My Dinner with Guido (of Python fame)

At a recent dinner, I found myself seated next to Guido van Rossum.  While Guido is best known as the author of the Python programming language, I found his views on the open source software movement and the role of women in the movement very enlightening!

(NOTE:  InterWorking Labs uses Python extensively in our Maxwell product family.)

Active Community

From the beginning, Guido wanted Python to be an open source project with an active community. He succeeded. The Python language has been around for more than 15 years and is ranked the third most popular programming language. While this could be attributable to superior design and functionality, the open source community surrounding Python is inclusive, not exclusive, and works hard on maintaining a level of professionalism, courtesy, and respect not found in other open source projects. That would certainly invite more female software engineers to embrace Python.

PyLadies

The Python community noticed that very few women were working on open source projects and even fewer on Python. The community talked to Guido in his capacity as Benevolent Dictator for Life for Python about how they could change this. Thus, the “Diversity in Python” movement was born.This group defined some simple, personal actions that community members could take to encourage women. One of the outcomes was PyLadies — Women Who Love Coding in Python! The women Python coders have their own Meetup groups in different cities. They also have PyLadies local chapters and instructions for how to start one.

At the Pycon 2014 in Montreal this past April, about 30% of the attendees were female, and that’s a conference that typically has more than 2,000 attendees.

Talent Retention

The reason this is important is that:

A study of women in technical and scientific occupations found that 52% of women entering science and technology careers left private companies over time, and that attrition increases markedly at the mid-career point. In the technology sector, 56% of women in these occupations left over time with cumulative quit rates for women more than double the rate for men. [1]

While there are multiple reason for the women leaving, one of the key reasons is the unfriendly and unwelcoming technical culture that is largely male dominated. [2]

The good news is that this can be changed and the Python community has done a great job of implementing “Best Practices”.

This is a refreshing change from the computer industry of the 1980’s when Guido and I started our careers! This really gives me hope for the future of women in computing!

References

    1. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Carolyn Buck Luce, and Lisa J. Servon, “The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology,”Harvard Business Review 10094 (2008)

 

  1. Anita Borg Institute:   “Women Technologists Count: Recommendations and Best Practices to Retain Women in Computing