Recently, whenever I meet a woman who is showing the slightest interest in learning how to code, I practically jump at her out of excitement. I’ll start overwhelming her with tons of advice, meetup suggestions, workshop invites and links to tutorial websites. Suddenly I’ve become passionate about women joining the tech industry as developers.
You might think that this would be normal for a female developer. After all, there’s a huge lack of diversity in the industry.
But I never used to be a massive feminist. I never thought that I needed special quotas or extra mentoring just because I was woman. If I worked hard, surely I could achieve what I wanted, no matter which gender I was.
But my attitude towards this is changing now. I’ve started helping out with organising the Ladies Who Code meetup for example. And I’ve been coaching minority code newbies at Codebar for a while. I read more and more articles about how it’s harder to succeed for women in the tech industry.
There just aren’t a lot of women around
All my team members are male. A couple of months ago, when they were recruiting developers, I asked if they’d had any applications from women. They hadn’t. When I go to non-diversity focused meetups or conferences, the vast majority of participants are male.
I didn’t think I’d mind that. I mean, we’re all human beings, all interested in technology and coding. But actually, I do mind it. It feels weird and intimidating to attend a meetup with a room full of men. Or to go for lunch break and talk about which girls my colleagues pulled over the weekend. And it’s boring hanging out with guys all the time. Just like it would be boring hanging out with girls all the time.
And the more I think about it, the more I realise that events in my own life related to gender have affected my belief in my abilities.
So where are the female developers?
Looking at my personal experience, I don't remember coming across any female developers that could have acted as role models. I’d been working with programmers for years and I’ve always been fascinated by their work. I remember my first job in marketing, where I worked with a Lotus Notes database developer. Sounds boring but I was in awe of his skills with which he implemented our requirements in a completely magical way. And of course, it was a man.
In another job I worked with developers who built features for a content management system that I used. Again, not a single woman in sight.
Oh, and my dad was a programmer for a while in his career. Not my mum.
I assume I’m not the only one with that experience. And as much as I dislike blaming others for my decisions, I do think that a world without female developers must have subconsciously influenced my belief that I would never be able to become a developer myself.
Back in school, IT was for boys who love maths
I went to a grammar school in Germany where IT was not on the curriculum but it was offered as a voluntary after school club. And I remember that only the maths and physics nerds (all boys) would go to this club. There was a rumour that only those who excelled at maths can understand programming. Not me, who was good at languages, which in our school was more of a girl thing.
I’m not saying that if there had been initiatives to get girls into coding that I would have gone on to do a computer science degree. Or that things would have been different. But they might have been! I might have decided to change careers a few years earlier than I did now.
I was fascinated by the job of a programmer but it hadn’t occurred to me for a long time that I could become one myself.
So maybe that’s why I feel the need to make up for it now and be the role model that I never had. And encourage as many women as I can to give coding a try to see if it’s for them. Not just dismiss it how I used to.
I assume that other women around my age had similar experiences to mine. And I want them to understand that they can do it. I want them to experience the passion and the fun that I’m experiencing now in my new career as a developer. I want them to get excited over building cool stuff and learning technologies and exchanging ideas with the lovely people that you can meet in the London tech industry.
So that’s why I started organising a female developer meetup. I finally understand why we need special support for women in the industry. And that’s why I jump at women who show an interest in coding. So, don’t be scared, I mean well!