Tag Archives: career

Ask a Geek Feminist: multidisciplinary-focussed computer science courses

This is a question that was posed to the Ada Initiative. It’s a bit out of scope for us right now (we’re focussed on fundraising), so I told Robin Whitney, who posed it, that I’d post it here (she gave permission to use her name). Conversion to computing careers and interest in multidisciplinary approaches to computing are fairly common here, so I think Robin won’t be the only person interested in the answers.

Robin is in the US, but since we’re a global site, feel free to point at non-US educational programs of a similar nature, in case other people might be interested. Either way, please make a note of the geographic location of any program you point to, so that your answers are more useful for everyone.

Robin writes:

I am a 26 year old female BBA graduate experiencing a complete end-pass in search of the right graduate program–(or 2nd bachelor’s program.)

When attending college, I founded and led the first undergraduate copyright law organization, which ignited a passion for all things creative commons, open source, fair use, and development based on what preceded (“Standing on the shoulders of giants”, etc etc.) We had moderate success with acclaim from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet Society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Future of Music Coalition, while assisting the student body and community with free intellectual property consulting, moot court case recreation, infringement seminars, and more experimental programs involving music sampling, derivative art installation, and circuit tweaking.

I have a very strong interest in developing skills in programming, have confronted fears in linux and ubuntu, yet I ultimately want to work with causes like yours, eliminating the gender gap in technology while invoking arts and culture. The only problem is that I do not have a computer science background, and I am not sure if I should start over again with another bachelors, or if there is an interdisciplinary masters program geared toward women while combining CS with non profits, arts, anthro, etc.

I am very curious if you have any ideas or have caught wind of any good academic opportunities for someone like me.

“Because those in a position to change the system do not” and other downsides of academia

I’m nearing the end of my PhD and starting to seek jobs, and I’ve been asked over and over again whether I’ll be staying on academia or I’ll be moving to industry. I haven’t signed a contract yet, so it’s still an open question for me. However, the fact that my own future is still nebulous might be why the following articles have stood out for me. They’re all about the downsides to academia, and reasons to leave it, written by women. The thing about these posts is that they’re not really just about academia: those of you in the tech industry are going to see some parallels. Those of you in other industries likely will too.

First, here’s a segment from Paraphernalian’s post about leaving the academy “Because: a manifesto

Because my talents, accomplishments, experiences, and hard work are not acknowledged or rewarded in this system.

Because I am not not nurtured, encouraged, or valued in this system.

Because those in a position to change the system do not.

Because I refuse to believe that a system that does not value me is the only one in which I can have worth.

Because I am enduring personal, financial, and professional hardship to no perceivable purpose.

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively.

Because I already got what I came for–three advanced degrees and immersion in a subject I love.

Because I want to continue to love it.

And here’s a fragment from Laruian’s post about going to industry.

Here is the rub. I think many people are surprised that I didn’t go into academia… or, that I didn’t go to a research lab. Well, I don’t think. Many people said, “I’m surprised.” My advisor, in particular seems, well, for the lack of a better word, miffed.

Laurian lists several things that contributed to her decision:

  1. Teamwork. The odd joint grant is not the same as working with a team to produce a product.

    The problem is that from what I’ve seen in academia, when you become a professor there isn’t much team spirit. Yes, you collaborate on grants. Yes, sometimes you co-teach. But there doesn’t actually seem to be much team work. Meaning that what little benefits I see in being the second, third, or, god forbid, even a forth female faculty member are out weighed by the fact that most of my work is going to be individual.

  2. There’s no tenure track grind in industry.

    From what I’ve been told, you’ve got a whole bunch of stodgy white dudes in suits sitting around a table assessing if you are good enough for the university to invest in you for the rest of your career. It is fantastic if you get it. What job security! But, if you don’t, you no longer have a job.

  3. Sick of fighting the system

    In the ten years I’ve been gathering my various degrees the battle to change institutional policy has been one that has tired me out.

  4. Lack of role models

    My entire time at Virginia Tech I saw *one* female professor have a baby. I’m not just talking about in my department. I’m talking about the whole flipping university. One. Later I met a couple or women who have had kids while running for tenure here at Virginia Tech, but their stories were not encouraging. I had zero positive role models that said to me, “It is the best thing I’ve ever done and I have zero regrets.”

