When I first started programming, there were women everywhere. For every class project, I was grouped with at least one female and oftentimes more than one. Hell the first person to ever teach me about programming was a woman. Her name was Dorothy Brumleve.
She had written a book on programming the Atari-ST using the Atari basic programming language. I read that damned book both day and night.
It just so happened that we lived in the same town (Urbana, Illinois - gotta represent for ur hood). One day I went to her house and knocked on her door. I had questions and she had the answers.
Before I got there, I assumed that I’d get the typical reaction… fear. That’s what usually happens when a big Black male (me) interacts with a White person unexpectedly and not on their terms.
I just knew that she’d think I was there either to rob her or con her in some way. So I had a speech prepared to try and make her relax long enough to at least give me one or two answers.
What happened instead was very perplexing.
She opened the door, looked at me, and invited me in. When I entered, I noticed that she had like a thousand kids. There were multiple conversations going on everywhere. It was like that fat kid’s house in Super 8.
Then she asked me to have a seat. Hmmmm… did she call the police before she opened the door and now she’s just trying to keep me around until they get here? What the fukk is goin’ on man?
I warily sat down and introduced myself. While listening for sirens, I explained that I’d read her book and that I was really confused and wanted her to answer a few questions for me.
Even more to my surprise, rather than setup a time for me to come back later or exchange phone numbers, she immediately escorted me to her work desk and we started programming right then and there.
She was so kind. Other than my internal warning bells going off at a frantic pace, the whole thing was very accommodating and peaceful. She was also extremely intelligent and a damned good teacher. There was a way about her that communicated and reinforced, “you can do this”.
By the time I left her home, I had two things.
One was a working program that had a ball moving across the screen with a custom background that I made in some Atari-ST paint application.
The other was an open invitation to visit her home whenever I was stuck and needed a helping hand. And she really meant this too. I visited many times afterwards, although I soon stopped needing so much help. This was mainly due to her excellent tutelage and well written book.
Now that I think about it, I actually left her home with three things. The third being the firm notion that women were a big part of computer programming.
Years later, when I started interviewing, I would typically seek out the female employees wherever I was interviewing at and query them about how they were being treated.
This was my strategy because there were never any Black people (men or women) at the places I applied (during that time). I was always the only Black ninja where I worked during my first 17 years or so.
It’s not that way now, but it was definitely that way when I started.
So the only minority group that I could reach out to were women. I was genuinely interested in how the women ninjas were valued at these places. It was my best shot at figuring out how they treated minorities, in general, and by extension a clue into how I’d be treated.
And more to the point of this particular article, there was not a shortage of women for me to reach out to.
In the last 9 years, I’ve worked with over 30 developers and only two of them have been women. What the fukk happened?
From my own personal experience, I’ve noticed that I see less and less women software ninjas. I had no idea that this was a nationwide epidemic.
I (incorrectly) assumed that what I was experiencing was a symptom of not working in a large corporate structure. I didn’t want to extrapolate too far using only my own experience so I categorized this as an anomaly.
Now I know it’s not just something that only I have noticed. The number of women in tech really is dropping and it’s dropping at an alarming rate. I’m not sure you muhfukkas realize this, but this is very, very bad. We cannot just stand by and allow this to continue.
In case you’re an ignorant muhfukka and can’t grasp the significance of this or can’t see what’s so bad about it, then pay attention you bastard.
Fact: as a race of human beings, what we actually know versus what we could know is so small that it’s pathetic. I know it seems like we’ve come a long way and it’s true that we have. But… it’s still nowhere near where we could’ve advanced to in the same amount of time.
Why is our knowledge pool less full than it should be?
Because for so long, we wouldn’t let everyone make their contributions to it. That’s why.
For so long we excluded, women. “That dumb bitch can’t learn shit, she’s just a woman. Don’t waste time sending her to school. Barefoot and pregnant is the place for her”.
For so long we excluded Blacks. “Niggers aren’t as intelligent as the White man. Niggers can’t read nor write. Why would we waste an education on Niggers? Niggers ain’t good for shit but doing our bidding”.
For so long we have excluded homosexuals. “Kill that fag!!! Burn him at the stake!! All fags must be destroyed!! DIE!! DIE!! DIE!!”
For so long we have excluded all manner of persons for all manner of silly, paranoid reasons.
As a result, we as an entire species, know far less than we should know.
Many amazing women, Blacks, homosexuals, handicapped, foreign, etc. people have had to make their contributions in silence from the shadows.
We should have learned by now, that in order to move the whole damned thing forward, that every muhfukka needs an opportunity to make their contribution to the knowledge pool.
We cannot sit back and let women systematically be removed from tech. We all suffer, if this happens.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing…
Now that I realize that this is more than just a personal observation, I wish I knew the answer to this question.
In an attempt to at least come to terms with what the women are going through, I went out and interviewed two extremely smart and passionate women that are deeply rooted in tech.
I’m really trying to understand their take on this so that I can get a better handle on what I can do to help improve this situation.
Here are the summary results of those interviews.
