This all started as a response to recent-ish blog entry I read, which spun off all sorts of thoughts I’ve had floating around my head.
One of the things I continue to circle around these days is the issue of women in technology — issues that range from what Tara got to deal with to men speculating on reasons for supposed female disinterest, to my own experiences as a female MIT student and Firefox intern.
I’m interning at Mozilla Corporation in Mountain View this summer, and of the 22 interns, there are two girls – myself, and a marketing intern from Stanford. Before I started, I talked to a friend about how I was nervous about starting the internship and didn’t feel quite ready. I’d never contributed to the Mozilla codebase, wrote an extension, or, hell, hadn’t even yet built Firefox from source. So as the only female engineering intern, I feel like there’s always that question with… certain situations. Like whether I’ve been chosen for the internship, or admitted to MIT, or selected for whatever — simply because I’m a girl, and not because of my merits.
On the flip side, there’s the problem that women like Tara and Kaliya have been encountering — the automatic disadvantage in the tech industry where women are automatically perceived as being not as knowledgeable as men, not as involved as men, or as only present by the grace of her gender, or… some other stigma.
The friend’s response? He told me I was paranoid. And to take any advantage I’m given because of the eventual landslide of disadvantages I’d have to face… and I’m still having trouble agreeing with him. One of the things that hurt me the most this year was another one of my friends – a male senior graduating in computer science about to go work at Google – who, while drunk at some party, said “it must be easier being a girl [to get job offers].” And he later apologized for it, explaining that he hadn’t meant to discredit my credentials… but then I overheard him telling someone else that “you know it’s true” that girls get an edge in hiring.
Finding out that that sexism extends into mainstream press, into not just techy types but writers about techy types, past computer science guys talking smack about their female colleages but into bloggers and/or journalists writing about women established in the tech community… simply put, sucks. Beyond encouraging older/already techy women to show up at conferences and unconferences, I think that a lot of what turns girls away from entering tech at a younger age is the negative image that the media presents of technology/engineers. So it’s even worse when someone that I do look to as a woman in the tech industry… doesn’t get a chance to break the “boys’ club” image this all perpetuates.
Anyway, I’m rambling now… and I think I’ve made my point. None of this was meant to say that Mozilla’s been guilty of any of this — no one’s been anything but nice to me so far, but environments like ones where I’m the only person on the floor to use the women’s restroom… spark such thoughts.