Breaking down geek stereotypes in open source


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I'm a newcomer to the tech industry. I don't have a degree in Computer Science or Engineering. I'm a writer by trade and training, so coming to work for Red Hat after years of freelancing and crappy office jobs was a real shock. Which is to say, a pleasant shock. Tattoos? Sure. Pink hair? Oh, yes. Start time? Whatever suits you best. And unlike other places I've worked, not a single man has expected me to make them a cup of coffee, and nobody tells me to "smile love, nobody likes a sadsack in the office!" (I frown when I concentrate. I'm sorry! And by that I mean I'm totally not sorry.)

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What's more, I work in a department full of women. This was also unexpected—I'd been led to believe that women didn't work in IT, and so I came in bracing for more male-dominated office life. But there are heaps of women in my office. Well, I should qualify—heaps of women on my floor. Engineering? Not so much. There are lots more women in the "periphery" of tech, such as technical writing and business management, but engineering is still hopelessly male-dominated. Why is that?

From the Women in Technology (WiT) Education Foundation:

"In 2008, women received 57% of all undergraduate degrees but represented only 18% of all Computer and Information Sciences undergraduate degrees. There has been a 79% decline, between 2000 and 2008, in the number of incoming undergraduate women interested in majoring in Computer Science. As a result, only 27% of computer scientists today are female."

I find that really interesting. In the course of researching this piece, I read a lot of troubling stories from women in the industry. This quote from an article in Fast Company stood out to me:

"It's tiring always being first, always being different, always being the one who has to adapt, denying important parts of yourself just to get the chance to do your job. It’s like being a stranger in a strange land, where you speak the language but nobody learns yours. That's why even women who do well in development end up leaving mid-career."

What is the strange land? What is the language of the tech industry? As a newcomer, and a woman, it's immediate and noticeable, but oddly hard to articulate. It goes deeper than the plethora of buzz-words and over-determined jargon. I think it's a cultural problem, and I don't just mean in the standard "men-and-women-can't-get-along" kind of way.

I don't mean to start a fight here, but I think the tech industry, and open source in particular, is snobby. Geek culture is so deeply insinuated into every part of this industry it forms a barrier of entry to everybody already not inducted by a nearly life-long process of immersion. Just like any culture, there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to dress, shows to watch, books to read, hobbies to engage in, and modes of communication.

It's also understandable to a degree how suspicious geeks can be of non-geeks. The exclusionary nature of geek culture works both ways: mainstream society's relationship with geek culture seems to be torn between opportunistic profiteering (Big Bang Theory) and downright antagonism (every "nerd" movie trope). But an unfortunate by-product of this is a seriously insular culture that has been wrapped around the tech industry. That culture could do a lot to be more welcoming in general, but more welcoming to women specifically.

It returns to this notion of working somewhere "where you speak the language but nobody learns yours." I'm nerdy, geeky, dorky, whatever. I was the weird kid in high school. I read comic books, I play Dungeons and Dragons. I also like shoes, and handbags, and musical theatre, and I pay too much for haircuts. I bulk-bought makeup in Walmart last time I was in the States like there was an oncoming fashion apocalypse.

Despite the fact that I definitely consider myself die-hard geeky, apparently I don't fit the girl-geek stereotype—maybe geek girls don't shave their heads and get a lot of tattoos? I lack the pre-requisite shyness? (It was a long slog but I grew out of it eventually...) I'm actually not sure why I get disqualified. I own a NASA shirt! Nonetheless, I therefore run the risk of being accused of the ultimate insult against geek puritanism: the fake geek girl. I won't speak too much about this recent phenomenon, but apparently now there are girls invading the land of geekdom and appropriating cultural icons as fashion accessories without any knowledge or understanding of their history or significance. I can see how this is problematic, and there's a big debate to be had about cultural appropriation there, but automatically dismissing anyone who isn't deemed "appropriately geeky"—especially women, because this vitriol seems to be focused on women—isn't exactly going to facilitate the kind of growth most of us would like to see in open source. Authenticity should only be discussed in terms of desire to be a part of the open source community, not in terms of what clothes you wear or what books you read.

