Were you at PyCon? Did you stop by the Geek Feminism Hackerspace? What did you think of the talks? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
cross-posted from Cogito, Ergo Sumana
When part of the joy of a place is that gender doesn’t matter, it’s hard to write about that joy, because calling attention to gender is the opposite of that. I want to illustrate this facet of my Hacker School experience: mostly, Hacker Schoolers of all genders talk about mostly the same things. And we talk about them in all gender combinations — including, just by chance, among women.
The “Bechdel Test” asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women with names who talk to each other about something other than a man. Thus in my blog I have an occasional series listing topics I’ve discussed with other women. My life passes the Bechdel Test! ;-)
So here is an list of some things I’ve discussed with Hacker School women. (About half the facilitators, cofounders, participants, and residents are women.)
Some Things Hacker School Women Talk About
- why LVars and set operations relate to current work in distributed systems
- The Kids Are All Right
- IRC etiquette, and when to use IRC instead of a mailing list, videocall or wiki
- the Haiku operating system’s key features (many of them similar to BeOS)
- refactoring a function a guy wrote so it doesn’t do everything in
main()(technically breaks Bechdel?)
- whether to work at a nonprofit or for-profit
- where is that maple syrup smell coming from? (answer: someone was making oatmeal)
- our GitHub report cards
- how to use machine learning techniques to train a Markov chain to generate funnier sentences
- how the hell Makefiles work
- what the hell a cuticle is
- binary search and Huffman coding
- saving time with useful Python standard library modules (string, time, os, etc.) and packages, e.g., requests
- Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
pipgets its info (PyPI)
- the Pythonic convention for reading from a file,
with open('file','r') as f, and the fact that it’s a context manager
- when and how to use list comprehensions and dictionary comprehensions, generators and decorators,
- why we use
passfor stub functions or classes instead of
- birth control amortization
- how you would override Python’s default behavior to raise an exception when slicing a list with a negative int
- how to write a hill-climbing algorithm and why
- G.K. Chesterton’s use of the mystery genre
- what the #! (hashbang) line at the beginning of a script actually does
- song currently stuck in one’s head (“Gettin’ Jiggy Wid’ It”) and confusing “Wild Wild West” with “Back To The Future III”
- what it takes to work remotely
- security issues inherent in creating a sandboxed version of an interactive Python interpreter
- who put this post-it note on the fridge saying “No Java on Monday”? When? Did the author mean the beverage or the language? Was it descriptive or imperative? Why did they never take it down?
- an awesome 1982 Bell Labs video about UNIX featuring Lorinda Cherry
I could make this list probably ten times longer. My point is, if you don’t care about gender, Hacker School is awesome. If you’re irritated by the tech industry’s usual gender crap, Hacker School is blissfully free of it and you can — if you want — turn into someone who doesn’t care about gender for three months.*
You can apply now for the next batch — apply by Saturday night, December 14th.
* an oversimplification! But you get what I mean.
- Geek Masculinity and the Myth of the Fake Geek Girl: “For decades, we’ve prided ourselves on being forward-thinkers, early adopters, willing to challenge cultural norms and think and work outside the boxes imposed on us. Imagine how far we could go if we could then stop replacing them with boxes of our own design.”
- Code review for the new PyLadies in your life: “Here’s the very best thing you can say when a PyLady shares her code with you: ’Thanks for sharing this!’ And then, after you’ve had a look: ’I’ve had a look and you’re doing a great job. Tell me about what you’ve written.’ Seriously. That’s about it.”
- The Mojo Wire: “Glasses on Chicks”: Two friends discuss the “fake geek girl” and geeky gatekeeping issue on Facebook; includes a great link roundup for the larger discussion.
- Why “Men’s Right’s” Groups Are Wrong: An overview and take-down of Men’s Rights Activists talking points and tactics.
- Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital: “Journalists are good at bringing public awareness to problems like gaming’s pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia, but awareness isn’t enough. It’s our job as feminist scholars, teachers, writers, and gamers to document, analyze, and theorize the white patriarchy that is so vigorously resurgent in games while never forgetting who profits here.”
- BPS Research Digest: Why are women chosen to lead organisations in a crisis?: “Now a brand new study suggests the phenomenon [of the "glass cliff"] occurs firstly, because a crisis shifts people’s stereotyped view of what makes for an ideal leader, and secondly, because men generally don’t fit that stereotype.”
