Women in Technology

No, this post won’t bash men. Instead, I’d like to chat with the women out there, tho’ I hope the men out there read it, too.

Specifically, I want to speak to women in geek communities but who aren’t geeks themselves.

Most male geeks already respect smart geek women (and people of color, and paraplegics, and ugly people), and have done so since probably forever, certainly since I’ve been a geek. It’s non-geek women who don’t respect us as geeks. Oh, you notice us if we’re attractive, or if we can at least pass for normal, but you don’t really respect our intelligence like you respect male geeks.

Got your attention? Whew. Stick with me, please ;-)

Dear Female Reader,

I am a colleague, friend, or acquaintance of your husband, boyfriend, brother, son, and I’m a geek. You know this because we are members of the same geek communities. You’ve told me about your frustrations trying to get the attention of your male geek for help with some tech problem. If you do get their attention, you tell me they’re impatient or otherwise not helpful (not mean, just not very helpful). Most of you say you are supportive of geek women, which is great. If you’re sincere then I have a challenge for you. For one month go to one of your female geek pals for help instead of a guy. I bet you know someone in your circle who can help. If not, then by all means get the info anywhere you can. But give the women a try first. You might be surprised.


A Female Geek

Where does this come from? Well, I’ve had the subject of women in professions on my mind for a while now, but two recent events prompted me to get off my butt and write: a conversation with Ponzi last weekend and a post by Maryam about Blogher. I dearly love these two women: my life is better for their friendship, so, don’t construe this as criticism. I’m not picking on you or your guys.

Ponzi and Maryam’s significant others (Chris and Robert, respectively) have excellent minds and fine characters. I understand the tendency to rely on them for tech help, if for no other reason than they’re loud!

Even tho’ Chris and Robert are a couple of smarty-pants, they have their weaknesses. One weakness is they are NOT user advocates. They’re early adopters and leaders for communities of Über users. They’re brilliant at digesting the implications of new technology. They are important resources for vendors who want to investigate market directions. But they don’t “do” just-regular-folk. Can you imagine Chris spending the time necessary to overcome the habit an office worker has of first printing, then deleting, every email she receives? I don’t want to think what Robert would say to a worker who expresses resentment for new software that will surely put him out of work.

If Ponzi and Maryam are sincere about recognizing women in technology, and I believe they are, then use me and my sisters as technologists. For example, Ponzi has relied on Chris for help with her unmanageable email inbox. It was a problem for her months ago when I first offered to show her some useful tricks. It was still a problem for her last weekend when we last chatted about it. Admittedly with a bit of a sniff, I reminded Ponzi that I’m a geek. Ponzi is so sweet! She said it’s hard for her to remember I’m a geek. (Guess that teaches me to bathe daily.)

Well, I AM a geek. And a damn good one. Not only am I geek but part of my job is to help non-geeks implement technology. I’m damned good at that, too. Better than Chris or Robert. (Again with the sniff.)
Maryam’s post about Blogher was another spur. I love what Maryam is doing—she’s a fine leader for the community of blogging in general and female bloggers in particular. But, the post made Blogher seem to be about fashion, gossip, and kids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong in any of that, but that’s not what will get me to a conference.

I don’t mind the wetware stuff, but advertising women as mommies and hotties, well, seems so 70’s. Most women in technology I know just want to be people and talk about geek stuff. Men already notice tits and asses without any extra prompting.

I’m confident that male geeks will listen to a female speaker on technology issues if she’s got high quality geek content–I know they do. They won’t go because she’s hot. Sure, they’ll want to talk to her between sessions, but they go presentations because of content, not sex.

I tell young girls that computer technology is a great field for women because geeks care about knowledge, not appearance. Please, don’t make female computer scientists have to pass a wet t-shirt contest in addition to keeping up with the incredibly fast pace of the profession.

See us as geeks, it’s how we see ourselves, and we love a chance to show our passion off to you, our female friends.


10 thoughts on “Women in Technology

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Excellent suggestion! I will pass this along to my wife.

    You see, it is not that we male uber geeks cannot communicate with end users. It is a spouse or significant other problem. The “help gap” is prominent for the same reason I cannot wallpaper with my wife. It just does not work.

    In my case expectations are high. My wife graduated five places ahead of me at our high school. She is very intelligent. Her mind is wired for mathematics and sewing at the same time, yet her computer skills are not so good. She is not comfortable with computers. She did not get the technology gene.

    Same thing with me and a clothes washer. My mind cannot wrap itself around the washer user interface, the concept of sorting, and the various detergents. I have delegated this to a mind that can and will.

    My long term solution before your excellent suggestion is to have the kids mentor her. It works great and our marriage is rock solid. {g}

  2. Hi, Rick,

    I know that there are male geeks who have great computer-side manners, you for one. Maybe it’s a family thing, in part? Maybe it’s just harder to help your SO than a customer?

  3. Hey Nancy,

    Cool… If chances permit, I would like to invite you to motivate gals over here in India…

    Jus asked the same at Maryam’s blog… if u r offered to choose between sony’s latest personal communicator “Mylo” and a “diamond ring”, what would be your pick?

    Now answering that will tell your mind who you truely are… Tell us who you are now…


  4. Pingback: Diy power

  5. Hi, Manoj-

    Saw your question over on Maryam’s site, too. Me? I’d choose neither a diamond or a TV, since I couldn’t care less about TV. Oops. IIRC, the choice on Maryam’s blog was a Plasma T.V. Didn’t read your post carefully to see it was different choice.

    Here’s another way to get at the same info, though, and will answer your question.

    The sweetest most loving gift a significant other ever gave me was a copy of TurboC (way, way, WAY back in the day). Why was that sexy as hell? It showed he _really_ knew me independent of what his interests were since he was totally NOT a geek.

    Besides diamonds are arguably the most brilliant (no pun intended) example of how manipulated generations can be by a monopoly’s marketing, not to mention far more representive of horrendous oppression of people in mining of them. Forget furs, I have to admit my concern for humans outstrips my concern for minks. See, what a dork I am?

    UPDATED: Okay, change the choice to diamond or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0009PAT2A/002-2743046-1125612?v=glance&n=172282. I’d chose the autopivot monitor. No question. ;-)

  6. I also work in the technical fields and have for many years. My co-workers have called me a geek for as long as I can remember. I am geeky. I’m okay with that. I’m a total introvert. I have difficulties with people. BUT, I’m also really good at bridging the gap between the very technical people and the lay-people. I can speak both languages and do so effectively. I don’t care if I’m pretty, wear the right nail polish or have the right pair of shoes. What I care about is that I’m on the learning curve of the newest technologies and can relay this to people who can use it and that, if I’m lucky, my intelligence will show through.

  7. Hi, Dawn. Sounds like we have similar experiences and personalities. There’s a huge need for people who can bridge the gap and are willing to try. I’m delighted to know you’re out there.

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