Where’s MY damn role model, she whined
May 14, 2005
The problem with role models is that you never know how close they have to be to your own situation before you can cathect on them. For a long time I’ve sort of looked for someone who is female, an engineer but preferably lacking formal CS training, Internet-focused, a minority, and entrepreneurial. It’s been a tall order to fill, and I’ve recently had a bunch of interactions that make me realize I should broaden my horizons… that women who don’t fill this complete shopping list can still be comrades and inspirations.
For instance, I was having a problem a few months ago that I thought might be a gender issue. Through a friend I was introduced to a woman who isn’t an engineer but has a wealth of experience in the industry. She ended up assuring me that the issue is unlikely to be as gendered as I thought, and is probably based on another variable. To be honest I still don’t know if I agree with her — but I did realize with vast relief that just talking to her about it, and hearing her point of view, made me feel better. Sometimes it really is who says something, not just what they say.
I also recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Telle Whitney, head of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She has a PhD in CS, and 20 years of experience in semiconductors and VOIP — and now she runs the major nonprofit associated with women in our industry. And she is kind! I did nothing but whine at her about how I couldn’t find any role models, and she listened with every appearance of not wanting to smack me on my whinging snout. She told me something fascinating: apparently CTO is the rarest position in the industry for women. That surprised me, because there are so many young and barely-qualified (male, needless to say) CTOs — it’s not like being a VP of eng, which is a position that takes years of responsibility and usually quite a bit of political dexterity to work your way up to. If you can get other people to call you a CTO without laughing in your face, you can be a CTO!
So I’m still dubious about female-techie networking groups and all, but I’m definitely starting to feel that there are individual women out there who I can learn a lot from and talk to about our shared experiences. It’s a good feeling.