There Are No Good Female Developers

Have you heard? There are no good female web developers. This was news to me, and just about everyone else in the room, at the InteractATX Founder’s Panel organized and sponsored by Sequoia Capital at SXSW this past March.

When asked how they felt about being in a group of all men, the panelists evaded the question, citing tight calendars, logistical issues, and a lack of women Founders outside of the fashion and beauty spaces. Michael Heyward, Co-Founder and CEO of secret sharing app Whisper, took it a step further, claiming that the  almost complete absence of women on the panel as well as on his team (at the time of the panel) was due to a lack of competent women in tech overall. This came as a shock to Tess Rinearson, a female software engineer at Medium and outspoken member of the Hacker community.

When challenged, Heyward said that if any women applied for a technical job at Whisper, and were qualified, he’d be more than happy to hire them. Problem is, they weren’t applying.

It’s not clear whether Heyward knew to whom he was speaking before opening his mouth, but he sure did figure it out quickly. InteractATX is an annual program that subsidizes the costs of SXSW for 100 of the nations best young entrepreneurs and techies and, as such, attracts top talent. The 2014 Fellows included the 17-year-old winner of an Apple Design Award, multiple Thiel Fellows and 90+ other impressive young men and women, who were shocked by Heyward’s comments.

Unfortunately, while Heyward has a track record of putting his foot in his mouth, he isn’t alone in believing that there aren’t good female developers. It may be indisputable that there are more men graduating with computer science degrees, and thus there are more men than women who are qualified to find jobs as developers, but it is generally understood that there is a huge gender divide in Tech and that women should be encouraged to and supported in studying computer science and engineering to fill this gap.

However, numbers aside, to make the blanket statement that solid female developers don’t exist is an insult to the thousands of women in top positions at both big companies and emerging startups who, like the Medium developer, are shaping the future of tech. How are we supposed to encourage women to pursue technical fields if the first glance they get into the space is dripping in misogynistic drivel that discredits those who are blazing the trail?

Female developers bring a different perspective, design sense, and understanding of what consumers want to the creation of something that we spend hours a day using: the web. Without strong female engineers who are supported both within their companies and by the tech community at large, startups like Whisper risk alienating more than half of the world’s population. While women should be encouraged and supported in pursuing technical careers, men in tech need to shut down the Heyward’s of the world and admit that while women developers may be few in number, they kick some major butt.

Heyward serves as a cautionary tale: alienate women in tech and you’ll quickly find yourself in hot water.

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Pippa B
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