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Preamble to Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2015

Prior to the OpenStack Summit last week, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston.

But it’s important to recognize a few things before I write about my experience at the conference in subsequent post.

I have experienced sexism and even serious threats throughout my work in open source software. This became particularly acute as I worked to increase my network of female peers and boost participation of women in open source with my work in Ubuntu Women and LinuxChix.

This is not to say open source work has been bad. The vast majority my experiences have been positive and I’ve built life-long friendships with many of the people I’ve volunteered with over the years. My passion for open source software as a movement, a community and a career is very much intact.

I have been exceptionally fortunate in my paid technical (mostly Linux Systems Administration) career. I have been a part of organizations that have not only supported and promoted my work, but have shown a real commitment to diversity in the talent they hire. At my first junior systems administration job in Philadelphia, my boss ran a small business where he constantly defied the technical stereotypes regarding race, age and gender with his hires, allowing me to work with a small, but diverse group of people. In my work now in Hewlett Packard Enterprise I’m delighted to work with many brilliant women, from my management chain to my peers, as well as people from all over the world.

My experience was not just luck. I’ve had been very fortunate to have the career flexibility and financial stability through a working partner to select jobs that fit my criteria for a satisfying work environment. When I needed to be frugal when living on my own in a small, inexpensive apartment far from the city and very limited budget, I made it through. Early in my career when I couldn’t find permanent work I wanted, I called up a temp agency and did everything from data entry to accounting work. I also spent time working as a technical consultant, at one job I did back end web development, in another helped make choices around enterprise open source platforms for a pharmaceutical company. While there certainly were micro-aggressions to deal with (clients regularly asking to speak with a “real developer” or directing design-oriented questions to me rather than my male designer colleague), my passion for technology and the work I was doing kept me above water through these routine frustrations.

When it comes to succeeding in my technical career I’ve also had the benefit of being a pretty hard core nerd. Every summer in high school I worked odd neighborhood jobs to save up money to buy computer parts. I had extended family members who gave us our first computer in 1991 (I was 10), the only gaming console I ever owned as a youth (the NES) and when we needed a better computer, grandparents who gave us a 486 for Christmas in 1994 (I was 13). Subsequent computers I bought with my precious summer work savings from classified ads, dragging my poor mother to the doorstep of more than one unusual fellow who was selling some old computer equipment. Both my parents had a love for SciFi, my father making the Lord of the Rings series a more familiar story than those from the Christian Bible, and my mother with her love of terribly amusing giant monster horror movies that I still hold close to this day. One look at my domain name here shows that I also grew up with the Star Wars trilogy. I’ve been playing video games since we got that first NES and I still carry around a Nintendo DS pretty much everywhere I go. I’ve participated in Magic:The Gathering tournaments. I wear geek t-shirts and never learned how to put on make-up. I have a passion for beer. I fit in with the “guys” in tech.

So far, I’m one of the women in tech who has stayed.

In spite of my work trying to get more women involved, like the two mentorship programs I participated in this year for women, I’ve spent a lot of time these past few years actively ignoring some of the bigger issues regarding women in tech. I love technology. I love open source. I’ve built my life and hobbies around my technical work and expertise. When I leave home and volunteer, it’s not spooning soup into bowls at a soup kitchen, it’s using my technical skills to deploy computers to disadvantaged communities. Trying to ignore the issues that most women face has been a survival tactic. It’s depressing and discouraging to learn how far behind we still are with pay, career advancement and both overt and subtle sexism in the workplace. I know that people (not just women!) who aren’t geeky or don’t drink like me are often ostracized or feel like they have to fake it to succeed, but I’ve pushed that aside to succeed and contribute in the way I have found is most valuable to my career and my community.

At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing there was a lot of focus on all the things I’ve tried to ignore. All that discrimination in the form of lower pay for women, fewer opportunities for advancement, maternity penalties to the careers of women and lack of paternity leave for men in the US, praise for “cowboy” computing (jumping in at 3AM to save the day rather than spending time making sure things are stable and 3AM saves aren’t ever required) and direct discrimination. The conference did an exceptional job of addressing how we can handle these things, whether it be strategies in the workplace or seeking out a new job when things can’t be fixed. But it did depress and exhaust me. I couldn’t ignore the issues anymore during the three days that I attended.

It’s a very valuable conference and I’m really proud that I had the opportunity to speak there. I have the deepest respect and gratefulness for those who run the conference and make efforts every day to improve our industry for women and minorities. My next post will be my typical conference summary of what I learned while there and the opportunities that presented themselves. Just keep this post in mind as you make your way through the next one.