Not only do I have to constantly prove my worth as a non-technical person in a highly technical world, I also have to contend with the notion that I'm just trying to disguise myself as someone nerdy in order to fit in with the misfits. (How does that logic even work?) So I ask you, if we can't even trust women from our own highly insular culture, then how are other women ever going to feel welcome in our industry, so caught up in said culture? By failing to disrupt the narrative that entwines geek culture with IT, we're alienating everyone who already feels like IT is inaccessible, especially women.

I nominate open source particularly because even by tech industry standards, this is the hardcore stuff. When I tell other IT people I work for a Linux company even they sometimes get the haunted look of somebody about to be bombarded with a bunch of stuff they don't know or care about. I really like it though. I like the passion people have. I like that innovation and progress are the big markers of success, and that good ideas are going to naturally work their way to the top. This sort of natural selection shouldn't be limited by who can produce some geek cred. I know it's worn like a badge of pride, but it shouldn't devalue other social structures, especially feminine social structures, in the process.

It's got to be hard to have the best ideas when we're missing a huge chunk of the population. Imagine how many brilliant potential software engineers are being lost to other industries because they feel like there isn't any space for pink high heels in IT? Should femininity be a foreign language barrier that women need to overcome in order to have a career? And why should women have to prove their geekiness even when it is genuine? We need to better delineate between the tech industry and geek culture, because ultimately, being snobby in open source is bad for business.


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65 Comments

Aseem Sharma's picture
Open Source Champion

Excellent article. After working in the Information technology sector for over 7 years, I see that somewhere the reason surrounding inclusion is also cultural. In India, the growth of IT sector empowered women by making them financially independent, broadening their perspectives, giving them an opportunity to travel globally and become professionally sound. In spite of this, the number of women relative to men in projects is very low. A significant number of women also leave their job for a few years after marriage and that , as a result, acts as a deterrent to their hiring in the first place. My view here is restricted to the Indian I.T sector and I am just highlighting one of the causes of this imbalance based on my experiences in one particular cutlure. Technology industry on a whole needs to be more flexible and inclusive in creating working patterns suitable to women. With an advent of a lot online platforms that teach women how to code along with corporate policies that zero in on inclusion, I do see a positive change coming up the geek world.
Thanks again for this insightful article!!!

Thanks and Regards,
Aseem Sharma

jodibiddle's picture
Open Minded

That's a really interesting point Aseem. I must confess, I hadn't thought about how tech culture might clash with non-Western cultures too. I think there's a whole series of articles to be written about the rise of IT in India. Food for thought!

Aseem Sharma's picture
Open Source Champion

Yeah, I think the same problem shows up in different cultures with a different face. Absolutely, India has seen a phenomenal rise in the growth in I.T and open source culture and this rise has changed the mindset of people and has impacted, both positively and negatively different sections of Indian society including women.
Thanks for your insightful thoughts.

Thanks and Regards,
Aseem Sharma

kriszzilla's picture
Open Minded

Hi ma'am Jodi and hi sir Aseem. This is great article, good job ma'am. I agree to what sir Aseem said, in the end of the day culture is definitely a big factor.

Thanks and Regards,
Kristian Aggarao

Follow me on twitter
@kriszzilla
Applications Developer

Aseem Sharma's picture
Open Source Champion

I agree Sir Kristian. What struck me after reading your comment was a quote by the great management thinker Peter Drucker: "Culture eats strategy over breakfast." :-)

Thanks and Regards,
Aseem Sharma

Jeremiah Gowdy's picture

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jodibiddle's picture
Open Minded

I'm glad you recognise that this isn't meant to be an attack. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely a feminist, and in the course of researching this piece I found a lot of stuff to be upset about. But getting people fired isn't exactly going to promote healthy discussion.

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

"The first is a certain breed of rabid feminism has found themselves a new front to wage their war on men. They've figured out that attacking men in corporate board rooms gets them ignored, and attacking men in blue collar industries gets them a vulgar response and then ignored."

