Who’s helping who?

At Philly Emerging Tech some girls from TechGirlz came into meet with me and Molly Holzschlag. I think we were supposed to be role models for them but two minutes into the meeting, I realized the girls were the role models!

One of the girls was already writing a game in Python and had already considered the benefits of open sourcing it or not.  Another was concerned with the lack of emotion you can convey in a text message and how we might be able to improve that. A third girl had already set up her own dog treat business complete with an online presence. And the youngest in the group? She was in a Lego club and could build and program computer robots. Her teacher? An older girl in the group. These girls ranged in ages from 8 to 15 and they were already accomplishing amazing things.

We talked about careers in tech, how you can take technology into other fields, the things that frustrated them, the things that motivated them, … I sure learned a lot and came away motivated!

For more on what we talked about read Todd Weiss’ excellent recap.

Thanks to Tracey Welson-Rossman for TechGirlz and for inviting me to participate.

The secret to my success in a field of men? All my friends. My guy friends.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about why we have so few women in open source and web development and how to encourage more women to join. (I even got to spend an awesome afternoon with a bunch of girls. I was supposed to be mentoring them but they were already Python game developers and small business owners – at the ages of 10 and 15!)

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am in this field because I really like the people. And 95% of those people are men and I appreciate them. I appreciate all the help they’ve given me whether they knew they were helping or not!

So I decided it’s time to thank all the men that I appreciate, who have helped me in my interests and my career.

First, there’s my dad. He not only told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, but promised to make sure I had the opportunities. I think he’s always been secretly disappointed I didn’t want to play football.

To my grandpa. He told me it was his sandbox, so I could play in it. He taught me how to defend my right to participate with out a leg to stand on — it wasn’t his sandbox. (And to Chris who taught me how to play toy soldiers in that sandbox. I still consider that to be one of the most boring games I know but it taught me how to steer the game or the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go.)

To my uncle John who saved all his computer magazines. He asked me once if I wanted to organize conferences. I stand by my firm answer of no, you’d have to be crazy. (But I do help out occasionally!)

To my uncle Larry who used to save me boxes of science fiction books. Boxes! Boxes of science fiction books! When you live in Spain and can’t get them that was a treasure.

To my great uncle Ted who was more delighted than I was when I finally managed to beat him in a game of cards.

To my boyfriend Frank who projects complete confidence that I can do anything. Except mow the lawn. But he is willing to get in a small boat in a big ocean with me. And he listens to my excited stories and my gripes and promises to beat up anyone who bothers me. I know he’s got my back.

To all my friends that I hang out with online and at conferences. I couldn’t possibly hope to list you all in one blog post but you’ve made all the difference. Especially those that welcomed me in the beginning. Meeting all the HelixCode guys. An afternoon hanging out with Havoc Pennington and the Eazel guys in Copenhagen trying to stay awake. Dave Neary encouraging me not just to be GNOME Foundation member but to run for the board! I didn’t run for the board then but he did later convince me to apply for the executive director job.  Dinner with Bastien Nocera, Jeff Waugh and Glynn Foster.  A cab ride with Daniel Veillard during which he explained why he didn’t trust OpenOffice. An afternoon hunting for saffron with J5. Conversations with Bradley Kuhn about free software and community and who was always helpful even when I was causing him great grief. All the questions that Vincent Untz answered for me when I started as Executive Director of GNOME – he was probably starting to get worried there! For Luis Villa, Brian Cameron, Lukas Rocha, Germán Póo-Caamaño, Behdad Esfahbod, Diego Escalante Urrelo, who took all my suggestions seriously and never acted like any question was stupid even when they were. For Jeff Schroeder who regularly pings me and encourages me on the ideas I’ve mentioned. For Paul Cutler for always making time to meet in person even when I delayed his trip home! For Ragavan Srinivasan who taught me we can be the ones to start something. And for all my new friends in the world of JavaScript and web development. Dave Herman, Christian Heilmann, Trevor Lalish_Menagh, Robert Nyman, Peter Svensson … Even after I’ve shown I have no clue how to write good JavaScript, you’ve still made me welcome.

