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Women in open source. Women in programming. Women in tech at all. Where are they?

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We're familiar with the statistics, and we've seen the photos from the tech conferences. Seas full of men. It requires patience to scan for the odd female in those auditoriums. It's a popular topic, this scarcity of women in technology, one of the hip things to whine about these days. It's politically correct to blame the male "priesthood" in Silicon Valley. Ask Paul Graham. He took it in the ribs after a few reckless comments about the funding practices of his startup seed accelerator, Y Combinator. He was quoted as saying, "God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that," in a recent article. Ouch. But, really, is he so wrong?

I have an 11 year old daughter. Even though she sees me sitting at my computer for ungodly hours of the day making a living for her, she's a lot more interested in watching Katy Perry on YouTube than learning how to write code on Khan Academy. Why is that? Coding is fun. Writing some lines of PHP, hitting enter, and watching the look of an entire website change in an instant, now that's exhilarating!

Well... it doesn't wear a candy striped leotard and strut around through a maze of life-sized lollipops.

For years, I've been wishing somebody like Wired Magazine or would do an annual "Sexiest Geek Alive" issue, like People magazine does. Give me Matt Mullenweg, Linus Torvalds, or Nick Roach over Adam Levine any day. I'm literally weak in the knees thinking of the long list I could make. Is there anything sexier than a man who can DO something?! I had come to the conclusion that what the open source community needed was more sex appeal, starting with some geeky pinup boys. Then, I read an article by Sarah Pressler which convinced me of the danger of that kind of thinking.

I've realized that's not exactly the best direction, as fun as it sounds at first. Boys might attract girls... but eventually, what we want is more females getting enchanted with the mysteries of open source. We want them to feel the rush of writing code or contributing to an open source project. They'll get interested when they think it might be as fun as putting on makeup or listening to a pop song. So, instead of whining about the dearth of women in technology, let's show them how fun it is!

Seeing incredible, powerful women in the community will draw the girls in. Female role models who are making money with open source, and having fun doing it... that will keep them interested. You can't expect a young girl to imagine the possibility of a successful career as a woman in technology, if she has no idea what that looks like. Be the change you want to see, right?

There are a lot of us "being it" already. There are also some incredible organizations contributing to the cause. I think this is one of our best tools to make a difference in the balance of the genders in our field, encouraging girls to join in the fun. I know firsthand about one of these organizations, because it made a huge impact on my own career in open source.

When I applied to become an intern with the GNOME Outreach Program for Women in 2011, I had already used open source software for many years. I am not an average GMONE applicant. Fortunately, they are usually younger than I am, and therefore, will probably be more influential on their peers. I had co-owned an ISP that ran exclusively on open source software and had used only open source tools myself since I had begun using a computer for anything more than word processing. I didn't need to be convinced that it was viable. I knew it worked. But, I was in a transition period in my life.

 We had sold our Internet service, and the economy was sagging. An internship was perfect for me at the time. My next move was up in the air, and the opportunity to contribute to the open source software that I had benefited from for many years sounded great. I was accepted to participate in web design and marketing tasks for GNOME, and it ended up shaping a future for me in web design. The internship solidified my devotion to the open source ideal, furthered my experience in web design, and reminded me that the culture of technology is ever so interesting and inspiring. My experience with the GNOME community taught me how effective the open source collaborative model is. The opportunity to hop on IRC chat when you're stuck on a problem or need some input is invaluable, and the end product is so much better with a melding of minds.

I was hooked. My future was certainly going to be in open source software, and I thank GNOME for that. Organizations like them are changing the world one woman at a time. Each of these women is becoming a model for the young girls behind them. The fact that the Executive Director of GNOME, Karen Sandler, is just the sort of role model I'm talking about, was icing on the cake.

 I recently attended WordCamp, a WordPress conference, and I was so happy to see the vitality of that open source community. People definitely knew they were working with a different model, a community model, and they love it. Many of the businesses represented at the conference, like 10up for example, contribute a significant amount of their employees' time to WordPress core itself. They get it. There were a lot of women there, not enough, but quite a few. Women like Sarah Pressler and Natalie MacLees were energetic and inspiring. WordPress is attracting women into open source jobs, as well it should.

 I now own a freelance WordPress web design business that is growing daily. I run Ubuntu and the GNOME desktop and use only open source tools like Inkscape, GIMP, LibreOffice, and WordPress. I am making a good living using open source. And it's fun, it really is. I get to make things all day long, beautiful things.

 Are you listening, girls?



View the complete collection of Women in Open Source Week articles.

Christy is a WordPress web designer who has been using open source software since the StarOffice days. She was an intern with the GNOME Outreach Program for Women (OPW) in 2011/2012, and credits much of her success to the free and open source tools she loves so dearly.


