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September 25th, 2013 PAUL KIEFER | News Stories
 

Hotseat: Selena Deckelmann

A founder of Portland’s new female hacker collective says it’s all about women creating their own tech culture.

news3_3947(hotseat)DECKELMANN: The idea for Flux began as “How do we find a place to work that is not our basement?” - IMAGE: Paul Kiefer
Selena Deckelmann has spent her career working in tech—usually as the only one in the room with two X chromosomes.

As an open-source code writer, she’s experienced condescension from men and seen other women suffer worse. As a blogger, she’s been outspoken about the importance of her work—“people who understand and create software have power,” she wrote last year—and how women are too often excluded from this world.

Her experiences have led Deckelmann, a 36-year-old raised in Montana, to help create Flux, Portland’s first feminist hackerspace—a place where women can be creative in a testosterone-free environment.

Deckelmann spoke with WW about carving out a new subculture in Portland and why her creative space isn’t just a “no boys allowed” zone.


WW: What is a “hackerspace”? 

Selena Deckelmann: Like a shop class for adults. There is an electronics setup with a soldering iron and a light box. We have members who are artists, and others who write code. Other folks who would like to have a set of larger tools, like a mill and a lathe. 


Why do we need a feminist hackerspace? 

If you look at who runs the hacker- and makerspaces, it is mostly men. If you look at who dominates startups, it’s mostly men. If you look at who writes open-source software, it’s about 98 percent men. The creation of these spaces is a reaction to some terrible experiences that women have had in our industry: either threats, or they’re attacked.


Are men allowed to join Flux? 

The goal is to create a community that is very welcoming to non-men. But men are not excluded. About half the organizers are men. 


Why did technology become your passion? 

I had an uncle who taught me Morse code. I didn’t really use computers in high school. In college, I met some folks who taught me how to put together my first computer. They were very determined, and they helped me buy a CPU and a motherboard and all the parts. They were like, “Here, now put it together.”

I installed Linux on it. Within six months I had a job in the law school at the University of Oregon as a sysadmin. My boss quit, and I was a sophomore in charge of the law school’s computers.


What are the stereotypes you’ve experienced about women in tech?

I don’t feel there are very many stereotypes about the women in the tech field, because there are so few women. So hardly any stereotypes have developed. People often assume women are not capable or that they are not interested.


What has your experience been working in such a male-dominated industry? 

I’ve been fired. I think being fired is the worst thing. I had no woman colleagues that I have worked with in open-source. That’s part of the reason why I run the PyLadies meetups.


What is that?

Women in my PyLadies group come in trying to write their first Python [an open-source programming language] program. Having someone who can be helpful and encouraging while they’re trying something for the first time is a very different experience than being alone, or being taught by someone who is condescending or discouraging. It takes a concerted effort to be helpful.


Is it less intimidating for women to have a woman teaching? 

As a woman who is sort of aggressive, and intimidating, and scares the crap out of my co-workers and colleagues, I’ve had to learn the very hard way. A lot of women are conditioned to be more nurturing. For better or worse, I am not one of them. I have learned how to be better at that.

Women involved in technology have a different experience. They have to make that happen for themselves. It’s not like someone is going to do it for you.

There is some empathy there from a shared difference. You’re not part of the predominant culture. So you have to make your own culture. 


GO: The grand-opening party for Flux, 412 NW Couch St., Suite 222, is 6 pm Friday, Sept. 27. 

 
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