This kind of language makes me really uncomfortable. It reminds me of
http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Angry_feminist_mob

Here is my paraphrase of your comment. Note this is based on my interpretation, and may not be what you meant:

"I like this article, because it doesn't threaten me personally. The angry feminist mob (the 'other' feminists that I feel threatened by) is ineffective in the boardroom and against blue collar workers, but IT professionals are powerless against it as they are sensitive and socially obtuse. They are now afraid because their peers are getting blacklisted from conferences and are getting attacked by the angry feminist mob's allies. Men who behave badly shouldn't suffer consequences; women need to work harder to prove to those men they are worthy to earn their respect."

It feels to me like you are making generalizations and using stereotypes to paint feminists as an angry mob and to paint IT professionals as sensitive and socially obtuse people. Women should not have to work harder to earn respect in order to be treated as equals. They already do work harder just to be in tech in the first place. Not all IT professionals are male, and not all IT professionals have any issues with social skills.

Also, there isn't any reason for anyone to be afraid of being blacklisted or losing their job unless they're actually doing something inappropriate. If someone is afraid, then my guess is that they don't understand why the people in the incidents you seem to be alluding to were in the wrong. In that case, the solution is to educate YOURSELF and do not try to dictate to women on what terms they are allowed to stick up for themselves in your community.

Just my thoughts. I don't mean to offend. Reading your comment gave me a very strong negative reaction and I wanted to explain why.

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Hans Bezemer's picture

The problem I have with this discussion is that it is basically a women's problem: their peers are not choosing a career in IT. So, start there. You'd be doing a far better job there than men ever would. However, it is always turned into a men's problem by really (without any significant argumentation or research) trying to find anything in the environment that puts off women. The argumentation is, "half of the population should be women, it isn't, so there is something there that is putting them off".

The first question should however be: SHOULD half the population be women? The argument against that is, that there ARE women that are in it, so it is possible. Yes, but that's not how nature works. You'll always find some instances in any end of a Gauss curve, but that doesn't mean both Gauss curves for both populations should completely overlap. But tell that to people who adopted the axiom that it should. Hard discussion. Not very scientific in all, but that's ideology for you. "Why" is always the hardest question in science.

So we has the "angry feminist mob" brought us in FOSS the last years. First, there were some regrettable incidents of sexual harassment, some adolescent jokes and it was "sexism" that was the main cause that drove people out of IT. Regrettable as it is, it happens. A few paragraphs of an old, rather large report on FOSS were ripped out of context and here we go.

I spend quite some time on forums and usegroups - and yes, people get rude, it sometimes gets personal, but I wouldn't say its the best place to collect sexist jokes - or worse. Homosexuals are far worse off in my experience, I've seen instances of that. It would be nice to research how many male homosexuals are put off working in IT by comparison. Still, most moderated groups are quite clean and most have even strengthened their policy.

I've spend HOURS ripping fore mentioned report apart, because I honestly can't think that "sexism" is the cause. Most nerds are much to busy ripping each other apart on the quality of their code (shorter, faster) than harassing their female peers. In one usenet group there is a women. She's amongst the leaders of that group and has been for years. Nobody even thinks of her as "a woman", simply another peer. I learned Z80 assembly from a womens book. It never even crossed my mind it is a woman!

But that one died down. Now it's about "geekism" and again: it's the fault of men. I honestly have respect for the female programmers who JUST DO THEIR THING and they're GOOD at it. They don't throw brown paper sessions in order to "evaluate why women are not so numerous in IT", they code, they learn and get better. That's how you solve it.

If you're so worried about too few women in IT, get out and get them in. Teach them and teach them more. Put up some good code that will help all. Create your own ecosystem and culture if you must and stop chasing your tails.

Don't blame - that won't get you anywhere - solve the problem. The problem is not that there are too many males in IT, there are too few women. The males didn't create this problem by going into an all female environment and kick the women out, the women did by not joining them. There's your problem - and hence your solution.

Máirín Duffy's picture

You didn't read my comment or you did and didn't understand it.

