My personal experience has been positive. I think the attitudes of the school and the professors make up a huge part of shaping the student culture. Where you are and where you go will make a big difference, and this is about university and jobs in general, so do your research! You can be absolutely miserable in one school and happy in another, just because of the social/cultural environments. The computer science department where I studied is way different from even those in nearby universities. We have a very active comp sci women club which I was an officer in, officers in many other engineering and comp sci clubs are balanced in gender, and the professors are very adamant about promoting women in the major. Still, only 15% of CS graduates are women, despite entry classes having over twice that percentage (there’s a steep dropoff during second year), and I believe there’s a similar percentage of women developers where I work. I have not been treated differently because of my gender, at least in an obvious way.
I find that tech is one of the more progressive and articulate cultures, though it’s not without its blunders. It’s a merit-based culture—you are judged by your skills—which has its own problems. Intelligence may be perceived as genderless, but I think women are underestimated. I think women have to prove themselves more before their intelligence is accepted. I think women have to adapt to male-dominated culture that targets males and assumes she is a male, without the promise of equal understanding in return. I think women have to adapt to a culture that they were not raised for or encouraged to pursue, because there are so few role models for them growing up, because well-portrayed female nerds are still incredibly rare on screen. I think women who want leadership positions will face the same discrimination that all assertive women face in being viewed more negatively than her male peers. I think women struggle with their mistakes and shortcomings in a way men don’t have to—in a way that is gendered, because when she makes mistakes, she is used to people blaming and generalizing her gender for that mistake.
And especially it’s a merit-based culture, there will be people questioning women-exclusive scholarships and events, crying unfairness because they believe we’re on an even playing field when we aren’t. When so much of the culture is pushing against us even if it isn’t intentional. When we are shamed for speaking up because they assumes that we want special treatment. When we may be afraid of speaking up because we also want to be accepted.
My personal experience has been positive, but I recognize these problems exist and moreso for some women than others. The most disheartening thing is when I hear women like me say things like, “I don’t understand why women feel disadvantaged; they’re exaggerating.” Just because I don’t have these problems doesn’t mean others don’t. It doesn’t devalue their struggles. It doesn’t mean the other women just weren’t “good” enough to overcome them; these problems exist and they shouldn’t have to overcome them.
That all sounds very negative, but when it comes down to it, on a day to day basis, you’ll experience little of what I mentioned above. Your peers will most likely be cool and nerdy and not at all discriminating. I only mention so much of the above because these problems exist despite the rhetoric, but they are also problems that exist anywhere you go. You’ll find people will agree that we need more women in computing. We need people who understand women building apps, sites, robots for women, because representation in tech like representation in the media — we need to normalize women’s needs and women’s experiences. I think it’s an excellent culture to be part of, especially for our generation—practically necessary, really. I hope this isn’t discouraging!