Women in Technology

Warning: rant forthcoming.

I don’t get the women in technology problem. Oh, I understand and see the problem. I also understand and see the problem is primarily with men. I just don’t get why there is a problem. 

Maybe the reason I don’t get the problem with women being our peers goes all the way back to first grade. In my first grade class, there were four of us always competing for top marks: Barbara, Olivia, Sasha, and me. It didn’t matter what the subject was, we fought hard for the best grades. Based on that small sample size one could wonder why men were qualified to be in technology. Thankfully, no one thinks this way. 

Fast forward to high school. My junior and senior years were spent at the SC Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (SCGSSM). At that school, roughly half of the students are male. The other half are female. And let me tell you that intellectually, male or female, they are flat out awesome. I have two bachelor’s degrees: physics and mathematics. Some people treat degrees, especially technical degrees as a sign of intelligence. If that were the case, then I’m among the dumbest kids to graduate from my high school. So many of my classmates have doctorates. Note I didn’t specify “male” classmates. It’s not the proper adjective. 

After high school I went off to what was then an all-male military college, The Citadel. It wasn’t because I wanted to get away from women or thought they were less capable. I wanted a military college because I was seriously considering a 20-year career as an officer. I wanted a multi-service military college because I knew that was the direction the military was going. And I wanted to be close to home because my mom was having some serious health issues. At The Citadel I interacted with some outstanding female professors like Dr. Jane Bishop (history) and Dr. Mei Chen (mathematics). With regards to IT specifically, I was blown away by Dr. Margaret Francel (computer science). I’ve met very few males who can keep up with her intellect.

I also spent a lot of my college time havening. On the havens I met very knowledgeable peers who were female. Folks like Eliste, pooh, and Tenelia, to name a few among many, knew their way around *nix and NeXT systems.   After college, Eliste went into IT and she was good at it but she has moved on to other challenges. Tenelia knows her geology and tracks earthquakes. And the one that I still talk to nearly everyday (when she isn’t trying to trounce me in Words With Friends), pooh, is still one of my go to people if I have a development question. That’s why my experience at The Citadel reinforced my view from SCGSSM: it isn’t about gender.

Therefore, I don’t get why some males have an issue with females being their peers. If a woman can code, she’s an asset to my team. If she can troubleshoot a routing issue, she’s one more competent coworker to share the load. If she can figure out why the database server suddenly starts choking on some bad queries, that means I can focus on something else. A slow day in IT is like that mythical unicorn – it doesn’t exist. There’s more work than there are workers. If you don’t see more work than you can possibly accomplish, then I don’t question her skills, I question yours. 

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jenmuse
    Mar 19, 2015 @ 12:59:30

    I feel so left out. 🙂

    Reply

  2. Sean
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 03:04:32

    I work as a DBA in Europe and it seems to me that women don’t enter IT because they choose not to do so. I have worked other female bosses and worked with a few female sysadmins. My Computer Science class in college was roughly 30% female.
    Women don’t present themselves for interviews. Women don’t choose STEM courses (as a general rule) when studying. Women, it seems, don’t practice coding or whatever in their spare time, as many of their male counterparts do.
    I have seen a willingness for positive discrimination in action for the last 15 years and yet the numbers of women in IT are not that much higher.
    It seems to me that women (like men) are more than welcome in IT assuming they are prepared to learn and master their field.

    Reply

  3. Yolande
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 06:41:29

    Very interesting post to me. About the comment, here in South Africa it is different then in Europe. When I was studying at Technikon we were a few girls in the class, and our best teachers for programming languages were also woman. Here we find there are some woman who are interested in the IT world, because it has to do with problem solving using logic. That is what attracts us to it. But being in the IT world is not always easy as you would think because it is still a “Man’s world”. So I agree with the post, there are some men, especially the older generations who still question the intelligence of woman and think we are not worthy or capable of being in the IT world.
    During my career , I have been a programmer for 2 years and now DBA for 9 years, so far I have found there are always a few woman in the IT department, but we are not always taken seriously by the men. I have two girl friends who are software developers and they are doing very well.
    Thank you Brian for taken us seriously and thinking of us as equals. 😀

    Reply

  4. Vic
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 07:02:55

    “I also understand and see the problem is primarily with men.” Can someone tell me why the vast majority of people feel this way? I have been in IT for 27 years and I’ve NEVER seen a man scoff or put down the relatively few women who have been my peers. The problem, as Sean correctly points out, is with the women! They CHOOSE not to enter this profession, and they do it consistently. Let’s please stop bashing men for the sake of political correctness. Please.

