Over the past several months, I’ve seen a resurgence on the various mailing lists I’m on asking a simple question – why aren’t more women in technology, and software development specifically?
For example, on the Software Craftsmanship mailing list, Josh Cronemeyer asked the following:
I was talking to a colleague about the SCNA conference. When I showed her the list of speakers her first response was to point out there were no women in the list. I pointed out that was often the case at small to medium tech conferences. Later I decided my argument was pitiful and just bad logic.
Matt Heusser replied with a link to Philip Greenspun’s blog which said:
What about women? Don’t they want to impress their peers? Yes, but they are more discriminating about choosing those peers. I’ve taught a fair number of women students in electrical engineering and computer science classes over the years. I can give you a list of the ones who had the best heads on their shoulders and were the most thoughtful about planning out the rest of their lives. Their names are on files in my “medical school recommendations” directory.
Matt goes on to further say:
If we want more women in the technical professions, we need to raise the perception of those professions from button-pushing nerds who do fair socially – to highly paid, highly compensated experts who get things done quickly.
Josh Cronemeyer then continues:
It seems like a crux of greenspun’s argument is that women don’t go into science because they understand this is a profession with a bad ratio of reward to effort. This doesn’t explain why already in grade school and Jr. High there is a noticeable gap in science test scores between boys and girls. I don’t think the 8th grade girls have already realized that science isn’t where the good jobs are.
So, to summarize what I’ve seen, women aren’t in technology because there aren’t good jobs, or poor reward to effort, or because we’re a bunch of button-pushing nerds. And while I disagree about the reward to effort (look at the founders of Google, and Facebook, and others), I believe there is something else at play.
What does the typical software development shop look like? Either a sea of offices or cubicles with the lights off, headphones on, typing away at a computer and hoping to not have to talk to anyone. The code you write is immediately deemed as “crap” unless you did it in 2 lines of code with Perl. It’s a constant contest of showmanship and oneupidness. And suggesting change or better ways is viewed harshly unless you have “proven” yourself. For fun, we have LAN parties and all sit in the same room with a different computer, interacting through a computer screen only. And the stereotypical programmer isn’t the healthiest creature, or cleanest, or best dresser.
Let’s also look at the technology itself. Yes, it advances at a rapid pace, but it’s more than that. There is an attitude, an air of superiority around it. “Oh my gosh, you’re still using *IE6*? What a l0s3r.” Software development, and IT in general, is one, big, pissing contest. Let’s whip out what we got, and I’ll respect you if it compares to mine.
In fact, let’s look at the practices in place today. Scrum is wildly popular. “Let’s crush together and KILL THAT FEATURE! First, we’ll shove everything into a backlog. And then we’ll rip it out for a Sprint, where we’ll beat it into submission and throw it out the door at the end. And we’ll do that over and over until the customer says ENOUGH!” Or Extreme Programming – where the most vital practices – Customer Collaboration (Onsite customer), Pair Programming, Test-Driven Development, Customer Tests – are some of the first to go because of the social nature of them. Heck, I’ve heard well-respected leaders in the community say, “Well, the Agile Manifesto was just an excuse for a bunch of guys to go skiing” – and that perception leads to the feeling like this is one giant club where the weak aren’t allowed, and the followers will be cut off.
There are certainly times when I have felt like I wanted to leave the software field. Almost always, it’s around social issues – the politics, the games, the people issues. Further, in order to institute change in our field we have to issue a series of “manifestos” to force people to know that this is about social issues. For example, look at the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto:
Not only working software, but also well-crafted software
Not only responding to change, but also steadily adding value
“Craft” and “Value” are soft words – meaning we have to have a discussion to find out just what that means. We can’t just target some sterile definition.
Not only individuals and interactions, but also a community of professionals
News flash! You being stuck in a cubicle all day just leads you to think you are the best at what you do. And you are the best – at writing code in your cubicle. But if you want to really grow, you have to reach out to others and learn from the better ways. And perhaps show others better ways as well.
Not only customer collaboration, but also productive partnerships
In other words, it’s not just about talking to your customer, it’s about understanding them. What are their needs? What do they want? What keeps them up at night? How can we make that better?
So 8th grade girls may not be thinking science isn’t where the good jobs are, but they can clearly see the community of people on the internet who are the output of the math and science fields who then go into the computer field. A lonely, barren place full of posturing, sniping and showmanship where everyone has to prove that they are better than everyone else, all the time. That’s what we can begin to crack. Turning software development from this testosterone-driven battle royale to an industry where we collaborate, partner, and understand. That would be amazing, and would be a place I could happily see my daughters being a part of. And a place where people of any walk of life would be proud to be a part of.
And that’s what I see as the driving force behind my involvement in the Software Craftsmanship movement, and the other things I’m a part of. Changing our industry to one of, as Kent Beck would call it, appreciative inquiry and cutting out the things that just make us look bad, act bad, and make bad software.
Edit: There are three good resources for Women in Technology I wanted to point out:
- Women in Technology (WIT) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to offering women in all levels of the technology industry a wide range of professional development and networking opportunities.
- WITI – Women in Technology International – WITI’s mission is to empower women worldwide to achieve unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and economic prosperity.
- Women In Technology article series -This series is comprised of articles written by women on the topic of “Women in Technology,” which will run through September.