Build a Better Tech Community – With Women

iStock_000019152998XSmallBy Robin Madell (San Francisco)

CodeProject is the world’s largest independent community of coders and developers. But in early 2012, Sean Ewington, Jeff Hadfield, Chris Maunder, and Terrence Dorsey recognized three related areas in which they believed CodeProject was not living up to its full potential: helping women embrace programming in greater numbers, enter the industry, and find support within it.

To that end, Maunder and David Cunningham decided to create an Advisory Board for Women in Technology. Maunder told The Glass Hammer that the initial idea for the board started back in 2003 when he attended a Women in Code session at a developer conference. “It was clear that at the time, the issues women dealt with in breaking into—and being accepted into—the developer community were different than those that guys faced,” says Maunder. “I always wanted to dig a little deeper and see if these issues were truly stopping women or if there were actual things, simple things, that could be done.”

Senior Support

To get started, Maunder and Cunningham set out to find a group of female leaders in software development to help set up the advisory board. A group of six influential women in tech took on the challenge, including Susan Buck, co-founder of Web Start Women and lecturer at the Harvard Extension School, Susan Epstein, researcher and professor at Hunter College’s Department of Computer Science, and Vanessa Hurst, founder of Developers for Good and co-founder of Girl Develop It.

Hurst explains that she signed on because although CodeProject has an extensive body of knowledge and community of coders, the community consisted almost entirely of men. “The team is committed to using the site to make the industry better as a whole, so they identified engaging women as a key priority,” says Hurst, whose organization Girl Develop It provides accessible, affordable software development courses focused on women. “I was excited to apply what I’d learned through research and while building Girl Develop It to help the team. It was also great to share experiences with the other members of the Advisory Board.”

Maunder adds that the team has received great feedback from participants about the Advisory Board, both for putting it together and for providing a forum where senior women in the industry can be heard.

“Everyone participating is, in their own right, successful, so we can’t provide much to them individually,” says Maunder. “But we can offer them a place to exchange ideas on how they can help their students newly entering the field—both male and female. The participants themselves don’t want exclusion or exclusivity. It’s one big community. What they are seeking are ways to encourage rather than suppress participation by those learning the trade, regardless of sex.”

Goals and Gains

According to Maunder, the goals of the board are currently only advisory. As the co-founders initially talked and listened to board members, what immediately struck Maunder was that the issues he felt were important a decade ago are no longer the issues faced today.

“The development community is drastically different, and the Advisory Board has fundamentally changed my thinking on it,” he says. “Whereas before there was a sense that women were a novelty in the space and perhaps not treated on the same level of merit as a guy, this has changed.”

He adds, however, that the Advisory Board made apparent a challenge facing new developers and IT pros alike: finding acceptance in the community of those struggling to master the technology. “Who wants to post a question on a site if they are going to be ridiculed?” asks Maunder. “Who wants to post an article if they are going to get slammed by armchair experts? This isn’t a women-only issue, but it may be that women are more likely to raise it as an issue rather than just walk away.”

Looking Ahead

With a year of experience now under its belt, the Advisory Board is far from content to rest on its laurels. Hurst emphasizes that continuing the visibility of women programmers is key to engaging other women programmers in the community, as well as inspiring future generations of programmers. To help reach that goal, CodeProject created a series of Coder Interviews with members of the Advisory Board.

Maunder also emphasizes the importance of continuing to explore the issues important to female developers, and provide an ongoing forum for discussion. “We at CodeProject focus on nurturing and coaching rather than ego-driven one-upmanship,” he says. “It’s a core value to us that it doesn’t matter at what point in the learning cycle you’re at—you will always, and should always, learn new things, challenge yourself, and put yourself in a position of being a newbie. Do that and you’ll have the empathy needed to help others with less experience.”

He concludes that software development is far more of a humanistic endeavor than it’s ever been, and what matters most in creating an application these days is not based on gender, but on gaining an understanding of how a person thinks and feels when using your application or device. “This is not a man’s world, or an engineer’s world,” he says. “It’s a designer’s world now, and anyone who can make it easier for a user to understand how to get a task done in a friendly, efficient, and personal way is going to succeed.”

2 Responses

  1. Great article, and great initiative. We definitely need to foster a more welcoming environment in IT for both men and women alike. Software development and coding touches everyone now, and it is no longer an elite club to gain entrance to. Looking forward to watching the industry evolve over the next few years.

  2. H Brydon

    Quote: “…What they are seeking are ways to encourage rather than suppress participation by those learning the trade, regardless of sex.”

    Hopefully you mean “… regardless of gender.”