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a defunct web development blog

all-girl hack night: how it went

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 03:30:12 +0000

I think it's not unreasonable to call the inaugural Austin All-Girl Hack Night a success. It wasn't the most well-organized tech event I've ever been to by a long shot, and that's on me, but I think the enthusiasm people expressed was genuine. And there were a lot of people, considering.

When I set this up I didn't want to say too much about my reasons for doing so, because I didn't want it to be my hack night and I didn't want people to feel like in order to attend they had to take a stand on any of the things that were motivations. But now that it's actually happened, I feel pretty secure in saying it's just a group, not something anyone owns, and so it's cool now for me to say what I was thinking.

1. Why no boys?

There are a lot of really awesome guys at the meetups I go to in Austin, and I have really great coworkers. One thing that scared the shit out of me was that one of those gentlemen would get the wrong idea and think a women-only event was somehow commentary on male developers. Just in case: it's not. The only problem with the men in this town is that there are so many of them. If you opened an event up to everyone you'd get mostly guys just because there are mostly guys. By itself this doesn't really affect anything. But a lot of women in this industry learn to adopt a different persona around men, because of wanting to fit in, because of not wanting to be hit on, because they don't want to be seen as a threat.. a variety of reasons. When there are no guys around, that becomes optional, which is nice once in a while. The tomboys can be tomboys, the very feminine women can be very feminine, and we can all still be developers.

2. Why do women need women's dev groups?

Women leave development over time. We were actually talking about this last night. One of the devs was talking about her CS department and how she'd watched the number of women enrolled decrease each year. I think that's a story any woman who studied computer science in college will tell you. I graduated with around ten other developers, worked with one more each at my first three jobs, and then eventually it was just me. If you stick with this industry, traditionally, at some point you look around and find that all your peers are men. All the women have up and disappeared. And then you start thinking, shit, maybe I should go back to school and be an architect. Or something.

And if you do stick it out, there's the uniquely female problem of time off to have a baby. Many women find it tough to go back to work after having a child because of the pace of the tech industry. Even if they jump right back in as soon as their child's born, they have to play catchup in addition to dealing with being a new mommy. That's a lot of stress and if you work only with guys, they may not understand what you're going through, gender roles being what they are and the ratio of stay-at-home moms to stay-at-home dads being what it is.

Being a woman in development can be kind of lonely. No matter how wonderful your male associates, it's eerie to realize there are no women in your peer group. It feels to me sometimes like they knew something I didn't, and no one thought to tell me everyone else was leaving. Or, felt, past tense. I know a lot of female devs now, and a lot more since last night.

3. What do you do at an all-girl hack night?

As I'm sure anyone who made it last night can attest, my own ideas on this were real fuzzy. Fortunately, developers as a group tend to be inclined to get things done, and people kind of made up their own rules. I figured we'd all just sit around and work on projects while talking over our laptop screens. Roughly half of the women there did that, and the other half just hung out and got to know each other a little better. Honestly, it was not the best environment for working. I think that will probably change, but this being the first time we all met up, there was a hell of a lot of enthusiasm in the air. It was a little difficult to sit still.

4. Who comes to something like this?

As you might expect, most of the women who showed up were already involved in other groups outside work. At least half the women who signed the sign-in sheet were on Twitter and many knew at least one other person in the room. I suspect that the group we got this time was the more social end of the spectrum, those women being the most likely to hear about something like this. I'm not sure how you reach the women whose involvement with development ends at 5pm, and that's a problem because those women are the most likely to eventually get frustrated with feeling isolated and leave the industry. And you might think, gee, if they cared they'd already be involved, but I don't think that's 100% true.

5. Would a woman who doesn't normally come to meetups come to a women's meetup?

This isn't based on science or even pseudo-science, but I think yes. If you haven't heard of impostor syndrome, go and google it. Women are especially susceptible to the feeling that they're not playing at the same level everyone else is. This makes it hard to be brave enough to go to a meetup, especially if you don't know anyone else who will be there. I spent at least fifteen minutes of my first Javascript meetup waiting for someone to point at me, demand that I go up to the whiteboard and write a bubble sort, and kick me out. And I had a coworker there with me. It's not like you think that if a group is all female it will be less intellectually rigorous, but you hope that some prevailing sense of sisterhood will keep you from getting thrown out on your ass. I don't know why I keep using the second person. By "you" I mean "me". I may be off my rocker and your mileage may vary.

6. Will there be another one?

I would say unequivocally yes. I have a little survey out now to try and determine what day is best for people, and it's already turning into a mess because all the different languages have their meetups on different nights, so there's always a night when someone's booked. But tricky scheduling aside, we will prevail! It seems our lovely venue sponsors from last night would be happy to have us back, and there is plenty of left-over beer. There seems to be a general consensus that since we're such a large group we should split up after introductions and either give presentations or work on projects, depending on what mood folks are in. Interestingly, a lot of people said they'd like to see a group project, which would be phenomenal. Whatever format it eventually settles into, though, it seems like there are a lot of women in Austin who've been wanting to do something like this and we're probably going to keep doing it. It's pretty fucking cool.