Tag Archives: guest post

Photograph of Estelle Weyl speaking, by David Calhoun

Wednesday Geek Woman: Estelle Weyl, expert web developer and standards evangelist

This is a guest post by Melanie Archer. It originally appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day..

Photograph of  Estelle Weyl speaking, by David Calhoun

Estelle Weyl, by David Calhoun

By late afternoon that day in September 2002, I was getting pretty grumpy. The sandwich at lunch had dissipated into low blood sugar; the files I’d placed on the server just moments before had disappeared (and we had neither backups nor version control); the room was stuffy on an uncharacteristically hot day in San Francisco. And here comes this woman from one of the rival teams in the hackathon, introducing herself, trying to make friends, or at least, acquaintances.

I don’t remember being very effusive. The day had been grueling-I was on a team of four, working feverishly to develop an an accessible, yet visually appealing, Web site in just a few hours here in the Mission High School computer lab. But we shook hands. I recognized this woman’s name from the discussion list for SFWoW, at the time indispensable for finding out about tech events like this one. I hadn’t known how to pronounce it.

“Estelle Weyl. Like ‘while,’” she said. Within moments we all learned how excited she was about CSS, a technique new to many people at the hackathon, which was just one day of the Accessible Internet Rally. At another gathering we’d learned about various accessibility techniques, such as supplying text alternatives to images, offering keyboard shortcuts, and using CSS for presentation. The last had been my M.O. for three years already-I was puzzled how slow acceptance of it was.

I’d recently left a job at a software company which assembled a bunch of open source superstars, both actual and self-proclaimed, and then hired some front-end types like me to rework the clumsy, visually unappealing interface for the superstars’ application into something more usable. The low status of front-end work became obvious to me upon my introduction to one of the engineers.

“Oh, one of the pixel people,” he sneered, then lumbered off, leaving me to read the absurd style guide the UI lead had delivered. CSS was too “unsupported,” the guide admonished. Use <FONT> and <CENTER> to render the design atrocities we build in the browser. I didn’t stay long at this pointless gig.

So Estelle’s bouncy enthusiasm for CSS didn’t seem infectious to me, but instead, rather naive. Do you really want to investigate a technique with near-universal applicability, great community support, a bright future?

Learn Perl. Yeah, that’s where it’s at.

Thank goodness she didn’t. Instead, Estelle dug into CSS to a level few of us do. She opened multiple browsers, on multiple operating systems, to ask one question: what happens when I do this?

The results are bookmarked by anybody who cares about cross-browser CSS, but not enough to commit these fugitive details to memory. I’ve placed I-don’t-know how many fancy list separators via li:after, but dang if I remember the ASCII code for them. Oh, look-Estelle’s catalogued them! Meanwhile, as WML gave way to near-complete HTML support in mobile browsers, Estelle was there, checking CSS support on an ungainly gamut of devices-so we didn’t have to.

Somewhere along the line Estelle decided to start talking about CSS. In just a couple years Estelle had attracted an audience. Soon there were few CSS-focused events that didn’t include at least one presentation by Estelle Weyl. And there were, increasingly, more CSS-focused events. It sounded like Estelle’s life was pretty much spent going from one glamorous conference to another.

These days she addresses standing-room-only crowds, many of whom include engineers like the one I met ten years back, now anxious to learn CSS to “keep current.” If Estelle’s story proves anything, it’s not the superiority of CSS, it’s the superiority of the person who uses passion, focus, and sheer dogged persistence to get somewhere. Pixel people or Perl people, we all stand to gain from such an example.

See also: Lorna Jane Mitchell’s post about Estelle Weyl.

Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Heather Walls, by Guillaume Paumier, CC BY-SA

Wednesday Geek Woman: Heather Walls, designing for connection on Wikipedia

This is a guest post by Siko Bouterse, Head of Community Fellowships, Wikimedia Foundation. It was originally published at the Wikimedia blog and is re-published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Heather Walls, photograph by Guillaume Paumier, CC BY-SA

Heather Walls, by Guillaume Paumier CC BY-SA

When Heather Walls designed the Wikipedia Teahouse, she was inspired by the name to create a space with “a sort of zen feeling” where new editors could relax, have a cup of tea, and get help learning the ropes from experienced Wikipedians. Her design for the Teahouse, which is full of gentle colors and images of people and nature, aims to create a “softer entry point to Wikipedia, where you can see there are other humans, and they’re the ones talking to you.”

When she’s asked about the project or about her work as a visual designer, Walls often comes back to the theme of human connection. “The Teahouse gives people a chance to see each other, to see that Wikipedia is other human beings,” she said. “I love watching the hosts give patient and supportive answers to all kinds of questions, and how thankful guests are in return.”

