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Women in Tech: We Need You

0x4bsec profile image Kristina ・3 min read

Originally published on my personal blog

We need you.

Yes, you.

Yes, I know, public speaking can be some scary shit. Mentorship takes time, and maybe you think that you don’t have much to contribute. And I know you’re probably afraid of screwing up, or forgetting a slide in a presentation, or saying the wrong thing, or sounding dumb. You’re not. You need to tell your story.

We need more female role models in tech. We need to hear your experiences, your lessons, your failures and your successes. We need to hear them because you can never be sure who you’ll influence and whose life you’ll change.

I started coding when I was about 9. I made embarrassing Geocities websites first, with sparkly fairy gifs that I am now incredibly grateful weren’t archived anywhere. I quickly got bored of that – thank God – and moved onto programming little Javascript clocks, finding my own hosting space and building a tiny online presence. I was able to do this because I became friends with a couple of women online who were slightly older and already doing the work I found fascinating. They were building cool personal sites in PHP, they were coding little site add-ons and offering them for free on their websites, they were offering free hosting space to women who wanted a subdomain. They were the reason I was able to progress so quickly, and maybe the reason I even progressed at all. They inspired me, they helped me and they supported the community.

In high school I enrolled in the only programming class offered in 2005. I learned Visual Basic. I built a couple of tiny, shitty apps and presented a PacMan clone as my final solo project. I was hooked.

The problem was, I didn’t really have any role models who were pursuing – or had pursued – engineering or Computer Science degrees. The women I had followed online had gone onto different professions. One became a math major. Adults told me that a Computer Science degree wouldn’t involve actual programming.

“It’s a glorified math degree,” they said. “You’ll be able to do research, but you won’t really be a programmer.”

I loved math. Hell, I was a frickin’ mathlete (it wasn’t entirely social suicide). I didn’t, however, want to pursue a career in research. I wanted to code.

A good friend and I were talking about wanting to become game developers at some point. Other adults told us that you’d need to go to a design college in California for that. Design wasn’t really my thing, either.

My parents encouraged my love of computers, but were in business and didn’t really know which direction to lead me toward programming. I don’t know why, but software engineering was never really presented to me as an option by guidance counsellors, and for some reason I never made the connection.

So, I went to university for English and Political Science and assumed I’d end up in law school. Really, I had no idea what I wanted to do.

In my first year of university at McGill, I was required to take a certain number of electives. There was an “Intro to Computing” class that fit my schedule and I figured, “Hey, I like math.”

Sigh.

Jade Raymond, a producer at Ubisoft and all around bad-ass, gave a lecture at McGill during the second or third week of that semester. She had a Computer Science degree, had worked as a game developer at Sony, and was – at that time – an executive producer at Ubisoft.

Her decision to speak at McGill changed my life. The following week I made an appointment with a university guidance counsellor, applied to change my program, and became a full-time computer science student.

On this past International Women’s Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much my career and life have been shaped by women who have supported my growth and education. There have been plenty of supportive men along the way but in those early early days, a small community of female developers between the years of 1998 and 2003 helped me discover a passion that has now become a career I truly love.

Whatever you can do for the community, do it. Mentor. Teach. Talk. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes a week. Hell, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a month. You never know what impact your story and your contribution to the community may have.

From someone who owes her passion and career to former mentors and teachers: thank you.

Discussion

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salavora profile image
Salavora

Very nice article!
Very uplifting

I would like to add my own story, if I may.
Looking back, there were a few hurdles for me as well, but only at the beginning. Then again, those were big enough:
We had to choose one of the three following classes: french, biology or IT.
I hated bio with a passion and thanks to neopets pet pages, I just recently got into html a bit, so I signed up for IT. This class had a limit of 30 students. 32 singed up. 2 women. "They are just girls, they won't be able to do this anyway" -> the two of us ended up in french then -.- (same for an other set of electives with the same teacher a few weeks later)

