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Women in the Open Source/Free Software Communities? 289

MikeA asks: "We know what men have done in the community and it seems that all the 'big names' are men. Are there any female kernel hackers out there? Are there any major projects run by women or that have women as developers? Are there even many women using Linux? If not, why not? How do we attract more women to these development projects? We are missing out on a large user base and development resource if women aren't interested. " I agree, so I thought it would be nice to take the time to discuss what what the women have done for the community. What accomplishments they've made, the types of projects they get involved in, and any hopes they have for the future.
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Women in the Open Source/Free Software Communities?

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  • Come on, admit it, you guys just want more geek girls. :)
  • Of course there are women using Linux. Check out the following:


    This should at least get you to a starting point.
  • You know, I've often wondered the ramifications of having a different sex devolop software. Just for the mere fact that male/female brains work differently. For example, men are more vector based using distances an bearings in navigation, while the woman uses landmarks and left, right, etc. While this seems sexist to some, this is what current research (that I've read) is indicating. It might be interesting to see the differences in design that arise.
  • LinuxChix [linuxchix.org] would be a good first stop for finding female hackers. *I* was pretty happy to find others of my kind there. :) -> Terri
  • Just Kidding!

    Anyway, one of the problems I can immediately see/grok is that, at least when I went to college these past 5 years, is that there was a ratio of like 20:1 of male to female in the CS department.

    It was slightly better in the EE department, of like 8:1, but that's still pretty bad.

    Maybe this is different in other schools, states, or countries, but that would seem to put an damper on the party spirit already. Any female contributors to the Open Source, internet, or computing world have very many hurdles. I'd say they deserve congrats for that.

    This brings a different problem to light, on how to change this statistic. If women don't participate in this exciting new revolution, the internet, e-commerce, and Open Source, among others, will they be left behind? Will there be a missing perspective? How do we change this?

    It isn't enough that women be part of the creative-web design aspects of the internet. They need to be involved in the design, development, and implementation of it as well. I apologize if my stereotypes are outdated. Perhaps women are a very big part of the movement; just that in my corner of the world, I haven't seen it yet.

    Anyone want to correct me?

  • Absolutely. Is there anything wrong with that? :)
  • In Japan, there was a book that was recently published called Hop, Skip, Linux (I think) that was
    • written by a woman and
    • written for women ...trying to tell them why they might want to use Linux

    I recall that the cover even taunted Bill Gates (although I don't remember exactly how). If you live in Orange County, SoCal ...you can drop by the Kinokuniya Bookstore in the Costa Mesa Yaohan to see if they still have it in stock.

  • How much of this difference is also fostered by boys learning from men and girls learning from women, btw?

    Just the fact that boys see men using numbers and girls see women using landmarks?

    Anyway, I'm proud to announce that I am a man/boy/male that uses landmarks, lefts and rights, and locations rather than numbers. I have horrible distance/time perception. How can anyone tell, other than guessing, scale, distance, time, etc?

  • They reduce my efficiency.

    "Get off your computer....",
    "You love your computer more than me",
    "Quit banging on your keyboard and come bang on me for awhile..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 30, 1999 @07:59AM (#1647903)
    Sigh. Open source is about letting people do whatever they want with the source code. It's about freedom. If hardly any women want to use it, that's their choice. Doing nothing, absolutely nothing, with open source is also allowed. Anyone who's followed the gender wars knows that open source is everything feminists claim that women want. The organizations are non-hierarchical and base their decisions largely on consensus. The demands to make a profit, beat a competitor, and win contracts are virtually non-existent. It's open, inviting, and totally inclusive. Maybe women are just love corporate scheming and nasty power games more than they let on.
  • Maybe some of them take male pseudonyms in order to keep from being bothered by a horde of lonely male Linux people.

  • by Gallowglass ( 22346 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:00AM (#1647906)
    . . . was, of course, Admiral Grace Hopper, oldest serving officer (of *either* sex) in the US Navy, project leader of the team that built the first commercial general purpose language, and a Righteous Babe.

    "Don't ask for permission. Just do it! It's easier to apologize for having done something than it is to get permission to do it." - G. Hopper

    Which is why OpenSource development works so well when you come to think of it.
  • by Anonymous Shepherd ( 17338 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:04AM (#1647907) Homepage
    Why do people say that when they're about to be rude?

    Regardless, learning linux is a big step. It's adoption of the standard. And from that point, one can easily fall into the trap of accomplishing much more.

    Considering that I believe there is a tremendous gender gap in computing, it's a good thing(even if not a great thing) that there is a site for women and Linux. What else needs to be done is to introduce women to computing in general as well, rather than leaving it a man's market and the domain of the arcane, mystic, and powerful.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I few weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about how in Y2K projects, there is a disproportinatly high number of women managers.

    The main reason they sited was this...

    When men where given the opportunity to manage these projects, they saw them as troubesome, and thought that it wouldn't advance their carreer because they thought there wouldn't be any glory in Y2K work. So, the women filled in the spots.

    Could this relate to why there aren't many women in open source? I mean, most of the insentive for open source work is in the glory? (not meant to be flamebait).
  • There are many people who worship Alan Cox or John Carmack. Now imagine if Carmack was female. She would not get left alone. Ever! A big load of geek guys would be trying to score a date. She would not be able to work on quake. guys already think Carmack is a god. Now imagine a female saying
    "you like!,,, I don't care if you like"
    That would be one bad ass chick.
  • Cool. there's also also race-specific linux distros coming out soon. check out:


    Get the point?
    ----------------- ------------ ---- --- - - - -
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't care if the person who wrote some code or contributed to open source has a penis or a vagina. Why should I? What does it matter?

    If a person wants to contribute or not, it's up to them. I would hope as reasonable intelligent individuals we wouldn't care about this sort of gender rubbish which plagues the rest society. It's not like open source advertises and makes all the ads blue to favour males.

    Open source is a lump of clay on a table with a sign that reads, in english, "play with me". If women don't want to play, their choice. We should be more concerned the sign is in english as that actually EXCLUDES people, some of which even have vaginas!

  • sadly, www.linuxchix.com appears to be a generic rude domainname auctioneer. the coincidence is unfortunate.
  • You know, I've often wondered the ramifications of having a different sex devolop software. Just for the mere fact that male/female brains work differently

    I'm assuming that you've never seen code done by a woman, since it is pretty much the same as something a man would write.

    Seriously, I'm not usually one for gender equality; women and men do do things differently. However, coding does not seem to be one of those things. We've got awesome geek coders, and chicks who are just in it for the money -- same as the male coder population. There's just fewer of us (for now!)

    As you can tell, I'm in the "linux distro for women is a silly idea" camp.


  • I know it's kinda extreem but she's the only O.S. women I know of. Still I think all of the perl porters are male.

  • by Ledge Kindred ( 82988 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:15AM (#1647915)
    This question seems to come up with surprising regularity. You'd think someone would just put up a "why aren't there more women in computing?" webste.

    There are probably many factors involved, including but not limited to:

    1) Cultural -- the US is a major factor in computing and the US is still a society that for the most part expects boys to play with screwdrivers and footballs and automobile engines (and therefore become engineers of some sort) and girls to play with dolls and play kitchen sets and games like "Let's go to the Mall" (and therefore become homemakers and housewives.)

    2) Environmental -- CompSci is a science/engineering discipline. Engineering and science are still dramatically male-dominated. Anyone who wants to believe otherwise, fine, but try to find a female professor in any science/engineering dscipline, or better yet, try to become a female professor. Females certainly aren't encouraged to become CompSci majors, and are probably discouraged in many cases.