- Google looking for an algorithm for keeping women: “Glad to hear that Google is aware that they’re losing women, and that they’re trying to study themselves to figure out where. I hope that they’ll be successful. A big part of the problem is what they’re not doing and not seeing.”
- Who are you calling ?sister?? – Salon.com: “More than 30,000 women are currently members of Webgrrls, and many more have passed through the community over the years. Webgrrls’ impact on the wired female population has been profound. But Webgrrls is no longer the only game in town, and these days numerous women’s communities are pursuing similar pro-women, pro-technology agendas.”
You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Thanks to everyone who suggested links.
- Engendering Change? Gender Advocacy in Open Source | Culture Digitally : A response to a recent New Media & Society article, “‘Patches don’t have gender’: What is not open in open source software”, by Dawn Nafus.
- @kierstenwhite : On gender in Pixar’s Brave.
- TV Tropes Restores Rape Tropes, but Disturbing Questions Remain | The Mary Sue : A summary of the recent goings ons with the Rape Tropes pages at TV Tropes.
- [Trigger warning] The R Word | The Escapist : A very personal story about the impact of a word.
- GF contributor brainwane gave a keynote at Open Source Bridge on “Be Bold: An Origin Story”, about her childhood and family experiences and how they contributed to her open source work. You can read the text of the talk, or view the video footage.
- Just a Little Lovin’ 2012 | Gaming As Women : A report from the Scandinavian larp “Just a Little Lovin’”, about when AIDS hit NYC in the early 80s. “The game managed to not only attract experienced LARPers, but also HIV activists, HIV-positive people, LGBT activists, and cultural workers from all over the world.”
- Know Your Lore: What exactly is up with women in Warcraft lore? | joystiq : it’s not that women don’t exist in the Warcraft universe — they’re all over the place, honestly. It’s that there is only a handful worth of them that have enough character development and story to warrant dedicating a column to them. To which I say wait a minute, what is up with that?
- Let’s get louder : Python devs pledge to only attend conferences with anti-harrassment and anti-discrimination policies
You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Thanks to everyone who suggested links.
Cookie of the Week* is an occasional series highlighting action in the geek community to fight sexism, in order to show that fighting sexism is possible and happening.
When Chad Whitacre announced on Twitter that he’d just released a new version of Testosterone, “the manly testing interface for Python,” a friend of his called him out, asking “what, exactly, makes it manly?”
After a brief, polite back-and fourth, Whitacre slept on it, and apologized.
Then he announced that he’s renamed his project. Here’s an excerpt:
really do want to encourage women in tech (I have three young daughters), and a project like testosterone does not do that. I remember being surprised to see a woman at PyCon 2011. I don’t have the data, but anecdotally I’m telling you there were LOTS more women at PyCon 2012. Let’s do more of that!
It is now assertEquals, “the epic testing interface for Python.”
If anyone’s wondering how to handle being called out on twitter: this right here is how you handle it.
So here’s your cookie, Mr. Whitacre:
Image description: a rectangular shortbread cookie with scalloped edges and the word “NICE” stamped into the middle.
Does anyone else have any cookies to spare this week?
* Disclaimer: cookies may not be baked weekly!
The photo has nothing to do with the title, except that we are the lamp of knowledge and truth and anti-sexism shining into the dark corners of ignorance! Or maybe not. Anyway, linkspam:
- Haley Mlotek learns to make a WordPress site through Ladies Learning Code and discusses her experience and the organization’s implicit feminism.
I’d assumed Ladies Learning Code was a feminist organization because of my own feminist bias. But it was also because of the language used. The words “empowering” and “democratic” were thrown around a lot; the phrase “even the playing field” was evoked more than once. Everyone talked about a commitment to equality. I took for granted that we were all speaking the same language….
- “In 2011 three young women swept the top prizes of the first Google Science Fair. At TEDxWomen Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah described their extraordinary projects — and their route to a passion for science.”
- Speaking of science fairs, here’s one Intel Science Competition semifinalist: a young female biologist studying mussels in marshes.
- The High Visibility project “is collecting the stories of women in technology…. This project emerged from chats among the students, teachers and other women involved with Girl Develop It Columbus.”
- “Affirmative action for women in math contests boosts participation without dropping results”, says a new report.
