It's all in the title. I formally submitted my application to participate in the wonderful Outreachy today. If you haven't heard of it, Outreachy is an amazing internship opportunity to be a (paid!) contributor to FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) for underrepresented groups in tech (more details here). For Outreachy, this means:

  • women: cis and trans
  • trans men
  • genderqueer persons
  • Black/African Americans
  • Hispanic/Latin@s
  • American Indians
  • Alaska Natives
  • Native Hawaiians
  • Pacific Islanders

Of relevance to me is the first category listed - women. It is awesome that a buncha companies come together to support these minorities getting involved in tech pursuits. I'm so happy this opportunity exists, because gender equality still has a long way to come.

At my first tech meetup, I had just read this article about The Confidence Gap. I found it very compelling, and was still thinking about it as I watched the presentations. I signed up that day, in the spirit of the article, to do something I felt underqualified for (some of you, dear readers, may know that this has since been a motto of mine) - give a talk at the next meetup about this very topic. This "Confidence Gap" the authors speak of refers to the statistical truth that women less frequently do all manner of things such as apply for jobs or promotions when they don't meet 100% of the listed qualifications. Unfortunately, the side of this coin that they focus on - women's lack of confidence in themselves - is only half the story, if that. The other half, of course, is the rest of the world discounting and undermining women's abilities and contributions.

I wanted to make sure I tied my talk back to tech - how lucky for me that there was an analysis of Github contributions by gender recently released (here, more readable version with more opinions here). The findings were that pull requests (PRs) from women were accepted more often than men - across the top 10 languages! Holy smokes! Then comes the twist-ending: women who were socially identifiable as women (typically female names, avatars, etc) had PRs accepted less than men, while women with gender-neutral profiles had PRs accepted more than men.


Fast forward a few months. I finished my stint at the Recurse Center, a beautiful programming community where I never had to give a second thought to being a woman. Recently someone I vaguely know shared this article along with a comment explaining "This is why I go by <uncommon, not-decidedly-gendered name>". This made me think hard about going by a name that wouldn't "obviously" express my gender.

The first problem with this is that I like my name. I don't want to actually be known by and called an alternative name. However, I thought that perhaps I could just change it on Github. Maybe just my @handle. I already changed my IRC nick from heatherboo to hboo (a name which I have since been informed is still decidedly feminine), due to this whole sexism thing, as well as being encouraged by IRC guides (Mozilla's own I believe) to not use a female nick unless I want to be harrassed. Thus, why not change my Github username too? That's what most people see when I go to make a contribution, raise an issue, or comment on anything. I get to know people by their 1) Github usernames and 2) IRC nicks. It should be easy enough to change my username, and maybe even my listed name. Then people would respect me more. They wouldn't mansplain stuff. They would take me more seriously. I wouldn't be "just a dumb girl" or "just a front end developer"**.

Thus I submitted my application to Outreachy with the "male version of my name", Heath. In doing this I discovered the many things intertwined with changing my name - my Google account and email address. My other email address. My resume. Job applications. The degree to which this change felt like it needed to propogate in order to be worth doing began to be more than a tad ominous.

I started writing this article. I consulted a trusted friend in tech about this name-change dilemma. Many important points were raised - including by just re-reading some of the article on Github contributions I linked above. The grand takeaway though, is that continuing to publicly present as a woman is important for solidarity. As a new contributor to Mozilla projects, I gravitate towards working on ones with female main contributors. I look up to them for no reason other than they are a woman in tech. Increasing the visible presence of minorities in tech is a cause in-and-of itself, and while it means I give up the chance to masquerade as a man, be given opportuities and credit where I wouldn't otherwise, and then reveal my true identity and "prove" the "real" value of women to people who favour men, it's also incredibly valuable. It also may even have perks of its own - as one woman is quoted in the above article as saying:

...if my gender has any effect at all, I feel they [the men] go out of their way to support my efforts to learn and make more contributions.

  • Jenny Bryan, professor at the University of British Columbia and contributor to R

This brings us full circle, back to Outreachy - communities may be putting in that little bit of extra resources to support minorities in tech. And that is a beautiful thing.

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* Ulp. The sound one makes when swallowing a big ol' ball of fear and dread.

** "just a front end developer" - I remember someone complaining she was sick of going to tech events and having people assume she was "just someone's girlfriend", "just a designer", or "just a front end developer". Ick! Front end development isn't exactly a cake walk as far as I'm concerned. Please inform me if I am just a dumb girl front end developer, and that that must be why I think front end dev is a nontrivial task.

Bonus point, made to me: "If you don't want to work at a place that doesn't like women, isn't the best way to weed them be a woman?" Touché.

**Please excuse my use of terms like "obviously" in regards to gender expression. I know it is not black and white, and I generally try not to engage in binary, traditional gender-appearance assumptions. I hope their relevance in this case is understood, and please feel free to let me know via whatever means you please (if you're looking for a way, Twitter or perhaps a Github issue could be good.) if you disagree with or take issue with anything I said.