In the eight months since it was launched on English Wikipedia, new and experienced editors have come to enjoy the Teahouse’s warm atmosphere. “It’s surprising how relaxing the site design is,” said Teahouse host Writ Keeper. “I’m not an artsy type…so I never would’ve thought that site design would make such a difference, but it does.”

Walls says what she likes best about all the projects that she works on is the purpose and dedication of the people involved. “My hope is that as many people as possible can feel ownership of this mission.”

In 2011, Walls started contracting with the Wikimedia Foundation, creating outreach materials for hackathons and recruitment, and soon moved on to projects like Teahouse, Wikipedia mobile, a Funds Dissemination Committee portal, and a portal for new editors on Arabic Wikipedia. With a background in architecture and a degree from Harvard Graduate School of design, she has experience designing both real and virtual spaces. She’s also an active Wikipedia editor in her spare time, patrolling new pages and serving as a host in the Teahouse.

The WikiWomen’s Collaborative logo — which features an image of hands forming a “W” shape — is another one of Walls’s designs that focuses on people finding common ground. The WikiWomen’s Collaborative project supports women’s participation in the Wikimedia movement by celebrating inclusivity and diversity, and this ideal brought some challenges to the design process. “We were definitely going for not-pink,” says Walls, “though this logo can be any color and it doesn’t change the recognition.” The idea for the logo came from a photo taken at the WikiWomen’s lunch at Wikimania in 2012, where over 100 women from around the world gathered. “Looking through our hands creates a sort of window we share,” she said. “We do things with our hands, everyone around the world, we have that in common. The WikiWomen’s Collaborative is about women everywhere contributing to the voice of the world.”

Addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap is, at its core, about widening representation and incorporating more perspectives into the sum of human knowledge. Walls recognizes the unique perspective that she brings to her own design practice. “Every individual brings their experiences, and as a woman I do have a different viewpoint. My view and experience, the fact that I have learned to understand the importance of invitation, that is in what I do now, even if a project is not specifically aimed at women.”

Wikipedia Teahouse design palette, by Heather Walls CC BY-SA

Wikipedia Teahouse design palette, by Heather Walls CC BY-SA

Proving that a Wikimedian’s work is never done, Walls just completed a redesign of the Teahouse to make it even easier for guests to find the help they need. “As we added features and explanations to the main pages of the Teahouse over time, simplicity and some of the visibility of the Teahouse organization was lost.” Some editors were attached to her old design and initially opposed the updated version, and Walls said she also felt some nostalgia while rolling out the changes. Ultimately, thanks to lots of community input, the original colors and Teahouse logo were retained in the new design, because they play an important role in the emotional connection users have with these pages on Wikipedia.

Come stop by for a cup of wiki-tea in the newly revamped Teahouse on English Wikipedia, or visit the WikiWomen’s Collaborative on Facebook to continue the conversation. Heather Walls and other WikiWomen look forward to meeting you there!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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Photograph of Wikipedia editor Anastasia Lvova

Wednesday Geek Woman: Anastasia Lvova (Анастасия Львова), prominent Russian Wikipedia editor

This is a guest post by Netha Hussain. It was originally published at the Wikimedia blog and is re-published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Anastasia Lvova’s story should be an inspiration to women editing Wikipedia. She started editing Russian Wikipedia in 2007, because she found volunteering very interesting and useful to society. She has been one of the most active editors of Russian Wikipedia since. After writing her first article (certification) and improving her first good article (RFID), she became dedicated to Wikipedia.

Photograph of Wikipedia editor Anastasia Lvova

Lvova’s contributions to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia community are impressive. She runs a bot, which does automated tasks on Wikipedia. It is now active on multiple language Wikipedias. She is also a Toolserver user — where she works on the Connectivity project — and an agent for Wikipedia’s volunteer customer service group, OTRS. She has created more than 2,200 new articles and authored some good and featured articles about Ireland and the arts. She has made as many as 404 edits in a day, 23,777 actions with flagged revision in a month and more than 60,000 edits in all! She was at the lead in organizing Wiki Loves Monuments Russia in 2011. She is an advocate for free knowledge and took part in organizing protests against internet censorship in Russia. A large part of her collection of images on Wikimedia Commons are photos from her foreign trips, because according to Russian law, photos of still-in-copyright buildings are not free.

Outside the Wikimedia network, she is a photographer and writer. She graduated with a degree in management and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in psychology. She maintains a blog where she posts about her activities within and outside Wikipedia. She is also involved in charity and volunteering, and likes spending time writing letters to the elderly and children in orphanages. For her, these hobbies contribute to her activities within Wikipedia, as her hobbies help her create ideas for writing Wikipedia articles.

