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"Women in the Open Source/Free Software Communities?" | Wohali (57372) | Preferences | Top | 296 comments | 2 siblings
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( Beta is only a state of mind )
Our inspiration - truly making a difference! (Score:5, Insightful)
by Wohali (joant-nospam-please-at-ieee-dot-org) on 13:26 Thursday 30 September 1999 EDT (#28)
(User Info) http://www.atypical.net/
My third grade teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools was named Ms. Fano. She had the distinction of having assisted in the running and programming of one of the first computers - UNIVAC. It was directly because of her example, and the exciting stories she used to tell about a single console controlling rooms full of vacuum tubes, that I started taking those beige boxes with the colorful apple logo on them a bit more seriously. I can only hope that other girls in my class were just as impressed with those stories of a woman far ahead of her time.

As for open source: over the years, I've found that generally I contribute to projects which directly affect both myself and others who share the same ideals. I wouldn't be caught dead assisting in writing some inane Quake user editor because I don't feel it positively contributes to the world at large. However, I've happily contributed to Mozilla, Rio MP3 transfer software, a now-abandoned terminal emulator for OS/2, xlockmore, and other projects (including games!) which LONG pre-date Linux and the Open Source movement. These projects have helped me feel like I'm making a difference, like I'm doing something to help my peers. I certainly wouldn't rule out assisting in kernel development, device drivers, or pure UNIX-related stuff on an idealistic basis. However....

I'd never presume to speak for women in general, but most of those females I know who program and use *NIX as much as I do don't obsessively do so. On the contrary, most men I know who program and use *NIX do so all night long, sustaining themselves on Jolt and Oreos. I'll bring myself to do that once in a blue moon, but I (like my friends) like to spend more of my free time away from computers. When I get home in the evenings, I like to spend time with my cats, tutor, direct musicals, go out dancing, or a whole slew of other things which don't directly relate to programming. Because of this, I don't usually get involved with open source projects which are time-critical (like kernel releases) or require intense debugging and pouring over technical manuals (like device drivers). I do enough of that at my day job -- and I'd rather leave that sort of work to someone who really enjoys hooking up a logic analyzer, a disassembler and an external serial console to their PC at 2AM to try and get that bizarro sound card warbling correctly with the latest bleeding-edge kernel release.

So when you ask "How do we attract more women to these development projects?" you might also want to ask yourself "Are these projects something which a woman would want to work on?"

I'll let someone else give a review of the significant computing accomplishments provided by women to the Linux and Open Source movements . . . but if it's anything like the contributions women have made to commercial operating systems over the years, it may well be true that key portions of Linux were written entirely by women!

Oh, and by the way, keep your judgements of my preferences of recreational activites to yourself. Just because I don't and won't play Quake doesn't mean I will do anything to stop you from doing so.


"But always she's the spectre of uncertainty I first endured, then faded, then embraced..."

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<<Does it really matter? by Jordy (Score:5) | Here it is again... by Ledge Kindred (Score:4) >>
Moderation Totals:Insightful=2, Interesting=1, Informative=2, Overrated=1, Total=6.
Re:Our inspiration - truly making a difference! (Score:1, Interesting)
by Anonymous Coward on 14:31 Thursday 30 September 1999 EDT (#53)
I think the nature of the problem can be found in the first sentence of your comment - exceptions, exceptions, exceptions. Lab is a first-rate school, but very few people have access to that type of education; most schools don't have teachers with the same type of accomplishments and experience Lab is able to recruit, nor do they have a student body that is above-average, nor do they have the mission of providing cutting-edge challenging education.

Would you have become a techie if you didn't have Ms. Fano as an inspiration? Possibly, but the point you make is clear: she opened a door for you, at least mentally.

At my place of employment, of seven programmers, one is a woman. She is as competent and hard-working as the men, without question, but we are still a predominantly male community. I believe that this is typical; women are still rare enough in these types of fields that they are statistically overwhelmed by men.

This will continue until we can make the presence of women in technical fields "normal." This doesn't just have to do with numbers, though; it also relates to tech culture. I believe you are correct, men are more likely to "geek out," and that tends to exclude women. That does not prevent women from making significant contributions; just look at Grace Hopper.

I don't see an easy solution; giving all children, or even all sufficiently intelligent children, access to the type and quality of preparatory education you received isn't feasible (at least not with the piss-poor education funding in the US), so the responsibility falls to those of us who want to make a change. This falls even more on the shoulders of women such as yourself; if you believe, and I think you do, that there should be more women in technical fields, and that women should be more accepted in those fields, then you have a responsibility, in my opinion, to inspire girls and young women as you yourself were inspired; that isn't something that men can do as effectively.
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Women in Computing (Score:1)
by starlady (starlady@SPAMFREEwondergeeks.net) on 15:20 Thursday 30 September 1999 EDT (#83)
(User Info) http://wondergeeks.net/users/starlady
As for open source: over the years, I've found that generally I contribute to projects which directly affect both myself and others who share the same ideals?

This, I think, is the major difference between male and female geeks (yes, I?m generalizing. Hear me out.) Female geeks tend towards ends-oriented projects. We aim for a goal, and the means by which we try to attain it are justified by the end results. Male geeks, on the other hand, tend towards means-oriented projects. Even if they never get to the end they were originally aiming for, or wind up accomplishing something completely different, the fact that they spent hours on end trying to get there counts for a lot. Men, therefore, will stay up all night drinking Jolt and coding because they feel justified in doing so even if nothing definitive comes of the effort - it?s the effort itself that counts. Women want to know that their time and energy is spent on something they can look at when the process is all over.

So when you ask "How do we attract more women to these development projects?" you might also want to ask yourself "Are these projects something which a woman would want to work on?"

I?d like to reference the Y2K thread started by AC and continued by Paranoid Diatribe here - women are working in disproportionate numbers on this project because they feel that their time is well spent, as they will be able to see a definite end result. In addition, the fact that people could be inconvenienced (to say the least!) if the problems are not corrected makes women feel like they are contributing something to the well-being of the world.

I can only hope that other girls in my class were just as impressed with those stories of a woman far ahead of her time.

Heaven knows I could have benefited from one. All I have learned about computing has been in the last four years. Granted, this has been a very good time to learn just based on the developments in the Internet, the Web, and the open source community, but my road towards geekdom would have been much simpler had I been exposed to computing - and female role models in the field - at a younger age.

Which brings me to an interesting question: ARE there any high-profile women in the computing industry? Of course, anyone reading this will know (or have learned in this thread) about Ada Lovelace and others in programming, but everyone knows who Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and (now) Linus Torvalds are. Are there any female counterparts?

---
Female geeks: http://wondergeeks.net
This geek: http://wondergeeks.net/users/starlady

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. I Cor. 15:41
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Joan Touzet / last updated 13 October 1999