I’ve worked with the first interviewee for almost two years now. I’ve watched her grow and develop into a fine developer. Very smart and very capable. She has a great attitude that lends itself very well to pair programming. This, in turn, makes her a natural at collaboration in both directions. She’s easy to teach and easy to learn from.
She’s an exceptional talent and a valuable resource. Easily one of the best hires a company can make.
Her only weakness is that she loves that damned command line and won’t let go of it. Hehe.
Awesome Female Support Hero: “I would say my father who was always doing cool things. I was constantly curious about how things worked. Hanging out with him made me interested and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.”
Awesome Female Support Hero: “I would say I have been actively involved with technology since I could reach a computer. From gaming with my dad as a toddler to building circuits in 8th grade, I watched my father building computers and he taught us how to use Flash and Poser. I built my first computer my senior year of high school (case and everything). I now teach high school girls how to build and program robots in my summer time.“
Awesome Female Support Hero: “STEM fields are not as approachable to young women mainly due to what you see when you look at the big names in tech.
Older white men lead this industry and young girls don’t see a place for themselves. They don’t see anyone like them.”
Awesome Female Support Hero: Yes! Especially when they are younger, they are going through many changes and feel awkward. Many will shy away from tech because feeling physically awkward makes it difficult to join a male dominated area and makes you feel socially awkward.”
Awesome Female Support Hero: “Also the toys that children play with are very gender biased. Boys get Legos and girls get Barbie dolls. We are telling children at a young age what their role in society should be.”
Awesome Female Support Hero: “I would introduce it to children as early as possible and make it mandatory. Even if they don’t choose it as a career, to not understand it in this day in age is setting them up for failure.”
Awesome Female Support Hero: “Engineering was one of the hardest things I have ever done but I wouldn’t be happy if I did anything else.
This is the age of technology and creativity. If we restrict who has access to learning technology, we lose a lot of potential from creative individuals who could change this world. I know there are people out there who are way smarter and way more creative than I am and don’t even know what engineering is.
I genuinely hope that this area becomes more inviting and accepting and available to everyone because that future would be amazing. It’s 2015 and I want a flying car. Let’s do this, people.”
One thing that really caught my attention was the role that toys play in “setting the stage” for future career paths. I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure my grand daughter has access to legos (she fukkkin luvs Ninjago) and other “thought-provoking” toys.
It’s difficult for me though because I don’t want to force or manipulate her down an engineering path, but I do want her to have a fair shot at it.
Another very, very interesting point that she made was about the influence her father had on her love for technology. Which reinforces the earlier notion of the seeds of tech being planted from early childhood.
She grew up around it.
Right now, both my grandson and my granddaughter hang around me more than they hang around anyone else. I have noticed that as a natural byproduct of that that they have a lot of exposure to all of the nerdy shit that I’m into.
At first, I found myself wondering was I going too far in steering my granddaughter down a path in tech because I do way more deliberate things to keep her interested than I do for my grandson. However, I’ve since noticed that I don’t really have to do much to get my grandson excited about tech. He already does that by himself.
So I’m at peace with the extra effort that I pour into keeping my granddaughter immersed in geeky shit.
The Awesome Female Support Hero also put me up on this engineering toy for girls called goldiblox. I had no idea this existed and I’m very exited to grab my granddaughter a bundle of these for Christmas this year.
I also strongly agree with her that tech-related shit should start very early and should be mandatory. I mean like pre-K early at all of the providers, not just the private, expensive ones.
I too want a flying car.
Introducing awe-inspiring Lori Gold Patterson.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with this incredible woman for the past few years, even though it feels like I’ve known her for all my life.
She is an amazing human being with a truly radiant spirit. She’s very accomplished but still just as humble as if she was a peasant. She’s a pleasure to be around and I personally think very highly of her.
She reminds me a lot of Dorothy Brumleve in that she just has this “way” about her that allows her to reach me when no one else can. I can also attest to the fact that she practices what she preaches. If she’s requiring something of you, then you can be damned sure that she holds herself to the same standards.
I especially admire how she faces every problem head on with skill, agility, strength, and dare I say it… grace. She never looks for excuses or the punk way out.
Her one flaw is that she somehow doesn’t being called “Queen Bee”.
The Amazing Queen Bee: “I’m the CEO of a Software Development Consultancy that prioritizes humanism, both in our employment practices as well as in our consultancy engagements.”
The Amazing Queen Bee: “No one, including me, knew I had technical aptitude growing up. I was supposed to follow in my parents’ footsteps and be a psychologist or political activists.
My brother was a math and science genius so I paled in comparison. I stepped into technology on a sunny day in Flagstaff Arizona at Northern Arizona University.
I was bored with my psychology and political science classes three weeks into my second semester so I followed a group of students into a building I hadn’t entered before. I sat in the back of their class and figured out what the mathematical summation sign meant while the professor scribbled formulas all over the board.
My brain was happier than it had been in years and I ran to my counselor and said, I want whatever they were teaching in that classroom. Thus I ended up in Engineering.
I had never known an engineer nor did I really understand what they did, but I wanted to stretch my brain and do something that used my brain more than my heart.”
