#ILookLikeAnEngineer

“I’m curious that people with brains find this quote remotely plausible and if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like.”

This is Clarisse Schneider, one of the Media directors for the Conference on Diversity in Engineering and a software engineering student at the University of Waterloo. I read this blog post yesterday and it really struck a chord with me. I thought maybe I’d share why.

The quote above, also pointed out in the article, points out that people are actually in disbelief that female software engineers look like this. Damn straight, female software engineers are attractive. And also not so attractive. Skinny, chubby, and everywhere in between. Girls who are effortlessly beautiful, girls like me who don’t really try and have given up on taming the bedhead. A little girly, a little tomboyish, wearing beautiful sundresses or their father’s humongous hoodies or both.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I fit into the engineering culture, with short dyed hair and a big personality. I wear jeans with funny programming shirts like my male counterparts, and even when I wear skirts I pair them with a geeky or corporate t-shirt. If you were to look at me and be told I was a software engineer, at least you wouldn’t guess twice. Not everyone is so fortunate.

I was talking to a male upper-year in my program once, reminiscing about the time he spent helping me decide on software engineering at the university fair when I was still in high school. He mentioned that he also spent a lot of time with a girl who “didn’t look like a software engineer.” When I asked him to explain, he elaborated to say that she was extremely attractive. After I finished being jokingly offended, my heart sank. I wondered what it would feel like to be that girl, immediately taken less seriously because of how she looked and dressed. I wondered if that also happened to me, of equal or lesser degree.

One of my heroes and the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, Gayle Laackman, is the only reason I have a job. I also had the opportunity to talk to her at a book release, and was both comforted and disturbed to hear that she goes through the same things that I do. I’ve read posts where she replied to technical comments on Cracking the Coding Interview, and has been told condescendingly to “read the book” or “don’t answer questions you don’t understand.” She cannot count the number of times she’s been mistaken for a designer or recruiter, instead of an incredible engineer and proficient technical interviewer. She pointed out her event’s custom name tags, which allowed you to post a variety of stickers that proclaimed “I code,” “I’m hiring,” “I design,” “I’m an intern,” etc. She said that she got sick of being mistaken for a non-engineer and didn’t want anyone else at her events to feel the same.

Well, back to the original reason for this post. When you picture a female software engineer, I don’t know what you see. I see my classmates, my friends, and colleagues. I see shy demeanors, loud personalities, and people who all share a love of coding. Same goes with my male counterparts. The stereotyping goes both ways: a friend of mine, who is a fairly attractive and physically fit programmer, jokingly said that he didn’t look like a CS student. But to me, he did, because I knew he could talk for hours about his simulation projects and argue with the best of them about languages and IDE’s. His is one of the faces that pops into my head when I picture a software engineer.

Maybe we need to stop perpetuating the stereotype of a skinny, pale, geeky programmer with no social skills and try to accept and celebrate authenticity where we can find it. Maybe we need to work on taking people at face value, and expanding our circles of engineers so that when you are asked what an engineer looks like, you have so many different faces that you can’t pick just one.

Isis herself, the girl whose face on an ad in a BART station brought light to the comments we get every day, said it best:

“This isn’t by any means an attempt to label “what female engineers look like.” This is literally just ME, an example of ONE engineer at OneLogin. The ad is supposed to be authentic. My words, my face, and as far as I am concerned it is.”

‪#‎ILookLikeAnEngineer‬

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(link to my original post on the Conference on Diversity in Engineering page)


Originally published at justclary.tumblr.com.

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