I’m an engineer… who just happens to be a female
Recently I’ve came across a truly interesting read – Peter Seibel’s Coders at work: reflections on the craft of programming. Seibel converted interviews with 15 greatest programmers and computer scientists of our time to a real page-turner which I couldn’t recommend enough. Being aware of gender gap in IT industry, it didn’t strike me as odd that there was only one female interviewee – Turing’s Award winner and IBM Fellow Fran Allen. What truly surprised me were the facts that surfaced during the interview, regarding gender ratios in the world of programming in the late fifties. Apparently, it was conventional wisdom of the time that women make good programmers because they pay more attention to detail. Even Allen herself stated in the interview that this was not the case, but it was, however, noted that three of four people leading IBM’s Stretch compiler project in 1959 were women.
According to Allen, the change in the gender structure of the field happened during the sixties, when computer science entered the curriculum at engineering schools, where majority of students were male. Companies hired candidates who met the requirement of taking certain computer science courses and quite soon the field of programming began to be considered as male-dominated.
I must admit – when I was asked to share my story as female in IT industry, my initial thought was – why? Although my formal education lies in the field of electrical engineering, I’ve never really contemplated the fact that my male colleagues greatly outnumber female. Why should one write about one’s professional development with emphasis on gender? But then I remembered some of the articles, survey results and studies I’ve came across in recent months, which treat this very subject. StackOverflow’s annual developer survey results (link) portray a significant pay gap among developers older than 30, suggesting male developers of that age make up to $20,000 more on average. ArsTechnica article (link) covers a data analysis of millions of GitHub pull requests for open source projects, comparing contribution acceptance rate for male and female users. The results astonished me: women’s contributions were actually accepted more often than men’s—but only if women had gender-neutral profiles. Women whose GitHub profiles revealed their genders had significantly lower acceptance rate.
I tend to brush off such discouraging conclusions and move on. After all, I’m an engineer… who just happens to be a female. And this is my story.
Software development is my true passion. Isaac Asimov wrote that computers “will enable most human beings to be more creative than they’ve ever been before”. I think that one could easily argue that software development is one of the most creative jobs of today. In those hours when I cancel out outside world and it’s just me, my code and the problem I’m solving, I remember how grateful I am for having a job I truly enjoy. However, I did have to work hard to acquire skill set fit for challenges of career in software development. My education in electrical engineering has equipped me with solid problem-solving skills, but when it comes to skills relevant to software development, I’ve only had some exposure to C. So I’ve gathered books and started to learn on my own… As it turns out, once you learn C, learning managed languages (which seem to be in high demand these days) feels like vacation!
That is probably the part of the job I love the most – the constant learning. It’s not just about learning new technologies, but it’s also about finding ways to improve your code’s readability, efficiency, robustness… When it comes to learning new things, I prefer to read books on the subject and I couldn’t be happier that technology books are so easily available nowadays! Of course, some guidance from senior colleague regarding best practices (and hearing war stories!) is desirable, but that turns out to be a scarce resource.
However, majority of my learning happens on the job. As luck would have it, six months into my first ever development gig, I was the only developer on a large support and maintenance project. I speak from experience when I say that nothing can make you learn so quickly as a phone call from pushy customer requesting you to solve their problem as soon as possible. Stressful as it was, the experience of relying on no one but myself to solve a problem truly shaped me as developer. It also made me realize which aspects of software development I enjoy more than others and which ones I don’t enjoy at all.
These realization lead me to my current employment at Belgrade offices of Swedish company Emric. Here I’m working with a great team of enthusiastic individuals on an awesome piece of software! We’re developing a low-touch lease solution: by replacing human interaction with automated processes we’re enhancing the sales experience! The product is already deployed to some of the industry’s big names (Toyota, Xerox, ATLAS Copco… just to name a few), but we’re actively working on upgrades and improvements.
I often hear my fellow developers sharing their dreams of working on a green grass project. Interestingly enough, I find joining ongoing projects far more satisfying. Coming up with solution for a certain problem, and managing to fully implement that solution within existing limitations and constraints simply feels more rewarding.
This is what keeps me going – the feeling I get when I’m using my skills to accomplish something that will make our customers’ lives easier. They expect high-quality product, so each line of code is packed with responsibility, but nevertheless, I enjoy the process. Our application lifecycle management with automated builds and continuous integration allows developers to focus on what we do best – write good code.
Emric’s values are 3Cs – Collaboration, Commitment and Competence. I really feel like these words perfectly describe the environment within which any engineer would thrive. We discuss ideas and jump to help to each other when needed, we are committed to writing the best possible code and we learn as much as we can in the process. I feel truly blessed to be part of workplace which is both relaxed and stimulating.
As a female software developer, I’ve never had any gender-related negative experiences in my workplace. In the light of surveys and articles from the beginning of this text, I realize that there might be some of my colleagues out there who weren’t that lucky. I did, however, change my GitHub username to gender-neutral.