Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Being a Girl in CS Doesn't Suck

When I posted last week about an experience with gender bias in "Should I Defend My Cred?", some of the re-tweets basically implied that post was proof that it sucks being a girl in CS. Well, I want to clarify that it doesn't suck. It's actually pretty freaking awesome.

What rocks:

  • Working with mostly guys.
    I'm sorry, girls, but I've always gotten along better with guys, ever since I was in elementary school. It's probably because I didn't quite fit into the girl mold (or any mold) back then, and thus girls were hesitant to accept me, while guys didn't really care as long as I was willing to shoot cannons with them. I know a lot of other girls in CS who say the same thing - that they're mostly friends with guys - and actually, those are the girls that I get along with best. So, yes, I should learn how to get along better with girls. But in the meantime, I'll always feel more comfortable working with guys.
  • "Working" with mostly guys.
    I once famously said "I only date guys who program in derivatives of ECMAScript". Well, it's kind of true. I prefer dating guys in tech because I have more stuff to talk about with them, so it's pretty handy that the tech industry is mostly guys. And yes, there is a bit of truth in the phrase often applied to guys in CS: "The goods are odd, but the odds are good"...but I'm pretty sure that the ratio of good guys is still in my favour. It's nice to be in an industry where I constantly encounter so many potential mates, and I don't have to rely on meeting random guys in a bar (which appears to be the dating preference of choice amongst adults, ick).
  • Being recognizable.
    As a girl amidst a sea of guys, I'm pretty easy to find. At a conference, all someone has to say is "find the girl with the red|blue|pink hair", and they can make a positive match pretty quickly. This easy recognition means that I can connect with more of the developers that want to talk to me. It can sometimes cause problems when people remember me better than I remember them (there's a limit to the number of white guys I can store in my head at once), but they are usually quite forgiving.
  • Getting more opportunities.
    Okay, I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about affirmative action.. except that I bet it's worked for me, and that I've probably benefited greatly from it. I remember asking my high school English teacher to review my college essay (which revolved around toilet flushing), and he glanced it over and said, "Well, you're applying as a girl in CS with a high SAT score, right? This shouldn't matter much."
    When an employer or university is comparing 2 equally skilled people, it makes sense that they select the one that increases the diversity of their staff/student body/conference/etc. Diversity is a good thing for teams, and it just so happens that the easiest way to measure diversity is by looking at aspects like race or gender. Theoretically, affirmative action could also applied be to hobbies and interests, and I could be selected due to my intense passion for 80s music (which actually does come up surprisingly often in my talks and demos). Until that happens, I will take advantage of the opportunities that I get by being a girl, and trust that I am not being given opportunities that I don't deserve.

What sucks:

  • Not enough chick flicks.
    I'm pretty sure I would have more excuses to watch romantic comedies if I hung out with more girls. But oh well, I'll just schedule a few more 12 hour trans-pacific flights.
  • Too little dancing.
    Guys don't generally go out dancing as their night activity of choice, at least not guys in western cultures. They tend to prefer a night of tipsy talk at a pub. I sometimes wish that I was a rock star or celebrity, and got to spend every night clubbing in exotic places... but until I acquire any sort of stage talent whatsoever, I think I'll settle with tricking guys into going to pubs with good music.

What really sucks:

  • Being afraid to admit all that.
    As a girl in CS, I am meant to have a very particular opinion about girls in CS. I feel that I risk being viewed as a traitor if I express other opinions. So, I generally try not to express any at all, and just go on my merry way. But, I now worry that other girls may feel the same fear, and that it is cowardly of me to keep my opinions to myself. Now, it's up to you to express your opinions, whatever they may be.


Bob Aman said...

Clearly, I have low standards. I only date girls who use Macs or Linux. :-P

Unknown said...

I've never dated a CS/tech girl... for some reason, they always end up being writers & literature people, and I've found they often have a surprising level of insight into programming topics.

Ajay Reddy said...

Wish there were more girls like you here in Hyderabad :)

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting report available on Women in IT (different than girls?) at Women in IT: The Facts.

Looks like while gender may help you get in, it may also limit your career progression.


Mike P. said...

If you're not totally strict on the particular kind of dancing, you could always check out swing. There are a huge proportion of geek guys lindy hopping, and we love it!

(There's a very friendly scene in Sydney, too—check out the Swingtime site, and maybe hit up one of their nights at the Roxbury Hotel.)

Unknown said...

If you're ever in SLO, Pamela, I'll get together a group and we'll watch a nice a RomCom. Then dance to "Party for Two."

Maurits said...

Two points. One: I'm married (sort of) to an IT/CS girl, and there's something terribly sexy when she announces that she'll 'upgrade the router firmware' on Sunday.

Second (more seriously), IMHO affirmative action will be needed as long as all firms I've worked for continue to have grave concerns about hiring women in the 'childbearing age'.

nfma said...

I've only dated once a CS girl and it didn't go that well. I'm sticking with artists now. They seem to know a lot about practicing :)

Unknown said...

Hehe, I agree, being a girl in CS *is* awesome :) And there is of course the other bonus at conferences - toilets are always free.. ;)

You do get the odd awkward moment when you realise that you are being interviewed only because you are a girl and it would look good on the report to the board, but fortunately those are few, and quite easy to spot and get away from :)

Dana said...

I agree with everything you said; guys, being memorable, free tick next to your name just for being a girl. Although, I did have lots of friends who were girls in primary school and highschool but as soon as I moved away for college, all my friends turned into boys?!? How did this happen :(. I joined a netball club to try and meet more girls.

I would definitely appreciate more chick flicks and dancing in my life.

Lana said...

As a girl in CS I feel that it's sometimes harder to be taken seriously. I'm what you would call a 'girly girl' but I'm also passionate about tech. I've lost count of the amount of times I've been asked why I chose this career path...

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