For Lvova, being a woman editor is a positive. She says that the Russian community is receptive to woman editors, and fellow editors have helped her from time to time. She has met like-minded individuals from the community, and has done collaborative projects with them. She has noticed that the Russian wiki-community sometimes expects feminine behavior from women editors, but she says it’s not really a problem for her. She also noted that in the past, when it was hard for women to teach in universities, they became teachers, fighting against the odds, even disguising themselves as men to be able to teach. Women should be inspired by the past and feel empowered to contribute now, she argued. “Dear women, we can do it, and sharing information has always been our competence,” she said with a smile.

Lvova enjoyed meeting other women editors in Argentina during the WikiWomenCamp, a meeting of women Wikimedians from around the world that took place in May 2012.

“WikiWomenCamp was helpful for me not only because I got new contacts and a new perspective of things, but also because it gave me some courage to work for women’s issues,” Lvova said. She was grateful to receive a grant from Wikimedia Germany to participate in WikiWomenCamp and she has been supported by Wikimedia Poland to attend two Wikimanias and several wikiconferences.

After WikiWomenCamp, Lvova started a project for new woman editors to write articles about notable women on Russian Wikipedia (they have written about 50 articles so far). She said she wishes to be helped by both men and women in her community to bridge the gender gap in Wikipedia. She thinks that this is an issue which has to be dealt with urgently. “Statistics show that around 6 to 23 percent editors are women, but we can’t be sure yet as many women prefer to disguise themselves as men because they think that a man’s opinion would be preferred over a womans,” said Lvova. She, therefore, likes to research about women’s participation in her home wiki.

Her activities on Wikimedia have helped her visit interesting places, but the most rewarding experience for her has been meeting fellow Wikimedians. Through these events she has met new people who have helped her learn fresh ideas for problems, many of which were not raised in local discussions. If you want to say a ‘hi’ to Anastasia, the best place to drop by would be her talk page, where she says she would welcome the discussion.

A Russian language version of this post is available in the original profile.

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Want to highlight a geek woman? Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Photograph looking up several floors of outdoor stairs

you keep using that word

This is a guest post by Garann Means. This post originally appeared on her blog.

I keep seeing the word “meritocracy” pop up, mostly in discussions that seem to have stemmed from Faruk Ateş’ “A primer on sexism in the tech industry”. Do yourself a favor, don’t go googling. It’s the same shit:
“Sexism isn’t real because I’m a woman and no one did the sexism to me!”
“Women resent being treated as women instead of being evaluated solely on their capabilities!”
“You’re a sexist!”
“Some people called me a sexist after my sexist blog post and it hurt my little feelings and I’m leaving the internet!”
“You GUYS, remember this is supposed to be a meritocracy.”

Except no. No it fucking isn’t. Because a meritocracy is not a real thing. It is a joke.

The word meritocracy comes from a political satire. It was never meant to be something we should aspire to. It was the opposite, actually, a warning about how we rationalize what we believe we’ve “earned”. If that sentence doesn’t seem to you applicable to the tech industry and our cyclical discussions about sexism, racism, and even occasionally classism, go get yourself another cup of coffee.

There’s some dumb bullshit in one of the current crop of reaction posts waxing poetic about “hacker culture,” and its freedom of speech and lack of PC dogma. Hacker culture was a bunch of white dudes. Hacker culture is a great example of a meritocracy. Some of the most privileged of the privileged got together and formed a community around the idea that they were smarter than everyone else. They created an arbitrary set of metrics for membership and according to their metrics, they triumphed. This was the first time in the history of the world white men had experienced the elation of peer recognition.

A meritocracy is not a system for locating and rewarding the best of the best. If it were, the “best of the best” in almost every goddamned industry or group on the planet would not be a clump of white men. I’m having trouble finding good stats on this, but white men are something like 8% of the world’s population. When you go to a fucking conference and you look around at all the white dudes, do you really honestly think, “Wow! What a bizarre fucking statistical anomaly it is that basically everyone with the special magic gift of computer programming happened to be born into a teeny tiny little demographic sliver of the population”? Of course you don’t. You don’t think about it. You focus on telling yourself that you’re supposed to be there, because you’re so fucking smart, and if other people were as smart or, if you prefer, they were “technically inclined,” they could be there just as easily.

A meritocracy is a system for centralizing authority in the hands of those who already have it, and ensuring that authority is only distributed to others like them or those who aren’t but are willing to play by their rules.