- Dan Shapiro’s “Startup dudes: Cut the sexist crap” does what it says on the tin.
- Sigh Geeklist, sigh Sqoot.
- Marco at Not Rich Yet: “What’s the Big Deal?”, reflecting on sexism, racism and privilege in light of recent sexist incidents such as the Geeklist item above.
- Controversy about a homophobic post that appeared on the Mozilla project’s Planet (blog aggregator):
- Al Billings, Supporting an Open Mozilla
- Christie Koehler on “The (Overdue) Need for Community Conduct Standards at Mozilla”
- Mitchell Baker and others, discussion on Mozilla’s governance mailing list about community standards and a draft code of conduct for Mozilla.
- “Women in physics: A tale of limits”: “A newly completed survey of 15 000 physicists worldwide reveals that women physicists still do not have equal access to the career-advancing resources and opportunities enjoyed by their male colleagues.”
- The archives of Europe’s first female professor, Laura Bassi, will soon be available online.
- Women are more likely to buy three out of the four top consumer electronics.
- “Diversity in practice: How the Boston Python User Group grew to 1700 people and over 15% women” (video, 41 minutes) starring Asheesh Laroia and Jessica McKellar of OpenHatch.
How do you bring more women into programming communities with long-term, measurable results? In this talk we’ll analyze our successful effort, the Boston Python Workshop, which brought over 200 women into Boston’s Python community this year. We’ll talk about lessons learned running the workshop, the dramatic effect it has had on the local user group, and how to run a workshop in your city.
- “In 1943, Euphemia Lofton Haynes became the first ever black woman to receive a PhD in mathematics, at the age of 53.” A Pi Day celebration.
- “Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code”: Miriam Posner reminds other digital humanities professionals that there are structural obstacles to women getting tech skills.
- Results from the Women and Wikipedia survey 2011.
- Empathy and community: “You’re making someone else’s life worse because you don’t want to make the smallest change to your own.”
- “I hate feeling like this – like being me is somehow a hindrance to my career.” From “You’re not like the rest, and that is okay – Letter to My Young self” by DNLee.
- Feminism and hackerspaces.
- I will not learn Rails:
“I’m certainly not against using the right technology for the job. But Rails is no longer the only framework of its type, and if I have a choice, I’d rather not be part of a community which seriously thinks dick jokes are hilarious.”
- Dr. Jennifer Widom, Chair of the Computer Science Department at Stanford University, discusses crafting and teaching her fall intro to databases class, which about 60,000 students took online. “A particularly noteworthy student named Amy became an absolute folk hero: Over the duration of the course Amy answered almost 900 posted questions.”
- The GNOME Outreach Program for Women: deadline for application, April 6.
- A sad farewell to astrophysicist Susan Niebur, and to veteran astronaut Janice Voss.
You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Thanks to everyone who suggested links.
Beating learn-to-program anxiety with good gamification and courses
I have anxiety about learning technical skills. I wrote about this a little while back. But now I know more about how I learn, and, in bits and snatches, I am gaining proficiency and confidence. Here’s a summary of my journey over the last several months with learning more programming skills (in this case, mostly in Python), with links to some resources in case you’re like me.
I get anxious when learning skills that I think I should already know; I feel behind and guilty. Structure, little rewards, friendly sociability, and encouragement from other women help tremendously. Tedra Osell writes about this in the context of writer’s block, and FlyLady and Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts speak to that problem in learning to keep a comfortable home; the people and resources I mention (CodeLesson, OpenHatch’s Boston Python Workshop for women and their friends, CodingBat, and the Python Challenge) provide many of the stimuli I need. Also, my anxiety spikes if I think I am supposed to compare my speed or quality of work with others (hence my post’s title), but cools down if I see evidence that someone else wants to patiently help me. These resources helped me learn without pushing my “argh everyone’s better than me” buttons.
Thanks to Etsy for the free class. And I liked the CodeLesson interface and infrastructure enough that I may pay for additional CodeLesson classes, or get my organization to follow Etsy’s lead and offer classes through them to increase our users’ skills.
A couple months later, I had a chance to attend OpenHatch’s intro-to-Python workshop specifically meant for women and their friends. I’d read about these before, on GeekFeminism and elsewhere, and it sounded like it would fit how I learn as well as help me plan to hold similar events in my community. So, on a Friday in December, I took the bus from New York City to Boston.
