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May 13, 2014 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Can you reassure me that majoring in computer science and trying to find a job in technology and software as a woman isn't going to be terrible?

I've recently realized that I've been trying to convince myself to major in something safer because I'm worried about what I can do with a computer science degree. I think I really want to be a system admin or maybe a network admin, or maybe just something else in the field...but I hear so many horror stories about being a woman in the technology field, and it's worrying me to the point of possibly picking a career I don't really want.

There are good stories too, right? Happy endings? Do you have experience or anecdotal evidence to boost my morale?
posted by trogdole to Work & Money (44 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
The general rule is the more women in a field, the lower the pay. So there's that on the other side.
posted by asperity at 9:46 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


This is really anecdotal, but the system admin/head of the tiny IT department at my all-girls high school was a woman, and (though I didn't think anything of it at the time) it was pretty cool that the final authority on technology there was female. She was a good role model, especially for the techier students, many of whom have gone on to careers in science, graphic design, etc. I'm sure she had something to do with me not being afraid of technology. It wasn't until I was out of high school that I encountered the idea that tech can be a rough field for women, and by then I was old enough to realize that the reasons for that are pure bullshit, not anything intrinsically wrong with women.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:51 AM on May 13


I dropped my CS major and have always wished I hadn't, because the line of work I did wind up in is unstable and low-paying and stressful. Sure, my (mostly female) co-workers are nice, but...yeah.

So, I can't guarantee you that it won't be terrible, but I can't guarantee you that anything else won't be terrible, too.

Work on getting a support network and leap at any mentoring opportunities; join professional organizations in general and those for women in particular; give yourself backup. Have fulfilling hobbies and things outside of work, too.
posted by wintersweet at 9:53 AM on May 13


I am often frustrated by the sexism in my field (robotics engineering). I generally find the problem is outside my coworkers -- vendors, partner companies, clients. It is infuriating at times.

I absolutely love the work and would not give it up for anything in the world. It helps that I do love my coworkers at my current job and my company is based in a fairly liberal city where most of my coworkers have career-oriented spouses (many also in STEM). It makes for a good atmosphere. But I really do love the work. If you think you will love it too, the frustration of the sexism will be manageable.

Find female colleagues and friends to be a sanity check for you. It will help. I advise this even if you're like me and historically haven't had tons of female friends. It becomes important at this stage.
posted by olinerd at 9:53 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


You might find it worthwhile to poke around the Geek Feminism Blog. Especially several years ago, they tended to run personal stories and anecdotes from and about women in tech.
posted by jaguar at 9:59 AM on May 13


You can find good places to work. I work in a data and analytics solutions company and we have a bunch of women in management and senior development roles.

There is clear evidence that there are problems and challenges associated with being a woman in tech but I hope that those will get better over time. As olinerd says, it is possible to find a shop with the right attitude where you'll find a good or even great working environment.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:59 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I work in public health, and I'd estimate that my workplace is three-quarters women, including lots of programmers crunching data from clinical trials. Our core IT tilts a little more towards guys, but there are plenty of women there too, and the kind of behavior you're dreading generally doesn't fly in this environment.
posted by sapere aude at 10:05 AM on May 13


I can't speak for what it is like elsewhere--but there are many, many IT firms in the Washington DC area in which the number of women on any given project are about the same as the number of men. Most of the work around here is in support of large scale federal government software development. The federal government has been a leader in encouraging diversity in its contractor workforce.

At my current IT firm, I report to a female vice president who is an outstanding manager--there are many of those, not to mention many program and project managers who are female.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:06 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


As a woman with a 20-year career in technology, the one thing I would not do is development or engineering at a technology startup or game company. There is a culture there that is toxic and still pretty proud of it.

