What do you do? “I’m a progammer” she said

For young women, the idea of breaking into the programming industry can be daunting. Imposter syndrome is real, perhaps a symptom of bro gamer, boys do tech better culture.

“What do you do?” “I’m a programmer” may well be met by an “Oh Really!” when the answer comes from a man, but regrettably chances are the response might more likely be “Oh Really?” when this answer is supplied by a woman.

Only 20% of the programmers in the world are women, a statistic unchanged in the last few decades. This is true, even though the empirical evidence is women are not just as good as men at this job – frequently they are even better. Women have played a considerable yet oft unspoken role in the progression of the IT and programming industry. Throughout history, have been working on, and developing code right next to the men, and yet, for some reason, more women gravitate more towards careers in arts, health, law and linguistics than coding… even though the mental gymnastics required are not greatly different.

Famous Female Programmers and Female Pioneers in Technology
The tech industry is heavily dominated by men, though as mentioned, some of the most influential people in programming history have been women. Before there was a sense of segregation in programming, women were found as often as men in the computer rooms.

The first piece of code ever written for a computing machine was in fact written by a female mathematician by the name of Ada Lovelace. Lovelace is not the only woman to have contributed, though she is the most well known. Grace Hopper was a computer scientist and navy seal and paved the way for one of the most highly regarded coding languages COBOL. This was the first coding language that used words instead of numbers.

And then there was ENIAC, a group of six female engineers that worked on the first programmable computer during World War II. From this, it’s clear women have contributed on a large scale to the progression of programming. The secret history of women in programming, perhaps if more widely known, would help not to deter women away from the career and we would not have such a gender imbalance.

Why might women be better at programming?
In 1967, Grace Hopper said that programming is a natural thing for women. She compared it to planning meals and events and pieces of music, where everything should be prepared in advance, and you must schedule different things to obtain satisfactory results.

The idea behind this was to try and reduce the stigma, even held by the most conservative of men. Of course, to us, this seems wildly outdated, which is why the next reason is called the “Survivorship Bias”. The idea is that, if a woman has managed to obtain a successful career in coding, despite all the challenges getting there entails, her professional level is higher than her male colleagues. Statistically, there are also more female software developers with PhDs than men. As women face more criticism than men, they have to work a lot harder.

Some women who might well have an aptitude for programming may instead end up with a career in music or linguistics. What most people do not appreciate, is these careers actually require similar skills as programming.

Studies of the brain show reading music or performing linguistic feats utilises the same part of the brain as coding. A woman successful in music or linguistics would very likely be just as successful in programming. All require above-average abilities in memorising syntax, recognising patterns and problem-solving.

Statistically,  studies have shown that the code of female programmers is more often accepted than code from their male counterparts. Not because they are female, but because the code more often arrives correctly, earlier.

There may be several theories as to why women are such good coders, but one of them lies in the brain. When men interact with the world, they use only one side of their brain, creative or logical.  When women interact, they use both sides of their brain in conjunction, thus the hypothesis this enables women to be faster and more accurate at certain tasks such as coding.

Women coders?  Are multi-threaded.

Will it be hard to be a female Programmer?
The short answer is maybe. Given that only 20% of programmers are women, the job would mean as a woman, you would be outnumbered by men. There are well known sexist stereotypes in place that give men the idea that women are not capable of producing work as good as theirs.

This stigma has drifted to the side of women, to the point women also believe they do not have the capabilities. Studies show that women who have 8 years of coding experience have the same level of confidence as men with no experience at all.

Not to mention, the same studies that found women’s code to be accepted more often and of better quality, found that this was only true when the women did not share their gender.

I know those statistics sound very daunting, enough to put some people off, but don’t worry! Below are some compiled tips to help you break into the tech industry as a woman with the least stress as possible.

Tips for Women Looking to Break into the Tech Industry

Tip number 1 – Expect respect, but earn it too. 
Anyone regardless of gender who wants to succeed in a programming team must be able to prove their value. Put yourself out there for new tasks, deliver work on time. Bring solutions to the table when there is a callout for them.

Continue to extend your knowledge.  Gain your degree.  Get your masters.  Extend your knowledge through relevant further target vocational training.  Gain industry accreditations.

Tip number 2 – ask for specific feedback.
Modern workplaces often foster a rolling monthly/quarterly feedback loop, where staff members get feedback from their supervisors, peers, and colleagues.

Take it seriously. Take it positively. (Not everyone does, seeing it as an imposition, or something to be tolerated as opposed to an opportunity to gain useful feedback.

If your feedback seems too generic, ask for more detail. Asking for specifics demonstrates you are invested in a good outcome, take pride and interest in the quality of work you produce but also ensure the feedback you get is not just boilerplate.

Tip number 3 – rebuff imposter syndrome.
It’s pretty unpleasant being in a work environment obsessing over whether or not you have the skills, or the right to be there. Imposter syndrome affects 70% of people at some point or another, and understandably in a male-dominated career, women are more susceptible. Studies show that highly skilled women experience this more often than lesser-skilled men when applying for the same position.

Tip number 4 – network.
Imagine having a hard day at work and the feeling of being outnumbered is worse than usual. Open your laptop and connect to women from other programming and software companies with whom you can share ideas, thoughts, and struggles. It’s a lot better than dealing with it on your own.

That is not to say you should limit your networking to women.  Make sure to network with men too. If you’re only networking with women, you aren’t networking with the largest population of people in positions of power in the tech industry. That’s not in your interests.

Tip number 5 – Understand you belong here.
Women were here from the beginning.  We have already achieved magnificent things, as could you.  You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.  Your gender in the workplace should not and won’t define you.  Your skills will. Your confidence in them. Your continued development of them will.

Is it Worth it to Pursue a Career in Programming as a Woman?
The short and unequivocal answer is yes!
If you enjoy programming or think you would enjoy programming then you should do it. Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success, and it is far easier to become great at something you are interested in, than something you are not. Michael Bobok said that all success takes place outside of the comfort zone.

Becoming a programmer as a woman guarantees you will experience some stigma, and maybe even a little competition; but it also means, that armed with the tips above, you will be helping to end the gender disparity and pave the way for future generations.

Interested in reading some more meaty studies on the women in programming?  Dive in below.

1. https://peerj.com/articles/cs-111/
Peer J Computer Science, retrieved August 12th

2. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7180131
IEEE explore, retrieved August 12th