I (don’t) wanna be a cowboy, baby

I ran into a post this morning that seriously caught my attention. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be a Woman in technology, then I recommend you read what Nicole Sullivan has to say.

She talks about the difference between The Code Cowboy and The Good Developer. I know a lot of Code Cowboys and dealing with them is tiring. Of course, I can’t even put myself into the category of The Good Developer because, as Nicole pointed out, we are our own worst enemy. We aren’t good at judging our own abilities and we need encouragement. From my post on how Geeks drive girls out of Computer Science,

Girls are much more likely to try something if someone else encourages them to do it. I once sat in a group of female heads (principals) of boarding schools. Each woman talked about how it was that she decided to go after the Head of School job. Out of 8 Heads of School, only one of them admitted that she had wanted the job and pursued it. The other seven all talked about having a friend, coworker, or administrator who encouraged them to apply for the job. And every one of them was more than qualified for the position, but was timid about seeking it without some encouragement.

What I didn’t mention there was that with a panel of eight heads of school, there were only two people in the audience: myself and another woman. So we sat in a circle and just talked. It was great, but there should have been more women there.

The only thing that Nicole says with which I don’t agree, is that we need to make video games more appealing to girls. This is everyone’s first thought, and I don’t think it is the right direction.

Video games have changed a lot over the years. Many of them are much more social, which is the biggest hurdle to becoming popular with girls, however, they are still video games. I think video games are a complete waste of time. While The Code Cowboy is playing Wii Sports, I’m outside running or making social contacts while golfing. While The Code Cowboy is playing Online Scrabble, I’m having dinner and a beer at Quiz Night. While The Code Cowboy is playing Second Life, I’m working as the treasurer of my Home Owner’s Association board. While The Code Cowboy is playing World of Warcraft, I’m attending California High Speed Rail meetings. While The Code Cowboy is playing Farmville, I’m helping to build a home with Habitat for Humanity.

I don’t want to virtualize my world. I want to use computers to make my world better. Show me how to code so that I can model a malaria outbreak in a third world country and plan to distribute supplies accordingly. Teach me how to write an app that will show me the location of the cheapest gas or the lowest price for *gasp* a cute pair of shoes. I’d argue that girls want to become programmers to solve real world problems, not to write abstract games. I don’t think I know a single girl who would choose a job writing a video game over writing an app to help solve world hunger.

I had to mention the shoes because as geek girls, we are expected to not be interested in typical girl things. So I’ve been rebelling by acquiring shoes, and skirts, painting my toenails, doing my hair and makeup. I’m tired of having to look like one of the guys just to be treated as an equal. But then this runs into the problem Nicole mentioned that “No one is going to assume that a man is on stage because he looks good in a skirt.”


7 responses to this post.

  1. It’s often confidence (generally in men) that gets them where they are, rather than actual ability. Women (IN GENERAL!) are more insecure about being “go-getters” and such, regardless of the fact that men and women are equally capable of coding. One can blame this “over confidence of men” on society, on up bringing, whatever, but it’s always the PERSISTENT individual who wins, rarely the most talented. ( I say this cuz I know a TON of super genius guitar players who are currently sitting on their couch, playing the crap out of the guitar but doing nothing, while a hacker like me just says “bring it on” and goes to book gigs, write songs, make records, and doesn’t wait for permission.)

    Maybe guys are too dumb to quit. It could also be that men don’t fear failure like women (again, I’m GENERALIZING!…there are exceptions, sure, but IN GENERAL, men don’t fear failure as much as women do). The sad part happens when men become arrogant because of these traits (aka-flaws which ironically lead to success). Arrogant men are no fun to be around. I call them, “assholes.”


  2. While my hubby is not a girl, he codes for some of the same reasons you mentioned, minus the shoes. He can’t even find his one pair of dress shoes. :)


  3. Usually I agree with you, but I think you are miscategorizing gaming. Online (social) gaming does not always replace other real world socialization, it often replaces solitary endeavors (watching TV or reading). the fact that I hop online to play wow with friends wow live on the west coast on Tuesday nights doesn’t stop me from going to Yoga on Wednesdays, and doesn’t mean I would be out with friends on Tuesday night if I was not playing WoW.

    As a specific data point, I am fairly introverted, and find going out a lot really exhausting. I enjoy it, but in limited quantities. When I play video games it doesn’t tend to reduce the frequency that I go out with friends, and when I am not gaming (I tend to play some game, then not play anything for a few months) I fill that time with something else at home, usually reading.

    Mind you, I am not claiming gaming is great, it has all sorts of potential issues (addiction, the way most games portray women, etc). I just thing the comparisons you are making are not apt, and that the problems with games are the same problems that exist within most of our media an entertainment sources.


  4. Posted by breadwild on July 27, 2010 at 8:40 am

    “I don’t think I know a single girl who would choose a job writing a video game over writing an app to help solve world hunger.”

    I’ll accept your generalization, as long as you can admit that not all guys code games. There are some altruistic men out there…well, at least one or two.


  5. Posted by breadwild on July 27, 2010 at 8:51 am

    This got me thinking. You know who has it worse? Woman pilots. The prejudice against seeing a woman at the controls is sad. But as a pilot myself, the ones I knew in flight school were a lot more serious and worked a lot harder. Why? Because they had to be to make it in this “cowboy” laden field. Male pilots might be good pilots, but they don’t have to try as hard to instill confidence. However, when I step on an airplane, and I spot a woman in the pilot’s seat, I just smile and know I’m in good hands.


  6. I get so much shit for being a geek girl who is into shoes. And makeup. Especially from other geek girls who are anti-caring-about-looks. At least it’s really easy to look classier than everyone else around, but then again that’s a mixed blessing too.


  7. I’m in the liberal arts (more specifically history/museums/antiques/art/auctions — if you can call that specific!), and it’s been my experience that most men assume that women in their field, whatever field that may be, simply aren’t as talented or skilled or smart as the men. I confess that I have taken advantage of this a few times to get a better deal at the flea market or antique shop (“oh gosh, I’m just a pretty girl, I don’t know anything at all about the real value of this piece, I just think it’s pretty, and all I have on me is $60”).

    Most of the time, however, it’s annoying. I get annoyed when men assume I’m the boss’s wife (because why else would a woman be at a horological trade show?). I get annoyed when men refuse to believe that I know what I’m talking about (she’s just a girl, how could she know anything about watches?). I get really annoyed when I realize that my high school art teacher made the right choice when she chose to hide her gender by using only her first initials and last name when signing her artwork, and I look around and see that male artists are still taken more seriously than women artists.

    Women might not be as brash or crass as their male counterparts, but that’s not a bad thing. We just have to stop letting the cowboys ride roughshod over us!


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