Fighting Stereotypes: #ILookLikeAnEngineer

Once upon a time a software company posted pictures of their employees. The end.

Or not. One of their engineers happened to be a beautiful woman. Out of nowhere she started getting comments and messages, “You don’t look like an engineer, are you sure you’re not a model they hired to pretend to be an engineer?” And ruder. Her response? #ILookLikeAnEngineer

When I first started down the path of becoming a programmer people would tell me that the money wasn’t good (it was just after the dot com crash) or the hours were awful or any number of negatives. Then they would say wouldn’t you rather be a teacher? Or a project manager? Or a product owner? Or a designer? No, actually, I enjoy the act of programming.

There’s a stereotype around what software engineers look like. The effect of that stereotype is that people who don’t fit the stereotype constantly have to explain why they want to be a software engineer. Since women are assumed to be worse at math than men the reason they want to be software engineers is often thought to be something other than love of the (at times) mathematical nature of the work. Instead of defending ideas that I have around programming I end up defending that I can even have those ideas as a woman.

The #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign touched me. I may not look like a model but I have had been told I don’t look like an engineer. I posted my picture to twitter. I write software. I am an engineer. I look like an engineer.

A week later my boss at Billups asked me if I’d seen #ILookLikeAnEngineer. I showed him my post. He said they wanted to help with the Indiegogo campaign. Then he and the owner of Billups threw the weight of the whole company behind helping get the best possible out-of-home billboard campaign for the project. The team handled the campaign from conception to execution, organizing the printers, getting good deals through contacts in the area, making the whole thing bigger and better pro bono. Yes, pro bono, no charge for our services.

We got the message all over the Bay area – we have coverage in Oakland (Coliseum), Bay Bridge, 101 (Santa Clara & Palo Alto), downtown SF, BART stations. Media formats include: Bulletins (static & digital), Metro-Lights, 2-sheets. (Yes, I’m quoting a coworker who was talking about what we did. I just build the software that helps organize the data and process, everything I know about the process comes from amazing people like Kristana.) AND we partnered with a great data company called ESRI that makes it possible to provide a density map of people in the Bay Area that had a Computer / Mathematical focus for strategic targeted planning. (They also often host the local #golang meetup.)

All that launched this week. What started with me caring about how software engineers who don’t fit the stereotype are viewed became the company I work for doing amazing things for the community. The official press release is here. And yes, they stuck my face on the billboard. Luckily I wasn’t alone and one of the other women who builds Billups’ software was willing to have her picture taken too. So here we are, looking like engineers before going back to work programming in Go, writing tests, creating data structures, building databases, and maintaining our legacy PHP codebase.

Alex & Rebekah looking like engineers

photo credit: Victor Garcia

Categories: feminism, geeky, philosophy, women in computer science | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Fighting Stereotypes: #ILookLikeAnEngineer

  1. > There’s a stereotype around what software engineers look like.

    SEE ALSO: a garbage collector, a construction worker, a sewage maintenance worker, a truck driver, a florist, a make up artist, a professional cellist, a plumber, an airline pilot, a soldier, an aromatherapist… :)

    Why do you think that is? Is it due to some conspiracy, or is it because the people who do these jobs tend to look/ speak/ act roughly the same, and are often of the same class and/ or gender and/ or personality type?

    > The effect of that stereotype is that people who don’t fit the stereotype constantly have to explain why they want to be a software engineer.

    Yes. Wannabe, male florists, female construction workers, short basketball players, male beauty consultants, female engineers, female train drivers, male harpists, female forestry workers are all in the same boat as you. They all have to justify their career ambitions – or at the very least confirm that is what they just said they want to do, in case we heard them wrong the first time ;)

    Being a novelty means being treated as a novelty. Sometimes this can have negative consequences, other times positive consequences. Often there are no significant consequences at all, other than the 20 seconds it takes to confirm that you are indeed a statistical anomaly, and perhaps satisfy someone’s natural curiosity as to why that might be.

    > So here we are, looking like engineers …

    Would you agree that, statistically speaking, you do NOT look like engineers (with the caveat that as more women enter the various fields of engineering this is becoming less the case)?

    Would you ever think to start some sort of campaign to make female construction workers, female plumbers or female garbage collectors more ‘visible’ and accepted in society?

