GeekGirlCon ’12 Preview: Lady Coders
In one of our last GeekGirlCon ‘12 previews, we want to tell you about some amazing Lady Coders: Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, Liz Dahlstrom, and Lorraine Sawiki — all female programmers.
This dynamic trio has launched a new organization, LadyCoders, which will provide seminars and trainings that help women land jobs in a technical field. They even have a Kickstarter project that ends August 14, which they are hoping will help jumpstart some of this work.
The Lady Coders are also hosting a panel at GeekGIrlCon ‘12, “A Career as a Lady Coder II: Getting the Job.” It is a follow-up to a panel hosted at last year’s convention, which focused on what it is like to code for a living and how to succeed. This year, panelists want to help you get the job. They have also added a computer science student to help show technical geeks of all types how to get on a solid path toward a rewarding programming position.
You can catch this panel on Saturday from 2:30 – 3:20 p.m. in Room 301/302.
We caught up with the panelists, and they graciously agreed to answer a few of our questions. Check out their answers below!
1: Okay, first off, we have to ask – what are you all geeky about right now?
Liz: I have a strong desire to hack into my DEFCON badge and figure out how it works!
Lorraine: I have an idea for an arduino sculpture to put in my front yard garden. I love combining my tech skills with my passions, so I’ve been getting a lot of satisfaction working on an android app as well when I have the time. I also had a blast creating the logo and web design for LadyCoders!
Tarah: I just got back from DEFCON and have discovered a newfound joy in lockpicking and cryptography. I’m also big into modifying and improving operating systems, and I am trying to match the perfect Android flavor (Vegan Tab, CM9, etc) to my gTablet. Mostly, though, I’m nerding out over the original Sandman run; I bought the original TPBs in the early 90s, but they got ripped off before I could finish them. That’s what my tablet is for now: it is a very nifty and highly specialized comic book reading machine.
2: How did you meet?
Tarah: I am a tanguera–a tango dancer. A few years ago, I met a great dancer and I keep running into him every so often; he’s a Sharepoint dev, so we keep in touch. He introduced me to Liz, who was also doing some Sharepoint work at that time, and Liz and I hit it off as developers and buddies. When I had the original idea to hold a panel at GeekGirlCon to show young women what being a software developer was like, Liz was the first person I called–and frankly, the only one. She was the only other senior software developer I knew.
Lorraine: I saw the name for Tarah’s panel at last year’s GeekGirlCon, and I thought it would be an awesome domain to build a lady-oriented technology site around. Tarah looked up ladycoders.com a few months later and was surprised that someone in Seattle, let alone another lady in tech, owned it! We met at a coffee shop and briefly discussed our interests. Afterwards, Tarah sent a quick intro to Liz that said something along the lines of “I found us a new friend!” Less than a month later, I emailed both Liz and Tarah, and even though I hardly knew them I went with my gut and proposed we start a project together. After that there was an energy and flow to our ideas, leading to our Kickstarter campaign as well as a number of other ideas for the future.
3: What has been the most rewarding thing about working together?
Lorraine: I’ve rarely worked with women on the same team, and I’ve never worked in an all-ladies tech team before! It’s been awesome to share our experiences and knowledge with each other. We also have rather varied skills, so I think we’ll be learning from each other as well.
Tarah: I would say it’s the way we pick up the reins effortlessly from each other when there’s a problem or a hitch. We all assume that the other two are competent and hardworking, and that we all have different specialties. As a result, there’s no hurt feelings or issues when someone has more experience or ability in a certain area, and they take the lead. We assume that the others have skills and abilities that we do not; I would never tell Lorraine how to design perfect UX or Liz how to create a DB structure, even though I know both of those things to some extent. They are better at them.
4: What are some obstacles each of you have faced in your individual careers and how have you overcome them?
Lorraine: There are so many things that I wish I could share with the younger version of myself. That the flexibility I so desired with my career would eventually work out. That there are multiple paths in a tech career, ranging from a traditional 9-5, to freelancing, and possibly a startup! That my desire to wear certain outfits expressed naivety more than individuality. I also didn’t know how to negotiate for a higher salary or deal with overly demanding freelancing clients. I overcame a lot of this by making good friends in the tech industry, and through the friendships getting a great ego boost about my own skills and what I’m worth.
Tarah: Often, women ask me about some of the sexual harassment I’ve had to deal with, and they’re surprised when I tell them that I have never experienced actual sexual harassment in the tech workplace…absolutely none. I have, however, seen the effects of sexism. They’re very different creatures; sexism has more to do with an unconscious assumption of incompetence than anything overt.
I know that there are at least three jobs that I have not been promoted into or gotten simply because I’m female, and the assumption was that I could not handle a team of male developers. So, I did an end run around many of the neolithic attitudes I saw by simply declaring victory and forming my own company. If I’d known how rewarding it was, I would have done it sooner. Besides, the fault usually lies on the part of sexist execs and hiring managers, not developers. Some of my best friends are male developers 😉 I guess the final lesson is that I stopped thinking of sexist hiring managers as obstacles to my career, and started thinking of them as the people who are leaving solid, hardcore programming talent on the table for me to scoop up.
5. What sort of messages are you hoping to share through your participation at GeekGirlCon ’12?
Tara, Lorraine, and Liz: Lady geeks make great friends! 🙂 Your choices are your own. We’re going to show you that you have more choices than you thought you did. After that, it’s up to you.
Thanks, Lady Coders! Don’t forget to catch their panel this Sunday.