In Systerhood – Lending a global hand

By  Rose Robinson

Rose Robinson

Rose Robinson


In 2000, my entire team was laid off. It left me upset and frustrated because I was left to pick up all the pieces. I was finally laid-off in 2002. Fortunately the company took care of those who they laid off so I was very fortunate that at least I had the financial support and other job hunting services to find my next position. I decided to go back to school for my graduate degree. I finished my degree in 2004, but thought I should be learning another programming language to keep up with the times, which one do I tackle.

I accepted a job at a Java shop, which at the time, that was the hot language in the market, but it didn’t float my boat. A couple of years in the job, I was still searching around for a new programming language to learn.

I wanted to know what courses were available and even asked my grad school if they had any other programming language they were teaching and it was all Java. It was fate and timing that Gloria W. Jacobs, another Syster, posted in the community that she was starting a GrrlCamp group where she will teach other Systers Python, an open source language. It was perfect.

The first meeting was about 10 Systers and we were scattered from east to west coast of the U.S. We met in old school IRC (Internet Relay Channel) and Gloria introduced us to the technology, had us install the software and also had us work with other tools for communication and managing the project with Google group and TRAC respectively. Gloria hosted the project on her own server. She was adamant about it being only for women and that we, the group, would take part in the entire project. This meant we would all be doing documenting, system administration, coding, testing, performance tuning and we all were a part of the decision making as I remember it which was definitely a plus. This gave some of us the opportunity to also learn project management and understand how impactful decisions can be on the overall budget, technology and timeline. We even met on a conference call every other week at 10pm GMT-5 giving us real-time interaction.

Our goal was to so that we could learn Python and other tools like learn object-oriented framework , CherryPy, SQLAlchemy (Python’s SQL toolkit) and work with remote teams. Three months in, our group grew from 10 to about 30-40 women across the globe. Just from discussing our experiences in the group, we had more and more interests. Gloria added a second call on Saturday morning 10am GMT-5 to accommodate global participants. The programming experience ranged from novice to the experts. The experts were not at all frustrated with the pace because they/we became teachers in a sense. Gloria really stepped back at times to help us learn more about our own capabilities; an incredible value to the entire group.

What I learned in the group besides just Python, other supporting tools like wiki, TRAC, and others, and even working with remote people is the support that Systers is willing to give to other Systers and women. We had women in the group from Sudan, New Zealand, Europe and the U.S. Each was there for their own reasons. Although, we have never met face to face, it is the plight that we are each offered to lend a hand to improve each other and help each other in a very male dominated industry. The learning that we embraced and the camaraderie that we were afforded through this experience, gave us an enormous skill that we took with us to each challenge in our lives. Whether it was in technology, in the workforce, or at home, our approach to solutions were different because of GrrlCamp. To this day, when I get emails from recruiters about opportunities, but always want to talk about my GrrlCamp experience. GrrlCamp changed my life. How?

First, I was actually learning a new open source language which was so awesome. I have been a long advocate for open source and love the attitude the community exerts; contribute. This was my in to the open source community which I have been an advocate for now over five years. Secondly, many women in the group were Systers, but not all. Systers always support Systers, but this group afforded the opportunity to gain skills and commitment while we were learning a new language. And finally, working with incredible women across the globe was amazing. They were talented and we all contributed in many ways. The flexibility that was not always defined exactly, but assumed exercised. There was no pressure other than the pressure each of us put on ourselves.

From my GrrlCamp experience, I’ve taken many journeys and assignments with government agencies and the corporate world, but none other than my current position as Systers Program Manager with Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. To work with amazing women across the globe on a daily basis is incredibly rewarding in the sense that it still allows me to be very technical within the community but grants me the opportunity to give back to an organization, the Systers community and women that has truly defined my path and why I’m in the industry. I accepted this position because I feel strongly about not only helping Systers, but women in technology to innovate and contribute new technology through their work, ideas and our cause that will pave the way for next generation women. Anita Borg always said “this is really, really hard work. But I cannot think of anything I could spend the rest of my life engaged in that would be more exciting and would have more potential to make a tremendous impact.” (WITI Hall of Fame Induction 1998 video) I am definitely up for the challenge and ready to change the world.

So my challenge to the Systers community and other women in the technical industry is to help another woman in your department, in your town, in your school to expose and teach them a new skill or improve on an existing skill. It doesn’t have to be programming, but maybe just sharing what you do in your industry. The breadth and depth of experiences may just come from your story.

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