A Story about Being a Woman in Tech


A Story about Being a Woman in Tech

“I want to speak to a man right now”.

I was flabbergasted. As a tech support engineer I was very good at what I did (troubleshooting Windows 3.11 on DOS on laptops – yeah, it was that long ago) and I knew I was getting to the root of the caller’s problem. But he didn’t like the direction I was headed, for whatever reason.

He wanted a man to help solve his issue.

I looked over at my male supervisor who had, by chance, been listening in on that call. He nodded to transfer it over to him. Fuming, I sent him the call and sat back and waited. My supervisor proceeded to listen to the caller for a minute then I heard him say “Actually sir, I was listening to the call and Tina was on the right track. So I’m going to transfer you back to her so she can finish solving the problem for you”.

The caller was rude and surly the rest of the call but I did solve his issue without sending him down random troubleshooting rabbit holes. I had a hunch on what the root issue was and I was right. When his laptop was running again he hung up on me.

So I’ve already admitted this was before Windows 95 and you’d expect things to have changed. Unfortunately, I don’t get the sense that much has changed. In Silicon Valley there are many discussions about “brogrammers” and women being excluded in technical positions. I recently spoke to a female programmer who told me one of her male colleagues told her flat-out that female brains don’t work as well with technical topics as male brains do.

And lest we not forget, there was this great blog from the Smithsonian on how computer programming started out as “women’s work” because it was like planning a dinner (and therefore something a woman could easily do). I find it fascinating the campaign that happened to make women’s work a male dominated field (detailed in the blog).

What am I doing about all this? I mentor, I coach. I advocate. I listen, encourage and share the female experience. I speak up and I learn.

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  1. I worked for AOL and Deja.com from 1993 to 2000 and have to say that I didn’t experience the “brogrammer” attitude– at least to my face. Of course, I wasn’t a programmer but a content director and later vp of product marketing who worked as a team with programmers to create new and exciting activities for visitors (that meant just about everything back then).

    Not to say we didn’t have our arguments. But we always worked things out, developing great programs under extreme conditions (almost impossible deadlines, 70+ hour work weeks, and continuous changes in direction). Because of these obstacles, we bonded. I continue to keep in touch with many of these programmers many years later.

    Part of the success in my case is that our leadership seemed to treat everyone as an equal-opportunity success story. And *I* didn’t consider myself any different than my teammates– who were 80-90% male. If they worked weekends, I did. If the guys were going out for happy hour, I joined the party. We talked a lot of tech, we talked a lot of music and found a lot of common interests.

    It’s disappointing to hear stories of the opposite. Inclusion builds companies, not exclusion. And seeing “nerds” act like the “jocks in Revenge of the Nerds is very sad to me. I always considered nerds the world’s best kept secret. Hopefully they won’t ruin it for themselves.

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