On being a woman in tech slowly promoted out of tech

webchick's picture

This has been on my mind lately, and I thought it'd make a nice discussion topic for this group.

When I first came to the Drupal community back in 2005, I was just out of school, and a full-on web developer geek. My days consisted of PHP, SQL, (X)HTML, CSS, and JS, plus a smattering of other languages like C# and Java. I wrote modules and themes. I wrote technical documentation. I wrote core patches.

Fast-forward 5.5 years to now. I've given away all of my old contributed projects to other maintainers. I've been promoted to essentially a "project manager" for the most sprawling, complicated project we as a community have: Drupal core. I review other peoples' core patches, rather than writing my own. I spend a lot of time keeping a pulse on what goes on in the Drupal community, and use that to help contributors to coordinate and combine efforts. I stop core developers from killing each other (usually). And in my "day job," instead of writing code and building out sites, I'm generally either flying around the world teaching people about Drupal, or I'm supervising our developers on staff and spending my days in Unfuddle, Skype, and Mail.app. It's a rare treat when I get to open up vim, and when I do, it usually takes me a bit of time to get into the flow of coding, where it used to come easily and naturally. :\

I don't mean to imply that this new work isn't rewarding or important; it is. In fact, herding cats actually has a uniquely challenging strategic factor not unlike a 15-dimensional chess game or something that does a lot to satisfy my innately geeky cravings. But it's definitely... different. And I don't think it's something 2005 webchick ever pictured herself doing, and in fact she might have run screaming from Drupal then had she known this is how it would all turn out. :D

Has anyone else found themselves having gone through (or going through) this transition, of basically being slowly promoted out of the very technology that brought you into the field in the first place? How do you stay in touch with your "roots", or do you just give up one day and resign yourself to being a manager? And finally, how do you reconcile being an "out and proud" woman in tech with the cold, hard facts of circumstances gradually leading you further and further away from your IDE?


I'm sure your story resonates

stewsnooze's picture

I'm sure your story resonates with many techies who have been promoted to development manager in the corporate world.

I've gone full circle on this. I worked on a decent sized Drupal site as the manager and didn't do half as much coding as I would have liked to do. I felt lost at times. Then one day I just left and jumped back into coding. However because of my career history I ended up being hired by companies to help with their Drupal processes and team building.

So I got hired for both the techie and the human side of Drupal builds. Both sides of my brain get regular exercise from this variety and I've grown to love it.

My experience tells me I need to do both now because if I stop the "herding" I'll get separation anxiety from that part in the same way I had it for coding.

I hope you will do both too.

Good luck and get started on the coding again today.

(Edit: Only just saw the group this is in. That will teach me to blindly comment on a link on twitter. Still I stand by my words)

Full Fat Things ( http://fullfatthings.com ), my Drupal consultancy that makes sites fast.

i've also been full circle

joshuqma's picture

i've also been full circle with this... consulting is the way to go :)

I love drupal!
http://www.culini.com - my restaurant site

i am in .....

Sree's picture

Even I am in the transition state now.
But, currently heading towards the architecture, design, automated approaches, capability building etc etc

But, again its a mixture of being at both the ends ....


It's not just in tech

KarenS's picture

It's not just in tech -- if you're good at what you do you get bumped to management. That's a compliment of course, but also a quandary because 'managing' is not the same as 'doing'. I've gone through this transition more than once myself. I actually know some people that have refused promotions or asked to be moved back to their old job so they could get back to 'doing'.

I think the key is to try to carve out some time to keep doing the 'doing' -- even if it's not part of your official duties -- just for the personal satisfaction. Pick out something interesting that someone else is trying to do and try to solve it yourself, in your own way, just to see if you can. Or jump on Skype and help someone else solve a problem so you can be involved in the process and not just oversee the result. Webchick, I know that there are probably no more hours in the day for you to do things on top of everything else, so that will be a challenge. Maybe things will get a little easier now that D7 is officially released (maybe I'm dreaming, but maybe.)

me too

nicolamj's picture

I'm in this transitional phase too.... I love both types of work, actually, but since I identify as a feminist, it feels a little like I'm letting the 'sisterhood' down. Here I am spouting off about how there need to be more technical women and isn't it great to be a technical woman, but meanwhile my work isn't purely technical.

