Gender in IT, OSS, & PHP, and How it Affects Us *All*

I started looking into the state of women in the IT industry, open source and PHP for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity so I decided to do some research. What I found was not only interesting, it shed some light into where we stand, how we got here, why we should even care in the first place, and what we can potentially do about it.

I did want to add a caveat before I go further; much of the data and research I discuss below makes sweeping generalizations about men, women, and our interactions with each other. This is not to say that we all fit these generalizations, or fall into these behavioral patterns... we are not robots, after all, and of course there will be those of you that will say "oh, I never felt that way," or "this never happened to me." Please don't think I mean to offend or offer up stereotypes; I'm only aggregating the data and putting it out there.

A Personal Experience

I have been extremely fortunate in my web development career, in that I have not experienced true gender discrimination firsthand. I know there are countless women out there that have; I think I've just been really lucky. That being said, I'd like to share with you one of the reasons why this topic piques my interest.

My first PHP conference was ZendCon 2005. By that time, I had been working with PHP for a few years, I was an active member of PHPBuilder.com, and had co-authored my first PHP book. I was sent to the conference by PHPBuilder, in fact, because I had been doing weekly news summaries for them, and they wanted a write-up of the conference. I felt a bit nervous going in, only because I don't travel much and it was the first time leaving my husband and 15 month old baby. Plus, I'd not been to a PHP conference before, so I really wasn't sure what to expect. Even still, I walked into the opening keynote a little nervous, but very excited and optimistic.

I was shocked to realize that I was one out of a handful of women there, and I was even more surprised by my own reaction. I immediately felt apprehensive and self-conscious, even to the point of being almost immobile. I think I barely spoke to anyone, and tried meekly to fade into the scenery with those around me. I felt like running out of that room, and I probably would have, if I wouldn't have been so mortified to do so. Thankfully by the end of the conference, I'd been befriended by a few core devs (thanks Wez, Andrei and Marcus!) and a few other PHP devs (which I've unfortunately lost contact with since), and I felt a little more comfortable. Even though I made some new friends, I was still completely out of my comfort zone, and I was quite thankful to get the hell out of there and get home.

Truth be told, I felt the same way at my first few local user group meetings that same year. As the only female in a room of roughly 20 people, I felt incredibly self-conscious, out of place, and like everyone was watching me (which, of course, they weren't). Afraid to open my mouth for fear of looking like an idiot, I think I said maybe two words (which is really funny if you know me personally, because you usually can't shut me up).

Logically, I should have felt right at home. I'm a relatively self-confident individual, I felt comfortable with the language, and I'd been an active member of the PHPBuilder community for years. I'd not had bad experiences with my fellow co-workers or other PHP developers. So what was it about this face-to-face interaction that made me so uncomfortable? Why did I care that I was overwhelmingly in the minority? Interestingly, I felt much the same way Sara J. Chipps did in her blog post about the matter.

Even though I ended up sticking around the PHP community and some of those feelings of self-consciousness have since faded away, I still think about those first meetings I attended. I know many women don't get that far to make it to a conference or user group meeting. For one reason or another, they choose to skip the community bonding, leave an open source project after contributing, or maybe even leave the industry altogether. In fact, we're leaving in droves. I couldn't help but wonder to myself what those reasons were, so I embarked on my own little research project.

IT Job Market is Growing

Initially, I was curious to see if the IT industry was growing and how much potential opportunity was out there.  Even with the tenuous state of the economy, I don't think we could be in a better position with regard to job opportunities.
The IT industry is one of the fastest growing industries. According to the Monthly Labor Review (MLR 2004), between 2002-2012, we can expect an incredible growth rate in the U.S. (and presumably other countries) in the following categories:

Computer Software Engineers  +45.5%
Computer Systems Analysts +39.4%
Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts +57.0%
Database Admins +44.2%
Network and Computer Systems Admins +37.4%
All other computer specialists +36.5%

We are definitely in the right place, and clearly there is plenty of room for all of us.


How Skewed are the Gender Numbers?


Obviously, women are in the minority in this industry, but just how skewed are the numbers? And what are the trends? First, let's look at the education system, which is one indicator of the state of gender in IT.

Women are less prevalent in IT than they were in 1990
, and are getting less prevalent every year.


The Computer Research Association reports that in 1993, women received 17% of the computer science/computer engineering degrees, and that number fell to 12% in 2007. It is interesting to note that when we compare these numbers with degrees in science and engineering discplines as a whole, women have steadily received roughly 50% of these degrees since 2000 (CRA, 2007).  Global efforts to bring more women into the fields of science and engineering have evidently been paying off. So what is it about our specific field of interest that makes it so unattractive to women, and more importantly, is making it increasingly unattractive to women?

I was also interested to find data on the number of women actually working in the computer science industry, as we know that one does not always follow the same career path as designated by their choice in degree. I, for instance, have a degree in Organizational Behavior (which is probably why I find this topic fascinating). I also know many competent self-taught computer gurus who do not have a degree at all. For these reasons, I did some research on employment as well.

Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census, the shares of females in these industries is dropping with each passing year. In 1990, women made up 34.1% of workers in these professions. In 2000, the percent of women dropped to 30%, and in 2008 that number is estimated to have dropped to 24.1%. Clearly, if we don't find some solutions to remedy this, women in our industry will become an increasingly rare commodity.

So how do women fare in open source and PHP specifically? The numbers for open source in general are bleak. You may be familiar with a recent study that reports women comprise a mere 1.5% of the F/LOSS community (Ghosh, 2005). Unfortunately, there have been no official studies on the number of women in the PHP community, but I can tell you that at the recent US PHP-centric conferences, typically around 10% of the attendees are women.  Not too shabby, but there is definite room for improvement.

Why is this Happening?


The thing that interests me most is the "why." There are numerous organizations and individuals out there who are spending multitudes of resources in trying to solve this mystery. I won't pretend to be more knowledgeable about this topic than any of them, but what I can offer are some common theories. I suspect it is not just one of these reasons, but all of them working in tandem.

Reason #1: Being in the minority sucks for everyone.

Why are women so uncomfortable being in the minority, and why can't we manage to get over it? I hear this from male counterparts all the time: "What's the big deal, anyway? You shouldn't feel strange or odd if you're the only woman in the room because it doesn't matter. You're just as smart as we are. Why are women so worried about this?" Why, indeed.

Research shows that both men and women are uncomfortable being in the minority, and when we are, we focus on what makes us different from the rest.

I did a bit of research and found that it's not just women who feel uncomfortable in the gender minority, but men do also. Studies have shown that "being in the numerical minority in a mixed-sex team is not a favorable experience for either women or men (Powell & Graves, 2002; LBS, 2007). Men report feeling uncomfortable, somewhat alienated and highly aware of their minority status when faced with being in a female majority group. (Spelman, et al, 1986). As well, numerous studies have shown that when anyone is in the minority in a group, they are more apt to place more emphasis on and be more self-conscious of the quality or trait that makes them distinctive from the rest of the group (O'Leary, et al, 1985; Kirkham, 1985). Bottom line is, it's human nature to feel out of place when you're in the minority regardless of gender, and if that means you're the only female around, you're going to be even more acutely aware of it. So ladies, do not adjust your set. There is nothing wrong with you. For the gentlemen out there that have never been in the minority, it's likely difficult for you to relate, and you may be tempted to trivialize our feelings or think we're being overly sensitive.