The Amazing Queen Bee: “When I decided I wanted to be an engineer I went to meet with an Engineering Dean at the University of Illinois. I was definitely ill prepared, having very little understanding of Engineering. I asked the Dean to explain the different aspects of Engineering to me so I could choose which track to follow.
He leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on his desk and said, “Honey, have you considered Home Economics?” It was that day that I decided that, no matter what, I would succeed in graduating as an Engineer.
The Amazing Queen Bee:“I don’t respond well to arrogance and shut-out techniques. When the Dean made it clear that I was not cut out for Engineering, and particularly directed me toward a female dominated field, Home Economics, he fueled my conviction.
The pre-engineering and Mechanical Engineering curriculum was exceptionally hard, especially since I had not been involved in advanced math and science in high school. But when things got so hard that I was sure I couldn’t persevere, I would think about that asshole Dean and get re-inspired.”
The Amazing Queen Bee:* “It seems that in primary education, humanities are presented in a way that exercises creativity and strong verbal and writing skills. But math and science tends to be presented methodically and lacks emotional connection.
Stereotypically, boys respond more comfortably to the non-emotional aspect of math and science while girls shine when they can express themselves and organize chaos. I believe that we need to completely re-develop primary and secondary education.
Most public schools are still teaching the same topics and teaching them in the same way as they did a half century ago. But girls that are introduced to STEM in a non-threatening, non-traditional way tend to find great interest.
I also think that introducing more humanities into STEM curriculum would go a long way to balancing the experience for young women and increase the likelihood that they’ll persevere in technical college degrees.
For example, requiring all STEM students to engage in personality testing like Myers-Briggs and studying what the outcomes mean would illuminate the differences in thinking styles and likely better enable young men and women alike to embrace diversity in their classmates and colleagues.”
The Amazing Queen Bee: “I wish that more professors and IT executives understood that emotional intelligence is as important as technical intelligence in solving complex, multidimensional problems.
It hurts to think about how many girls and underrepresented populations have deviated from their interest in technology because they felt inadequate or out of place and took it personally.
We have so much work to do.”
My fellow male software ninjas, that’s keeping it as 8 more than 92 as it can get.
The fact that it’s soooooo easy to introduce gender-bias into something without even realizing that you’ve done it was really brought home to me today.
A good friend and I were kicking around a name for this coding project that we’re putting together. We chose a very well known and very well respected term from our hip hop background.
I was taken completely off guard when The Amazing Queen Bee expressed concern about the name we had chosen. What? That term doesn’t exclude women! It’s an established phrase from our past that represents an entire culture. It’s never used to degrade anyone. It’s a term of respect and ancestry. Anyone in our space will know exactly what it means and they won’t feel any gender-bias. I know this to be true!
Then the question was raised, “but what about those that aren’t in your space? What will those women think when they hear the term?”
I was trapped in logic’s death grip and it wasn’t letting go. She was right and I knew it. There are a slew of women (and men) that don’t have my same background and will easily get the wrong understanding from the term.
Just that fast, I had unwittingly contributed to the very thing I’m fighting against.
Small details and tiny nuances that you think are petty and insignificant can have a very loud and very negative effect.
I challenge all of us to pay more attention to the things that we do that can be discouraging to or exclusionary of our female counterparts.
Of course, if you don’t know what those things are then there’s not much you can do. In those cases, I challenge you to explore ways to make your content and yourself more approachable by women that may be interested in following your career path.
One such way could be to ask your wife/sister/mother/aunt/cousin etc. what her first emotional reaction is to [someThing] that you’re kicking around.
Now, let me be clear in that I don’t mean that you should just change your entire flow for the sake of political correctness. Fukk that. I ain’t down with that shit in any form. So please trust and understand that that’s not what I’m talking about.
What I’m talking about is being mindful of changes you can make that prevent you from inadvertently sending a message that’s not what you meant. If, on the other hand, you mean to send that message, then fukkin send it.
For example, I heard some bullshit recently that proposed that because the “culture” of programming includes things like video games and RPGs, women aren’t interested just because they don’t feel connected to those activities. Therefore, this thing said, we should not mention those things in the workplace.
Fukk that. Fukk all of that. There’s no way I’m pretending that I don’t love video games and RPGs. I’m not keeping silent about it either.
I’m not denying myself valid conversations with coworkers about things that we happen to enjoy and have in common because somebody will allegedly get the impression that “you can’t be a software ninja if you don’t also like those things”. That’s dumb.
First I reject the notion that women don’t like video games and RPGs.
Second, I reject the notion that a person (female or male) has to enjoy everything that the other workers in that space enjoy. What the fukk kinda logic is that? I work with plenty of developers that don’t like a lot of the shit I like. So what?
Anyway, make sure that you’re aware of the messages you’re sending that you don’t intend to send. Women are a big part of our world and they need to be a big part of the technology space again. Let’s all work together to identify and fix the problems that keep our women out of these fields (unless it’s video games and RPGs).
Seriously… how much are we missing out on because we can’t find our Dorothy Brumleve?