  5. Work with impact

    I can tell you what was my favorite moment of working at IBM Almaden. It was when the findings had been presented to Lotus, and they thought they were really important, valuable, and would contribute to future design. And then, when the final findings were given, and I get the same review. Ahhhh. Design with impact. What looked like a medium size user study actually made a difference and was implemented into the next Lotus. It was so different than what I’d experienced so far. The practicality of something that felt nebulous was a breath of fresh air. Academia doesn’t dabble much in practical.

And then the lack of impact and lack of collaboration is echoed again on College Ready Writing:

My academic research will not change the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the authors I am currently studying, found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.

Dr. Skallerup also asks some really valuable questions:

  • Are Academics really interested in “sharing”?

    While more and more scholars are using sites like Academia.edu or SlideShare, and even self-publishing, this type of sharing isn’t rewarded when it comes time for decisions on hiring, tenure and promotion. We are taught instead to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more “prestige.” Why not work to improve Wikipedia in whatever field you specialize in? The entries on Dany Laferrière’s works are lacking, calling me to improve on them, hopefully introducing and informing a broader audience about the author. But because the medium is “crowdsourced” instead of peer-reviewed, career-wise, my work there would be meaningless.

  • Are we allowed to be ourselves?

    [B]rowse the blogs of junior faculty members, graduate students and recent PhD graduates and you will notice one thing – they are almost all anonymous. Why? Why can’t we blog about not just our narrow research interests but everything we are interested in or want to write about? Is academia that insecure that it can’t take a little criticism or allow for a professor to be more than a talking head in front of the classroom or byline on a book or article?

I really want to end on a positive note, but I’m not sure I can here without writing another whole essay worth, and besides, no one sent me articles about staying in academia this month, and what does that say? So instead, I’m going to end on a more thoughtful note, again from Dr. Skallerup:

My research may not change the world (or ever be read), but it is far from meaningless. My outside interests may be meaningless according to the academy, but may help change the world. Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher ed narrowly thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.

Linkspamming into a brick wall (9th November, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention (twitter uses can use #geekfeminism). Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Apologising for success

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our commenters. Questions are now closed, another round will run in early 2011.

Here’s my question: How does one deal with feeling guilty for doing well financially?

Even in this bad economy, I’m an IT geek in an expanding specialization, and doing quite well. I sometimes find myself apologizing for not being financially distressed. I’ve seen other geek women apologize for the same thing. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a man apologize (and most of them give me an uncomprehending stare when I mention the issue, because it simply does not make sense to them; or they understand, but can’t imagine why I would feel that way).

I’ve worked very hard; I was vastly underpaid for years (and I’m still underpaid, for that matter, just not as much so). Once my income improved, I mostly kept my frugal lifestyle and saved — a lot. I bought a house, while I’ve had friends almost lose their homes to foreclosure. I was unemployed for six months and, while I was emotionally stressed by being unemployed, I had plenty of cash to tide me through. I got a job and am rebuilding that cash cushion. I give to charity. I save for retirement. I buy stuff I don’t need. I pay off my credit card every month. I’m almost done with my graduate degree.

It makes no sense for me to feel bad for succeeding at what I’ve worked so hard for. But knowing this doesn’t stop the feeling.

Advices?

From comments: being lady-tracked

Terri’s post on grooming has a few stories of women whose bosses or mentors have genuinely believed that they were aiming for management or secretarial roles rather than where they were really headed.

Deborah:

Eventually it became clear that he thought that the career path I wanted was that of the three women who were in technological management at my company: middle managers. (The three women shared an office; each of the male managers got an office to himself.) He honestly could not understand me when I explained to him that my career goal was to be software architect or systems architect, not management. The three female managers wore sportcoats and high heels and makeup and never got to touch technology, and he thought that’s what I wanted

Restructure!:

That reminds me of my boss trying to steer me into a secretary/PR role by offering me more and more secretarial/PR tasks, and he was acting like he was doing me a favour and helping me reach my career goals. When I realized what was happening, I purposely ignored those tasks and kept myself busy with development.

I suspect this is common enough to deserve a post of its own: have you ever been ‘assisted’ by someone who genuinely believed that you wanted out of a geeky career? Or have you had push-back even when you made it clear that the geeky career was what you wanted?

