Will women programmers be extinct?

It’s well known and oft-times mentioned around the time a large technical convention is looming, there are not enough women in programming. I know, I’m a techie female and I know maybe half-a-dozen women in my chosen technology. As a mom of five daughters (and one son) I have just realized I’m contributing to this lack of interest in technology. Even though I’ve spent the last ten(10) years working with Open Source projects and talking about it, none of my girls are interested in the field at all.

They enjoy their online games and browsing their favorite sites and have absolutely no interest in learning how to program. They don’t care how it works, as long as it works. Trust me I’ve tried to engender interest in technology as a career and my attempts are met with indifference and yeah they actually scoff. All my kids are “creatives” and prefer to write, draw and entertain. My girls especially. My son failed Algebra 1 in community college 3 times! (sorry Jeremy) but he excelled in anything to do with writing & research.

So that is five girls/women who will not be entering into the technical field, unless they do like I did and shun anything remotely technical for the first 35 years of their life and THEN get interested. How many other families with girls are in the same boat?

What makes women less attracted to the programming field? For me it was all the usual stereotypes that were a deterrent. Programmers are anti-social and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, other than the fact that they can create mind-boggling applications. Meh, I never really believed that but my genius father was very introverted and I could never understand his fascination with the “black box” on his computer screen. It seemed “boring” and lifeless to me. At the time I was full of life and didn’t want to stay still for very long. Off to rehearse or hang out with my friends. Maybe it was my extroversion, not my gender, that kept me from sitting down to learn how to program when I was young. How many girls were encouraged to spend time on the hair and the nails and the selection of an appropriate outfit. Not to mention the obligatory cooking lessons (yeah I hated those too). I wanted to sing and dance and play, programming seemed (at the time) the antithesis of all things lively. I’m social so programming seemed to go against my personality.

So how did it happen for me? The crossing over from ‘I will never touch a line of code’ to spending hours in the command line and an editor manipulating code? Uh, yeah, it was a man. A very, very geeky man. A stereotypical somewhat anti-social brilliant and so-much-like-my-father-it’s-eerie-man, man. When I met him ten years ago I was the typical stay-at-home-mom trying to start a web business web monkey. I thought I knew html and css. Ha, little did I know how little I knew.

I was pretty proud of what I’d taught myself. “Lookit hon, I can make a table inside a table and watch this” I’d say as the text would blink at us from the browser.

“C’mere” he’d say, “I’ll show you something”

He introduced me to Open Source. He showed me there was more to life than tags and Front Page.

My first project was to work within a php application and add html wrappers (and some css). It was boring and we spent hour after hour trying to get it right (it was a source forge style application). I was sure this project would be my first and my last foray into Open Source. Then it happened, we finished it and we got feedback and it was awesome. My heart wasn’t in it at first but when I saw the finished product I was so proud of what we’d accomplished. The pop-up help tool that I structured and styled was my pride and joy. I fell in love with Open Source. It wasn’t love at first sight, no, but it was a solid kind of love that kept me rooted and interested for the next ten years.

It’s a very lonely existence being one of only a dozen or so women in a project with 100’s of highly involved, highly intelligent men. We need more women involved, for my sanity and the sanity of the other women in the project.

How can we encourage more female participation? What could I have done to encourage my daughters to look at programming as an option? Is our familial lack of interest in anything math-like or scientific a huge contributor to our lack of interest in programming? How many other families discourage their girls from getting into math or science? How about the schools? Are the schools doing better with encouraging girls in the math/science area? We need to answer these questions now.

Although geekyness is not regarded as fringe anymore, so many more people are “geeks” these days there is still a stigma attached and young women are highly aware (care about) how they are perceived. Geekyness is next to sexiness?

I and many women like me who are involved in programming/engineering in some capacity are not entirely different from our non-programming counterparts, so what is it that draws us and not them?

Some interesting reading:

http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/columns/ten_easy_ways_attract_women_your_free_software_project

http://tldp.org/HOWTO/Encourage-Women-Linux-HOWTO/x106.html

http://dobbscodetalk.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=Women-in-Engineering-A-Hard-Problem.html&Itemid=29

What do you think? Is the programming field going to remain a “male profession”?

Our attraction to distraction

I’m no sociologist, just the average entrepreneurial single mom with a penchant for all things technical (even my men, I <3 g33ks) but it seems to me we've become a society that loves distraction. The more "mobile" and "digitally" centered we become the shorter our attention span.

It was bad enough when the microwave became a household appliance and we grew impatient with it's apparent inability to cook our food fast enough (we got our first microwave oven in my family when I was a teenager in the late 70's). We used it sometimes but it took us a long time to get to the point where we took for granted the speed of this new kitchen appliance. I was an adult with children the first time I uttered, "damn, this is taking too long" on a 3 minute tv dinner.

