Are you a female programmer? Do you like/LOVE it? Do tell!
March 16, 2015 3:16 PM   Subscribe

As I plan my own transition into a career in programming/IT, I'm looking to hear from women who already work in the field and are happy about it.

There are a lot of horror stories on the web about women in programming (or IT) and what a terrible field it is for them, how they've burnt out on overwork and shitty attitudes, and how they're shocked by the way the industry treats women.

So... let's say maybe you've had those experiences, but now you have a job you really enjoy. What field do you work in? What's different about this job? Why do you think it's a more positive environment, and what do you like about it on a daily/longterm basis? What would be your advice for a recent comp sci grad who is female and going to hit the job market in a couple years?

Do you have any thoughts about being a female programmer? How does it affect your self-concept? (Or at the end of the day, is it just a job for you, even if it's a nice job?)

Advice for the university years is welcome too, as I'm going back to school for this and would like to make the most of my time there (i.e. contributing to real projects, internships, etc.).
posted by stoneandstar to Work & Money (12 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a female electrical engineer who programmed professionally for the first 6 years of my career before becoming a manager. I'm now a Vice President of Engineering for a company in the Fortune 1000 serving the cable and telecommunications industry. Prior to joining my current company, I worked in two other firms developing test and measurement products (think oscilloscopes).

I like engineering and developing products people will use. I've been doing this for over 30 years and learned so much over that time.

I would recommend you network -- Society of Women Engineers is one such venue. Another is Systers -- a mailing list for women in technology.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to PM me.
posted by elmay at 3:42 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Female dev here, 15+ years experience, pretty happy with career so far, and with tons I could say... but I'm actually at work now and probably shouldn't spend the next 30+ minutes typing out my life story. I might come back and post more if i have some time later tonight, but also please feel free to PM me with questions or just to remind me!
posted by cgg at 4:33 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's another listserve called devchix.
posted by aniola at 5:15 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a junior developer for an ecommerce company. I've had a very good experience overall--my current boss (a woman) is a great mentor, and my colleagues (both male and female) are supportive, smart, and great sounding boards for me and each other. That said, I've observed men in upper management routinely talking over women (including my boss, who blissfully ignores them and keeps making her points) and generally giving less weight to women's opinions about everything from business strategy to design. Other women in the company have noticed similar patterns.

For me, it's just a job, but it's a fun job--overall, I solve more work problems that I consider "fun" than I solved when I was working in roles that used my humanities degree more heavily. More often than not, I'm glad I made the switch to a technical role.

I would strongly advise you to research companies you're interested in on, or to search online for the company name plus "office culture" or something similar. When you're approached by recruiters (and you WILL be, as soon as your graduation date nears and you have some projects to show), ask them how what percentage of managers are women at the companies they're steering you to, and what percentage of the engineering team is composed of women. Other women !== automatic allies, but their presence is a good sign you won't be facing any uphill battles because of your sex or gender presentation.

I would also recommend you attend some tech meetups in your area--and if you can find any "women in tech" meetups, so much the better.
posted by Owlcat at 6:46 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been in web dev for about as long as the web has existed now and have never had any issues being a woman in this field. My degree is in math and I got used to being the only female in class early on. And that translated well to working in a field that is so male dominated.

I love my job. My best days are when I am faced with a seemingly impossible task and I end up cracking it by the time I go home. The people part takes some getting used to - how to deal with clients and coworkers and all that. But that goes for any job or career you get into.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk about it in more detail!
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2015

I really enjoy programming. It's just fun, for me - like candy for the brain, getting to solve one little problem at a time.

On the social side, I've just sort of rolled my eyes and kept on sitting at the lunch table and making wisecracks, and everyone's gotten used to me. There's a lot of banter but I actually enjoy that.

I'm not in the high-profile kind of tech that people talk about being a Boys' Club; there are a few younger programmer guys who go out clubbing together and stuff but mostly the men I work with are older, are immigrants, are married (often to women who work), have adult daughters and so on. In my experience the jobs where the programming is toward the goal of something else - like programming in order to make software that runs machinery in my industry, or making banking software, or so on - have more reasonable attitudes toward work, and more diversity of people which includes women as well. They're a bit less flashy than a job working on the Latest Cool App, though.
posted by Lady Li at 11:08 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ack, left out a clause. "They're a bit less flashy than a job working on the Latest Cool App, but I love that there's a substantial real end product beyond just a flash-in-the-pan web doohickey."
posted by Lady Li at 11:09 PM on March 16, 2015

This is going to be relatively brief for now as I am, well, busy with work, but but please feel free to PM me with questions.

I have been a software engineer, with some forays into team leader/management duties, for over 10 years. I have experience with a variety of industries and with software both as a primary product/profit center and a support function/cost center. I am in the San Francisco Bay Area now but spent most of my career outside a tech sector "hot spot". I have a technical degree but not in CS.

Since you asked about advice for a recent graduate:

- Some of the ways men can be terrible to women in CS are, in my experience, at least somewhat age-correlated. Things got better for me in this regard when I finished school. As a result I look for companies where at least a few people have some gray hair. A more general observation is that lack of employee diversity is a "smell", and diversity is not measured only with respect to race/sex/etc.

