Geek Chicks: PyLadies, a Gang of Female Computer Programmers
|Katharine Jarmul, PyLady|
It's not that the PyLadies are intimidated by the men who dominate computer programmer events and workshops. It's just that they got tired of feeling like outsiders.
Katharine Jarmul, 29, remembers the day they first identified the problem. She and three other women found themselves chatting in a circle at a meet-up in March last year. There were 30 or 40 people there, all discussing Django, a website framework built on the Python programming language. But, looking around the room, Jarmul realized that their little circle contained the only female programmers there. The few other women in attendance were recruiters or product managers, not the people who actually write code.
"We felt like anomalies," Jarmul recalls.
The women felt the difference most keenly during breaks, when they couldn't join in the inside jokes and casual conversations into which their male colleagues seemed to fall so easily. In a profession so dependent on teamwork and learning new technology, being part of the community is not just a matter of feeling comfortable. It's essential to being competitive.
"I said very frankly, 'Well, maybe we should stop complaining about it and do something,' " Jarmul remembers.
So the four women, along with two others, met a few weeks later at Jarmul's house for spaghetti and wine and began planning. The group's first event was a daylong introduction to Python at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena. Only women could register, although each could bring one male or female guest. The workshop's demographics proved a reversal of most events of its kind: 25 women and two men.
Fast-forward eight months to the last Saturday in January, and the PyLadies are holding a Django event in an office complex in Santa Monica. About 25 people drink coffee and munch on bagels before Jarmul starts the event, with an even split between PyGents and PyLadies, only this time there was no quota system at work.
One of the men in attendance, Robert Obreczarek, a programmer from Mar Vista, says most programmers don't think about gender. "It makes no difference to me [if you're a man or woman] if you know your shit," he says. But, he admits, he had never seen so many women at a meeting of programmers.
Jarmul, vice president of PyLadies, steps to the center front of the room. She has curly blond hair and is wearing wide, silver hoop earrings and a baby blue fitted "Djansta" T-shirt, tattoos peeking out below the sleeves -- not your stereotypical programmer look. "Python, especially Django, is something anyone can do," she tells the group. "You don't need computer-science schooling."
And that's important considering how few women actually study the subject. Jarmul herself studied political science, then education and journalism, but began to teach herself programming while working on the websites of The Washington Post and later USA Today. PyLadies president Christine Cheung, who graduated from UC Riverside in 2007 with a degree in computer science, was one of just two women in her 54-student graduating class. (Both Cheung and Jarmul now work for startup companies in the Los Angeles area.)
The Computing Research Association's most recent survey shows that in 2010, just 13.4 percent of degrees in computer science and computer engineering in the United States and Canada were awarded to women.
Still, Cheung, 27, says the organization is not about excluding men. It's about including women. She got involved with PyLadies because she loves the Python programming language (which was named after Monty Python, she explains). Also, she wanted to feel like a member of a community.