One year ago today, I wrote about attending my first SF Ruby meetup, where I met Sarah Mei, the only other woman in attendance. I wrote then that I hoped someday “to attend a meetup where I don’t personally double the number of women.”
I am pleased that my hope has come to fruition: I don’t think I have been at another Ruby event since then when I was the only or one of two women. My very next Ruby event had 6 women (out of 200) with as low a percentage, but Sarah and I decided to make a difference by teaching Ruby on Rails to other women and ever since I’ve enjoyed the company of many strong, technical women in the Ruby community.
My other remark about gender, one year ago today, was that “the guys treated me as more of a geek than a girl.” With an occasional high profile exception, the guys in the Ruby community are pretty welcoming toward women. We’ve never had to work very hard to recruit volunteers to help with workshops. I’ve often remarked that my experience this past year in the Ruby community is dramatically different than my previous experience in my ability to create substantive change with my efforts.
For the past twenty years I have worked toward gender balance in the field of software development. I’ve worked to recruit and hire women where I work and spoken to women’s groups and sought to encourage younger women to pursue careers in software development. In the past, my male colleagues have always encouraged me and told me that they were impressed by what I was doing. I always appreciated that support. This past year, I noticed a differences. Guys would come up to me and say “how can I help?” Men I never met in person would email me and say “can I paypal you some money to support what you are doing?” It is a whole new world. This different attitude set the stage to train over 200 women in the SF Bay Area in Ruby on Rails in less than a year. Together we created an environment where more women how up to the geek meetups and more women give presentations and there are more events for all genders. In 2010 we have a new initiative to make the workshops self-sustaining.
I believe that a lot of what makes the difference in the Ruby community is that it is an open source community. People are used to just pitching in where help is needed. People are used to giving back to make thing happen. But most of all what makes the difference is individuals who are willing to step up, who are willing to take the time to do work behind the scenes, who will do small, meaningful or seemingly trivial bit of work to make things happen. You know who you are and you are awesome.
I am proud and honored to have been part of the SF Ruby community for the past year. I look forward to finding out what happens next!