But there's another 98 percent of the working world that is not that. They are hospitals and trucking companies and pool tile manufacturers and widget makers who have sales systems and accounting systems and workstations and servers and in-house software developers and DBAs and cool lasers that cut stuff and high-tech warehouses and all that. Basically every company in the western world requires IT services on some kind of scale. And in most circumstances, aside from technology-agnostic bullshit because sexists gonna sexist, those are generally very equitable environments even if not split 50/50. (Which they are not. The distribution is still pretty bad.)

I will say that there's an entry-level curve in IT that can be a real eyeroller because you are dealing with a lot of very young people without a lot of experience acting like professionals, and the bozo factor is high. But all it takes to outpace whose people is to be mature and act competent. The bozos tend to be high-maintenance whiners who irritate their managers *and* the higher-ups, which is the kiss of death at a normal company.

My two pieces of advice to a woman in the middle of her CS education would be: 1) while in school, consider optimizing your skillset toward business intelligence development*, 2) when you are looking for a job, look for women on the management team. Not necessarily IT management, just at all. If it's impossible or not a priority to get women into management there, that attitude will trickle all the way down and leave you with a truncated career path at that company.

*In part because it leaves you well-rounded and educated in development, but with database skills. You can do just about anything with that, but data-crunching will always get you a job. Also learn the fuck out of Excel.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:09 AM on May 13 [25 favorites]


I'm a male software developer and while women are definitely the minority in the field, I've worked with and have otherwise known a lot of women who have built careers in IT and I would like to think that overall it's a field that women can thrive in without having to face a lot of gender discrimination. One tip I would give that in general the working environment in large public companies is going to be better than smaller start-ups or small businesses, because the few people in charge of a small company generally set the tone of working there, and sometimes they can be sexist or harmful in other ways that would not be tolerated in normal corporate culture.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:12 AM on May 13


Can I truly reassure you? Not really. First of all, I'm male, so anything I have to say is coming from that perspective. I do have a lot of friends in this industry and some of them happen to be women. All of them have put up with various levels of crap, but it's pretty clear they do this because they love it and would be unhappy doing most anything else. Several work at companies that have been leaders in addressing the barriers that keep women out of tech and have been active in those efforts. There are absolutely employers who "get it" more than others, especially outside of the startup scene. There's a surprising amount of industries and types of workplaces that need IT professionals, anything from freelancing to Fortune 500 companies with HR departments and binders full of policies to garages with beer kegs and brogrammers, so there's some good variety for you to find what works best for you.

I'd encourage you to seek out women in the field and discuss their experiences before you make a final decision. There are a number of mentoring programs designed to address the gender gap, perhaps active at your college, that can connect you with folks who have been working a few years who would be happy to share their experiences. Failing that, if you ask around, many professionals would gladly have a lunch or coffee with you where you can talk about this stuff as you make your decision. There are also conferences and organizations for women in tech, which might be useful to you.

If you think you "really want" to be in tech, then I really hope you stick with it. The presence of assholes in the world shouldn't get to dictate what you get to do.
posted by zachlipton at 10:16 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


My office mate in gradschool started this mailing list which might be a good place to ask your question.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:22 AM on May 13


- There are few majors that are more likely to directly lead to a job than computer science, so I wouldn't worry about that part. If you can pass Steve Yegge's five essential phone screen questions by the end of college (https://sites.google.com/site/steveyegge2/five-essential-phone-screen-questions), it's pretty likely you'll be able to find a good job.

- A lot of the recent horror stories (Github, Techcrunch) have to do with smaller, startup-type companies. I can't say there's zero sexism in larger companies, but in my anecdotal experience, they're a lot better at enforcing rules to create positive work environments and providing strong support networks for women/minority employees. (I'm a man but I work in an office of a large company where 1/3 of the engineers are female, many of whom are in high-level leadership positions.)

- Not to get all "then the terrorists win" on you, but it's worth considering that you giving up something you really want to do because you're worried about sexists is a victory for sexism.
posted by UncleBoomee at 10:22 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Not going to lie, I've had a lot of problems as a woman in IT.

