Changing the ‘Women in Technology’ Dialogue

Written by: on April 18, 2013

In 2012, we hired an incredibly talented and hardworking engineer who continues to produce great work, lead with intelligence, and champion team work. That engineer also happens to be female.

My biggest problem with the current dialogue in regards to women in technology is that it focuses largely on the disparity – on the “haven’t” and “can’t” – which only reinforces this structural stereotyping instead of combatting it. This dialogue is patronizing at best, and is ultimately crippling for our industry which would otherwise thrive on utilizing all of its great minds.

So we’re going to change that.

Instead of another op-ed piece about the undeniably real and albeit discouraging difficulties for women in engineering, we instead want to tell you why we want to hire women, why female engineers are successful, and why our industry can thrive with all of our capable minds at work.

Women Are Capable Engineers

Many studies (including this one by the University of Illinois) have found that women generally score at the same level as men on assessments in computer science courses. Despite lower enrollment, women continually fare incredibly well with the software engineering curriculum.

The truth is that gender has as much to do with your coding ability as your height. Great engineers are, at their core, great problem solvers; there is no requirement that you grow a beard to know how iOS source code should be managed.

And it’s not just a “nerd thing” either: it’s an intelligence thing. Men in technology fall into a variety of social categories that do not limit them to Star Trek-watching, Reddit-reading, video game fans; it’s no surprise that women in technology are just as infrequently categorizable. The one quality we look for in an engineer is an incredibly active, problem solving, creative mind – and we’ve found that these minds can come from a person of any gender, age, or personality type.

“There’s all kinds of different women who do this. You can wear ruffles; you can be a jock, and you can still be a great computer scientist, or a great technologist, or a great product designer.” – Marissa Mayer (CNET Panel Interview, 2012)

Women Are Successful Engineers

Our industry may be flooded with the Zuckerbergs, the Pages and Brins, but it’s also flooded with some incredibly talented women. Here are just a few women who are killing it in our industry:

Jessica Kahn, former VP of Product, Engineering & Operations at Disney Mobile, has a beast of a brain. In her almost ten years at Apple, Kahn was listed as an inventor on several US patents that the tech giant produced. Kahn’s engineering skills brought her to Tapulous, where she orchestrated the engineering efforts behind Tap Tap Revenge, taking it to the coveted #1 App Store position. She now serves as VP of Engineering for BandPage.

In an interview with David Zax, Kahn confessed that she initially thought she’d pursue law until she sat in on her first coding class at Dartmouth:

“I just sat there and thought, ‘Oh my god, people will pay me to do this? This is so much fun! It was logical like law, but there was more tinkering and playing games and solving puzzles.”

Kahn has a mind for engineering that not only comes from skills, but her passion as well.

Andria Jensen cofounded Appsolute Genius where she is currently the CTO. Andria hails from Alabama where she’s been programming since high school, but you can catch some of her acclaimed iOS development sessions online.

Jocelyn Goldfein is Facebook’s Director of Engineering, where she heads up projects like News Feed and Photos. Golfein was drawn to a CS degree at Stanford where she graduated before directing the engineering department at an email management startup.

“The only way to really stay current is to actually do the work. That means writing and reviewing code. If that doesn’t fit easily into your day job, try making time for side projects or a hack night every couple months. Also, don’t ever be afraid to ask questions until you really understand something.” -Goldfein, in an interview with the Anita Borg Institute

Goldfein went on to VP and GM at VMware, where she headed the company’s desktop projects before finally landing her current position at Facebook.

Women Are Practicing Engineers

So where do you get started? Where can you, a full-grown, educated woman start exploring engineering to see if it’s for you?

Luckily, the female engineering community is growing and active in many cities. Here in Denver, we’re lucky to have Women Who Code, a Meetup group with everything from hackathons to study groups to social functions all for women engineers (or aspiring engineers).

Women Who Code was originally founded in San Francisco and has since spread to many other cities. Search meetup.com to see if there’s a Women Who Code branch near you.

“A Rosie the Riveter Moment”

In the recently filmed documentary, SHE++, Jocelyn Goldfein calls on women to embrace their “Rosie the Riveter Moment.” That is, she recognizes that the demand for engineers outnumbers our current computer science graduates and that there is a great opportunity for women to step up and dominate the field.

We’ve currently got six female employees in our 43-person team, but I think we can do better.

Let’s embrace our time in history to take another industry by storm. Join Women Who Code, register for a computer science class (like this one, at gSchool), and apply for an engineering job. I can’t wait to read your resumes.

For more insight on this topic, please attend the Denver/ Boulder screening of SHE++, the documentary on Tuesday, April 23rd at Galvanize. Or find a screening near you.

Emily Grossman

Emily Grossman

Emily is the Inbound Marketing and Community Manager at Double Encore, Inc., handling Marketing, HR, and Office Management for the leading mobile development company. Emily maintains our website, organizes company events, tackles social media, and keeps the office well caffeinated.
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