What's the stereotype? That the guys do all the coding and then they bring in some ladies to do 'soft' things like project management, marketing, support, etc. (Frankly, I personally think that all those roles can be hard and rewarding and necessary for a efficient workplace.)

When you walk into a room as a woman, people make assumptions about you, and it gives me great pleasure to bust those assumptions - I guess I'll still be doing that in a different way. And if I'm happy and fulfilled, what do I care what people think!

Yes. This.

webchick's picture

This is the main reason I posted this here, instead of a more general group, since obviously the coder -> manager -> omgwtfbbq transition is something that knows no gender, race, age, etc. boundaries. But with women developers specifically, there's almost always this irritating stereotype you have to break through within any given tech community that you're NOT someone's girlfriend|a marketing person|a project manager|a designer|a business person but actually a full-on geeky programmer with Linux chops who really enjoys building things.

And it's NOT that marketing people, designers, project managers, and business people are somehow "less" than programmers. I'm the first one to sing from the rafters how important it is to attract and retain a wide diversity of contributors and that open source projects are NOT just about code. And the work that project managers do, for example (I now know from first-hand experience), is in many ways even more mentally stimulating than figuring out a tricky algorithm. After all, the interpreter/compiler will typically tell you when you've made a mistake; in project management it's down to you to do that for your team, and you need to develop your own "spidey sense" for this over time and make sure 1,000 little pieces are fitting together just so.

But yet, I can definitely relate to the statement "I identify as a feminist, it feels a little like I'm letting the 'sisterhood' down. Here I am spouting off about how there need to be more technical women and isn't it great to be a technical woman, but meanwhile my work isn't purely technical."

One of my side projects atm is helping with Drupal.org's CVS -> Git migration. Folks will start talking about Twisted SSH daemons and Puppet and Jenkins and other things I don't really grok. There was a point in my life where my response to this would be, "I actually don't know what you're talking about, yet. So tonight I'm going to fire up a Linux VM and install all this stuff and play around with it so that tomorrow I can help." Now, my response is more like, "I actually don't know what you're talking about, and couldn't possibly make the time to come up to speed on it myself enough to be useful. So just bear in mind that these other 28 things are going on, the sprint ends on Friday, and our launch date is coming up within the next 2 weeks. Try talking to foo person, they might be able to help." While it's important to have someone (or two) with that level of knowledge in the project, it's often difficult to reconcile that reality with the position I hold within the community and within Drupalchix, specifically. :\

However, I really like your perspective on this. That you still get to bust down those rotten assumptions, just in a different way. :D Awesome.

I can completely relate to

brenda003's picture

I can completely relate to this and I'm glad you brought up this discussion, though my situation may be different the idea is the same.

My small story is that I'm a developer/programmer-- that's what I do and I love to do it, but my skills also vary and it turns out I'm also really good at troubleshooting and fixing others' developer related issues, too. That is, doing Drupal support, and found myself a few years ago going from a Drupal dev position to a support one. To most people this looked like a step down and there really is very little respect for someone who does "support". But I loved the job, it pushed my skills to the edge and I was able to learn a lot on a variety of things. I found it challenging and very satisfying. Fast forward 2 years and being blown off by anyone but those who directly worked with me as some sort of less than developer person, I quit to get a software engineer position elsewhere primarily because I went from being a woman that was able to say why yes, I do code and feeling proud of that to just being embarrassed of what I do. Because yes, as a woman it's a really awesome feeling to break down those assumptions.

In the end, though, I returned to my support position with a great and awesome team of people. It combines my various skills in a way I thoroughly enjoy. It still bugs me now and then that I'm not holding the developer flag as a woman, but eh... I know I'm awesome and that's good enough for me. ;)

I hope you find more chances to open up vim and dive into the code, webchick. It's no doubt you're awesome at what you do, whatever it is.


dianamontalion's picture

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to join this conversation. You know I'd walk ten blocks on crutches until my hand bled to talk about this.

