Category Archives: Interview

Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates on the “varied” abuse women face online

Laura Bates addresses the audience of A Web for Her | Credit: Keila Guimarães

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, has been a prominent campaigner for diversity and equality in the technology industry. Because of this, she has also seen her fair share of online abuse.

She was part of a panel discussion at South Bank’s Web We Want Festival, called A Web For Her. It asks a simple question: what would the Web look like if it was run by women?

After the event, we caught up with Laura to ask her why it’s important to have true online equality.

She said that she’s been the victim of a lot of online abuse, and claimed that “abuse is much more varied than people realise.”

It varies from discounting women’s articles, getting abusive comments instead of constructive arguments, and being less likely to be retweeted and followed on Twitter.

“It goes all the way up the spectrum to really serious abuse. A lot of the stuff that I get falls into a middle-ground category, where I don’t think I should report it to the police, but it still completely refuses to see you as a human being”.

Women in communities

With this in mind, I asked Laura why it’s still important that she risks such abuse and threats by going out there on online communities.

The panel discussion focused on the the fact that there’s a lot animosity towards women within within the technology industry, and asked how we can persuade women to challenge and overcome such resistance.

The advantages of women in tech

I asked Laura afterwards what the advantages would be once this has been achieved. As she said in the event, “no matter how anti-feminist you are, you cannot believe that the statistics represent a true indication of where talent lies.”

Advice for women in tech

If you were to give a woman aiming to start a tech-related career or project, what would the one piece of advice be?

Laura’s answer was immediate: network. She urged women to get together with like-minded people to improve the industry towards a more progressive future.

Decoded CEO: Lack of confidence keeping women from tech

decoded

Boosting confidence and a new perspective about what tech is. That’s the key to getting more women to choose a career path in tech, according to Kathryn Parsons.

Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn Parsons. Photo: Decoded

Parsons, the CEO and co-founder of London-based start-up Decoded, is here to spread her gospel and get the world – not least women – into coding.

“We believe it is a journey, and the first step is the hardest,” she told Project Ada.

Goal: Changing the idea of tech

Decoded’s Code in a Day classes get beginners rolling. You can arrive never having written a line of code, and go home having created a web app. In between, there’s time to go through the basics of computational thinking and the basics of languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Kathryn Parsons says that she wants to reframe the world’s idea of what tech is. She describes going into classrooms of 17 year-old girls, and asking who thought of themselves as brilliant coders.

“Not one of them puts up their hand. When I ask them ‘are you a good problem solver?’ Are you a good creative thinker?’ all hands shoot up.”

Decoded was founded in 2011, and has now gone bi-continental, with the New York offices soon to celebrate their first birthday.

“We’re passionate evangelists”

Having studied languages at university, Kathryn Parsons herself comes from an entrepreneurial background, rather than from the tech world. Most of the Decoded staff are also self-taught coders who used to work with something else. But Kathryn Parsons doesn’t see that as a problem.

code in a day

Code in a Day participants. Photo: Decoded

“We’re all passionate evangelists. We want to communicate skills. Tech can often talk only to tech, not to the rest of the world. It can feel quite exclusive,” she said.

That exclusive feel may go some way towards explaining the lack of women working in the tech industry. The percentage of women in the workplace is not just low – but actually dropping, from 22% in 2001 to 17% in 2011.

“The stats are pretty awful,” she agreed.

Women lacking confidence

Among Decoded participants, who are pretty equally split among men and women, there’s no difference between genders in aptitude for programming, according to Kathryn Parsons.

“The difference is a huge lack of confidence among women,” she said.

Unsurprising, perhaps, considering the sexist attitudes that still abound about women and technology.

“People still say to me ‘women’s brains don’t really work that way’. It happens every week. I won’t stop until I never hear that phrase again.”

4 tips to get you started with coding

FotorCreated

It has been said that learning to code will be as crucial as being literate in the near future.

While there is a debate if that is true or pure exaggeration, more and more jobs in the media industry are demanding coding skills and more people are trying to push themselves to learn simpler languages such as HTML and CSS.