Thankfully, there was an other teacher (he was in his first year at the school) who did not throw girls out of his IT classes. There I did learn a bit HTML (mostly "This is html.org, this is some webspace, good luck and have fun"), while 3/4 of the other girls there learned how to actually operate a PC, how to use mouse and keyboard where to switch it on and so on.
Some weren't allowed to use their fathers PC, since they might break something, so this was the very first time in their live, that they were using a PC. (No.. their mothers did not have a PC either) Before this class, one classmate described a PC to me as "this really expensive and complicated machine, that I must never even look at or I might break it!" <- I am now 32 so all of this happend more then 15 years ago.. still... with this kind of "encouragement" it is no wonder, why there are so few women in tech.

Thanks to this one teacher (and my father and elder brother who had no problems at all with me using a PC or owning a gaming console), I did not give up on IT then. And thanks to my own computer und my playstation I got more and more interested in tech. (Lara Croft turned out to be my very first kinda role model)
From then on, it was rather smooth sailing for me.
Sure, in every IT class there were never more then 2 other girls but we also never got trouble from the boys and I got into quite a few healthy rivalries from time to time. ( I did Judo at the time and looked like a tomboy, so I guess this helped ;-) )
Since those early school years I also never experienced any gender based negativity from teachers either. (Now that I think about it, all the way up to and including uni, the only female teachers I had in any technical school, taught languages or law. Nothing directly related to IT. Unless you count that female substitute teacher once, who insisted that 370.255.0.0 is a valid IPv4 Address...)

Without this one teacher, I most likely would have given up on IT and started to believe, that this is "nothing for girls".
Thank you.

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0x4bsec profile image
Kristina Author

Thank you so much for sharing! So happy you had your family's support and encouragement and were able to push past the shortsightedness of your teachers <3 I also started learning HTML through Neopets back in the day!!

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Salavora

Neopets had been such a great place ^

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Kirill Shestakov

We need female developers. Not only females need them, but all of us. One of my programmer inspirations is Lea Verou; we can only guess how many talented women like her weren't able to be part of dev community because of the stereotypes and insecurities originating in our culture. The programming is not what it could have been if more women and girls were encouraged to be programmers. Thank you for writing this article and encouraging women to be part of it.

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michele

I had a similar beginning experience as you... got hooked around the same age in the world of personal websites and hoping to get chosen to be hosted on someone's domain. Unfortunately when I entered college, I never encountered anyone telling me that coding is actually a career path, so it took me 10 years to find my way back to tech. Thank you for the reminder. I'm inspired to get more involved!

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E. Dunham

Great article! If you're from a group that's already well represented in tech are wondering what you can do to help: You don't have to be a minority to connect students to role models who look like them! There are a bunch of great tech conference talks available for free online, which put faces and voices to potential role models. You can find the relevant ones of those talks and share them with kids who'd be interested in their subjects, to make them aware of the work done by those who might inspire them.

Kids can have a favorite actor, or a favorite author, or a favorite athlete, without ever needing to meet the person. Anyone who influences what kids see and read can help push things toward a world where they look up to their favorite programmers, as well.

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James Hood

This is a really useful tip! I'm going to try this with women I mentor. Thanks!

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Ben Halpern

Awesome essay. I also had an uneven road to where I am, but in reflection, it's clear that there were few forces telling me "no, this isn't for you". At every step of the way, people expected and/or encouraged me to choose whichever path I felt most comfortable with because I look like someone who might do those kinds of things. The path for women is filled with micro-discouragements. The industry needs role models as well as all the allies as possible.

I recommend this talk: Lending Privilege.

I made embarrassing Geocities websites first, with sparkly fairy gifs that I am now incredibly grateful weren’t archived anywhere.

Same 🙃

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Kristina Author

Thanks Ben! I'll take a look at Lending Privilege :) Happy to hear you also ended up where you were meant to doing something you love (and being part of a duo building such a fantastic site!)

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Jen Looper

We stand ready, in formation, and intend to persist! Thanks for writing this article!