Help Support Young Women in IT

Kate links to a very worthwhile local project called ChicTech:

ChicTech pairs a three or four person team of young women with a university mentor to create a website for a non-profit organization. The websites are then judged, the teams are rewarded and hopefully these girls are encouraged to stay in a technical field. Or at least see the potential a career in IT has.

ChicTech is currently for Vancouver-area girls, in Grades 9 or 10. This year’s competition is underway. The organizing team is still looking for sponsors and contributions to the final prizes.

Sounds like a great idea, and Capulet’s going to donate a little money to the cause. I’m also going to enquire (assuming the other organizers don’t mind) if they’re interested in some of our leftover Bloggable shirts from Northern Voice.

The cynic in me did leave this comment on Kate’s site:

I’ve gotta say, there’s no shortage of female web designers out there. In fact, the majority of web designers I meet are women. I can’t help but think that a contest for boys would have been around building a program, as opposed to designing a website.

I’m certainly not calling web design a ghetto, but it’s not really IT or ‘computer science’ per se. I know web designers (of both genders) who don’t code at all–they build mockups and subcontract to somebody else for the coding bits.

Regardless, I’m just nitpicking–it sounds like a great project. I’m sure that for some participants web design can function as a sort of gateway drug to web or software development and related, more technical fields.


  1. I’m all for this – even if only for the reason that more women in IT tends to vastly de-geekify the industry. In fact, I think the geek barrier is partly the reason so few women get involved in the first place.

  2. Darren .. thanks for posting about this.

    On some level, I agree with you about web design vs IT. But if it is a window that lets young women see possibilities in not only “decorating the web” but architecting it .. I’m totally for it!! 🙂

  3. A website may seem design-oriented, but it involves elementary programming concepts and gives some of the instant “wow” that LOGO does. The students only have two months to work on the project, which may be a short time for students who don’t have a background in HTML or what-have-you. The students have to create a poster that indicates their development process, which may help distract from the coding process and emphasize project planning. And the websites are for non-profits, so some students may see this as a way that technology can benefit society.

    I was heavily involved in computers until about Grade 8 or so. It became clear to me that computers were “not for girls” and only for very geeky boys. I didn’t want to be seen with those guys, so I stopped programming, even though I was programming at a Grade 12 level or higher.

    When it came to choosing a career, my parents and principal suggested engineering. But all I knew of engineering was UBC’s Lady Godiva and the low number of female engineers. When I asked what engineers did, I was told they worked on machines, such as those in pulp mills and factories. This sounded like a perfect way to continue screwing up the world. I decided I wanted nothing to do with sciences and stopped taking math. And went on to Arts.

    Had someone paired me with a mentor earlier on, shown me that society could actually benefit from technology, and indicated that engineering/computers was not geeky, I would have chosen an entirely different path.

  4. Jeez – give us a break Darren! So web design isn’t “really IT?” I’ve fought long and hard to gain respect as a woman in IT and there you go, dissing all my hard work in a single blow. I’m a webmaster for a very large international company, and I’m expected to know everything about not only my sites but the servers, the backend and how to make it all come together and WORK while at the same time looking pretty. There’s no way I’d have the job I do now if my role was just to do mockups or “decorate”. I’m comfortable with both Photoshop and PHP, and in fact that is one of my personal strengths, having the creative side AND the geeky coder side.
    Maybe things are different now, but I started out way back when we had to hand-code everything and I was perfectly happy digging through perl and whatnot and getting into the guts of the computers and learning about how they tick. I still build my own systems and networks and if the webmaster gig for whatever reason didn’t work out, I’m very confident that I could be a network engineer, database analyst or handle any number of other IT geek jobs with minimal effort. Maybe the reason that you have met so many female web designers is that we figured out that it’s a fun, creative job that also lets you use your brain. Or maybe we’re just better at integrating the right/left brains in order to be geeky and yet be creative. I’ve met way too many stuffed shirts in IT who can’t design their way out of a paper bag. I’ve also had to fix the websites they “created”.

  5. Heron: Sorry, I don’t think I dismissed anything. All I did was question the association between web design and computer science and IT. I said I was nitpicking, and I was–it just felt a tad dubious.

    As you’ve indicated, webmaster and web designer are pretty different jobs. Most designers that I know couldn’t be webmasters without upgrading their technical skills. Most webmasters (a title I understand to synonymous with ‘web admin’) I know couldn’t be good designers without upgrading their creative skills. You apparently are one of the rare people with both skill sets. I work with plenty of designers and a few web admins–trust me, you’re rare.

    It sounds to me as if you’re equating webmasters and web designers. Is that your intent, or am I misreading things?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but most people don’t learn to be web designers in computer science programs. As for the term ‘IT’, I don’t think most people associate it with web designers. See, for example, the BBC series ‘The IT Crowd’ for a popular (if unflattering) perception of IT departments. At companies where I’ve worked, the designers didn’t work in the IT department–that’s where the system admins and webmasters worked.

    From what I’ve seen, web designers in corporations tend to work all by their lonesome, on ‘web teams’ with user experience people and web developers, or in the marketing department. Maybe your experience is different?

    It would make a lot more sense (though it’d probably be less fun) to me if the contest was about web administration (even better, web development) as opposed to web design. I just thought that the contest organizers were misrepresenting the facts a little by associating web design with computer science.

  6. Sorry, it is a touchy point to me, as a woman in IT, and having the experience that I do not get taken seriously as a geek because of my gender. I’ve been called a web designer, a web developer, a webmaster, and various other titles. I don’t know how people learn to be web designers these days, but I would hope that any well-rounded education in web design would include a decently thorough grounding in the underlying technology.

    Throughout my own career, and regardless of my title, I’ve always been part of IT. My personal experience has been that if you worked on the website in any role, you were one of the geeks. Again, I’m old-skool, so now it may be different, but I think that if you are working on the web, you should be considered IT.

    My main problem with comments like yours is that they shove women right back out the door and slam it in their face by saying that it is “not really IT” or that web design should not be part of computer science. If they are interested enough in computers to even *think* about a career in web design, we should encourage them. I’m sick of being the only woman on the IT floor, and I applaud the effort to change that. I feel like the main thing that you are missing is that there is so little encouragement of women to take up anything to do with computers as a career at all. There’s the stigma that Andrea mentioned, that computers are “a guy thing”. If a girl is in 9th or 10th grade and she even knows what programming is, then she is a much rarer bird than I am. If they ran a contest for girls to program an application or set up a web server, you would probably only get the sound of crickets. If web design is the “gateway” for including more young women in the industry and getting us more involved in the more technical side, then great! I just ask that you don’t add to the “ghettoizing” of young women by saying it’s “not really IT”. It’s hard enough out there for gurl geeks already.

  7. Heron: Thanks for that. I think I am doing the right thing by, you know, promoting their contest and giving them money and t-shirts.

    It’s a philosophical debate, really. Just because an endeavour is right and admirable on a macro level doesn’t mean it can’t be imprecise on a micro one.

    My nitpicky point, which evidently wasn’t clear, was that young women possibly weren’t getting a fair deal–“I can’t help but think that a contest for boys would have been around building a program”. The (slight) ghettoization, in my view, has already occurred.

    I think I can, as it were, simultaneously support the war effort and criticize the way a colonel runs a skirmish.

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