Trying to pick who joins the coding club is wrong

I’ll start with a personal controversial statement: I’ve never liked nor attended many “women’s events”. The very few I’ve been to I felt very uncomfortable hearing stories of being a victim. I’ve never seen myself as a victim in my industry, or for being my sex generally – it’s always made me feel very strong, empowered and special. I’ve also been more looked after and catered for sensitively than I have been harassed – both in technology, and the videogaming community. I know that’s not the same for everyone, and I realise “women” events are very useful for women who unlike me, may find their sex interferes with their career path, or life choices. I’ve always been in the “take it, and give it back in a disarmingly funny or smart way” club (or, you know, just ignore) when someone does something that I don’t like, regardless of their sex/colour/height/amountofbodyparts.

However, last month I saw a women’s only event I was interested in. Not because it was women’s only, but because it offered an opportunity for me to learn Ruby with other beginners, in what seemed a very friendly environment. It was this RailsGirlsLondon event. I was also keen to find out what women devs would be like – as a developer, I’ve never worked with one. As someone who helps companies build teams, I figured it’d be useful knowledge to ensure I could advise on how to set our teams up in a way that was more comfortable and engaging for women to see if that helps women join the companies I work with.

So, I applied, duly tweeted about it to promote it and sat to wait and hear about my application.

I found out last night I didn’t get in. And here’s why (from the organiser, when I asked directly):

We tried our best to select people based roughly on the following criteria:
– not much programming experience
– has perhaps attempted learning on their own, but were unsuccessful
To apply this, two of us (both girls), went through the application list individually and made selections. Then we went through the list together again comparing our thoughts. The ones that matched we accepted/rejected, the ones that mismatched we further discussed. Also, after making the final selection, a third person from the organising team, went through the selected attendees, to verify our decision. There was no clash of opinions at that point.

I have a big issue with this. An event to help women get into coding, that then excludes women based on organiser preference? So now I get to be made a double outsider – I’m a “woman in technology” who doesn’t qualify for some reason* to attend a “women in coding” event. * (I meet both those listed criteria they gave).

Why wasn’t this done as random selection? Or first 40 to sign up? Any way that would let everyone know they had equal chance?

So the community turns on itself, and gets to pick who’s in the club?  No, I don’t buy that. That’s exactly why this (or any) industry can be hard for any outsiders to feel included in.

I want to end on a positive note.

I went to my first LRUG last night and in the room there was me and at one point, two other women, but mostly just me and around 80 guys. I was a bit nervous, even for me those odds were on the scary side of being the outsider. Also I was there with my recruiting hat on, not my technologist one – eep, double outsider! But you know what? I was made to feel completely included, everyone was nice, kind and charming, and I felt completely at home.

I’m going to stick to inclusive events as I always have, and hope that those trying to help the industry become inclusive start by taking a look closer to home.

Hyper Linda’s nails it, really:


I’ve left comments on, but I will only be publishing comments that are relevant to this specific post, not about women in technology in general. Thanks.

About Thayer Prime

Tall. Eats a lot. Talks too much. I tweet over @thayer
This entry was posted in developers, engagement, work and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Trying to pick who joins the coding club is wrong

  1. As someone who has handpicked attendees to my events, I feel I should defend this. When running an event, you want the right people there. Think of it as building a team. It’s the bit I spent the most work on for Rewired State events. I filtered through 100s of requests to attend, and made judgements on people purely from their internet profiles.

    Why? I didn’t want sightseers, ‘entrepreneurs’ or indeed, recruiters. If I didn’t know you, and I had hundreds of other people applying, then I wouldn’t have invited you either, sorry.

    And in this respect, I don’t see how it’s different from recruiting itself. No-one is suggesting that you should hire people for your company by random selection of all applicants. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than random.

  2. FionaC says:

    I’ve been lucky – I’ve secured a ticket based on exactly the criteria they listed ie I’ve tried to teach myself Ruby using online books and come to a halt, part motivation, part lack of understanding/context. It’s a barrier I hope Rails Girls will help me overcome.

    Reading your post, I’m a bit confused. You’ve said you are a developer already? With respect, aren’t you already in the coding club, or perhaps need to attend a more advanced event?

    • Thayer Prime says:

      Congrats, I hope it’s awesome 🙂 Yeah, I haven’t coded in about 8 years, so my rather out dated LAMP/XSLT/Perl etc doesn’t feel like a skill that’s any use in the ruby world to me. And yep, I am in the coding club, I was referring to bringing more in, inclusively. I have nothing against the event, just wanted to share my views that the selection process is biased, and that made me feel excluded. And no, I’d be lost at a more advanced event! 8 years out of coding makes me very beginner again! 🙂

  3. I actually think this is more of a London issue than anything, given everything gets horribly oversubscribed they have to have ways of getting around it as tickets can otherwise literally disappear in minutes (as a lot of UX ones do). Other parts of the country are a lot easier in this regard.

  4. Really great attitude to have, wish you could spread it.

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