06 March 2013

Inspiring Reactions to my Listserve Email

I received over 200 emails and tweets and LinkedIn messages as a result of my Listserve email last week (not to mention the plethora of birthday messages I received on Facebook!). I've loved hearing from people, especially since the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I thought I'd share my favorite parts of some of the messages.

From Katie of http://katality.com/
I think getting into development and engineering is a great way for a woman to be a builder and creator in all types of businesses.

One man just wrote and said that when he talks about SQL and bash scripts, women aren't interested. I basically said, "Well, if they knew what those actually were, maybe they would be."

Maggie kindly wrote: 
I'm a bookkeeper for a restaurant group, which is not necessarily a male-dominated industry, but your note really rang true and shed light on an upsetting truth about gender roles. I could go on, but my main reason for writing back to you is because, contrary to what you may believe, I think you're a terrific writer. Your note flows in a way that effortlessly leads the reader through your story.

Emily's story: 
I went to college for a Bachelors of Fine Arts. My parents both encouraged me to take computer classes, I refused every time, because when you are 18 - 22 you know everything :) Once I finished my degree I went into crisis mode - I had no idea what to do next. Again my parents encouraged me to take coding classes at a local university that offered day long classes. I did. I learned, and I loved it. I got my first job as a receptionist at an advertising firm, I showed up everyday and one day I got the courage to tell our developer and IT manager that I knew how to code. I'll never forget those men, they changed my life by taking a chance on me. The told me to show them some work, which I did and with in months I was on their team. I've been victim to the "aren't interested" faces, I've been told by good friends that they 'zone out' when I talk about work, which hurt, but it doesn't make them bad people and it has challenged me to be more clear about my work.

From Malena:

I am currently a senior at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing and am SO proud to be a woman in tech. I was lucky enough to know by the time I started college that technology was my career passion, but for so long in middle school and high school I almost felt compelled to hid these interests in fear that they weren't "cool." 

Martha from Nairobi wrote:
I'm a 19 yr old Ruby/Python/Clojure hacker from Nairobi, Kenya. I consider myself really fortunate that I was exposed to it when so young, and I think more girls NEED the same exposure - I have something cooking for them! :) And not just for Sub-Saharan Africa girls, but globally.

From Tim: 
I've been trying to do something similar in my life. The hardest part for me is to not treat failure as the end of the world, but as a guidepost on the path to success.

From Syl: 
I just graduated from college less than a year ago. I studied psychology and economics because I tried the biomedical route and found out that I was terrible at chemistry. I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist because my own had helped me work through some problems. I wanted to be a writer, in public relations, in HR, because that's where women were. 
A turn of events placed me in a sales job that i hated. I asked that they move me to marketing and . . . they did! But something is still in the back of my mind. During my terrible days as a phone salesman, I found a company looking for an entry level web developer. They were willing to train, and only preferred previous experience. I was excited at the idea of a career change. A new life, a new job, a new interests.
My boyfriend told me I wasn't focused enough. He wasn't trying to discourage me, but he reassured me that I was good at writing. I had a wonderfully exciting personality that should be at the marketing department. 
I dropped it, and these days I rarely think about it. Until I read your email. Working in Silicon Valley, the tech stuff is everywhere. Maybe tomorrow, I will have forgotten about this new-found determination. But at least for today, I'm encouraged. 
Maybe I'm not such a good, concise writer after all, because what I mean to say is, thank you.

From Skip: "Why didn't you find your path earlier? [Because] When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

From Shannon Harrington: 
I currently recruit engineers for startups and personally strive to encourage more females who are freshman in college to make that leap or jump if they are really enjoying the work in their CS classes. GO GIRL! Glad that you found your niche and I wish you the best of luck in your new job post HackBright! If you know of anyone who is looking for awesome work at exciting startup companies feel free to send them this link as these are the companies that I work most closely with: http://www.baincapitalventures.com/startupacademy/.

From Trevor: 
Seems that you were soo close to staying in the rut. Damn cool you broke the pattern and are doing good with that experience. A dad of a 7 year old girl.

From Max: 
It was heart-trying to read your story of the series of unfortunate events, and I cheered for you at the end, when everything started clicking. Good for you! Congratulations!

From Nick:
As an ex-Mormon, it made me happy that you had the courage to drop the M-bomb and mention your religious affiliation in an email to thousands of strangers. If there's any blowback, hope the ignorance is transparent, and that you can shrug it off.