Studies have also shown that being in the gender minority can increase your desire to leave the group.

Another interesting tidbit is that those in a gender minority tend to report "lower life satisfaction, more negative moods, and lower commitment to the organization" (LBS, 2007). For volunteer-centric open source groups that offer little reward but self-satisfaction, this can not be good.

It is also interesting to note that when people feel this discomfort in a diverse group, the easiest way for them to alleviate that discomfort is to leave. If this is not possible (as in the case of a job, for instance), they are likely to instead choose to isolate themselves from the group as much as possible (Bayazit, 2003). Conversely, those who experience positive and frequent social
exchanges, and the perception of inclusion are more likely to feel attached to the team and the other
team members, and be less likely to leave the group (Graves, 1997, Prislin, 2005).

One final word on this: if we're already inclined to leave the group, sexist jokes, inappropriate language, and sexual harassment are not great motivators for us to stay. Just sayin'.



Reason #2: Life gets in the way.


It's funny, when the governing group of PHPWomen tries to get together for status meetings, it's a juggling act. There are but a handful of us, and yet we are all incredibly busy people. We see this on the PHPWomen forums as well, women wishing they had more time to contribute to and interact with the group. I can't say that as a gender we are any busier than men, but what I did find is that we might not have as much control over our own free time.

An overwhelming majority of employed women are still responsible for the brunt of domestic duties and childcare, resulting in far less free time, and countless other things we could be doing.

Not surprisingly, a recent study shows that employed women are still six times more likely to be responsible for childcare and domestic duties (LBS, 2007). In other words, our "free time" is precious and limited. In a culture that values long coding hours and participation, perhaps we just don't have the resources to stack up. Those who are able to spend more time actively participating in open source projects after hours are more easily integrated into the community (Lin, 2005; Krieger, 2006). As well, because our free time is so very precious, if our participation in these projects is not appreciated or readily accepted, we have not less than five million other things competing for our attention.

It's easy to get left behind in the IT industry.

It has also been theorized that because our industry moves at such a rapid pace, when we take time off to start a family, it is more difficult for us to jump back into the swing of things than  in other professions (Kelan, 2007). We've also seen this sentiment echoed through the forums at PHPWomen; women who take a few years off to focus on family have a lot of catching up to do. This can be overwhelming, especially in a culture with a RTFM mentality. But we'll talk about that next.



Reason #3: There not enough Mr. Miyagis in IT and open source.


We know it's true, and research has backed it up. The IT and open source cultures clearly value independent discovery and have little patience for newcomers (Krieger, 2006). We have flaming wars, trolls, and an RTFM mentality that makes asking questions and learning something new a definite challenge. Heaven help you if you make a mistake or write poor code; you'll end up being mocked on the Intertubes by the coders who take your job when you leave, or you'll end up memorialized forever on the Daily WTF.

The acronym RTFM does not exist in any other industry but IT.

A quick check shows that we in IT are the only ones who tell each other to RTFM if a question is asked that is deemed to not be worthy of asking (http://www.acronymfinder.com/RTFM.html). Why don't we have the patience to help those trying to learn new things? Why are mistakes so unforgivable? It's one thing to strive for excellence in any industry. It's completely different to adopt an elitist mentality that excludes newcomers. I can hear it now: "Mr. Miyagi, why am I waxing on?" "RTFM, Daniel-san."

A groundbreaking study in 1977 showed that when someone is in the minority in a group, their performance underwent closer scrutiny, and were more likely to affect the majority of the group's views about the minority as a whole, which lead to extra burdens and performance pressures on the minority member (Kanter, 1977). In other words, if you're a female in a male majority group, your work is more highly scrutinized and you become the representative for the entire gender. (This sentiment was awesomely communicated by XKCD: http://xkcd.com/385/). In an industry that not only chastises you for asking questions, but also publicly humiliates you if you make a mistake, I can completely understand why newbies would prefer to keep their mouth shut.

It has also been said that replying with a simple RTFM instead of providing helpful assistance actually makes it more difficult for those who are trying to solve their problem. Googling a question and having the first 10 or 20 results be an RTFM-type answer only makes life more difficult for everyone. In addition, many times there is no complete manual for someone to read, or the documentation is unclear or confusing. Telling someone to RTFM in these cases doesn't do much good.

Alternatively, it has been argued that the RTFM mentality is more along the lines of "teaching a man to fish," instead of handing someone the answer. While I agree with this perspective on on level, and I have firsthand experience with pointlessly trying to help people who are not willing to help themselves, I think that the ones who are earnestly looking for help are the ones who suffer. I'd like to believe that these people are in the majority.



Reason #4: There's a whole lotta meh.

It's interesting to note that a recent survey showed that only 66% of men and 85% of women felt that having more actively participating females would be better for the whole FLOSS community (Krieger, et al, 2006).  Additionally, that same study pointed out (and was reiterated by Kirrily Robert at the OSCON 2009 keynote) that 80% of women had noticed sexism in the community, whereas only 20% of men had. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the men; I know there are plenty of women out there who don't believe that this is an issue. And if a large percentage of the industry doesn't believe this is a problem, then we don't have a very good chance of changing things.


Why Should We Care, Anyway?


I know some people are really tired of talking about this subject. However, I firmly believe it affects us all equally, regardless of gender, and it should matter to us all. Let me tell you why.


Reason #1: Diversity makes us all more creative and innovative.

It seems logical that having a diverse group working on a project would lead to a better outcome. I wanted to prove this with research, but the results were not what I expected at all. When the effects of biodemographic diversity (immediately observable differences such as gender, race, and age) and task-related diversity (functional expertise, education & experience) were studied, unlike task-related diversity, there was no relationship between the quality or quantity of tasks performed by the team and biodemographic diversity (Horwitz & Horwitz, 2007). In other words, diversity solely based on biodemographic diversity did not improve the team's ability to accomplish tasks. This has also been studied specifically in the field of software development and the earlier results were supported. A team will not necessarily be more effective simply because it is diverse (Kang, et al, 2006). I had intended to prove that having a diverse group of individuals made the group "better" as a whole, but research can't back me up. That being said, diversity does have an effect on something equally important.

Equally-gendered teams are more innovative, and innovation is crucial to the success of open source.

What research has shown however, is that diversity (most notably gender diversity) plays an important role in creativity and innovation (LBS, 2007). The more equally gendered your team is, the more innovative they will be. In an industry that strives for breaking new ground, this should be a paramount concern.


Reason #2: Right now, the future's not so bright.