    3) Situational -- I'm sure plenty of women are scared away from computers the first time they show up at a user's group meeting or similar get-together, log into IRC and start chatting, send EMail, post on /. or any other method of socializing whereby it becomes known that they are female. They will, in the vast majority of situations, then become blidingly aware of the huge population of sexually frustrated, poorly socialzed computer geeks out there who will then proceed to come on to, try to "Hot chat", send gross EMail, and so on and so forth. (Yes, I know, you don't do that, but lots of computer geek guys do.) Unlike men, who, since they are the vast majority can have opportunities for big group-bonding geek-outs, it's not as easy for a group of hacker girls to get together in large groups because there really aren't large groups of them. IMHO, being a computer geek is in some part the social fabric of which you become part and if you can't neatly fit into that social fabric, you're not going to be as likely to stick around.

    Yadda yadda yadda. Isn't there a FAQ with this info someplace yet?

    And, semi-off-topic, I really get annoyed with women who call themselves "grrls" or something similar like that. I find it just as annoying as 31337 5p33k.


  • by Jordy ( 440 ) <jordan&snocap,com> on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:19AM (#1647916) Homepage
    Just to play the devil's advocate for a bit...

    Does it really matter if any women are in the open source developer community? Does it matter if Linux was created by a man rather than a woman? Would some massive economic, social and spiritual change happen because it just happens that the author of a piece of software was female?

    Maybe I have never been big on "heroes" or maybe it's just the fact that I never really looked up to anyone as a child and said I wanted to be like them because they were famous, but I think it's pretty silly to think that there is a problem in the world if a particular field is dominated by men. Now I'm not saying that it's ok to discourage people from going into a field of work because it's dominated by men, what I am against is pushing someone towards a field strictly because it is and going as far as to mount an entire campaign around it.

    Men and women are not the same; physically and psychologically. While growing up, each person should be given a broad range of fields they can work in when they get older and should be free to make up their own decisions about which one they enjoy the most and what they as an individual are most suited towards.

    Of course, as a man, I don't really have a good perspective on how women are treated as they grow up. Maybe there is a good amount of discouragement which men don't get when trying to enter a male dominated field. This is not to say that men aren't discouraged when entering a male dominated field either, it's just we are too self absorbed to care what other people, especially men, think. :)

    Then again, I would like to find a woman who understood my work so I doubt have to dumb down my conversation. I really hate doing that.

  • by Wohali ( 57372 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:26AM (#1647917) Homepage
    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 [mozilla.org], Rio MP3 transfer software, a now-abandoned terminal emulator for OS/2, xlockmore [tux.org], 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.

  • Well, NewsTrolls [newstrolls.com]is headed up by me and we [newstrolls.com] run Linux/Apache and at home I've got a dual-boot Win98/OpenLinux2.2 and a G4...(and a Globablys 130 that I haven't figured out what to do with...yet)

    Seriously, women in Linux is a real issue b/c the entire tech industry except PR and marketing is almost void of woman (and please don't bring up the what-about-Kim-Polese-example ;P)...

    I brought the issue up in my review-- On Bill, his Mini-Me's and the Linux Alternative [newstrolls.com] of Gary Rivlin's book the Plot to Get Bill Gates and it got a lot of reaction. I got tons of emails from women and some men thanking me for pointing out some of the bullshit in tech in general but also got some seriously disturbed and angry guys telling me to shut the hell up...

    I wrote to Gary Rivlin about it which turned into an interview on the whole issue of women in tech [newstrolls.com]

    Personally, I can count on one hand the women I feel like can relate to what I do, and I think that's sad. I wish there were more of us out there...real women who want to know more than where to shop and read friggin' horoscopes and snotty guys-are-losers advice columns...

  • You don't see many women hacking coding for the same reasons you don't see many women in technology related disciplines across the board. Of course there are some, as the link in one of the earlier posts shows.

    This has probably been discussed here before but I'll say it again anyway. There are a few reasons I can think of, both are generalizations, I'm not suggesting that they are true of everyone.

    1) Women aren't pushed to go into technology related fields. This isn't as true as it used to be. But still, at my school (U of Minnesota) the male/female ratio is about 30:1 in the EE department, and there is 1 female professor out of about 40. It's a *bit* better in a few of the other engineering departments, chemical engineering is probably 15:1, CS is probably 20:1. When I was in high school, my calc class was pretty much a 50/50 m/f ratio. But the only people who went into tech fields were guys. The women in the class would tell me they simply weren't interested. I think parents play a big part in this. My parents always suggested I go for engineering. As much as I hate to admit it, thats probably half the reason I did. I hardly know any women who's parents pushed them in that direction.

    2) "Biological" differences between men and women. This is risky ground, and nothing new really, but I'll say it anyway. Men seem to be better at disciplines that require a lot of "logical" thinking, women are better at at jobs that involve more human interaction. I don't think this plays nearly as big of a role as reason 1, however.
  • by aprentic ( 1832 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @08:26AM (#1647920) Homepage
    Admiral Grace Hopper may be a hard coder and a Righteous Babe, but I'm putting my vote in for Ada Lovelace. I mean really. This chick was the first programmer (of *either* sex), ever. She wrote assembly code and she had to do all her debugging without actually running any tests of her programs. It's too bad her slacker husband couldn't get his com-u-turd finished. I wonder if anyone has ever gone ahead and built that thing, I bet most of Ada's code would have run correctly on it.
  • Thus spake Ledge Kindred:

    I'm sure plenty of women are scared away from computers the first time they show up at a user's group meeting or similar get-together, log into IRC and start chatting, send EMail, post on /. or any other method of socializing whereby it becomes known that they are female.

    Utter and complete bullshit. Yes, sometimes you run across the stalker who won't leave you alone, and you have to change your email addresses and install lots of filters. But this rubbish about women being scared away is simply perpetuating the myth that "women are scared, defenseless little creatures who must be protected from the big bad world at all costs."

    Perhaps your mother or your grandmother viewed the world that way, but the vast majority of women my age (twentysomethings, that is) are fully actualized, self-confident people who know how to set up a mail filter, or at least who know how to man procmail or RTFM of their favorite mail reader.

    The quicker you guys learn that today's woman can take care of herself, the quicker you'll find that elusive mate you've been looking for these past few years.

    In your favor, though, your first two points are quite valid and need more serious attention. I'm doing my part by tutoring middle-school and high-school girls in math, science, and computers. Why not get your favorite female friend who likes geek stuff to do the same thing?

  • Don't discount the other possible reason cited in that NPR article.

    As we all know, men are less likely to ask for directions when doing anything. Women aren't.

    As the Y2K thing is relatively uncharted territory, many men are said to be intimidated by it. They'd have to swallow thier pride and ask for help, so they don't take on such projects. Women don't care, and so have no problem taking on such things.

  • Anyone want to correct me?

    I wouldn't say this is a correction more than an adjustment. At the risk of sounding chauvenistic I suppose women would have to want to contribute to the open source movement.

    slightly better in the EE department, of like 8:1, but that's still pretty bad

    I don't think that bad adequately describes the ratios here. Perhaps lopsided, and lopsided may not be bad. When my team (Browns, Indians, pretty much everything Cleveland) has a lopsided victory I'm pretty fired up. I suppose the losing teams fans may describe it as a bad loss. So bad, I guess, is a matter of perspective and the vision of the end result.

    If women don't participate in this exciting new revolution, the internet, e-commerce, and Open Source, among others, will they be left behind? Will there be a missing perspective? How do we change this?

    I (a man) graduated with an English Lit degree and the ratios in my major were probably in the neighborhood described above. I suppose similar ratios exist in education.

    I don't recall the women trying to figure out what to do to change this, no one wondered if the men would be left behind or if they could provide a missing perspective. In fact I would argue that those so absorbed in science and technology may be missing out in the fascinating world of literature (or maybe not).

    Back to my original point of wanting to participate in the open source revolution, perhaps they just have better things to do. Only recently has my wife decided to learn how to email, and that's only because her friends asked her if she got their email. My wife got tired of asking if I'd received the email yet and then having me describe what it said.