- Seek out mentorship from experienced women in the field. Networking with your same-age peers is helpful for support, but women who have been doing this work for some time can give you concrete advice based on their experience. Don't shy away from building mentoring relationships with men, either.

- Salary negotiation practices and expectations can vary by industry IME so I won't try to give specific advice here, but always try to negotiate your offer up in some way. Your first salary out of school sets the baseline for every subsequent raise, so do not short-change yourself in this area.

General comments on being a female software engineer:

- I am never surprised to be the only woman in a room full of tech workers. Dismayed, certainly, but never surprised.

- A lot of the truly awful things you may have read about in the news—the gropings at conferences, the blatant harassment or sexist comments, the really obvious discrimination in hiring or promotions—aren't really part of my personal experience. I want to be very clear that I am not trying to discredit the narratives of women engineers who have had these bad experiences, but those narratives are also not universal.

- That said, I often speculate about the impact of more subtle bias against women on my own career. What interviews, job offers, and networking opportunities did I miss out on because I don't "look like" a software engineer, and the only way to really look like a software engineer is to be male? I also feel the impact of stereotype threat, and am often mindful that as the only woman in the room my actions may be taken as representative of women engineers as a class. I notice that people can be surprised at my level of experience/expertise, expecting me to be relatively junior, where I suspect they would not find it surprising in man.

Do I like my work? Yes. Do I love it? This is something I have struggled a lot with over the years. I did get very burned out for a time. I think in the end the answer is no, I don't love it, but I am at peace with that. I do enjoy it and it has supported a comfortable lifestyle. It's fun to build things and solve problems, and I think this can be especially empowering for women since we are so often expected to step aside and let a man fix things for us. A lot of people, both male and female, have a stereotyped concept of what it means to love programming and to be a dedicated engineer. A lot of those people have a strong sense of investment in those stereotypes. In the end, though, you have to define what "love" means for yourself...and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
posted by 4rtemis at 1:36 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a junior software developer with a small company of less than 40 people. I've been with the company 12 years and worked my way up - self-taught and got my degree "on the fly." (Nthing this: I got used to being the only female in class early on.)

I love my work. It's challenging and I feel like I will never know enough to be bored. My co-workers (7 male developers, 1 female) are great and I have never felt less-than for being a woman.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:47 AM on March 17, 2015

I've been a developer/team lead for about a decade now in a startup, family owned company and now a large company. I really enjoy my work(most days) and would recommend it to anybody.

I would suggest that while you are in school you work on as many projects as you have time for while maintaining some semblance of sanity. Don't be intimidated by people with more coding experience than you, just because they've been at it longer doesn't mean that they're smarter than you. They've just coded for longer. Do insist on doing the coding part of team projects, its easy to get pushed into taking on the organizational and documentation parts of projects. Insist on doing some coding even if you aren't the best and if people complain about your code quality, make them explain what the problem is. And of course join any relevant on campus groups, but feel free to drop out if they're too political.

I did not take any internships relevant to development (I was a sailing instructor in the summer) but these day's I'd recommend taking a few related summer jobs or joining the internship program. There's a lot about software development as a profession that i didn't learn in university, which for me was mostly about theory. Those development skills will help you do your coursework faster and better during your later years giving you more time to focus on learning.

When looking for companies to join I'd agree with the advice to look for diversity in the workforce. If everyone is just one colour or gender that's probably a flag for a potential problem. For internships i'd look for companies that have a continuous build system, code quality policies, some sort of version control and code reviews. You want to practice good habits and improve rapidly and code reviews help that. Code reviews, where senior devs comb through every line of code and help you improve them will improve your work rapidly even if it really sucks the first couple times. Also companies that work on open source projects often have a stringent code review policy.

When you look for a full time job i'd try to find a position were you are part of the revenue generating part of the company, this puts lots of early responsibility on your shoulders, and gives you some visibility. It should also shield you from layoffs for the crucial first 2ish years you need to build up some employment history.

Feel free to pm me if you have other questions.
posted by captaincrouton at 9:32 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Friends with a female coder. Job environment seems to be key. She reported some bias, some dog-eat dog and lack of follow through on assigned mentoring/training/support in big companies. Also, lack of diversity or overly old fashioned management often went poorly for her. Also-also when coders with poor management skills get promoted to management nobody seemed to be happy.

Job, mostly satisfying in the right place, but you can always switch jobs cause youre in demand.
posted by Jacen at 1:27 PM on March 18, 2015

I'm a woman and programmer / data analyst in Bioinformatics, which I like a lot. I get to "do science" without participating in the kind of crappy lifestyle of a PhD/Postdoc.

I think its been a good job, good pay, mostly interesting. I probably wouldn't go to the point of saying I LOVE it, but I'm not sure I could LOVE any job, really. I appreciate it and enjoy many parts of it.

Being a woman in this field gives me a little extra boost of pride, I think. Like I must have overcome something to get here. Though there have been occasional jerky guy moments, they have been few and far between for me. My environment is not very brogrammer-y and more academic. As I attend more local meetups on tech topics, I experience a little more stuff that makes me bristle slightly.

I have also followed the geek feminism blog. I went to one local Girl Develop It meetup and was in SWE in college, followed the Systers mailing list for awhile.
posted by mgogol at 9:09 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Raised Beds for Dummies   |   4k HD monitor usable in the short term with a late... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.