I’m No Good With Computers

In the many years I’ve been involved with the technology used in home sewing machines, this phrase has come up a lot. Some of the same women who have uttered this have also gone on to create quilts of breathtaking complexity. Sewing involves mathematics, and the majority of those who practice it are women.

When a woman says she is “not a techie” I think what she is really saying is that she simply does not have any interest in spending a lot of time trying to figure out badly designed products and software. Almost all users of sewing machines are women, but they are designed mostly by men. Over our time as dealers we were repeatedly asked what features our customers wanted to see in new machines. Whatever feedback we provided, the actual feature set on new models was formulated by top level marketing and engineering men.

My initial foray into computers came at the very beginning of the industry. On a campus of 45,000 students there were 13 majoring in Computer Science. Only two of them were women. While that ratio has improved a little, the majority of people in information technology are men. The industry is trying to change this, but it has been a difficult transition. Women are still paid less than men for the same job, and have to put up with office behavior that would be out of place in a frat house.

After 50 years in the business, I would say that 75% of all software ranges from bad to appallingly terrible. That’s a conservative estimate! With 70% or more of the people producing that software being men, it’s tempting to see causation rather than correlation. I won’t make that leap, but I will say that writing good software requires a particular mindset that is not universal. It’s also not unique to men, as history has proven.

When you find that a particular machine feature or piece of software is difficult to use, don’t shrug it off or blame yourself for not understanding. Be vocal and let the producer know how it could be better. Spending half a century with someone who is “not a techie” has made me produce better software, and that feedback is so helpful.

If your daughter or granddaughter is interested in science or technology, encourage her. We need the best and brightest and it’s foolish to only look at 50% of the population to find them!