    I would never discount her contribution to society as a wonderful mother. I would never discount the contributions of women teachers and journalists (ok, well maybe the journalists). It took other women to motivate my wife to get barely interested in computers. If we really need women then perhaps the women contributors are the best advocates for change. Perhaps the men shouldn't concern themselves with deficiencies in the system.

  • Lets face it, Men are more involved because we do not indicate to women that we would give them praise for being a Linux Kernel hacker. This issue is not subject to Linux alone. In universities all over the planet, men are the majority in the CS departments. Of the men in the CS departments you can figure that at least a handfull have used Linux, and of the handfull at least one of them may get involved at looking in some code from the distro. For a women to be the one person who decided to look at the sources seems to be unthinkable. I have a girlfriend who loves to work on computers and even works doing tech support for M$ windows98. However, she is rare in her field. She tells me that there are about 5 or 10 other women out of about 100 or so people in her deppartmnet. In general, women don't seem to be encouraged to pursue computer rellated things. I remember one time I was tottaly enfactuated with a chick who was wearing a Linux T-shirt. She wasn't tooo extremly pretty or anything, but I remeber myself thinking "I wonder if she has a boyfriend". It was the fact that I had actually found a Linux chick that made me attracted to her. Most girls don't figure that if they get involved with Linux that there is a whole sub culture of nerdy type guys ready to welcome them to the scean. Obviously if a chick gets involved with linux it is not to get guys, it is to use an awsome opperating system. They are probably just as nerdy as the rest of us. Historically this is the type of attention women have been subjected to. Women seem to be found in places that men accept them. Physically accept them. It almost seems like it might be human nature but I know its not. Women are becomeing much more liberated these days, and it is only a matter of time. However, we must condition women from a young age to pursue their natural ablity to solve complex problems. A good example is the fact that women literally use both parts of their brain when speaking aloud. Men use their left side of the brain. So women are natural born kernel hackers, they just don't know it yet. We have to make them feel welcome in our world of men. This is not the "good'ol boys club" anymore. -Diz
  • Girls of the E-School Calendar [virginia.edu] idea from UVA. A little out there, I think. But... :)
  • The ratios, or so I hear from my friend (swett), also make the dating scene interesting at CalTech. Do you guys ever look off campus?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ARE female! They just hire the same two "geek-boys" to portray them in public.

    Haven't you all figured this out yet? And you call yourselves "intelligent"!

  • Maybe someday I will become a linux kernel hacker. For now I just play with perl. Perl is currently my favorite language.

    Arrays of Associative arrays are just beautiful!

    I actually started learning perl by playing with porting a mailling program to NT, I was trying to figure out how to access smtp directly since NT lacks sendmail by default.

    I was like a kid in a candy store - or non-geek women in a shoe store (Don't take offence - I also "collect" shoes - over 60 pairs currently) - when I first found a page that was a port of unix commands and protocols to perl. I lost the link to that - if anyone knows the Url please tell me.

    I am just a perl loving linux chick!

  • Um, so most twenty-something women know how to set up a mail filter? Wow. I think there are plenty of twenty-something men who don't even know that the software they use to read email is called a "mail reader". I'm stunned (and somewhat skeptical).
  • I guess I was just widening the off-topic Y2K issue addressed in the NPR piece you cited. I apologize for not adding anything to the OpenSource heart of this discussion. But I found that piece very interesting.

    As for your question... I think both male and female hackers and code grinders would ask for help equally. That's just how things work in that arena. They tend to thrive on the exchange of ideas and past methods, and exchanges rarely begin without someone asking something.

  • Well here I am posting to another question about women involved with linux.

    I am not involved in FSF - open source or anything really high tech right now.

    I am on a year of rest from the task of getting my computer science degree. I sit at home and code perl for fun and play on my linux box trying to optimize and customize it to my standards. I write perl to give myself cute little shortcuts, and occassionally I help a friend by working on a nifty little perl script to handle some form input.

    Not very kernel happy am I? Well perhaps I will be in the future. I would like a little open source hobby, perhaps when I go back to school, I will have the confidence to do more than just read all the C that makes my OS run.

    There is a lack of women in the techie world though - most of the women I know who are technologically able are in web design and graphic arts. Perhaps one day there will be more girls in computer science, and in technology in general. I hope so. But for now, I have joined linuxchix and I write perl code - and I don't feel like the only one.

  • Emil,

    I'm sorry, I didn't articulate clearly enough. I meant that most women who take up the effort to "get online" aren't going to be scared off-line forever by some ICQ 10S3R asking what they're wearing.

    I intended to state that most aren't afraid to ask for help, and are willing to look for ways to "clean up" their experience of the Internet without giving up altogether (as suggested by the original poster.)

    You're right, mail filters are a bit obscure of a concept. My fault for choosing a poor example.

  • by Minmei ( 4225 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @09:28AM (#1647938) Homepage
    Obviously, there are women in these fields, but not a great deal of us. Those of us that are here generally stay low profile. Why? Tons of reasons. Part of it is the fact that as soon as people discover that you are a female with a clue, there are two common responces (there are more, but these are the ones you get ALL the time).

    One - You really don't have a clue, i can treat you like dirt and get away with it, because i'm male, and only males have a clue when it comes to computers.

    Two - Ooooh! a female with a clue. She wants to go to bed with me. She really will be thrilled to be informed that i'm her best ambition in life, and heck, i get a new bed buddy out of the deal.

    Those of us that survive that, because we love the toys, or have more important things to worry about, keep a very low profile. Just as self defence. Add to that, often we don't get a more intelligent responce by the other females (outside the industry) that we know. "What do you mean you work in computers? Don't you mean you're a technical writer (at best)? -Real- women don't use computers."

    Now, don't get me wrong, i have some wonderful female and male friends who are completely savvy. And i do use *nix. I'm cozy w/many flavors. I just don't advertise. And as someone above put it, i do my time at the office. After 60 hours a week getting code and servers to do what i want, when i get home, my computer there is for games and communication w/friends only. I'd rather go to ballet, and out to coffee, than spend yet MORE time staring at that screen.

    If you want to find lots of women w/a computer clue, find one. She knows more as friends, and almost with out a doubt, emails/trades stores/shares code/shares info with quite a few more. It's the proverbial underground network. In order to find us, you have to know us. *wry grin* Not the most welcomeing of things, but it's getting more public and better every year. When i started in the "professional" workforce, i knew less than 5 tech savvy women. Now i hear from over a 100 a day. That's just in 3 years. Give us time. As our network gets stronger, and the environments get less hostile, we will get more visible.
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @09:29AM (#1647939)
    If I thought that the ratio was due soley to lack of interest I wouldn't worry either.

    However, all too often when this subject comes up on slashdot the conversation turns to dating, sex, and marriage. This is not the reason that women should participate in open source, to solve the lonely male geek problem.

    It is tough to stand out in any crowd, and given the current situation, that is what happens to women who are brave enough to try. If male programmers could treat female programmers more like they do their male colleagues, *when appropriate*, I believe it would be more comfortable for those brave souls. This is not to say that compatible people should not seek each other's company, but let's try not to alienate women in the process.

    One obnoxious claim I see repeated time after time seems to say that if *I* can't find an attractive female geek, they all must be ugly. First, even if it *were* true, so what? I never saw beauty as requirement for geekdom, and good thing -- or most of us would be in trouble! Second, accept responsibility for your own limitations, don't try to blame women for them.

    This may even be harmful to open source. I have to wonder how much of the religious flame wars are testosterone based. My OS/toolkit/license is bigger than yours!

