IT: Technology, Language, and Culture

Women and WWDC

Dori is unhappy about missing the Webloggers’ dinner. There wasn’t a special invite list; Buzz issued a general invitation back in April. I think I saw it on Brent’s site.I’m sorry Dori wasn’t there; I would have liked to have seen other women bloggers there, or, better still, more women at WWDC. I always have to make a bit of an adjustment when I switch from humanities to technology in terms of the male to female ratio, but this year at WWDC it seems like there are fewer women than there were in 2001 and 2002. There were 300 student scholarships this year, and 3500 attendees total. I never saw another female student; I heard that there was another. Usually there are three or four of us.

A lot of the women I did see work for Apple, so it’s not like there’s a conspiracy to avoid women. I suspect there just aren’t enough women applicants to Computer Science programs in schools, which of course affects the numbers of students applying for WWDC scholarships, and the number of women companies can hire. I’m not sure how to solve that—part of the problem in terms of women majoring in comp sci is that there aren’t enough role models for younger women trying to decide on majors and careers. I also suspect that, because of cultural assumptions, acculturation, and maybe even biological differences in neural structures, women think differently about programming than many men, and women may be drawn to or encouraged to pursue non-engineering roles in technology. Having said that, yes, of course I know brilliant engineers and programmers who are female—I’m just not sure current U.S. educational systems, cultures, and society encourage women to pursue technolgy as a career.

But I also think there are professions that are under represented at technical conferences like WWDC, some of which are more likely to have women engaging in them than others. Women with backgrounds in linguistics, and design, and UI, for instance. There’s more to shipping software than engineering and marketing departments. People always ask, at technical conferences, what I do if I don’t write code. I tell them that I’m a translator, translating between managers, administrators or content experts, and programmers, developers, and engineers. In some places, I’d be described as a “technical liaison.” I also have lots of experience with technical writing, and user-centric testing— I’ve been described as a user advocate. That means that even though I don’t write code (I don’t count scripting languages in this context, though I should probably count Perl) I need to understand the basic principles of writing and organizing and testing code, and I need to understand the underlying technologies and tools, in order to place them in context for others. People like us are at WWDC too, we’re just less noticeable.