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Women find increasing acceptance, and thrive, in Oklahoma City’s tech community as California’s Silicon Valley companies continue to struggle with a stubborn, misogynist “brogrammer” culture.

At the OKC.js (JavaScript user group) Lightning Talks Tuesday Oklahoma City’s tech community showed once again that things happen differently here.

All women

For the first time in OKC.js history, the entire lineup of speakers for Lightning talks was made up of women.

  • Localization (10 min) by Caitlin Stewart
  • Intro to Service Workers (10 min) by Carmen Bourlon
  • Half of the MeaN stack (10 min) by Erin Yener
  • Time and Website Design (10 min) by Autumn Cuellar

Typically, the talks are informative for JavaScript coders and developers of other code who are there to increase their knowledge.

But the significance of having four women who are respected in their fields all speaking at the same event for coders represented something more than the peer resourcing that usually happens.

Because the sponsor nonprofit Techlahoma and OKC.js are peer groups, the lineup represented peer acceptance of anyone who shows that they are capable in tech.

That’s a milestone.

Accepting

Techlahoma leaders have not spawned 30 groups across the state by sitting on their hands.

Carmen Bourlan, an experienced code developer traces much of her early support for navigating the industry to OKC.js.

“I’m thinking about three years ago how accepting everyone actually was. Everything in the national media is about how women aren’t treated very well in the tech industry,” she told Free Press.

“But in Oklahoma City specifically, and especially Techlahoma, I feel like I’ve been lucky to be shielded from a lot of that.”

Carmen Bourlon thrive
Carmen Bourlon presents one of her new projects at a previous meetup.

Bourlon has been a developer for three years. In that time she has seen tech startups come and go.

Demands of the industry change rapidly with firms forming and dissolving to meet the needs of clients.

So, in the tech industry there is a need to have constants.

“Most important are the relationships I’ve been able to build one-on-one with other people,” Bourlon said.

“Jobs come and go. I’ve worked at startups that had to close. They’ve had a hard time. But I’ve been able to build really good relationships with the people. And that’s what’s really going to last.”

She Codes

She Codes is a new Techlahoma-sponsored user group that has been formed from the experiences of another group associated with Nerdy Girls social meetup in OKC.

The group is designed specifically to shepherd women who are curious about the tech industry or are just getting started.

Amanda Harlin, one of the founders of Techlahoma, said that She Codes is “a focused effort toward preparing women to speak, raising their confidence and helping them.”

Overcoming reluctance

Bourlon is one of the leaders of that group and believes it is making a big difference. And she says that like so many other workplaces, the tech workplace can be tough sometimes, too.

It can create reluctance on the part of anyone who is new, but especially women who find themselves outnumbered by mostly male co-workers in small, chaotic startups.

“I definitely know women, myself included, who are nervous to show up to meetups and ask questions or have had some less-than-positive experiences with certain companies,” said Bourlon.

OKCjs all-woman lineup at lightning talks thrive
OKCjs all-woman lineup at lightning talks

“[She Codes] gives us a way to network among ourselves,” Bourlon said. “Increasing the number of women in the industry is really, I think, going to come from women ourselves.”

Bourlon said she noticed significantly more women in the audience than usual at OKC.js.

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence because of how many female speakers there were. They really are closely related.”

She and Harlin said that encouraging She Codes participants to start stepping up to give tech talks was a goal from the beginning.

The lineup at Tuesday’s OKC.js meeting was one of the outcomes.

More accessible

Women in tech seem to value giving access because they have received it so recently.

Caitlin Stewart is involved in leadership of She Codes and gave a talk about the technical aspects of websites providing local language translations.

We chatted with her in a Slack channel about her thoughts now that the event is over.

It was a great opportunity to get the word out about making the internet/apps/software more accessible to people other than just English speakers. Being reminded that there are people different from you is one step in the right direction of inclusivity and acknowledging diversity.

Front-facing roles

Autumn Cuellar is not a coder, but works with web publishing and page layout.

Her talk was about the many factors website designers and maintainers should keep in mind when trying to speed up the time it takes to load their website.

“All of the reactions were positive from both men and women – the OKC.js group is a friendly bunch! I think we all understand and appreciate the work that goes into presenting to a group of professionals,” she told us in a Slack chat.

Cuellar was very aware of the meaning of having women up front giving talks to a room of people who newcomers to the tech industry might find intimidating.

“I do think it’s important for women exploring tech industries to see other technical women in front-facing roles (leadership, teaching, presenting, etc.) especially because misogyny in the tech world has received much press in the last few years.”

But she sees OKC.js as a very different environment.

The environment she experiences in that group “sends a counter message to women considering a career in software and technology: you are welcome here.”


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