Every year, we are losing more and more females to the industry. What does this mean for our daughters and granddaughters? I would love to know that my daughter can choose to enter this field without fear of her being sexually discriminated against, or that she will have to undergo the scrutiny and the performance pressures of females today. Frankly, I want her to be able to start her career and succeed brilliantly without dealing with the bullshit. If we all work to improve the conditions for our collective daughters, we can stop this snowball from growing.


What can we do about it?


Again, there are countless individuals working hard to offer up solutions, but here are a few I think hold the most promise. What I think is most interesting is that these are pretty simple solutions we can implement, that could have tremendous impacts on the state of gender in our industry.

Solution #1: Diligently welcome women and newcomers into the industry.

Studies have shown that increasing the number of female participants improves their learning environment, as does the presence of mentors and female role models (Faulkner, 2006, Lagesen, 2007). By increasing the "critical mass" of women, the minority effects are diminished, and women are more likely to stay. This helps alleviate what is known as the 'leaky pipe' effect (women leaving the industry.)  We have a mentorship program through PHPWomen (that is incidentally open to all) that has helped corroborate these studies, so I'd like to see more of this type of thing in the Open Source (and really, IT industry as a whole) communities.

In her keynote at OSCON this year, Kirrily Robert mentioned some open source projects that were mostly women. One of these projects was Dreamwidth. Dreamwidth has an exceptional diversity policy for their community (available at http://www.dreamwidth.org/legal/diversity.bml). Here's a quick excerpt from their official stance on diversity:

We welcome people of any gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, size, nationality, sexual orientation, ability level, religion, culture, subculture, and political opinion. We welcome activists, artists, bloggers, crafters, dilettantes, musicians, photographers, readers, writers, ordinary people, extraordinary people, and everyone in between. We welcome people who want to change the world, people who want to keep in touch with friends, people who want to make great art, and people who just need a break after work. We welcome fans, geeks, nerds, and pixel-stained technopeasant wretches. We welcome Internet beginners who aren't sure what any of those terms refer to.

If that doesn't make you feel welcome, I don't know what would. I was thrilled to learn that the Python group has an official mailing list on this very subject, and is modeling its own statements inspired by the policies of Dreamwidth (available at http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/diversity). I would love to see something like this for the PHP community as well.

Another example is the Women in Open Source (WIOS) track in the Southern California Linux Expo (http://scale7x.socallinuxexpo.org/conference-info/scale-7x-women-in-open-source), which is a fantastic way to increase visibility and keep the discussion going in the open source communities. I would love to see more of this.

Solution #2: Focus not only on attracting women into the industry, but on retention.

By openly and actively encouraging participation, interaction and acceptance, we have a better chance of stopping that leaky pipe, as discussed earlier. We try to do this through the PHPWomen forums, but I think this is a neverending initiative that could be taken on by all of us.

Corporations who offer flexibility for working men and women can also greatly help this issue. By making it easier for people to juggle home and family life with work life, you are increasing the probability that they will stick around.

In open source projects, producing code is traditionally seen as being more valuable than producing software (Krieger, 2006). If women are unable to actively commit code changes because they have other commitments keeping them busy, we should encourage them to participate in other ways (such as documentation, which may be less time-sensitive), and value those equally.

Solution #3: Leave the comfort zone.

In order for there to be change, we will have to put forth effort and step outside our comfort zones. For women who are new to the field, that may mean joining an open source project, or attending a user group meeting, or even showing up at a conference. Maybe it means not being afraid to ask a question or making the effort to befriend someone else in the group.

For women who are established members of a community, maybe this means making a concerted effort to engage the other females around you. Maybe it means to openly talk about personal discrimination or situations, so that others are more aware of what really goes on. Maybe it means to not get discouraged and keep committing code. Maybe it means give a presentation at a conference or user group meeting, and encourage others to do so.

For men who have never been in the minority, maybe it means take the plunge and put yourself in those shoes. Experience what it's like to feel out of place and singled out.  If you're male, maybe you could befriend a female, or at the very least try and empathize with her situation.

For all of us, regardless of gender, we could try resisting the RTFM urge and simply offer practical help, or a link without the snarky comments.


Solution #4: Take it local.

Women are busy, as has been discussed earlier. Based on current research, a local outreach to women at the user group level may be one solution to involving them and engaging them in the community, as it will be less time prohibitive and easier for them to attend (Sørensen, 2004). As well, this would facilitate less formal and more personal training for them, increasing their likelihood of sticking around (Krieger, 2006).

I would love to see OSS user groups adopt a welcoming policy as mentioned before, and actively encourage women to not only attend, but also participate in group activities.


Summing it Up, and thanks PHP!

I hope I have at the very least given us all some food for thought and a little insight as to how we got to where we are. I hope that we can all see how this issue will only get worse if we don't do something about it, and that even small initiatives can have a great impact.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. On a personal note, I have been thrilled with the support we have received for PHPWomen by our male counterparts. These guys get it. They get that it is not just our problem. They get that even though they can't relate 100% to our situation, they are willing to validate our concerns and work with us to find a solution. They get that bringing more women into the PHP world just helps us all. And they get that we're not about excluding anyone, but about including everyone. A heartfelt thank you to them, and I think other open source communities could learn from their example.


_____

References

Bayazit, Mahmut & Mannix, Elizabeth, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Predicting Team Members' Intent to Remain on the Team, Small Group Research, June 2003, 34, 270-323
Computing Research Association, CRA Taulbee Trends: Female Students & Faculty (http://www.cra.org/info/taulbee/women.html)
Faulkner, W.; Sørensen, K.; Gansmø, H.; Rommes, E.; Pitt, L.; Lagesen Berg, V.; McKeogh, C.; Preston, P.; Williams, R.; Stewart, J., Strategies of Inclusion: Gender and the Information Society, Gender Technology and Development, 2007; 11: 157-177
Graves, Laura M. & Elsass, Priscilla M., Sex and sex dissimilarity effects in ongoing teams, Human Relations, 2005, 58, 191-221
Ghosh, R. A.; Glott, R.; Krieger, B.; Robles, G. 2002. Free/Libre and OpenSoftware: Survey and Study. Part IV: Survey of Developers. Maastricht: Institute of Infonomics /Merit.
Horwitz, Sujin, & Horwitz, Irwin B., The Effects of Team Diversity on Team Outcomes: a Meta-Analytic Review of Team Demography, Journal of Management, December 2007, 33, 987-1001
Kang, Hye-Ryun; Yang, Hee-Dong; Rowley, Chris, Factors in Team Effectiveness: Cognitive and Demographic Similarities of Software Development Team Members, Human Relations, 2006, 59, 1681-1710
Kanter, Rosabeth, Men and Women of the Corporation, 1977
Kelan, Elisabeth, 'I Don’t Know Why' – Accounting for the Scarcity of Women in ICT Work, Women’s Studies International Forum, September, 2007 30, 6, 499-511
Kirkham, Kate, Managing Diversity in Organizations, 1985
Krieger, Bernhard, and Leach, James, Free/Libre Open Source Software: Policy Support; Gender: Integrated Report of Findings, March 2006
Lagesen, Vivian A., The Strength of Numbers: Strategies to Include Women into Computer Science, Social Studies of Science, 2007, Vol. 37, No. 1, 67-92
Lin, Yuwei, Inclusion, diversity, and gender equality: Gender dimensions of the Free/Libre Open Source Software Development, 2005
London Business School Research Team, Innovative Potential:Men and Women in Teams, Findings, 2007
Monthly Labor Review, Employment Projections for 2012; Concepts and Contexts, February 2004
O'Leary, Virginia E.; Unger, Rhonda K; Wallston, Barbara S., Women, Gender, and Social Psychology, March 1985
Powell, Gary N. and Graves, Laura M., Women and Men in Management, November 2002
Prislin, Radmila & Christensen, P., The Effects of Social Change Within a Group on Membership Preferences: To Leave or Not to Leave?, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2005 Vol. 31, No. 5, 595-609
Sørensen, K., Gender and Inclusion Policies for the Information Society, August 2004
Spelman, Duncan; Crary, Marcy; Wethersby, Rita; Bocialetti, Gene, Men Students in "Women in Management" Courses: Learnings & Dilemmas, Journal of Management Education, 1986, 10, 89-99


