By Tim Berthold
Yesterday I read this in the Starting Gate.
To recap, a UM female student seeking to improve her programming skills showed up to a “hackathon” and experienced what she felt was degrading behavior from her male teammates. According to the article, other female students have experienced similar behavior at other events.
Some might call it mild sexism. It might not be rampant, but it seems to show up enough to be an issue.
Either way, it ticked me off. Here are three reasons why:
Reason #1: Miami is young. We have an opportunity to create the kind of tech ecosystem that we want, one that differs from Silicon Valley where gender and racial biases permeate the startup culture. Not convinced it’s real? Listen to this episode of the Startup Podcast.
Reason #2: I come from the military. A very male-dominated part of the military. And I’m proud to see the military I left over ten years ago become the inclusive organization it is today. It didn’t get that way by belittling women, minorities, or anyone else. I want no part of an ecosystem that condones such behavior toward anyone. Thankfully, these adolescent-minded coders don’t reflect the entire community.
Reason #3: The behavior described is indicative of a culture that values status over learning. “I’m good at coding” instead of “How can I become a better coder?” Those who have this attitude will fail. If too many people in Miami have this attitude then Miami will fail. Growth only comes through the willingness to put oneself out there, show up, and try to get 1% better everyday . . . regardless of the outcome and regardless of who’s watching (reference Carol Dweck’s oft-cited book Mindset).
On that note, let’s get real . . . real quick. Knowing how to code doesn’t make you tough. Doing what this girl did makes you tough.
She heard about an event she knew would be male-dominated and was probably scared to put her skills on display in front of better coders. But she showed up anyway.
For the women out there reading, I hope you continue to “show up.” It won’t be the last time this kind of behavior happens. It's also one of the “tamer” stories out there that makes no mention of the elephant in the room - social and sexual inappropriateness (or awkwardness, given we’re talking about coders).
For the coding boys - I think you’re just being “boys” and probably did not intend to cause harm by your comments and behavior. This girl seems tough enough to get past it, but what harm have you done to the Miami ecosystem that can benefit from the skills, perspective, and hustle of female coders?
Beyond inclusion I think the biggest lesson is one you already know - that growth takes risk . . . the same risk you've already faced in your coding career. Was there ever a point when you were afraid to take up coding? Afraid to show your work to someone, thinking it might not be any good? If you call yourself a “coder,” then chances are you did - then you faced that resistance and pushed past it.
Maybe it’s time to revisit that moment. Here are some ideas for doing so:
Challenge #1: Pitch your business idea or your coding skills in front of an audience of at least 20 people who you don’t know. Then put it on YouTube. Brave graduates of Wyncode and Iron Hack do it every few months - why can’t you?
Challenge #2: Announce to the world that you are finally going to do something about the “idea for a startup I have.” Put it on display for everyone to see you possibly fail. Then show up and make a little progress everyday. Maybe you fail, maybe you don’t. The only certainty is you’ll learn.
Challenge #3: Show up to a 6:00 am workout with my military friends and me. We’ll videotape it. Perhaps you’ll be humbled, perhaps you’ll impress. What matters is that you were scared and showed up anyway.
If you pick #3, I will reciprocate and gladly attend one of your next coding sessions where you can run Ruby circles around me while playing “one-two-three-four, I declare thumb war" with your coding buddies.
I know the behavior of these boys doesn’t speak for the whole of the Miami tech community. And to that community I say keep doing what you’re doing: showing up, making a little progress every day, and helping others around you become better. Let’s keep up the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build.