Geeks who happen to also be women

Natalie makes some excellent points in her post Women in technology and Ubuntu,

“Another great barrier to entry is a partner with similar interests in the field, naturally a common occurrence due to similar social circles and shared interests, it can happen many people overlook the female partner’s geeky credentials, unintentionally perhaps but noticeable none the less.”

Yes, I know this one well. To the extent that with alarming regularity, people (some of whom I know reasonably well) assume that the web development consultancy I have been building over the last four and a half years, is actually Drew’s business. That’s annoying. Drew and I met because of our similar interests, we have similar skillsets, but we are neither responsible for each other’s work nor do we have the same point of view on many matters relating to our work, which makes for interesting conversations over dinner (the small person has no chance).

Following the links from Natalie’s post to the HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux, this point in particular I feel is so important,

“I encourage all women in computing to be as visible as possible—accept all interviews, take credit publicly—even when you don’t want to. You may be embarrassed, but by allowing yourself to be publicized or promoted, you might change a young girl’s life.”

A little while ago I was commenting on the some of the strange emails I get from people who think that I might just be the girl geek they have been looking for all their life, someone (a man!) said that basically I should expect it, and if I didn’t like it to not put my photo on my books or take credit for my work. The above is one reason why I do so, I want women to be visible in this community, I want younger women and girls to see that this is a job they can be doing. The more of us there are here, the less unusual we will become and perhaps people will stop assuming that we are somehow not quite as good as the men in this business.


Karmatosed March 21, 2006 Reply

I face on frequent occasions when with my husband people talking to him or as though he is the techie rather than me. Often resulting in vague staring on his part being he is a landscape gardener and it took my years of fighting before he even used a computer. I guess, the assumption I sort of accepted all my life for one reason or another – recently though it has really started to become obvious to me and nark me greatly. I am leaving my job and there is not even one woman candiate for a multimedia manager, mainly cos it appears this job entails 50% design 50% development. Way I see it, what as a woman you can do is pass the knowledge on – I am teaching 2 female juniors currently and find it greatly rewarding and empowering. All of this has the oddness of turning me into a mini techie feminist – which is not my personality at all, I am often the opposite about these things and don’t see any difference in the sexes. Maybe it’s time for a female techie little revolution… can you burn mice like bras πŸ™‚

Sorcha Moore March 22, 2006 Reply

Maybe?…DEFINITELY time for a female techie little revolution…

Molly E. Holzschlag March 23, 2006 Reply

This is a discussion I never want to have but always end up having to have because of the constant idiocy I find in the field. I’ve been very fortunate to not have had too much trouble myself, but perhaps I’ve been successful in navigating social waters and as a result the men often see me as “one of the guys.” That in turn results in them showing me their ugly sides without “meaning” to do so (hence my <object>ification blues song from SXSW).

I don’t know the solution, but I sure can smell the problem. And it isn’t going to get better if we don’t open our mouths and (reaching for a diplomatic word here) CLARIFY for our male colleagues what truths they’re missing when they do just that.

The other thing is, we can’t hold ourselves back and while I’ve never been a parent, it occurs to me that women are often the primary caregiver to children. Why does this poor behavior exists? And it is behavior because if it were nature ALL men would be prejudiced and thank god there are many who are wonderful colleagues, friends and partners and do not participate in this sort of nonsense.

Mariam Ayyash April 3, 2006 Reply

I agree with Molly, I too am considered one of the guys, never faced any trouble since I AM the best of them technically, and no I never faced any problem convincing anyone that I am competent, and never had to put extra efforts into it, because I get my clients through referrals who describe me pretty well… but I guess there is no problem in pre-assuming that woman are not as good, because it does happen that more than 90% of a certain vocation is inhabited by men, and the case is correct on males as well… I do not wish to have a make baby sitter, I alwasy preassume he doesnt fit, neither a cook, or a barber, or a decoration engineer (woman are always better;) ), so you see the point, it goes both ways, i think its only human, and we shouldnt be sensitive to the issue, u just need to play a little harded the first few steps, but afterwards may the best win it all!

Willy Vanelderen April 27, 2006 Reply

A few years ago my daughter was renovating her house. At a trade fair she asked a salesman some information. The salesman starts explaining to me until she stopped him saying “He mister, it’s me who’s renovating”. Problem solved. So girls stand up for yourselves whatever business you’re in!

