Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Why Women In Tech Need Support Groups

I’m not going to point out everything wrong in the Googler’s manifesto, because, frankly, it was all wrong. The poor soul that wrote that obliviously needs help… a lot of help. However, I will admit that he outlines a valid point — The non-discriminated group needs more insight and education on what us, minorities in tech, are challenged with and what we can (and have) overcome despite those hurdles. It’s these challenges that bring us to seminars and meet up groups. It’s these hurdles that drive us to find others in our same situation. However, it should also be our responsibility to bring these experiences to the majority’s attention to prevent ignorance. I’ll start by sharing my story and hope that this can help someone, minority or majority.

How It All Started For Me

I am one of the 12% of women in the software engineering field and part of an even smaller percentage of women who own tech companies. I run a gaming company, Black Hive Media, where I am also the lead programmer. In my previous positions at other tech companies, I was either the only woman in the office or the only female in the engineering pit. Moreover, I’ve always been a self-motivated person and have never really conformed to traditional ideals. That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that I am also a self-taught programmer. I didn’t have a parent in programming, an older brother in software nor did I really even know anyone in the field at the time. What I did know, was that I wanted to make games with my husband who’s an artist in the game industry, and since I wasn’t artistic in any way, the programmer role was the only other option.

I have a background in Finance, so working in numbers wasn’t new, but I had never written a single line of code when I first started learning. I spent my days at my 9–5 job and my nights and weekends reading through books, forums and source code, figuring things out on my own and what little help I could find on code groups. This determination and persistence, eventually paid off and my husband and I created our company, countless apps and some fun mobile games. These mobile titles acted as my portfolio, proving my ability to various companies that I was a worthy developer. I took on contract gigs and eventually a full time career, but that was just the beginning of an even bigger obstacle.

The Lone Wolf in the Office

Being hired onto different teams of developers, one thing remained constant: I was the only woman in the programming department, which meant I had work harder than anyone to prove that I was just as valuable as my male colleagues. This meant logging more hours that any other programmer on our team, even if it meant staying up until midnight and only getting 5 hours of sleep. This did help me land my role as manager of the dev team, but my salary was only 6% more than our Junior (male) programmer. And as for work-life-balance, my life definitely suffered. My husband and I had weekends to catch up on our home-projects which included our pets, chickens, garden, pond, etc. Sadly, the hobby list just dwindled away until it was mostly work, code, eat, sleep, repeat.

As part of my lead role, I attended various meetings with different departments. Being an introvert, this was a major adjustment to make. One of the things I like most about programming is putting on some headphones, listening to The Prodigy and getting immersed in my code. Speaking up in a meeting full of men, who usually are more willing to voice their opinion, was not one of my strong suits, but I didn’t have a choice and I made it work.

Along with spending countless hours in meetings each day, I also had to make time to still complete my programming tasks, manage our Git repo, work with the scrum master to manage the project and the backend lead to conceptualize and determine features that they needed to develop to support my team. All of this at the cost of my life, my health and just a small percentage of pay more than the company’s base salary.

It wasn’t all bad though, we had our team outings where we would build our relationships and connect at a more social level. Since I was the lead of a team full of men, it was always a task keeping them on gender friendly topics all while still having a good time. Since my husband and I worked together, he was a big help in keeping things in line, an opportunity not everyone gets to have.

Online Sexism

As the sacrifices I made didn’t reap the right rewards, we both left our day jobs and began focusing on our own company again. We’ve since started developing a PC/Console title, Kova, and have more control over our environment, but even in our home office I, sadly, cannot escape the sexism and discrimination that happens online.

My biggest advice to everyone, not just those in the tech industry, is to be mindful of the comments you leave behind on social media and public articles. I’ve had many occasions where men declared disgusting, sexist comments and probably with out even realizing it. Comments like, “I bet he does all the work and she takes all the credit” or in response to when I posted our game to a Game Developer Facebook group: “Every time a pretty girl posts here it gets more attention”. Why does it have to turn to this? And the worst was when a fellow developer was asking for any ‘guys’ that can help program an app, and then when confronted about expanding their search to women too, he made a comment about extending it to dogs as well. Of course, my husband and I didn’t let these comments go and hopefully the posters learned a thing or two. This happens everywhere and we have to hold those accountable.

Let’s Help Each Other

As you can see, there is a reason women seek out female support groups and women-only training in the tech industry. It isn’t because we are trying to discriminate against men, instead it is because we need to help encourage each other to overcome the obstacles that our male counterparts don’t always see or aren’t sensitive to. We want to push each other past those hurdles and give each other the empowerment to know that we can do this too.

If you have a wife, a daughter, sister or even a niece, give her the courage and support she needs to follow a career path or hobby even if it is statistically stacked against her. If you have a husband, son or nephew, give him the understanding that not everyone (minority or not) has the same opportunities and to help, not hinder, every human being regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. To the Googler and all of his supporters, you need to step outside of your comfort zones and see women as we are, not what you read about in your studies. We should all share our stories and help shed some insight to those that are blind to our experiences and capabilities.