Do I need a willy to be a developer?

03Aug12

Today, the BBC posted an article titled ‘Woman and tech: Why don’t girls want to be geeks?’ As usual, the article points to differences between girls and boys, men and women. I’m going to quickly cover that off – before moving on to my own experience. 

The article starts with a teacher suggesting that “girls don’t see IT as creative. It is that image of the geek or nerd in a room typing lines of code”. A different teacher said, ‘Boys are… more confident around the technology, whereas girls are a little bit shy, on the back foot before they start”.

This irks me. These observations are based on such a small sample of children that they shouldn’t be extrapolated out to cover the UK population. But more importantly, I believe that these teachers’ preconceptions of girls’ and boys’ preferences in IT could come to influence the way they teach boys and girls in future – therefore perpetuating the issue.

The feminine developer

Acorn Archimedies A3010

My first proper computer – an Acorn Archimedies A3010

The article moves on to discuss a successful female programmer called Ms Chessell. She claims that “You can become a leader and you can lead in feminine ways”, including a greater emphasis on collaboration – a supposedly feminine trait.

But in my mind, this constant focus on ‘men’ and ‘women’ in IT (and in society generally) is part of the problem – we’re not ‘people’ anymore – we’re male and female. And when successful female developers choose to emphasise these differences (albeit in a ‘positive’ way), I don’t think it helps anybody.

This article goes on, but I feel compelled to move on myself before I fly into a blind (oestrogen fuelled?) rage.

How college finally broke me

I grew up with computers and have been a very keen gamer since I was 11 (much to my mother’s disappointment). So, when I came to leave secondary school, I decided to buck the IT stereotype and become a developer!

I was one of three girls (out of a class of 50ish) on the IT course at my local college. I got the impression that the boys on my course were surprised to see a girl there – perhaps I’d taken a wrong turn at the ‘health and beauty’ block just opposite? And from day one, they made no bones about showing it.

It’s difficult not to be self conscious in a class full of the opposite sex at a young age – particularly when so much attention is drawn to your differences. I could cope with the mickey-taking, the sexist/sexual jokes, the boisterousness and so on.

But the main problem came with the constant derision of my supposed ability to deal with ‘logic’. Yes, you need an element of logistical aptitude to succeed as a developer. Yes, maths is a helpful skill too. But many hours were spent telling me how I could never be as good as the boys because girls are naturally terrible at these things.

I done a logic!

Until I got to college, I’d always believed that a love of computing would help me make it through. But after years of being told by my peers, the media and industry that girls simply aren’t made to have these skills, I started to believe it. When the coursework got hard, I was embarrassed to ask my classmates for help and eventually, lost all my confidence.

11 years later I’m frustrated and regretful that I let those things get to me, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I cannot stress how damaging it is to continuously persue scientific research and publish articles which aim to prove that women are genetically unsuited for jobs in IT.

Update: I found my Insights profile

The night after I wrote this post, I stumbled across my Insights profile from 2010. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a complex personality test used to work out your working styles. I found some excerpts which I thought were quite interesting, based on the post above.

‘Jennifer is a systematic and organised thinker, with highly developed analytical skills.’

‘Jennifer is painstakingly accurate and methodical.’

‘She tries to use logical principles to make sense of the ideas that constantly arise in her mind. Logical, analytical and objective, Jennifer is unlikely to be impressed or convinced by anything other than reasoning based on solid, concrete facts.’

‘Valuing logical and impersonal analysis highly…’

Just sayin’.



One Response to “Do I need a willy to be a developer?”

  1. 1 Keith

    All having a willy (and associated “equipment”) did for me was to help with my testosterone fueled love of Doom. And the subsequent time spent playing that when I should have been learning to code.


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