Gender, race and technology

When I grew up, we never discussed nationalities in my family. My entire mother’s family emigrated from Spain. And despite my father is Venezuelan, his grandfathers were Italian immigrants. So discussing people’s nationalities was futile in our family. Not part of our DNA.

Also, we never established gender or race differences. We simply didn’t discuss about it. Not because we ignored it, just because we thought it was futile, as with nationalities. So I grew up with this state of mind, which somehow reinforced what I was taught in school and later in college.

I started my IT career developing free and open source software, specifically, in the Debian Project. Despite the fact that there are several popular open source products, and that the concept is pretty popular and mainstream now, I was astonished by the incredible lack of balance in gender participation in the Debian Conferences.

Later on, when I joined Microsoft and started attending their conferences, I saw MUCH more women participating, but still definitely not an equal, overwhelming representation.

This week, I was interviewed in ECTV (Ecuador’s Public TV) as part of my collaboration with QuitoTech, a tech club and start-up incubator funded by the City of Quito where I’m helping out as an ad-honorem mentor for the Software Development Club.

In this interview, conducted by Ms. María Isabel Cevallos in the “Lo Público” program, I invited women to join our club (we only have 2 out of 50) as I strongly believe that the club provides roles that can be fulfilled by amazing people from all over the country.

So Ms. Cevallos said that when it comes down to good ideas, she doesn’t make gender distinctions. And I don’t, either. But then, why do we only have 2 women in a 50+ group? As I started thinking why the question is obvious to me while not obvious to others, I think it is because of my professional experience in worldwide IT projects.

For example, my wife joined Debian Women several years ago. Back in Venezuela, I know tenths of incredible female professionals doing awesome things in their expertise areas. And in Ecuador, I had the opportunity to mentor the Kany Warmis all-female team that represented Ecuador in the Sydney, Australia Imagine Cup Finals.

And then it struck me: I know there is female talent in Venezuela, in Ecuador, and in Quito. But they’re not taking part in all projects. So it’s not a matter of gender distinctions, it’s a matter of attracting talent. Of course there’s an ongoing discussion on what should be done in order to have welcoming environments, but in general I think that the first welcoming environment should be one that is attractive.

But it also struck me that, as in most conversations, being part of the status quo (that is, male, in this case) does not help with me making a point. And it’s frustrating. Because in the end, if we don’t make gender distinctions when it comes down to good ideas, then why I only have 2 females participating in a 50 person programming group?

I think it’s a fair question. Hopefully, and leaving gender disucssions aside, the TV interview will help give more awareness on the topic.

By the way, the group is called “QuitoPrograma” in Facebook. Feel free to join. Cleverly encrypted in spanish.

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