Yes, to all of the above. Well said. And the comments below finished saying almost all that I've thought, felt, and experienced. I agree that there is a constant "push", a current, towards a more feminine use of skills. It is harder to say "no" to this push when the truth is, I care about those uses. And I like doing both kinds of work. I love inventing solutions and processes and relating as much as I love to build. Well, almost. Yet, as soon as I give into the push, I feel like the techie part of me, the one that swam so hard against the current to get this far, is carried back to shore. And the more I don't go home at night and swim (as you say above, Angie) the further behind the strong swimmers I fall. I have only one thing to add . . .

I've begun to see all web dev work as essentially a network of relationships. Relationships between business goals and web solutions, between a user and a site, developers and clients, developers and other developers, front end and back end functionality, tasks and the time to do them, problems and many possible solutions, marketing and production, etc, etc. One big web of connections, requiring the ability to manage multiple relationships of various types on many different levels simultaneously. Relationships that need constant tending. I think the "constant tending" aspect of our work, our client relations, our projects, each other, is often invisible (and probably the main cause of burn out). Those of us drawn to tending are going to hear the call of all those relational needs - especially all the needs that go unmet - and feel drawn to meet them. Some of us are going to be better at relational complication and tending than others. And the ones who are good, are going to be "pushed" towards doing more of it. Relating.

I'm not necessarily saying there is a lack of empathetic relating in this field, though I will say there is a need for better relationship skills, only that there is always a need and desire for more of those skills. And the tricky part can be . . . do those who don't hear that relational call, or are more comfortable not listening, get to "stay in the code" more easily? Does it give them more time in the day and at night? Is that the balance we are trying to strike while simultaneously making the imbalance visible?


Pedro Lozano's picture

It happens to everyone men/woman, tech/non-tech, community/enterprise,...

as you get more experience you will be required for higher level task. The usual path for many in a tech company is to start as a developer, get to project manager, unit manager, cto, ....


aveldina's picture

I don't have a lot to add, as I am your 2005 self just out of school, developing and hanging out with my linux servers. But with technical people few and far between where I work, and the amount of cat herding I already do, I can tell this is the track I'm getting placed on as well. I love my day to day technical work and I'm not sure if I'm ready to leave that anytime soon.

How do you know if you ever are ready to leave technical work for management, or if you're missing an opportunity if you turn a promotion down/move on?


ashedryden's picture

I understand where you're coming from.

I really don't care for managing people - it's not my passion. In a lot of technical jobs, though, that is the natural progression because "isnt that what everyone wants?" according to the non-technical types?

I've been fortunate enough to be in a place owning a business with 3 friends that I can still do the things I love and feel like I'm able to advance without losing that. I feel I'll always want to work on a team where hierarchy is less important and being able to be continually learning new things is more important.

You're in a unique situation, obviously, but it still resonates with many in the technical fields.


sun's picture

It is all about fun. And what makes most fun for you.

You'll do more stuff that makes more fun. Relatively.

You quit doing stuff that makes less fun. Absolutely.

In a good environment, there's nothing to worry about.

It's fun that makes you sing about all worries aloud.

And if you're not happy, all you need to be is brave.

And dance.

Daniel F. Kudwien
unleashed mind

I have the same problem. I

Jody Lynn's picture

I have the same problem. I came for the code but seem to stay in the conference room.

I don't think it's gender-related, except in any correlation between good communication skills and gender.

Ultimately though we have the power to shift our work more to what we like instead of what adds the most efficiency to the team. You just have to bump up your own satisfaction as a priority and not be so selfless.

Great topic

jengraph's picture

Daniel, loved that post, I've shared it on Facebook I hope you don't mind, its great!

All the above, so very true. I was a business owner (freelanced) full time, didn't like the managing role as much but did it anyway, I wanted to work more behind the scenes on projects, led me to my full-time job I now have and its been amazing to work with teams of people on variety of tasks/projects with the latest technology. Drupal is one of those project I've had to learn and this group/people/website has been beneficial!

