EP3: The Software Engineering Gender Gap. What's The Problem?
Renske gives a down-to-earth assessment about being a woman software developer in a male-dominated industry.
A lot of women are not suited to this type of job
Show notes

Renske Wijmans-Sterrenburg gives her answers to various questions related to why there are so few women software devs.

  • Is it a negative or netural thing that there are not more women in tech?
  • Should investments me made in attracting more women into the tech industry?
  • What could be done to attract more women into tech?
  • Men are focused on things, women on people. Is that a reason why fewer women are attracted in the first place.
  • Is it necessary for women to have the 'conventional' male traits in order to be interested.
  • Have you ever thought you weren't good enough to be a developer?
  • The traits that make women more suitable as developers than men.
  • The misconceptions about the skills software developers need.
  • The analytical and social skills needed to be a good developer.
  • The need to be assertive as a woman in tech.
  • Pair and mob programming.
  • Men often enter the industry because of a love for video games. Could that be connected to the number of males in the industry vs females?
  • Do the studies women are drawn to influence whether they're likely to end up in the tech industry?
  • Advice to women thinking about becoming a software developer.


[00:00:00] Christopher:

There's quite a sentiment out there that having women underrepresented in tech is a bad thing. Do you see it as necessarily a negative or is it just a fact of life?

[00:00:12] Renske:

No, I don't see it as a negative because I think in general, guys will be more attracted to this this kind of jobs than women and maybe even for the majority be more fit for it. But what I do think is that we need to make sure that the women have the same opportunities, so that the women that do want to do this job, that they can do it. But I think if we would look at the population that we always have more men and if you're going to force it any way other, I think it's just going to be problems because a lot of women I think, are not suited for this type of job. Just as well that I'm not suited for a job in a hospital.

[00:00:53] Christopher:

There are a few companies out there, or organizations at least, that think, not that it's a problem, but they are at least trying to actively get more women into tech.

[00:01:05] Renske:

I think that there should be money invested in some point but I don't think they should strive for equality because like I said before, I don't think equality would be ideal. I'm also very opposed to where a lot of women say there should be equal women and men in every education and everywhere in the world. I don't believe in that because I think there are main differences between men and women. The brain works a little bit differently but what I do think we need is that women get the same chances but also get people into the industry in a different way which makes it more appealing to women. I think we need to invest in that. So getting more women is fine but not trying to get certain numbers of women because I don't think that's realistic and also not ideal for the industry or for the women itself.

[00:02:05] Christopher:

I mean, I know there's not a direct equivalence here, but you wouldn't want to see an initiative to get more men into nursing or education. Is that..-

[00:02:12] Renske:

No, my mom works in education, and I know she's always saying about we need more guys there as well, but in the same manner as what I'm saying about women in tech. We need more women, I think, but not in equality, because I think that's never going to happen. And it's not realistic and not ideal. We need to make sure that the opportunities are big enough for women and that there's equality in opportunities and in the way we think about it and not literally in the amount of women in tech.

[00:02:44] Christopher:

Is there anything that you could think of that would need to happen to remove barriers or to increase the participation? Anything that would help you?

[00:02:52] Renske:

I think the general way of thinking about it so it's okay to think about there's more guys in tech than there are girls but at least when I was younger, when I said that I want to do something more technical, people just looked at me weirdly like what? You're a woman, what are you going to do there?

[00:03:07] Christopher:

Who friends?

[00:03:08] Renske:

Friends. My parents in high school did some testing, like, to see what profession would fit you. Like one of the things was a car technician, which was I felt really interesting, but my father just laughed at me. Of course I didn't go that way, but sort of those types of experiences do. Yeah. They influence you and you think more like tech stuff is not for me. Well, I think if you look at me for growing up, it's always been clear that I've been more interested in tech stuff. So I think that way of thinking and the way of encouraging should be different. And if that's the case, then I think the women that are suited for these type of jobs will eventually get there.

[00:03:53] Christopher:

I actually read an article about women pilots and they're also underrepresented I think it's something like I don't know if I read 5% or 8% and they were asking what are the reasons why there aren't more female pilots? There could be dozens of reasons but one of them was that the primary relationship that a pilot has is with a piece of machinery and I thought that's probably the same in software, right? It's your computer, that's your main thing. And women are if you read the studies, they're more people focused. Men are more focused on things.

[00:04:26] Renske:

I think that's partly true, indeed. I think I've always known that stereotype didn't apply to me because I realized a young girl, I was more attracted than doing boy stuff because I wasn't playing with dolls, I was trying to climb in trees and stuff like that.

[00:04:42] Christopher:

But then do you think it's necessary to be of I don't want to say a more boyish type, but let's take the stereotypical boy then. Is it necessary to be that way? Otherwise you wouldn't be interested in the industry?