It’s a good thing that the Friday night prep part was three hours and that I already knew a bunch of stuff that other people were new to (familiarity with the command line & the Python prompt, etc.) since I was an hour late! It was good to fix the syntax-y bits in my mind. The CodingBat exercises were great practice and I got a big triumphant fist-raised feeling when all those unit tests passed.
In between sessions, I chatted with some of the people who run the program. It sounds like each individual run of it costs about $300 for lunch for everyone and that’s practically it, since they use volunteers and the venue time is donated (and then like $10 total for pens/sticky nametags/laser-printed “here’s the workshop” signs/etc.). That’s practically out-of-pocket for a tech community, and they get grants. So it’s totally replicable. I’ve been reminded that it’s important to treat these kinds of workshops more like a community introduction than as standalone events; local user groups and communities should be the teachers, and email blasts and encouragement should integrate participants into their local hobbyist groups.
Saturday morning’s lecture included some review of stuff I knew, but it went fast enough that I was still learning most of the time — like, how to ask for the nth character in a string, or how for-loops quite work, some subtleties of scope, etc.
Then the project bits — the teachers and their presentations weren’t quite as polished as Jessica McKellar, who had led the earlier parts of the workshop. But I still learned a lot and got to make cool things happen using, say, the Twitter API, and that was very neat. As designed, the workshop led me through small, basic exercises first (the equivalent of finger exercises in piano), then showed off visually satisfying things we could do with Python and its ecosystem.
Aside from tiny minor delays, the workshop basically ran like a Swiss watch the whole time. I was impressed. It takes a lot of preparation, skill, and practice to make an event like that go so smoothly and teach so many people; congrats to the workshop volunteers! And I’m glad I went, learned and remembered Python, and got more confidence to attempt projects. On a community management level, I’m also massively grateful that I’ve seen firsthand an example of how we can construct and maintain these parts of the pipeline, to help more girls and women get into STEM.
The workshop so excited me that I then did all the Python exercises on CodingBat, and started Python Challenge (I’m at step 4 or 5 right now). They’re complementary. They both gamify learning, and you don’t have to look at how other people are doing, and they both have somewhat granular ways of kindly telling you when you’ve done something slightly wrong. With CodingBat it’s the unit tests, which go from red to green when you cover another edge case. In Python Challenge, for example, at one point I went to a URL where I had transformed the filename from the previous URL per a transformation hinted at in the challenge. The URL had ended in .html, and after the decryption, it ended in the extension (making this up to avoid spoilers) “.ywnb”. At that address was a text file that the server signalled you should download. I downloaded and opened it and it just said, “have you ever heard of .ywnb files?!” or something like that, implying basically that I shouldn’t have transformed the file extension, just the filename. So, it didn’t just fail, it gave me a nicely furnished dead end, signalling kindly but playfully that I had done something understandably wrong.
There’s probably some game design term for this kind of compassionate railroading, but it makes me think of the caring side of the caring-to-combative community spectrum. And in both cases I got that feeling of being nurtured by someone who cared, even if that someone else is Nick Parlante (CodingBat’s author), years ago and a continent away.
Also, CodingBat is pretty clear about how you solve any given problem (declaring that this set of problems is about lists and only 1 layer of for-loops, or what have you), whereas in the Python Challenge you have a puzzle that you know you can solve with Python but that you can hit a bunch of different ways. If you want an experience with arguably more realistic exercises, the author of CodingBat also made the Google intro to Python, which includes exercises along the lines of “munge the semistructured data in this file with these guidelines.” I intend on doing that this year.
It was good to have my spouse Leonard nearby to help me when I was working on the Python Challenge, to (for example) help see that I had called a variable inconsistently, to notice that I couldn’t import a file as a module because I’d named it “1″ instead of something starting with a letter, to remind me how to learn of (“dir(filename)”) and then use (“filename.function”) the functions within it, to tell me about string.replace, and to tell me how to use the interactive prompt properly to investigate how you call a method on an object of whatever type. But I did nearly all the work myself. And as of today I feel a lot more comfortable using for-loops, knowing what data structures to use for a problem (I decided to use a dictionary datatype the other day! And it worked! So exciting!), getting stuff in and out of dictionaries, and generally thinking “I can learn this!” Data structures and algorithms had felt mystifying to me. Now data structures no longer do. I remember the moment in Python challenge when I thought, “I’ll use a dictionary!” and I was right! It’s great.