However, many of them hinged on the fact that the type of work I do involves working with an ever changing bunch of people. So my regular workplace might be fine, but I'd start new projects with different clients every few months or so and have to start all over again with proving myself and establishing that I'm actually in charge of this project and not in some admin role. That stuff normally does get cleared up, but it could get grating knowing you were going to have to do it a few times a year.

As a system or network admin, that should be much less of an issue. You probably won't have to deal with the sheer volume of different people, and your workplace should stay pretty consistent.

And I was gonna say what Lyn Never did, too. Startups can be pretty heinous, but larger, more established companies often have much less of a bro culture thing going on. They're also less likely to crash and burn and start bouncing your paychecks.

It can really suck to have people assume you're always just there to provide admin support, but I think it'd suck worse if it were true.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:23 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


I am a thirty something woman who majored in CS and currently work in IT - you should definitely stick with it! I don't want to downplay the difficulties that many women have experienced, but overall it definitely makes sense to pursue a career in IT. Perhaps I am in the minority but I have been working in IT for over 10 years and have never had a problem relating to being a woman/toxic culture.

There are so many options that are available to you, you don't have to be coding at a start up if that is not what you want. Others have already addressed the different routes that you can take, but I would like to reiterate points that Lyn Never made above: in general, larger companies may be a better option than small start ups because they have some type of HR organization. This applies to tech and non-tech careers. Among all of my friends, people typically run into more instances of unprofessional/hostile behavior in small places where it is really run by one or a few people. Also, when meeting with people/interviewing, pay attention to culture and go with your instincts. One time I ended up on a project with a lot of frat types and while the environment was fine and never hostile, it was just not a great fit for my personality.
posted by seesom at 10:29 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My husband is a software developer and works for a female department head and is horrified with how little respect she gets from the other department heads. I do think he gets madder about how she is treated than she does as she claims she is used to it by now.

The main problem is not that it's so much the department and other tech people that are giving her problems it is the whole corporate culture of the company that is very much a uber competitive boys club. My husband has also worked with female developers in other more "normal" companies and didn't really have any problems, and has also worked for a female owned company and again didn't notice any problems. Of course being a guy he might be oblivious to more subtle problems.

A lot will depend on the corporate culture of the place you are working, and the good news is if you take up this line of work you will find moving between jobs and companies so much easier than a lot of other career paths, if a company you are working at is uncomfortable for you, you don't have to stay. As others have said larger companies usually have HR departments etc in place so sexism is a lot less of a problem.

For the love of God avoid start ups, unless it's your own and even then be prepared for vast amounts of poop to be flung your way.
posted by wwax at 10:32 AM on May 13


I hear so many horror stories about being a woman in the technology field, and it's worrying me to the point of possibly picking a career I don't really want.

Programming does have a reputation for being a total boyzone, but I (male) don't recall seeing a particularly egregious lack of professionalism in any of my former workplaces.

Sexism does manifest in truly loathsome ways in certain programming-related online forums, but I think that has more to do with the influence of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory on poorly moderated packs of mouthbreathing basement-dwelling manbabies than it does with day to day professional workplace experience.

If you're good at what you do, in computing as in any other field, you will pretty rapidly get respect from your colleagues - unless you've been unlucky enough to find yourself employed by an organization that's just generally toxic. But I don't believe the proportion of toxic organizations among those hiring programmers and netadmins is notably high, and in any case no such organization is something that anybody with a shred of self-respect would keep working in for more than the absolute minimum feasible time.