I can relate going from one transition to another, I came from print design background to web designer/programmer now, I can remember years ago debating on making the decision to move forward into web design/coding, I wasn't sure if I was into coding/programming. It is a transition like anything else, if you're motivated and willing to learn a person can do it! I haven't been pushing myself to go for more leader/managerial role for the same reasons stated here in this thread, I'm afraid I wouldn't be happy doing less coding, and managing more people/projects. I like to get my hands dirty on a project, working on design and code too, I get more satisfaction when things come together on a project. I do work in a department where I'm the only gal, that itself was a transition, it too me awhile to learn and accept the environment, now I'm pretty happy to be where I am now.

You guys are great, learning lots of Drupal!


Michelle's picture

I hope I never end up in that position. I have 0 interest in being a manager. I just want to write code and build sites. Hopefully, when I return to the workforce, I will find a company that will let me do it without any nonsense about having to have a career path.


I hear you. A couple months

lisarex's picture

I hear you. A couple months ago I realised I hadn't done any real Drupal site building in months. I'd even forgotten some of the basics. That freaked me right out. Now I am more proactive on ensuring I'm doing actual site building, because making stuff is fun! I still have lots of other project management, marketing, writing and other tasks that come with helping run a Drupal shop, but I'd never want to give up site building.


First a sidenote for

arianek's picture

First a sidenote for @stwesnooze: though the IRC channel and some BOFs/meetups are Drupalchix-only, members of the Drupalchix Solidarity Committee and Allied Auxiliary Service (ie. male allies, awesome wording c/o @bangpound) are ALWAYS welcome to contribute to discussions here on g.d.o and to join the group! Welcome. :)

So, here's my take on this:

I think it is purely two things at play. 1) Being good at both the technical and interpersonal/communications sides of things and 2) Being willing to move away from just developing.

I think anyone who is good at understanding and building on the technical side and is also good with people and good at talking/writing is going to naturally be pulled in that direction. There aren't a lot of people who can balance a ton of projects at once AND multitask AND keep the peace AND review specs AND interface with clients all at once.

But also, maybe more guys are just acknowledging and saying, "actually no, I really want to build stuff, I don't want to manage people".

My first two years of my undergrad degree (before switching to geography) I studied technical theater, specializing in lighting design. Then I realized that I didn't really love lighting design, I liked being a lighting tech. Up on ladders, hanging from rafters lugging around lights half my size. But because of my ability to manage people well and think "big picture", I was pushed into design and managing the other techs.

Just like nearly a decade later when I had been doing a lot of Drupal "site building" and considering getting more into development, but was offered a job as a Project Manager at a company I really wanted to work for. I knew this would mean sacrificing learning development full-time, at least for the next while. But also, I was aware that there weren't a lot of other people who had the broad skills and also willingness to take on being the jack of all trades, mediator, super-organized wrangler, and person who facilitates a team of people to do development full time. It has its own challenges and rewards, but it's just different from doing dev work.

There's definitely a sacrifice involved in moving into a management position, but you also get insight and opportunities that might not arise otherwise. And if that doesn't seem to be sitting well with anyone I think that there is nothing at all wrong with deciding that you want to go back to developing full-time. Regardless of what your background, skill-level, or gender is, I think that this is something many of us will have to think about at some point!

Thanks for starting this

Mediacurrent's picture

Thanks for starting this thread Angie - I've had the pleasure of screening a lot of job applicants in my former profession, and hired a lot of Drupal personnel particularly as a Partner in a Drupal-centric firm. One of my favorite interview questions is "where have you been the most fulfilled professionally." Of course, there is no right answer, but its interesting that the responses usually involve what someone use to do v. what they are currently doing. For many serial entrepreneurs, there is usually a brief euphoric moment of accomplishment when they take a company public or something, but ultimately they yearn to immediately start over again - its really the challenge that excites them, not a big pay-day.

In short, to paraphrase sun's comment - do whatever makes you the happiest.



Dilbert cartoons provided a warning

jdwalling's picture

Dilbert cartoons provided a warning for me when I moved from technical to management in the early ninties. I knew I had a problem when programmers started posting Dilbert cartoons on the bulletin board. I felt like someone who had injured his leg in a marathon race and was pushed to the sideline as spectator/commentator. I was happiest slogging code.

