Woman in Computer Science

In the United States certain professions have gender attached. You can be a nurse or a male nurse, a teacher or a male teacher, a chef or a female chef, a computer programmer or a female computer programmer. I’ve known men who worked as librarians, teachers, and speech language therapists and they are all minorities. They go to conferences with hundreds of people and see maybe two or three other men. The male teachers in particular have their motives questions. Why would you want to work with children? (Are you a pedophile?) I am lucky not to have to deal with that question. There is a rudeness to it that hurts my soul.

I am a female computer programmer. I get asked if I wouldn’t rather be a project manager or the person who knows about tech but acts as the go-between for customers and “real” programmers instead of programming. I end up doing a lot of documentation (because it is important) and then worry that I will end up on the Docs team instead of coding where I love the work.

Ignorance and minorities go hand in hand. Not ignorance on the part of the minority but ignorance about minorities. It can range from hostility and stereotypes to the more “innocent” sort of ignorance that I now call Can I Touch Your Hair?

Every type of ignorance deserves its own response and each response is based on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. In the land of computers people are often shy, introverted and have a history of being bullied. Men and women alike with years of high school under their belt where they were the ones who were beat up or had tampons thrown at them. Some grow aggressive, some quietly submit, some educate. I call these categories Malcom X, Uncle Tom, and Martin Luther King. I try to emulate Martin Luther King.

Being on disability as I recover from brain surgery gives me a lot of time to think. I remember back to a moment in time when I brought up how differently women write their resumes than men. We were looking to hire a new team member and we were comparing two candidates, one an over qualified male and the other an under qualified female. My male team lead said, “Since you’ve brought up the gender differences would you mind if I asked how I could tell if a woman was exaggerating her abilities or lying about something on her resume?”

The question really threw me off. I didn’t know how to answer. Instead I walked through her resume and showed him where she had chosen to do projects like move databases from MS Access to MySQL (a smart move) because she was bored with what she was being given. Her history looked a lot like mine.

We ended up hiring neither and kept looking for someone closer to the middle ground.

Now here in the future I feel haunted by this moment. I feel like I missed the chance to educate him on something about women in computer science. Women will only put on their resumes what they absolutely know they can do and have had actual experience with. We know walking in that our skills will be judged from the get go and there will be no time to “learn it on the side after I get hired.” We can’t afford to exaggerate on our resumes or, at the very least, we feel we can’t.

I wish I could go back in time and say, “She seems like a real go-getter. Let’s hire her.”

8 thoughts on “Woman in Computer Science”

  1. I’m currently studying computer science and it has been an interesting experience. As I progress, there are fewer and fewer women in the CS classes. A couple times, I have been the only female in the class. It’s both daunting and encouraging. However narcissistic it sounds, I feel proud to be pursuing a field where women are sorely underrepresented. It saddens me that not more women are in CS or other STEM fields, but I feel like I’m helping pave the way even in my small way.

  2. Does it seem like there was a time recently that there were a lot more women entering the STEM fields? It seemed that way to me, but I’m very cognizant that I have blind spots due to my background and various privileges. (straight, white, and male for those who read this who don’t know me) It felt like there were a few years where a lot of women entered the tech fields, and like that has now dropped off. It saddens me for multiple reasons, but I have to admit that I kind of judge startups by how many women are in the truly technical positions, as well as how many are at the executive level – it seems like the healthiest companies excel in both categories, and it was part of what drew me to my current position.

    I chose to date (and soon marry) a self-identified feminist, so this has been a common conversational topic for us.

    1. Unless they hired someone while I was on medical leave I am now the last female engineer at work.

      I don’t know what is happening to women in STEM fields. Brain not feeling healed up enough to contemplate too much and really I have far too many horror stories.

      I stay out of stubbornness and because coding scratches an itch that nothing else scratches.

      1. If you look outside of Engineering proper to people who still code and are technical, I believe there are 4 more, of varying experience levels – I won’t evaluate how they rate technically other than to say they all have a lot more talent and experience in that aspect than I do.

        In any case, I know a lot of us are looking forward to seeing you here again soon and are glad that you’re healing up. Best wishes!

  3. “Women will only put on their resumes what they absolutely know they can do and have had actual experience with.”

    This comment shocked me. I know there are certain people who are taught to be unscrupulous with their resume in order to land an interview, but surely all professionals do exactly as you say above? But then I realized that your implication must be correct.

    For two decades, then, I have only put on my resume what I could defend in an interview. This may have cost me interviews, but then I have to live with myself at the end of the day, and it’ll come out in the interview anyway. I can’t see a benefit here. Also, there’s a type of employer I look for. I don’t think I’m overly picky, but there are good managers and bad ones. The hard part is sifting them.

    1. How much Java do you need to know to put Java on your resume? Are you willing to put asp because you know jsp and could learn asp in a weekend? If you know C++ and the job calls for C do you put that you know C?

      Maybe it’s the guys I hang out with but there have always been a good number who are willing to “fake it til you make it.”

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