As a woman in the workplace you're going to end up the target for an irritating amount of flung shit regardless of what field you end up working in; as a man I get to deal with the lesser but still genuine annoyance of guilt-by-association for having the same body plan as most of the flingers. But there's very little either of us can do to fix that in the short term. It's certainly not something I'd recommend switching career paths in order to avoid, mainly because I don't think that would work.
posted by flabdablet at 10:40 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I'm a man who majored in CS and works in Software Development. I have heard the horror stories, and heard some stupid things uttered from male coworkers, but it was just as bad when I was a waiter. I'm not sure what your fallback major is, or what it would be like from a female perspective to compare the two, but I hope you end up majoring in Computer Science and kicking ass as an IT professional. Don't take crap from anyone. If you're good, your skills are in demand, so if the first place you end up working doesn't feel good, leave. Go somewhere else. Stay positive; healthy workplaces do exist in tech.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:50 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


If it helps any - the horror stories in technology don't just apply to women. You can also be the wrong age, have gone to the wrong school, be the wrong race, etc. There's pretty much an infinite number of reasons people can find to screw you over.

My advice to you is the same as to anyone looking to get involved in technology that's also not completely socially inept: get enough technology training to be dangerous/knowledgeable, but leverage your emotional intelligence. That might mean client facing or management roles - but for heaven's sake steer far clear of the quién es más nerdy, tú o yo game that plays out in the strictly technical trenches.

As a data point - my company has significantly more minorities and women than most in software, but during the last annual strategic planning sessions, out of probably 30-40 people in the room, I counted exactly three women and three people of color - percentages far below those seen in the company overall. It's not the horror show that investment banking is, but it's definitely not fair.

To answer your question: yes, do it. You'll need to be better at your job than some, and you'll be rewarded less than some, but ultimately you'll be helping move the needle to some place better.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:54 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Stick with it! Woman here, majored in CS, work in Bioinformatics (for 10ish years?). Have experienced a very teeny tiny amount of gender related irritation over the years. I think a lot depends on the culture of your workplace.

I have found it to be a good, interesting, creative career path.
posted by mgogol at 10:57 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I'm a software developer. It's a terrific career that pays well and offers steady employment and a lot of creative and intellectual satisfaction.

There are a lot of bad employers in the field, but you also have a lot of options. Don't forget how valuable you are and insist on having an employer who basically aligns with your values, whatever those may be. Not all workplaces fit everyone, so be sure to find workplaces that fit you.
posted by chrchr at 11:01 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Not all start-ups are brogrammer territory, but there is a noticeable tendency for high-pressure start-up companies to foster that kind of toxic, muscle-flexing, my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours mentality among engineers, whether they intend to or not. I worked for a certain large, unsustainably fast-growing company in my area which shall remain unnamed. They got kicked out of the tech community dodgeball tournament after one of their male players called a female player on an opposing team a nasty, misogynistic term as "trash talking" during a game. These are the people you want to avoid, the chest-bumping Rails-acolyte demographic.

Thankfully, not every company is like that. I worked for a larger tech company before that, and I'd say maybe 40-50% of my coworkers were female, and many of them in senior positions. My boss's boss was a woman in her late 30s. The company really did seem to champion women in technical leadership roles, and they also publicly supported LGBT rights, among other things. Now I work for another start-up which does a much better job of not hiring toxic people who just want to chug Red Bull and whack ping pong balls at each other.
posted by deathpanels at 11:01 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I'm a mid-20s woman who graduated several years ago and now work as a developer at a big company. I really enjoy what I do! And I absolutely love the team I work with.

I do think that it is important to ask lots of questions during your interview. Ask to talk to women in the company/team before you accept an offer. Listen to them, and listen between the lines to see if they're doing real work and given equal weight, or if they're relegated to refactors and dealing with customers.

I have also interviewed candidates who were unsuitable because they were condescending to me. I don't know if it's gender-related or just their general cockiness, but at a company that has a culture that tolerance/acceptance/non-discrimination is important, those sexist people more or less get filtered out.

I have talked with many women in tech (since, as you know, it's a pretty big issue) and my experience has been that our generation has a lot better experience than the previous generation. And also that the specific company/team matters a lot.

