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#337840 - 09/02/07 01:22 AM Reflections on being a female IT professional
Julie - Computer Careers Offline
Parakeet

Registered: 08/11/06
Posts: 1169
Loc: Portland, OR, USA
In my latest article, I take a departure from writing about how to use and program JavaScript and Java to talking about some of the things that make me feel unwelcome or welcome as a female in a predominately male field.

Some reflections on being a female IT professional OR Why I won't be learning TurboGears

What makes you feel like a minority outsider or part of the group? Where or how does sexism and gender bias rear its ugly head in your life?

Julie
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#337916 - 09/02/07 02:14 PM Re: Reflections on being a female IT professional [Re: Julie - Computer Careers]
Mark Ramm Offline
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Registered: 09/02/07
Posts: 1
Hi, this is Mark Ramm, the author of the chapter in the turbogears book you highlighted in your article.

I think you have a point, and that chapter needed better editing, I had originally tried to create a long running subplot about "John Carter" a mytical web developer from Mars Pennsylvania.

But after reading Kathy Sierra's blog for several months, I realized that I wanted to use the second person more. So, some remnants of John Carter's story were left in after the second person change and should probably have been removed or cleaned up a bit.

And I think your larger point is important -- there is a problem with inclusiveness in IT. I've been reading, thinking, and interviewing people about why software development and open source development has a downward trend in female participation reciently, as it is a major concern to me.

The future is going to be a place where machines do work for us based on the algorythms we design. So in a sense the basic building blocks of the future will be code, and and I don't want us to create a future where the basic building blocks a re written by one gender only.

Medical schools, hospitals, doctors offices, law schools, have all had more sexism and gender bias than IT shops, but women are joining those professions in increasing numbers. So, it seems like there must be something else going on.

In other cultures (India is a great example, China a reasonably good one) women are joining the IT community in significant numbers, but not here in the US. Why? What are the real causes of the problem and how can we fix them.

I think that's a big question, and one that requires more research. But I don't think the answer is that books like TurboGears use examples that assume that programmers are men. That kind of thing happens all over our culture (unfortunately) and yet women join those fields in significant numbers.

At the same time, I'm pretty confused about what I can do as an author trying to write books that are funny, hip, and interesting to my target audience. I could remove all the stories, or flip remarks as you suggest but the result would be dry and less engaging to the majority of the people who actively buy and read books about web development.

I really do want to avoid offending people, but I also want to avoid writing a book that is devoid of character. On thing I can do, and which I should have done in this book is to tell stories about specific people who have specific concerns. So John would be interested in getting something done quickly to impress the cute girl in marketing, but later on Samantha would be interested in writing unit tests, and creating maintainable software so that she wouldn't get frantic calls from work while on her date with the cute guy from the bank across the street.

Of course both of those stories are tilted towards an audience much younger than I am, so am I being ageist now?

It seems to me to be a lot easier to care about doing the right thing, than it is to know exactly what the right thing to do is, and to do it consistently. But, I'll do my best to keep thinking about these issues and to do the right thing in the future.

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#338040 - 09/03/07 07:21 AM Re: Reflections on being a female IT professional [Re: Mark Ramm]
Julie - Computer Careers Offline
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Registered: 08/11/06
Posts: 1169
Loc: Portland, OR, USA
Mark, thanks for taking the time to discuss this! I think I would have been happier with the chapter had the full plot line be left in (or the whole thing removed, as I mentioned earlier.)

I suspect that the reason more women don't go into IT has more to do with the (lack of) work/life balance that is common in our field than sexism and gender bias. Girls are encouraged to think about work/life balance (usually in terms of balancing a career with marriage and a family) in a way that boys are not, and that continues on to adulthood. For instance, when I was a Cadet Girl Scout in the early 80's, there was a career exploration badge that required that we interview a woman in the field and one of the questions we were supposed to ask had to do with how they balanced marriage and children (assuming they were married and had children) with their career. I'm fairly certain my brother never had to ask any questions like that for a Boy Scout badge. My mother actually wanted me to be a computer programmer because she thought that working crazy numbers of hours (such that I had no real choice but to save money), burning out by thirty, then getting married and having kids was a good life plan for me. (That vision almost put me off IT altogether, then I feel into system administration...)

My last W-2 job was in a predominantly female IT shop. There were a number of family friendly benefits and policies and the vast majority of employees - male and female, were parents who were highly involved with their kids and/or had kids with special needs. This makeup didn't have as much to do with who was hired to work there as who stayed. (Compensation was on the low end of average if you didn't have a family to take advantage of the benefits.)

It is easier to work part-time in both law and medicine than most fields within IT. If you think you want to have a family and a career, that's got to be a consideration. More women do seem to go into web design than programming or system / network administration and I think a lot of that has to do with the better work/life balance available in that specialization. Likewise, IS Auditors and Systems Librarians also usually have more predictable hours and 40 hour workweeks and there seem to be more women in those fields.

