We’ve seen that many women have made significant breakthrough in sciences and technologies, and that what prevent women from being more numerous in those fields is culture.
This is all fine, but, you may think, this is not for me, I’m not technical, I’ve never been…
Wrong! Anyone can. All you need is self-confidence and motivation.
I work as a web programmer. I did not attend a computing school. Instead, I have a bachelor in psychology. I’ve learned web programming on my own, with books and internet, and at work, by taking inspiration on what other have done and asking for help. Now, with more than ten years of experience, there is no difference between me and other programmers who have a more adequate degree.
Maybe I had nevertheless some predispositions, may you wonder? Not at all! I come from a literary family. My results at school in mathematics and sciences were good when i did a reasonable amount of homework, as anyone can expect.
Maybe I was particularly lucky? No, I don’t think so. My case is far from being isolated. There are many people who end up in computing after having studied in other fields, and who are self-taught or have only a short training, because there is much more job offers in computing than elsewhere. Check for example this other testimony: 5 things I learnt as a self-taught female developer
Get a “Growth” mindset
Carol Dweck is a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University. Her research provides evidence that a “growth mindset” (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) leads to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm.
People with a “fixed mindset” tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedbacks and feel threatened by the success of others. Whereas people with a “growth mindset” embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and aspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievements.
When it comes to gender prejudices, many studies show that a growth mindset protects girls and women from the influence of the stereotype that girls are not as good as boys at math.
Dweck and others have found gender gaps favoring boys in math and science performance among junior high and college students with fixed mindsets, while finding no gender gaps among their peers who have a growth mindset (Good & al., 2003; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Dweck, 2006).
Dweck and her colleagues conducted a study in 2005 in which one group of adolescents was taught that great math thinkers had a lot of innate ability and natural talent (a fixed-mindset message), while another group was taught that great math thinkers were profoundly interested in and committed to math and worked hard to make their contributions (a growth-mindset message). On a subsequent challenging math test, the girls who had received the fixedmindset message and the stereotype of women underperforming in math, did significantly worse than their male counterparts; however, no gender difference occurred among the students who had received the growth-mindset message, even when the stereotype about girls was mentioned before the test (Good & al., 2009).
Stevenson & Stigler (1992) note that, in cultures that produce a large number of math and science graduates, especially women, including South and East Asian cultures, the basis of success is generally attributed less to inherent ability and more to effort.
As a programmer, I have no difficulty to find a job anywhere, speaking in English or French.
Just compare the following searches:
I’ve worked in Paris, Stockholm and Luxembourg. I work at usual office hours, from 9 am to 6 pm. I rarely work overtime (it’s a choice, some colleagues do more). After 12 years of experience, my net salary is generally between 2 600 and 3 000 €. This is less than what would earn an engineer (i’m just a technician), but it is enough to live with some comfort. I manage to save money and to have short term contracts in order to have time between two jobs to do other things, such as writing and traveling. It takes between a few days and a couple of months for me to find a new job. I don’t have children, but if I wanted to, I could afford to have one or two without having to depend on a man (so material considerations don’t get in the way of a true love).
Acquiring skills in computer programming can also serve a business idea, like a web shop or an apps.
Cure the planet
Technologies are at the heart of the development of civilization. Especially today, because of the new challenges posed by environmental issues: create non-polluting sources of energy, protect from nuclear risks, clean up water tables, air and soils, develop more profitable organic farming methods, prepare for climate change …
Technologies can also help third world or developing countries. Jill Farrant and Segenet Kelemu, for example, were awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO Prize for Women and Science, one for developing drought-resistant plants, the other for her research on how microorganisms living in symbiosis with forage grasses can improve their ability to resist disease and adapt to climate and environmental change.
In the IT field, we could, for example, design software to optimize a fair and circular trading (circular meaning the re-use of obsolete material) or even optimize the rules of bank loans, since money today is a simple computer data corresponding to a trust credit. The use of Business Intelligence, which is a way of analyzing data to plan future actions, could be extended to governments and local authorities …
Without going that far into engineering, it is possible to develop websites or apps to help a local and ethical business, share interesting information or connect people.
Now, start learning!
The golden road to a career in technology is an engineer school. This would provide you the best salaries and hierarchical positions.
But if you’re only looking for a safety wheel, that is, if you want to acquire skills that can get you a safe and decent job in case another more risky career project doesn’t come true, or need more time, then a short training between a few months and two years is enough to apply as a technician, for example as a computer programmer. In France, it is possible to get in two years a professional diploma in computing called DUT or BTS, recognized by companies.