I switched careers to

harriska2's picture

I switched careers to education and made my own nonprofit.

Got me thinking...

cindyr's picture

I'm considering a change like this right now, and you've got me thinking hard. Any change in life tends to bring on rewards and disappointments. You can "grieve" what you've lost, but as long as you're enjoying new challenges, it really depends on where the scale tips. Are you happy or not?

I took a Work/Life Balance class years ago, and the point was that you essentially have two lives: work and personal. The two need to balance each other. If your work life is rewarding in many ways, can you temper its disappointments by taking on those same challenges in your personal life? Don't let work take over every hour of your days, and make sure you're doing what you want to do in those non-work hours (other than sleeping!) That may mean writing code, or it may mean learning yoga.

One piece of advice, I would not recommend "giving up entirely." If you do, the very knowledge that made you a good manager slips away, and you become a Dilbert manager. You need to stay in touch for professional effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

I recently blogged about a

hanpersand's picture

I recently blogged about a similar topic WRT the nonprofit tech community and "accidental techies"--self-taught techies in nonprofit orgs who are very frequently women. In the nonprofit sector, there are a lot of women who discover they are technically inclined by "accident" (often after majoring in humanities), and then they start learning about tech and loving it and building their skills. This happens a lot in nonprofits because, at least until recently, many orgs treated tech as an afterthought, so there were staff gaps into which anyone tech inclined could jump. And many women did.

But if these "accidental techies" who want to go further as career techs aren't pushy and/or determined, then I think that women with a mix of "softer" and more hardcore technical skills often get tracked into those softer tech positions. My blog post (which is over on the NTEN.org blog) drew from a post last year by Clay Shirky, who wrote that he believed his male students were more pushy than his female students, and he saw women missing out on career opportunities for that reason. (This blog post later turned into a really interesting Women Who Tech telesummit panel, which you can listen to here.)

Angie, I know that you're on the other side of having established yourself a tech career, but Shirky's post made me think a lot about how much I, personally, have always felt pushed toward the "softer" side of my skill set (my own career has been built on a mix of site building/front-end code and tech strategy/communication). At some point, I wonder if many women like me are experiencing those subtle (and, of course, not-so-subtle) pushes away from pure tech, and that becomes one of the cultural undercurrents that contributes to this ongoing scarcity of women developers.

Just some thoughts. And for what it's worth, Angie, I am grateful for your presence and visibility in the Drupal community, and your awesome contributions to it, whatever form that all continues to take.

something beautiful

anarcat's picture

First, note that I commenting here even though I am male and may not be able to appreciate the gender dynamics at play here. I still feel that I can totally relate to your situation and I hope my comments can help you or others stuck in this situation somehow.

I am living through similar issues these days. In my day job, I used to do a lot of coding and systems engineering and deployment. I had the feeling I was actually producing something, and if I pushed my mind and my fingers long enough, bugs would be fixed, servers deployed and basically, something beautiful would sprout.

Now I'm watching others do this. For some reason I can't totally understand, my technical capabilities now actually hinder my capacity to apply them. Because what I call "technical authority" develops naturally, even in self-managed/horizontal organisations like ours, I get more and more drawn towards managerial roles, meetings, answering, training and helping other people, and as a consequence my technical capabilities actually decline over time. I believe this is a a cynical and twisted fate that is imposed upon us by hierarchical structures and specialization.

My take on it is that it's possible to refuse that trend. Do not become a manager if you don't want to. I am in the process of trying to remove myself from a lot of decision-making processes in the organisation and cleanup the backlog of "poutine" (ie. random administrative crap i have to deal with) to be able to focus on what I actually like to do. Maybe I am just being naive and I won't be able to pull this off, but I sincerely believe that we, as a collective, have a shared responsibility towards management (ie. everybody should manage their own stuff) and respecting our workers desires to do what they do best. Putting a programmer in a management role doesn't make him/her a manager, it's just a programmer in a management role, and it may not be the best fit.

