Naomi Novik (naominovik) wrote,
Naomi Novik

Ada Lovelace Day: being the only woman in the room

For many reasons which do not require exploring at this juncture (ps to justinelavaworm, I think you have a fairy of choosing unreasonably good wine and I both thank you and curse your name), this did not get finished yesterday in time, but I really wanted to say something for Ada Lovelace Day even if belatedly!

I have been the only woman in the room. By that I mean that I have been the only woman coder (or close to it) in a lot of technical work environments These were actually quite good environments, on the whole, and being the only woman in the room did not mean for me being picked on or harassed or ignored. But even though people were not actively being jerks in my direction (and unfortunately this is not the case for many women in tech work environments), there were still a lot of small, hidden costs to being the only woman in the room.

It meant the whole room was set up for and full of people who in a really key way were not like me. And even though in many ways the room happened to suit me and I enjoyed hanging out in the room, it wasn't enough. Like most people, I also needed and wanted to be an active member of communities that had more people who were like me.

And the tech industry doesn't do very well for people who have multiple priorities, so that is a huge barrier to entry that reinforces itself. If you don't see anyone like you in the room, and you have to be in the room all the time, staying means being singular and alone. That is tiring in ways I often didn't even realize myself, except with time and distance, looking back. (And I would bet this experience also goes for a lot of POC who come from communities not represented well in the tech industry.)

This is the step past wanting a room of one's own. A solitary genius can make do with a room of her own, but we are social creatures, and what most of us want and need to be productive and happy is to work within a community of our own.

The amazing thing for me about the OTW's tech and systems groups is that this is exactly what we've built and are building, together. It is a community that feels designed more humanely, where it is understood we have other work and other needs outside the room, and where we are welcome to come in and out; where we can share our confusions and fumbling and ideas in the name of getting to the best endpoint, to try new things on our own without having to be instant experts.

And now I have a whole slateful of tech heroines filling this new room, including each and every one of the women in the OTW blog post, which also links to a bunch of their individual heartening and brilliant posts.

And to pick out one among them, who was also a hero for me personally long before the OTW was even an idea: jadelennox was the first tech geek woman I ever worked with professionally. She showed me how to patch cable and let me jump in and muddle around with systems work and hacking even though I'd been hired for a nontechnical job on the strength of my English major; she let me ask many stupid questions without ever once making me feel stupid, and all around helped put me on a path of confidence that I could figure all these things out. And these many years later she was willing to come aboard to build the OTW Systems team and get us up and running. \o/ Because of her, I wasn't the only woman in the room at my first job, which made a huge difference for me.

I will also hugely encourage anyone who's thought a little wistfully that it would be cool to know how to code but felt it seemed impossible to read zooey_glass04's amazing Ada Lovelace Day post, and to think about volunteering too!

In other exciting news, I am now on twitter also, where I am about to go off and link this post. :)
Tags: adalovelaceday09, otw
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