This is a guest post by Marina Zhurakhinskaya. Marina is a software engineer at Red Hat working on the GNOME desktop and organizing the Outreach Program for Women in GNOME. This post originally appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.
I’d like to tell you about four women who have inspired me to no end with their work, insight, and community outreach. Every interaction with them has motivated me in my work. Essentially, by being as dedicated as they are, they bring out the best in other people. I’m lucky to have met all of them and to have worked with them on community outreach efforts.
Joanmarie Diggs has worked for the Carroll Center for the Blind for the last 14 years, helping visually impaired people learn to use assistive technology. She decided to teach herself programming in order to contribute to Orca, GNOME’s screen reader. She eventually became the maintainer of Orca. Exactly a month ago, she was hired to work on GNOME accessibility at Igalia within 4 hours of posting on Twitter that her grant-funded position at the Carroll Center had been cut.
Joanie’s tweets are always infused with a great deal of humor. She says â€œRandom thought: I wonder if I’ll ever shovel snow againâ€¦.â€ in the wake of her move from New Hemisphere to Spain. Joanie has been a very caring mentor for one of the participants in the recent round of the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She is the best role model I know for any woman getting involved in GNOME development.
Máirín Duffy is an interaction designer at Red Hat. She has a strong commitment to graphic design with free software. She has been using 100% free software to create her designs for many years now and has created many resources and opportunities for others to learn free software graphic design tools.
Máirín created the Fedora Design Bounty project to provide people interested in contributing to Fedora design with well-defined tasks suitable for beginners. She created some great flyers and art work to promote the Fedora Design Suite spin at SXSW. She ran Gimp and Inkscape classes for local middle school students and for Girl Scouts, creating great resources for both. Helping Máirín with the Girl Scout classes and going over these resources was actually how I learned do useful things in Gimp and Inkscape.
Máirín has showcased 17 open fonts in an “Unpackaged Font of the Week” series in her blog. There is always some fun and inviting project she talks about in her blog, accompanied by great pictures, designs, and educational resources.
Jessica McKellar is a recent MIT graduate who works at Ksplice. She organizes Boston Python Workshops for women and their friends. These workshops assume no prior knowledge of programming and walk the attendees through the installation steps, basic Python constructs, interactive programming exercises, and small projects during a 1.5 day event. Jessica explains programming in an engaging way and she and other volunteers help the attendees with any stumbling blocks throughout the event. These workshops get filled up within days of being announced and, in response, have grown in the number of attendees they accommodate. Being able to learn how to program in a supportive environment where any setback is resolved within minutes is tremendously empowering to the attendees. Jessica has found a great approach for helping more women feel confident about learning to program and the detailed materials she has created are now used for similar workshops in other cities.
Jessica is one of the maintainers of OpenHatch, a community website that provides the information and teaches the necessary skills for getting involved in free software. Open Source Workshop is another event Jessica recently organized together with Asheesh Laroia, who is the creator of OpenHatch. This workshop walked the attendees through the basics of free software contributing and gave them hands-on experience with using IRC, working with patches, and triaging bugs. Participating in such events gives the attendees the necessary confidence to make their next steps in the free software world. The first step is often the hardest and the community events Jessica puts together help many people make it.
Stormy Peters is the Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. Before that she was the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. After leaving that position, she ran for the 7 person GNOME board as soon as she had a chance, coming in first with the largest number of top votes. Stormy is also the founder and president of Kids on Computers, a nonprofit organization setting up computer labs in schools where kids have no other access to technology. Her leadership and ability to connect people is a great gift for all the organizations she is involved with.
Stormy has been my go-to person for the last two years in which we have been working on the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. She championed the need to revive the women outreach initiative in GNOME and has helped with everything from getting sponsorship to answering applicant inquiries. It’s a great luxury to know that I can get sound and helpful advice from her about anything related to the program. When not bouncing ideas off of Stormy, I like reading her blog posts. They are just as insightful, both on matters related to free software and on other things in life.
This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.
During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on January 20, 2011.