Read the paraphrase of your comment I wrote, again:

"I like this article, because it doesn't threaten me personally. The angry feminist mob (the 'other' feminists that I feel threatened by) is ineffective in the boardroom and against blue collar workers, but IT professionals are powerless against it as they are sensitive and socially obtuse. They are now afraid because their peers are getting blacklisted from conferences and are getting attacked by the angry feminist mob's allies. Men who behave badly shouldn't suffer consequences; women need to work harder to prove to those men they are worthy to earn their respect."

You were specifically calling out Jodi's article as acceptable to you, in contrast to some unnamed set of attitudes ("the angry feminist mob") that you disagree with.

"They've figured out that attacking men in corporate board rooms gets them ignored, "

They, they, they. Who is the they? Why do you keep talking about this they?

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mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Replying to an unnecessarily long wall of text -

"Do you believe angry feminists of this kind do not exist? Are they *solely* a phantom in the minds of men, a fantasy demagogue used to strike down valid points?"

Yes, I believe they are an imaginary construct. Prove me wrong and name a few.

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mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

How was I hostile? Because I commented on how long your comment was?

I want to learn more about this angry feminist mob. Who are they? What are they doing? Tell me more.

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mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

". It's beyond absurd to presume that zero such people exist, and I think you know that. "

Okay cool. So if they exist.... I'll ask for the third time: who are they? Let's see some articles about the things they're doing. I mean, it's a mob right, so there's got to be multiple of them.

" You can't even bring the people who *want* to see things your way onto your side. Q.E.D."

Ad hominem

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mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

"The first is a certain breed of rabid feminism has found themselves a new front to wage their war on men."

Darn! I'm never going to get to find out who they are! The mystery continues! Maybe they are like Batman... they must wear masks and only come out at night.

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Adam Williamson's picture

If you were actually trying to be positive, you wouldn't be posting massive essays of complex self-justification.

The article isn't about you. Throughout the comment thread you've been hugely long-winded and self-important and clinging on to pointless technicalities. Take a step back, look at the last six essays you've posted, and ask yourself what they've contributed to...anything, really, beyond your own self-image. If the answer is nothing, perhaps now would be a good time to just stop.

Jeremiah Gowdy's picture

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mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Your original comment was not positive.

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Adam Williamson's picture

You posted two lines saying you liked this article, solely as a preface to your next 40 lines, which were an elaborate, self-satisfied attack piece on some sort of mysterious conspiracy:

"The first is a certain breed of rabid feminism has found themselves a new front to wage their war on men."

"Thus began this new campaign to draw attention to feminism by attacking IT professionals."

"But this wave of attacks and stories of people losing their jobs and being blacklisted from events and being attacked by their "white knight" peers has lead to paranoia among IT professionals."

"Men in technology are learning to distance themselves, not speak out on the topic, and just plainly avoid females in the industry for fear of having your career wrecked because you said the wrong thing at the wrong time."

"And as I've seen many successful women in technology blog about, call out those rabidly attacking men in technology for the frauds they are."

"I hope many men in technology read it and realize that the *real* women in technology are not trying to attack our culture, they're just trying to claim their place in it."

That's not being positive: it's cynically using Jodi's attempt at a constructive message as a platform to present your own entirely negative (and, quite frankly, paranoid) theory, for which you provided precisely zero objective support. Things only got worse from there.

eMBee's picture

i'd like to see some examples of this war that you are talking about. so far i have mostly seen people writing about bad behavior and some may have been directly attacking that behavior. there were also stories about people loosing jobs for that behavior, like this one:

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/career-management/off-color-remarks-at-...

this story certainly explains the fear you are talking about.

the problem is, i see no attack in that story. just a polite request with an unfortunate outcome. (and completely besides the point, it shows that twitter or a weblog is not a place for a semi-private message that probably was only directed at conference staff or participants.)

we shouldn't have to fear to get fired, but if we can get fired for merely pointing out bad behavior then we might as well stop communicating altogether. that certainly can't be the outcome we want...

but where are those attacks that seek to divide men and women?
at worst there are some that seek to divide those that behave inappropriately from the rest.

and where do you draw the line between calling attention to the issue and calling attention to oneself?

how do you even tell the difference?

as i write this, i can't even tell the difference for me. (yes, there is a voice in my head telling me that i am only drawing attention to myself with this reply and my opinion is not helpful enough to be worth posting.)

a last point: i certainly hope that women in technology are not just trying to claim their place in our culture, but that they are actively trying to change it! because to many believe that we should not have to change to make women comfortable in our communities. we do need to change. we do need to learn this language that these people from that other planet bring to us.

greetings, eMBee.

shawnhcorey's picture
Open Minded

Nerds don't have to put any effort into being nerdy; they just are. If you put any effort into being a geek, you're not being honest with others or yourself.

