I want to discuss a more serious issue today.
As a woman who only at 30 years old realized that she could and wants to become a software developer, I put a lot of thought into why I didn’t come to the realization many years ago. What was missing in my upbringing that didn’t present engineering as a career path?
Was it the fact that I grew up in an underdeveloped country with the slowest & most expensive internet in the world? Was it the lack of information on careers? Was it simply that I was a stubborn teenager and thought I could change the world by being involved in humanitarian efforts?
Why did I ignore my natural callings & talents in technology? I don’t have the exact answer, but I do have a vague idea of what prevented me, and possibly other women, from taking the leap into tech… and I’ve jotted them down below based on my experience.
So here are my beliefs on why women are not entering the programming field.
1.) It seems intimidating to learn and do
Programming seems like an intimidating concept if you look at code without understanding the basics.
At 30 years old, looking at code still made me feel like I had no potential to grasp it and become a developer. It is, very literally, a new language and a new way of thinking.
But if I take a look at Thai, I will also be intimidated. How can I read a word if I don’t know the letters?
Programming works the same way: you break it down, learn it step by step from the very basics, and it all quickly comes together. It stops being unintelligible and starts being sensible.
Suggestion: Take a look at free online courses that walk you through programming. I wrote an article about my favorite free courses here and listed a few other courses below.
2.) We don’t experience it at school
Although my experiences are based on schooling from 15 years back, I still don’t believe that students are sufficiently introduced into software development and engineering tracks.
The fault lies in an education system that doesn’t focus on practicality, career guidance and societal needs.
Thus, we have no clear understanding of what programming is, how it’s done or whether we have the potential to learn it and do it well.
Our only understanding of “programming” was what we saw in movies: hackers furiously typing into a computer and spewing insensible combinations of tech jargon.
I was naturally adept at using a computer from day 1, and more so, I was interested! So much so that I actively searched out opportunities to learn more.
The only course I found back in those days was a class on Excel, so at 13 years old, I took an extracurricular, out-of-school class on how to use Excel for businesses.
Did that inspire me to get into programming? No! I had no idea what programming was. Thus, it was never a consideration for college…
That’s a huge failed opportunity – not just for me, but for thousands of potential engineers.
3.) The “Bro” Culture
Last week, I had an interesting conversation with a software engineer. For the past 2 years, she has been the only female developer in the company.
In my programming class, we are 30 total students, of which only 2 of us are women. We find ourselves in a sea of testosterone and all that implies: freezing air-conditioner levels, crude jokes, and of course, the flirtation from men.
But the worst part? It has to be the “Bro” culture.
Within 2 weeks of studying there, the men had already become best buddies and formed brotherly bonds with each other. It was so easy for them – a small pat on the back and saying, “Hey bro, how did you solve the problem?” or “Bro, is that seat taken?”
Boom! Barriers of distance were broken with one small word. I felt like an anthropologist watching it happen.
Neither I, nor the fellow 45-year-old mom in the group, can simply walk up to male students and “Hey bro!” them. It’s inappropriate – bro culture is strictly male here.
Our friendship and collaboration with the 28 male students took more time to foster.
Heading back to my conversation with the software engineer: I told her about my experience and bro-culture theory. And it hit home for her, too! For years, she couldn’t define why there was a gap in bonding with her male coworkers… but there it is… she’s not a bro.
Does the fact that women make up a small percentage of programmers make it difficult for women to feel fully integrated in the industry? Sadly, I would have to say yes.
4.) We see it as a male-centric industry
Boo on us! We are 21st century ladies with equal rights and the potential to strive for greatness. Unlike our great-grandmothers (and my case, even my mother), we’re not bound by societal norms that force us into only one career choice of motherhood.
We can go to college and learn, we can choose our majors and minors, we can become professionals in fields that were never open to us before!
There was a time when being a doctor was seen as a job only for men. There was a time when presidency was unimaginable for a woman.
And yet now, we won’t accept a situation where women aren’t involved in certain fields.
So why does society keep imposing the concept of technology, engineering and even gaming as male industries?
The future is in technology. It’s on us to make sure that we’re a part of it.
Some of the most talented and revolutionary programmers have been women. Let’s join them and create a new standard where the tech industry is diverse.
All is not Lost – There is Headway on Programs for Women
The good news is that the integration of women into programming IS increasing. Not quite at the strides that will make a huge impact just yet, but 20 years down the line, the impact will be strongly felt.
New organizations are constantly founded to inspire girls and women into tech. They are introducing concepts, providing free courses, and making presentations in schools to inspire young ladies into tech.
Of course, the fact that the internet has made us collectively more informed of options and even provided free online courses means that women worldwide can proactively start looking into careers in technology.
Programs Inspiring Women into Careers in Tech
These are some of the programs I have heard about or joined. However, there are more programs out there by the year – go female entrepreneurs!
Learn Programming Online for Free (or Very Cheap)
These are my recommendations on free to very affordable online learning programs – I’ve tried all of these so it’s based on personal experience. They are not listed in any particular order.
- https://www.codewars.com/ (only once you have the basics down)
- https://platzi.com/ (In Spanish & English)
A more detailed and visual review post on some of the programs above can be found here.