39 Responses to Gender in IT, OSS, & PHP, and How it Affects Us *All*

  1. 18221 Nigel James 2009-08-13 12:49:24

    Liz,

    Well done for taking the time to research and present this so well. I am a great believer in gender diversity and have worked with some very very clever female software engineers in my time.

    People who put others down because of a minority situation need to get a grip. If the shoe was on the other foot - as in males being the minority in a female dominated domain - we would have the same responses that you describe. That's just human nature.

    Thanks again for all the great work that you and all your PHPWomen friends do in making the PHP community better for all of us.

    Cheers,

    Nigel

  2. 18222 Euterpe 2009-08-13 12:49:31

    Another point - that is understandably beyond the scope of this article but probably worth making - is that there quite a number of transpeople, and especially transwomen, in the IT industry. So great is the proportion that it's something of an in-joke: "Oh look... another transwoman who's also a computer geek. How novel."

    It changes nothing with respect to what is quite well written above... it just adds to the dynamic.

  3. 18223 Catherine Devlin 2009-08-13 13:05:07

    Wow, great posts! A couple thoughts:

    Here's the thing that drives me crazy about virtually every list of reasons for the disparity: why is it getting *worse*? Yes, yes, minority-self-consciousness; RTFMism; etc. But those were around in 1993, too, weren't they? Which of the contributing factors has actually gotten worse over the past decades?

    Scanty or poor documentation has long been one of the key weaknesses of open-source, something that has limited its spread. Putting more value on it would be good for FLOSS in more than just gender-related ways!

    I'm going to ponder the "take it local" idea. I know there have been some women-specific Ruby classes in the Bay area. I wonder... I wonder I wonder...

  4. 18224 Davey Shafik 2009-08-13 13:09:56

    A well researched, and well written article — I would expect nothing less from you :)

    I think that the PHP Women mentoring program is a great thing for helping introduce women into the community and I think we should, as a community, take a standard approach to newcomers in the same way.

    Not everybody is up to our lofty standards, but it's not intentional usually and every person deserves to, and can be brought up to our level with a helping and understanding hand.

    Just one note, I'm pretty sure RTFM is also used in the military... could be wrong though :D

    - Davey

  5. 18225 Anna 2009-08-13 13:23:13

    Comment from a woman in IT:

    I agree with the problems of the RTFM mentality and the fact that some women may feel uncomfortable in the presence of men only (although I actually enjoy being the only woman in the room). One thing that I still don't understand is what kind of bullshit and discrimination you are referring to in this article.

    I dealt with discrimination based on my age (too young to be an expert), never based on my gender. The only thing that may bother me is when men start cursing or talk about masturbation and such.

    It seems that the pressure doesn't come from the people around us but from our own heads. Maybe I'm just thick-skinned, but I would really like to hear some examples of discrimination. I'm kinda tired of this topic because I have no idea what we're actually fighting here.

  6. 18226 Keith Casey 2009-08-13 13:25:28

    I'm thinking about those downward trends... both the % of women getting CS degrees and the % of women working in IT.

    I suspect the first is partially colored by the field as a whole. After the dot-bombs, CS enrollment dropped off across the board and then has been further hammered which is *believed* to be due to the fear of outsourcing.

    On the % of women working in IT point, I wonder what those job descriptions look like. I'd like to know if computer-using secretaries were classified as "computer admins" or something along those lines and now they're being removed because all administrative types must have computer skills. Legitimately, those shouldn't have been in the data anyway.

    We've been trying to attack the "burn the n00b!" problem within DCPHP. We've worked at having a regular variety of events - presentations, happy hours, even field trips - that give people a variety of ways to interact. Further, we've just started doing simple code reviews in meetings. The first one (last night) managed to give a *lot* of people with different levels/skills the chance to ask questions and propose ideas and talk through some tradeoffs. I don't think we're perfect, but we're trying to appeal to new/junior types across the board.

    And finally - as I noted before Terry's closing keynote at tek09 - there are *lots* of ways to participate and almost everyone can depending on the time and skills they have. Code is great but documentation, evangelism, testing, feedback, coordinating, and bug reports can be more important at times.

    I wish people in general realized that the first 90% is just showing up...

  7. 18227 Bill 2009-08-13 13:49:23

    Thanks Elizabeth,

    I've been thinking so much about community recently and it seems to me that again the solution to this issue lies in the local communities as you have pointed out. I recall those early OINK-PUG meetings and the gaffs we made of all sorts. There was much room for improvement and probably still is.

    I would like to echo your challenge that we all step outside our comfort zone to improve diversity of all sorts in IT to whatever extent we can. Guys, if you're wondering what that means to you I recommend that you practice with your wives or significant others, by assuming the household chores for one night a week to permit your partner to get out and get involved. If possible, attend a meeting with your partner and feel what it is like to be in the minority and learn from the experience, or mentor someone the next time your tempted to scold someone. Above all avoid the "meh"!

    A truly great post. The community owes you thanks for your efforts in researching and writing it. Thank you.

  8. 18229 datawench 2009-08-13 14:21:49

    Anna, it's not always as simple as "discrimination." certain kinds of attitudes, such as the RTFM mentality or the guygeek tendency to trade acronyms like baseball cards, can be a subtle barrier to women whose communication styles differ.

    And it is in fact because of those kinds of differences that self-segregation occurs. People tend to prefer to hang out with people who they feel can actually hear them.

    Not all imbalances like this are necessarily about active discrimination. That doesn't mean that they don't merit consideration. Nor or all such considerations necessarily to be taken as "a fight."

  9. 18230 Sarah Mei 2009-08-13 14:25:16

    I've been doing workshops for women who want to learn Ruby in San Francisco [1], and I'm thrilled to find references to some research that backs up my gut feeling: that just getting women to the local meetups will help.

