Being a Woman in the Tech Industry

Mat Velloso posted, “But I do feel someone should write an article about what they have to cope with, every single day, from male colleagues, bosses, customers who honestly think of themselves as one way or another being… “better”.   Challenge accepted.

The first time I became acutely aware of being the only female in a room full of men was when I was sitting in a classroom waiting for the instructor to arrive to teach us Windows NT 4.0 in the Enterprise. I was a little intimidated, not because of the testosterone, but because I knew NOTHING and every geeky guy in there looked terribly smart. I imagined they were thinking, “What’s SHE doing in here?” After struggling for two days to figure out what “TCP/IP” and “IPX/SPX” and “RPC” and all the other alphabet soup being tossed about might mean, I raised my hand. “Excuse me, what’s a protocol?” Quite literally, the instructor had to stifle a laugh, but I have to give him credit, he recovered quickly and was patient and professional.

At the end of the class that day, the guy sitting next to me offered his business card. By the end of the week, I had the business cards of almost every guy in the class.

My first IT job was working for a guy that didn’t care if I was male or female. He was an awesome boss. My next job was supporting the IT departments of forty customers across the US. I had many occasions where it was a struggle to convince them that I was indeed technical, and could fix their problem, but I don’t know for sure if that was because of my gender or not. I do know that my male colleagues did not seem to run into the problem like I did. Every year there was a user group meeting, and my first year the social mixer was at a piano bar. Our Senior VP stopped me as I was walking by to introduce me to the guy over sales. “Well, hel-loo there,” he said as he looked me up and down, “I don’t remember seeing you at the office.” He extended his hand for a handshake.

Ewwww, he might as well of had the top five buttons of his shirt undone to show off his gold medallion laying atop a carpet of chest hair, but I smiled my polite smile and said, “Nice to meet you” as I extended my hand for the shake, but the shake did not come. Instead, he took my hand, pulled me towards him and raised my hand to his lips and kissed my knuckles, prince charming style. The move was so unexpected, I just froze while my brain was screaming, “Now what do I do?!?!” The Senior VP, who was female, playfully chided him, “You stop that,” as she reached up and took my hand away from him. She laughed and told me to “keep an eye on that guy.” I did more than that. I stayed as far away from him as possible the entire six years I worked there.

One of the other places where I’ve worked, we were being wined and dined by a company that provided disaster recovery hot site services. We traveled to their location, they gave us a tour of the facility and took us to dinner. After dinner we all went to one of those multi-event places, where you can go bowling, play arcade games, shoot pool, or play laser tag. It was me and one of my co-workers against the VP and the sales guy, playing a round of 8-ball. When the game was over, the sales guy* comes up to me and says, “You really are beautiful, you know that?” Uh oh. “Thanks, but I’m married.” He feigned being shocked, “You’re married? Well…he isn’t here now…” I wanted to throw up. “He may not be here now, but I’m still married.” My brain was firing all over the place, trying to tactfully extract myself from this guy while making it clear I was not interested. He suddenly and without explanation, looked past me, walked away from me and headed out the door. I immediately went over to the VP and told him what had occurred. He sincerely apologized and assured me he would make sure it would never happen again. I was grateful. He then said, “But I think he is in more trouble than that.” He could tell by the look on my face that I didn’t understand. “His wife was standing over there and saw the whole thing. That’s why he took off like he did.” Good. *I’m using job titles instead of names in order to protect the guilty. Not all sales guys are like this.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing in the server room, working with a guy (regardless if customer or co-worker), offering suggestions on how to resolve the issue, only to be completely dismissed or ignored. The first few times this happened, I tried to reiterate and provide reasons for my suggestions, but they would resist, so I changed my tactic. I stopped trying to convince them. If they didn’t believe me, fine. If they rejected all my suggestions, fine. I would step back, because, hey, I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, so I just quietly watched them try this and that, get frustrated, swear, hit the keyboard, have an idea, try something else, lather, rinse, repeat, and when nothing had worked and they finally had given up, I would repeat my suggestions. I always got the same response, “Sure. Why not? It couldn’t hurt.” I’d step up to the keyboard, do my thing (praying the whole time I was right) and …issue resolved. I would breathe a sigh of relief, turn to the guy and say something like, “Thank God that worked.” Sometimes they would just walk away without saying anything, like they were mad I had fixed it. Sometimes, though, he’d give me a high-five and I never had to prove myself to that guy ever again.

I got tired of carrying my laptop in one of those computer bags with the shoulder strap. I never have one of those slim, sleek models that look so cool. No, I always have this thick, wide, 32GB RAM, dual quad core, USB, card reader, VGA, HDMI boat anchor that is a PITA to carry, so I got one of those rolling computer bags. One day I was walking across a hotel lobby when I heard a male voice from behind me say, “Check out the ass on computer girl.” I struggle for the words to describe how this made me feel. No, I was not flattered. No, it didn’t make me feel attractive. It made me wish I wasn’t in the lobby. It made me want to disappear. Nothing makes you more hyper aware of every step you take than knowing someone is staring at your behind, but what could I do? I could’ve whipped around and confronted him. It was a nice hotel with other people milling about, but I was traveling alone. I’m 5’4″ tall, and at that time, weighed 120-125lbs. Probably not a good idea. For the record, I was wearing a white blouse tucked into grey wool slacks, thin black belt and black flats. There was nothing suggestive or form fitting to my attire, at all. So, what did I do? I stopped using my rolling computer bag. Problem solved.

I finally got my dream job working at Microsoft. People aren’t used to American- accented, female voices returning their calls to work on their technical issues. “Are you the one that is going to help me, or …?” It always makes me smile. “Yes, I’m the one that is going to help you.” “Oh, sorry, I’m just not used to, I mean, I was expecting, um…” “Its okay, I get that all the time. So, SQL Server is giving you a little trouble today. Is there an error message?”

When I go to tech conferences, the line for the men’s restroom is quite long.

There is no line for the women’s restroom, which is awesome when you are in a hurry, but not so awesome when you stop and think about it. I can tell you this, Microsoft does not care if you are male, female or in between, white, black, brown, or blend, old or young, LBGT or straight, have body piercings and tattoos or not, wear cut-offs and flip-flops, or an Italian suit. Microsoft doesn’t care what you look like. Do you know your sh–stuff? Everybody is treated as equals, and that is how it should be. I respect my colleagues and they respect me. As a woman in the IT industry, I never want to work anywhere else.

I know there are women out there that have suffered far worse things than I. In the 20+ years I’ve been in tech, if all I’ve ever had to deal with were the things I just listed above, I am fortunate indeed.


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