[00:04:54] Renske:

No, I don't think so. When I started in It, I did a traineeship and there were quite a lot of women, actually. We were a group of I think nine. I think more than half was female. Not all of them were boys type, but there are certain personality features you kind of need, so the boys types might not be the right way of saying it, but there are certain qualities you need, I think, because you said.

[00:05:18] Christopher:

This is more maybe it's an industry more suited for mendy. Does it ever go through your mind, then, that I'm not good enough?

[00:05:25] Renske:

No. I've always thought I'm good enough to do this. I might even be at some levels be better than some of the guys. The real technical stuff there if I look at my current team there are guys that are better in the pure technical stuff because I also don't have a large background in tech. But there are also parts where I think I am better and that's mostly the more analytical part. So analyzing the problem and also when there's a book really thinking about the problems and solving it what I've always been experienced that I'm better at. And I also think there are other colleges that are more generally seen in women that can actually be very helpful in tech. Like memory. Women tend to remember everything. It's probably something that comes up in a lot of relationships as well.

[00:06:09] Christopher:

It's not always a good that the.

[00:06:13] Renske:

Woman says you forgot something again. But that's something I experience in my team as well. Very often that all the guys, they said I don't know anymore, that's about three weeks ago and then they come to me and then I still remember.

[00:06:25] Jessy:

That's true.

[00:06:27] Christopher:

Yeah. Because of course I should mention Jesse's in your team.

[00:06:33] Jessy:

No, I can vouch for that.

[00:06:36] Christopher:

It's probably like a misconception in the industry again, that everything we do is highly technical and nerdy. That's just not the case.

[00:06:44] Renske:

Most things we do is not very complex. You can just learn it or Google it or find some solution for it.

[00:06:51] Jessy:

Yeah, it's it's definitely not as technical as the average job listing would suggest, which is expert level knowledge in twelve programming languages and a bunch of other stuff.

[00:07:03] Christopher:

It's something I'm always complaining about. You look at any programmer job, it's 95% tech and then there's a little bit at the bottom that says you need to be a team player and have a few skills. But I would make that 50 50 at a minimum. And I'd even be tempted to say if your tech skills are just average, that's good enough because we value other things more.

[00:07:25] Renske:

It's more the analytical parts and the social skills that are really important and.

[00:07:31] Christopher:

Have you ever seen that to be lacking in teams that you've been in in the past?

[00:07:34] Renske:

Yes, I've had a couple of colleagues who really lack that. I had one senior colleague at my last company and he always tried to explain everything from experience, from tech experience and even that wasn't very good in him. But we got a lot of books there and I always try to approach it analytically. So let's say, okay, this is what happened and it either has to come from that and that and that and he was always saying, no, that can't be it, because that's programmed very well and I think you never know if you guys code, you never know what.

[00:08:09] Jessy:

Happens to verify everything.

[00:08:11] Renske:

Yes. You don't assume things are working perfectly and we always had discussions about it and in the end, quite often I was right. I think it's one of the qualities which if you want to be a woman in tech you need to have a little bit it shouldn't be too passive because otherwise the guys will just run over you so you need to have a little bit of assertiveness.

[00:08:35] Christopher:

Do you ever find yourself having to become more like that and more than you want to be even?

[00:08:40] Renske:

Yeah, I do sometimes but it's mainly in the online meetings where I struggle a lot because I'm the type of person who likes to let people talk and then say something. But online meetings and then it's just.

[00:08:54] Jessy:

And then you have all the additional drawbacks from online where you can't read facial cues and that sort of stuff. You don't know when somebody is about to stop talking and makes it difficult.

[00:09:04] Renske:

And I speak a lot louder. So even if I try to say something and they don't hear me, I think my colleagues noticed as well that if they meet me in real time that I'm a lot more present than when it's online meetings. Because I find it easier to talk than them if it's one of your.

[00:09:18] Christopher:

Colleagues told me that because you've only just started all of your teams meeting every three weeks just to get a bit more face time. And I think one of them said that was present. Yeah, much more present.

[00:09:31] Renske:

Yeah, we talked about that because we did a sort of sort of feedback session and I think all of the guys told me that and it's true. Yeah. My former company did a lot of pair programming or more programming, so we did a lot of with someone else program with someone else and you don't need to have a huge amount of knowledge about the tech with the two of you. You can figure it out. But you do need a lot of social skills, you need to be able to communicate with each other because usually what we do there was one guy typing is actually doing coding, but the other one was telling him what to code. So you need to be able to do that because not a lot of people can tell someone in a good way how to code. One of the colleagues who are working with now sometimes struggles with that as well and he tells me something, but not what I want her to be able to actually type it in. So that's a skill you need as well and that's not easy to get.

