Category: Gender

Let’s Stop Making People Feel Stupid.

Let’s Stop Making People Feel Stupid.

(Image / comic by xkcd:

“I know nothing.”

“I know less than nothing.”

“I am an impostor.”

“The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know.”

These are sentences that will be familiar to the vast majority of IT professionals. But how about these?

“They know nothing about X.”

“They have no relevant experience.”

“Wow, I just discovered my colleague doesn’t understand Y. I’m shocked.”

“Can you believe, I just interviewed this dev, and they didn’t even know what a Z was?”

Over my 18-year software career, those last two have been said to me countless times. They are said derisively, scornfully, impatiently. And every time those words are said, we lose both existing and potential members of our profession. We lose them because they feel stupid; because they believe they can’t keep up; because they have given up on ever really knowing what they’re doing; because they’re terrified that people are saying the same things about them.

We work in an industry where knowledge is highly valued, and where every time we look for a new job we have to prove how much we know. We find ways of posturing to one another, of proving how well-informed we are. Sometimes we join in when others’ knowledge is criticised – relieved that we are not the target ourselves.

And yet, we know that everybody has gaps. There are a million different paths through software development, touching a million different combinations of technologies and skills. On a day-to-day level we have to specialise on one task at a time. The skills we don’t need right now are necessarily forgotten, or delegated to someone else. And that’s fine.

Let’s stop putting pressure on individuals to know everything, and focus instead on how teams can work together to build and provide the unique combination of skills required to deliver their current project – in the certain knowledge that whatever that combination was today, it will be different tomorrow.

Instead of knowledge, let’s focus on aptitude. Instead of judging people about what they don’t know, let’s help them to feel excited about all the new things they’re going to discover.

Instead of saying “For God’s sake, do you really not know about X?” let’s say “Fantastic, you don’t know about X! Lucky you. That means you get to learn it. What can I do to help?”

(I’m hoping to do talks on this topic at events in 2018 – let me know if you have an event you’d like me to talk at).

Four episodes of sexism at tech community events, and how Sal came out of them (eventually) positive

This is a fantastic post by Sal Freudenberg, describing various experiences of sexism that women may have at tech events, and how they can react / what they can do about it.

Agile in the Wild

It is a sad but undeniable fact that our industry remains rife with gender issues. Coming through any form of sexist encounter is incredibly difficult and I can only be grateful that mine were minor enough, and my general situation and support framework strong enough, for me to come through them largely positive about remaining in tech. I tell my stories here as just some examples of situations that happened to me and that I am sure happen to women in technology each and every day. To show how inadvertently harmful they can be, how absolutely normal it is to be upset by them, how they add up day by day, year by year to make us feel marginalized and unwelcome, and to suggest some ways of dealing with them. I also want to show the importance of having a Code of Conduct at events, both to indicate what is…

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Advice for women (or anyone!) starting a career in tech

(a series of tweets originally sent to @ArrieLay and stored here for posterity…)

Fake it til you make it. Always act like you know what you’re doing, cos You DO – You’re being imperfect, just like everyone else.

Pay attention to people. Focus on empathy. Learn to pair. Learn to collaborate. Celebrate and enable your fellow team members.

Always come to work as yourself. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerabilities, and give others space to show theirs too.

Take risks. Relish your uncomfort zone.

Remember that EVERYBODY feels insecure about their knowledge levels. It’s impossible to know everything, and everybody thinks they are disadvantaged because others know more than them.

Learn to embrace your knowledge gaps. See them as exciting opportunities to learn more. Never be ashamed of them.

Have a questioning attitude, be open about your excitement about learning more. People respond well to it and will help you learn.

Question everything.

Love people. Even the annoying ones. People are great. People are useful. People will help you, whether they mean to or not. 🙂

And for the older amongst us… Age is an advantage, not a curse. Find the wisdom you forgot you had. Age is money in the bank.