--
Don't stop where the ink does.

tracyanne's picture

I don't doubt that is/was your experience, but I am having trouble getting my head around it. Is that really what it's like for the majority of Women in IT?

In 35+ years I can't say that I was ever aware of anything like your experience, or maybe it's that my reactions to things like men apologising for tell an "off colour" joke were more along the lines of "you should know by now I don't fucking swear", preferably delivered deadpan.

Maybe it was my competitive nature, I just never felt inadequate, or never allowed anyone to make me feel that way. I just did my thing to the best of my ability, and moved on when I wanted something different.

I'm a geek, I've always been a geek, even before I knew what that was. But I doubt I've ever looked like a geek, you usually have to wait for me to start talking.

jodibiddle's picture
Open Minded

I'm not suggesting this is the case for the majority of women in IT. As I said, I'm fairly geeky - but until that was established, nobody knew what to do with me. I'm trying to suggest that maybe women (and men for that matter) who aren't geeky feel excluded by the way that IT and geekdom are so tightly wound up together, so they don't want to get into IT at all, or get into it and then end up leaving.

Hans Bezemer's picture

Being a nerd, this has a high level of "duh?" for me. First, geeks don't look at attire, they are much too preoccupied with what they're working on to notice. Worst case scenario: they don't even notice themselves anymore after a 12 hour hack session. Abbreviations: they're part of the job. If you don't know what SOAP is you're probably not qualified to do what you're supposed to do. It's not "that thingy", it has a (short) name. You'll find the same thing when you're working in the police force or as a chemist or astronomer.

If you're awesome at what you're doing, you'll get respect. Even more so in FOSS, because you're behind a terminal in a galaxy far, far away and nobody notices your pink heels. But most probably: when you're thinking about pink heels while working, you may not be dedicated enough to do this work.

eMBee's picture

It's got to be hard to have the best ideas when we're missing a huge chunk of the population.

this is the most important reason why we need more women in IT in general and in Free Software especially, and why gender parity is a worthy goal, and also why gender in itself is a quality that needs to be considered when making hiring decisions.

the best candidate is not the one who is the best programmer or writer or whatever the job is about, but the person who brings the most diversity into the team.

unity in diversity is the only way forward. this applies to all human endeavors. we need to embrace this diversity and learn how to build teams and communities which can take advantage of it.

greetings, eMBee.

Hans Bezemer's picture

There are plenty of other professions where there is a surplus of women. Still, I don't find articles telling women to get out of there and/or asking men to join. So I don't think "gender equality" is so very important after all - and consequently neither is diversity. This makes moot of your other arguments as well, BTW. Furthermore, there is a general lack of scientific evidence of WHY these goals are worth achieving in the first place.

eMBee's picture

a search for "more men in {kindergarten,elementary,nursing,childcare,housework,PR,social work,...}" will show you lots of articles.

searching for "why gender diversity is important" will also yield plenty of reading.

greetings, eMBee.

Hans Bezemer's picture

Ideologically, yes, but not where it leads to shorter production times, better products, etc. Quantify!

Unidentified's picture

Women have 18% of the cs degrees but 27% of the cs jobs? 79% decrease in undergraduate entry?

Based on those figures, women are over represented, and are apparently not interested in IT in the first place.

What is the end goal? 50% of IT will be female? In a interested population where only 20% are female? That could only be achieved through strong discrimination against male applicants.

eMBee's picture

it could also be achieved by changing IT to make it more interesting for women.

you have to ask why they are not interested. maybe they are interested in computing but not in working in a male dominated environment?

greetings, eMBee.