The question many beginners have is: where to start? Project Ada had a chat with Alison Benjamin, a web developer at the Frontline Club, who got into programming mainly by teaching herself.

“I have a non-traditional tech background; I did my BA in Arts and focused on information systems during my masters in Library and Information Science, but a lot of things were self-taught. I was lucky enough to have people all around me that would help me to learn,” she says.

Alison Benjamin, web developer at the Frontline Club

Alison Benjamin, web developer at the Frontline Club

 

At the end of her masters at the University of Toronto, Benjamin got Google Summer of Code grants in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, she left Canada to take up a job at the Frontline Club, where she is responsible for developing the Frontline Club’s Web properties and its digital strategy.

If you are interested in learning to code, but have no clue where to start, here are her tips to break into the world of programming:

 

 

Teach yourself online

“There a lot of resources online. MIT OpenCourseWare puts university-level computer science classes online. Codecademy and Code School are aimed at beginners and deliver lessons via a game-like pedagogy. It is like learning languages.”

Go out and meet people

“Going to places like Hacks/ Hackers and asking questions is good. You might approach people and say ‘I’d like to contribute to these projects, my skills are A, B and C and I would like to learn X, Y and Z’. There are many people willing to talk about their experience in development, in journalism or in both. That may be a way forward.”

Start a website

“Do pragmatic things like building a website. Start doing your own maps and graphs, put your work on the web on platforms such as GitHub and see if that works for you.”

Use your spare time to learn something new

“In my spare time I do a couple of development projects. At the moment, I am interested in D3. This is a really popular JavaScript library that allows you to visualize data using SVG, JavaScript, HTML and CSS. It is extremely powerful and you can make visualisations with CSV spreadsheets or geographical data as a source. You can build everything, from charts to animations.

“The great thing about D3 is the rich community behind it. People post the code and datasets behind their projects on GitHub and in gists. You see something and think ‘this is a cool project. How did they get here?’ and you can go and see what is behind the visualisation.”

How can playing cards combat gender inequality?

cards

Can playing cards help combat gender inequality in tech? The internet certainly seems to feel that way, as a Kickstarter campaign to make card decks promoting promoting women in computing raised over $15,000 from over 350 backers.

Jessica Dickinson Goodman, one of the card deck’s creators, was overwhelmed by the response.

“I knew something special was happening when we reached that $3,000 goal in the first 2 days. We’re now at 400% of funding and climbing,” she told Project Ada on Friday.

In its last 24 hours, the Kickstarter campaign raised another $1,000 to land on just over $15,000.

The idea is to promote the many women who’ve been leaders in computer science, from Project Ada’s own namesake Ada Lovelace, to Grace Hopper, inventor of the first compiler for programming languages – and credited with the term ‘debugging’.

Ada Lovelace

Photo: Wikimedia

According to the creators, no enough of women’s contributions to the tech industry are remembered. The card deck is a way to promote role models for today and tomorrow’s women in computing.

“When I was a little girl, my Mom gave me a deck of cards with names and stories of women who fought in the American Civil War. I played a lot of Hearts and Poker growing up, and those cards were a constant reminder that women change history,” Jessica Dickinson Goodman said.

Notable Women in Computing card deckShe created the card decks along with her mother Katy Dickinson, and sponsors Everwise and Duke University. The Kickstarter campaign was launched to get the playing cards into their second edition – and in less than a month has already quadrupled its goal of $3,000.

The back of every card includes the text ‘Keep our history: Create or expand a Wikipedia page for a notable woman in computing.’  Indeed, getting more women onto Wikipedia was an important goal for the creators.

Less than 1 in 10 Wikipedia editors are female, a 2011 survey from the Wikimedia Foundation showed, and the gender gap hasn’t closed since.

“I figure if Donald Trump has 12,000 words dedicated to him on Wikipedia then Chieko Asakawa, a leader in accessibility research and a role-model in the visually impaired technical community, deserves at least as many,” Jessica Dickinson Goodman said.

Read more about all the women included here.

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