Women who program aren’t unicorns

We’re everywhere. You’re not alone.

This is a message in two parts. To those who say that it’s impossible to find women who program to hire or to give conference talks: there are so many. For women who feel like you’re alone and you’re the only one: you’re not alone. There are so many of us.

Last December, myself and my friend Monica started a group for women programmers called Montreal All-Girl Hack Night. I thought maybe 5 people would come out, and that I probably knew all the women who program in Montreal already. I was wrong. We held an event at Google Montreal. 100 women signed up, and 60 came to the event.

Then I thought, well, surely these people can’t all be programmers! But they were. They had programming jobs, they wrote C++, Java, Javascript, Python, C, PHP. They did NLP, web development, and made video games. There were so many I couldn’t talk to them all. It was astonishing.

If you look at SF PyLadies, it has 1300 members. John Resig made a Twitter list of women who code which has more than 500 members. I know so many women who aren’t on that list. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a huge conference. The Systers mailing list has an amazing number of members all over the world.

The diversity is also astonishing. I spent the fall at Hacker School, where the batches are around 60 people and it’s normally 40% women. At Hacker School, there’s no notion of “this is what a woman who programs looks like”. At Hacker School there are people who started programming in the last 3 months and 15 years ago. See this post about who comes to Hacker School.

I know so many women who code now. A ton of the people I follow on Twitter are women and the people I talk to about programming are largely women. I feel surprised when I go to a meetup and it’s all men, because it’s no longer the community that I’m used to.

If you’re a woman and you feel alone: consider starting a group for women who code in your city. If you live in a small place, join a mailing list like Systers or DevChix, and try to go to a conference like the Grace Hopper Celebration. I went from knowing just a few women who code to knowing hundreds, and I’m so much happier. You’re not alone.

If you’re a conference organizer, you could not do better than to look at what PyCon has been doing and do that. At PyCon 2014, 30% of the people speaking will be women.

If you’re trying to hire, talk to someone (perhaps Ashe Dryden) about how to make your workplace more welcoming. If you have 20 developers and they’re all men, you’ll have an uphill battle to fight. It’s so much easier to build in diversity from the beginning than it is to tack it on later. You can work with Hacker School. You can sponsor PyLadies events. You can sponsor GHC and have a table at their job fair. Jamie Talbot says on his experience recruiting at GHC 2013:

The depth of talent was astounding. Not that the mere existence of talented female engineers is all that astonishing — after all, computer science is not innately oriented to one gender or the other — but to see so many prodigiously gifted, young, and enthusiastic technologists all in one place? Revelatory.
We collected the resumes of more than 300 candidates, both for our full-time positions and our internship program. At least fifty of them were exceptional. If I had the authority to do so, I would have made a number of offers already. We’re excited to continue talking with them, and in a climate of such intense competition over development talent, this feels like a significant competitive advantage.

There are so many of us. We are so good. You just have to look.