The other night I went to a hacking meetup for the first time in months. It’s usually an informal Python learnfest, and as I’m refreshing my Python basics, I went with the assumption that I’d be the least technically skilled person there. Like, of course, right?
The hacking meetup that night was, as it turns out, an installfest, so I ended up generally poking around at the software being demonstrated, and conversing with strangers. One in particular caught my attention with a fairly ill-formed question: what meetups should he visit to learn how to make websites?
Over the next hour, as I answered his questions, it became clear that he just didn’t know much, compared to me, about software engineering, or about the wider world of technology or the web. He’s in the second year of a computer information systems bachelor’s degree, and knows his way around a little Java (of which I am wholly illiterate). He didn’t know about the LAMP stack, or about Drupal or Rails or Django (or why one might choose PHP versus Ruby versus Python versus Java versus pick-your-web-friendly-language). He didn’t know that these tools exist, or why one would use a framework or pre-existing CMS rather than coding “everything” oneself. He has never heard of bug trackers, or source control, or
diff. He said he did not know what a wiki was (I scarcely believed this, and told him that Wikipedia is a wiki).
As a side note: I gathered that his entire career trajectory and curriculum comes not even from conventional wisdom, but from “I once heard someone say.” Examples: “Why are you doing CIS instead of CS?” “Someone told me that CS majors get outsourced.” Or, more boggling: “Someone told me Python is useless.”
From one perspective, this guy has more technical merit than I do. He has taken an algorithms class. He can probably do a job interview coding question better than I can (reverse the characters in this string, etc.). But I have a fair amount of wisdom he lacks, full stop.
Then there was the guy who was interviewing me to work at his startup. As we walked, he offhandedly mentioned his current project at his day job: a PHP web app needed to be able to turn user markup into HTML. “And you’ve already checked whether MediaWiki has something you can grab, right?” I asked. He stopped in his tracks. No, he had not thought of that.
I need to stop assuming that everyone else knows more about the tech than I do.
We’ve talked a fair amount here at Geek Feminism about impostor syndrome and sexism (my past post). I’m just going to start with a few postulates:
- In sexist societies, women get especially socialized to think we’re not as intellectually capable as we are, and to act self-deprecating about our abilities
- In technical spaces where women are the minority, sexists dismiss our successes and concentrate on our missteps
…every achievement is just a mitigation of the disservice I’m doing womankind.
It’s as though my goalposts came on casters to make them easier to move
But of course that is an error in judgment. Our sense of our own merit gets calibrated by feedback from the outside world, but sexism and impostor syndrome get in the way of that calibration. All the tentacles of this issue — the prejudice, the tokenization, the distorted self-perception, the discounting of one’s achievements and comparative lionization of others’ — bother me because they mess with proper judgment.
On an emotional level, I especially hate that anything is interfering with my data-collection and judgment. I am the kind of person who delayed drinking alcohol and took notes the first time she drank, to record any degradation in perceptions and prudence. I delayed getting a credit card till I’d supported myself for more than a year, partially to ensure that I had the correct attitude to judging purchases & debt. And here is this thing, clogging and fogging my mind, which I know is a lie, but which does not go away even when I speak its true name and snap three times.
“I hate myself for hating myself so much”
“oh god you’re awesome, I have worse impostor syndrome than you”
“No way, your self-confidence is admirable”
RECURSION DINOSAUR rawwwrrraaaawr
So I seek lessons and tactics on how to become a less irritating person to my friends, and a more useful and capable person going forward. Some assorted thoughts and ideas:
Five ways you can feel as competent as you really are
- Everything in Terri’s earlier advice, especially a shield of arrogance.
I’m not saying you need a thick skin. That’s maybe true, but it won’t help your confidence nearly as much as the ability to say, “screw you; I’m awesome.” Shield of arrogance it is.
If you are worried about being confidently wrong sometimes, note that a small increase in confident wrong assertions is a small price to pay for a big increase in capability, correct assertions, momentum, and achievement.
- Know that sometimes thoughts come from feelings, not the other way around. The “I suck” feeling does not necessarily have a basis, just as good weather and ephemeral physiology can put you on top of the world. Instead of looking for reasons that you feel mildly down or incapable, consider disregarding them, acting, and seeing if your feelings dissipate.
- If you feel compelled to go from success to success, you may not be risking enough. As these entrepreneurs do, try assuming that you will fail the first time you try something.