    At the SF Ruby meetup [2] after the first workshop in June, we had around 60 people total, and 4 women. Typically at a meetup that size, we have 2 women. So, it's an improvement, to be sure, but I'd like to get to 50/50! We had a second workshop a few weeks back, and a third tentatively coming up in September. At some point I think we'll reach critical mass but until then, I'll be moonlighting as an event planner.

    As a side note, I'm willing to assist if another technical community wants to do similar workshops. I'd love to put together workshops on PHP or Python or Objective-C or Scala, but I'm not well-connected in those communities, and I don't know any of them well enough to teach.

    [1] http://sfrubyworkshops.com
    [2] http://meetup.com/sfruby

  10. 18231 John Sedlak 2009-08-13 14:41:42

    Great article, but one thing I think is important to note is that the RTFM mentality is not a gender specific or minority only struggle.

    I am of the belief that the issue stems from the number of repeated questions posed by newcomers. Spending day after day answering the same old question that can be answered with a simple Bing search gets boring and tiresome.

    To complicate the issue more, the industry, as you said, is based on independent discovery. The basic thought is that if you aren't driven enough to figure it out, you won't succeed. Having said that, there is a deep end's worth of discussion that can be covered about what role the "tinkerer's mind" plays in this topic and how it relates to genders.

    Thus I think one of the goals of the CS community should be to let young minds of all backgrounds have the chance to become that of a "tinkerer". In other words identify the root cause of the bug rather than attempting to band-aid it.

    While I can't tell you the reason, when I was young I enjoyed playing with legos and taking apart electronics while my sister played with barbies. I am firm in believing that this background helped shape me into the CS person I am today.

  11. 18232 Neil Young 2009-08-13 15:10:36

    Your numbers you have in the article do not necessarily show that women are leaving the industry in droves, as you suggest, since you only discuss percentages. These drops in percentages could just as easily suggest an explosion in the number of men entering the computer fields and CS programs.

    For instance, you indicate that in 1993 17% of CS majors were women, while in 2002 only 12% were. If in 1993, there were 100,000 CS majors and in 2002 there were 500,000, then the number of women in these programs has increased by some 43,000 people.

  12. 18233 A Girl 2009-08-13 15:15:38

    The programming classes I took last year in high school?out of perhaps 25 guys there were only 3 girls. I know one of them didn't even want to be there (her parents forced her to take the class).

    This article mostly addresses the issues of why women leave the industry, which is interesting to me because I hope to study computer science, and this is the sort of thing I will encounter in the years to come.

    I know in my programming classes (I'm taking AP Compsci next year) I was very withdrawn in the class. There's something about the conspicuous gender imbalance in the class that made me much more shy than I usually am. So I can understand that being a minority makes you uncomfortable and prepared to leave.

    I'm kind of interested in how the gender imbalance could be addressed by educators, because teachers and professors have the chance to shape the mindsets of their students towards women in the industry. This could lead to more women feeling comfortable or men understanding the issue and welcoming them.

  13. 18234 Felicia 2009-08-13 15:49:05

    There is real discrimination in the IT industry against women, both in terms of compensation (lack of promotion) and sexual harassment. I also think there is also a culture of denial among those who may not discriminate themselves but see it happening in their workplaces.
    I think the solution is for women to confront those who discriminate against us. As someone who participates in the community and devotes long hours to RTFM, I certainly do not take the blame on myself for others' bad behavior.
    As a side note, one of the reasons not mentioned for women leaving the field is that business/management jobs are seen as more appealing (better pay, less sexist environment). If the tech community wants to have talented women working in it, the community has to take some responsibility for changing its outdated ideas.

  14. 18235 Darby Felton 2009-08-13 15:51:12

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for your research and efforts in publishing this article! Identifying the problem, is indeed the first step in the scientific process, and this article should help us computer scientists, especially regarding our awareness of the situation at hand and to arrive on solutions that benefit our industry and beyond.

    I would like to offer one additional suggestion, and please pardon me if I repeat what had already been said, as I believe you have touched upon the issue regarding RTFM-ism. We must remain conscious of how we treat others, which includes the ways in which we express ourselves. Too often and too easily we disregard common courtesies and exercising politeness. We always should be mindful of the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This rule must be followed in order to transcend the interesting differences in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, and culture that we share, as human beings with perceptions and feelings.

  15. 18236 Maggie Nelson 2009-08-13 17:03:14

    Thanks for writing this, Elizabeth. There are a few issues here:

    Why aren't there more women in IT?

    Here's a good article on how men and women enter math-related careers: http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9217/entry.htm

    As children, boys and girls are equally interested in math. The changes in participation start in adolescence. This is attributed to many factors, the big ones being girls thinking they have to choose between math or being popular (because math is not "girly") and the different expectations the environment has on kids learning math (boys who do well in math are complimented on their ability but girls who do well in math are complimented on their hard work). Students who take advanced math field classes in middle school and high school tend to have a better chance at entering a math-related career. Unfortunately, due to the social attitudes (not necessarily discrimination), teachers / guidance counselors will, on average, recommend more high-ability boys than high-ability girls for the more advanced classes.

    By the time we're in the work force, our numbers have already been dwindled and the potential number of women who could enter the computer field is already very low.

    What makes women leave IT?

    I think in many ways it is the family obligations. If a couple has a choice of having one parent be stay-at-home parent, the parent with the lower salary is usually picked. Since women tend to get paid less than man for the same positions, this will already create bad odds. The other biggie is the amount of available free time that Elizabeth mentioned - women do tend to be responsible for more home/family care, which makes their options limited. And there's the question of unfriendly work environment.

    The interesting part to me is whether women who do quit over the work environment not being too hot would actually admit it. In IT, there certainly is a culture of having to be "one of the boys" or "thick-skinned". Perhaps it's easier to say that you're leaving because you had a kid than due to a self-perceived failure of not being strong enough.

    Is there discrimination against women in IT?

    After the infamous Ruby presentation, Martin Fowler had a response blog post here: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/SmutOnRails.html He points out that young women professionals in IT are in a peculiar position where they might not have (yet) encountered any sexism in the workforce. We don't face sexism such as "sleep with me or you're fired". Almost none of our coworkers are jerks (well, not that kind of jerks). The discrimination we may potentially face, however, is when we finally try to break into higher, executive positions. Being senior software engineers or software architects doesn't have many barriers, but the glass ceiling may still exist at higher levels. The issue of "it's who you know" may become a problem. At higher levels the "who" in "who you know" is usually "rich white dudes with outdated attitudes." But hopefully this won't happen (it's actually interesting to see how social networking sites address or will address this particular issue).

  16. 18237 Stuart Herbert 2009-08-13 17:06:39

    Great post in many respects, and I completely agree with the sentiment. As a recruiting manager, I see mostly men apply for roles, and in the last 18 years I don't think I've worked with a single female programmer. There is clearly something about IT, industry and/or education, which is not attracting women - and not attracting enough women of high calibre either.

