My Experiences Of Navigating Dev Work In A Male-Dominated World
Am I just lucky? Or is it really a dark world out there?
I often get asked how it feels to navigate dev work as a female. In the beginning, I’d often get confused by the question. Sure, there’s a lot of guys in the room but that’s never really bothered me. They are generally smart and highly logical thinkers. I balanced it out with my unorthodox tangents and creative solutions.
Based on my experiences, when it comes to dev work, no one really cares about your gender. What people care about is your ability to complete your tickets and deliver a working product.
Work Based On Merit, Not Gender
In reality, dev work consists of you spending most of your time with an uncompromising, non-negotiable, and sometimes overtly frustrating creature called a computer. This computer doesn’t care about anything. Everyone gets the same console error when your node.js isn’t the right version or when you’re missing a package in your build.
Dev work is mostly based on merit and you climb the ranks based on your ability to solve problems. In truth, developers are probably one of the most open-minded group of people where discussions are based on facts and reality. Because that’s what software generally is — a representation of ideas coordinated in a sophisticated series of if-else scenarios.
A developer’s ability to manifest this depends on their ability to work through the problem. Opportunities to learn are dependent on how proactive a developer is in acquiring new knowledge and experiences. Gender might offer different perspectives, modes of thinking, and how a person eventually comes to the solution, but the end result is always the same — a working program that’s delivered to the boss, client, or product manager on time.
At the end of the day, nobody cares. There’s a reason why developers have a stereotyped dress code of hoodies, sneakers, and jeans. Not because we want to cultivate a hipster look, but for many of us, it’s because it’s easy and comfortable. Stereotypes represent a certain truth about the culture or group it is trying to encapsulate. It helps dilute a large group of people into a set of mentally digestible concepts for outsiders. There are always exceptions and nuances but that’s a different discussion.
Every company has a dress code of some sort. For developers, who are mostly non-customer facing and spending a majority of our time not talking to anyone, we tend to wear whatever we want (within reason).
When it comes to female developers, a dress code and expectation on how we should look is mostly self-imposed. Like everyone else, the minimum requirement is that you are clean and tidy. Anything above and beyond is a personal choice.
Am I Just Privileged?
This is a question that I often mull over. Are my experiences as a female developer simply privileged? Did I just get lucky? Is everyone else just experiencing rampant misogyny? Or is it because I’m so ignorant that I just don’t see it?
I went to a girls-only Catholic high school where competition was based on skills and not gender. The first dev job I got was based on how I did in the interview and not because the company had an ethnic and gender quota to fulfill. The dev teams always had another female dev on, not because she is female but because her experiences happened to fit with the requirements of the project.
To me, gender in the dev world was never an issue until external observers and ‘experts’ kept pointing it out. I would often bulk at comments that observed my gender as something to be celebrated in my field of work. My male colleagues would be condemned if they opposed the initiative in any way.
Personally, I bulk because it focuses on my gender rather than my actual abilities to complete my work. When there is an over-emphasis on which side of the reproductive equation I exist on, it diminishes the work I put in to be where I am.
Am I being a feminist? or anti-feminist? I actually don’t know. What I do know is that I believe in work based on merit, and the dev work is probably the most equalist in terms of opportunity and fairness. The code doesn’t lie and gender politics does not contribute to how quickly a bug can get fixed. Getting caught up in it will probably slow it down.
You Can’t Gender Your Way Through The Work
Code is code. It either works or it doesn’t. Some pieces of code are more efficient than others, and efficiency is more to do with a developer’s ability to process and translate information into the correct and required formats.
Gender plays no role in your proactiveness, your curiosity, your grit factor to sit through a difficult problem, or the reality that you’ve hit the 14th page of a Google search and still haven’t figured out a solution.
Learning to code and acts of coding is a lonely process. Sure, you might have your colleagues to lean on for some circumstances but ultimately, you still have to do your own work and they have to write their own code. Hand holding only goes so far in dev work and at some point, your training wheels will be taken from you.
No one is coming when it’s a Saturday night, there’s a bug and you’re the dev on call. Your gender will not impact the panic calls from your client or boss when something breaks unexpectedly.
At some point, someone will probably accuse me of perpetuating a toxic and inaccurate story or something along those lines. But these are my experiences as a developer where gender has never been a real issue. This is my reality and if it doesn’t quite align with your personal experiences, it still doesn’t diminish my experience of it as it is.
To me, in the dev world, gender is only an issue when someone else makes it an issue. Most of the time, this is not raised by men but by other females who believe that it is their right rather than merit when compared to others that are in the same playing field at the time that should get them the job.
I think nobody really cares about your gender and you only get judged on it when you bring it up. The reality is, what everyone cares about is if error 873, line 76 is fixed and that annoying memory leak is finally patched up. This is the reality, what we really care about, and the stuff we actually celebrate.