Where Are the Women Software Engineers?

Originally published at innoarchitech.com here on November 24, 2014.

Introduction

Hi women software engineers. Are you there? Hello? Paging all women software engineers, can you please come to the front office? There are lots of people here that would like to throw tons of money, perks, and respect your way. Hello?… Where are you?

This is a question that I ask myself often. It’s not that women software engineers are like unicorns and don’t exist. They do exist, and I’ve had the great opportunity to work with, and meet a few. I often wonder, however, why they are seemingly so underrepresented in the workplace, conferences, meetups, and so on?

It’s incredible how many unsolicited job requests I receive regularly for software engineering positions. It seems like employers are desperate for talent, and the amount of money that they are willing to pay for talented software engineers appears to be rising, perhaps exponentially. Nowadays companies are offering salaries well into the 6-figure range for these positions.

So are women opposed to money, overabundance of opportunities, job security, admiration and respect (particularly from other women), challenges, creativity, prestige, flexibility, significant and meaningful contributions to technology and the betterment of society, and the opportunity to stand out in the crowd? Obviously not. So why are women terribly underrepresented in the tech industry?

Motivation To Write This

I attended the 2014 O’Reilly Fluent Conference. It was an awesome conference, but I noticed a significant imbalance of women attendees. There were some great talks on the first day during the opening keynote block. Scott Hanselman was super witty and had me laughing out loud, Brenden Eich (who invented JavaScript) blew me away with a JavaScript-driven gaming demo, and Ilya Grigorik gave an terrific talk on site speed and perception. Seeing them speak in person was very cool to say the least.

What really caught my eye though were two talks in particular. One was given by Lea Verou, and the other by Pamela Fox. Pamela presented very passionately about a world where young children learned to write code early on, which could have profound implications for them later in life. Lea gave a talk and demonstration on nothing more than the simple CSS border-radius property. Pamela’s passion, enthusiasm, conviction, and energy were amazing. Lea’s live demo and captivating visualizations of what can be done with the border-radius property was inspiring, and her intellect and command of the subject matter was obvious.

Despite the men’s talks mentioned above, these two women seemed like rock stars to me. I liken it to a couple of scientists of the past. Imagine you were at a conference in which Albert Einstein was to speak. That would be amazing and virtually everyone in attendance would be star struck.

Now imagine Marie Curie spoke as well. How cool would that be? Why is that cool? It’s cool because not only was she a great scientist and brilliant mind, but because she was a very successful woman in a hugely male-dominated industry and world. She was also an important pioneer for women in general.

People thought of Einstein as one of the world’s authorities on physics, and expected nothing less than the monumental discoveries and theories that he delivered. Marie Curie’s ideas and achievements on the other hand were probably exceedingly unexpected. She was even rejected admission to the Krakow University for being a woman. She later went on to receive two Nobel Prizes, each in a different subject! By comparison, Einstein received one Nobel Prize.

These days, women leaders in technology (or any industry for that matter), are obviously not as rare, nor should their achievements be unexpected. That said, there is a real and significant gender gap. It’s therefore exciting to see women like Lea and Pamela pioneering the way for women in tech, and hopefully they inspire more women to become leaders in the industry as well.

Summary

Writing software is fun and rewarding in many ways. It requires solving complex problems and challenges, while being able to do so creatively and through your own expression. It’s no less artistic than painting or playing music in my opinion. It can also be highly collaborative.

In addition, most coders gain a tremendous feeling of self-accomplishment when completing a coding task, not to mention the awe and accolades often received from those that don’t write code. Many tech companies provide a really great environment and culture to work in as well.

The industry is desperate for talented engineers, which is reflected in the salaries, perks, and flexibility of available software jobs. There are many women that can and should become part of the talent pool. The question is how to help make that happen?

There are a lot of organizations out there trying to do just that, and include Women Who Code, Women in Technology, The National Center for Women & Information Technology, Anita Borg Institute, Girl Develop It, National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science, Society of Women Engineers, as well as many city-based meetups, groups, and communities. In addition to these organizations, It’s also up to individual companies, schools, parents, and the rest of the tech community to help close this gap, but also to increase general diversity in these roles as well.

In my opinion, the most significant change could come from supporting and encouraging young girls to excel in STEM subjects, and pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields. This is especially important for software engineering given the current and greatly increasing market demand. The more significant improvements that we can make with this, the more likely that this gender gap will be reduced.

About the Author: Alex Castrounis founded InnoArchiTech. Sign up for the InnoArchiTech newsletter and follow InnoArchiTech on Twitter at @innoarchitech for the latest content updates.