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These Women Are Building The Software That Quietly Runs The World

Beth Flanagan
Beth Flanagan

Beth Flanagan

Beth Flanagan

It's no secret that there are far fewer women technologists working in the industry than men.

When it comes to computer-related jobs, men outnumber women at a rate of about 4 to 1.

And when it comes to the open-source software industry, women are even harder to find. A recent study found that 1 out 10 open-source programmers are women (about 10%), and that's up from 2007, when only 2 out of every 100 were women (about 2%).

The lack of women gives the tech industry, and particularly the open-source portion of it, a distinctly sexist feel.

Despite these sad statistics, it is absolutely possible for a woman in the field to go far and have a fabulous career. So we asked the Linux Foundation, the granddaddy of all open-source projects, to give us a list of stand-out women doing fabulous work.


Linux is an operating system software (a competitor to Microsoft Windows) that is quietly running the world. It is the foundation of the Android operating system. It's the software behind a lot of consumer tech, from televisions to washing machines. It is used in nearly every corporate data center and on most supercomputers. It powers everything from banks to nuclear submarines.

So, here's our list of women with awesome careers working on Linux, the tech that's quietly running the world.

Oracle Linux Elena Zannoni
Oracle Linux Elena Zannoni

Elena Zannoni

Elena Zannoni

Elena Zannoni, director of the Linux Tools and Languages team at Oracle.

Oracle is a big player in the Linux world, supplying its customers with a version of Linux based on Red Hat's Linux.

Zannoni came to the Linux world from years working on other open-source projects, starting at Cygnus Solutions bought by Red Hat and then eventually being hired away by Oracle. She's a regular Linux conference speaker, and she volunteers to organize the Linux Plumbers Conference.

She offers this advice to other women programmers: "I tried always to give my best without thinking too much about gender bias. One important thing is to not doubt oneself. There are plenty of other people that will undermine your confidence, no need for you to do it to yourself."

Lisa Nguyen
Lisa Nguyen

Lisa Nguyen

Lisa Nguyen

Lisa Nguyen, Linux Software Engineer at Linaro

Linaro is a not-for-profit engineering organization bringing Linux to ARM devices. ARM is a chip that powers smartphones and tablets and is moving into corporate servers.

Nguyen discovered Linux when studying digitial forensics and information
security in college, she says.

"I didn't want go back to using Windows, and thought that a career in Linux was more fitting than becoming a digital forensics analyst."

She got more involved in the community through an internship outreach program for women. That helped her learn "how to overcome self-doubt, take risks, and accept feedback," in the often sharp-tongued open-source world.

"Some people in the Linux community will be blunt, yet I'm aware that they're critiquing my code, not my character. Even the most experienced Linux engineers are learning something new every day," she says.

Sarah Sharp
Sarah Sharp

Google+/Sarah Sharp

Sarah Sharp

Sarah Sharp, Linux Software Engineer at Intel

Sharp is one of the best- known women in the Linux world today. She's been a Linux fan since 2003, as she describes on her blog, and has led some high-profile projects like putting USB 3.0 support into Linux "before any other operating system, including Windows," she says.

Last summer, Sharp publicly took on Linux creator Linus Torvalds, telling him to knock off the "verbal abuse" that makes the Linux community so daunting for young programmers.

He responded with a humorous rant loaded with four-letter words.

But her point was well taken and raised awareness in the broader Linux community, particularly at commercial Linux companies like Red Hat, CEO Jim Whitehurst told us.

Angie Byron
Angie Byron

Kris Krug Drupal

Angie Byron

Angie Byron, Director of Community Development at Acquia

Acquia is the commercial arm of Drupal, a free open-source content management system for websites. Drupal is another hugely popular open-source project and is often used on servers running Linux.

Byron has been a face in the open-source software world since 2011, when she was the first women to be featured on the cover of Linux Journal.

She's been involved with open source since the mid-'90s, she said, because she loves how it lets anyone "tinker with" software written by others.

"I’ve found that the community of folks I've encountered in Drupal, Linux and other open-source projects is also simply amazing: friendly, intelligent (but down to earth about it), hilarious, sincere, and endlessly passionate."

She wants newbies to know that there's "room for absolutely everyone to contribute to open source, regardless of skills and experience."

Go ahead and contribute code with a "needs work" warning. "Fail early, fail often, and fail in public. Otherwise you risk never contributing because you'll never meet your own high standards of perfection," she says.

