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Kevin Kline

Women in Technology: A Quick Observation and a Quick Straw Poll

A bit of background:  Those aren't grand daughters of the Clampetts in the picture at right.  Those are my three daughters and three stepdaughters, all of whom I want to inherit the world - as little or as much as they want to take hold of.  (I already talked a bit about this in a post on my personal, family blog.  Be warned, it's all boring family photos and such).  Enabling them to have all of the choices and opportunities that are open to my son is a big motivating factor in my life.  So many years ago, when several PASS volunteers wanted to start doing more to build a community of support for women in technology, I was an ardent supporter.  And as president of PASS, I was able to do a tiny bit to help move WIT forward.  Now, as I travel around speaking at various other conferences and events, I always try to sit in on the Women in Technology (WIT) sessions when I can.

A while back at a SQL Saturday in Indianapolis, I was enjoying the WIT panel discussion listening to the panelists discuss their  upbringing and how they became a success in the field of technology.  Their stories were, in some ways, similar.  They were smart.  They weren't scared of math.  They had an important mentor who supported them and encouraged them that they could accomplish any goal.  They endured struggles such as financial hardship that, while difficult to overcome, also refined their desire to become successful in their careers.  Some of the women who had to deal with men of the previous generation even had to overcome blatant chauvinism.

But then another similarity among the panelists, just a hunch really, struck me.  I had to ask, to confirm my idea. "How many of you were a bit of loner or at least weren't heavily influenced by your friends' opinions before your professional career?  Because with my own daughters, it's their friends who they want to please.  And they'd punt right away if their friends teased them about being good at math, or choosing a technical career, or anything else I can think of for that matter." 

It was pretty much unanimous.  All of the panelists were loners or had a very small social circle during their formative years.  Now perhaps I'm speaking from an inaccurate assumption, but most of my daughters are tight with their friends.  And friends mean a lot to them, perhaps more than any other aspect of their social lives (like their family).  So if their friends tell them that being interested in technology will "geekify" them, then they'd drop it like a hot potato.

So I wanted to put this question out to my female friends in the IT world.  Were you in a big circle of friends during your developing years?  What importance did you place on their opinions?  Did they give you any flack for going in to IT or doing well in technology related classes?

It seems like the days of overt chauvinism are behind us here in the US.  But I wonder if we need to start earlier with our daughters among their own peer groups to support them for a future in technology.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Kev

-Follow me on Twitter

Published Monday, August 29, 2011 10:52 AM by KKline

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Jennifer McCown said:

I was kind of a loner, too. I had friends, but not a BIG circle, and I was definitely counted amongst the nerds (not the in crowd).  And the friends I did have didn't care that I was in the Computer Club for two years...I doubt it would have made a difference to me if they HAD cared.

I think this is an outstanding observation. I'll likely read this blog and talk about it on Friday's show.

-J

August 30, 2011 2:40 PM
 

Lyn said:

I had a small circle of friends, and my parents raised me to think that there was nothing I couldn't accomplish if I wanted to do so. My decision to have a career working with computers was made back in high school, since I liked math, logic, and language, and the computer field seemed to bring those three together. Back then, though, they didn't have computers in high schools (ok, I'm really dating myself here!).

I wonder how much the cultural diversity of a city plays a part in it too. I grew up in Queens, in New York City, and it was a given that people are different and that being different was ok.

September 4, 2011 6:14 PM
 

KKline said:

Hi Jenn and Lyn,

Thanks for your thoughts! In talking to a lot of women, it seems like their peers were a bigger impediment to a career in technology than other possible sources.  I know with my own girls, that seems to be the case.  

With so many daughters, some are more of the YM magazine-reading and bubble-gum pop-listening sorts, as are their friends, and some are not.  Guess which group of friends seem more open to computers as a career?

September 6, 2011 2:28 PM

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About KKline

Kevin Kline is a well-known database industry expert, author, and speaker. Kevin is a long-time Microsoft MVP and was one of the founders of PASS, www.sqlpass.org.

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