Diversity in tech communities

Until about a year ago I always found the idea of a tech "community" a bit cringey. When people would say “giving back to the community” or “ask online, there is a really friendly community”, I just didn’t really get it. I think I just saw this a groups of brogrammers who like to show everyone why they are the best developers out there. I guess I gained this view from a combination of the perception of people you see online communities, local meetups and just general experiences of being in a minority in tech. There was a time this would stop me from attending local meetups or giving my opinion in techy conversations and I know others have done the same- perhaps the reason we don’t see as many women attending or speaking at events.

Then I decided to invest more time in learning more about the technologies I use every day. Bit of a background about my career: I started out my career in Java development for 2 years then nearly 4 years ago, I started working at Equator, a digital agency. I started to transfer my knowledge of Java to C# and learning about the technologies around the .Net stack. The main one I found myself learning a lot about was Umbraco as it is our most used CMS for client sites. I gained knowledge about this through a combination of: help from other developers in the team, looking at sites built with Umbraco, attending our local Glasgow Umbraco meetup and reading documentation online. I started to realise there is a community feel to the group of people on forums and social media (check out the #umbraco hashtag on twitter). I noticed people helping each other out, being encouraging and just general banter… however, it did seem like a bit of a club where you couldn’t get in or didn’t get the ‘in’ jokes. I discovered later this really isn’t the case.

Having heard a lot about Umbraco CodeGarden in previous years and watching the videos online, I managed to get myself a ticket via a giveaway by Umbraco HQ for women developers. Now, I know this is a kind of “positive discrimination,” and to be honest I had mixed feelings about it, but hopefully in this article I can explain the difference these types of simple gestures can make — so much so that I instantly bought a ticket for next year’s conference. Partly to “give back to the community” (see, I get it now!) and also to keep me motivated for the following year.

So, this wee Scottish lady packed up her laptop and trainers and headed for Odense, Denmark.

So, this wee Scottish lady packed up her laptop and trainers and headed for Odense, Denmark.

My first introduction to conference attendees was at the CG Runners morning run. I had heard about the plans for a run via Twitter in the lead up to the event and since I love exploring new cities by running, I decided to sign up for the Strava group and go along for the run. Up early for a 7am run is not the typical stereotype of a developer and I got my first insight into how welcoming everyone is. Meeting a bunch of strangers in a new city to go running might have seemed a bit strange when I explained my plans to my family, but it was a great way to get to know people and a good ice breaker for someone who isn’t great with social situations as at least running is something I am comfortable with.

Since CodeGarden I have stayed in touch with loads of people online and people really are just friendly and encouraging

At the conference I did stand around awkwardly a little bit at first as I didn’t know anyone but people are really friendly and came up to introduce themselves. It was so nice seeing people who go every year (and I recognised from Twitter) greeting each other with big hugs and catching up on how their families are doing. Now I started to get the “community” thing.

Since CodeGarden I have stayed in touch with loads of people online and people really are just friendly and encouraging – in talking about code, running or just my attempts at baking (I post many pictures of cake!).

By getting the opportunity to go to the conference, I have since started organising our local Umbraco meetups in Glasgow, blogged about both my experiences and technical posts (something I was always too scared to do), attended the UK festival and contributed to the Open Source project. This is the impact that just one incentive for women in tech can have, therefore I think encouraging diversity through free/discounted tickets, diversity funds, ladies only events, etc can only be a good thing.

You hear about developer conferences having playboy magazines in gift bags or dancers dressed like school girls, so you can see why even attending an event can be intimidating for a woman and perhaps an indication of why the number of females attending events is so low. This is why I feel it is important to talk about positive experiences and show the “brogrammer” conferences how it’s done!

So from my experiences I have thought of a few pieces of advice for people already in the community and newbies (particularly ladies) looking to join:

  • Beware of unconscious bias: This one goes out to those in the majority in the community. You may not work with a lot of female developers, perhaps many of the women you work with happen to be designers or project managers. But if you are at a coding conference, please just assume people you are talking to are developers. It may seems like a simple misunderstanding but when you are already in a minority and feeling it out of place it can be a real confidence blow when people ask “Are you a project manager?” just based on how you look. Erica’s talk at CodeGarden 16 shows that of those surveyed, the same percentage of male and female respondents describe themselves as backend developers.

  • Talk to us: I have heard a few guys say they don’t always go up to a woman at a conference or meetup because they are worried they will seem creepy or that we will think they are hitting on us. We are techies at a tech conference, we are there for the same reasons as you – say hello! You won’t realise just how much we appreciate it and this simple gesture can really mean a lot.

  • Be yourself: I used to try and fit in when I went to local meetups or even just in my dev team at work, playing down some of my more feminine personality traits and interests. As I have gained more experience in industry, I have decided this is just not necessary. Yes I wear flowery dresses and re-apply my nail varnish during a lunch break at a conference, I still like techy things as much as you and can still be a kick ass developer.

  • Spread the word: Believe it or not, I don’t just love talking about being a women in tech or every small achievement I manage to reach! But I feel it is important to share positive experiences when they happen as an alternative to the usual doom and gloom stories of how bad it is for women in industry. Telling us how bad the percentage of female developers is over and over again won’t change it, creating positive female role models will. I believe in the saying “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it”, so if we step up and show women can be part of tech communities, write coding blogs, speak at conferences then this will hopefully make it easier for the next woman to see themselves in that role.

  • “Just do it”: If you are a worrier like me so have been putting off attending a conference, blogging, contributing to open source or joining in on Twitter banter. Don’t worry, just do it!


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