And a whole bunch more people that I’ve talked to on IRC, IM, in hallways, over lunch or a beer, … I’m not leaving you out. But I do have to get back to work at some point.

Thanks to all of you. For all the conversations, for all the ideas you’ve shared, ideas you’ve given me feedback on, questions you’ve answered, trust you’ve shown, … I thank you. Hopefully I am successful in returning the favor or passing it on because I think it’s what makes our communities great. It’s what will continue to bring more men and more women to our communities.

That’s why I’m part of these free and open source software communities and why I’ve chosen this career path. For the people in the communities and the way we are making the world a better place together.

And I love the 5% that are women too! But I feel like I owe the guys a special thank you as we don’t often mention how encouraging and helpful they are.

Help girls discover how cool a career in technology could be!

If you have some time this Saturday, take half an hour or so to help show girls how cool a career in technology can be. Dare 2B Digital is a conference for girls to learn more about careers involving computers.

What can you do?

As part of the conference, the girls will be making videos. (Mozilla is sponsoring the event and Lukas Blakk will be teaching the HTML5/Open Video workshop.) We need volunteers to help transcribe the videos and translate them real time to show them the power of the community and technology. The software being used is Universal Subtitles (which is a really cool tool).

Spend half an hour this Saturday and help show girls how cool our world is. You can sign up here.

Why help girls learn about computer science?

As many of you know, less than 2% of open source software developers are women. This frustrates me for two reasons.

  1. A bunch of women are missing out on some really awesome opportunities.
  2. The open source community could be twice as big! Imagine all we’d get done!

But it’s hard to recruit more women when the pool of women in computer science in general is small. I helped out at a technology event for girls once. They were sixth graders (about 12 years old). When we asked what they wanted to be, none of them picked any kind of technology field. Studies show that by sixth grade, girls have already decided not to pursue math and science careers.

This is our chance to show them how cool those fields can be. And that they aren’t alone, that there’s a whole community of interesting and motivated people they’d get to work with.

So sign up now. You can help in person if you are in Mountain View or you can help transcribe and translate if you are not. Bilingual people are much needed!

Too skinny and too fat: what happened to normal?

Photo by Camera baba' aka Udit Kulshrestha

You hear a lot about how the media potrays super-skinny models and they make poor role models for young women.

Today I turned on the TV and there was a cartoon with an obese girl in it. Interesting, I thought, they’re trying to portray reality. Then I noticed that every other character had a waist the size of their arm. (Literally, I paused and checked. The male characters had muscular arms and so had slightly bigger waists. The girls all had thin arms and ridiculously thin waists.) So there were a whole bunch of super skinny characters plus one obese girl and one obese boy.

What kind of body image message is that sending?

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.)

Do men and women have different standards of success?

This quote has been haunting me because it rings so true:

men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades

I don’t see that in all fields but I definitely see it in computer science. I wonder if it’s because only really competitive women tend to stick it out in a field that’s often less than 20% women (and comes with all the problems that entails.) They are used to working hard, competing and doing well. And when they don’t, well they figure they should be doing something else. Something they excel at.

I’ve seen it happen. (And for the record the women I know went on to be really successful in other scientific fields. I think they would have excelled in computer science too.)

What do you think?

How does Malaysia encourage so many women in software?

 In 2003 I gave a talk in Malaysia. What I noticed immediately is that my audience was well over half women. This was really noticeable because they were all wearing brightly colored hijabs. Usually I scan the room and count how many women I can find – usually on my fingers even in a room of hundreds. Hijab-programmer-womanYet here were hundreds of women attending a talk about the economics of open source software!

I've wondered ever since what they do so differently in Malaysia that they get so many more women involved in software. Is it something we could do as well?

