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Cover image for What makes great developer merchandise for women developers? Part 1: The message
Senja Jarva
Senja Jarva

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What makes great developer merchandise for women developers? Part 1: The message

Not just pretty in pink - but what it says and means

Many people think that any product that is meant for women (or girls), is the same product that is sold to men, but the color or colors have been changed to pink or purple (or whatever is considered to be a color that appeals to women).

However, as a woman, I can spot these types of products quickly, and disregard them even faster because they don't speak to me and are poorly branded.

Good branding is more than just having "the right colors". Good brading is about understanding your customers (in this case, women), and being able to design a product that has a message that speaks to them in their own language and conveys values that are important to them. The best of products like these end up being not only something that the customers want but something that they feel they absolutely need.

No matter the amount of glitter or pink is going to make women developers buy a product, if it doesn't speak to them.

In this post, I'm not talking about what the product itself is (examples in this post vary from shirts to stationery to shower curtains) and how that affects the marketing. There are details like what item the product actually is, what material(s) it's made of, what size and color it is, but these aspects need a blog post of their own (and I'm working on one).

In this post I'm focusing only on the message or text that is on the products.

I'm giving some examples about some very good and some very bad products that seem to be targeted at women developers. And I've also included a section for the boring and generic products, that are clearly targeted at women developers, but as these products don't speak to us and about those things that are important to us, we forget them faster than you can write rm -r bad_merch.

Note: the links to the products are not affiliate links, and I don't get anything from linking to them. I am mainly providing links to save you time from searching them on the internet, if you happen to want to buy them.

Values, thoughts and phenomena that are common to women

Knowing your target customers means knowing what they value, what they think often and kind of things they encounter in life. Putting thoughts and phrases that center these values will make really products.

Softer values

Being a male dominated industry, so many companies, teams and people seem to talk and care about are hard values (money, price, speed, efficiency). I would really like to talk about how the software and the people writing it should talk about soft values. After all, we are in the software industry.

Design by Amy Wibowo/Bubblesort Zines, photo by Jackie Luo
Two women of color sitting on a bed, one is braiding the other's hair. Both women are wearing a pink sweatshirt that has a picture of a woman of color sitting in front of a laptop with a text 'putting the soft in software'

putting the soft in software

Being peaceful

If only we could stop wars as easily as we can force kill some operating system processes... Oh well, a woman can dream. In the mean time, declare variables, not war!

Greeting card with a text: Declare variables, not war
Declare variables, not war

Difficult phenomena women encounter often

Now this product is a rarity I thought I would never see: something that mentions periods and made me curious about a programming language I don't know. Ship this to me now! ๐Ÿ˜

Notebook with a cover text: Cobol programmers understand why women hate periods
cobol and periods

Women face many obstacles in the technology industry. Having this sticker (and the #shecoded / #theycoded campaign) say it out that it takes energy to continue, but the we are doing it anyway, means so much. Thank you Dev for having this campaign and these amazing stickers! ๐Ÿฅณ

Two stickers, one with text 'Nevertheless, she coded' and second with characters {==}
She Coded sticker pack by

Good jokes about dating

Listening to women's preferences about dating... Now that's my idea of a great boyfriend and dev merch product!

Photographic print with the text: DD/MM/YY is my idea of a perfect date
my idea of a perfect date

Niche hobby merch

Finding a combination of some niche hobby and programming, and making a pun or joke about them, is the perfect way to speak to women developers (and other people too, thb). Some of these hobbies that I mention are of course something that anyone, not just women, can be interested in.

Coffee types โ˜•

Why are there so many products that mention coffee, but never specify the type of the coffee? As a woman and a latte addict, I would love to see more merchandise that includes different coffee types. Where are the products joking about flat whites, cappuccinos, macchiatos and programming?

spiral notebook with a front cover of a pixelated coffee cup with steam rising from it

Cats ๐Ÿˆ

Women developers and cats? Purr-fect combination!

Design by Amy Wibowo/Bubblesort Zines, photo by Jackie Luo
Woman wearing a light blue sweatshirt that reads 'Purr programming' and has a drawn picture of woman writing on a laptop, while several cats sit next to her and on her shoulder
purr programming

Notebook with text 'web developer and cat mom for life' and a ying-yang logo that consists of a white and a black cat
web developer and cat mom for life

Notebook with text 'develo-purr' and a silhouette of a cat stretching

Yoga ๐Ÿง˜๐Ÿผโ€โ™€๏ธ

Yoga is maybe the most common exercise hobby among women. As yogi myself, I would love to see more yoga related merch! After all, programming and doing yoga are both a practice.