Somebody on twitter told me that when the computer industry was overwhelmingly female, it was due to merit. I think that makes a really good counterpoint to this meritocracy bullshit. Because no, it was not due to merit. Merit didn’t fucking enter into it. Most of those women had no experience in the industry and – even if we accept the lol-worthy premise that merit can be objectively measured – there was no way to evaluate their merit as computer scientists. That’s not to say we shouldn’t use that as a template. We absolutely should. Those women had jobs and were happy to have them. They worked hard. Those who stood out did so because they had demonstrated that their work was good (through their work, not through their savvy) and because standing out and advancing the field was necessary to their work. I would rather work with a roomful of those women than with the arrogant, privileged brats our industry too often recognizes “merit” in these days.

If we met the utopian ideal we toss around in blog posts, we’d still have lots of middle-aged women in this field. We’d have black people. We’d have Asian people – not a smattering, but a majority, cause the world is mostly Asian people. We’d have an even ratio of men and women. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned after sixteen years in this career, it’s that if a middle-class white boy who literally never had a job before getting a sweet internship at some cutting edge technology company can eventually, through practice, become a passable computer programmer, anyone can do it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after thirty-three years of being alive, it’s that if you see middle-class white boys flocking in droves to a particular career path, it’s a pretty fucking easy job and you should try and get yourself one like that.

I guess that’s a little mean. Sorry, middle-class white boys. I’m not calling you dumb. I’m calling you soft. I’m calling myself soft, also, and everyone else who works in this field. What a meritocracy really protects us from is challenge. If we don’t even allow most people through the gates, we don’t have to worry that we might pale in comparison to them (pun intended). There will always be a place for us in an industry we keep others out of. That’s why we should seek out diversity – because the lack of it makes us weak.

If you give a shit about this industry’s goals beyond making yourself look smart and cool, for fuck’s sake, stop calling it a meritocracy.

When sex and porn are on-topic at conferences: Keeping it women-friendly

This is a cross-post from the Ada Initiative blog. Discussion is extremely welcome!

We’d like to start a discussion: How can the Ada Initiative extend the example anti-harassment conference policy to explicitly allow respectful, woman-positive discussion of topics like sex and pornography when it is on-topic, without creating loopholes for sexist and exclusionary behavior to creep back in?

First, let’s be clear: harassment and unwelcoming behavior at open tech/culture conferences are far from over. For example, one recent conference tried to “break the ice” using slides with sexual messages and/or animals mating and ended up getting racism and prison rape jokes (unsurprisingly – see this list of higher risk activities for conferences to avoid). That’s why the Ada Initiative’s advice on including pornography or sexual discussion at technology conferences is “don’t.”

A brief explanation of why pornography and sex are off-putting to women and LGBTQ people of any gender: Most pornography shown in this situation assumes that the audience is male and heterosexual, and sends the message that everyone who is not a heterosexual man is not the intended audience. Also, shifting people’s minds towards sex often triggers people to view women as sexual objects, in a context in which women want to be treated as humans with a shared interest.

Cindy Gallop

Cindy Gallop speaking

But showing pornography and talking about sex in public are not necessarily a “women not wanted” sign. Women are using open tech/culture to create erotica by and for women, and to have open discussions about sexuality in general.

For example, Archive of Our Own is a “fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks,” designed and created by a majority women community, and hosts erotic fan fiction written by women among many other fan works. At the Open Video conference, Cindy Gallop talked about ways to change pornography to be more women-friendly, as well as more “open source” (and launched a startup actually doing it). for women in open tech/culture also need to speak about what keeps women out of their communities, which requires talking about pornography and sex.

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp DC

Valerie Aurora speaking at AdaCamp

What we want to do is support conferences that have organizers, speakers, and attendees who are sufficiently aware of sexism, homophobia, racism, and other forms of harassment in order to distinguish between, e.g., trying to “spice up” a presentation with a little off-topic pornography, and a discussion of ways to change pornography to be more women-positive. Our own AdaCamp is an example of a conference in which sex and pornography are on-topic.

The Ada Initiative’s current anti-harassment policy includes the following paragraph:

Exception: Discussion or images related to sex, pornography, discriminatory language, or similar is welcome if it meets all of the following criteria: (a) the organizers have specifically granted permission in writing, (b) it is necessary to the topic of discussion and no alternative exists, (c) it is presented in a respectful manner, especially towards women and LGBTQ people, (d) attendees are warned in advance in the program and respectfully given ample warning and opportunity to leave beforehand. This exception specifically does not allow use of gratuitous sexual images as attention-getting devices or unnecessary examples.

We then add a blanket provision approving discussion about topics that are appropriate for the specific conference.

What do you think? Comments are open (but heavily moderated).

