One of the goals of this initiative is to try and answer the “How can I get $woman to use Ubuntu?” question that we often get by demonstrating that there is no single answer for it. Women get involved and interested in Ubuntu for all kinds of reasons, and without knowing anything about her there is really no way to know what specific spark will get her interested in involvement. (For what it’s worth, a much better question is “$woman is interested in $subject and is tied to Windows for $reason but doesn’t like it for $another_reason, she currently uses her computer for $thing0 and $thing1, do you have any suggestions as to how I can try and convert her to Ubuntu?”)
The contest also seeks to give inspiration to women who are interested in using and getting involved with Ubuntu. We seek to not only showing them that they aren’t the only female using Ubuntu, but that not everyone has to be a “typical male computer geek” to get involved.
Which brings me to this “I’ve been computing since…” longevity meme that is quite popular within F/OSS. Like many memes in F/OSS this is a competitive one that gives bragging rights for being the one who started with Linux or programming at the youngest age. This culture of competitiveness based on longevity has, without a doubt, been what has hurt me the most in tech. The sexist comments, the marriage (or worse) proposals upon revealing that I use Linux, the reaction of shock I receive when I tell people what I do for a living are all things I can quickly recover from (especially with a group of supportive folks in Ubuntu Women standing by!). Getting over the fact that I got into Linux in my early 20s when it seems like all my peers have been programming since they were 12 years old is significantly more intimidating and discouraging.
I’m certainly not the exception. In Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing the overwhelming message regarding the problem of women in IT I took from this book was that the traditional conditioning of girls to avoid “horn tooting” or “bragging” as compared to boys, combined with this longevity meme leaves many women who actually take the plunge into a computing degree feeling as though they’re alone, under-qualified and have little chance of success in the field. In reality, the book reports, these women work very hard and are just as qualified as the men in the class, and the ones who don’t switch degrees (a common response to constantly feeling under-qualified) go on to be successful in their careers.
So why is this longevity meme such a major problem for women in general rather than for men (where, admittedly, it still can be a problem)? As a society, at least in the United States, girls don’t tend to be pushed toward tech, and tech is frequently marketed in such a way that I don’t blame them (see: Of Geeks and Girls). While there are now several initiatives out there to get girls interested in technology at a young age, a lot of parents I know make a conscious effort to give their girls computers too, and to some extent the market is catching up, we’re not there yet. Statistically women in the industry still get involved at a later age than men and without considerable confidence the road ahead can be challenging.
So, do we try to kill the longevity meme? No way! We all enjoy a bit of bragging fun now and then. Instead we work to show that people who are involved with computers come in all kinds. This stories project seeks to be a start for addressing that for women in the Ubuntu community. I know some women who have been programming since they were 9 and relax with a pizza, mountain dew and an episode of Star Trek, I know women who work for non-profits and have whole-heartedly jumped on the F/OSS bandwagon, I know mothers who would call themselves non-technical get heavily involved in F/OSS community building, I know women who have stumbled upon F/OSS and with a background that has nothing to do with computing become highly skilled, technical contributors. It’s time to stop taking my word for it and getting these stories from the women themselves.
So, are you a woman, or do you know a woman who can submit a story? Email it to ubuntuwomen.competition at gmail.com by February 22nd!
More details on the contest are here: [UbuntuWomen] International Women’s Day — Competition!
Disclaimer: For all my talk of less geeky females here, I am a pretty hard core geek (I mean, I use a Star Wars handle! …and I just called it a “handle”!). Maybe I didn’t start using Linux until 2002, but in the 90s my mother did frequently wonder what kind of strange teenage girl I was for spending my time in my dark bedroom with pizza and a pile of 386s (oh no, I’m contributing to the meme!). My intention is not to discredit or ignore the geek females in our midst, but to acknowledge that we may be a rare breed and to really get more women involved we need to appeal to contributors from a wider population, just like the Ubuntu project itself does. I seek to encourage all women to contribute to this contest, even if they don’t feel like they have enough “geek cred” or whatever. Oh, and stories from hard core geek girls are completely welcome, those stories are inspiring too!