Women already have more opportunities than men to get into tech. There are already many more funding programs to help women get into tech education and work than there are for men.

I'm been a software developer for 35 years in multiple companies in several different countries and I can clearly see that nobody is preventing females from being developers.

Its especially easy for anyone to get into helping develop on existing open source projects or even starting their own. The intrinsic advantage of open source is that you don't need anyone else's permission to contribute, and If you don't like what someone else is doing on that project, you can easily just make your own branch of it and go your own way with it. The version that dominates is intrinsically a result-based outcome based on the quality and features of the version itself. If your version of the project works better, no one will give a shit or usually even know about the age, gender or sex of the people that wrote it.

We do need to make sure that an ubiassed opportunity exists for everyone to get into all fields so we can all be free to choose what we actually do in our lives. But beyond that, if someone chooses to not do it thats fine. The bottom line is that women just aren't as attracted as men to engineering/tech fields in the first place. Accept it.

There is no reason to make artifical steps to encourage more women into tech. especially just because their current numbers are low.

We need to stop thinking that Its a self-evidently bad thing that some life paths turn out to be coincidentally more gender-biassed. The fact that men and women are different has never been in dispute, so its also unsurprising that they inherently tend to choose different paths. This is not a problem and actually doesn't need "fixing".

You have a typo in the article at the link to your Website, there is a t missing in the http :o)

Good Article, would be nice to read a bit more how you grow a job, out of your dive into open source.

I am not a girl, but interested as well.

Oh my! Thank you, fixed!

You know, once I started getting jobs, my work got me more jobs. But here are some tips if you're a web designer. Always include your link in the footer (WITH the "t"), connect yourself to G+, post your work on your social media accounts and Pinterest, work on your own site's SEO and sitelinks and Google places, be nice to your clients, and do good work.

As far as the open source world goes, jump into a project (if you haven't already). The connections you make will form your future.

I wish you all the luck in the world!

<em>Where are they?</em>

They've been my boss, at large, non-glitzy, tech companies. Seriously, most of my supervisors (who "still" have to get their hands grubby) for the past 15 years and team leads have been women. They also seem heavily weighted in the "Service Delivery Manager" role.

<em>it doesn't wear a candy striped leotard and strut around through a maze of life-sized lollipops.</em>

Not everyone who grew up to be a computer programmer was interested in writing programs at age 11.

I really enjoyed this article, while I’m not a professional coder; my field is information security, which if anything is even more male dominated.
When I think about how I got here it seems I followed a fairly well beaten path, I fit something of a stereotype and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. That stereotype gave me something to model myself on; I looked at the hackers in my books, games and movies and thought “I can be that guy”. It was a roadmap, not a very accurate one, but it gave me a direction.
If there wasn’t that well-worn stereotype for me to fit into, I don’t see how I would have found my way into infosec, I suspect the same for many girls and women who might be interested in joining the open source or security communities.
Regarding the concept of sex appeal, I haven’t read the article you mentioned so I could be missing something obvious here but I do think there’s an image problem we need to address. It’s not that I think we need to make open source (or security) sexy, but we do need to make it chic. Perhaps that’s superficial, but it seems the lesser of two evils.

Thank you, Chris. "Geek chic", that's perfect-

The article I mentioned addressed some inappropriate behavior in the technology community. I don't think it's different from any other community, sexual innuendo and advances. While I don't feel like I have experienced a lot of it myself, I didn't want to contribute to it myself by objectifying men.

A lot of this article was tongue-in-cheek, because... well, I like to laugh. I'm so glad you understood.

I think you're a great role model for women in tech in general as well as opensource. Marissa Mayer from Yahoo may encourage young girls that it can be empowering to use your brains as well as beauty. How did I become an Engineer? I went to an all girl catholic school in the midwest. My High School Math and Science teacher said to all her students who were good in both math and science every day "We need more Women Engineers." It didn't hurt that my Dad was an Engineer and most of my Uncles. My best friend who is a woman is the VP of Engineering at an International Auto Supplier.

Thank you Maricelle, a good teacher is just invaluable, right? I had a physics teacher like that...

I certainly can relate to experiencing the high male to female ratio in math/science and engineering when I went to university in the 80's and when I began my career in the 90's. At university, I was 1 of 3 females in a class of about 50 for Pascal programming. Then when I worked in Engineering departments most of my colleagues were male. I got along with them because I could talk sports. Yes, having a good teacher to motivate, encourage and be a role model to pursue challenging fields is a definite plus. When young girls see the women of today in leadership positions which shape the future designs of products, I think they will find that "sexy". GM's new CEO is a woman.