Lastly, I found that people in college were a lot more about being flashy and talking about the new cool thing they learned. I could never keep up with the front page of slash dot or github when I was in college. But in industry, it's your core fundamentals that matter. At the end of the day, it's about data structures, and I work a ton with C++. Sure, people still learn new things, and that's still cool, but there's also a lot more respect for know you shit well, which almost nobody does in college.

Also, it's stable. There are jobs. And it pays well.
posted by ethidda at 11:02 AM on May 13


A woman scientist friend who has written about gender and the technology field told me about a study in which Star Trek posters discourage women from pursuing CS. I think the lesson is not to be disheartened by the threat of geeky environments full of weird nerds, because the field has become so huge and diverse that you need not be consigned to one.
posted by johngoren at 11:02 AM on May 13


I think any field with rigorous training and high wages is going to be full of crap for you to deal with as a woman.

Tech has a lot going for it as a field in that there is awareness and activism, high demand (national and international), it's portable, and there are a crazy diverse range of work environments.

Hypothetical female me would take the software-oriented tech career over being an attorney, physician, professor, lab tech/researcher, engineer...

Don't let the downside blind you to the upside. Everything has downsides, but very few paths have the same upsides.
posted by jsturgill at 11:09 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


You can use your brain to make things better for yourself, as others have pointed out here.

Then, you can use your brain to make things better for others!
posted by amtho at 11:14 AM on May 13


Do you have experience or anecdotal evidence to boost my morale?

- Overall, on average, things are improving. My own (male) impression is that that the push for cultural change is not just happening, but gathering momentum. You're still a few years away, people are clearing the path for you. There will still be weeds, but some of it will be tamped down compared to today.

- These industries need a more balanced workforce.

- Some workplaces are sufficiently active about that that they'll place additional value on attracting and keeping you, not less, even though there are also some other places that are bastions of sexism. (In contrast to stereotype workplace sexism, my purely anecdotal impression is that in tech, companies with a predominantly younger workforce tend to be the higher risk ones, because those are the places which can end up with a college-frat monoculture)

- Making the world a better place takes a toll, but being a part of clearing the path for those that come after you is something to be proud of.
posted by anonymisc at 11:14 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I studied CS as an undergrad and have worked in many male-dominated large tech companies. I have NEVER experienced blatant, abusive, sexism in school or in the workplace. Yes, it does exist in many schools and companies but it is not a given and there is a lot you can do to stand up for yourself - be loud, ask questions, don't be afraid of being called a "bitch" or "bossy" or whatever. Just work hard and contribute and demand what you deserve (don't ask or apologize!), especially when it comes to pay and benefits.

Also, most of the directors and many of the executives I work with at my current company are female. There are still more men than women overall in these positions, but it is inspiring to see that ratio change over time and to work for a company that is doing its part.

Do it!
posted by joan_holloway at 11:22 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I am a female CS major who's been doing programming for about 6 years. I have worked in companies where there are more female programmers than male, but everybody above program manager was male. I currently work in a company where there are only a handful of female employees at all, and I'm the only female programmer. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, the horror stories are outliers. At least on the programming side, there's a lot of little microaggressions (although that word's probably too strong) that make you roll your eyes. You'll get emails that refer to your group as "gentlemen". You'll get a few joking "woman doing tech?!" comments. You'll have colleagues that try to put you in the "office mom" or "tech secretary" positions. But mostly you just need to be careful about where you choose to work. Make sure you get a feel for the company culture BEFORE signing on the dotted line. There are truly some awesome tech jobs out there, and god knows we need more women willing to go out and apply for them.
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:59 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I'm a female developer and I was recently promoted into a position where I have a design and directing role along with my development work. I work at company that has recently grown its way out of being a startup and I started when there were only two other developers on staff.

I think the main benefit of being a female programmer is the high demand. If you find yourself in a working environment where you don't feel respected you can always take your ball and go to another company, especially if you keep your skills sharp. I've worked for companies where I felt dismissed and the management didn't listen to me. I left and now work for a company that values and trusts me enough to put me in a leadership role. No one talks over me, wastes my time or makes little jokes at my expense. I would not be in this job if I had not decided that I was done with the last one.

