding skills and social skills. Women should not need to forget their social skills to be accepted as coders, instead, here is a great place for men to emulate women: male geeks should learn social skills. Men should become more like women, not the other way around.

    So saddened to read that some people don’t even realize that society needs to be changed. It’s not a woman’s role to change the the world. It is everyone’s role.

    Blows me away when men “know” what its like to be a woman, and think women don’t know what it is like to be themselves. Can I recommend some commenters and some quoted people read http://jangosteve.com/post/380926251/no-one-knows-what-theyre-doing Perhaps they can realize that they don’t know what they don’t know, so to the one’s of us who at least know that we don’t know, they appear to be full of shit.

  185. Anca Avatar

    I’ve been a programmer for a long time – but there were many periods in my career where I didn’t actually do any coding, and instead spent a lot of time making PowerPoint presentations, and writing spec documents, project plans, etc. I chose to those things – because explaining and guiding make it possible for us to finish programming projects while delivering the CORRECT product. My job was to literally translate our project goals from “business speak” into something programmers could use, and then to translate the “programmer speak” into something useful and informative for the people that funded our projects.

    So, I wouldn’t take it as as an insult, or a denigration of my abilities, to be asked to go into management, or to spend more time in PPT than C++.

  186. AJ Avatar

    A great article.
    Things indeed seem to be getting worse– when I was in grad school in the late 80s (CS PhD program @ Stanford), my ‘year’ was half women. I think we all felt fairly normal in our chosen field at the time.

  187. transman Avatar

    Thank you for articulating the challenges you have faced as an American female developer. As a transman, I have had an uncommon opportunity to see gender discrimination from two different perspectives. My frustration with it has only increased as I have been fully accepted as a man and seen previous barriers fade.

    If you haven’t listened to the Hanselminutes episode on “Women in Technology in the Muslim World”, you should find 36 minutes to do so – http://www.hanselman.com/blog/HanselminutesPodcast203WomenInTechnologyInTheMuslimWorld.aspx or http://www.hanselminutes.com/default.aspx?showID=221 it might give you a glimmer of hope that things really can be better.

  188. AJ Avatar

    I find the experiences of transgendered scientists very telling. http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/the-situation-of-sexism/
    They are in a position to evaluate whether they are treated differently by their colleagues when their genders change (but their abilities, of course, remain the same). Bottom line– they are treated very differently.

    I know a male–>female programmer who has some hair-raising stories along these lines.

    [Just as I was about to post this I noticed the comment by @transman above. I bet you have a lot of stories too].

  189. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

    You have made me laugh (out loud many times), even the more misguided comments. So, thank you!

    The best part of daring to write this post has been seeing how many female geeks are out there. We made ourselves visible this week and I for one am deeply appreciating all of you. I’ve added many to my list of grrlgeeks on twitter. (If I missed someone, even if she is you, please message me).

    In case you missed the link, go listen to this video about Egyptian female geeks. It is completely mind blowing.

    That said, I’m ready to go back to coding, so I’ve decided to turn off comments on this post. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and willingness to re-examine assumptions. If you still think sexism doesn’t exist, I wish on you the comments I moderated into oblivion — oh wait, I don’t wish that on anyone.