My sister is currently raising a boy and a girl. The boy, who is active in Boy Scouts, gets hands-on learning and sees presentations about different jobs he might want to do. The girl hasn't participated in scouts, so I don't know if Girl Scouts has caught up with the Boy Scouts in that way. However, I would encourage you and women like you to reach out to these organizations and talk to these girls about what you do for a living. You might open their eyes to something they wouldn't learn about otherwise.

Thank you Gabi, that's a great idea. I should start at my own kids' schools!

This reminds me a lot of the book by Brian Griffin, "Wish it, Want it, Do it". The hypocrisy of equal wages in feminism compel your vengeful vicarious vanarial vendictions. Good day Sir.

Its NOT true that women and men get equal opportunities in this industry.

There are much more advertising and products that targets men than women when it comes to CS. It does not matter if its advertisement from higher education or advertisement from the game industry that gets people interested in games. Also sci fi more often target a male demographic rather than a female demographic.

A core problem here are that there are no easy way to become a software developer. You have to go trough a lot of education and then hunt for a job in a business that often expects developers to have a lot of experience before hiring them. This may work for people that are trekkies and very dedicated in their goal to make it in the industry. But lets be honest about this, many students do not make it trough the HR practices that a majority of the job applicants have to go trough.

Other industries have internships where people have the opportunity to start working with unqualified tasks fresh out of high school and then have a mentored education all the way to top management if that's how far you wanna go. The software industry do not have that.

Because lets face it. If you are fresh out of high school and want to start making a cash flow for yourself the most strategic way to start are a place like McDonald's. They will hire you without any qualification and you can use your income to study and become store manager, then you can further study and advance in that organisation.

The software development industry offer nothing of that kind. They have employees on all levels all the way down to people that cleans the toilets. But they do not have a clear path when people can start on a low level and progress upwards supported by an education plan that the corporation they work for provides to them.

Yeah trainee positions have become popular and they made things a bit better, but its not enough. You still need to get trough quite a barrier to get started at a tech company in order to get a trainee position.

When it comes to getting over that barrier the average women will have less money to spend on the required education. Education costs money, even in countries that have no tuition fees. No matter what education system you compare with, you will still make more money the coming 10 years if you take a McDonalds job, just from the fact that you will have a salary during the time that you would otherwise study. It takes quite some time to make up for that loss of income.

In other words, perhaps we should look at how McDonald's and other similar organisations successfully assimilates people into their ranks.

Perhaps the way to women to join are to offer them "you get to clean our toilets if you agree to study as a part of your job". And of course that would not be limited to women, but would appeal to most people that are not able or prepared to take the cost of studying on their own time.

Also if the railroad industry have worked the way that modern software corporations work, we would have much less railroads today than we have. That industry developed career paths where you could start out as an illiterate and become top management. They had to because most people where illiterate at the time.

It isn't sex appeal we need to draw young girls to those areas. The problem is that when you're an 11 year old girl, you get picked on for being smart, especially in science and math. Hollywood portrays the smart kids as being on the fringe, uncool, and unwanted. Kids pick up on that - especially girls, who are much more prone to judge what they should be by what other people think of them. Instead of role models like Hanna Montana we need prominent figures who are smart, good in math and science, and whose friends not only appreciate that but think it's awesome. We need for girls what boys have in characters like Jimmy Neutron. Jimmy's a genius at math and science, and even though he sometimes gets hassled for it sometimes he has a core of loyal friends and gets to do a lot of fun, cool things with that big brain of his.

They also need games that appeal to their inner instincts to nurture and to care for others, and to see how being able to generate bits of code can help them do that in cool and awesome ways. I got interested in graphic design and game design largely because of a game called Creatures which was about creating and nurturing artificial life. I loved that game so much I wanted to learn how to create objects for it. That interest continued with the Sims. Code can do awesome and amazing things - but we have to help them see how it empowers them to do the things they are interested in doing.

What an amazing response, you are so right- although I know there are women who dig pure code as well.

I was comfortable in the Junior Engineering Technological Society, but I sure wasn't popular like the girls on the drill team. THANK GOD that all changed in college.

The whole point Paul Graham was trying to make was that the really great developers get started as adolescents. Your observation that geeky girls are not appreciated (or worse) is right on the money, and explains why they don't get started soon enough. We humans are such copycats.

Yes, the only way this will change is if we ladies give them a new idea of what's cool. No worries, it will happen-

These are great ways, and very creative I might add. Who would think? Sometimes its hard to think about what your talent is if you don't have anything specifically that you are good at though. Great ideas and information to know about online marketing tools I think there are lots of sites and e-books to know how we can build our own marketing system in
online and I am also using and reading one e-book which is about to make money online and establish <a href="">online business</a> through marketing.

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