As a child, my fondest memories are related to leisurely days and long stretches of time with nothing to do. Maybe it's just the nature of being a child, but how many kids do you know that actually have "nothing" to do. Our kids have iPods, computers, mp3 players, cellphones and various other electronic tools (like the LeapPad) to keep them occupied. Even Elmo and Cookie Monster have gone digital, tickle me Elmo anyone? Since when do kids need to be force fed what is fun/funny? I had more fun as a little girl creating a silly recording with my brothers on our little 4 track tape recorder and playing it back. This usually resulted in hooting and howling and laughing so hard our tummies hurt and then getting busted for staying up past our bedtime (again). How can innovation thrive if our kids aren't allowed to be creative with their playtime? If our kids (and ourselves) are constantly distracted by other people and other things, can we be authentic to ourselves and the future of our country? How can we innovate if we get interrupted all the time? That's what I want to know.

Don't get me wrong, I love my crackberry and I feed my kids thanks to my web related skill set. I am just as guilty as the next guy/gal when it comes to getting frustrated when the network is slow or my kids are on you tube and I can't get a file to download fast enough.

As much as we protest about all the "gadgets" we possess we still reach for more and how many of us really look at what we are missing out on with our eyes glued to our iPods and Crackberry's?

Remember:
'What do you want to do?'
'I don't know what do YOU want to do?'
'I don't know what do You want to do?'
and so forth and so on. As much as we hated that we always came up with something we really wanted to do. I was one of those weird girls who liked to put on shows for the neighbors. Magic Show anyone? how about a Muscular Dystrophy carnival (which consisted of a lemonade stand and small child's pool filled with rubber duckies). That was just plain fun and creative and interesting and didn't need a power supply or batteries!

I can remember the smell of fresh bread when I came home at the end of the school day and a plate of cookies sitting on the counter. My mom loved to bake. No hurry really. We'd sit down at the kitchen table to have our after school snack and then do our homework. Homework was a 2-3 hour ordeal even in grade school (yeah I hated homework just like everybody else) and then we got to watch tv. We made eye contact with our parents or we would get asked if we were on drugs. We loved to read and read our books from cover to cover without cliff notes. We ran around outside with our friends, often times getting told on by another parent when we misbehaved. We played highly creative, imaginative games like "Bird Family" or "Swiss Family Robinson" (don't ask, if you can't 'imagine' it you'll never understand).

I find it interesting that we've reached a point where our "gadgets" are becoming more important to us than flesh and blood. Standing in line at the grocery store 20 years ago (when my kids were little) I'd strike up a conversation with some other mom, "aww, your baby girl has beautiful hair", and then we'd talk face-to-face while we waited. Now standing in line at the grocery store, I don't speak up nor do I assume because someone is speaking that they are speaking to me. Keeping mum to save the embarrassment of the person you were responding pointing to a thing sticking out of their ear and shrugging you off.

Sad, isn't it?

I hope that today, you'll put down your cellphone or lappie or whatever keeps your attention (including twitter people) and call your mom or take your kids for a walk. Hug them, hold them and listen attentively to what they have to say. You'd be surprised just how much you are missing!

My beagle needs a nice long walk around the block. Gonna grab my girls and go. I'll see you later!

What would I do if I wasn’t in IT?

Andy McKay asks, “If you were going to throw in the chips on an IT career, what would you do?

Entertain. I’d get into voice over work or television in some capacity.

Prior to my kids and the necessity to make a decent living and support a half-a-dozen human beings I loved community theater. I was a singer, dancer, comedic actor but only locally ;-). I even took a 9 month course on becoming a dj (during the commercials on an 8-track tape era). I was told (by one instructor) after I’d paid the big bucks to take the course that I’d never make it in the radio business because I sounded too much like a female version of Mr.Rogers. So what is wrong with sounding like a sweet compassionate lady? huh? Guess if my speaking voice sounded more like Grace Slick or Stevie Nicks I might have been more successful. Although my favorite part of the entire course was the splicing and combining reel-to-reels to create commercials and song mixes. It’s been 22 years since I took that course. Time flies.

I never had the usual dream of going to hollywood to become an actress (had a girlfriend go to hollywood to ‘make it big” and come back within 60 days totally dejected, poor baby) I still love singing but my foray into the technology field has made it really tough to make time for my first love, performing.

Working on a computer and doing all the ‘research’ required to stay ‘current’ has pretty much planted my rather ample behind in this chair permanently! As I’ve gotten older and wiser there are a lot more demands on my time in front of the computer. I sit here a lot more. It’s hard to get motivated to take a walk or go outside when there are 25 tabs in my firefox, each with something I really wanted to learn. My chosen technology, Plone, is not easy to learn and always changing and it takes me longer than most to grasp some of the concepts so I read and experiment sometimes for hours on end.

My kids are all pretty much grown. When they were little I chased after their active little selves and walked them back and forth to school and took them to the park. I was healthy and got a lot of sun (even though I looked like a little lobster all summer, I thrived in that sun and just felt vibrant and alive). Now my kids don’t want to be seen with their, “moOOmm” anymore so I don’t HAVE to go anywhere. Heck I can order anything I want online!!

I often fantasize about making it big in technology then quitting the industry and becoming one of those actors/actresses who started in the entertainment industry really late in life. I mean you have to have a grandma or mean old lady in every show right? (not sure I could pull off mean, but that’d be the ultimate in acting prowess)

I love what I do right now, but no it wasn’t my first choice. Though my foray into online training is giving me the opportunity to utilize my voice and personality to help others learn my favorite technology, Plone.