Influential women in technology and science today (V): women programmers

Far from being a magic unicorn, jumping over rainbows, women programmers are not mythological creatures any more. We, at Holaluz, know that, because it’s part of our immediate reality. However, we know that ours is not the average situation and that there has been a long path up to this point. Figures like Ada Lovelace, the ENIAC programmers or Mary Allen Wilkes have served as a reference for the current generation of women in software industry, such as Anna, Mavi and Paula, members of the tech team at Holaluz. We had a coffee with them and shared opinions and experiences about the role of programmers when you happen to be a woman.

The pioneers

An extensive report in the New York Times highlighted that women were not only present at the beginning of programming but played a key role. “During World War II, women operated some of the first computational machines used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park in Britain. And when digital computers finally became a practical reality in the 1940s, women were again pioneers in writing software for the machines. (…) At that time, men in the computing industry regarded writing code as a secondary, less interesting task.”

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the number of coding jobs exploded and employers sought candidates who were logical, good at math and meticulous. And this is where gender stereotypes worked in women’s favor as it was assumed that these skills naturally belonged to women. “I still have a very picky, precise mind, to a fault. I notice pictures that are crooked on the wall”, states Mary Allen Wilkes, former programmer and one of the first people on the planet to have a personal computer in her home: the LINC computer.

Is there something like “natural programmer skills”?

Just like Wilkes, Anna, Mavi or Paula got involved in programming although it wasn’t in the first place as a career move. What all of them have in common is arriving at this job from very different intellectual preparations, suitable to develop their position. For example, as Mary Allen Wilkes, Paula Julve, PHP Engineer at Holaluz, studied a philosophy major. This includes subjects such as symbolic logic, which involves using statements and propositions in a way that resembles coding. “I love maths and data. Programmer is a very wide concept which gathers diverse backgrounds”, says Anna Artigas, physicist and Big Data Lead at Holaluz.

Women in the software industry today

Women working in software are not mythological creatures, but are still a minority. Percentages are slowly rising in tech teams, but there’s still a long way to go in a world largely dominated by men, including the lack of role-models and inequality at universities. As the NYT above-mentioned report highlighted, “in 1960, the proportion of women in computing and mathematical professions was 27 percent. It reached 35 percent in 1990. That was the peak. The numbers fell after that, and by 2013, women were down to 26 percent — below their share in 1960.” Although Paula, Mavi and Anna agree that the infamous glass ceiling is still a reality, they also detect winds of change, thanks to the arrival of new computer programmers from disciplines such as data science and data engineering or bootcamps for developers. When talking about the latter, Paula states that “these are helping women a lot, validating and supporting with a degree.”

Holaluz: an oasis for female programmers

“It used to be me, and a lot of men. Now things are changing: there are many women. But of course, it’s my reality” says Anna. Holaluz is Anna’s immediate reality. An environment that both attracted and surprised Mavi Jiménez, PHP Engineer and the first woman programmer at Holaluz: “At first you see Carlota and then you are introduced to very young girls like Júlia (Júlia Botella), who runs the second line of business in the company and you realize that you can find really strong role-models in women working here.” “We try to use neutral pronouns and inclusive language at meetings. It may sound anecdotal but it indicates how important inclusion is at Holaluz”, reckons Anna. “Here at Holaluz it has been understood that roles are non-hierarchical. A programming team needs collaboration and egos do nothing for it”, adds Paula. And she gives us this fact, heard at a conference by Raquel Lainde, expert in diversity and inclusion: “a diverse company gives 30% more profits”.

So, if you liked what you read and want to work with brilliant minds such as Anna, Paula or Mavi, you may find your place here at Holaluz. :) Work with us!

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