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Opinion

WWDC 2014 – Where are the Girl Geeks?

Apple’s week-long 2014 World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) launched today with a love letter from Apple’s users to the third-party developers who bring the magic to their iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones and iPads.

The pre-prepared video introduction posed this question to a selection of app users: “What do you think developers look like?”

Women being asked what she thinks developers look like

“What do YOU think developers look like?”

Bloody hell! When I spent five years at university to pursue my dream of being a developer, I didn’t expect my physical appearance to be any kind of defining characteristic, let alone the primary one to be discussed at a technology conference. Actually, the thought of it terrifies me! But let’s roll with it. Say, do you suppose the old anti-social male developer stereotype is still prevalent? Let’s check out the exact responses which Apple included for broadcast:

“I think a developer would look like a geek.”

Okay, that’s a fair start. Anyone can throw on a t-shirt with their favourite RFC printed on the back. What’s next?

“Nerdy, plaid…”

Urgh, plaid? That’s gross, but it’s a crime that a person of any gender identity is free to commit. Next?

“Unshaven, glasses…”

Ah, here we go. Now we’re into the declaration that “developers are guys”. Maybe we’ll get an implied “developers can be women” next?

“Spikey hair, beard…”

Anyone can rock a spikey do, but — let’s be honest — when the average person on the street thinks “beard”, they think “dude”. Here’s hoping for some geek girl inclusion in the next line…

“A guy behind a door that’s got enough of a crack they can slide a pizza underneath…”

Wow. Now we’re not just describing dudes, but dudes who find human contact so abhorrent that their food is squeezed to them through a hole. Doesn’t that just sound like every disturbing scene of solitary confinement in every awful prison movie you’ve ever seen? Why is this meme still alive? Why isn’t anybody celebrating unconferences, hackathons or code camps where people get together, socialise, and have a great time?

Okay, one last line. What have we got?

“I think you won’t even know who a developer is, I think you’d be surprised.”

Too right, you’d be surprised — this video doesn’t even come close to representing the reality I live and work in.

A huge proportion of the developers I work with are women. More than a smattering of the developers I know identify beyond the gender binary. We’re a diverse bunch: social, fun-loving, plaid-shunning and even eating out when we can afford it. If you were to watch this keynote introduction, and other introductions like it, you’d think we’re an industry of scruffy, hairy, socially-oblivious bedroom hackers. Okay, so some of us are, but our industry deserves better representation, otherwise we’ll miss some great talent who cringes at the thought of sharing an office with these stereotypes.

Anyway, how did the rest of the keynote go? Great!if you’re a white dude. You could argue that Dr Dre was there, but an invisible phone-in doesn’t count. The biggest, most public shake-up of Apple’s racial diversity in my living memory, and the guy doesn’t even show his face? They’ll sell you a hundred reasons and opportunities to use FaceTime, but this ain’t one of them?

Though, really, how much diversity do you expect to see from a board of executives like this?

Apple's executive board

Apple’s executive board

I’ll be honest, it would’ve been awkward to see Apple’s only female executive, Angela Ahrendts, shoe-horned into the event. She’s the Vice President of Retail, and this was squarely a technical event for developers. But why doesn’t a company like Apple — so modern, liberal and desired — have more female senior technical staff?

So, the presentation was a parade of white dude after white dude. Not even the third-party guest speakers had any diversity to offer.

Now, to be fair, some women did have a role to play in the keynote. Not many, but a few! They didn’t say much… or even anything at all. They didn’t demonstrate anything they’d worked on, or present anything at all technical. In fact, their only role was to look good in photographs. They didn’t present a technical demonstration; they were the technical demonstration. This is, apparently, what it takes for a woman to be invited on-stage at an Apple developer conference: to look cute with a puppy.

Women holding a puppy

“Just hold the puppy and look cute. Leave the science to us.”

Tim Cook tells us there are 9 million developers building on Apple’s platforms. 9 million! But if you took a look at Apple’s keynote today, you’d think every single one of them was a man.

Developers on the iOS platform have earned a sum total of over $15 billion. 15 billion! I’d love to encourage girls in schools, colleges and universities to go and take a piece of that pie, but the chiefs of our industry have engineered a subtle, but undeniable, rule for who lives in their world, and it takes extraordinary strength to stand out in a world so dominated.

Discussion

One Response to “WWDC 2014 – Where are the Girl Geeks?”

  1. I’m not a woman, but I can’t agree more – it’s a shame that when people think of programmer, they thing men.
    If all people could change the way they think of developers and see how enjoyable developing is, I think there will be a massive amount of woman programming – because they found out that it’s enjoyable yet challenging; what I think is the criteria for the perfect job.

    Posted by fincol | 10 June 2014, 12:10 am

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