Where are the women? Technology conferences trying to represent females.

17/Jun/2013

Where are all the girls?

There’s a lot of discussion around women in the technology field and specifically surrounding tech conferences. I’m a huge proponent of women in computer science. I mean, I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.

There is a dissertation sitting somewhere on a dusty desk, or trash bin, with my passionate scribbles on this topic. It contains theories on How To Help Retention Rates Among Undergraduate Women In Computer Science. It’s full of ideas on brain psychology, technology, and community. There’s a trifecta of reasons women do, or do not, stay in technology fields.

Brain Psychology

I’m not talking about a Venus versus Mars analogy, but men and women are very different. We approach issues differently. We look at maps differently. I mean, common, there’s “Chick Mode” available now on smart phone maps just for us.

“Women use the cerebral cortex for solving problems that require navigational skills. Men use an entirely different area, mainly the left hippocampus—a nucleus deep inside the brain that’s not activated in the women’s brains during navigational tasks,” says David Geary, PhD, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.

With all this knowledge, it makes sense that a man teaching a programming language would connect better to other males. I know this, from a lot of personal experience, because I can offer an architectural solution and get quizzical looks by my male teammates but end up saying the same thing after a few rounds of specs. We go around the same problem, arriving in the finish line staring at each other.

Code quality should be a science but it’s very subjective. If something doesn’t validate in HTML, it can be overlooked depending on the reason for that validation. Perhaps the spec isn’t complete for that attribute. Maybe you’re implementing CSS3 on a browser needing a shim to utilize that technology. Because of the subjective nature of code, because there is more than one way to “skin the cat” as it were, there are “better” and “worse” methods for solving a problem and it depends on the audience which way is correct. It can be maddening if the audience is primarily male and with a set of skills very different than the ones of that who created the code. Yes, we can certainly agree on some fundamentals, but once we nit-pick nuances, isn’t it just better to ship? Even if perhaps it isn’t exactly what you would do?


Technology

Taking the above in to consideration, it stands to reason that some programming languages will be better suited for female thinkers. In graduate school, I was forced to code in Java. Java is a great language for some people. For me, though, I would picture a toothpick being shoved under my large toenail when coding server sockets. However, the same question could be presented for me to apply in PHP, and I could come up with something useful fairly quickly.

Since then, I’ve embraced a stack of technology that works for my brain. PHP, MySQL, HTML5, CSS3. Javascript is there, but on a fringe. It’s something that makes more sense the longer I play in it. Apache and web services were always more clear to me and using a CMS like ExpressionEngine or Symphony gives the “chaos” a bit of structure for my projects. I understand MVC architecture so much better now as a result. You’d think learning this in graduate school would be enough but it wasn’t. The technology we applied it to didn’t hit home for me. It wasn’t until the CMS and backbone use that I really grasped the concept of removing content from architecture and so on.

Community

Women have been working in teams for centuries. They naturally work together in the home, on the playground, in social settings. Women bond together over dishes and feasts, providing for families, or stepping is as “the closest mom” to grab a hurt child and help them back to their family. It happens in set social structures and loose ones. Women by nature seek community. Look at the online community of mom bloggers if you don’t believe me. Supporting each other is just one of the ways women find fulfillment in life.

It’s unnatural for women to be competitive at work. I find myself stepping outside my normal standards when women want to compete in the work place. Why shouldn’t we just bond together like girl scouts over cookies? [This is the point of the post where I’m using my high-pitched cheerleader voice.] Can’t I just work with you to achieve this goal? Why on earth would I want to be better than you when we can all win together?

But seriously [normal somewhat-lower-than-you-might-expect voice], as a woman in a male-dominated field, I’m conditioned to find mentors and colleagues to work WITH. I often as opinion and seek to learn. Never to I believe MY answer is the right one, unless I’ve researched thoroughly. I give and take lessons freely.

If men programmers could be a stereo type, I think embodying the exact opposite of this philosophy would be highest at the list. Many Many (not all, as you will see) male developers are egotistical, socially awkward, and refuse to believe their code could be anything less than “right”. Oh hell no, you did not just say I used too many global variables. You want me to scope that function where? It’s fine where it is. Whereas if you told me I use too many global variables I’d agree that I do. And scope my function in that object? Oh, right, because that makes more sense. Ok. (And then I’d go cry in the bathroom because I’m a girl. Just kidding. Sometimes.)

This is where I believe the TRIFECTA comes together. This isn’t a cheesy commercial, either. This is a woman writing about the reasons I love and contribute to a community of developers I feel supported and educated in:

PEERS conf.

PEERS

Jess, a woman, set out to pull all these pieces together. It’s a tech conferences created by a woman. Re-read that. It’s not a conference promoting A WOMAN speaker, or even two. It’s a conference CREATED BY a woman. She’s a developer like me: someone who has brain psychology similar to my own (by nature), someone who uses the same technologies, and someone who wants to encourage community. The problem? There aren’t any women coming. WHERE ARE THEY?

We’ve both reached out to our women business partners, programmers, ex-collegues. We’re wanting to show the technology field that it is possible to be both engaging and welcoming. We’re not going to sit around talking about menstruation or waxing upper lips (all the time) but instead are looking to help women grow in a field sometimes intimidating. This is the type of conference a woman can learn, ask questions, reach out, and be affective. We just need, you know, the women.

Family

If you’re a student or a new developer, and a woman, looking for a group of mentors (male and female) to help drive your career and your knowledge beyond what you can achieve in school or on your own in your male office, please consider coming. It will make such a difference in your outlook of the technology field. You will find that it’s OK to ask questions and this technology will even MAKE SENSE. Also, it doesn’t hurt that everyone likes beer. That’s just a bonus but the time when you realize you’re not a woman in a male-dominated field, you’re surrounded by brothers in a community.

Please join us. Also? I need a roommate.

Hi

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