Let’s start by saying that being a woman in a male-dominated industry is not something I think about often. In fact, I’ve spent most of my career not thinking about it at all. Recently however, the lack of women in development seems to have become something of a hot topic and a few people have asked for my thoughts on it.
Representation in the community
The first time I really started to think about being a female developer was when I attended the Edge conference in London earlier this year. Being lucky enough to get an invite, I was looking forward to having the chance to interact with so many influential people in the industry.
There was a lot of talk about women being under represented at this conference, so it was definitely something I was thinking about before I attended. I walked into Facebook’s offices in London with my (female) colleague and did a quick scan of the room – we were definitely in the minority but it was obvious that some effort had been made to include more women and the experience was very positive. Conversely, I recently attended a conference in San Francisco where the percentage of women was significantly lower and, at times, I could understand how a woman could feel uncomfortable in the community.
I think the main hurdle to overcome as a woman in this industry is that you don’t fit the stereotype of a typical developer. I’ve been involved in a lot of recruitment over the past few years, and candidates often assume I work in a non-technical role; even after I’ve introduced myself as a development lead, they will direct technical answers at my male colleague. It isn’t until I have shown my understanding that these candidates will start to interact with me on a technical level. It concerns me that the industry’s attitude as a whole is perhaps not as open to female developers as I have experienced whilst working here. When recruiting, we judge only on knowledge and experience. I don’t assume that somebody who fits the developer stereotype knows a lot about development and, equally, I don’t make assumptions about those that don’t; it is up to everyone to prove themselves.
Choosing development as a career
At NET-A-PORTER, we only have a small number of female developers, but that is probably fairly typical; recruitment is difficult as there are so few of us around. It would be great to be able to hire more and it makes me wonder why more women don’t choose development as a career. It never occurred to me that I’d be at any disadvantage, or that there was anything stopping me from joining a technical team. I chose this career because of a love of technology, problem-solving and the web, and because it allowed me to be a part of exciting industries, such as fashion.
The benefits of working in technology are open to everyone and I haven’t been able to find any women here that feel at a disadvantage as a female developer. If we can find a way to make development more appealing to girls and young women, I hope in future no woman will be asked how they feel being in this industry, and no woman will feel uncomfortable being part of the developer community.