Suparna Bhattacharya
Suparna Bhattacharya

Suparna Bhattacharya

Suparna Bhattacharya

Suparna Bhattacharya, Senior Technical Staff Member, IBM Research, India

Member, IBM Academy of Technology

Bhattacharya has loved writing operating systems since she started her career in the '90s. She's worked on a bunch of them including the precursor to Linux, known as Unix, an earlier version of Windows (NT) and IBM's one-time Windows competitor OS/2.

She was drawn to Linux by the "sheer joy" of working with so many people all hacking at something together.

Her advice for newbies is simply, "Go for it — it is a lot of fun! Just be yourself. Forget everything else and go play with the code."

While she says that it's good to "do your homework" before you submit your first bit of code to the Linux community, she always say "don't be afraid to learn, even stumble." No one, not even experts like her, always get everything right.

"Everyone is learning constantly from each other (occasionally shouting at each other just to get heard above the din :)," she says.

Beth Flanagan
Beth Flanagan

Beth Flanagan

Beth Flanagan

Beth Flanagan, Senior Software Engineer for the Yocto Project at Intel

Yocto is a Linux Foundation project that creates custom versions of Linux that can then run on all sorts of hardware devices.

Flanagan has been involved with open source for 20 years and loves it because "it has literally transformed how industry does business," she says. "Open source is everywhere. In our phones, in our cars, in our airplanes."

She's also known as an advocate for women in tech, sometimes known as "geek feminism."

Her advice is to first "find a project that speaks to your passion. Find out how that community works, what their
engineering standards are ... and then find a place to start making improvements." It helps to find a mentor, too.

She also suggests that once you get involved, spend time helping "other women in technology, especially open source. "

Programs for that include the Gnome Foundation's Outreach Program for Women, the Ada Initiative and the Anita Borg Institute.

Ursula Braun
Ursula Braun

Ursula Braun

Ursula Braun

Ursula Braun, IBM Systems Software Development, Linux on System Z

Braun began her career working on software for IBM mainframes, she says. In 2000, IBM made waves by spending $1 billion on Linux and using it to run its mainframes. Braun was on the team that made that happen.

A few months ago, IBM doubled down its support of Linux, vowing to spend another $1 billion on it.

She and her team, in IBM Germany, are helping with that, too.

Her advice for newbies is: "Don't hesitate to join the Linux community. It is a technical community and it does not count whether you are a woman or a man."

Laura Vasilescu
Laura Vasilescu

Laura Vasilescu

Laura Vasilescu

Laura Vasilescu, Linux Foundation intern from the Outreach Program for Women, and graduate student at the University Politehnica of Bucharest

Vasilescu worked with the Linux Foundation last summer as an intern after finishing her degree in computer science in Bucharest, Romania.

She became fascinated by Linux, applied for the internship and wound up working on the part of the software that lets it use Ethernet network connections. Next up for her is more school. She plans to get her PhD in human-computer interaction and telemedicine, she tells us.

Plus she's volunteering as a teaching assistent, teaching programming. "My objective is to create something that will improve the world ... And I'm sure Linux will be involved!"

Her advice for other newbies is, "You don't have anything to lose. Start working today on the things you actually like."

Alison Chaiken
Alison Chaiken

Alison Chaiken

Alison Chaiken

Alison Chaiken, software engineer, Embedded Software Division

Chaiken describes herself as a "career-changer who took my first programming class in 2007 at night." She was in her mid 40s. She was previously working as a physicist. "The progress of my career is a source of amazement to me," she says. "My use of computers predates Windows." (She started with Linux's predecessor BSD Unix.) >But, as her physics career slowed, Android and open-source hardware from companies like Bug Labs arrived. "I was immediately smitten, and realized that my hobby of playing with computers was a more viable career than my original one."She learned to program and even helped Nokia work on its Linux-based Android competitor, MeeGo. That was killed when Nokia standardized on Windows Phone, but it was a high-profile project in the open-source world.

She landed at Mentor Graphics and is now working on putting Linux into cars.

Her advice is to stay flexible, change paths if you need to and "never, ever work on something you don't love unless doing so is a stepping stone to another goal.

Above all, "keep your sense of humor ... very often well-meaning folks can be offensive unintentionally, and many will apologize and modify their behavior if asked politely."

Her best tip for newbies is to join a Web chat community where like-minded developers hang out. She joined FreeNode and says it's been "magic for me."

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