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Talibanism in Technology?

16 replies on 2 pages. Most recent reply: Feb 6, 2004 4:21 AM by Deepa Kandaswamy

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Kathy Sierra

Posts: 1
Nickname: ksierra
Registered: Jan, 2004

Re: Talibanism in Technology? Posted: Jan 18, 2004 2:28 PM
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I'm a woman. I've been working as a developer for the last 15 years. I have absolutely no idea what the author is talking about!

I've never once felt that anything that happened in my career (at least anything *bad*) because I'm female. When I annoy people, it's because I'm annoying. Not because I'm a woman.

When I piss people off, it's usually because I did something stupid. Or irresponsible.

Sure, sometimes I piss people off because I tend toward speaking the *truth* (often involving whether something is, in fact, naked) but again, that has nothing to do with my being female.

Was I just lucky enough to work for a company where it wasn't an issue? Maybe. But 15 of them? If the problem is as pervasive as some believe, you'd think I'd have encountered a problem at least *once*, somewhere? What are the odds?

Nor have I found a single female friend (and most of my female friends are also in the technology world) who can recall it being a problem. And we've all been hired, at one time or another, into our dream jobs.

And if just one more person says, "See, it's so ingrained that you don't even see it." I think I'm going to throw up. I'm not saying there isn't sexist behavior (although much of what people call sexist I still find to be more *sexy*), but even ackknowledging sexist behavior still doesn't *necessarily* mean some horrible problem exists in the US IT world or that women are treated unfairly as a result.

I *have* heard women complain; when I worked at Sun, every once in a while I'd have one look at me with that, "Yeah, WE know that our problems are because we're not one of the boys." And she'd expect me to give that knowing nod. But I just couldn't. Not that I had the heart to say, "Well, if your performance was up to everyone else's maybe it wouldn't be a problem?"

On the other hand, I met tons of kick-ass women. Many wore skirts. Some, on the short side. Because they *felt* like it. Hell, if I'm a programmer, it's not like the computer cares if I'm wearing only lingerie when I write code. That's one of the reasons I find computers to be so *refreshing* -- it doesn't take extreme muscle strength. I could not, for example, expect to be hired as a fire fighter. Nor would I be pleased to be in a burning building and see ME coming up the ladder for the big rescue. Because I weigh 100 pounds. I'm not carrying *anyone* but the cat out of that building. So, is that sexist? I wouldn't feel happy seeing a 100 pound GUY coming up that ladder either. It's a size thing, not gender.

But my computer (especially my VERY sexy G4 Titanium) is just as likely (or sometimes, I swear, *more* likely) to provide me with a smooth development environment as it is to respond to a man. My curly brace looks just like Bill's. (perhaps a *tad* curvier, but nothing really to write home about ; )

Personally, sure, it would be fun to have more women involved in technology. Then again, I wouldn't be able to have my own private bathroom stall at JavaOne.

But for that matter, it's not just *women* who are missing from JavaOne. There just isn't a lot of diversity period. I'm sure there are very different reasons--I doubt that women aren't well-represented in IT for the same reasons that some other ethnic group is not well-represented.

Maybe it starts in school, but I'm not so convinced of that either. I have a daughter who looks like she just stepped off a teen fashion magazine. She loves the mall and her iPod. She's also off-the-charts smart and culturally brilliant. She can tell you who directed a movie just by watching it. She studies latin *for fun*. She knows more about the music indie scene than anyone I've ever *read* or *heard of*. She's quite good at math, when she wants to be.

But she isn't *interested* in being a programmer. That's it. No big horror story about how the boys and unwitting teachers convinced her at an early age that "this is not for girls." For one thing, she would have cared less if they tried. For another, she doesn't see programming as being any different from *other* things she does with her computer. For god's sake, she edits with Final Cut Pro--the same tools used to cut major motion pictures today. She does this in school, right along side the boys. She does extremely sophisticated work with her computer, including web site development. WhenI tried to ask her about how the girls at school are treated in the computer lab, she looks at me as though I'm nuts. She, too, has no idea what I'm talking about. As though I'm one of those parents that's so hopelessly stuck in the past that I have no CLUE what it's like today. Now, having to walk through a metal detector (she attended school in the same school district as Columbine)... now THAT is an issue she can tell you about. Drug testing. Locker searches. But sexism in the math/science/computer department? Huh? [blank look]

I think that in many cases, *not being interested* really means nothing more than *not being interested*. We *are* wired differently. Perhaps I'm brain damaged. If so, I'm grateful, because I love creating software. But it just makes me crazy when I hear people act as though it just a GIVEN that women are treated badly in IT, at least in the US (I absolutely CANNOT speak about other countries).

I love being female. I don't ever try to *hide* that, or *minimize* it or *suppress* it so that I'd be taken seriously. I've even been known to exploit it (no, not THAT way). If my team doesn't respect me, I really need to look at reasons *other* than my gender. Sure, I DO believe that there probably are some pockets of IT where perhaps an entire division is simply convinced that women shouldn't be taken seriously. I've never seen it, never heard any other woman I know speak of it, but I can believe that's true. But I think that's more and more the exception, not the rule.

