Ladies Who Code: Female Programmers Are Out There!

lwc-logo2-300x136 At the end of October I had the pleasure of attending a nice little conference called “Ladies Who Code“. I sacrificed the first day of Mozilla Festival to attend it and to be honest I wasn’t sorry at all.

For those of you who don’t know, “Ladies Who Code” is an event that is organized in different cities across the world and celebrates “women who rock with command line”. It was my first time at a programming event where the predominating gender was female.

The presentations touched diverse subjects. Dr. Sepideh Chakaveh (SoFWIReD) talked about the future of the Internet as we know it, Belén Albeza (Telefónica Digital) gave a speech about automated testing with Grunt and Desi McAdam (thoughtbot) told us how we can find the job of our dreams. After lunch, Yodit Stanton (Atomic Data Labs) talked about a project called Opensensors.io that hopes to enable anyone to easily unlock data from devices. Sally Jenkinson (sallyjenkinson.co.uk) shared the mini hacks that make her life easier and Marianne Bellotti (Exversion) closed with a presentation about her CTO role and how we can apply programming techniques to our daily life.

All the presentations were great, but I’m going to focus more on those relating to the life of the woman programmer because it’s a subject that personally interests me a lot.

The atmosphere was awesome and there was a nice feeling floating in the air – probably because no one was asking the “Are you a programmer?” question. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, women programmers are frequently prompted with this question, especially in a context where they could be something else (at a startups event for example).

Female programmers are still a rare species and the tech industry is a far cry from a 50/50 gender ratio. We all seem to have these expectations on how a woman programmer should look and act, but reality is that the stereotype we built in our heads doesn’t exist in reality. It’s true I wear glasses, but believe it or not, my poor eyesight doesn’t have anything to do with me staring into a monitor 9-10 hours per day (yes, you can’t run from your genes). So, reality is women coders don’t look the same at all and they are – well, as normal as everybody else.

Also, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions about why the tech industry is still largely dominated by men.  This blog post by Dave Winer states that “Programming is a very modal activity. To be any good at it you have to focus. And be very patient.” I would place this comment in the same category as the “Bic for Her” pen that Ellen DeGeneres described so well. If we as a gender lack something, it’s definitely not patience or focus, but most likely confidence.

Getting back to LWC, I had the chance to talk with some very nice young people over there. I’m not old either, just turned 30 this year, but a lot of the girls over there were 10 years younger than me. One was particularly cute, qualifying her current team as “lazy” and saying they should work more instead of complaining they are behind schedule. She’s also working weekends because she loves programming and wants to learn as much as possible. Her enthusiasm was contagious and got me thinking because it didn’t add up with her shy exterior at all. On one hand, she is determined and focused, and on the other she is too shy to speak up. I could easily imagine how an opportunistic employer would take advantage of her shyness and not pay her overtime hours just because it’s possible to get away with it.

All of this contrasted in an interesting way with what Desi McAdam was presenting on stage: adopting power poses and interviewing companies instead of them interviewing us.

When you are interviewing the company just as much as them interviewing you, you are far more likely to be confident during the interview process, this, in turn, can lead to more options regardless of your experience level. It can be a lot like the power poses. :)
Desi McAdam

I don’t know how many people actually thought about doing this, regardless if they are men or women, but it definitely is an empowering idea. It shows ambition, focus and drive.

Sally Jenkinson’s presentation was titled “Mini hacks, big difference” . She talked about how we can better use our time and how we can protect ourselves from falling into various pitfalls by embracing limitations.

When we’re passionate about something it’s all too easy to let our ideas wildly spiral into vast concepts, and with busy lives we run the risk of never finishing them, or worse, never starting. Embracing deliberate limitations can help us focus on smaller, self-contained visions that we can build more effectively, and then iterate. It can also force us to be more creative with our solutions; stepping outside of our usual patterns, and help us to regain an element of playfulness.”
Sally Jenkinson

The presentation closest to my heart was that of Marianne Bellotti, mainly because I could easily identify with her since she’s also a co-founder and CTO. She talked about how it feels to be a woman CTO and how we can apply different programming concepts to our day to day life.

As a CTO, I have held on to the belief that I must have more technical knowledge then all of the other team members combined. There’s also that lingering feeling Marianne named very well, that if “I do something amazing, they will like me more”. It might strike you as ridiculous since it’s quite impossible for me to have more knowledge than 6 or 7 people (unless we hire only idiots that don’t actually learn anything or me being some sort of genius, which I’m not).

Still, it’s difficult to push that feeling aside because deep down I truly believed that technical skills would earn me more respect in a technical community. However, I must recognize that no matter how much stuff I know, there will always be stuff I don’t know and that’s perfectly fine as long as I am willing to improve.

Overall, LWC was a wonderful event and I would very much like to see it increase in size in the future years. The atmosphere was encouraging and motivating for everyone there, building up our confidence and basically teaching us that it’s perfectly fine to be the minority in the tech industry as long as we are passionate about what we’re doing.