That said, I love my job and I love the amazing things that I can build. I love presenting at conferences and have found the wider programming community to be nothing but welcoming and supportive.

Also, I don't know if this is in the cards for you, but being a programmer has mixed very well with being a mom due to the incredibly flexible hours
posted by Alison at 12:25 PM on May 13


I'm a female CS major about to graduate in a few weeks with a software engineering job lined up. SO I can't report back yet on what my experiences will be like, although based on the experiences of older friends (also female engineers) at the company I am hopeful.

I also interned at a small startup last summer, the kind of place that easily develops a "reputation," but my experience was wholly positive. The company, while small, had a focus on work-life balance with women in management positions (though not currently on the technical side) and women in development roles who were respected. So don't rule out startups entirely, either--it's very much a case-by-case kind of thing.
posted by serelliya at 1:34 PM on May 13


I am a woman who majored in CS ten years ago and have been working as a software developer (most of) the rest of that time. I don't regret it for a second.

This has been my experience; yours may vary:

I have never had any trouble finding a job. The system worked perfectly for me -- I landed a paid internship while still finishing my degree, got hired on full-time at the same company when I was finished, and then moved on a year later to something better-paying. When I decided to make a detour a few years later into arts marketing, the person hiring me LOVED that I had proven technical skills. I painlessly transitioned back into software development after realizing I missed coding. I get email nibbles from recruiters regularly.

Funnily enough, when I was doing my degree (2000-2004ish), everyone was fresh off the dotcom bust and people left and right were warning me that prospects were lousy and that there were no jobs in tech. The student listserv was full of doom and gloom and enrolment in the CS program at my school was dropping considerably. But the reality for me turned out to be very rosy. I'm not sure what the reality is for new grads now -- the current narrative, from what I can tell, seems to be a mix of tech boosterism with doom and gloom for everyone else.

Yes, the sexism is real and horror stories are easy to find on the internet. But the sexism I had to worry about the most was the stuff inside my own head. There was a little voice that told me that I didn't fit in, that I wasn't good enough, that those other guys were smarter and had been doing it for longer and they all thought I was just a stupid girl who had no business being there. My program was about 10% women and the feeling of uneasy conspicuousness, just the sense that I was being watched and judged, was a lot more powerful than any comments anyone actually made. Going to the CS women's group at my school helped a lot.

The things that have impacted me the most have been having to defend my geek cred, having an extra hoop to jump through to prove that I'm a "real programmer," and having to figure out what my tech identity looked like as a person who wasn't interested in being "one of the guys" when it came to my clothing and personal presentation, worldview, and non-tech interests. Yep, there were plenty of tone-deaf and sexist comments, as well as lots of more subtle dismissals and minimizing, but no outright abuse. Plenty of people experience worse, but I wasn't one of them. It also improved substantially once I and my colleagues were a few years out of university.
posted by beatrice rex at 2:49 PM on May 13


So Obscure Reference gave you a link to the Systers mailing list upthread. They also have a website and an annual conference. Here's another link you may find useful.

My degree is EE -- actually more of a Computer Engineering degree and I've been in product development for over 30 years. I am currently a vice president of engineering for a firm with > $5Bn in annual sales that serves the Cable industry. I'm also female. In the late 80's I became the first female engineering manager in a site of > 2000 employees in Northern Colorado of a high tech firm I'm sure you have heard of.

Yes, there is sexism, both internal (per beatrice rex) and external still in this industry. But, it is better than it was 30 years ago. The money is good, the work is interesting, and I like to feel like I'm changing the culture just by being who I am. (There was a good book published about 10 years ago on that subject titled Tempered Radicals).

If you really love computer science, I would stay in the field. Illegitimi non carborundum and all that :). If you like analytical problem solving and the prospects of good employment and good money, you might want to look into accounting which has recently become a lot more female friendly according to press reports.

