But Young Women don’t want Role Models

Halley Suitt wrote at misbehaving.net about .NET developer Julie Lerman and her attending the PDC (Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference). Halley mentions the usual bad ratio of men attendees to women, which is not a surprise to any of us.

I wasn’t going to respond to Halley’s post, which was fine. But I could not let a comment Julie Lerman made go without response. First, to set the scene as to the skewed demographics of the conference (white/male, as usual) , Werner Vogels’ wrote:

The demographics are skewed not only for gender but also race and age. To dominant type: geeky white guy in the 20-30 year range and balding slighty heavyset white guys between 40-50. Hardly any African or Asian Americans. The presenters are almost all fit this stereotype.

I can agree with this assessment — it fits the conferences I’ve been to, and I’ve written about this in the past. To which Julie responds with:

Werner is right about the race demographics. You do have to discount the fact that it’s difficult for people from far away to get there. We know through INETA that there are huge .NET developer communities all over the world including places like Latin America, India, Malaysia, etc. As far as the age demographics, right again. But man, this stuff is exhausting and the older you get the harder it is to do. It is amazing to me how young so many of the “stars” of our little world are

(I did write a fairly scathing comment about this when I originally posted but I decided to remove it. I don’t think any comment is necessary. )

I am writing a very extensive essay on the technology profession, sparked in part by a thought provoking comment that Dori Smith wrote in comments at misbehaving.net:

Okay, I guess I’ll be the devil’s advocate and ask, what’s so special about getting women into tech?

I’ve been working with computers for over 25 years, and I’m at the point now where I don’t recommend that anyone go into this field, and particularly not women. The analogy I usually use is that of pro sports–if you’re going to get into the field, do it for love or for money, but don’t plan on it lasting as a lifetime career.

For love: it’s all you want to do, and it’s okay that either it’ll be a short-term paid gig or a long-term free gig. You do it because you feel driven to do it, and nobody better stand in your way. These folks (both male & female) don’t need any encouragement.

For money: you know it’s not a long-term proposition, but you’re okay with getting in, trying to grab the brass ring and make some serious dollars, and then getting out. These folks (both male & female) are going to pick tech or some other field based on how much money they think they can make in a short-time, and I (personally) don’t really care whether they decide that tech’s the answer for them or not.

But if you’re going to encourage women to go into tech, you need to make sure that they know that it’s a field just like, say, sports or modeling, where youth is always going to be more important than talent. They need to know that they’re picking a career where they’ll be unhirable once they turn 35 or have kids, or even worse, turn 35 *and* have kids.

This isn’t changed by getting more women into the field. This isn’t changed by a hot job market making employees more valuable (the Internet bubble made things worse, if anything). This is (imo) changed by getting rid of the self-destructive ways in which the field compensates employees, and producing more women graduates doesn’t touch that.

So, what’s so good about encouraging women to go into tech?

I apologize to Dori for copying the entire comment, but I thought it was a fascinating statement to make, and one worth discussion. I know that it stopped me cold and made me question a lot of my assumptions. More on this later.

I’m also writing several new essays for my For Poets sites on DDoS and weblogging’s impact on the openness of the Internet (and vice versa), which I hope to put out this weekend. Too bad it lacks the sexy shininess of all that way cool .NET stuff. *giggle*

Also almost finished with the rock show. Today. But first, I’m going on a hike. Have to keep these old bones moving, or they get brittle, you know.

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