Hans Bezemer's picture

Assumptions! That may very well not be the reason why there are many women in IT. Ok, I'll quantify this for you. About 60% of the FOSS projects are one-man projects. If your assumption was right, half of those would be women, since they won't have to deal with men. Furthermore, if women did want to collaborate with women, you'd see plenty of "all-female" project. You don't see those as well. That opens up some serious questions. Are women unable to startup projects without the aid of men? Are they not capable to organize themselves? Don't they like IT enough to startup single-developer projects? I don't say either of these assumptions are true, but they're just as true or false as those you put up.

Máirín Duffy's picture

When I was interviewing at prospective colleges, a CS professor discouraged me from pursuing CS. Not because he didn't think I could make it, but because the ratio was so bad it wouldn't be the best environment.

Of course I took it the wrong way, got mad, and studied it :) But most people when told by a professor in a field to not study it probably would have listened.

Unidentified's picture

Women are not interested in IT, so change IT to suit the interests of women? I'm not sure I follow... IT exists to fill a need, like other industries. It wasn't specially designed to appeal to anyone. Change it into what, and by what means?

If women won't join an industry because it is male-dominated, that seems like a chicken-egg problem. I don't think women are that petty anyway (certainly none i know)

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

"Women are not interested in IT, so change IT to suit the interests of women?"

No. Women are plenty interested in IT. It's the limited environments in which they can practice it that are the problem. A number of studies have been done on this. Here is one summary of a small selection of the research:

http://phys.org/news180024084.html

Hans Bezemer's picture

What is actually tested here is whether women like to work in a room full of star trek memorabilia or something else. That's it, nothing more nothing less. That's the only thing it proves. I've debunked loads of these studies which do not address the main question: do people like to code or not?

Given the fact that even in the most optimum work circumstances (in your own place, where nobody can see you - or: women only coding project) women do not code, I can only conclude they do not want to code. Period. The rest is only circumstantial.

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Hi Hans, you missed the point. It's not about whether women do or don't naturally enjoy programming. (They do. Women were in majority in programming in the 1940's / 1950's. E.g. it was women who worked on the ENIAC. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing#Timeline_of_women_in_co... for more highlights)

It's about whether or not there is a problem, and there is. It has nothing to do with whether or not women can code or enjoy coding. It's about 1,000 papercuts that make it extremely and needlessly difficult in order for them to do so.

"Given the fact that even in the most optimum work circumstances (in your own place, where nobody can see you - or: women only coding project) women do not code, I can only conclude they do not want to code. Period. The rest is only circumstantial."

This is a lie. Where do you get this information from? What women-only coding projects are you familiar with? Plenty of women code on Dreamwidth, for example.

Hans Bezemer's picture

No, there's not a problem. It's not a problem that there is a gender difference - apart from an ideological one. Products are coming out just fine. That was a difference in the 60ies when there were too few programmers.

All the arguments you are posing here is beating around the bush, based on a wrong assumption: "there ought to be 50% women, so something is keeping them from doing it". May be there isn't. May be women just like doing other things. But that may probably not be researched because (a) it CANNOT be true (b) it's impossible to differentiate between nature and nurture influences.

And where do women have the right to claim "special treatment" when it comes to the simple concept of earning a buck? Ever talked to people on a production line? Or waitresses in cafes? Or people doing two jobs at a time to get by?

And where the figures go: 60% of all FOSS projects are single-developer projects. You may expect that 50% are women. And they're not.

Finally, a piece of Wikepdia: ENIAC was conceived and designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania.[12] The team of design engineers assisting the development included Robert F. Shaw (function tables), Jeffrey Chuan Chu (divider/square-rooter), Thomas Kite Sharpless (master programmer), Arthur Burks (multiplier), Harry Huskey (reader/printer) and Jack Davis (accumulators).

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Attitudes like yours are a big part of the problem. A problem can't be solved if it isn't recognized.

"there ought to be 50% women, so something is keeping them from doing it"

First of all, I never said there ought to be 50% women. Secondly, I am a female programmer, and there have been a number of roadblocks put in my way that I know have discouraged other women from going farther in the field. Those roadblocks start at an early age for girls and progress right up through college and in industry. I know because I have experienced them. Do not purport to understand my experience.

