Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Coding like a Girl" - great read!

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the second anniversary party for the Girl Develop It! Burlington, VT chapter. It was a chance to see some friends I've made through the local developer community, meet some people in our industry who were new to me, and reconnect with a few of the people who I met the handful of times I was a TA for a GDI event. At one point a conversation I was involved in turned to the challenges of being a technical professional who chooses to dress in a more feminine manner. It was amazing to listen to these accomplished professionals discuss how their choice of outfit would, in many cases, predict how they would be received. At that point Kathleen Dollard recommended a blog post entitled "Coding Like a Girl".

I read it this morning and believe it is worth sharing. The anecdote shared in the post about the experience Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, had at a technical conference was facinating:
A couple years ago she attended a technical conference and on the first day, she wore a dress. When she walked around the conference, no one came up to talk to her. When she asked people very technical questions about their stack, questions she assumed would indicate that she was a programmer, she was brushed aside and told, “You wouldn’t understand.” She went back home that night really frustrated and flustered. She almost didn’t feel like going to the conference the next day. But she did and wore a nerdy tshirt and jeans instead, and she had a better experience that day. People assumed she was technical and didn’t dilute their explanations to her.
That an industry peer had to change her appearance in order to be taken seriously is disappointing to me as a guy - as a woman it must be infuriating.

I like to think I do a decent job when dealing with folks, I'm reasonably self aware. Yet I know there have been a few times where I've judged other guys who come to a tech event dressed in a suit and assume they're sales people and not "real" technical folks. If I've done that to another guy - with whom I have more in common - what biases do I have around a woman's appearance? Have they colored my interactions with anyone?

We can only do our best, I suppose. I'm going to try and be more aware of my own biases when it comes to appearance and adopt the advice offered in the post, "Assume people are as or more qualified than you" regardless of their appearance. I hope that you take a few minutes to read the blog post, too.