    There is something wrong with any movement devoted to free choice that excludes half of the population, whether intentionally or not.
  • Not directly a linux user, she did foresee and have a fair hand in creating the whole concept of the "difference engine" or computer as we call it. Who is this.........Lady Ada Byron-Lovelace. Learn more about the lady at: http://www.cs.yale.edu/~tap/Files/ada-bio.html Really, we owe a lot to her and the other unsung female heroines of computing
  • 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.
  • I think some of the reason why there are fewer women in general in the community, is because they are not interested in the payoff of being in the community. Open Source still definitely has a hierarchical order. The value function has just shifted from money to ability. A rich hacker is no better than a poor hacker. Those in the community with the best ability are the most revered. It may very well be that the payoff a women would get from having a group of males respect her is a lot less than a male would percieve. And thus a female is less willing to participate because the reward is not as great for her.
  • I wonder if anyone has ever gone ahead and built that thing, I bet most of Ada's code would have run correctly on it.

    Yes, actually, someone did - the London Science Museum, finished in the early 90's.
    Pretty amaizing actually, 4000 pieces of cast iron, bronze, and steel (3 tons worth)
    calculating upto 32 decimal places! 'Course, it isn't exactly portable.

    The LSM has a pic of it here [nmsi.ac.uk].

  • Before you flame me, I don't agree with all of the article - but it does provide some understanding on the general lack of women in CS.

    My opinion:
    If women have these views that this is what is holding them back, it is no wonder why they are being held back. It is quite a cycle, women feel held back, therefore are held back.

    The Link
    Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?

    My personal outlook:
    Nobody is holding my back, or down. I have encountered almost no gender related prejudice in my life from other techies. I encounter more prejudice on the fact I can get started on talking about computers and be stuck on the topic forever. And that is my own geeky fault. :)

    On the terms grrls, chix, and the like
    I would rather prefer chix and grrls than womyn. But to tell the truth all of these silly slangs annoy me too. I remeber all the grunge women calling themselves /grr(*r)ls/, and as a former punk rocker, I really though it was rather silly - what does it mean? And what are all of the permentations of the numbers of r's and the meaning of each r - if you have more r's does it mean you are more angry?

  • I'm a self-proclaimed geek girl, myself. And... I'm not sure if this whole thing about /. doing features about "Where are all the geek women?" is a facination thing or what... but I'm kinda asking the same question.

    I have been running Linux for about four years now. I am the president of the Linux User's Group here at the university I attend and I have a programming job with a prof here on campus doing unix programming/DB and web stuff.

    Honestly, I have never met another woman that is as knowledgable in the same areas that I am. There are quite a few female CS majors, but I haven't met any others that use Linux for programming, etc. Maybe I have a higher opinion of Unix/Linux programmers, I don't know. I've never met any other women that were.

    Supposedly, I am on the CS common interest floor for women. I think three other people besides myself who are CS majors. So either the computer savvy women elsewhere or there just aren't many at all.

    - Jess
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 30, 1999 @09:48AM (#1647947)
    As a woman currently majoring in Computer Engineering at the University of Maryland, I know how hard it can be for women to get into in technology related fields.

    When I was in elementary and middle school (in a nationally acclaimed school system), the teachers would generally say that us girls should be in higher level math and science courses. However, what they said is not actually what they did. From the time I was in first grade, my mother and I had to fight constantly to get the school to actually place me into classes that would challenge me in math and science; the school's excuse would always be "Well, these classes are hard, and her schedule is already challenging." This pattern continued into high school, where I actually had my (female) guidance counselor say to me "But physics is so hard...and so is calculus," to try to discourage me from taking them both in the same year. There were only two teachers in my high school that encouraged me to take computer science courses. I was eventually the only girl in the class.

    When I got to college, I talked to some other women in my major. The scary thing is this:

    They had the same problems I had.

    And unfortunately, this problem also extends to the attitudes school systems take with minority students. At a meeting of the Black Engineering Society, I found students of all minority backgrounds sharing similar experiances.

    So what can be done? First, fight for your daughters, sisters, and friends and encourage them to challenge the school's placement reccomendations. If my mother had not stood up for me when I was in first through 12th grades, I would not be here at college on a full scholarship.

    Also, please fight the stereotypes in society. When I was working as a computer repair technician at the local CompUSA, many customers would ask to speak with the "real technicians" or call me the 'secretary.' Reactions like this, and present biases make it exceedingly difficult to want to stay in such a profession.

    I am one of the lucky women who was encouraged by others to become the geek I am today. We are out there...

    -NatMarie rainfa1l@happypuppy.com

  • This topic is a popular one on a mailing list for women in the computer industry known as systers http://www.systers.org [systers.org] If I remember correctly the major components they list are lack of encouragement in school for girls to be interested in math/science, and lack of mentors/role models for girls to model themselves after. Another friend of mine mentioned that some schools are experimenting with segregated boy/girl classes, and although unpleasant on a number of ideological levels, the girls math/science scores had climbed 30%. There's a reasonable body of research to support the claim that boys get more attention from their teachers in class then girls do. As for the role model component, one friend of mine who attended caltech back when the ratio was 1 woman to 7 men (it's now down to 1 to 3) and then went off for an optical computing PhD. She's so used to being in a pure male environemnt, that she doesn't even recognize if she's the only woman in the room--and more importantly this doesn't bother her. Oh yes, and I looked through the list of debian developers and there are a a couple of female looking names in there, and then some I can't recognize... so I'd have to say that there are women involved in open source.
  • As I have noted befoer, I am a woman. I have Linux installed at home. My closest female friend has Linux at home. We do exist.

    Why is it important that women use Linux? It is important for the same reason it is important thant women drive cars. Remember all the jokes about women drivers from the bad old days? Women driving seemed to be out of the ordinary. I remember a lot of sitcom plots centered around teaching a woman to drive. Now we have Mom as chauffeur. Now we women pay less on insurance. Notice all those minivans? Guess who buys and drives about half of the automobiles in America?

    As computers become as common as cars, whoever gets to the mom market and can hold it will have a big advantage.
  • Some of us, I'm sure. Most don't have the energy/initiative/ability.

    I'm unsure whether this counts as dating, most of what goes on here. Either is promiscuous general group sharing or it's solid friendship for 4 years or it's two people clinging together and getting married after graduation.

    Dating would seem to suggest experimentation, exploration, etc. There aren't enough women here for that to be true for the men, and the women don't seem to want to bother with all the men.

    Still, the lop-sided ration makes for interesting situations.

  • I don't see how the fact that the sign (source code? code comments?) is in English excludes anyone. The actual code is in C or C++ or Perl or whatever. The only thing that is in English, if anything, are the code comments and documentation. I don't see why anyone who is a good programmer, hinting at at least slightly above average linguistic abilities, can't learn English.

  • by vampdsy ( 91564 ) on Thursday September 30, 1999 @09:58AM (#1647953) Homepage
    This sort of question comes up continually I've noticed, and hasn't really been answered concretely. The main reason I think *I* have noticed is that the support for young girls doing computing is virtually non-existant.

    See, realize this. Most of you linux hackers were doing this since your early days of high school -- at the very worst since you hit college. In the adolescent social setup, there is often a congregation of people around a theme.. those who get into linux or computers are largely male "geeks". And the most known thing about male "geeks" is that Women Are From Mars.

    No, it's not a "women can't do it" problem at this point, it's an "OH MY GAWD THERE IS A GIRL HERE!!!" phenomenon. Girls who do try to play with computers when they're younger have to constantly navigate this.. as a result they're either scared off or they simply don't get the same exchange of information because they're scaring the geeks.

    So, take this girl who was actually interested in computers and throw her into college now. Suddenly she's behind all these guys who've been geeking for years with each other, meanwhile she's been forced to learn it on her own, and she feels the disadvantage strongly. Only now it's worse.. suddenly she's "one of the few geekgirls out there" and thusly desirable by all geeks. And she's STILL not getting the information exchange like everyone else.