I am trying to not specialize myself in management, basically. And it's surprisingly hard, because the system wants us to become "bosses", even though that's a very inefficient way to do things: I believe that workers are the best to know and understand their own work and that while some coordination is necessary, it can be accomplished without hierarchy.

A possible alternative to just refusing management and sticking to tech work is to focus more on training. I really enjoy giving training. I think it's a good way to use my knowledge in a very efficient manner by sharing it with others. It also allows me to learn more things, as students and teachers often reverse roles more often than we can imagine. So if somebody is going to try to bring you up the ladder, try to go into those sweet spots where you help (instead of boss) other people.

Note I do not mean to diminish non-technical roles here. I have a specific grunt against management and authoritarian approaches, and I do not believe that all non-technical aspects are bad - I just believe specialization is especially problematic in that field.

Another thing. I also relate with the "herding cats" and "stopping core devs from killing each other" problem. I am sometimes placed in the role of coordinating a bunch of geeks, and it can be very frustrating. I have also dealt with conflicts within the team (and sometimes been a source or target of conflict too, obviously), and this is delicate work that is really hard to do, very important and often under-estimated and under-appreciated..

I feel a lot of people do not take responsibility for their behavior and threaten the fabric of the community they are in by being violent, threatening, aggressive or just mean with each other. I could be mistaken, but women (or "gentle men", i could say) very often end up in the role of doing conflict resolution and mediation. I can certainly appreciate the role that mediators can play in conflicts, and I think this is really important work. But people (often men, and sometimes me even) sometimes do not take their own responsibilities in there. As men, we need to grow up and resolve our own interpersonal issues by ourselves.

To finish, I'll join the chorus of "thank you" and I hope that you can find your way and be happy in your work, that's all that really matters in the end. Any path you take from here, you can be proud of the work you have done as a geek, teacher, manager or whatever role you end up taking in the future. You are great and you don't have to be a hero. :)

Long-time feminist engineer/sw developer

vgriffin's picture

I've been writing code for 45 years, getting paid for it for 40. My degrees are in EE. I'm very happy to see this sort of discussion is still going on. I've had problems with women who called themselves feminists, but still thought women should only work in "nurturing" professions--teaching, social work, medicine, maybe law. Nothing really techie.

I've fought battles to remain a techie instead of moving up into management. I like being tech lead. I like figuring out the gnarliest problems around. I like being able to instantly see connections others have overlooked. For me, part of my reward is the act of creating something that makes people's lives better in some way, when I start with only an idea and use the computer to transform that idea into something useful.

I love having people tell me that I'm an inspiration because I've stayed current in my work.

I work with lots of different computer technologies. I'm using Drupal to create a web site for a community organization. Similar organizations are generally using website-out-of-a box, static designs. I want interactivity and see Drupal as a tool to make information more attractive to people. Yes, I've had a learning curve, but learning new things is part of what makes this profession fun.

In my day job, I do a lot of work in Java and JSF. I've used lots of other technologies, too.

One of the things I have noticed is that women are often more concerned with the people who use the software. We tend to be the ones who ask the users what they would like software to do and to get excited about making their lives easier. We're the ones who make friends in other groups and exchange information that helps all of us create better programs. We can often see the big picture and the little details simultaneously. We're more willing to ask questions.

I hope there are becoming enough of us to influence workplace culture to reduce the "silo-ing" of information that's been so common throughout my career.

Yup, me toosies

BluPomplemous's picture

I started out as a coder (not a REAL developer), and then was moved into management quickly. It's been ten+ years now and I still love to roll up my sleeves and troubleshoot. Finding the balance between the satisfying hands-on and the satisfying orchestration & quality control is tough. I try and sneak a bit of hands-on time into every project, otherwise I am really only able to do it in my "free time". I have thought a bit about taking a step back and just doing a hands-on project now and again but that would be easier for someone like me who works on a project-to-project basis than fulltimers. I don't think fulltimers get to reinvent themselves to suit their moods as much.

I too have heard that women generally make better managers then men because of inherent communication skills, but I had never thought of promotion as taking away from the techie girlpower.