Women: we need you!

IT is disproportionately male. Let’s change that.

Meet Grace Hopper. Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Today, I’d like to address IT’s diversity problem. Broadly speaking, it would be hugely beneficial to see more of a mix of gender identities, races, backgrounds, and creeds in the field but since I’m writing a post and not a book, I’ll focus on women today. (For our purposes, I’m talking about both cis and non-cis women.)

If you went to (or are currently in) school for IT, I’m willing to bet that you’ve probably noticed this yourself: there aren’t a lot of women in IT. On average, what percentage of your classes were male? 95%? 98%? Even perhaps 100% in some classes?

Although I ultimately graduated with a BA in Philosophy, in the few programming classes I took there were never more than two female students in any of them. This is in classes of around forty students. Now granted, this was in the 90’s (an excellent decade – I’d recommend it to anyone!) but my guess is that this ratio has not changed all that much.

Let me tell you why that’s a problem: if you’re only working with people who look like you and think like you, you’re going to be missing out on a whole spectrum of creativity and ideas. Mix things up a little and benefit from different view points!

That’s why today, my goal is to inspire one woman, just one, to join the IT field. And to do that, I’m going to shamelessly use the memory of Grace Hopper to do so.

Who was Grace Hopper, you ask? Before the start of WWII, Grace was a math professor at Vassar college and had her PHD from Yale (so that’s Dr. Grace Hopper to you!)

When World War II broke out, she tried to enlist but got rejected for being too old. Rather than take no for an answer, she joined the reserves instead, where she went on to work as a programmer on the Mark I computer. Hopper then went on to lend her expertise to the CODASYL consortium, which led to the creation of the programming language COBOL.

Her brain was so valuable to the country that she was recalled to military service at the age of 61! (I bet the people who rejected her for being too old thirty years prior felt pretty sheepish.) She finally retired from the Navy… at age 80!

Now that you’ve met Grace, let’s talk about how she can help you (or a woman you know) get into IT. Although she passed away in 1992, her legacy lives on through the Grace Hopper Celebration. The Grace Hopper Celebration is a place for women from around the world to come network, be inspired, and maybe land a sweet job in the process!

So let’s talk brass tacks for a second. The conference itself is not cheap. (It’s actually less expensive than many other conferences, to be clear, but as the target of this blog is people who are trying to get into the field, I figure you may not have tons of spare cash lying around just yet.) There are a few options for you though. If you can’t afford the full package ($799,) you could spring for the career fair (a more accessible $199.)

If that doesn’t work for you, consider applying for one of their scholarships which will provide funding for you to attend the conference. The scholarship application deadline has already passed, unfortunately, but don’t let that stop you from applying for next year’s scholarship. Since this year’s conference is virtual (you know… because of that pesky epidemic) and a large part of attending a conference is the networking portion of it, there is something to be said for waiting until next year’s conference which will hopefully be in person. (Covid, be nice!)

That being said, there are a few advantages to going this year.

First off, there’s that career fair I mentioned earlier. Maybe you can find your dream job there? If you do, wouldn’t that be the best $199 you’ve ever spent?

There will also be “Mentoring Circles,” which are breakout sessions in small groups for anyone seeking advice on how to get into the field. As awesome as I am (take my word for it, I’m awesome,) I’ve never experienced what it’s like to be a woman in this field. Going to one of these mentoring sessions is a great way to hear first hand from other women the inside scoop about being a female in IT.

Finally, if you’re looking to get into coding, there’s a yearly hackathon (hackathons are all-day coding sessions) held where you’ll be contributing to an open source project. If you already know some coding (perhaps you’re doing a Computer Science major?) then this is 1) a great learning opportunity and 2) a great résumé booster.

For my male readers, don’t feel left out – although the Grace Hopper Celebration is geared towards advancing women in the field, you’re welcome to attend as well. What a great way to expand your horizons a bit while getting in some solid networking!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. And make sure to check out these top interview questions before you start interviewing!