A scene from the 2011 GeekGirlCon. Credit: GeekGirlCon
In true technologist fashion, let’s dig a little into some data. In 2010, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, yet only received 18 percent of all computer and information science bachelor’s degrees — down from 37 percent in 1985. Surprisingly, this percentage has gone down nearly 20 percent over the past 30 years.
My first experience with technology as a “boys’ club” happened in college. I grew up in rural Oregon, where I always assumed I would move to a bigger city like Seattle and dive into a tech-related field. I remember at 12 years old being so excited to see Jeff Bezos getting interviewed about Amazon.com, while thinking that someday I would work there, as books + technology = heaven for me.
I went to a small liberal arts college where women made up 60 percent of the student body. However, my computer science 101 class was 90 percent male. I noticed there were even fewer women in the other sections of computer science courses. The “boys” studied together and shared code, and I studied and coded on my own. I felt like I scaled an impossible wall that entire semester, only to make it to the top with a C+. That was the lowest grade I ever received in my schooling.
I hate to admit that I am a statistic of women who walked into college with computer science on the brain and ended up with a creative writing degree. Since my university had a strong creative writing program, I ended up with a great education — just not in the field I’d originally hoped.
In a turn of events, I work in tech now at a startup. I work not as a programmer, but a technical marketer. I work in a job that didn’t exist when I was 12: an entire industry — search engine optimization, content marketing, social media — that really only sprung up when I was in college and out in the workplace.
When I look back on my education and career path, I realize one thing: Maybe, just maybe, if I had a few more women in college to mentor me along the way, to idolize and look up to, I would have earned that computer science degree.
I wish young girls and women interested in technology had more visible role models. Role models who stand up and say, “I code in Ruby. Check out my GitHub profile.” Or, “Look at this API hack I made that populates data in an Excel spreadsheet.”
But I’m excited for the future. I’m excited about the Sheryl Sandbergs of Facebook, the Marissa Mayers of Yahoo!, the Kate Matsudairas of Decide.com, and all my female peers that I’ve met out in the trenches of e-commerce, startups, and inbound marketing. I’m excited for projects encouraging women in tech like the Ada Initiative, IGNITE, Girls Who Code, and the Lady Coders “Get Hired” series. StartupSeattle just hosted its first Women in Tech meetup, and the event was packed with women programmers, web designers, and entrepreneurs.
And there’s the work that we’re doing at GeekGirlCon to inspire and provide these role models to girls and women. This year at our annual convention, GeekGirlCon ‘12, which is Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 11-12), we’re introducing GeekGirlConnections, a mini career fair. It’s a hard world out there, and GeekGirlConnections aims to help support girls and women down their education and/or careers paths in tech and more.
As The Atlantic recently pointed out, women own the vast majority of virtually every form of technology devices, and we use these tools at higher rates than our male counterparts. This includes owning smartphones, e-readers, and healthcare devices, as well as sending texts and using location-based services and Skype. Women also rule social media, comprising 56 percent of all social media users.
However, our influence does not end at the checkout line. We have the power to shape the future of technology. Our input is needed in everything from naming tech products — the iPad naming fiasco could have been prevented by consulting women — to creating video games that appeal to everyone, to solving huge world problems from behind a computer screen.
We all have the power to create our own future, even if our dream job has not yet been invented. Build it. Demand it. The opportunities are endless. Heed these words from Amelia Earhart, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”