    I have to agree with Neil's comment that the use of statistics in this article is at kindest extremely simplistic :( There have been huge changes in IT itself (Windows, Internet, World Wide Web, mobile computing, modern programming languages that don't require any understanding of how computers actually work) since 1990, huge changes to IT's pervasiveness in society, and also to the range of roles available in IT today. There are also certain to be differences between how your sources classified roles in 1990 compared to today.

    But I think the F/OSS stats are actually the ones that really matter. Our community is one of volunteers - people who either want to be involved, or (sadly) are on a power trip. We are people with passion. The low participation of women in our volunteer community scares me far more than the employment / education figures ... they suggest that most women simply don't have a passion for IT.

    Can I recommend extending your research to look into neurology? There are differences there which might also be important.

    All the best,
    Stu

  17. 18238 Luke Giuliani 2009-08-13 17:40:20

    Liz,

    A thorough, well researched article. Thanks for taking the time to do it. :)

    As a member of the php/CS communities, i think this kind of concrete research is extraordinarily valuable.

    Thanks,

    Luke

  18. 18240 Stas 2009-08-13 20:03:52

    Thank you for an interesting essay. Some points of it go beyond the gender issues - like RTFM stuff and the whole issue of people online being rude and unhelpful, usually they are so to everybody, without any distinction of gender (which frequently not even known) or any other identity attribute.

    However what surprised me is 80% of women saying they noticed sexism in the FLOSS community. It would be interesting to me to understand what kind of sexism, what is meant by that. Being a male, I can accept that I never noticed it because I am either not sensitive to such things or never was in the situation when such things occur. Yet more it would be educational to understand what exactly is meant here, what is the nature of the complaint.

    Speaking about diversity, it's nice to have a statement with long list of what we won't discriminate by, but wouldn't just "everybody's welcome" enough? Of course, that should be accompanied with matching actions, etc.

  19. 18242 Michel Bartz 2009-08-13 23:50:02

    Very interesting article, i've been asking myself the question since university.
    For sure i wouldn't mind having more women as co-workers, out of about 45 programmers there is only 3 women.
    One thing to notice, from my experience, is most of the programmer i know have a long past of being interested in things like video games, math and computer. It's nothing new that 10/20years ago (i wouldn't say the same now), gaming was mostly a guy thing. So it seems pretty normal to me that now that the kids of the NES/Super Nes are entering the market, we see a lot more guys, and also all the "world" turning around (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Role Playing games,... Not that i have stats about it, but from the people that i have worked/studied with, it's a pretty common pattern) IT, is very manly (?)).

    And more as a personal experience, i would join the opinion of Stuart Herbert, i found that women tend to have less passion in IT than men does (might be related to what i suggested before).

  20. 18254 Tony 2009-08-14 08:45:49

    A very interesting article.

    My daughter wrote a Social Anthropology thesis on Gender Discrimination and did the field work in an all female Public Relations business in London, UK. From time to time they employed temporary staff and always elected to choose male candidates. They gave the chaps a hard time in a range of ways - not letting them use the office toilets, bad mouthing them for their conversational style, judging them inadequate in the work, and RTFM ing them although not quite in the way that IT does it.

    In UK the Gender Discrimination law is written in the female person making it hard to challenge behaviour like this.

    All forms of discrimination - except on ability - are inappropriate.

  21. 18255 Kirrily Robert 2009-08-14 13:05:39

    Thank you so much, Elizabeth. This is far and away the best article I've read on this subject, and I'll be referring to it constantly from now on! I only wish I'd had it before my OSCON talk, but you can bet I'll be drawing on it for future versions of that same talk.

  22. 18256 Kirrily Robert 2009-08-14 13:09:19

    Oh, I also wanted to say... re demographic vs task diversity and effectiveness... don't demographically diverse groups *tend* to have task diversity too? That is, because of the ways people are brought up and educated differently, isn't it likely that eg. women may have majored in different things at university level, had different career paths, worked in different kinds of volunteer organisations, and gained different "functional expertise, education & experience"?

  23. 18258 Susan 2009-08-14 14:25:50

    It's not really about discrimination, it's about feeling odd because, u r the oly woman any one knows trying to wite code, if u r on a forum, or in a community, some how, it looks WRONG, suddenly, every thing u do, is harder, more self-concious, and less about the awe inspiring discovery of OMG Code, and more about the MEN, wish I HAD never said that I was female, everyone wld be so much kinder and ignorant of my errors and ambition, to make it worse, I'm self taught and only a 2yr old coder, never seen a keyboard until 2007, WOW makes me a silly girl every day.

  24. 18259 Shawn Lauriat 2009-08-14 15:22:41

    Many organizations would do well to make reading like this mandatory for diversity education, rather than bland PowerPoint tomes. Given the effort and research put into this (how I wish more lengthy articles cited sources!) I certainly hope you plan on submitting this for publication.

  25. 18263 Michael C. Harris 2009-08-14 20:35:15

    Elizabeth, thanks for a very thought-provoking contribution to a really important discussion.

    Stu and Michel, I think it's sad that you can read an article that starts off talking about a personal experience of being hugely outnumbered in a public space and feeling intimidated - a story told many times, in the comments here and elsewhere - and conclude that it's women's commitment that's lacking.

  26. 18279 Kathy Reid 2009-08-16 02:04:59

    Hi Liz,

    First of all thanks for taking the time to research and write up such an important contribution.

    Personally I'm very lucky to live in Australia where the open source community (specifically in Melbourne) is friendly, supportive, non-discriminatory and generally a wonderful group to be a part of. However, like other women I've experienced instances that make me question whether IT is the industry for me;

    Being given 'soft' tasks when in a development role; just because a woman is thorough in documenting or writing up client requirements doesn't mean that she *has* to do that job every time. Likewise, I've observed a tendency to place women in roles that require advanced communications skills - such as client liaison and business analysis - but this should not be done at the cost of precluding women from being given tough, challenging technical work to do if this is what they want.

    One interesting aspect when I was a team leader was that I was given less technically competent staff on my team - it was assumed I would 'teach' and 'coach' them to come up to speed with the other developers - something that the other (male) team leader wasn't very good at - however of course this was extra workload.

    The point made about female role models couldn't be truer; it is the ability to work with people such as Donna Benjamin, Pia Waugh and others of their ilk that keep me in IT :) This of course places greater onus on women in IT to *be* positive role models...

  27. 18301 LornaJane 2009-08-17 03:31:19

    Elizabeth: Thanks for taking the time to put together this article and for weaving so much of your own story into it.

    In my late twenties now, I think I'll be part of the statistics of women leaving the profession. Not because I'm not fanatical about coding - I don't think that'll ever leave me - but because of the very narrow subculture that pervades. Minorities are always more conspicuous and I definitely realise I have to "prove" myself more (to some people) because I'm female. For now I'm stepping up to those battles, finding my own role models and support networks, and being a role model in my own right. Working with posturing types who will ignore me or shout me down just doesn't suit me - I work with some great people but I aspire to having colleagues who can actually carry on a conversation that isn't about games or women, and at that point I guess I'll need a new career.