And yes, I've experienced working a trade show booth where sometimes men (and women) instinctively assume that I'm the marketing person, not the programmer. I get a kick out of them going to the guy in the booth who points out, "Oh, she's the one who wrote it... she's the guru, so you better ask her..."
And as a woman, you know what? If a guy mistakes me for a "booth babe/demo doll" I tend to take that as a compliment. Never once has it affected my ability to convince him that I knew what I was talking about.

I actually went out to dinner once with a guy who, it turned out, admitted he *hit on me* at the coffeeshop ONLY because I was reading an AI magazine. Turns out, he wasn't interested in dating me at all. He just wanted someone to talk AI with. Talk about a hit to a girl's ego... ; )

Anyway, I'm a woman who has spent many years in this business in all aspects, and worked with many women in this business. I've been a game developer, an enterprise application developer, a professional services consultant. I am a best-selling tech book author (I certainly can't say that having a woman's name on a programming book has caused buyers to look elsewhere). I won an award at Sun for having the highest customer-satisfaction rating over the course of a year, when I was teaching early adopters how to use EJB. If there were men in my classrooms who thought, "A WOMAN is teaching this? She can't possibly be any good..." they got over it quickly.
I've been hired, promoted, given outrageous salaries, and been fired, passed over, treated badly. I cannot attribute a single *bad* thing to being female. If pressed, though, I probably can come up with *good* things.

I care desperately about the world into which my daughter is coming of age. But sexism in the technical world is NOT one of the problems either of us have ever spent a moment fretting about. She's concerned about the environment, the deficit, the lack of tolerance. Health care. Guns. The government. She just doesn't make distinctions between knowing about *famous women* and *famous men*. It's all about the work they do. Her idol is Sofia Coppola, because her favorite movie now is "Lost in Translation." (despite it's obvious handicap, in her opinion— no characters portrayed by Orlando Bloom ; ) and we have a huge picture of Amelia Earhart on the wall; another woman with whom she's fascinated.

I think that perpetuating the myth that "everyone knows there's a big problem with sexism and discrimination against women in IT" is just as dangerous as perpetuating the myth that "women can't be technical". And in my opinion, there are far more men who believe in the first myth, today, then who actually believe in the latter. Yes, there are still some dinosaurs out there still working, but these older Archie Bunker types are being phased out through the passage of time. I believe that the *problem* such as it might still exist in some areas, just continues to diminish each day as the number of workers raised in a more modern era (and by *parents* who were raised after, say, the 60's) continues to rise.

-Kathy Sierra

Deepa Kandaswamy

Posts: 2
Nickname: dak1234
Registered: Jan, 2004

Re: Talibanism in Technology? Posted: Feb 6, 2004 4:21 AM
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Kathy makes some good points. I’ve had similar experiences like you as I didn’t have to experience any sort of discrimination because I was a woman engineer.

The argument I or people I know didn’t experience it proves it doesn’t exist – well your premise is fundamentally

It's like saying I didn’t go through what Sushmita Banerjee (who managed to escape from the Taliban and lived to tell her story) or Saba Sameer (an Afghani woman) went through under the Taliban, proves their experiences were exaggerated.

Same is true for experiences of other women in the technical field.

Just because Kathy or I didn’t experience it, doesn’t mean other women aren’t going through it.

I was extremely careful that women in tech who I interviewed didn’t attribute their failure which was due to incompetence to just because they were "women". Those who did, I left out and still the majority, women who succeeded had experienced discrimination because they were women and nothing else.

Please re-read the whole article. You’ll notice I didn’t come up with these on reasons on my own. It took me over 6 months to research this piece and I also point out reasons where women need to improve if they want to be “seen”.

“Environment” in which you are raised, live & work all play a key role. Many women like me can say "assert yourself and all will be fine" for I have never had any bad experiences in my life and I’m successful as a businesswoman and writer. However, this is a lame duck statement because we refuse to look beyond our environment and see how other women despite intelligence and competence get discriminated against just because they are women.

Bhanwari Devi, a brave villager asserted herself – she tried to stop a child marriage in a village in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. As punishment she was gang raped while the entire village watched. It was not due to lack of assertive behaviour but the environment played a factor. This would have never happened in the southern states, or metros in India.

I can quote several such instances of harassment of women in the developed and developing world in the technical field too now and in the past.

If you are really interested, I suggest you work for one month in the Affirmative Actions office on any University campus or work abroad in other countries which also have similar organisations. It’ll be an eye opener.

Some one posted that women are just screaming discrimination. That made me smile. Any man who thinks his rights are being stepped over when a woman with equal qualification and experience gets the job has to re-examine his views on gender and if he really grasps the term EQUALITY

John & Merriodoc, you are right --Talibanism as a title is not appropriate but I came up with the word to provoke people into debate and it appears to have worked :-)

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