    A lot of women navigate this by hitting online with male monikers and personas to try and circumvent that attitude (btw, someone recently went to the newsgroups posting roughly the same thing under both male and female names, the male got more respect, the female got hit on), or they just quietly duck back into the mold of "learning it for themselves" as they've always done.

    It's a bad situation, really. What *I* would like to see as a strong female geek (who is also trying to avoid hiding either myself or my femininity) is more women helping women, and more women helping the young girls. I don't advocate complete separation.. but having support systems and role models for those starting out is vital. I also don't think that trying to change the geek mindset of "OH MY GAWD THERE IS A GIRL HERE" is going to work, that's just too much a part of being a geek.

    As for "why aren't there women in open source support sites out there?" .. uh, very recently there was an article posted here about linuxchix.org [linuxchix.org].

    I, personally, would love to start a branch for women in FreeBSD .. an even rarer phenomenon in my experience. :)

    UNIX Systems and Network Administrator and FreeBSD chick,

  • You mean ExtUtils [iagu.net]?

    Also, let's distinguish here between *collecting* shoes and *accumulating* them. My GF does the former, I do the latter. And not fast enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Are you suggesting that the apparent absence of women in Open Source has to do with some inherent desire for a bitchy, competitive arena?! What absolute rubbish. You sound particularly bitter and I don't think that this is the right place to output your angst at the female gender.

    With regards to Open Source, yes, it is a philosopy based on ideals women have fought for a long time. The issue is not "Where are the women in Open Source?" but "Where are the women in the IT industry?"
    In order to get involved in Open Source we need to know about it first, and how can that occur if we aren't fairly represented in the IT industry itself?

    I am a female perl developer for an internet company [bibliotech.net] that develops web apps such as free email [postmaster.co.uk] and a free service for schools [schoolmaster.net] which run on linux.

    I had a lot of trouble breaking into the industry due to the backward, sexist attitudes of many of the traditional "blue chip" software houses. I believe that women should be socialised with computers and technology, from an early age, as is more common with boys. I found passion for computers young and it has stayed with me. I'm sure there will be increasing numbers of women in computing as we become more aware of gender stereotyping children.

    With that increase, I'm sure you will see a far more vocal female Open Source contingent.

    Watch us gather in number, it's already happening.

  • You make an excellent point, though I had a less-than-stellar experience at the Lab schools (I left immediately after third grade).

    This is why I donate upwards of 100 hours a year tutoring and working with middle-school and high-school girls in math, science, and computers. I often encourage those women around me who are strong individuals (and don't have little children tying up their schedules!) to do the same. For those who do have children, I see them bringing their daughters into work on a semi-regular basis, showing them anything from how to browse the web from a real-live better-than-T1 connection to what Mommy's job programming in Java and C++ is all about.

    Along the same lines, I have a mentor at my current company who is, in turn, tutoring me in the ways of management and project planning. I can't be enough of an advocate for these sorts of programs. If you're a woman in a higher position of responsibility within your company, offer to mentor those just starting out - it's fun, and utterly immensely important to whoever you mentor. You might even learn something from your mentee! (Is that even a word?)

    So I'm with you, completely. The solution to getting more participation of women in technology isn't necessarily changing the attitudes of those male geeks out there - they're already more than receptive enough to having a woman in the cube next door - it's passing on your knowledge to your peers and those in the generation following your own.

  • I've never seen a manager ask for help... male or female!!!

    Seriously, I could care less who writes the software, as long as no one is discouraged!

  • Mmm, I wasn't implying that the average girl hacker wouldn't know how to set up a twit filter, I was implying that the average female hacker is probably going to get really sick and damn tired of pathetic sex-crazed geeks treating her as a female object instead of a female hacker and just quit the scene rather than deal with it.

    Hell, I often feel like giving up on computers and becoming a farmer after trodding through hundreds of junk EMail some days.

    I didn't mean anything derogatory at all. Apologies if it came out like that.


  • Apology accepted! See my other append. We do get tired of pathetic sex-crazed geeks, but it doesn't make us give up on the online world forever. IRC? Yes. The Internet? No. :]

  • peeka boo :) I believe that woman "geeks" are an incredible asset to the Linux community. Girls are alot more sensible and humble. We are willing to teach before punishing those that are clueless. Besides, the woman are smarter. :)
  • I don't think it matters that Linux was crafted by a male or female set of hands. I think it does matter that women are not more a part of the Open Source movement or part of being online because both are revolutions of power away from central authorities and in the hands of people who now have voices.

    If women aren't involved(out of lack of foresight), then they aren't given voices, or the choice to speak, and everyone loses.

  • 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
  • What's wrong with the excuse that you're a bad student? It worked with me =)

    Just get your act together. Either she's a fair prof and you're not putting in enough effort, or she's unfair and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it except give your best.

    In either case the only thing you can do is try to learn as much as possible, pass the class, and go on with your life.

  • I'd imagine that a disproportionate gender ratio in the engineering disciplines is bad because, as in medicine, concerns of women, which may differ from concerns of men, get less attention because they just aren't conceived in the minds of men.

    If women don't participate in this exciting new revolution, the internet, e-commerce, and Open Source, among others, will they be left behind? Will there be a missing perspective? How do we change this?

    I (a man) graduated with an English Lit degree and the ratios in my major were probably in the neighborhood described above. I suppose similar ratios exist in education.
    I don't recall the women trying to figure out what to do to change this, no one wondered if the men would be left behind or if they could provide a missing perspective. In fact I would argue that those so absorbed in science and technology may be missing out in the fascinating world of literature (or maybe not).

    What, so if they aren't complaining, or they are too busy to think about it, or if they don't realize there is a problem, or because they don't see the problem means there isn't one to be tackled? Just because there is a gender ratio doesn't mean its a good thing.

    I certainly have better things to do than participate in many open source revolutions. I however have a choice because I am connected to the system, if nothing else through my friends, my job, and through Slashdot.

    Sigh. I don't know, but I think everyone needs to be concerned about deficiences in the system. Because if there is a deficiency, then there is a problem just waiting to be uncovered, and if everyone is part of the system, everyone is affected.

    Two arguments: If women are no different then men, then there is no *need* to push them into the field, because men can do just as well in stead of women. If this were true, then I would think women would already be involved as much as men, because they are no different then men. Since they are not involved, I would take that to mean there is a difference somewhere, either on the personal level(which I don't believe) or the social level.

    If women are needed in the field, and they are held back because society hasn't yet adapted to the changing world, and we don't do our part to help, we are as guilty as those who do their part to hinder. We're just watching them close the world off to women.

    I'm wondering if you could get your wife to think about this and reply, actually.

  • Beg pardon, but Ada Byron/Lovelace's code was written for Babbage's Analytical Engine. Her slacker husband was the poet Lord Byron. Ada married Byron, and did her work with Babbage on the engines. Babbage != Byron; in fact they were some distance apart, though it seems that Byron was fairly supportive of Ada's work, even though at the time the involvement of women in science and mathematics was fairly limited and to some degree discouraged. Ada was herself encouraged by her (cretin) mother to study math, because she (Ada) was getting interested in boys, and her mother (who hated men in general) feared for her virtue. Turned out that Ada liked numbers as much as boys, so her mother did succeed in turning her off men, or at least men who didn't crunch numbers, until her (arranged) marriage to Byron. Ada had three kids and raised them all, whilst working with Babbage.

    Babbage himself, not having the advantage of any formal procedures of computer design, never really finished either Engine, since he got distracted by the Difference Engine by the prospects of the Analytical Engine, and the latter was largely doomed by the inadequacy both of mechanical calculators and of machining techniques in England and the world at large of the period (roughly 1830-death, since Babbage never kept up even after being discredited).