  28. 18313 Rose 2009-08-17 09:14:06

    As one of the handful of women at the last three zendcons, I must say that your point about "spare time" is absolutely dead on. It's worse in my case, since I have a non-coding spouse, who can't share the "home maker" workload for physical reasons.

    I can't count the number of cool projects that I'd love to work on, or the number of patches that I haven't contributed back because I simply don't have the time to clean them up to the right standards for submission.

    Thank you for writing just a clear article addressing this issue.

  29. 18318 Diving Dominican Republic 2009-08-17 14:39:15

    I don't think that gender should make any difference. Either you are good or not, doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman.

  30. 18335 Fake51 2009-08-18 05:58:53

    Thanks for an interesting post. Have to say, though, that I have a hard time seeing some of the points. First off: exactly why do you suppose you're really lucky in not having been discriminated against? You don't suppose, perhaps, that stating things like that might just keep the general belief going that women are discriminated against in IT? Don't get me wrong: I'm sure that some women are discriminated against in the IT industry. Whether that's because they're women or for some other reason I would not know. What I do know is that the only way to actually find out if women are discriminated against is to ask them. How many women do you know that have really experienced discrimination? I just can't help wonder what you base your statement on, as you have no firsthand experience at all yourself.
    Secondly, some thoughts about minorities: in my current position, I'm a clear minority. There's no one else there from my country. If you count general region, we are two - out of about 15. However, look at it slightly differently, and I'm in the majority: there are five people working there that originate from the country I work in. There are no women working there, so I suppose that makes it a uniform work environment. But on the other hand, a lot of the developers have a CS background but not me, so I guess I'm in the minority ... again.
    What matters is what people conceive of as important characteristics in connection with jobs and gender. There was a time when most of the world figured that women couldn't do math, that they shouldn't be educated because it could lead to overheating of their brains, but we're long past that (in some parts of the world, at least). By now, if you can show yourself to be good at what you do, that's what counts. I would think that especially in the IT industry, you're evaluated on the code that you produce: how good was the stuff that you did? As far as OS goes, this is about the only thing you can evaluate people on.
    So, while I believe that some women might feel that "they're in the minority" (and you gave a nice example of some personal experience) I think this is often based on a wrong belief of what actually matters. In your own account, you did not suffer any discrimination, any sexual harassment, or anything to that effect. On the contrary, it seems that you were the only one to think that you were out of place. I'm not saying that your point about how people feel when they think they're a minority doesn't apply - what I'm saying is that the problem is not the amount of women in IT but that women think they're a minority and that this matters. It quite simply does not. Likewise, the solution is not just to up the numbers of women in IT (your typical feministic "we must have complete equality between the genders") but to change the way people think about themselves and about IT. Interestingly, if you really wanted to up the numbers of women in IT, this would probably ALSO be the way to go, but that's an aside.

    One final thing, before I end this rant (and I'm sorry if I went overboard, but discussions about gender and equality always has that effect on me): there's a reason the acronym RTFM doesn't exist in any other industry - there's not the same use for it as there is in IT. Let me illustrate:
    - we have a new member of our team where I work. He doesn't know everything and there's some basic stuff he doesn't know. So he asks. And every time he asks I'm more than happy to help, to answer the questions as best as I can.
    - I frequent some forums here and there, and from time to time (quite often, actually) some person with seemingly zero interest in the topic at hand will ask me to write a homework assignment for some CS class or other thing. Or write a website. Or create a bot network. Or ... And I reply: RTFM
    In the first situation, I know nobody that would not be happy to help. You know you're not being abused, you're helping a person that is asking your help because she or he needs it. In the second situation, some script-kiddie wants you to do their homework. And they'll verbally abuse you when you don't. So I really think there's good reason to have the acronym and to use it. And I think you're overlooking the enormous amount of people that have been and are incredibly willing to help you if you show just the tiniest bit of interest in the topic you're asking about. There are insane amounts of IRC channels that thrive on just this.

    I think that people should take the jobs they are interested in, do the hobbies that make them happy. If women don't go for IT jobs, could it be that they don't have as much interest in them as men? And who are we to say that women should be forced into IT? I think all people should be treated well in IT - I don't see the need to treat women any differently from men in this respect.

    Regards
    Fake

  31. 18338 Elizabeth 2009-08-18 12:04:32

    Not sure why, but this person had some issues posting his response in my comments here (sorry about that!). For another interesting perspective, take a look at his blog post:
    http://archlever.blogspot.com/2009/08/responding-while-forbidden-gender-and.html

  32. 18340 Sherri W. 2009-08-18 12:10:38

    Great article.

    I'm a women in my late twenties and I've been a PHP developer for several years now. I also develop in C#.Net at my 'day job'. I am also the owner/admin of the open source project AV Book Library.

    I've also noticed the disturbingly low number of women in IT positions, however this doesn't really surprise me. It's unfortunate but I know some of the reasons why. Here's what I've observed:

    - There was a real push to get women into IT when I was in high school. This seems to have dropped off and active recruitment of women seems to be an afterthought.

    - The RTFM mentality is a big part of it. I think women often like to learn through someone helping them rather than browsing reams of manuals, books and often dead-end Google searches. However the presence of the RTFM mentality in IT is not a surprise. It's been my experience that IT tends to attract the logical-thinking less-socially-adept sometimes unforgiving of cluelessness type of people. This is obviously a broad generalization but I've seen it. Spend a day browsing Slashdot and you'll see what I mean. That so many of these folks respond with a curt RTFM is no surprise, but is certainly intimidating to newcomers.

    - IT, and specifically in my experience, programming is often a thankless career path. People will post to my Sourceforge project's forum and email me about it but it is 99% regarding problems... rarely a thank you or positive feedback. Likewise my day-job involves very little if any feedback from end users or management being passed along to the devs. It's usually limited to an email from the project manager stating "the users really like feature X". We don't get invited to launch meetings or feedback meetings. We don't get to hear the ooohs and aaahs. Speaking for myself- this is a huge letdown. Being your own motivator only goes so far.

    - IT is lonely. As a programmer I'm lucky if I talk in person to 2 people all day. Maybe one phone call. A number of emails. You get through the planning meetings and then you are essentially on your own in your cubicle or in your home-office for the whole day. Day after day. Sometimes the phone rings and my voice cracks from lack of use. Oh sure, I wander around a bit and chat to some co-worker friends but this is frowned upon. It's lonely.

    - I'm busy. Family and friends come first, before my career. That's just how it is. If my work hours could be more flexible to my life it would help. Between my day-job and personal projects it's over 50 hours per week. Our society has it's priorities backwards.

    - I don't attend conferences and meetups because there aren't any locally. I'd have to drive 4 hours over to Toronto. I love programming - but not enough to make a trip for it. Online communities tend to either be ghost towns (PHPWomen) or tend to have the RTFM mentality.