Read a little bit more about the ENIAC. Most of the men you mention were the people who built it or worked on the hardware. The programmers were women. You can't selectively read about something and prove a point that way.

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

You missed this rather large section of the Wikipedia article you quoted from:

"In 1997, the six women who did most of the programming of ENIAC were inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.[22][23] As they were called by each other in 1946, they were Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman.[24][25] Jennifer S. Light's essay, "When Computers Were Women", documents and describes the role of the women of ENIAC as well as outlines the historical omission or downplay of women's roles in computer science history.[26] The role of the ENIAC programmers was also treated in a 2010 documentary film by LeAnn Erickson.[27]"

It is no coincidence that Jennifer Light wrote about the historical omission or downplay of women's roles in computer science history.

You also missed the picture at the top of the article showing Betty Jean Jennings and Fran Bilas programming ENIAC.

Zileene's picture

After reading a few articles (and their comments) on this issue, all I can think of saying is this:

" On the field of battle, it matters not whether your armour fits the deep amber of your eyes. All that matters is how well you can swing your axe."

A fairly geeky way of saying it, but I feel it sums up my viewpoint fairly well.

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

I don't really like likening working on open source projects as a 'field of battle.' It's not a war.

Me's picture

This is a nice article and you should be proud of it. However, I also saw what Hans and Zileene saw: your article spent a lot of time on look-and-feel issues. Had you said that you had written x articles, y books, and converted z people to OSS, but still have not been accepted, then I think your argument would have been much stronger.

I understand your feeling that nobody had learned your language. However, I am curious. Do you think the engineers you mention feel the same way, at-least on occasion? Also, describe for me what they do?

mairin's picture
Open Source Evangelist

If a man had written this article, would you be asking for the same credentials?

Me's picture

LOL! If I were a woman, would ask me that question? Oh, snap!

If you reread my comment, I am saying that the author (as intelligent and gifted as she is) did not put forward her best arguments and I gave an example of what I think would be a stronger argument. I am sorry, but that is all there is here. I understand the passion, etc.; however, you seem to assume that I would not ask the same of a male (presumably because I am male). Perhaps I am female and care about the issue and feel that this is not the best argument. Perhaps I am male and feel that this is not the best argument. Perhaps I am a member of a minority and feel that this is not the best argument. Perhaps I am a male and I have a mother, wife, daughter, or niece that I care very much about. You don't know. Suppose a male were to make a hasty judgement about you? Would that be sexism, haste, or poor judgement? By the way, I require the same work ethic of other PEOPLE that I require of myself. Note the use of people as opposed to males or females.

On my second paragraph, which you didn't comment on, the author expressed a connection to someone who said she felt like she had learned the language (of engineering, I assume), but nobody learned her language. What I had hoped to do is stimulate a discussion and make a point. Everyone feels that nobody understands them on occasion. What we usually fail to realize, is that we are very likely guilty of the same sin. I have no doubt that the author feels that she has learned the language of the engineers; however, I also suspect that the engineers in questions feel that she hasn't. It is funny how these things play out.

As for learning the language of the engineers, I am the alpha geek (senior engineer) where I work and I will give you my language. When I am designing hardware, I am creating a beautiful a sculpture, but it is more than that. It is a functional sculpture that will perform complex science to help humanity. When I am writing software, I am writing a novel with elegant algorithms. Sure the novel is in a language (C++) that most humans don't read, but it is a story none-the-less. It is a story constructed with great care, precision, and intent. I craft my words like a writer of a human language (if I could only do the same for human language, *sigh*). When doing the theoretical work, I love an elegant theory, equation, or physical system. These things excite me like other people are excited by makeup or pink heels (OK, couldn't resist the reference. I know that wasn't fair.). Seriously, these things excite me like someone who is a writer. Hmmm, it seems I may understand something about non-geek writers after all. However, if you don't see the beauty, elegance, and creativity of the software and hardware around you, then you haven't bothered to learn my language or to understand me.

My two cents (as they say) anyway.

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