From another Nick: 

I completely agree that technology is often a difficult place for Women to work, I think everyone wins when we have more of a gender balance.

From Kyle: 
I slaved through school thinking I was going to be a Professor of Comparative Literature.  It was what I always assumed I'd be.
But I stumbled into a job with a small niche software company, and I fell in love with it.  I started at the bottom, and worked my way into the development team.  I also braved several pay raise negotiations.  (They're harrowing aren't they)  It's funny how companies tend to pay you what you think you're worth, and you just have to realize what you're worth in the first place to make them see it.
I was just warmed to hear a similar story, and thought I'd say congratulations!  Where we end up in life seems to often be a process of surprises, and the end result is so often much better than what we first imagined.
[After I congratulated him for being the first man to tell me that salary negotiation is harrowing:] I wonder if most men don't actually feel that intimidation during the salary negotiation, or if they just feel silly admitting it.  My suspicion is that it's the second.  Men are supposed to be confident and self-assured, and it honestly hurts at times to admit when we're not.
But keep going with development, it's rewarding in many ways.  Especially if your company gives you the freedom to pursue lines of interest.  It's sad that women are discouraged from the work, because I know so many that would find it rewarding to themselves personally. Much like how there are men out there that I believe would be excellent in the nursing field, but feel pressure against pursuing it. 

From Allison: 
As a teenager, I loved web design and taught myself HTML and even made a few of my own websites. However I was never encouraged in this direction.  Like you, I took my studies and initial work experience in the direction of working in non-profits . . . perhaps becoming a social worker . . . doing something where I can "help people." Like you, I am an introvert, and discovered that I got WAY too much anxiety thinking about meeting with new people and working with them ALL the time. Then I stumbled into my job doing quantitative data analysis. I learned SQL, and have been learning Perl, D3, and JavaScript. I now help teach our internal SQL training. I LOVE it!! This is my favorite part of my job, and I am trying to find the best path to becoming a software developer. It is definitely intimidating, because it feels like the men in the field have been learning these skills their whole lives, whereas I am just starting now (I am 26). It is so hard to know how things will fall into place or will life will take me, but I am convinced that tech is the future, and I agree that more women should learn the valuable skills to enter these fields.
You may have seen this study on the bias against women in science, but it is fascinating and depressing and a call for change: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109"

From Amanda:

As a woman who's always been interested in computers, CSS, web theory, but never considered programming, your story seems uncannily similar to mine. I am a junior at NYU and just now starting to regret my English major--I wish I could have picked up programming, too.

From another Amanda:
People just don't think to encourage girls to pursue stuff like this! So what can we do? Maybe start by doing some presentations in local schools. I know in my career  I will have lots of opportunities to do outreach, and I want to make sure the time I spend on it is effective. Do you have opportunities in your job? I know  a lot of tech companies in the bay do value community outreach. Maybe you could negotiate with your boss to have a few half days a month where you can visit a local high school and talk to some math courses about your career.

Also, as women in stem, we need to stick together, even after we find our dream job. It was courageous and rare of you (as a woman) to make a counter offer for your job. Why are we so intimidated by negotiating? (yeah, that is a blanket statement but a mostly true one)

So lets add each other to our networks of women in male dominated fields who want to make our field more accessible to other woman, and sometimes just need to know that we are not the only women who love this stuff!

From Michelle:
Being a woman in tech, I'm around men who constantly talk about
google glass
drinking (brogrammers, sigh)
hackathon after hackathon 
it's great fun! But after the tenth conversation about all the prizes they win at hackathons, I start to wish we could have some conversations about politics. Literature. Tv shows. Angelina Jolie! 
So reading your listserve email today--even just reading the subject line,which got straight to the point--made me extremely happy. It brings me a huge sigh of relief to know that there are cool women techies in the bay area.
Have you seen this website? http://futurewomanintech.com/

From Jon:
I graduated from university in Economics last year and have recently been toying with the idea of learning more about computers. I don't know any programming whatsoever, but I am definitely interested in having specific skills rather than just the "soft" ones! 

From Sam:
I have no technology background whatsoever.  I don't even own a smart phone.  Nevertheless, I am trying to forge forward on a bit of technology.