    Not sure if Ada qualifies as a geek or not; the attributes of geekiness hadn't really been established, and she was required to also be Lady Ada Byron of Lovelace, which is probably like wearing a suit and such. Maybe she was just really smart and good with numbers -- there's not much record of what she herself was like, other than wrt math.

    Her programs have all been published, BTW; the one for calculating the seventh Bernoulli number is used in math texts, including the bug and the design flaw. :)

  • Isn't this some of what the question asked?

    Here's a thread talking about some of the first female contributors to the computing field, programming, etc. Not Open Source, but still very core stuff.

    Was it Ada who also did the frequency hopping stuff that the military later used for their torpedoes and is now being used in such things as TDMA(or is it CDMA?)

  • Mabye someone should write a FEMALE-HACKER-HOWTO. ;)
  • No, come to think of it, it wasn't Ada that did the frequency hopping bit.

    That was a female actress in the US, I think. Anyone remember her name? Shame on me for not knowing it.

  • Men don't dominate open source because no one can dominate it. It's free.
  • Thus spake Starlady:
    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.

    Surprise, surprise! I'm responsible for Y2K compliance efforts for the products our company produces, exactly for that reason. Without generalizing (there are certainly a lot of men involved too!), we women are taking on this role precisely because we feel we make a difference. Perhaps it is a bit of indulging our maternal instincts.

    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.

    Then do what I do - volunteer and tutor or mentor those younger than you. You clearly have the knowledge and expertise to impart; why not pass on your knowledge at the local high school or within your own company?

    As for female leaders in technology, I've only recently been exposed to Lightbridge [lightbridge.com]'s CEO and President, Pamela Reeve [lightbridge.com].

  • How else will I get intelligent children?

    Anyway, that's irrelevant to the topic. Have you women, in this underground network, ever conspired to take over the world?

    For example, is Fiona Carly of HP part of your network?

    Being visible may not be a good thing, btw. Especially if it makes you a target. Regardless, I'd think this network needs to get involved in getting girls into the network so that when they get into college and workforce you have even better/stronger connections.

    There's already very many old-boys networks around. It'd be ironically just if there were a few women's networks to advance the cause and needs of women.

  • The female geeks I've known personally (Okay, just me, I don't know any other female geeks) aren't very "female" in their way of thinking.

    Possible explination: I saw on the discovery channel once that some women while in the womb get a large "hit" of testosterone, and those women grew up to be quite the tomboy (like myself), they didn't /look/ masculine, but they acted and thought more like men (there was one diminuative woman with a fair figure who really enjoyed chopping wood, for example)

    I think these types of women are the kinds that get into computers, and so you won't get any benefit of a "difference", because they're thinking the same as men. I personally am very good at visualizing 3-space, (heh, I should have been an architect.. anyway), and I didn't even learn how to navigate by left and right except by raw practice (I routinely get them mixed up even now.. Left! No! Right! Damnit..). Landmarks mean nothing to me. I don't think anything I would design would be fundamentally different from anything you or any other guy would design.
  • I know quite some female hackers, they kinds that will make 99% of slashdot bow their heads in shame. They can hack C, and uh oh, asm too. I have seen them hack drivers.

    segmond: "Oh, there is no driver for it yet."
    chick: "So? I will hack a driver for it."
    3 days later.
    chick: "Seg, wanna help me test my driver, it hasn't crashed yet, just need you to help me test it. BTW beat you to it, nah nah:P"
    segmond: "Did I tell you I am looking for a wife? ;-)"

    Yup, I know 3 such chicks, and I swear, I wasn't looking. One is 22, the other is 27 and the other is 17. 22 did CS, not at MIT, and no! it wasn't her school that made her who she is. 27 did partially CS and EE. 17 is still in high school.
    If you ever run into them in the online world, you will not know they are chicks. Why? because they don't pick feminine nicks, they don't wanna be bothered cuz of their sex, they want to be treated just like the guys. Ya, it is sad. Even in the geek cultures, female geeks maybe accepted, but they just get too much crap, "Are you really female? Wanna hook up? ...", that it drives them nuts.
    For the ones I know, they hack both in FreeBSD and Linux.

  • Commenting on the lack of female CSC profs, and the age at which the push away from CSC happens:

    I'm a male CompSci graduate from the University of Victoria (in BC, Canada). Two years ago when I graduated, the Comp Sci faculty there had at least four women professors, out of a faculty of about 20. One was my thesis advisor. All of those women did quite a bit of teaching of first and second year classes, and were good at it. And, there were several excellent researchers among them.

    (In fact, my entire thesis review committee was women - and that was just coincidental - they had the expertise in the subject area.)

    Anyway, despite the excellent example of these profs, over the years from 1994 to 1997, the percentage of female computer science students at the university did not markedly increase. In fact, IIRC, it may have decreased.

    Now, I think that it's great to encourage young women to get into comp sci and engineering, but usually this is done too late. The time to reach them is when they are much younger, in grades 1 to 5. That's when I decided I liked science and computers.

    I believe there's a lot of cultural and peer-pressure "push" in those years for girls to do "girly" things. That's what needs to be counteracted. It will be difficult though, as it's up to elementary school teachers and parents. I suspect that that's where a lot of the problem lies. Some teachers are excellent, but others just maintain the status quo, and indoctrinate more than they educate.

    Torrey Hoffman (Azog)

  • I can't speak for the free software movement community, but in the corporate world, there are women in IT. For example, there are 8 women in my group of 50 consultants, one that is a senior project manager. I have had three women supervisors, one was a senior project manager and two were department heads. Although the numbers are not overwhelming, the women are there. I enjoyed working for these women but was often accused of being a "traitor" by some of my male colleagues when I agreed with the female supervisor.

    I think the lack of women in startups and garage shop environments has more to do with culture than skill. Most women would not be interested in working with a group of single males in an enterprise with a high degree of risk. Why work for stock options and ramen noodles when you can work for a consulting firm with a 401K and health benefits. In general, women have different priorities, which is not bad, but different. People who are married, both male and female, have very different priorities, especially if they have families.

    I would say that at college and entry-level positions, brute force, geek aggression is widespread. This is a big turn off to women looking into computing as a career. Unfortunately, entry level CS jobs do not require good communication skills or most geeks would be hard up on getting a job. As one moves up the food chain, communication becomes very important and women tend to excel in these areas. The trick is surviving the tree house mentality - No Girls Allowed! Geeks tend to value pure technical skills and not appreciate skills like project management. Measuring the involvement of females in IT on the basis of the number of lines of code contributed to the free source movement is a very one-dimensional view of the computing world.

    As for my part, I try to mentor newbies from both sexes and to network with female IT professionals. The good news for all of us is that GCC is an equal opportunity compiler :)

  • ooh.. I feel the misogynist in me coming out..

    To me, male respect is worth a helluva lot more to me than women's respect. I know women who will tell me "wow, Heather, you're so smart" all the time (I'm /not/ joking about this), but it means jack shit to me because they say that to everyone, and when the biggest thing to be respected for in most communities of women is popping out another parasitic child, it means it isn't worth much to me.

    However, the few times I am truly respected by male hackers it /does/ mean quite a bit to me. The hackers I've known are fairly rare in giving out praise and respect, and when they do, it really means something. It means I am on a level with them, and it means that I've been able to overcome whatever stereotypes they've had of women in order to gain that respect.
  • Cultural

    Agreed. IMHO, just like with sex education, just like with anything else, this has to start in the home. Don't limit your daughter's choices by continuously buying her dolls and little vacuum cleaners. Buy her a doll and some lego and watch and see which she prefers. Spend time with her playing with the doll, then spend time with her playing with lego and doing simple math puzzles. When she grows up she will choose her own way, without any pre-conceived ideas about what she _should_ do.

