I’ve always been passionate about technology. I’ve worked for tech startups and currently work at one of the largest software companies in the world. And I’m a woman…
You could say I’m quite familiar with “bro culture.” The testosterone-fueled environment that rules the tech world is riddled with sexism, hostility and a lack of inclusivity that hinders professional growth and happiness in the workplace. Growing up, I vividly remember steering clear of anything related to math, science and computers. Although many of these courses were school requirements, I took the bare minimum. It wasn’t due to a lack of interest, but rather the idea that my male classmates dominated these subjects so much that I lacked the confidence to even try to compete. Don’t get me wrong; I was a kick-ass student – just not when it came to the STEM fields.
I overcame the feeling that I didn’t belong when I enrolled in a Computer Science class that was a requirement for my Communication degree. The class was a crash course on the Adobe design suite. I only had three panic attacks during the first class when I saw how many freaking buttons and drop down menus there were in each program. Did I mention that there were only four females in this class of twenty-five? The class pushed me to keep pursuing opportunities in tech, which led to two internships at startups, both of which were developing apps. At one startup I was one of two females, and at the other, one of three. I’ve only been at my current place of employment for a year and a half working in technical support, but now more than ever I find myself paying attention to studies and news related to women in technology.
On more than one occasion I’ve thought to myself “Why is the industry like this?” I finally put fingers to keys and this is what I found out: During WWII, the military hired women to solve mathematical equations to improve weapon accuracy. Female naval officer, Grace Hopper, wrote a program to translate English into code. Throughout the 50s and 60s, men worked primarily on hardware while women worked behind the scenes in computer programming, which was viewed as menial and mindless. By the late 60s, programming became the new form of traditional secretarial work and more women pursued degrees in computer science. However, the technological boom during the 80s in Silicon Valley caused a shift – from hardware to computer engineering, and thus the great minds of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates emerged. Popular culture at this point went off the deep end, targeting men and painting the picture that everyone who worked in tech was brilliant, nerdy awkward as hell and male bodied. Many video game consoles developed during this time were classified as toys, which were predominately placed in the boys’ section of stores and still are today. Doing this creates a “head start” for boys, which isn’t apparent until high school and college when women feel that they’re already behind even though they’re just getting started.
Purposely not registering for classes in the STEM field, the panic attacks during my computer science class – it all makes sense now. I was intimidated and unprepared. But times are changing. Although female representation in the tech industry hasn’t been growing at an exponential rate, it is growing. And there are more headlines now than ever before on gender equality, equal pay and putting an end to bro culture. For anyone out there questioning a career in technology, prove yourself and your insecurities wrong. I ended up receiving an A in my Computer Science class and to this day, my professor still displays my work as an example for new students.
So, if history has given men a head start…then game on.