    Reply

    • Wayne
      Mar 27, 2015 @ 11:54:28

      I’ve been in IT since the early/mid ’80s. I’ve seen lots of women in IT and I’ve seen lots of women in IT treated very badly by management, up to and including being forced out of the organization and lawsuits resulting from such action.

      A vast majority of the women I’ve worked with have been perfectly competent (and I’ve had incompetent male and female coworkers), but most of the women managers that I’ve had have been pretty bad for a variety of reasons. I’ve also had bad male managers, I’m not generalizing, I just find it odd about the management gender skew.

      Reply

    • Steph Brown
      Mar 27, 2015 @ 17:01:53

      Generalizations are never the best way to communicate information, but let’s not lose sight of WHY they occur. It’s not “man bashing” for political correctness – it’s the reality that some of us have to deal with on a regular basis.

      Girls are still actively DISCOURAGED from a very young age, as I was, and steered away from anything that would give them a basis for STEM classes later on. And when they do express interest it is an uphill battle for many – lack of support from parents, counselors and teachers or outright attempts to suppress the child’s interest. So please explain to me how the average child of 10 is supposed to combat that? Is this what you refer to when you say women “CHOOSE” to not participate? What. A. Crock.

      I was fortunate that my mother supported me in my interested, and several male teachers did as well (algebra and science) during my junior and senior high school years. So sometimes men can be part of the solutions too. Unfortunately that is still a rarity, at least in my experience.

      And as for never having seen it yourself, that’s a smokescreen. I’ve never seen Paris, but that doesn’t mean Paris doesn’t exist. Look up “inattentional blindness” and open your mental eyes to things you just might be missing that exist in the world around you.

      Reply

  5. Ginger
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 11:03:06

    I agree that the lack of women in technology has everything to do with the number of women entering the field. I think the bigger issue is the fact that 14% of new STEM graduates male and female coming from college were unemployed. There is a big need to give someone that first chance.

    Reply

  6. Paul
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 11:32:02

    For the last half of my 40 year career in computer programming I have been involved with healthcare IT. The male/female ratio is close to 50/50 and part of the reason is that so many people moved into HIT from nursing – a (still) female dominated profession. That said you still see splits such as more women in customer-facing positions and more men in the geekier technical work.

    Reply

  7. way0utwest
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 11:42:38

    I’ll wholeheartedly disagree with the men here.

    Women are often pressured to avoid geeky subjects in school. They are certainly viewed by men as less capable, and I’ve seen it in my 25 year career. However I do know that the it’s easy to miss, since men often don’t think they’re discriminating at all in how they look at things. The jokes, the sexual issues, the assignments given, the looking down on someone for no reason other than their gender.

    I’m sure it’s similar in nursing. I’ve seen plenty of people look down on men who enter nursing, which is just as asinine.

    This isn’t political correctness. It’s ongoing crap that humans use to put down other humans.

    Reply

  8. Kenneth Fisher
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 12:41:09

    I find it interesting that when men say “It’s not the men’s fault, there just aren’t enough women who are interested in working in IT.” they frequently point out that they, themselves have never treated a woman badly, or seen a woman treated badly. However if you talk to women in IT (at least the majority of the ones I’ve talked to) they have multiple stories where they have been downplayed, badly treated or even mistreated.

    Now personally, if I’m trying to decide who is correct in this issue I think I’m going to go with the people who are experiencing the problem, rather than the people who just didn’t notice it.

    Reply

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