    Why focus on female engineers and not these other ‘male dominated’ occupations?….. Does this question even need answering? ;)

    • I actually think that we should combat all stereotypes that limit a person’s ability to enter or succeed in their chosen field. There is work being done for female construction workers and many of the other fields you mention. As an engineer I focus on the issue that directly effects me. I don’t negate the need for these other issues to be addressed. Why does it matter? There’s a shortage of workers in the tech industry. Why would you alienate or underestimate an available resource?

      • > There’s a shortage of workers in the tech industry…

        And one of the factors that leads to these kinds of problems is feminists encouraging women to sign up for certain careers, and telling them it is both their duty and in their interests to do so because women are somehow being ‘oppressed’ due to the fact they do not make up 50% of that career (although weirdly the lack of women garbage collectors is not oppression).

        It is not just encouragement either, as feminist politicians are increasingly legislating for women to be forced into certain fields and men to be forced out (female quotas, ‘positive sexual discrimination’, fast tracking etc).

        The result is that women are getting cajoled into certain careers paths they would otherwise not have chosen, believing that they are entering some prestigious men’s club of a job, previously not available to women due to the ‘patriarchy’.

        Then – half way through the university course or after a year of working in this field – the reality kicks in and they realise they never wanted to do this job/ course to begin with……. so they drop out of the course and switch to gender studies or psychology or whatever….. or if they are in work they drop out of the STEM career and get a job that actually does interest them like being a journalist or a social worker.

        In their wake they leave behind a gaping hole in that university course, or career which would have been filled by a man who DID genuinely have a passion for that career, were it not for the interference of feminism/ the state.

        There are examples of entire science departments being SHUT DOWN because feminists filled them up with women in the name of ‘gender equality'(pushing male students out in the process), and half way through the course these women all dropped out and switched to more ‘stereotypically’ female courses like psychology or gender studies.

        There is a reason why stereotypes exist.

        And there is a reason why women – in general – are less interested in STEM careers than men. A lot of young women find jobs with a high degree of social interaction (‘selling yourself’) and networking (a great way to look for a BF/ husband) far more appealing than jobs where you are locked in some lab five days a week, dressed in a lab coat, possibly getting your hands dirty at the same time.

        STEM careers (or any academic / technical career) are often a long hard slog up the ladder and a lot of women know that they will want to have kids anytime after their mid twenties, taking them out of the workforce (to whatever degree) for maybe the next 5 – 10 years). So naturally they are going to be less interested in a STEM career than some other more ‘mummy-friendly’ career which offers more flexibility, transferable skills (ie less specialised), more part time work opportunities and less gruelling hours.

        And women can AFFORD to make such career choices because – again in general – men’s role is traditionally to be the primary breadwinner. In a typical relationship, as soon as they start having kids she starts works less and earning less (and often stops working altogether), and he work more and earns more to compensate.

        It makes much less sense for women to embark on a ‘long haul’ specialised career knowing they are going to be having to put it all on hold for maybe ten years, which makes all that initial investment of time, energy and money a waste. Far better to get the sort of career you can easily flit in and out of.

        Likewise, men know that to attract women they are going to have to get a decent, well paying, stable career of the ‘long haul’ variety and become the dependable wage earner with long term prospects…. e the sort of man sensible women seek when looking for a man to breed with.

        So there are rational -scientific – reasons why careers like engineering tend to have more men in them than women. If a woman wants to buck the trend she is absolutely 100% free to do so. There are no barriers to entry into STEM ….except increasingly there are… but only for men (thanks to feminists policies).

        People who campaign for women to be railroaded into certain careers for (gender) political reasons are doing tremendous damage.

        They are also belittling young women by treating them as if they do not have minds of their own. Steering young women into certain university courses and careers strips them of their agency to make their own decisions. It is a form of objectification of women.

        And when these agendas are turned into actual policies they can end up forcing men OUT of those careers, which is sexual discrimination (He for She).

        And when these sexist and belittling policies are only used to get women into respectable, prestigious and high paying careers it is pure hypocrisy to attach the label ‘gender equality’ to them.

        ‘He for she’ is not more about gender equality than ‘blacks for whites’ is about racial equality.

      • I won’t be approving any further comments from you. You speak conspiracy theories with no links to research to back up what you’re saying. It’s unproductive. If something comes through that includes documentation of what you claim I will consider allowing the comment through but what you wrote above is complete bullshit.

  2. As a side note it is possible to do a web search on curiosetta to see that these comments are rather par for the course in methodology. It’s always possible to research the general behavior of commenters online and then from there it’s just a choice as to whether to allow their words to live on your site. In this case the comments were illustrative to the point of the post.

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