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That’s what she said: thoughts from a female dev

Since 2007, A List Apart, has been conducting surveys “for people who make websites” in an effort to collect a picture of the industry. They have been able to attract approximately 26,000-35,000 respondents annually, from all over the world. According to the results, the number of women in the web industry has stayed constant, at 16.1% in 2007, 16.2% in 2008 and 17.4% in 2009.

A further breakdown based on gender and job titles show that of the number of female respondents, a greater number are represented as writers (41.6% – 51.9%), marketers (27.7 % – 32.6%) and usability experts (24.7% – 28%). The number of women that worked as developers (6.8%-7.6%) and web directors (11-13.7%) were the most underrepresented job titles.

“Wow! Girl dev!”

While studying psychology and communications in university, I stumbled into web development by accident but it felt pretty natural. Sure, I created this awful website using Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG feature but it was enough to pique my curiosity to learn more. I’d always had an interest in drawing, so web design and development seemed a natural jump. I love seeing how a blank slate could come to life. My creative side gets to be a part of creating something beautiful, yet my analytical side (and sometimes OCD) comes in handy for writing semantically correct and organized code.

Despite seeing the numbers and hearing the “Wow! Girl dev!” comment here and there, I have never felt out of place or that I had to act like one of the guys. It’s not like the job title has the word “man” in it like policeman or fireman. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with many talented female developers as well. So when I saw these articles, I thought of how silly it was that there were people who believed that these notable women became successful because of how they looked. In an industry where you can simply right-click and view source, you can only fake so much of your knowledge.

It’s possible to chalk up most of the negative comments to the nature of the web, which allows people to say anything under the veil of anonymity. Even so, the question remains, why are there so few women in the industry?

Work and play

The Noupe article touched on the theory of “whether women’s supposed innate sociability is incompatible with the circumstance of working for hours and hours in isolation in front of the computer.” Since women in the digital and web industry tend to be represented in positions that require more social interaction, there may be some merit to this. However, I don’t necessarily agree that it’s an innate characteristic of women only. Another possibility is that many women never considered the technology field as an option or get used to the idea that “techie stuff” is for the boys.

From a young age, girls and boys are often encouraged to play in different ways. A look at the variety of toys categorized by gender on the Toys”R”Us website shows a few differences between styles of play. Toys for boys are more likely to involve a technical component such as computer games, video games and remote control toys. The fantasy play also allows for more situations that are not re-enactments of real life such as playing with action figures and superhero characters.

Toys for girls often involve more social activity like tea parties and dolls. The fantasy play tends to sway towards situations that mimic stereotypical female roles and interests such as cooking-related play sets and fashion dolls.

Boys don’t make their action figures play basketball together, but girls will make their dolls go shopping with their friends and go on dates with Ken.

While, this type of play is not typical of all children and isn’t necessarily the cause and effect for the under-representation of female developers, I think that more women need to be exposed to the idea that there is a place for us in technology and the web development field. If I hadn’t fallen into it accidently, I probably wouldn’t have considered it either. But I’m glad I did. For me, being in the web industry has been a perfect fit.

So I’m here to say: ladies, if you like to be challenged and be in an industry that will allow you to learn and grow, this just might be for you.

A List Apart survey results: 2007, 2008, 2009.

Christina Truong More posts by Christina Truong