- Every endeavor that anyone has ever done is therefore in some sense No Big Deal, that is, doable. Some people make the hard look easy, but experience and effort make for far greater variation than does innate ability — or, at least, isn’t it more useful to assume so? Watch other people succeed, and watch other people fail. Mere life experience helped me out here, but so did Project Runway, where I saw good people trying and failing every single week. And so did seeing these guys, at the meetup, at the job interview, being dumber than me. I just had to keep my eyes open and it happened, because I am smarter than the average bear.
- Notice the things you know. A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that she worries that people perceive her as incompetent if she asks more than two questions about a hard problem via her company’s internal IRC channel. I asked her to compare how many questions she asks and answers on IRC each day. She hadn’t even been considering that ratio, because she’d unthinkingly assumed that what she knew must be basic, and blabbing about the stuff she already knows is easy and natural and unremarkable. But upon consideration, she’s a good peer in that informational ecology, seeding more than she leeches.
This is all corollary to my earlier injunction to make irrationality work for you. We are all monkeys, seizing on narratives and any status signals we can find. Don’t keep the default sexist irrational assumptions get in the way of your confidence-competence virtuous circle. Make your own recursion dinosaur of win.
I have spent the past weekend in Sydney attending PyCon AU, the second Australian conference for the Python programming language. It’s only the second time this conference has been held, but attendance grew by 50% (from 200 to 300) and to my mind, the programme was noticably better as well. (I might be biased though, as I appeared in it.)
However by far the most cheering aspect to me was the extent to which the organisers made efforts to make it a women-friendly event. They had diversity grants to attract women who would not otherwise be able to attend. They had a code of conduct, announced it each morning, and reiterated it when they informed delegates that they had had to enforce it. They announced a ‘women in Python’ breakfast as part of their schedule. And they invited two women keynotes: Audrey Roy of PyLadies, and GF’s own Mary Gardiner of the Ada Initiative, both organisations that support women in software development, more-or-less broadly.
Their efforts paid off: women’s attendance increased from 10 last year (5%), to 35 this year (11.6%).
It made a visceral difference to my experience: instead of glancing around and finding myself the only woman in a room, this year there was always women in my line of sight. It was so nice to talk to many different women from all over the country and find out how they are using Python. It’s so nice to have conversations where you know for sure that you are ordinary rather than exceptional. I mean literally, being viewed as an exception. It’s so nice to know you can confess all you don’t know, without feeling that you might be [http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Stereotype_threat ruining the reputation of women everywhere].
While I understand that there are many issues with women in IT/SE, I wonder if so many groups for women results in exclusion.
It’s not clear to me what kind of exclusion @fphhotchips is concerned about. Men missing out on their fair share of geeky conversations with women? That would be disappointing I suppose, although those conversations can happen at any time during the conference. But the flipside is an order of magnitude more important: most women in software developer roles in Australia miss out every single day on the chance to see themselves reflected amongst their peers and their seniors. Reflected in numbers that cannot be reduced to an enumerable number of individuals: that is, the feeling of 10 is different to the feeling of 35. More, as they say, is different.
Maybe once a month, at a “girl geek” event, or once a year at a women-focused event at a conference, can technical women enjoy relief from a mental burden that they may not even consciously realise they are carrying. It is not the world’s hugest burden by any measure, but it exists, and can keep us self-silencing, self-doubting, and generally takes away our energy from changing the world, or at least making the next release deadline.
When the burden is lifted, we can enjoy a brief respite called freedom. Freedom to admit mistakes. Freedom to not have to wonder if someone reacted some particular way because you’re a woman. Freedom to compliment someone on their cute bag without being seen as frivolous or invoking an unwanted reminder to others that you are a woman. Freedom to enjoy the norms of speech that women more commonly (but not exclusively) follow, like turn-taking. Freedom to make a (radical!) feminist comment without hurting anyone’s ego. Freedom to not represent 50% of the population. And I am not even getting into the much heavier burdens that some women bear, with actively hostile workplaces, harassment, the need to conceal aspects of themselves for their own safety.
Freedom to look around and see people like you. For some of us it comes around more often than others. If you see an event for women happening and feel left out, just chill out and remember we’ll soon enough be back to our usual distribution. And remember that we, as presumably you do too, want most of all to not need to hold such events. And when we are more, we will not.