If you’re a software developer, or know someone who is, you’re well aware that the field is dominated by men. What you might not know is that even as other fields become more open to women—for example, women now make up the majority of college graduates—software development remains a very male field, with men making up to 90 percent of developers in a typical company.
While one might think that it doesn’t matter whether a man or woman is writing computer code, many companies have found that a more diverse workforce leads to better results.
For example, the craft e-commerce site Etsy learned that adding women to its development team allowed them to create software that was more appealing to its largely female user base. Women don’t only make the tech workforce more representative of the country at large, they make the technology better.
Earlier this month, one organization that’s trying to increase the number of women software developers held a meeting at A Small Orange’s offices in downtown Durham. The Raleigh chapter of Girl Develop It, an organization based in New York, has grown to over two hundred members since it was first organized in November of last year. Rachael Hobbs, one of the organizers of the Raleigh chapter, said that she started a local chapter after looking for resources to help her become a better programmer.
“I’ve always been interested in technology,” she said, noting that she completed an undergraduate degree in environmental science in 2010, which led to a job with an environmental software company. “Now I’m doing technical support, but I’m interested in getting more into programming and on the technical side of things. I was looking online for resources I could use to learn more, and came across the group.”
While Hobbs had been to other tech meet-ups in the area in the past, she was attracted to starting a chapter of Girl Develop It because of its emphasis on mentorship and training.
“Most tech meet-ups are majority male. I think it’s nice to meet women who have similar interests,” she said. “For beginners, it’s less intimidating. They feel more comfortable asking questions of other women rather than being the only woman in a room of 30 guys.”
In addition to providing classes for women who want to learn how to program, Girl Develop It has also sponsored a number of social events that allow developers to meet each other. Hobbs said she has had interest in both types of events.
“I’ve been trying to keep it fairly balanced,” she said. “The social events seem to be of more interest to women who are working in the field. The classes appeal more to beginners.”
While some beginners are, like Hobbs, recent college graduates, others have joined the group because they are hoping to make a career change.
“We have all kinds [of participants],” she said. “There are some that have been doing this for years. There are some who are complete beginners, from college age women to women in their 50s and 60s. Others may have been a software developer 15 years ago and are trying to brush up and improve their skills.”
At A Small Orange, Hobbs hosted “Ladies Linux Day,” which introduced attendees to Linux. She gave each participant a live DVD, which allowed them to load the Ubuntu operating system, a popular version of Linux, without having to install it on their computer. Hobbs said she decided to host the event after realizing that many women were not using Linux.
“There’s this barrier to using Linux, which seems kind of daunting. I wanted to have an event to lower that barrier to entry,” she said. “We had a couple of speakers about how to use the terminal and navigate the file system. We had a woman from Red Hat come and talk about open source in general.”
Hobbs learned about A Small Orange’s offices after contacting the Triangle Linux Users Group, which had previously used the space for their meetings. She said that her group was giving women the opportunity to gain the skills they need to enter a male-dominated field.
“When you’re working in an environment that is 90 percent male, people say things they wouldn’t say if they were in more mixed companies,” she said. “There are job listings that are very geared toward men, [and] will mention things like we only want guys with the best beards. Things like that tend to turn people off to certain companies. I think it’s good for them to employ more women.”
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