Good luck with your career -- I envy you the technological advances you will get to see in your lifetime (assuming you are a traditional student and therefore much younger than I am :)).
posted by elmay at 3:18 PM on May 13


I've been in increasingly responsible positions in software engineering for 18 years and I say don't let fears and generalizations scare you off.
posted by matildaben at 3:22 PM on May 13


If you've run into a professor/instructor/lecturer that's giving you trouble along those lines, you might feel stuck with them if they are the only one teaching the course you need. If you are facing discriminatory grading based on your gender, your dean of students (NOT the department dean) might be able to help.

After you get out though? You can run into a toxic environment in any field. What you do then is get a new job somewhere else. In that sense, CS is a safe degree compared to something with worse job prospects.
posted by yohko at 4:54 PM on May 13


I graduated a few years ago with a degree in Computer Science and am now working for a large company. I've had good experiences.

At school, I've had classist slights from professors but never ever sexist slights (or considered another way, I am more susceptible to classism than sexism); my teammates are exceedingly kind.

Here's are some key aspects:

1. When I was interviewing, I had my choice of two teams. Both had managers that believed in me, whether from internship or the interview. It's beneficial to work for someone who believes in you instead of seeing you as cog + stereotypes-about-women.

I chose the team that had a. multiple mothers and b. married men c. from countries where women are not as rare in computer science (RICE: Russia India China "Europe").

The result: My team does not have "stay late and code" evenings, or anything that rewards heroic inputs of sheer time. We have structured planning and predictable on-call schedules, which is important not only to me, but also to the colleague just had twins (he goes home in the middle of the day to help his wife with feeding) and the other colleague, who is learning to climb mountains / recover gracefully from sunburn.

Basically, don't join teams of young single american-raised men who have nothing to do but play in the office.

2. Saturation. My team's program manager (she who keeps the empire in line) is -- a woman. My boss's boss's boss is a woman. I guess I make a point to follow female researchers on twitter. My floor, uncannily, has a lot of young women at similar career stage as me.

Of course these are exceptions, but as said upthread, it's nice to see bucks in the trend.

3. Cabinetry: One of my internships was designed to get people form underrepresented groups in computer science to befriend one another and be a support network. It worked! I think we're all in pretty good situations and haven't had to talk about *-ism experiences, but if I ever run into one, I'd have some peers to talk to who would relate.

And at the end of the day, you get a lot of financial independence. If it turns out to be not your cup of tea and you haven't been spending hugely, you'll have buffer in a few years to make change without undue disruption. So my advice is to stick with it and give it a go.
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:30 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I can say from what I've seen at the college I work at that working in tech here seems to be a pretty good gig. We have a lot of women working in our technical group and my former bosses that were female in there--well, I can't think of any crap I saw them having to put up with sexism-wise. Admittedly, I worked on the tech side but was not a programmer and can't speak for that specifically, but maybe university work might be better for you when it comes to avoiding gender drama, rather than some macho Silicon Valley company.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:58 PM on May 13


I've been a tech programmer for almost 20 years. I've had several gigs where I've been the only woman, and other gigs where I've been one of a few.

I have worked with some awesome men and I've worked with some assholes. All jobs are going to have good people and people you may not like working with.

There are several groups starting up supporting women in tech. I belong to devchix, which is highly trafficked and pretty good. I belonged to systers many years ago, and I found it a bit too wonky.

If you like what you're doing, you should do it ! You will be able to find support if you need it.
posted by duckus at 6:14 PM on May 13


I recently left my job as front-end developer from a tech company. Late 20's, female. I joined as the only female engineer, with one product manager who sadly got the boot not long after. By the time I left four and a half years later, the number jumped to somewhere around 10-15, with maybe 3 product managers. Which, compared to the engineering team's growth from 25 to 200+, doesn't seem like much, but it's better than nothing. (Also, 1500% growth! woo!)