Katerina May 2, 2006 Reply

Yep, yep, yep, and once more—yep! It is REALLY annoying (“Oh? YOU are in IT?”), and the more we speak out and present ourselves, confidently and as a matter of fact (“Yes, I am in IT and loving it!” ;), the better this world will be. For both men and women. And their sanity. ;)

PurplePenny May 3, 2006 Reply

I too get the men talking to my husband, Kev; usually at computer fairs after I have asked a question. We both take great delight in letting them waffle on for a while then Kev says innocently “I’m sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about.” and we watch the “Omigod I’ve lost a sale” expression dawn on the trader’s face.

hilary May 7, 2006 Reply

Purplepenny I LIKE your style! πŸ™‚ I have been pretty lucky, while I’ve been working for myself I find my clients assume I know everything there is to know about computers, which I dont, so I pass the techie stuff onto my boyfriend.. however Im going into the real world of interviews etc now, and Im really wondering how many boys clubs there are out there and if it will matter.. fingers crossed..

DutchKid June 7, 2006 Reply

Back in the nineties I used to have a parttime job as a webdesigner. I worked in a large room with about 6 men (boys, really) who spent a lot of time surfing porn sites and actually discussing them while I was there. Sometimes account managers would enter the room with a technology related question, and they never ever asked me for help, even if the boys didn’t know the answer.
This was a bad time.
Fortunely, now I have my own company my clients do take me seriously.
I agree that women in IT should be more visible, especially ‘cause we’re still a minority.

Sarah Reynolds June 21, 2006 Reply

Yes I’ve def been on the receiving end of this, in both the tech sense and in a way similar to Willy’s comment about his daughter. In my case it is when I came to buy a new car and my friend (male) drove me to take a look. When the sales people come over they invariably talked to him about the details even after being told from the start that the car was for me. We either asked them to tell me as it would be my car, or let him tell them he had no idea what they were talking about and had no interest as the car was for me.

The worst case I had in IT was when I went for an interview as a web developer, and was told at the interview that the reason they had decided to see me was they had never heard of a female developer! I wouldn’t mind so much but this wasn’t a small firm it was an ISP.

Buidhe August 13, 2006 Reply

HI, after a google for female developer, I’ve been reading a few blogs in the last couple of hours and am heartened by the number of fellow lady geeks out there! I, like a lot of people am on the verge of exiting the field due to the pressures you get as a female. I love computers and programming, came to it later in life than some (a postgrad after travelling), but felt lucky enough to have found a true calling. I do a lot of things that people seem to be saying women aren’t into, I can spend a saturday night in building a PC and installing some random Linux distribution, not to actually use it, but just to muck around with hardware a bit and then get the satisfaction of the install booting. πŸ™‚ I like playing violent shoot-em-ups on my xbox, i constantly obsess over how things work, and how cool bridges and cranes and engines are.

Im my last job there were 2 developers, me and and another woman, and the visual designers were all men. I’ve worked with some great guys – I think there are a lot of very smart (if smart equates to intellectual) people in IT and I find generally that all the smartest ones who have done the coolest stuff, don’t judge you on your gender, but on your brain/enthusiasm/love for the same thing. Admittedly on first meeting people may make assumptions (like the salespeople mentioned above), but as soon as you clarify, they drop the assumption and all is good.

However, a major downside of my career has been that I get boxed into ‘people’ roles, partly because I pick up tasks that no one wants to do (I blame my parents old fashioned work ethics), but also I think (at the risk of being sexist) women, even geek women, have a more natural ability to communicate etc, so you end up team leading, co-ordinating, administering. I don’t want to do this and I hate it, but when I talk about what I want to do (technical/enterprise architecture, security), doors seem to close, people turn away. My feeling is its desirable to be a female developer, particularly in web etc (as this is seen as ‘softer’), but if you head for the jobs where you are telling male developers how to to design and build their systems… I know also that I am not an aggressive person, and have not fought hard for what I wanted, but I’m a nerd not a fighter πŸ™‚

My current perspective is that that you feel that you push against the tide, then you lose a bit of your youthful idealism that you can change things, you are still having to push as hard, then you start questioning your happiness in your chosen career and this happiness issue seems to be a key factor in women turning away.

BUT BUT, I have been immensely encouraged by the things I have read, and have remembered that there are all sorts of stereotypes but there are also a lot of great people who respect others regardless of gender or anything else.

Apologies for bad grammar.

Leave a Reply