And then I saw this statistic of the gender split of JS developers in 2018.
Oh, I mean come on guys!
It’s insanely hard to see a statistic as depressing as that, and not immediately mentally shirk ownership of that problem.
We write off our ability to create change on such a large scale, and instead, start listing all the reasons why this problem is unsolvable. “The talent isn’t there”. “Universities need to encourage women into STEM subjects”. “Well, my company is different”. We even go so far as to question the survey itself, talking about how “the sample was too small”, or “they’re asking the wrong people”.
I think these excuses miss the point.
And that wider point is this. Here we sit in one of the highest paid, fastest growing, and generally most interesting industries in the world – and we have 50% of the population being ignored to the point of a rounding error because they can’t wear budgie smugglers in the summer.
Can we agree that this is a bad way to run an industry?
Yeah? Sweet. Now, let’s talk about the interesting bit.
LET’S THINK OF A WAY TO FIX IT
Because after all, that’s what we’re good at. We have analytical minds for problems – and we’ve been lazy. Even companies like Google, who have that sweet tech dollar to throw at the problem, are being lazy.
I think we’re approaching the challenge wrong. We don’t need wide-sweeping government intervention (although we should probably at least have that conversation). What we need to do is think like a startup.
What’s the MVP we can launch today to address this problem?
Rather than just give you the thoughts of a well-groomed Northman (i.e. me), I asked a couple of female developers I know how they got into tech and what they thought we could change to make it easier for women in the future.
Here’s what they said.
Exposure is all about seeing yourself in the world.
I was a late bloomer. My exposure to software as a thing came when I first watched “The Social Network”. There’s a scene in that film where they are writing out the algorithm that will power Facebook on a whiteboard, and I remember thinking that – “Oh shit, this is actually a job people do”.
And you know what? It looked fun.
And that seed in the back of my mind, blossomed into me designing product at a SAAS startup, to completing an MSc in Computer Science, to working as a Software Engineer at Huckletree.
Never heard of them? Yeah, that’s kinda my point.
One of the recurring themes I got from founders was that they had a role model in tech who inspired them. Often, it was someone they stumbled across completely by chance.
There’s a reason why those limited edition Lego boxsets of female scientists sold out in a matter of hours. Don’t ask me why, but as a society, we keep forgetting to put women in stuff.
And oh girl, is the world thirsty.
Thirsty for some decent female role-models that aren’t plopped next to an easy bake oven. (Not that muffins aren’t delicious). We need to be exposing girls to the idea that they can work in STEM. That math isn’t a boys club. That rockets are just as “girly” as flowers. That coding is fun – and better yet, that girls can do it too.
A friend of mine has been coding at her company for around 10 years, and as tech years are similar to dog years, I asked her what had bred that kind of loyalty.
Turns out, it was encouragement.
She had been working in a sales role at her company when she got interested in what the devs were doing behind the curtain. When she brought it up at a quarterly review, her manager was incredibly supportive; they offered to pay for an online coding course as part of her training budget.
Instantly she was hooked.
She kept learning, and eventually took a summer off to complete a coding bootcamp. When she came back to her company in her old role, they offered to let spend part of her week working with the tech team until she felt comfortable fully transitioning to the team.
Now, of course, not every startup could implement this. But really, couldn’t most? Not only are you rewarding loyalty, but in return, you’re getting an engineer you already know is a great culture fit.
Software engineering is a vastly underpopulated industry, and I know from experience just how difficult it is to attract the right talent, even for great startups. So, why not start with the right person, and help them make the change, one small step at a time?
Seems like a cheap deal to me.
I’m not sure if that’s a real word, but let’s just go with it.
Right now, coding is a black box industry. I don’t think there has ever been an industry quite like it. Most startups have a tech team, and in most startups, nobody knows any code outside of the tech team.
I don’t think we appreciate how weird this is. It’d be like if the CEO of Coca-Cola didn’t know how they get the bubbles in the can, or the CEO of Ford only knew cars drive, and didn’t understand the purpose of the engine.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t be successful in tech without knowing how to code. After all, that little company Airbnb seems to be doing alright with code-less CEOs.
But the reason why coding is a black box is as simple as it is silly.
Coding is scary.
When I first saw a screen of code, it was like looking at the Matrix. Surely nobody actually knows how to read it? But it turns out, if you break each line down – coding becomes surprisingly simplistic.
A little too simplistic actually, to the point where you’re kind of wondering what all the fuss is about.
I fundamentally believe that everyone should learn to code, even if you don’t plan to use it in your job. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. To give one reason, it radically changes how you see the world and how you approach problems.
Do you type the same data into an excel sheet every day? You can write an app for that. Can you see how your job could be easily automated? Maybe change industries.
And for two, it means we can talk code. When you understand that coding is so simple, then the idea of being a Software Engineer doesn’t seem so audacious, even when you did a degree in art. In fact, you might be like me and realise all the ways that art could be used in UI/UX to make it better and more interesting. Death to the burger icon!
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Listen, I’m just some pale bloke from the North. I hope this doesn’t come across as me just white knighting an issue when I should be sticking to the coding bit.
But here’s the thing, there is a selfish reason to be encouraging female engineers. Right now, there is a tech shortage of 600,000 people. That’s taking into consideration everyone in the industry and everyone training to be in the industry right now. That’s startups putting cash on the table, and nobody picking it up. So, if you have any plans to be hiring engineers in the near future, this is an issue you need to be thinking about sooner rather than later.
Which reminds me, if you’re looking for an inclusive, friendly, encouraging tech team – did you hear that we’re hiring?