I don't have any magic bullets for you (or me) as a writer. I took a class this spring with David Hoelzer and he talked a lot about the value of telling true stories to teach people about why they should care about various security risks - as well as used true stories in his teaching to great effect. I think you can generalize this to other technical topics as well. One of the advantages of using true stories is that they can be valuable illustrations for your students (readers) to use later on. If you tell me a fictional story about John Carter from Mars, it might make my learning experience more interesting and possibly help me remember some details I would otherwise have to look up later, but that's all. If you tell me a true story about your experience, or a colleague's, I get all the benefits of a fictional story, plus I can use it later to explain to my boss or a colleague why this technology is the right answer for us. I think you don't have to be as concerned about inclusiveness with true stories because by their nature you will have a representative sample.

I think it is particularly hard to write technical prose that is interesting to the target audience because the target audience is so broad. Change is such a constant in IT that your audience is going to range from people new to the field (and even hobbyists in some areas) to people with decades of experience in IT who are new to whatever technology you are writing about to people with a lot of experience in the technology who are trying to catch up on the latest best practices.

Thanks again for commenting,

Julie
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#338238 - 09/04/07 03:12 AM Re: Reflections on being a female IT professional [Re: Julie - Computer Careers]
Kevin Dangoor Offline
Newbie

Registered: 09/04/07
Posts: 1
Hi Julie,

Thanks for contacting me about this. It's much better to get a chance to respond right away than to respond after seeing a Google Alert or some other third-party mechanism of learning about your blog post and your thoughts on the subject.

I had planned to reply to this last night, but my internet connection was down and Mark beat me to it. It's just as well, since he wrote the parts of the book that you mentioned and responded more eloquently than I think I would have.

In retrospect, having any kind of gender references when using second person is almost certainly doomed to fail. Mark explained the history of that. To be honest, we were all pushing very hard to get this book out quickly for the benefit of TurboGears users and there were definitely some editing mistakes that made it in that we would have preferred to catch before the book went to press.

Originally Posted By: Julie_MidEast_Java/Script
I suspect that the reason more women don't go into IT has more to do with the (lack of) work/life balance that is common in our field than sexism and gender bias.


The lack of work/life balance is certainly a problem in IT. I've made compromises in my career to ensure a bit of balance.

If it is a lack of work/life balance that keep women away from IT, then it seems like younger women have a lot of foresight. When I was in college, in the increasingly distant early 90s, there were very few women in the computer science program. I can't say what CS programs look like today, but I can say that the open source project mailing lists that I've been on have a very big gender gap. It seems that teen boys are more likely to get involved in open source projects than teen girls.

As you said, though, if teen girls are asked to consider work/life balance, they may very well gain foresight that men don't have or don't consider.

Originally Posted By: Julie_MidEast_Java/Script
If you tell me a fictional story about John Carter from Mars, it might make my learning experience more interesting and possibly help me remember some details I would otherwise have to look up later, but that's all. If you tell me a true story about your experience, or a colleague's, I get all the benefits of a fictional story, plus I can use it later to explain to my boss or a colleague why this technology is the right answer for us. I think you don't have to be as concerned about inclusiveness with true stories because by their nature you will have a representative sample.


For a great many technical topics, it can be hard to come up with a concise, true story that introduces a concept or technique. Fictional stories are much easier, but still non-trivial.

Have you read any of the Head First books? I also think that Kathy Sierra's work has been a great inspiration to those of us who want to see technical literature become a bit less dull. For the record, I wrote the MochiKit chapters of the book which were likely among the most boring in there... I was just too pressed for time to have the kind of fun with it that I would've liked otherwise...

Kevin

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#338254 - 09/04/07 07:31 AM Re: Reflections on being a female IT professional [Re: Kevin Dangoor]
Julie - Computer Careers Offline
Parakeet

Registered: 08/11/06
Posts: 1169
Loc: Portland, OR, USA
Kevin -

Thanks for replying, I really appreciate it!

I have read some of the Head First books and I think they are fabulous for learning, but not particularly useful as a reference later. As a system administrator, I'm probably more likely than a programmer to have to go back to a language after a long hiatus so the reference value is particularly important to me. On the other hand, rereading the Head First books isn't painful like it is with a lot of other books. Probably my favorite example of a fictional plot in a technical book is the story about Noah using Perl to keep track of his camels and children in the llama book (Learning Perl.) It's probably not a coincidence that all those books were published, and more importantly edited, by O'Reilly. I think stories are one of the places where editing becomes very important.

You have a very good point about the problems of using the gender references in the second person and I plan to keep that in mind for my own writing.

Julie
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