    Perhaps this is being done more now then it was 20 years ago. If this is the case (and I hope it is!) then in 20 years things should balance out more. (I'm buying my kid lego mindstorms as soon as (s)he can understand any of it) ;-)

    Females certainly aren't encouraged to become CompSci majors

    That's a pretty big generalization. I have been encouraged to go into a scientific field since.. well, since gr. 7 at least... I'm sure that this varies greatly from region to region, from school to school. As far as being intimidated by a male-dominated group - it depends on the person. I, personally, don't mind. (Though that's not to say that I don't want to see more women around me, I do!)

    Our university also hosted a "Women in Engineering" day. We invited representatives from all the local highshools and we talked to them about taking Comp. Sci. and Engineering at university. Some of the girls looked quite interested, and a lot of them asked very good questions. If you really care, organize such a day at your college/university.


  • I will talk to my wife and try to reply for real.

    In the meantime,

    I however have a choice because I am connected to the system, if nothing else through my friends, my job, and through Slashdot

    Which systems are you not connected to? I would suppose many more than you, or any of us, are connected to. As you stated quite well, our choices of friends, jobs, and sources of information are part of what connect us to particular systems.

    if everyone is part of the system, everyone is affected

    I would debate that everyone may not be part of the system. If everyone is part of the system perhaps some participants interact with the very outer fringe with no need or desire to understand why the system evolves.

    Within the systems we choose to monitor we can act on a particular sphere of influence. Outside of these influences we are ignorant of strengths and deficiencies of an infinite number of other systems.

    Deficiencies exist in every system, and they cause or drive a system's evolution. If there were balanced participation by men and women some deficiencies may be addressed, some strenghts may atrophy into deficiency. And again a strength and a deficiency are only so from the perspective of the particular audience.

    Sorry about all the abstract language. I guess if I think about the women I know their not going to allow us to close the world off to women.


  • She designed COBOL! Ecch! For this, we may forgive her someday. But not yet. ;-)
  • I'm female, work in "tech" and I have professional experiences that sometimes make me think about going back to school or finding work in a different field. These experiences may not be representative of other women's experiences, but I think they can at least shed some light on why it may be so hard for women to succeed in "tech" fields.

    I am the only female UNIX sysadmin that I know of at a fairly large company that is getting larger as each day passes, and I feel fairly isolated. I'm not sure if it is because I work in an office that is not at the company headquarters or if it is because I am the only female doing server administration. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.

    I never really intended on being a sys admin or even doing anything with computers to begin with. Since junior high school I've been somewhat of a computer geek, but I've always considered my interest in computers as a side interest or a hobby. I never seriously thought that I'd actually use computers more than a tool to help me in whatever other field I chose to go into. Anyway, as (good) luck would have it, I did have an opportunity to actually try it out, and by even more good luck I became a sysadmin.

    This field is very male-dominated, as is my department. It is pretty intimidating to me, as I'm fairly new to systems adminstration and I don't feel very confident in my skills all the time. However, I don't really feel like an all-male environment is the easiest environment for me to get the support I need to to feel like I can succeed at my job. I never felt a need for that kind of support before, even though I worked or had classes in mostly-male environments. Surprisingly, it is one of the things I wish I had at work now more than anything. I am lucky that I have a pretty good manager, but sometimes I really wish there was another woman at this company who understands what I am going through.

    Also, I feel that I do have people skills, but I actually don't get an opportunity to use them very often at work, as most of my dealings are with servers and not with customers. I enjoy interacting with people and helping people and that is one thing I feel that is lacking with my job. I really enjoy helping people and making sure that they are happy. I guess I might be able to attribute that "people" side of my to the fact that I'm female--I'm not sure. However, it is another thing that makes me feel dissatisfied with my job.

    So, I guess in summary I would just like to say that it is pretty frustrating when you feel like you're the "only one" and you feel as though no one else would really understand your feeling of isolation. Sometimes it's enough to make me want to find something else to do, even though I really the general field I'm in and I think I'm fairly intelligent and quick-to-learn things. I'm still hanging in there because I want to succeed at this and because it's something I'm interested in, but honestly, it is not easy. -a

  • I can see the segfault poll choices already.
  • I actually had my (female) guidance counselor say to me "But physics is so hard...and so is calculus"

    Ow, that just kills me. When I had one of these talks with my counselor in gr. 7 he said "Dana, you can do _anything_ you want."

    And in highschool, both my calculus and finite math teachers were female. (As were two of my science teachers) And 4 of our 6 of my english teachers were male.

    I guess it _really_ depends where you grow up. And I guess I got pretty lucky.


    Oh and I work in a group of 6 unix admins - 4 women and 2 men. Maybe my entire life is a statistical anomaly. ;-)

  • I was raised by a math-loving mother. She started to give me many math exercises even before I was sent to kindergarten. She gradually stopped doing that when I was in junior high. I spent a year in an all-girl junior high. The most hated subject of the class was, as predicted, math. However, where my classmates found struggle, I found enjoyment. I ended up getting the highest mark in the math class. It was then I discovered that the exercises paid off.

    In my high school years, I continued to find enjoyment math and science classes, but not all my female classmates did. My high school had a pretty good science program (i.e., more challenging == more difficult), but many girls decided not take them. They have been raised in a totally different world--their view of better life was to find a handsome and rich man. Any study and work was done because of this ultimate goal, so, they think, "why bother with all these difficult courses when I can easily get into arts?" (Not to offend anyone in arts; that's just the way they think/thought.) I'm not sure if that has anything to do with how they were raised by their parents, but I've seen a strong tie in many cases.

    There was a smaller group of girls who had passion for sciences and math. So of them chose to go into nursing, others in pure sciences. Engineering and/or computer didn't fit into the picture. I had the same feeling that "engineering and computers are for men." I didn't know why back then. Probably has something to do with the strong association with geekiness. Today, I still don't know why.

    As for computers, I remembered my first programming experience was moving the turtle around in LOGO, when I was around 10. Then I had a taste of BASIC a year or two later. I took two computer courses in high school, taught in QBASIC and HyperCard, and that was about all the programming experiences I had before I got into University of Waterloo--doing CS. However, the lack of programming experiences was never a problem in my first year. In fact, I enjoyed all my CS courses just like I enjoyed my first junior high math class.

    I can't really imagine being the only female student in a CS class, because to me, it doesn't matter. I've worked in a few high-tech companies, worked in engineering environment with virtually no female engineers, and I had no problem with that. However, sometimes it feels lonely when I'm hanging out with a group of female friends. Even though we could talk about their favorite actor or the latest fastion, I can't tell them how excited I am when I fixed a bug, nor how I think ___ is a great Linux distro (name taken off to avoid distro war). That's when I turn to male friends. But then, I couldn't talk about the handsome guy I met last night, or how I found that lovely skirt at a bargain price. (I'd stay away from a man if he shows great interest in these 'girly' topics tho.) Hence, I'd really like to find some close female friends who are about as comfortable with and literate in computers and programming as I am, yet still has a Real Life(TM).

    To wrap things up, I'm really grateful that I have a good mother. When I become a mother later in my life, I'll try very hard to teach my kids that female can be as competent as male (and vice versa) in almost any field. I know it can be done, because I have a role model.

    Thanks Mom! (Too bad she doesn't read /.)

  • Man, did you ever collect a lot of, um, peculiar interpretations today :)

    You said "This may even be harmful to open source. I have to wonder how much of the religious flame wars are testosterone based. My OS/toolkit/license is bigger than yours!"

    Yeah. Same peeing contest as "my OS is tougher to learn than yours, therefore you're a wimp!"

