Why It’s Great To Be A Woman In Tech

Member Insights
11.30.2017

written by

Follow Abbie de Zwart on twitter.

It is a hot topic currently about women in IT, specifically about the lack of female developers in our industry. There has been much debate about whether the IT industry is sexist and putting women off a career in development. My experience as a female back-end web developer has been largely non-discriminatory compared to the depressing stories out there. I am going to give my experiences as a developer in an office environment and not that of a public figure or public social media user or blogger, which is its own murky world.

I graduated in 2007 from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) with a 2:1 MEng in Software Engineering. AI, Computer Science and Software Engineering students all had the same modules in the first year and out of the three hundred of us there were about twenty women. My first graduate job was in the internal IT department of a small car insurance company. Over the last decade, I have worked as a web developer in other fields, discovering that I love the ever-changing, fast-paced style agency life. A handful of CMS systems down the line and I have found a passion for working with Sitecore. I am grateful for having the experience of working for Sitecore partners in the UK, Australia, and Jordan. I enjoy working with Sitecore’s rich architecture and found a love for the unique logical process of deduction involved in bug fixing and improving existing solutions. I cheerfully joined Kagool’s Support team where I relish every day there fixing, improving and working on every single client we have.

My experience over the last decade as a female developer has not been the suppressive battle that some may think it is. Most of my peers, other developers, project/account managers and admin staff have not treated me differently due to my gender. Rudolph Rosenberg, a Financial Officer based in Paris recently posted the article Why My Daughter Will Probably Never Code. He fairly suggests that we are unconsciously influenced by the current rules of society and that we will behave in a bias manner with gender no matter how liberal we think we are. I think he’s definitely onto something. Societal and cultural norms do affect women's’ roles in society. To consider, as other articles have that the industry as a whole has a problem is incorrect and overly simplifying the problem. I believe that bias is cultural on two levels: At the level of the individual affecting an organization and on the wider societal and cultural level.

Within an organization, its culture is often defined by those at the top and that ethos trickles down to the other employees. I’m sure many people have had the unfortunate experience of working for someone who thinks they’re Alan Sugar. In my particular experience, a former MD thought that the way to get things done was by shouting and throwing his weight around. When a live release went badly he yelled at our quiet tech lead in front of the office and banged his hand on the table like a bullying moron. He seemed to still think it was the 1950s. He held disdain for the female members of staff and had allegedly said of myself that, “She will only ever be a maintenance programmer”. He had little respect for any of his developers, did not invest in training and saw us all as little pawns on a chessboard, all identical, all easily replaceable with the lowest bidder. His sexism was one facet of a large myriad of personality flaws. This unfortunate individual’s view permeated the culture of the rest of the company and so this Alan Sugar wannabe had shot himself in the foot. Staff morale was low, no one felt valued and staff turnover was horrendous. By employing anyone as cheaply as possible and taking no time to perceive individual skill, work was often late and badly written resulting in the eventual loss of major clients.

Yes, I can get very annoyed about that place if I dwell on it too much but one individual’s poor attitude in his little corporate bubble is not a reflection on the whole IT industry. I take solace in the fact that amongst the community of other companies in that technology, they were the laughing stock, with larger agencies inheriting their bad jobs when clients became fed up. Karma is a beautiful thing! I have worked in many fantastic agencies where the people are respectful, helpful, talented and this general ethos starts with the people at the helm seeing the worth of their staff and taking the time and money to invest in them and of course seeing a return in that investment!

Attitudes towards female developers also applies on a wider societal and therefore cultural level. Miriam Posner a lecturer at the University of California writes in the Guardian about the difference between front-end and back-end roles. She describes the front-end domain as a “feminizing subfield” and thinks it is seen as a “soft fuzzy thing that women are supposed to excel at”. I’ve never read so much rubbish. She then goes on to suggest that by women attending coding bootcamps to get into the industry they are then “devaluing” the front-end role due to their low wages. I’m not sure when Miriam last worked in an actual coding job but she seems to be a bit behind. To view front-end skills as more suited to women and back-end more suited to men is overly simplistic, patronizing and shows and lack of real experience. To describe front-end expertise as “soft and fuzzy” is an insult to the many talented front-end developers I know here at Kagool and elsewhere. On the subject of wages, development is a field still sadly suffering from a gender pay gap with female programmers earning up to 20% less than their male counterparts. However, I find that keeping in contact with recruiters is useful for keeping up with your current worth in terms of experience. The attitudes Miriam describes may prevail in her city of LA but over here in (sunny?) Blighty, I haven’t seen this bias and frankly stupid perception of front and back-end roles. There have been far more male developers than female in every place I have worked it is true and of all the coding women out there I have met almost all of them have been back-end developers!

Perhaps what Miriam describes is a wider cultural attitude across the States. I have been lucky enough to spend some time working for Kagool in Amman, Jordan. The General Director tells me that when they advertise for a developer female applicants far outnumber the male ones. I can only guess at the reasons for this but it shows a different attitude.

I don’t think we can talk about women in IT without mentioning Google, or rather their now unemployed engineer James Damore. In a diversity memo emailed internally, Damore claimed that the lack of women in development was due to “biological differences”. Utter rubbish of course. I have come to realize after the ten years I have been a developer that my brain is wired in a way suited to the logical type of thinking required from programming. Some people have a maths brain, some people have a languages brain (I am terrible at both!) but my mind and the way it works is nicely suited to my career. I especially love the investigative, problem-solving process of deduction involved in bug fixing, which is a different flow of logic from developing a greenfield project. To pick up a codebase that has often passed through several agencies before being rescued by Kagool, work out where the troublesome part is and how it functions and then fixing and improving it for future maintainability, whilst keeping within SLA deadline is something I excel at and thoroughly enjoy. I don’t feel that my gender has any bearing on my ability to do my job. In fact, it is a little sad that I had to write this article at all! James Damore, formerly of Google, is a man with issues in his head and the fact that he went crying to Breitbart after his dismissal speaks volumes for his character.

There is no better time to be a female developer. It is a great place to be. There are bad working cultures out there fuelled by ignorant individuals but by debating this subject we bring it to the forefront of people’s consciousness and in time society will change. I am positive that should I have daughters I will encourage them to code and hopefully by then their gender will be a non-issue. So pick up your laptops and get coding. It’s fun, engaging, logical and challenging. And if you have a love of .NET and a taste for Sitecore, come and join me at Kagool!

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