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01 June 2010 @ 08:54 am
A Request to Women Working in Tech  
A friend recently said something about which, as Shanna's father, I feel conflicted.

She said that as a woman working in technology, she wouldn't recommend that other women enter the field. She's a system administrator. So, while she's not a computer programmer like myself, she's in a very similar field with mostly similar interpersonal dynamics. That is to say, what she says almost certainly applies to my field if it applies to hers. And as an actual woman working in technology, her experience is going to be significantly more accurate than my from-the-outside impressions.

I'm not going to repeat her reasons here. Rather, I'd be very curious whether other women working in technical fields, especially system administration and/or programming, felt the same way. Anybody care to comment? When you comment, please let me know what you do/did in technology. For some of you, I'll know offhand. For many of you, I'll have forgotten. For anybody who comments, there may be other readers who don't know/remember.

Anonymous comments are turned on here. Technically I *do* log IPs and I don't see a quick way to turn it off just for this post, but you have my word that I won't attempt to match up anybody anonymous here with any specific person. If you're really worried for some reason, there are many fine technical measures to make that tracking ineffective at finding you.
Life Is Change, Princessdangerpudding on June 1st, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
So, being the woman/friend of whom you speak, I'm happy to make (some of) my reasons and history public.

I'm a sysadmin, have been in the field for almost 13 years now. I've worked mostly on the west coast (Arizona, Oregon, California) and western Europe (Amsterdam). Have been at a small local ISP, a large startup security company, an international non-profit, large governmental agency, consulting firm and now at a state university.

Saying that I wouldn't recommend that other women enter the field - that is that I don't know that I would encourage someone who wasn't already interested and fairly determined to go that route. It's a hard road, and often not fun. That's *not* saying that a woman who was interested and determined wouldn't have my full support. I've helped multiple women start in the field, I continue to do what I can to help women in the field, I believe that having women in the field is important. I'm currently working on a team of 7 and there's another woman on my team and I think this is *awesome*.

My reasons, though, are that I don't think things have gotten better, I hear constant horror stories, and I know my own history. I think I was one of the luckier ones, actually. I've *only* had to tolerate close (male) friends telling me flat out that I couldn't do this, being groped in the server room, being treated as the secretary, and nearly being fired for being fat while female, among other things. I've never been attacked in such a way that I couldn't defend myself physically (at work). I've not actually been fired (except that once, and there's nothing provable there). I've only had it implied in interviews that I wouldn't be hired if they thought I was interested in having kids in the near future, never actually said. I don't know of any rumors being started about my supposed sexual exploits with or around co-workers.

Some of these things happen in non-IT jobs, I know. But I know of very, very few women in tech who have been there very long who don't have some stories of this sort. I've learned to calibrate for certain things. At my current job, I didn't wear a dress for the first three months, knowing that dressing too nicely often gets you discounted technically. I don't back down in discussions when I know I'm right. I'm downright aggressive about handling my own hardware maintenance (aside from asking for help moving things that are too heavy, but the men on my team do that as well - and I'm cautious of who I ask).

I've worked at some of the best places for women in tech, all told. Even at those places, there were people I had to win over in ways my male colleagues didn't have to. I understand that a lot of this is invisible to the men around me, and even to other women, and I am very sensitive to it - but I have good reason.

All that said - there are parts of tech that are better than others. I hear that QA and support organizations have more women and treat women better, in general. Universities and research groups tend to be better. There are companies that are known to treat women better, groups at companies that are known for it. But overall, it's something you *have* to be aware of or you won't make it very far without deciding it isn't worth it.