Meet Rangle's Women in Software Guild! A Dispatch from UofT Hacks

Written by Emily Porta

A few weeks ago Rangle had the privilege of being the first official Women in Software Sponsor for UofT Hacks, a student-run hackathon with over 500 participants chosen from thousands of applicants. The event was a huge success, with Rangle participating in the career fair, as mentors for the students, gathering feedback from students on their experience in the industry so far, and holding an entirely woman organized, led, and staffed professional development panel. Our ultimate goal was to find out more about what the computer science student experience is like, and through that, how we can help foster success with new graduates - especially those who identify as women.

Rangle, like most tech companies, currently employs a very low number of women in our software development department. That number is three. Three female, and roughly 44 male developers. For a company with as much growth and success as Rangle, it’s critical that we make real change immediately. So we’ve decided to get serious about this issue, starting a Women in Software Guild (a grassroots group of employees who raise issues and tackle them one by one with the goal of helping women in technology as a whole). The Guild is only a couple months old now, but we’ve already seen an outpouring of excellent ideas from Ranglers, and sponsoring UofT Hacks was our first event.

From the start, the Women in Software Guild has been two things:

  1. Supported at every level of Rangle
  2. About doing what’s needed to help women in software as a whole - not just to hire more developers who are women at Rangle itself.

To this end, UofT Hacks provided us a great way to connect with developers at the earliest stage in their career, give them advice, encourage them to go into web development, and find out what’s working for them and what isn’t in the field. To learn more, we conducted a survey of 64 UofT students (26 women, 35 men, 3 did not specify) at the hackathon, and the results were interesting.

Emily Porta, Rup Jolly and Yedda-Mae Abarra greeting the crowd with Rangle swag. Photo: MLH

Overall, the student’s answers, whether they were male or female, had many commonalities. For example, most of the students were interested in mentorship and learning opportunities outside of school (no surprise there), and at least somewhat thought that “software development companies are made up of people like [them]” - a positive sign. Both male and female students encouraged companies to reach out to girls in elementary and high school to help them learn to code. Somewhat surprisingly, more of the women were sure they wanted a career in web development than the male students (about 28% of men answered “not sure” to this question, with a few “no”’s, while only 15% of women weren’t sure, with very few “no” answers).

There were some interesting differences, however, that may shed light on the way women in computer science see the field versus their male counterparts. For example, when asked “do you think software development companies are made up of people like you?”, while women responded “yes” or “sort of” about equally to the men, a frequent theme in their explanation was that they believed they were less experienced than others, but because of their hard-working nature, they ultimately fit in - sort of. This is in contrast to the reasons given by the men, who more often expressed shared passion, and shared “geeky” personality. The women were the only ones to mention negative internal beliefs about their abilities in response to the question.

When asked “what words would you use to describe the kind of place you'd want to start your career?” both groups focused on fun, energy, and the ability to be creative - but despite the fact that all of these qualities (and many more) mentioned by women and men alike are stereotypically available in the tech startup scene, only men used the word “startup”. Of course, the sample size is small and this is a non-scientific survey, but combined with a slightly lower confidence rating on how the women feel they will do professionally when they finish university, as well as the previously mentioned inward criticism, the survey seems to echo what we at Rangle have heard from women in computer science student groups again and again - the problem is confidence.

Vanessa Yuen and Kevin Sivabalan representing Rangle.io JavaScript Developers. Photo: UofT Hacks

The results have given Rangle a lot to think about. Our professional development panel, comprised entirely of women in software development, successfully avoided the oft-maligned trope of “as a woman, how do you feel about Javascript” and focused on the panelists as people and professionals in the field. The goal was to have a conversation that would prove useful to the students while reinforcing the normalcy of women in software. The panel was presented to a packed lecture hall, and we think that hearing from veterans in the field who’ve worked on everything from advertising to the Mars Rover did a little something to combat the lack of confidence that attendees may have been feeling. Hopefully they could see themselves in the presenters a little bit, and gave them the chance to rethink previous assumptions about others and themselves.

Ultimately, Rangle has a long way to go to reach a reasonable level of women working in our software development department, as well as within our leadership. UofT Hacks not only provided us with a way to connect with and help students in the community directly, but gave us a starting point to think about our next, bigger, steps. We’ll continue to support community events and listen to women in technology, including our next exciting sponsorship of DevTO’s International Women’s Day event. At the same time, we’re working to make our online presence more diverse, change up the wording in our careers page to something more human-friendly, seek out allies in like-minded organizations, and many other efforts. But this is very much just the beginning. At Rangle, we know that change this big - and this necessary - takes everything our combined creativity, passion, and skills has to throw at it. Luckily, we have tons of all three. We’ll be working earnestly and humbly here at Rangle over the next year, and in the long term, to make real change. We encourage you to get in touch if you’d like to help.