    Personally I haven't encountered any obvious sexism or any jokes or boys-club mentality so that's good. But I just don't know if it's a rewarding career path- I find myself drawn more to the business side of things where I can interact with other stakeholders and have more direct involvement.

    Thanks for the article.
    ~Sherri

  33. 18356 Fake51 2009-08-19 06:36:58

    "disturbingly low number of women"

    Why disturbingly low? Exactly what is so disturbing about it?

    Regards
    Fake

  34. 18493 Meg 2009-08-30 03:11:10

    "What's the big deal, anyway? You shouldn't feel strange or odd if you're the only woman in the room because it doesn't matter. You're just as smart as we are. Why are women so worried about this?"

    Yeah, it doesn't feel strange or odd, until you're one of two girls in the IT lab and a half dozen of your classmates are having a very extended (~15 minutes, but it felt like much more) rape joke session at the expense of a woman who was assaulted on our campus only a few days before. Or, when, in the middle of a lecture, one guy pipes up to say that the government couldn't possibly keep records of every phone conversation because "those girls yap all day", then turns to you, the only girl enrolled in the course, to give a snide "no offense", and nobody, not even the prof, says a word. Or when you notice that you're the only girl in another course who regularly speaks up in class, and then you notice you're not the only one who's noticed, and feel like an obnoxious little know-it-all when you're no louder than most of the boys. And then you wonder, if this is what it's like on a university campus, the kind of environment that's supposed to be open-minded and progressive and free-thinking, how bad is it going to be when you're in a more conservative, corporate environment? There is also the pressure of feeling like you have to be a good ambassador to your gender all the time (see the XKCD comic "How it Works").

    I love programming, and my favorite language so far has been PHP by far. I have no problems with RTFM nor huge vocabularies of acronyms nor general nerd culture nor hard work. I know this career would be perfect for me.... if gender discrimination didn't exist. Even though I'm kind of outspoken in class, I am pretty shy in person and I take things to heart. This is OK when someone critiques my work; because I take it seriously, I am always improving. But I cannot "improve" my gender, nor would I want to. I hope it gets better out of college.

  35. 18494 Meg 2009-08-30 03:36:41

    By the way, I am definitely checking out PHPWomen, which I hadn't heard of before. Thanks. :)

  36. 18584 Andrew in Texas 2009-09-08 15:27:06

    Excellent article.

    I want to quibble about "RTFM." Using the version with an "F" in it is indeed not friendly, unless it is actually funny and well-meaning. That is why I just say "RTM."

    The only way I have learned most of what I know about computers is from reading manuals. I don't just mean the owner's manual. I mean various books that are for sale in stores.

    If you include blog posts, newsgroup and forum comments, Internet searches, web sites, and magazine articles, a large chunk of what I know about IT has come from reading.

    The next largest portion of what I know has come from my own trial and error.

    A lot of what I know has come from thinking and reflecting on how to solve problems.

    Finally, a small but not insignificant portion of what I know has come from asking other people questions, or listening to or observing them as they work.

    In my own life, I have not had the benefit of much formal training or experience in IT. I recognize that others have had that. When you are in a classroom environment, your best resource is of course the teacher.

    Thus, my attitude on a forum when someone asks "How do I write data to a database in PHP," for example, is disdainful. If you really want to be a good PHP programmer, and you really want to know how to do such a basic thing, something that all PHP programmers should know, then turn to your teacher if you are in a class, or go about the work of reading manuals. There are also many fine Internet tutorials available for all kinds of things available for free. If the questioner really wants to learn PHP, do not ask a newbie question like that to the general public hoping that some random person on the Internet will provide one with the answer. Go out and learn it on one's own (or in a classroom environment).

    Furthermore, it is obvious that many newbie questions posted on forums and mailing lists are from students who are trying to cheat by getting their homework done for them by a stranger for free. This makes me very, very unwilling to provide basic information when asked on Internet forums. I would prefer to answer a hard question that is framed in such a way that indicates that the questioner has already worked on trying to develop a solution, but is stumped. That question is much less likely to be homework-cheating.

    The best way to help people on Internet forums is quite often to not help them. The only way they can learn is to do it themselves. If I want to teach someone to fish, I am going to show them the basics, but to learn the finer points of fishing, they will have to do that on their own. The process is itself the best education you can receive.

    When I ask a question on an Internet forum, and I get only a reference to a manual, that is often helpful and I can then solve the problem on my own. If it is not, then I need to re-emphasize what my question was so that the responder understands that my question goes beyond the information as presented in that manual reference. Thus, I welcome any references to a manual. What is not helpful, however is when someone says "RTM" without providing a reference to where in the manual the information is, or what manual we are talking about.

    Having a mentor can be an excellent resource, but even that is not necessary. What is necessary is doing the work yourself and reading the manual yourself so that you know what to do when you have to do it.

    The problem with not reading the manual is that the best information is usually in the manual. Manual writers spend a great deal of time and energy improving the manual before publication. Meanwhile, in person, people often misspeak. This is just natural. If you really want to know something technical, go to to the very best sources. In most cases, that is the manual.

    In summary, anyone, man or woman, can read a manual. If you want to solve a problem, check the manual first. That is, unless you haven't upgraded the network interface device driver yet, in which case you should do that first. :)

    This has been a very long response to one very minor quibble with the article. I am posting this because if there is anyone out there wondering "How do I learn more about IT?" the answer is "read manuals and other materials, and try to solve a particular problem without help from other people."

    I would like to say I completely agree with the author's point: more women in IT would be extremely beneficial to IT and indeed, the world. If there is any woman thinking about IT as a career, I would like to say to you, please, for your own benefit, do read the manual. With that said, best of luck, and welcome to IT!

  37. 19403 Sharon Levy 2009-09-27 06:18:04

    Elizabeth,

    I enjoyed reading your article very much. You make excellent points and the research results were interesting to read.

    It certainly appears that there is a need for someone to open up a charm-school for geeks. The curriculum ought to include Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." If the enrollment figures were large enough, maybe the term "RTFM" would hastily fade into oblivion as it rightfully should.

    Again, great article; I'm glad you wrote this.

  38. 20567 Tina Chaulk 2009-11-02 09:13:21

    Hi,
    I found you via NaNoWriMo and twitter. I have a contest on the go to get info about women in non-traditional work. I would love it if you would enter and share some of your experiences. Feel free to link to this post in my comments, as well. I appreciate this post very much, coming from an IT background myself.

    http://tinachaulk.com/2009/10/26/contest-a-few-kinds-of-wrong-is-looking-for-a-few-kinds-of-womens-work/

  39. 21924 oyunlar 2009-12-23 12:04:18

    Personally I'm very lucky to live in Australia where the open source community (specifically in Melbourne) is friendly, supportive, non-discriminatory and generally a wonderful group to be a part of. However, like other women I've experienced instances that make me question whether IT is the industry for me;

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