Notebook with text 'DevOps is like yoga: it is not a person, a team or a skill, it is a series of practices that over time improve you and the things you do' and a silhouette of a person sitting in a lotus position
devOps is like yoga

Being a mom and having kids ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ

Many women have kids and I'm sure [although I myself don't have kids] that there are a lot more jokes to be made about being a mom and a developer! Here are a few.

Notebook with cover text 'I name my variables like I name my kids. After 9 months of careful deliberation'
naming kids and variables

Notebook with text 'This single mom is a software developer - that's how I win the bread around here!'
single mom software developer

Headaches ๐Ÿง 

I don't have a migraine or don't have headaches very often, but I know many women who have them. I think it's refreshing to see this health issue used as a topic and a punchline that doesn't blame the person suffering from migraine/headaches, but connects everyone through something we all find stressful and difficult - when our code is not working, or when we have to support every possible browser ๐Ÿ™ˆ
This is a wonderful way to normalise migraines and headaches, and not accuse individuals suffering from them โค๏ธ

Notebook with cover text // The headache guide... switch(typeOfHeadache){ case:
Headache programming

Notebook with text 'Types of headaches' and cover image of hour different human heads, everyone having a different part of brain/head highlighted with red color and text. First one highlights frontal lobes and has text 'migraine'. Second one highlights back of the head and has text 'hypertension'. Third one highlights back neck and a band that goes around the whole head, with text 'stress'. Last one highlights all areas of the head and has text 'It has to work in every browser'
has to work in every browser headache

Cars ๐Ÿš—

Alright, cars might not be such a common hobby among women, and yes, the cars themselves aren't the main reason why I picked this product. I picked this because if you were to replace cars with e.g. shoes or clothes, this would be something I would buy immediately. Plus, women do make excellent mechanics/car hobbyists, when they are interested in cars! And when you like cars, I bet that the garage tends to fill itself, although, taking less space than node_modules take.

Card with text 'Node modules - I have cars that take up less space'
cars and node_modules take up space

Cooking and baking ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿณ

For the women who cook and bake - I'm so sorry to see there aren't more puns about programming and these hobbies. I laughed when I read this though: how-to-make-lasagna brilliant! Could someone make something similar with browser cookies? ๐Ÿช

Notebook with cover text 'I know HTML: how-to-make-lasagna'
HTML lasagna

Visually beautiful, graphic and aesthetic designs

These examples are quite different from the rest in this post, I wanted to include them, since they are so brilliant. These don't have any written text on them, just a graphic element, so the message is not verbal, but aesthetic.

To me, these have a bit of a hidden meaning - they don't scream out loud that "I am a developer", but other developers will recognise that these are somehow code related.

These kind of designs could have text on them, but the text would have to have a message that emphasises the meaning or message of the image (which might be very difficult). I think that all the other examples in this post are verbal-message-first designed: first you have the idiom, text or message, and then, if available, a related picture is added to create added interest. With these, it's the graphical idea first, then text, if needed, but probably not (we don't need text if the image says it all).

A tote bag with a graphic design. The design is made of a set of special characters () ; = / \ , and
React code mandala

A tote bag with a graphic design. The design is made of a set of special characters { } + . ; , < > and ~ that are arranged in a symmetrical shape that resembles a mandala. Special characters are either yellow, green or navy blue and are on a black background.
CSS code mandala

Old stereotypes that have been spun to a different meaning

Immeadiately when I saw this product, I cursed the fact that I'm a front end developer and not a data scientist. Yes, the punchline is THAT good. And I think it's so good exactly because it is re-frasing a very old, very stereotypical profession that is expected of and offered to women, but especially beautiful women. Re-frasing "modelling" as a data-related action is simply brilliant.

Greeting card with text 'I model for a living' surrounded by obscured images and formulas of mathematical models and calculations
I model for a living

I wish I had more examples in this category, but currently I don't. I will keep looking and update this section if I come across any. And if you know some products that are also giving a new spin to an old stereotype, please let me know in the comments below!