While the work environment was a bit boys-club at first, the folks thankfully matured halfway through my tenure. I was already pretty comfortable around men though, so didn't take a lot of offense at whatever joke was thrown out. Pretty sure folks matured up *because* we got more female engineers.*

I really enjoyed my time at the company, and I only left for personal goals that are not tech-based. You should definitely go for it. Those horror stories? You hear them precisely because they're unique and sensational. Lyn Never nailed the advice. Go for it!

* One of my coworkers was getting hired, and my manager asked me and a few male engineers to say hi before she leaves and persuade her to join. He said in his email, "and don't be creepy". I think he was half-joking, but we didn't fuck around. She joined and is happily still there.
posted by curagea at 6:33 PM on May 13


Given that I am a woman who is leaving software engineering, it might be surprising when I say that I think that the whole brogrammer/sexist engineer thing is way overblown, at least in my experience.

I never did the Silicon Valley thing. I worked as an software engineer in a company that created products that had software in them, but weren't just software. There were a decent number of software ladies at my last job, and I was one of very few non-Asian minorities. For the most part, I was respected for my technical skills and while I did have a few personality conflicts, they were with folks (all dudes) who were generally less respected.

It's not a perfect meritocracy by any means, but the tech field is what you make of it. Don't let stories that may or may not have anything to do with what your life will actually be like scare you away from doing something that you "really want" to do.

Good luck!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:49 PM on May 13


Perhaps this is too bold, and please harangue me if I'm out of line, but if you choose another career, don't the sexists win?
posted by possumbrie at 11:34 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Wow, there is a lot to digest here. But the more I think about all that has been said here, the more I'm ready to switch my major back to CS. So thank each and every one of you.

I did appreciate the "won't the sexists win" comments. Because screw them, they aren't gonna keep me from doing what I want.

And just to toss this in, my current major is hospitality management. Which makes some sense because I'm working for a large hotel chain right now, but wow I cannot believe I was actually thinking I would be happy as a hotel manager.

Thank all of you, sincerely.
posted by trogdole at 8:48 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Government contractor--no overt sexism, some mild condescension from some of the older (ancient) developers, but overall probably as good or better than most industries. Women are not 50%, not because of hiring but just because there aren't that many to be had. Also there is a perception that technical women are rare, and that the majority (but not all) women will want to transfer to a non-technical track that allows more socialization, but there is also a strong cohort of women who do stay technical and they are not seen as weird or less capable, just uncommon. IT, especially non-customer-facing like sys admin/server admin, tends to be a little bit more boyzone than development, and admins usually have more down time to socialize so it can be a bigger deal to fit in, in terms of having the same hobbies and reading the same articles and such (not that admins don't work hard, it is just that dev is more of a in the chair chugging away all day, and admin is more of waiting for something to break and then fix it asap).

But also, I think you are asking the wrong question. The question should be what are your options with a CS degree vs what are your options with a hospitality management degree vs what are your options with some other degree. It would probably be very, very difficult to find work as a developer or sys admin with a hospitality degree unless you have a good bit of experience. It might be harder to get a job as a sys admin with a CS degree instead of an IT degree, although you can choose your classes and supplement with a certificate or two and probably not have much trouble. It is probably harder to get a job as a developer if you have an IT degree. You can also get either of those jobs if you have a non-related STEM degree and some experience, or if you have a decent amount of experience and a non-related degree. I don't know what your chances are in the hospitality management field with experience and a non-related degree, but you should find out. Most people switch careers several times during their life time, so pick your degree not because you want to do the name on the paper for the rest of your life, but because it opens up the most possibilities that you are interested in and wouldn't have a chance at otherwise, and figure out what training will be required if you want to switch later.
posted by anaelith at 7:39 AM on May 17


(Harder to get a job as a dev with an IT degree than to get a job as a sys admin with a CS degree.)
posted by anaelith at 7:44 AM on May 17


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