Should women stay on the technical track?

When my friends and I started in our careers as software programmers, we noticed a trend. All the women who were good in their programming jobs got promoted to management, either project management or program management. We wondered why women never seemed to become architects and CTOs or even stay programmers for very long.

When I was offered a promotion into management, I took it. However, one of my friends did not. She said their were no women role models on the technical track. If we all got promoted out, then how were young women supposed to know that women could succeed as programmers and architects? She stayed a programmer.

So I’ve been really excited this year to see several women I know personally, prominent women in the free and open source software world, get high level, very technical jobs.

Congratulations to Danese Cooper who is now CTO of the Wikimedia Foundation and Allison Randal who is now the Technical Architect of Ubuntu.

I’m sure they will be great role models and mentors for both genders, but I hope young girls in particular will be influenced by seeing women in successful technical leadership roles.

(And I do see my role as technical. I don’t think someone without a programming or technical background would do as well. But I haven’t written any code or made any technical decisions other than for my own home network in a very long time, so I don’t feel like I’m showing young women that women can succeed in technical jobs, rather that they can succeed in leadership roles in technology related organizations.)

15 Replies to “Should women stay on the technical track?”

  1. Well, it’s certainly true that there are relatively few women working in technical roles in IT. But while it would be good to have a more balanced workplace, should those few have to concern themselves with being role models for others?

    I assume you got into IT for the same reason that most of us guys did – because it’s something you enjoy doing. So why not just keep doing that, and not worry about what others think?

    1. Because I think most people offered a promotion automatically take it. Even if they would be happier staying where they are.

  2. I have to say I doubt that “CTO of the WikiMedia Foundation” is a job that requires much day-to-day technical input (especially given that Danese’s other recent jobs haven’t been particularly technically-focused either). More likely, like yours, it’s a job that a technical person will do better, but is really more of a leadership role.

  3. I always wish Anne Nicolas got more recognition in this line. She’s been the engineering director at Mandriva for more than three years; she heads the actual engineering side of the company, which is partly a management role – pointing hackers in the right direction – but involves a lot of hands-on work too. For whatever reason her name rarely seems to come up in these discussions, so just wanted to give her some props.

  4. Ubuntu? WikiMedia? MANDRIVA?!

    Maybe having females in these technical management roles is exactly what’s holding these freetard companies back?

  5. I always have the feeling that the FLOSS environment is a weird world because the lack of female collegues. This turns even more strage when you compare to the rest of the IT field outside of our FLOSS corner.

  6. Stormy, you’re an excellent role model! You have a very high profile job, and are very well respected in the community. You also manage this with your family and kids and it doesn’t stop you attending events. This shows peoples careers do not end once you have kids! Never fear you are always someones role model! Just at different points in their lives!

    1. Thanks.

      My first couple of trips after having a baby, everyone (including guys with kids) used to ask me “Who’s taking care of your son?” I was so tempted to reply with “Who’s taking care of yours?”

  7. If you don’t feel comfortable coding, please join me in trying to reform intellectual property legislation, e.g. by establishing patent pools for things such as educational software applications, medical tests, disease-eradicating drugs, rechargeable batteries, and recycling technologies. I am sorry I was unsuccessful in trying to raise your interest in such issues earlier.

    1. Actually, I really like coding. I just don’t have time for it. (Once I get in a project, it’s all I want to do and there are other things I want/have to do now.)

      I was interested in helping you before. I was just very uncomfortable with how you started using my name with others.

  8. This is a difficult decision I’ve had to make a few times – go into management and get an automatic promotion? or stay in tech doing what I love. I’ve got management experience in retail and as a team lead and know I enjoy that as well, which is what makes it a difficult decision. For now, though, I’m still coding 🙂

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