[00:10:28] Jessy:

Yeah, you need the social proficiency to make that work and even the way.

[00:10:32] Christopher:

You say it, I mean, the way you're communicating those situations really important.

[00:10:36] Jessy:

Yeah, I don't want to get annoyed when somebody asks me to do I won't do it.

[00:10:42] Renske:

I don't want to hear exactly technical what you need to type. It more like save something to the database instead of actually saying what you need to type in because that's way easier. And also think about it more, you.

[00:10:56] Jessy:

Don'T want somebody to say open your left brackets, then type to B or whatever. It doesn't work no.

[00:11:04] Renske:

During the time of Corona, we still pair programmed to a Mob program. But actually it was sometimes better than in person because you could just share your screen and we had a program which we could take over each other screen. So if you want to switch, then someone else was still typing, but it's on the other computer. For instance, when we did Mob, we actually had a tool, Mob Sir, which made a switch every time. So the keyboard was switched between people. So there was always one person typing, one person being the driver, so he was telling what to do and the other guy was like the observer, so correcting. Sometimes telling the driver to say something else because there was something incorrect. And then you switched every 20 minutes.

[00:11:49] Christopher:

Was that useful to have that structure?

[00:11:52] Renske:

Yeah, I really liked it that way. What we did have is that the guy typing is not the guy thinking. And I think it's sometimes hard to combine, especially for men who can't do.

[00:12:02] Christopher:

Two things at the same time.

[00:12:05] Renske:

You can say that I think it's good to move around the keyboard because then you have some time to think about in between as well, because if you're typing all the time, then you're not really thinking that much anymore.

[00:12:16] Jessy:

Yeah, and the point from earlier still stands like you're not in a purely technical position right now. You're mostly in a social situation. And there's actually another specific thing I want to ask you about if I look at myself and also a lot of the applicants that we've spoken to, a lot of them came into this field because of their love for video games and they wanted to be game developers and all that sort of stuff. Did you ever love for video games or anything like that?

[00:12:45] Renske:

I hate video games.

[00:12:46] Jessy:

You hate it?

[00:12:47] Renske:

Yeah. That's the one big difference I noticed between me and a lot of colleagues I had. Almost every one of them loves video games or if I had played them in the past, I have always hated them. I was forced to play them with my brother sometimes, but so no, that's something I really can't my colleagues start talking about video games, I just zone out.

[00:13:11] Christopher:

No, what are you doing then?

[00:13:13] Renske:

Maybe you're childhood, usually I was just playing sports. I was outside active playing sports or watching sports still I do that in my free time. And that's also something I noticed when I switched from sports data to Tech. I mentioned Shinky Connect, it's a Dutch shortwrack skater and there was a guy who had no idea who he was and I was thinking, oh my God, what sort of world did I end up in? No one knows who Sinkiknate is.

[00:13:42] Christopher:

Yeah, the sports and tech don't mix them. No, I like sports and I barely have a discussion about that. So you're not alone. I don't think that's the male female thing?

[00:13:53] Renske:

No. I've experienced a couple of colleagues who like sports as well, but in general.

[00:13:58] Christopher:

Tech guys just doesn't really mix.

[00:14:01] Jessy:

The reason I brought it up is because I think there is a decent influx of game developers into this industry, but if, for whatever reason, games just aren't as interesting to women, might contribute to those numbers.

[00:14:15] Renske:

Yeah, I think so, too.

[00:14:16] Christopher:

Indeed, the tradition is to hire from universities where the students have studied science and maths, those kind of hard engineering type degrees, which, again, women don't tend to go into as much.

[00:14:31] Renske:

Looking at education, for some parts, I think makes sense, because if people choose their education correctly, it tends to say something about what they're interested in. Because, for instance, when I started looking for studies, I also looked at the more social study, and I went to, like, an open day for that. And within ten minutes I knew, this is nothing for me. And that is because the type of thinking was not for me. And I think the type of thinking you learn how to study is interesting, but I think we should widen the race. So, like, the real social studies, you might not find a lot of people you can place easily in tech, I guess, but there's a lot of stuff in between in the gray area, which I think you can pull a lot of good tech guys from.

[00:15:17] Christopher:

Well, speaking of younger generations, if there are women thinking about coming into this industry, what would you say?

[00:15:25] Renske:

I would definitely recommend it, because if you want to, there's enough possibilities, and I really like my job, so I would go for it. What I would recommend is just if you want to do it, just do it. And don't let anyone tell you you can't do it good enough or anything. If you want to and you think you're good enough, just go for it.

[00:15:47] Christopher:

Nice. All right. That's a good way to end it, then. Thanks for coming on Renske.

[00:15:51] Renske:

Yes, no problem.

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