From another Michelle:
Firstly, from a personal perspective, I'm currently trying to retrain with an aim towards a tech based career. Like you I've spent years being interested in technology, have a tendency to surround myself with technology types. I've recently left my job running a policy department for a learned society, and am trying to work out how to do this.  
And then there is a second reason; albeit it linked to the first. I am passionate about diversity - in all ways. As a properly working-class girl with an abusive family from an area in the middle of nowhere in the UK, who somehow ended up doing biochemistry at one of the best universities in the world, I'm so incredibly keen to ensure to help remove as many barriers to inclusion as possible. One of the areas in which I focus is science, engineering, and technology . . . my areas of academic interest.

From Kelly:

On the 25th, I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, and am going to try to make it in the start-up world (as a non-programmer for the time being). I graduated from Princeton in June. As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by computers and programming (the idea that you could make your living solving puzzles is beyond fabulous), but the few classes I took in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science were entirely male-dominated. Even the class nicknamed "emails for females" was tough as nails -- it was taught by Brian Kernighan, one of the authors of C, and was about 80% men. To make things worse, I came from a very poor public high school with minimal math and science. My classmates had world-class educations and included Intel prize winners. Any time a group project would come up, I would struggle to get a word in edge-wise, and didn't take much away. The CS degree was out of my reach, but I liked logic, so I studied philosophy.  Fast-forward a few years and I still have a burning desire to be a programmer.  I tinker with online classes and Project Euler, but I feel like there's a barrier that's very difficult to break through without the structure of a curriculum and guidance of a dedicated instructor. 

From Sara:
I live in the Bay Area, and I am interested in changing careers.  I've always done jobs related to tech (I help manage a college website), but I never thought of myself as geeky enough to become a full-on programmer. After reading your email, I realized that it was kind of weird to count myself out of a programming job because I like people too much and lead a life with balanced interests.  Maybe that makes me a perfect fit for programming!

From Francine:
My name is Francine, I'm a brazilian 22 years old and - just like you - I work with IT. I like developing web, even I work with developing for PC. But reading your e-mail made me thinking about RailsGirls. It's a Ruby event for Girls learning a little about developing, but in the better way of learning - we learn doing some application in Ruby on Rails. Here, in Sao Paulo/BR, these girls work in several areas: IT, journalism, management, marketing . . . I was thrilled to see so many women developing useful applications for themselves and  empowering themselves with this tool that can change realities.

From Anne:
Glad you have found a niche in technology.  I spent about a third of my career programming (jcl, COBOL as well as SQL). 
My town does a Women in Science fair and Robotics events - you might work as a judge. 
Also, you can be a good example in your family and your church.  

From Dana:
I agree that it isn't promoted to girls enough, and we all need to know what a great option it is! I keep finding that the programmers I know are such happy, fun people. I've been thinking about programming for some time now as I try to find a new job, and I still am trying to figure out if programming could be for me. (I work in nonprofit fundraising, but I'm trying to transition to do communications -- anything with a positive social impact that's ideally a little creative. Which programming can clearly be!) 
Your email was really inspirational, and just now it made me turn to my programmer boyfriend and say "Hey, can I work with you on practicing web development again?" 

Clara let me know about her experience at Year Up, a "one-year intensive program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skills development, college credits, and corporate internships."

Bill shared www.coderdojo.com with me, a free and open learning collaboration around the world.

Jim let me know about an analytics conference in San Francisco mid-April: http://www.emetrics.org/sanfrancisco/2013/

Mariel told me about an event being held in New York on March 19th called, "How Tech is Changing the Way Women Work." You can find more info about it here (and see the live stream):

From Heather:
I'm trying to make my first feature film, a Sci-Fi Comedy.  It features an IT woman who saves the world via her tech savvy and intelligence. The hero is a tech woman! 
I feel portraying a woman like this in film, not as though she's an anomaly, but simply as a fact, is extremely important - as art and life mirror each other.  And as a female film director, and comedy writer - I feel there's not enough successful female directors or comedians in power.  We do see more and more successful females in comedy, but there are still so few female filmmakers on top.  Many female oriented comedies are directed by men. 
As I'm in my fundraising phase (it's an independent film) I'm hoping to reach out to women in technology and that community - as people who might be interested in my project. Perhaps you are linked into this world, or could connect me to people such as yourself who want to improve the image of women in technology? 

I want to thank everyone who has reached out. I loved reading and responding to your messages and would love to read more (my address is first and last name at gmail dot com). 

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