Here are some links to some helpful resources for women arriving at or returning to careers in tech:

Resources for Women Arriving at or Returning to IT

Just a bunch of links really, but hopefully useful…

Women returners:

Mums in technology: 

Tech Mums: 

Equate Scotland: 

13 places where women can learn to code:

Code First Girls:

Code First Girls professional courses:

Offline resources:


How to Establish a Culture of Learning

I’ve pulled this out of a larger discussion. The detail of that discussion is not important, but a thing happened there which often happens in many discussions in IT: The possibility was raised that some people might be less well informed than they ought to be.

It’s a bugbear of mine. I think it’s a hidden menace in the software industry so I wanted to put something here.

And no, I do NOT think the menace is that people in IT are ill-informed. Quite the opposite: I think the menace is that we constantly judge one another for being (we believe) ill-informed.

I am often reluctant to admit that I don’t recognise a piece of IT terminology, because I think I might be judged for that. I think it might lead to people taking me less seriously in the context of whatever the discussion is.

But here’s the thing: There are thousands of books out there. Thousands of principles and phrases which encapsulate software development principles. Every single one of us will have books that we have not read and yet which some of our fellow colleagues believe are crucial to a good understanding of software development. Every single one of us will have phrases and terminology we have, by whatever chance, not come across before, even though they may seem crucial to a particular colleague.

There is a temptation sometimes to judge one another for not having knowledge of a particular thing. This attitude feeds strongly into impostor syndrome and the insecurities we all feel about how well equipped we are to do our jobs. The solutions to this are:

a) To rejoice whenever we encounter somebody who doesn’t have knowledge of one of our favourite things. It means we get to introduce it to somebody new! Hurrah!

b) To not assume that just because somebody has not come across a particular way of framing a problem or solution, does not mean they do not have knowledge and understanding of the underlying principles.

c) To always always feel safe to admit any gaps we might have, as that encourages others to do the same. This means we all get to learn more and foster a culture of continual learning and experimentation, which is crucial to good software development.

d) To have faith in the fact that we are part of a larger community of seasoned experts. This compensates for the fact that there is NO SUCH THING as a fully informed individual. We all have gaps. But together we can inform one another and create a powerful force.

Beyond Two Genders

Beyond Two Genders

I have just finished reading CN Lester‘s book Trans Like Me, which I highly highly recommend. Really interesting and gives some useful insights into the experiences of those who don’t fit gender norms, in all the different subtle ways that can manifest.

I met CN Lester / saw them perform in London a few weeks ago and they were great (they don’t identify wholly with either male or female).

If you’re new to these concepts, it can seem quite confusing. Somebody I know asked the following question:

“Does ‘not identifying as wholly male or female’ mean that they reject the whole premise of male/female archetypes, or that they accept it but don’t identify with either of them particularly?”

My response, as I understand it:

It’s not about archetypes so much as simply not believing yourself to be fundamentally one or the other.

It goes beyond gender stereotyping and coding. You can reject gender stereotypes but still co-exist peacefully with your body and happily define yourself as “a woman” (or man).

But the important thing to understand is that there are no clear dividing lines. There are people who are 100% clear that they were born in the wrong body. There are people who refuse to conform to gender stereotypes. But there are also all shades between, and the distinction between sex (physical sex organs) and gender (socialised traits) is by no means as clear cut as people believe.

One of the many interesting things about CN Lester’s book is their examination of all the different ways people have sat outside the gender norms historically. There are so many different ways this can happen! Some accepted to some extent or other (eunuchs and castrati for instance), some not.

CN Lester has suffered significant bodily dysphoria (not to be understated – causes actual pain, both physical and mental) but does not see themself as either a woman or a man.

I really do recommend you read the book. I can’t do it justice here.

It really made me think about my own gender identity. I do not fit gender stereotypes in so many ways, and I absolutely reject them on several levels, but I still do identify as a woman.