Some reflections on being a female IT professional OR Why I won't be learning TurboGears

Some reflections on being a female IT professional OR Why I won't be learning TurboGears
I'm working on a personal project that is a good fit for a web framework. I decided to try TurboGears for two reasons, it uses JavaScript and it was the first of the possible good choices for which I found a useful looking book. (I prefer to use paper references when I'm coding, because it is easier to look at your code and your reference at the same time and it gives my eyes a break from the screen.) I was quite happy with the book I had chosen, Rapid Web Applications With TurboGears, and TurboGears itself until I got to chapter 4, where all of a sudden there were what seemed to me to be constant references to how this or that feature of TurboGears will gain you the attention and/or love of the female web designer or marketing staff member.

I don't particularly care to capture the heart of the mythical cute girl in marketing, but I can overlook that little fantasy once or twice. However, as I read the chapter there seemed to be an ongoing assumption that web designers are all female and programmers male. (That or all female programmers are lesbians.) I'm well aware that I work in a male dominated field and the various baggage that comes with this usually doesn't bother me. However, in this particular chapter of this book, it was so constant – and so unnecessary – that I couldn't ignore it. I was so put off that I actually put the book down and picked a different framework and different book. It would be one thing if the gender references were a natural outgrowth of discussing the necessary tasks involved in developing an application and the people who do them. However, they were almost exclusively related to an unnecessary storyline about impressing (in a romantic sense) coworkers. The only stories I want to read in technical books are true experiences related to the content. If you happened to meet the love of your life because he or she was so impressed with the features of the framework you use, that's very nice for you and I'd love to hear about it in the introduction, about the author or whichever section of your book you write about why you choose to write on this particular topic.

I don't know Mark Ramm, Kevin Dangoor, and Gigi Sayfan; the authors of Rapid Web Applications with TurboGears, but I'm going to guess that this is probably not their fault. Other than my lack of patience with what is really one poorly conceived and unnecessary subplot, this is actually quite a good book. I hope they'll remove this subplot in the second edition so I can unreservedly recommend it. I'm not trying to bash this book but rather to open conversation. If anything, I blame the editor and a social attitude that calls for inclusiveness even when it is unrealistic. A good editor should remove this kind of extraneous information from any book . However, I suspect that the real issue is that there seems to be a belief that being inclusive of women, particularly in the IT field, means making it seem like there are lots of women involved by including images and word pictures that somehow include women. There are plenty of women in IT, but it is still not uncommon to be the only female in a technical class or professional meeting and if you are showing a picture of 4 programmers or system administrators or analysts, you don't have to always make sure to include one or two women – it's not realistic. It's also overrated – Wordtracker, a keyword tool, shows an estimated 10 searches a day on the keywords "women in information technology" and almost 7000 sites that talk about it.

So, that said, what do I think should be done to make the IT field more welcoming to women? Treat us like everyone else. This means that if you are a vendor and giving away t-shirts, you should have some in sizes that fit the average woman, not just sizes XL, XXL, and XXXL (having women's t-shirts is a bonus – I wear my SANS Institute and Splunk shirts all the time because they fit so nicely!) This means assuming your audience is made up of people. This means not getting flustered because there happens to be a few women in your audience or pointing out that it is unusual for you to have one or more women present. (Which goes back to assuming that your audience is made up of people.) This means being professional – if something is better suited to be said off hours sitting at the rack at a strip club, you shouldn't be saying it in a work environment regardless of who is or isn't present. This doesn't mean that you can't ask why I always wear wool skirts when I'm going to be crawling around in the machine room or under desks (they are less likely to tear if caught on something than pants and men might do equally well with a Utilikilt.) Or that you should completely ignore me. I'm just another professional, treat me like one!

Read responses from the authors of Rapid Web Applications with TurboGears and discuss this article in our forum.


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