The Lady Web Developer Chronicles: An Interview with Brittany

Last week we talked about the history of women in computer programming starting with Ada Lovelace in the 1840s, and moving on to Grace Hopper and The ENIAC Girls around WWII.

In the 1960’s women began to flock to the programming profession. Men were already dominating other technical professions, and women found a space for themselves in the world of computing. As computers and programming started to take off, there was a need to hire large numbers of competent people. The emerging field was fair game for women as long as you were qualified to do the work.

In the two decades after the 60s, women in computer-related jobs reached a peak... but then, something happened: women started leaving in droves. Between the mid- 80’s until very recently, the number of women majoring in computer-related disciplines has been steadily dropping.

Why had so many young women become disinterested in a field that was previously so popular?

Of course, nobody knows for sure, but many have speculated.  Some say the rise of microcomputers may be partially to blame, as they typically have attracted a stronger male demographic.  Some say the stereotype of being considered reclusive or antisocial is unattractive to women.  Some say that programming involves career pipelines that feed from traditionally male-dominated fields such as math/engineering.

We may never have the answer to that question, since it looks like the trend may be on the upswing again. It’s still very shaky, but many colleges and universities are reporting that the number of women majoring in computer related fields is rising. While the numbers still haven’t improved a whole lot, it’s still an encouraging sign that the pendulum may be moving in the opposite direction.

While statistics say that men still dominate the field, we’re hoping the upswing is real and that it continues. For now, we’re among the lucky ones to have a lady web developer on our team, and we don’t know what we’d do without her! We’re hoping that more young women choose to major in computer related fields because we don’t believe gender has anything to do with skill sets—a woman who is “good with computers” isn't a novelty!

Until then, we have a special treat for you today: we’ve interviewed Brittany, one of our highly-qualified web developers. Below she shares her perspective on what it’s like to be a female web developer.


What would you say is the breakdown of men and women in your field?

Not being a statistician I can’t really speak as an authority, but depending on job title it’s about a 5 to 1 ratio of men to women in the tech sector. In my personal experience, I’ve only had one job where I wasn’t the only female developer, and it was still a 2-1 ratio. In fairness though, I’ve predominantly worked in startups that had maybe 10 people working for them. Numbers can be made to look however you want, but no matter how you slice it there is an obvious discrepancy in gender when it comes to development.

Has being one of few women in your field impacted your experience as a web developer?

I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazingly talented people. I’m of the opinion that gender is irrelevant when it comes to technical skill, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of teams that felt the same way. Outside of my actual work environment, I haven’t had the pleasure of being outright harassed at industry events or meet ups, but there is definitely sometimes an air of condescension when I talk to my peers about projects. I’m sure most of it is unintentional, but I feel like a side effect of the gender disparity in programming is the “Oh, good for you!  You did all that while having not one but two x chromosomes? That’s so refreshing!” mentality and its like no, that’s so normal. There is nothing about my body that makes programming inherently more difficult.

Why did you choose this field?

That’s a question with a lot of back-story. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just say at one point I wanted to be a designer, but I’ve always coded. Since I was 8 or 9, I was on an Apple writing switch statements in QBASIC (it may have been for a text based RPG. Don’t judge.)  I’ve had a personal homepage since I had an Internet connection. So I actually majored in Graphics and New Media, but ended up getting overridden by my department to take more programming courses in college. I think for a while my natural curiosity was trumped by being more concerned about the output of applications as opposed to what went in them, but now I’m back!  It’s nice having fluency in both realms though—I think having a core understanding of design and UI only helps developers.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

There’s this amazing feeling that occurs (you could call it a high, but I keep things professional) when you finally get a piece of code to work after hours of slamming your head on your desk. It’s like the combined feeling of building something, solving a puzzle, and meeting a need all in one. It’s a pretty nice feeling. Unless it’s a comma or something… Then you just kind of have to deal with your immense self-loathing sprinkled with relief that you at least figured it out yourself and hope you didn’t completely mess up the timeline.

Is there any advice you’d give to a young woman considering majoring in computer science?

Not majoring in comp sci myself I can’t speak to any details but I can say this:  It’s a hard pill to swallow for introverts, but don’t let anyone intimidate you. That goes for anyone, regardless of gender. The point of pursuing an education is to be educated, not to know everything already. Ask questions. Don’t worry about what other people think. Explore concepts. Put things into different perspectives. Seek out alternative resources if your textbook looks like overpriced copies of Dead Sea scrolls. And never feel like you’re being needy for asking for help. You’re definitely paying enough to deserve your department’s attention.

So there you have it, GLAD WORKS friends. We’re hoping to see more Brittanys in the world some day, but in order for that to happen, we need to realize that technical skills are not gender specific.

Besides, why should guys get to geek out and have all the fun?

Leave a Comment