Is that because I’m a woman?

The number #1 rule of the internet should be “DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS”. Especially to the articles discussing the issues of diversity in the tech industry, like this or this one (Swedish). Yet I did, because I care what people think. Maybe that’s because I am a woman. A woman in tech. And here is my personal take on why, in fact, there are so few women in our industry.

Personal truth number one: I never really wanted to go into programming.

It just happened because of [reasons]. Certainly, not because that’s what women do.

Despite growing up in the 2000’s, I didn’t have a personal computer until I was 16 and started studying for a CS degree ( no, I wasn’t a genius, many people in Russia in the 00’s finished school young). My parents just didn’t want me to become “one of these  crazy games addicts” and advised me to read books and do sports instead.

When it was time to pick a major in high school, I wanted to go into arts and humanities, but my parents thought I should study economics and be a financially independent woman eventually. So I(we) picked ‘technology and economics’ major. I couldn’t say I particularly enjoyed it or if it was really hard. It was OK. I had really good math and physics teachers. I still remember them with warmth and gratitude. They made science interesting and fun. Besides, TheLoveofMyLife (back then) picked the technology major as well and he got interested in me after I helped him with his math homework. He said I’m smart. That was enough to start loving the class.

Personal truth number two: I never even imagined myself a programmer.

I struggled through “introduction to programming” class in high school. It was impossibly boring. We even had a female instructor for a part of it! She was also pretty and young ( so I can’t blame the lack of role models). But she was impossibly boring for me then as well. She didn’t say much, was quiet and got annoyed with me because I didn’t get it. I probably didn’t try that hard.

There was one really fun part of the course though. Html and Javascript.  The task was to make an animated web page using html, images and some js code. I still remember that “yay”-feeling when I managed to make kitten eyes pop in a loop.  I think there were rainbows involved as well. Funny how an html kitten can shape your life.

zwierzaki-jestes-na-mnie-zly
Adorable kitten.

Is that programming also? Creating beautiful and fun things like this on the computer. Then sign me up!

This game changing moment along with the complete confusion on picking a career path was followed by the advice of my Physics teacher to study Software Engineering. “You’ll do well”, he said.

You see, there might be a pattern here for me following what other people say. Is that because I’m a woman? 🙂

Long story short, I did study Software Engineering. Through highs and lows. I heard my Electrical Engineering professor in Russia tell me that “women’s place is in the kitchen”, I saw people drop out of the program. I struggled to think in variables and processes and wrote poems during the Quantum Physics lectures. But I’m no quitter. (Well, actually I am, but at some point I realised that I do need to make money and coding pays well )

It got better and better every year, until I was one of the best students in class. I did it!

Personal truth number three: deep down it never felt natural.

Maybe, because I’m a woman. I was always feeling like “well, I’m just getting an education here, don’t mind me”

I coded on the side during studies as well and, to my surprise, enjoyed it. Html kitten turned into test automation systems built in Python&Django, countless  websites, machine learning algorithms, mathematical modelling and God knows what else.

There were very few women in our class and even fewer in the workplace*.

* To be completely honest, my first real programming job in Moscow was very special. Out of around 10 developers, two seniors were women. They were amazing. My boss was also extremely supportive and probably is one of the main inspirations I had to actually become a better software engineer.

The situation in Sweden turned out to be worse. The first class I took was “Models of computation”. 99 % of the class were men. And needless to say I was the only woman in every tech team I worked ever since.

Everyone here in Sweden supported and cheered on women in tech though. Geek girl groups, job positions encouraging the female candidates to apply, amazing support for the PyLadies Stockholm I’m leading.

Vem-är-Hacke-Hackspett-1024x269
Datateknik ( Computer Science) program mascot in Chalmers

 No one ever again told me that my place is in the kitchen (after certain culinary experiments my partner actually tells me the opposite ).  Some people even would say that the PyLadies community is not needed, that it is sexist and alienating men.

“Well, what would you do, we are so inclusive, but women are just not interested in programming or technology. What is the point to force them or “artificially” attract females? We should just welcome everyone and the ladies will show up. And if they don’t, then they are not passionate enough” 

Am I truly passionate? Am I enough? Well, I don’t know if I’m truly passionate about technology or software. I don’t know if I want to dedicate my whole life to it. Life is too short and the world is too big. I’m still in the exploration phase, getting excited about a new programming language just as much as about genome architecture or political debates. And it’s ok.

Personal truth number four: I still feel like I don’t fit in.

What I do know and what will eventually influence my decision on where to take my life further is the fact that I still feel like I don’t fit in. Probably, because I’m a woman. I don’t drink beer and I don’t enjoy playing Star Craft (ok, maybe only a little bit). I don’t think being “geeky” or “nerdy” is cool (more like embarrassing). I’m completely indifferent to SciFi. I think communication skills are more vital for creating great products than being able to code merge sort on a white board. In my free time, I do anything but sitting in front of my computer. I do very little for open source projects outside of my payed job. I often miss people interaction in my job and realize the only things I said today to my coworkers was “Hello” and “Bye, have a nice evening”.  And I often feel like an idiot when I can’t solve something. Maybe, it’s because I’m a woman.  I don’t even mention the Bro-culture , the drinkups, the “so, how is it being a woman in tech”?

***

So, do women really like being helpless and don’t enjoy demanding tech careers? Does your biological gender determine if you’re good at support or development roles? Analytical or creative jobs? Caring for others or being competitive?

Maybe there are fewer women in business and STEM because we are just wired differently?

-> Or maybe it is possible to portray a different image of what technology really is to our kids. What amazing opportunities we have to impact people’s lives, to solve real world problems with code.

->  Maybe it is possible to teach coding and engineering in more than one way, engaging a diverse crowd of people.

->  Maybe it is possible to foster company cultures that aren’t based on over-consuming alcohol, jerk-behaviour and violent video games.

-> Maybe we should think how to make the workplace more family friendly both for mothers and fathers.

->  Maybe we should stop judging people on their looks, hobbies and the way they choose to balance their family life and career and just look at the actual work they produce and unique value they can bring into your business.

 

1 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. As a woman in tech, I very often feel like I don’t fit in and have doubts in my abilities (despite being quite good, academically speaking) because I prefer to spend my freetime away from the screen. I got into CS because I was truly interested in it, I built web sites and small applications while in high school, yet I still only see it as a job.
    It’s good to notice I’m not all alone with my feeling of not fitting in with the image and the culture.

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