Close your eyes and imagine a computer nerd staring at the screen trying to solve a problem.
What did you imagine? A boy with a casual t-shirt or hoodie typing on the keyboard? I am sure most of you won’t imagine a girl. This is predominantly not because women are not talented but more because of our culture. When women express that they are programmers, the reactions would be, “Ah, she must be a genius.” There is a lot of stereotype in this one single statement. Before I dwell on that, do you know a recent study in the US showed an enrolment of women into STEM disciplines is close to 20%? Was it always like this? Well, more than the ratio, it is better to have an overall look at how women progressed in software engineering.
Have you heard about Ada Lovelace? It’s ok if you haven’t. She is the first computer programmer. I am not saying, first female programmer. Yes, people. It all started with a woman. Computers back in those days were massive, with a lot of hardware components. Assembling a computer itself was considered a tough job and is for men. So, programming was a second-grade job. Women were also chosen candidates for that because by the talent that women posses with arts such as knitting, it was considered that they would naturally be able to perform well in writing analytical software. I am talking about the 1800s.
How about Margaret Hamiton? She is a computer pioneer who actually coined the term “software engineering.” Her software, Apollo Guide Computer in the Apollo Space Program sent humans to the moon. If any software engineer feels proud to call himself so, it is because she described herself as a software engineer. She gave an identity to the work she was doing. Margaret is an inspiration to many, and I am one of them.
There is a long list of inspiring female programmers, and they do perform well in what they chose. In fact, there were quite a few books written on women who excel in STEM, and I would recommend those books to everyone. Nowadays, we see women doing quite well in a variety of mathematical, analytical, and engineering disciplines. So, the question is, why is the percentage of women so low who pursue an education in STEM? And the percentage reduces more and more as they progress in their careers.
Male dominance – This is the case in all disciplines but more so in STEM where girls are treated as if they don’t belong. As a woman, you might have to prove yourself more than a man does. The solutions proposed by a woman gets scrutinized more. I won’t deny it. I have found myself in situations where I had to defend more than needed. The same coming from a male counterpart would not be questioned as much. Also, as a woman, we may not be able to be part of all the tea table talks or casual gatherings beyond work. This is negative at times because some of the discussions and sometimes even decisions happen over these informal talks.
A pre-perceived notion about women in tech – Many not only think women can’t code, but they are somehow inferior to men when it comes to being technically geeky. Looking at the accomplishments women have made ever since computers came into existence, this sounds untrue. Personally, I have women around me who are as geeky as men and spend hours without interruption when a challenge is thrown at them. So, there is interest and dedication as well.
Apart from these, there are other disparities. Women are paid less compared to men of the same caliber, it is often a daunting task to prove yourself over and over again and also not having the flexibility to work from anywhere. Big tech companies and even small company employers are actively considering ways to bridge these gaps.
So, should women learn to code? Absolutely. For a second, forget all the stereotypic thoughts. How would you feel about finding a solution to a problem no one ever did? Would you have an adrenaline rush to be able to build whatever you want? Cool, then programming is for you. Having said that, I won’t say it is a bed of roses. You are going to have moments where you end up questioning yourself, “Am I good at this? Maybe, this is not for me”. Worry not, you are not alone. A lot of men also have the same feelings. Fear is built into us and is not gender-specific. Programming is not just analytical or logical, it is a creative form, and we women are great with creative stuff.
Working your way up can be a little tricky. Find a woman mentor, because she has been there and done that. It might be easier for a woman mentor to understand your state of mind. Having said that, some men are great mentors too, and they really understand what we go through as women, acknowledge it, and can provide a helping hand in overcoming the hurdles. A small secret, it is easier to convince someone with good code because it cannot be influenced by anyone while it runs!!
Make friends with women who are coders. There are quite a few groups, meetups that happen where women in technology come together. These are great platforms to find someone who you can share your achievements and frustrations. Also, you would get to learn about various new technologies and meet technologists who are pioneers in those areas.
Gone are those days where people say, women who are pretty cannot code, and who can code are not pretty. I am both pretty and can code, do you have any problem with that should precisely be our attitude, and there would be no looking back.
Go out, girls, have fun coding!!!