I also think for some women who do want to become managers and so on, this also plays into the “girl stuff” dilemma, that by doing what a female-coded thing, even if it’s what you really want, you worry that you are playing into the oppression of women.

A linkspam in every home (23rd December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

From comments: FoolishOwl on those pesky distractions

FoolishOwl commented:

I looked at Gail Carmichael’s blog post, “Quick Thoughts on Pregnancy and Grad School,†and was immediately struck by how the women commenting on it were in general agreement, based on careful thought about the optimal moment to have children. It struck me by contrast with some “how to be a good programmer†essays I’d read lately, written by men, which emphasized the importance of discipline and concentration on programming, and eliminating all distractions from one’s life.

It’s striking me that the emphasis on monomaniacal concentration only works on an implicit assumption of privilege — that important matters other than programming will be handled by someone else.

I find it all too easy to lapse into such an attitude.

At the risk of asking a Feminism 101 question, what’s a better way to balance these things?

Just a note to start: I don’t think this is a feminism 101 question. Feminism 101 questions are more along the lines of “why is feminism important?” or “why does feminism care about this aspect of society?” This kind of question seems to me to be more of a “how do I live in the kyriarchy?” question, which is a different beast altogether.

I don’t have a completely thought out response to FoolishOwl’s question. It’s something that’s come up a lot in discussions of being a woman in academia and many other professions which have some of the following characteristics:

  • substantial time expenditure needed to master the field;
  • emphasis on it being highly preferable to do a substantial amount of legwork in the field at a certain (young) age;
  • work in the field being at least believed to be benefited by sustained, uninterrupted, quiet, focussed workdays; and
  • expectation of at least occasional, and often frequent, long workdays which are sustained, uninterrupted, quiet and focussed.

Some examples that spring to mind other than programming or academia include medicine, which also has the structured training requirement of very long hours, and especially mathematics where the lore about needing to do your best work before age 25 seems to have achieved particular acceptance. (I’m not inside mathematics though, perhaps this is an outsider’s belief.) Academia and, I gather, medicine, both have an additional structural problem for women who want children, which is that they have a period of what is supposed to be very intense work (postdocs, fellowships, specialist training) that tend to fall right across most intending mothers’ preferred (or only possible) reproductive years.

The immediate question that FoolishOwl’s comment made me think of about programming was, how true is this? I know a lot of programmers, and being able and willing to work more than a 35—40 hour week (which I will note is already quite a privileged thing for someone to be able to do) is a decidedly mixed bag. For some it’s brought them further mastery. For many others, it’s brought chronic injury, ongoing mental health problems, or loss of enjoyment. Most of the better programmers I know aim to eliminate distractions from their work hours, not from their life.

Various questions for you all:

  • did you have a “larval phase” in your geekdom of choice, a period of immersion at the expense of other interests? do you think having one was essential, useful, just fun, or a bit of a negative in the end?
  • do you think this sort of mythos is at least partly gatekeeping, ie, not actually necessary to obtain the skills, but put in place to preserve the mystique and the status of those with the skills?
  • what role has privilege played in your ability to be part of geek communities and professions?

And of course, FoolishOwl’s question: “what’s a better way to balance these things?”

Because it’s me, a note: in general I think the conversation will be most interesting if people discuss the intersection between privilege and geek careers here, or give advice from a non-traditional geek point of view. I have a feeling this kind of question will be very appealing to men commenters, because it’s not specifically about women’s lived experience. But please consider if an extensive account of your geek career will add to thoughts about the intersections before leaving one.

When it changed (1998?)

Anthropologist Biella Coleman just posted “1998 and the Irish Accent is Why I Study F/OSS”. She quotes a rumination by Don Marti on 1998 as a crucial and strange year in tech:

…there was all this fascinating news and code for 
recruiting new hackers at the same time that there
 was a huge power grab intended to drive hackers out.

Biella tells her own 1998 story as well:

…that was the year I ditched my other project and decided to go with F/OSS for my dissertation….I let the idea go for a few weeks, possibly months until one Very Important Conversation over coffee transpired with an Irish classmate…

So I asked my co-bloggers to tell us whether 1998 was a pivotal year for them, too. For most of us, it was.

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