I attended the New England VMware Users Group meeting in Newport, RI on Thursday, and as usual, I was one of only a small handful of women there.
Sure, the whole tech industry is male dominated, but it seems even more so at VMware events, where the females stick out like sore thumbs and get stirred at like alien beings on a foreign planet.
My “outsider” paranoia was made poignantly clear when the older gentleman sitting beside me during lunch asked out of sincere curiosity, “So, why do you write about technology? Wouldn’t you rather be writing about fashion or something?”
My imaginary response was “Why, Yes! I would also love to spend my days writing about the latest additions to the My Little Pony collection and playing with Barbie dolls.” In reality, I was too insulted to think of anything witty to say, and was trapped in a flashback to when my brothers told me I couldn’t play G.I. Joes because I’m a girl.
With that, I made it my mission to speak to almost all of the women at the event about what they do and their virtualization projects. Which means I spoke to three women.
Two of the female IT administrators I spoke with, who together run all of the IT operations for the town of Shirley, MA, were there to learn about virtualization. They currently have about 26 servers running Microsoft Windows, MySQL, and other applications used by the town and school district. Most of the hardware is outdated, so they need to either upgrade to new systems or invest in vitualization. Attending the VMUG event was a step in the latter direction.
Truth be told, they approached me first out of sheer curiosity as to why I was there. “You don’t look like the average tech geek. What do you do?”
The other woman I spoke with is a network engineer with a large mutual insurance company in Warwick, RI, who was also there to learn the ins- and -outs of virtualization. The insurance company has added numerous physical servers to accommodate growth in recent years, and has run out of room in the super-hot server room (90 degrees on same days). She was looking at VMware virtualization as a way to stop server sprawl and reduce the power and cooling challenges the company deals with.
And while the ladies were dismayed at being so out-numbered at the VMUG event, they sort of expected it because IT is a male-dominated profession, and the scales appear to be tipping further in that direction.
In 2008, women earned only 18 percent of all CS degrees, compared to 1985, when women earned 37 percent of CS degrees, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).
The NCWIT also reported that that girls represented just 17 percent of Advanced Placement computer science (CS) exam-takers in 2008; that’s the lowest female representation of any AP exam. Translation; there won’t be long lines at the ladies room at IT events any time soon.
When I look at those stats, I feel a bit sad. But then I remember that VMware, one of the biggest most important data center technologies of the 21st century, was co-founded by a fellow female, Diane Greene, and I start to feel a bit better.