The "NO, JUST NO" category ๐Ÿ›‘ ๐Ÿ†˜

Okay. I contemplated a long time if I should include these or not, and I decided I will, but only because I want to call out the very ideas and topics that these represent.

These are real problems, that are causing pain - not only to women, but to all of their friends, spouses, kids and relatives too - and should not be put into products, used to make money, and worst of all, reproducing and spreading these thought patterns and attitudes to other people.

Examples in this category are NOT FUNNY. (Maybe from the toxic masculinity point of view they are, but that is not the perspective of women.)

Content/trigger warning: objectifying women, shaming women for their lack of skills or productivity, fatphobia, sexualising comments about appearance, pick up artist vocabulary.

If you want to skip this part, feel free to jump to the last part of this post.

To prevent these products getting more clicks and traction, I haven't provided links to them because I don't think that they should get any more traffic.

Objectifying women

Objectify me

Shaming based on skills or productivity

Git charts

Sexualised comments about appearance

refreshing ass

Mother shaming, fatphobia

yomama: width 999999px

PUA speech

HTML = how to meet girls

Boring and generic

These products are not harmful in the sense that the products in the previous section were. However, I wanted to include these because they are perfect examples of writing or messaging that is done by someone who clearly isn't part of the target group, or doesn't know how to speak to the people in the target group. Women will notice that these messages aren't appealing to them, and that the writer doesn't understand what it is like to be a woman.

Why are there so many products that say "girl" instead of "woman"? If it's because these are targeted at under 18 year olds, that's great, but how about providing the same products with the term "woman" too?

girls who code are the best

Girl code

I'm a girl and I'm a great developer

coding girl

coder girl definition

this girl know code

I know I code like a girl, try to keep up

I know I code, vol 2

Put on lipstick and code

Alright, finally some products with "woman" in them!

women can code

But seriously. Someone didn't even run this through a grammar checking program?! ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ

I'm a women who codes();


Listing a relationship through which women and girls are usually defined in the society ("sister" - I'm surprised that this is not followed by "wife", "girlfriend" or "mom") is not a great way to change the world and get men to see us as ourselves - women and humans first, then in relation to some other human beings. "Woman" - good! Absolutely better than "girl". "Developer" - great!

But seriously, although all women would like to introduce themselves as a "legend", putting this here just proves who the maker of this isn't aware how much women and girls are feeling imposter thoughts and how many men see them as unqualified (even if there is a solid track record of their skills).

sister, woman, developer, legend

Okay, even though the text in this one doesn't mention women, I think many more women use these types of "keep calm and..." products that men do, and therefore I included this in this post. However, whether this product is targeted at men, women or non-binary people, even Mark Zuckerberg tells people that it's better to strive to be a developer, not date one. So how about changing this to "keep calm and be a developer"?

keep calm and date a developer

Top comments (5)

whatminjacodes profile image
whatminjacodes [she/they]

I loved that "I model for a living"! It inspired me to start thinking if there's some other things that could be turned around (and of course not meaning that the original thing would be bad or lesser in anyway! I just love the word play :D ).

mathewthe2 profile image
Mathew Chan

Looks really thought out! I've never bought dev merch and I don't drink coffee so I have no idea. One thing to consider: from where I come from telling other people you're a developer makes you look geeky and unsociable so wearing a dev t-shirt makes you look unattractive. Maybe a merch with "inside jokes" that only other developers would understand and wouldn't scream "I'm the computer guy" would be more desirable.

sjarva profile image
Senja Jarva

Thank you Mathew! And thanks for pointing that out, it is a really relevant point! I guess I have been living in that kind of developer/geek/nerd bubble from high school onwards (most of my friends are either developers or work in other STEM professions), so I can wear and carry developer related merch without being seen as unsociable or unattractive. And this is a privilege.

Do you mean something like this with the "inside joke" that only developers would understand?
Charlene makes this type of graphic art from characters, and I guess that close up people would realise the shapes are made of characters, but wouldn't necessarily get the developer reference ๐Ÿง

ruannawrites profile image

Creative post! Love the good examples :) Thanks for writing!

sjarva profile image
Senja Jarva

Thank you Ruanna! ๐Ÿ˜Š I edited the post to have more pictures of the example products, so that people don't have to click through the links to see them.