    I think that has a lot to do not only with turning off women, but with turning off a lot of males who would otherwise do opensource a great deal of good. Between peeing contests and tribalism, a lot of projects come off as actively hostile toward ANYONE outside of their little clique. You may have heard me gripe about a certain newsgroup for an opensource compiler near and dear to us .. it's about as newbie-hostile as they come (better memorize the 600k FAQ before you post!) Completely different from a commercial-compiler ng that I also frequent, where newbies are welcomed and enthusiastically helped. I think this is to some degree representative of the entire opensource movement -- this "experts welcome; newbies get lost" attitude. A lot of women (and some men) will say fine, keep your arrogant crap, I'll go do my thing in a better environment.

  • Just a small correction: Lord Byron was Ada Byron's father, not her husband. She was married to Lord Lovelace, or something like that. His name escapes me at the moment.
  • Why should this be interesting or even noteworthy is what continues to baffle me. Gender shouldn't matter.

    You might know that a woman wrote the fist compiler too.

  • Only in his fantasies. :) They don't bother him while he is awake....
  • 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?

    Ya, there is that chick who was involved in writing Java. She is pretty cool.

  • Oh, yes ... I can see the makings of an April 1 submission here.
  • but just as everywhere they just dont make too much noise. I work in a german publishing company and they key product manager for Linux Books is a girl. When the big guys told her to put a commercial banner on our website she placed a KDE banner for free (www.franzis.de)and fooled the Big Bosses. I think there are a lot of Linux Babes out there wich arent actually hacking the kernel but keep the spirits up in the background. Actually it was her who got me into Linux.
  • Hedy Lamarr (sp?).
  • Neo: you're *that* Trinity? I thought you were a guy...
    Trinity: Most guys do.

    ...visibility is low because people assume that neutral names or unnameds are men.

    Given the response to women around--aside from "oh my god it's a girl, GET HER!!" there's also "oh my god it's a girl, RUN AWAY!"--it's easier to let people assume you're a guy, sometimes.

  • I'd imagine it's a taught thing, though, and not a born thing. I know plenty of guys with similar traits; no interest at all in CS except that it pays well.

    No exploratory spirit or wonder at technology. Just irritation that it doesn't work.

    For many that's fine. They aren't CS majors, and computers are a tool, like a pen or a bookshelf, to organize data and communicate with others.

    I don't know how to change things. I'd love it when I had my own daughter if she were interested in computers. They seem so wondrous, in their ability to simulate Reality Itself(tm).

    Still, that's a long way from now, and I do have other issues to deal with. Dinner.

    Good luck, both as a CS major and as a female CS major! Um, I didn't know they had computers in Maryland =)

  • You can't force anyone to do anything. But I think it's important that we don't consciously or unconsciously exclude them as well, which I strongly believe our culture in the US does.

    There isn't something that can be done for the immediate present, but that can be done for the future. What, exactly, I haven't figured out yet, but if it's a problem, it can be solved =)

    Male engineerspeak. :P

  • Now all I have to do is get married, have kids, and raise a daughter =)

    Seriously, though, (junior|middle) high school tutoring programs seem a very attractive thing to pursue, and no I am not a pedophile. Or a cradle robber. But I seriously do think there is something wrong in my society.

  • Ok, to clear up all confusion:

    Ada Byron Lovelace was NOT related to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, but was the daughter of Anna Isabella Milbanke and George Gordon Noel Byron. Lord Byron was friends with Shelley and her husband, but they were not related. Lovelace got her interest in mathematics from her mother who was very involved in the subject herself.

    For more info, check out this URL: [].

    Hope this helps! :)
    Valerie Franek
    valerie@digitalmaven.net [mailto]
    http://www.digitalmaven.net/ [digitalmaven.net]

  • Among other things, originated the IP masquerading code. Here [polyware.nl] is her home page.
  • Your post should have been moderated as "flamebait".

    "Most women see computers as tools. As means to an end. Not a toy. Not a world to be explored."

    How absurd. Most users, period, view a computer as a tool. Why are you singling out women? Every comment you have made applies EQUALLY to men.

    Women learn better "from other people"? You imply that men are more capable solo learners. As an educator, I'll clue you in on a little fact: Most individuals, Male or Female, learn material in less time when assisted by another.

  • If you're joking, my apologies for biting.

    I used COBOL exactly once in my lifetime too. But it is not a bad *idea*, just a terrible implementation. It tried to address the irritating disconnect between code and documentation thru the naive assumption that a natural language based compiler would be self-documenting. Knuth has spent much of his time on the same problem, and he may not have succeeded either.
  • (Wish I hadn't come in late. Oh well)

    Ellen Spertus [mills.edu] wrote a paper [mit.edu] titled "Why are There so Few Female Computer Scientists?". This was in 1991, but I don't think anything substantial has changed. (This, BTW, is a woman with a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.)

    I know the question is more about women in open-source projects than computer science, but people don't get involved, typically, with any kind of computer project (open source or otherwise) unless they've got the technical know-how to do so.

    Anyways, the main points in her paper about why women don't get into computer science are:
    • Societal Factors. Such as women being discouraged from technical fields, mathematics, science and other "male" fields when they're children or in school.
    • Masculine Environment. That is, a lot of computer related workplaces or college classes have mostly men, and therefore a tendency for there to be things that some women would find offensive (sexist or sexual humour or female pin-ups, for example). Also, men use sarcasm or insults to communicate more often that women, often leaving women feeling as if the environment is hostile even when it isn't really. Different interests (sports, for example) can also leave women feeling less socially included.
    • Gender-biased language.
    • Some attempts to encourage women into these sorts of fields actually backfire, for instance making it seem as if women are less capable and that's why they might need extra help. (This can be subtle and the exact same thing could be interepreted differently by two different people.)
    The paper goes into much more detail, however, including reasons why biology is probably not very much of a factor and some possible solutions.

    If you read that paper I think you'll see that it relates fairly well to this topic.
  • This thread has engendered a few thoughtful posts, a lot of dubious ranting and far too much flat-out sexist crap.

    Yes, there are women in open source. Yes, there are female hackers. (And I mean hackers in the true old-guard sense of the word for people who love to write code for its own sake and are very good at it, not people who break into someone else's box.)

    Normally I don't go too overboard in the ubergeek oneupsmanship, but I think it's called for here to counter the prevailing winds.

    I've been hacking open source [stanford.edu] since before that phrase was fashionable, we used to just call it "free software". Or even "public domain" if we felt like using big words. Most of it runs on Irix (although some has been ported to Linux) because I got addicted to SGIs when they were the only game in town for fast graphics.

    I started playing with computers when I was ten, wrote software on my own time for a while, got my first paying computer job when I was 16. I was the youngest employee at ETA systems, a supercomputer company that's now bankrupt (like all the rest of them). I literally remember when I thought Unix was for wimps, an insane waste of expensive supercomputer cycles. If batch job control was good enough for me, it should be good enough for everybody! (So I did see the light on that one, now I'm a rabid Unix fanatic.)

    Got a CS degree at Stanford (while taking quite a few feminist studies classes along the way). Went off to work at The Geometry Center, a research group where developing free software [umn.edu] was a major part of our mission. Came back to Stanford to get a PhD in CS. Along the way I adapted some research software for use in a free SGI visualization product [sgi.com].

    I am used to almost always being the only or one of the few women in the room. One of the few sports I enjoy doing is kickboxing, which is at least as male dominated. I probably wouldn't have chosen to either start or continue with that if I hadn't built up reserves of confidence from my experiences in CS.

    I do believe the low percentage of women in CS is due to cultural conditioning, and that the gender imbalance causes professional difficulties ranging from extreme to subtle. Ellen Spertus [mills.edu] has several essays on this (which are worthwhile enough that I'll add yet another pointer to them). In my case most of the difficulties have been subtle, and I've benefitted from many mentors from many people over the years. Most of them have been male, but it's worth pointing out that at my first computer job my boss was female as was hers.

    -- Tamara

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972