The voices of women in tech are not often heard, and when they are, it's usually in trend pieces about how terrible the industry is for them.
Two women engineers are seeking to widen this viewpoint with wogrammers, a website that celebrates the work women engineers are doing. Erin Summers and Zainab Ghadiyali are software engineers at Facebook who met during the company's employee bootcamp. They created wogrammers about a year ago with a goal to "break the 'brogrammer' stereotype."
On Tuesday, Summers and Ghadiyali published a manifesto on Medium about their project, so I decided to talk to them about why they founded the group, which has nearly 10,000 Facebook followers.
Motherboard: Why did you start the website?
Ghadiyali: We were just talking at the time about how we've seen these articles focusing on the negative or sexist experiences for women in tech, but not many on their accomplishments. We thought there are amazing women engineers around us, and we should focus on the work they're doing as well.
Summers: A lot of these articles focus on things that didn't have to do with women's technical accomplishments, like "Oh, they're marathon runners, and moms, and always cook dinner at home, but they also build robots."
What they actually do and their technical accomplishments got kind of lost in creating this unrealistic archetype. We thought there should be more focus on the amazing things women are doing rather than asking them questions that make them feel more isolated.
What's the "brogrammer" stereotype you're seeking to combat?
Ghadiyali: There's this brogrammer stereotype, this alphamale bro who stays up all night and is hacking, and kind of this group of guys building amazing technology. The reality is there are women doing amazing things out there. The heart of the project is that accomplishments of women aren't highlighted in the same way men's accomplishments are, and that can be really isolating.
Why focus on engineers?
Summers: When I tell people I am a software engineer, I've had a lot of strangers asking me if I've had any terrible experiences as a woman. I'd much rather be asked about what i'm doing, or what I'm working on. I have a really rich engineering history and I'd much rather be asked about that than going through bad things that have happened to me in the past.
I do think it's important to talk about bad experiences—I think it's important not to ignore when something bad happens, but not focus on it exclusively. I don't want to be remembered for the negative things that have happened to me, I want to be remembered for my accomplishments
What are some projects women in tech are creating you're really excited about?
Summers: Ilona Bodnar—There wasn't a lot of tech in her high school, so she taught herself how to code using code academy, and she set up a program at her school, taught a group of women there how to code, and now she's running a robot makeathon next month to make a robot petting zoo. She's just extremely inspirational, such a go-getter. She was curious about computers one day and decided to teach herself and learn, and now she's giving back by teaching women at her school. She's someone showing they can learn and also empower other people.
Kendell Byrd—She's really awesome, after her story was published on wogrammers, this woman who runs this urban prep academy asked her to speak to her predominantly African American all boys school. After Kendell spoke to them, a boy came up to her and told her he decided to go into computer science. That's something really neat that happened as a result of the wogrammers post.
What's one thing you wish people knew about women in engineering?
Summers: It doesn't take that much effort to find some women engineers, there's more women engineers that go unnoticed than people even realize. When people talk to women engineers, we wish that they would ask more technical questions. We get into conversations with people all the time when they ask us about our role in the company. After we tell them we are software engineers and they leave it there. Men seem to get asked more details about the technology they are building and the problems they are solving. The ball seems to drop with women, and they don't get asked details about what they do in their day to day jobs.