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Dear sexists, this is what engineers actually look like

Technically Incorrect: In response to criticism of an ad featuring a female engineer, the Twitter hashtag #Ilooklikeanegineer attracts pictures of the sort of people that some wouldn't expect.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


There are some words that immediately conjure an image in most minds.

"Politician," for example. Image: Slimy, insincere, self-regarding nincompoop.

How about "engineer"? Here's my best guess: Socially awkward, poorly dressed, self-regarding nincompoop.

Well, maybe not complete nincompoop.

iltwo.jpg
Just one of the images on #ILookLikeAnEngineer Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

How, though, do you change a deep-seated prejudice? Isis Anchalee Wenger is a full-stack engineer at OneLogin, a San Francisco-based enterprise software company. OneLogin thought they'd feature her in a recruitment ad. As Wenger described in a post on Medium, the ad received predictably inane blowback. Of course, she couldn't be an engineer. She was a woman.

As highlighted in CNET's "Solving For XX" series, diversity continues to be an issue in the tech industry. Industry leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, have acknowledged that a male-dominated culture risks making no progress in vital areas such as innovation -- never mind corporate sanity. Attitudes and action, however, continue to lag behind the real world and its needs. Tech companies -- everyone from Google to Microsoft to Pinterest -- have begun to disclose their workforce numbers and promised to fix diversity issues at their offices.

As Wenger wrote: "This industry's culture fosters an unconscious lack of sensitivity towards those who do not fit a certain mold. I'm sure that every other woman and non-male identifying person in this field has a long list of mild to extreme personal offenses that they've just had to tolerate."

Wenger decided to prove the fools wrong in a way that might surprise them. She took the positive step of creating the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer. It's been trending heavily in, gosh, the bastion of alleged liberalism that is San Francisco.

At this hashtag, those who clearly don't fit the prejudiced mold have posted their pictures and told their simple stories.

How about Krystyna Ewing? She's a black woman from Ohio who posted her picture with the words: "I've been to war, I've had babies, and I'm a junior free lance web developer." Yes, she looks like an engineer.

Then there's Alisha Ramos. The words accompanying her pictures: "I'm Korean, Dominican, Spanish, and five feet tall. I write code all day. I wear lipstick."

There's this from Net Cat: "I'm the lead on @digitalocean's web team and I love speaking at conferences. Also, cupcakes."

Who cannot be moved by Nikki Lee's picture of herself and six female co-workers with the words: "Basically, every time you input text in Windows there are a bunch of women behind it all!"?

The shock, the horror that must be being experienced on hearing of such a thing.

Wenger explained in her post that she didn't ask for the attention. She was one of four engineers featured in OneLogin's ads. She said: "If you knew me you would probably know that being famous is one of my biggest nightmares; seriously right up there with falling into a porta potty."

But here she is, at 22, creating an area where prejudice can be shown a positive face and where engineers themselves can begin to recreate their own image.

That's the thing with prejudices. You don't just change them from the outside. You have to change them from within.