Arriving in the parking lot of the Orange County Convention
Center, I immediately knew I was in the right place. As far as the eye could
see, the acres of asphalt were awash in backpacks, quirky (to be kind) outfits,
and bad haircuts.
was the place. This was Microsoft Mecca v2012 for geeks and nerds, the
Central Florida event of the year, a gathering of high tech professionals whose
skills I both greatly respect and, frankly, fear a little.
wholly and completely out of element, a dork in a vast sea of geek jumbo. It
like was wearing dockers and a golf shirt walking into a RenFaire, but one with
really crappy costumes and no turkey legs...save those attached to some of the
the corporate whores...errrr, vendors were in place, ready to parlay the
convention's fre-nerd-ic energy into millions of dollars by convincing the
big-brained and under-sexed in the crowd (i.e., virtually all of them...present
company excluded, of course) that their product or service was the only thing
standing between them and professional success, industry fame, and clear skin.
"With KramTech 2012," they seemed to scream, "you will be THE
ROCK STAR of your company's IT department!"
shows and tattoo parlors learned long ago, Tech companies seem to believe that
the best way to attract the attention of this crowd is through the hint of the
promise of sex. They recruit and deploy an army of "sales reps" whose
primary qualifications appear to be long hair, short skirts, high heels, and a
their distant cousins in the car and body art industries, however, this
sub-species of booth paint (semi-gloss decoration that adds nothing to the
substance of the product) seems torn between committing to being all-out sex
objects and recognition that they are in the presence of intelligent,
discerning people. People who are smart enough to know exactly what these
vendors are doing.
unlike their distant car show and tattoo shop cousins, these young women
(what…are there no gay tech professionals who could use some eye candy?)
seem to realize that while IT remains a male-dominated field, there are
ever-increasing numbers of intelligent, capable, strong professional women –
women who’ve battled to make it in this field through hard work and work
performance rather than a hard body and performing after work.
not to say that all of the young female sales reps are there only because of
their physical attributes. Many are competent, intelligent, and driven -- not
to mention attractive. They're working hard on the front lines of delivering
the next generation of technology.
distinction is pretty clear, however, between these young professionals and the
booth paint. The former enthusiastically deliver credible information about the
products they’re hawking. The latter are positioned in the aisles,
uncomfortably avoiding eye contact as they struggle to operate the badge
not all of the women in attendance seemed to object to the objectification of
their younger sisters. One IT professional woman who came of age in the
industry (mostly in IT marketing) said, “I have no problem with it. I was a
‘booth babe’ for years and it doesn’t bother me at all.”
however, weren’t quite so gracious. One woman I spoke with, an IT manager from
Cheyenne, Wyoming, said it was demeaning and frankly, as more and more women
grow into IT management positions, not a great marketing idea. “Using these
young women is, to me, no different than vendors giving out t-shirts to attract
attention. It’s sad because it’s still hard for a woman to be respected in the
IT field and this just perpetuates the outdated notion that IT is a
went on to say that decisions by vendors to employ these young women in this
“inappropriate way” could impact her purchasing decisions. “I might be swayed
toward a vendor who has women on staff who are intelligent and dynamic rather
than the vendors who use the ‘decoration’ girls.”
many ways, the IT industry is no different than most other industries as it
struggles to maximize performance by finding and developing talent – all of the
talent, not just the 50% with a penis. Women in IT, like their brethren,
struggle to find their niche in the field, to grow professionally, and reach
for the brass ring, struggling to overcome obstacles as they climb the mountain
of professional success in a never-ending cycle of economic uncertainty.
(generally) well-educated and highly-trained professionals, they are probably
better positioned than those in many other industries. Beside, they’ve got one
other advantage over their non-IT counterparts as they attempt their ascent to
already got the backpacks.