Depending on the country in which you are, you may get help from your unemployment office, with sometimes a job by a company participating to the program. Not so long ago, in Lille, France, a training as “Business Intelligence consultant” was provided to students with a university degree, followed by a job at Capgemini.
In Belgium and Luxembourg, Cyberwayfinder enrolls women into a paid internship program of 3 years in cybersecurity, in order to provide companies with more diverse profiles and a very demanded set of skills and certifications.
You can also learn all by yourself, just as I did. There is such a huge need for technical skills, that companies, especially small ones, can be open to untypical profiles, as long as they can prove their knowledge. Fortunately, in those areas, it is easy to provide personal works, such as mobile apps, websites using recognized frameworks and design patterns, electronic devices, building works such as a bathroom, a staircase… and describe how it’s done to recruiters. Of course, this won’t work for professions which have made mandatory to provide a specific certification, such as medicine or research.
If you’re ready to learn computing on your own, especially computer programming, here are a few websites that I have tested and that will give you an efficient start. Certainly, there are interesting tutorials on any technologies (websites or videos on youtube, dailymotion…), but I can only share what I know well.
The first 2 provide a coding interface, so you can try your own code while progressing :
https://learn.freecodecamp.org/ (web programming, free)
https://www.codecademy.com/ (web programming and more, some courses are free)
https://www.khanacademy.org/ (web programming, cryptography & hardware, free)
https://eu.udacity.com/ (general computing and other STEM, some courses are free – check the filters)
https://codeclubprojects.org/ (web programming and more, free)
http://appinventor.mit.edu/ (develop simple mobile apps, free)
http://learn.makeblock.com/ (program customizable electronic devices, the program interfaces and tutorials are free but the devices are not)
If you would like to go more into web programming with the fastest possible results, you can use a CMS (content management system), which is a website “ready to go” with an administration interface, that just needs to be customized (like a standard house in which you add a personal touch). Most websites nowadays are built using a CMS.
Small companies, those that are more likely to give a chance to a self-taught programmer or a programmer with a short training, use “open source” CMS. “Open source” means that anyone can edit the source code and contribute to the development of the program, themes and plugins. As such, open source programs don’t belong to anyone, so they’re free.
The two main open source CMS are WordPress and Drupal. If you’re a beginner, I recommend to start with WordPress. On wordpress.com, you get a free hosted website with an url ending with wordpress.com, unless you buy a domain. This is enough to set up an easy website, and try a bit of HTML and CSS.
Then, if you want to further customize the website, you can download WordPress CMS from wordpress.org, and host it both on your PC, and on a remote server providing the web hosting service and a domain name registration. To host and execute it on your own computer, in order to test before you send your files to your remote server, you can install XAMPP, which will provide you a local server (Apache), a PHP interpreter and MySql databases, with an database administration interface called PHPMyAdmin. You can use Filezilla Client to transfer your files to the remote server.
Here are some links explaining in more details the steps above:
When you are stuck on an issue, just search for it on a search engine, because it is very likely that someone else had the same problem and found answers on a forum, or shared a solution on a personal website or on a video (on youtube, dailymotion…). This is also the advantage of using a popular open source CMS: as many people use it, they share a lot of information on internet.
I made this website using WordPress, which I downloaded on wordpress.org. I created a “child theme” of the theme “Twenty seventeen” installed by default, to add a some CSS, put the search form in the top menu, customize the footer and add the library font awesome which provides icons. I also added the plugins WPFront Scroll Top (the button on the bottom right to scroll up), PDF24 Article To PDF (possibility to export a page in PDF), and WP Meta SEO (for search engine optimization).
Join a network
When it comes to computing, electrics and electronics, you should be able to find a “Makerspace” or a “Hackerspace” in any big city. Most of them are open to people who don’t know anything yet and are willing to learn and take advantage of the equipments available in those space. Some of them host training sessions, especially (but not only) for children.
Many clubs exist to help women to come into technology despite an discouraging culture. You can check the following networks, for example : Girls in tech, Gender4stem, Rail girls, or local networks such as Girlz In Web (France), Women who code and Girls who code (US & Canada), Girldevelopit (US), CodeFirst: Girls (UK)…
If you want to help your daughter(s) to get into technologies, there are clubs dedicated to children, such as Kid Hack days or Code club. Those have local antennas as well. Local clubs exist for small girls only, such as ProjectCSGIRLS and Girlstart (US)
Thematic exchanges groups exists also on meetup.com. They organize events to discuss a particular features of a technology, such as web development with WordPress or the PHP language. There are some meetups groups for women in IT, particularly in London.
You can also take part in an open source development community, or to a forum such as stackoverflow.com.
Other resources: https://www.computerscience.org/resources/