The Lambda Ladies story

How it all began

Lambda Ladies began in March 2013 when five women who came together online to collaborate on a functional programming conference presentation decided to take the camaraderie they had shared to a wider group. Those software engineers were Rachel Reese, Kelsey Innis, Dana Contreras, Susan Potter and myself, Katie Ots. Although we hadn’t met in person and were far apart geographically, we found we had a shared experience — being one of few women in our local functional programming (FP) communities. We would all like to see more girls and women embracing FP so we decided to do something to encourage that by starting this group. There are focused groups for women using Python, Ruby on Rails, Java, Drupal, PHP and many other languages, frameworks and technologies, but there didn’t seem to be anything for those interested in FP, until now.

Why have a group for girls/women? Doesn’t this encourage segregation?

That’s not our intention, nor has it been my experience from my exposure to other women’s tech groups. We are active members of our local functional programming user groups and we would encourage other women to join us in this. I certainly don’t want to be the only regular female attendee of my local FP group forever. Although I am comfortable attending as the only woman, I recognise that others may find this intimidating and would not dare to draw attention to themselves by asking a question at one of our meetings. The Lambda Ladies group is a non-threatening environment where women, especially beginners, can ask questions and grow in their knowledge. It would be my hope that this process can help them to gain confidence to then go out and participate in other groups. Even for those women who aren’t beginners, it is valuable to have support, be able to talk about shared experiences and challenges, and have the opportunity to mentor others.

Are men allowed to join?

We discussed the idea of allowing supportive males to join Lambda Ladies and found group members had mixed opinions. We want to keep the environment non-threatening to all, so at this stage, membership is only open to those who identify as women. That said, we still appreciate help and support from men, and may well include male in any events we might hold in the future. Although the Google Group part of the site is closed, other sections we are developing will be open to all.

How successful has the group been so far?

When I first thought of the idea of starting a Lambda Ladies group a year or so ago, I went no further with it because I was afraid I might be the only member. How wrong I was. In a little over a month, Lambda Ladies has grown to more than 100 members and there is a healthy amount of discussion in the group, including conversations about highly technical topics way over my head. This is an extremely encouraging start.

What’s so good about functional programming?

Programming in the functional style makes you better able to reason about the behaviour of your code and enables you to write more succinct and modular programs. It teaches you to think about problems in a different way, and it’s also heaps of fun. The FP paradigm has been gaining popularity, so it’s worth knowing about as the concepts tend to pop up no matter what language you are using. Several FP-oriented languages have emerged in the past 10 years (eg: Scala, F#, Clojure, LINQ) and existing languages have added FP features, such as C# and PHP (first-class functions), Python (lambda, filter and map) and Java (lambda expressions are coming in Java 8).

So did the conference presentation go ahead?

We will find out this month if our conference proposal for the Grace Hopper Celebration has been accepted. However, even if it is not, it’s been a worthwhile endeavour because it brought the five of us together and sparked the creation of Lambda Ladies.