Ladies Night at the Dev Con

Attended the kick-off and agenda-setting of the Alt.Net conference this evening, and I'm already enthusiastic. The guest list is such a who's-who of the development community, there are many topics I'm looking forward to, and the Open Spaces format affords interesting social observations.

I'm the only woman, out of 100+ attendees. I'm relatively used to these ratios—when you're a developer, a rock climber, and a sci-fi geek, you spend a lot of time with boys—but I'm still puzzled as to why. This evening was unusual because someone actually commented on the imbalance; it's usually the Awkward Unstated Obviousness that seems too gauche to acknowledge.

I've been formulating some guesses about why there are so few women at software conferences. Do you have any ideas?
  1. This was only the kick-off. Two or three more may show up tomorrow. This doesn't really change the point, though.
  2. The programmer community is not as gender-balanced as I had thought. The multitudes of women around my workplace are actually managers, project managers, business analysts, test leads, dev leads, and administrative assistants.
  3. Women don't hear about the conferences. (I'm only starting to tap into the info channels, myself.)
  4. Women feel less entitled to ask their employers to fly them to an expensive conference. (Although this one is free. But, in general.)
  5. It takes courage to jump in and be the only girl. When all of a conference's featured speakers are men, you know most of the attendees will be, too. (I was heartened to see Wendy Friedlander on the organizers list of Alt.Net; I hope I get to meet her.)
  6. Women prioritize relationship-building over career development or skills growth, and so do other things with their weekends.
  7. A roomful of men can be tiresome. They shout a lot, often fruitlessly and without seeming to listen to anyone else.
  8. Math is hard.
One nice thing about being a programmer: I can go to a large event and not have a line for the bathroom.

I don't blame the men. If anything, they are guilty only of being men. I always find them to be polite and inclusive. When they're shouty, it's because it's their nature to be shouty, and you need to shout right along with them (They like that.), or communicate with your own quiet confidence (They'll listen.). You don't have to be like a man to hang out with men. You don't have to be like a girl, either. You can just be a developer, be a thinking person with ideas, be yourself.

But you have to show up.


Steven "Doc" List said...

It's good to konw that you don't blame us! Although maybe you should. I've been in this profession for almost 30 years, and I don't know that the male/female balance has shifted significantly in all that time. Very sad, and a wonderment.

lukemelia said...

Sorry we didn't get to catch up more at the conference, Sharon. Next time!

If you haven't plugged into the Dev Chix (, you might find it a good network. They're a great group.

Cheers from NYC,

Anonymous said...

Sharon - great post, and great to meet you at ALT.NET. I will tell you that the men's bathroom got *pretty* nasty by day 3, and it crossed my mind that you'd probably be the only one using the women's bathroom, so what were the chances if I just ducked in there... luckily, I thought better of it.

wendy said...

I was hoping to meet you too. Sorry to let you down -- I got sick at the last minute, which totally sucked.... I told Oksana that I let you down. At least the crowd is fun.

I saw your name on the registration as the only other woman and was really upset -- I mean 2 women, thats low even for development. I went on a search for other women developers, but most of the women I know aren't in the .net space or couldn't make it.

Glad to hear you are a scifi geek who likes rock climbing though :P Send me an email if you want to get in touch wendy.friedlander_at_gmail_dot_com