Where Have All The Women Gone?

Girl Geeks    2012-07-10

I've worked in technology for over a decade, and for most of those years, in most of those jobs, I worked with more than my fair share of other women. Maybe I've just been lucky?

My very first code job was at a game company in Berkeley. I worked in the web division, a small team responsible for building online versions of games this company had already made popular for the desktop. Our entire team, with the exception of one copy writer, was female - that was our sys admin, a release manager, several programmers, a designer, and a few producers. Women were pretty well represented across the rest of the company too - the whole IT department, and probably more than half of the producers. That's not to say that there weren't also men in other parts of the company - the sound effects team was made up of two guys, and about half of the art department was male.

I guess the point is that it wasn't even really that remarkable that I should be working on an all-female engineering team. Gender just wasn't something that any of us even thought about. This was at the beginning of the internet boom, and all any of us cared about was the opportunity to explore this great new shiny, fun toy.

At one point a few years in I was transferred to this company's L.A. office, where I worked with male programmers for the first time. Men did outnumber women, but not by much, and I got to work with the most talented network engineer I've ever known. I've still never met her equal. She just happens to be a woman.

After my stint at the game company, I went back to San Francisco and spent a few years at an online advertising startup. In the early days when the engineering team was small, I worked with two other women on a team of about eight. As the company grew, that ratio changed, but there were still plenty of talented women on board - Java and Perl programmers, a few dba's. I never felt like I stood out.

And eventually I moved on to the music industry. Early on I worked with an engineering team that was evenly split - our DBA, and most of the rockstar programmers, were all women. In my current position, I am the lead for a small team of four, and the only woman. My gender has never been an issue - it's just not something that enters the discussion. I never hear "Wow, a girl programmer?". I'm not a novelty. No one ever asks me to take notes at meetings, no one expects me to get them coffee. No one talks down to me. Possibly because I am the senior developer. But we've had other female developers come and go, same treatment. It's not even that I work with a particularly enlightened group of guys - we just are what we are, and that is code monkeys.

Given this history of mine, I probably would never even think about gender in my profession if not for all the things going on outside of my specific little world - bikini models in supposedly professional presentations, deliberately offensive software names, this year's Sqoot scandal and geek underwear debacle. Vulgar comments. The list goes on and on (and on).

Maybe I have been extraordinarily sheltered, but I never learned to be defensive about my gender. And now, in the last few years, I find it's something I have to think about, as much as I wish I didn't. I have other, more pressing matters I'd rather be focusing on.

Maybe the number of women in this profession has dropped dramatically because, not only are fewer young women entering the field, but so many women who were already here have fled for more welcoming ground. I miss them, my old colleagues. I miss the days of not worrying about it. I miss computing being the domain of anyone who was fascinated with logic and calculation and making things go, gender having nothing to do with it.

Edited to add: As I was writing this post, I came across this article on NPR:
How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science : NPR

It made me wish there were more of this in the world:
How I Stopped Worrying and Started Loving PyLadies (Hynek Schlawack)