A recent study offers a theory:

in Malaysia jobs in technology
are seen as appropriate for women: Men do not perceive indoor work as
masculine and much of society stigmatizes women who work outdoors as
lower class. Computing and programming are seen as “women-friendly”
professions, with opportunities opening up since men are not
interested in competing for these types of jobs. “It’s a woman’s world
in that respect,” said Mellstrom.

So women that work in software are higher class. Where as in my experience it's often been insinuated in the US that if you are attractive or social, there are better careers for you. "You're a programmer?? You don't look like one!"

More Women in GNOME Now!

The GNOME community is extremely diverse when it comes to nationality. But we don't have many women working on GNOME.

We want to make sure that women interested in working on GNOME know they are welcome, so we have announced the

                GNOME Outreach Program for Women!

The goal is to encourage women to participate in GNOME and to provide internship opportunities in the summer.

IStock_000002762853XSmall We noticed a problem back in 2006. We had 181 submissions for Google’s Summer of Code – and not one was from a woman. So Hanna Wallach and Chris Ball launched the Women's Summer Outreach Program. We received a 100 applications from women that summer and were able to accept 6 – six women were paid to work on GNOME and mentored by GNOME developers. (Sponsored primarily with a grant from Google.) Recently Marina Zhurakhinskaya followed up with those women and decided we should do it again and expand on the program.

So we are once again doing a GNOME Outreach Program for Women.

How can you help?

  • Encourage women to apply to the program!
  • Mentor a woman in the program.
  • Contribute financially to help pay the stipends.
  • Convince a company to sponsor the program.
  • Encourage your company to hire a female intern to work on GNOME.

Please help! Spread the word! Encourage women to join GNOME!

Exciting times at Grace Hopper!

I’m at the Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference this week. I’ve been looking forward to it for months. However in the past couple of weeks I’ve had so many “women in open source software” or “women in free software” conversations – some good and some very draining – that I was half way dreading coming to a conference where the whole focus would be women in computing for days. Turns out I was worried for nothing.

The energy at Grace Hopper is awesome! Everyone is excited, people go out of their way to introduce themselves when they sit next to you and everyone is talking about real and exciting challenges. And there’s plenty of people to meet – there are 1600 people here, most of them technical women! About half are students and about a quarter of the attendees are presenters too.

Last year while I was here I met the HFOSS folks and the conversation led to three interns working on GNOME projects last summer. Who knows where this year will lead? So far I’ve had interesting conversations. For example, I spoke to the woman who works at iRobot on reaching out to kids to encourage kids to get involved in robotics. (You know, the folks that make the Roomba.) Anybody do robotics programming using GNOME?

I’ve also spoken to other women about how
to get more women developers on a project, how to cultivate more positive energy on a project or serve productively on a board. I’ve also had some interesting conversations about careers. One woman I talked to wondered if she should switch careers because she’s not passionate about coding and everyone keeps talking about how passionate they are about their jobs. Turns out she really likes user interfaces.

Thanks again to the Grace Hopper folks for sponsoring my travel to this event! It’s a great event celebrating and encouraging technical women. Next year I’d like to see more presence from free and open source software projects. (I am on an open source community panel this afternoon.)

There’s a very active conversation about the Grace Hopper conference on twitter.

Who do you represent?

Chris pointed me at this cartoon as a comment to my It's not about not offending post and I keep finding myself looking at it. 

How_it_works

I almost always feel like I'm representing a group – if not more than one group. When we lived in Alaska, I represented Caucasians. When we lived in Spain, I represented all Americans. When I go to software conferences, I represent all women. When I go to software conferences in Europe, I represent women and Americans. Talk about pressure to do a good job! It's probably not true that I'm always representing all those groups, but I really feel the responsibility to do a good job for everyone I represent, not just myself.

I have a friend who turned down a promotion to management partially because she realized that all women were being promoted out of technical positions and she was worried there would be no technical female role models left. (Which as a manager who'd been promoted out of a technical position, immediately made me feel guilty!)

It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling that I represent my cohorts. For my part, I'm going to try to think of people more as individuals and less as representatives of their various groups.

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