Food for discussion: A few examples of anti-harassment policies from conferences where sex and pornography are on-topic: BiCon, Open SF, and Open Video Conference.

If you like our work and want to support our work making conferences more women-friendly, please donate now.

Donate now

Interactive Feminist bingo screenshot

Announcing the release of the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Yalkut and Betsy Haibel. Elizabeth is a front-end developer and writer in New York City; she is a A Very Uncommon Cook. Betsy is a Rubyist who wishes that anarchist punks and open-source geeks talked to each other more. She can be found on the internet at a usually-silly tumblr and a usually-less-silly github account. Together, they are the Irregular Gentlewomen.

This post originally appeared on Elizabeth’s tumblr.

The Irregular Gentlewomen are proud to release version 1.0 of the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card! An open-source project (CC BY-NC-SA), the Interactive Feminist Bingo Card is meant to be an easy way for commenters in online feminist venues to identify sexist and misogynistic trolls, provide validation of a commenter’s judgement that a troll is genuinely trolling and not just clueless, and suggest responses to some of the remarks the troll has made.

Bingo cards are common in the geek feminist community; there are several existing ones linked in the Geek Feminism wiki, and Betsy & I relied on them heavily while creating the bingo card. We’ve both used those existing cards when participating in or reading passionate exchanges in feminist spaces, and felt the need for a card which collated the contents of many of the existing cards and made the game aspect of the card more true to life. (We’re not aware of any other interactive bingo cards in the social justice blogosphere; the cards we have encountered have all been either table-based or images, many of the latter very pretty.)

There are dozens of different squares in the many existing cards, which sometimes made it frustrating to play using one card — “That comment should get me bingo, but it’s not on the card!”

The color scheme is the “girly girl” palette from earlgrey at colorlovers, and the fonts are Emily’s Candy and Miss Fajardose; the names were a part of our decision-making process. We rejected at least one font because the name included a masculine reference. This bingo card is, in part, about embracing the female and the feminine and the feminist and not being ashamed of those things — so we looked for color schemes tagged “girly,” with lots of pink in them, we filtered through the display fonts at Google Fonts to find ones with girls’ names and curlicues and hearts over the i’s. But pink and swirly and all of those quote-unquote traditionally feminine qualities aren’t the only way of being feminine, much less being female, and certainly not the only way of being feminist (in fact, it can be argued that embracing the girly and feminine is a very specific kind of feminism, very third-wave feminism, which isn’t always accepted as feminism). We wanted to make sure to include some iconic feminist references, which is why, upon clicking a square, the text transforms into white-on-red with a black-and-white background — it’s meant to evoke the Barbara Kruger (your body is a battleground) photograph, which was designed as a poster for the massive pro-choice march that took place on April 9, 1989 in Washington, D.C. I would have loved to make that reference more explicit by using the actual face in the Kruger, or treating a stock image similarly, but we were concerned about copyright issues. Hence, the classic “female” symbol is the background of the “used” squares. (Yeah, we probably could have gotten away with a fair use argument, but that was just not the hill we wanted to die on.)

The animation is there for a few reasons: one, because this project was partially a lab space for us to push the boundaries of our code knowledge, and I haven’t gotten a chance to mess around with CSS animations and transitions and whatnot at work much; two, because animation on a web site, unless very discreet, is the kind of stuff that gets disparaged as the realm of amateurs*, the kind of thing you would have seen on a Geocities site, the sort of visual flourish which would only appeal to (and imagine this said in a tone of deep contempt) girls. Obviously, we regard this as bullshit. Animation is a key part of a lot of things that are not seen as girly — where, for example, would video games be without animation? So we wanted to juxtapose the very femininely-styled text, in a feminist context, against the kind of powerful effects which are either sneered at as unsubtle when it’s in a context coded as female or lauded as creative and daring when in a context coded as male. How well we succeeded, well, that’s for the audience to decide. The code is available on github, after all, and if you hate the animations, you can fork it and strip the CSS.

(Also, I really like the zoomy effect. VROOM VROOM FEMINISM.)

In general, we strongly encourage people to fork the project! One of our design goals was ensuring that the content-source files, particularly, would be easy to edit — hopefully, even easy to edit for the less technical. We hope that other people will add to our list of trollish comments & rebuttals, and perhaps even that our code can provide an engine for other anti-oppression bingo cards. (While we’d love to see, for example, anti-racist or anti-cissexist bingo cards, we felt that as white cis women from privileged economic backgrounds we would not be the right people to make them.)

Good luck never getting bingo, and if you have to, we hope the kitten video (oh, did we mention that if you win, you get a kitten video? Thanks to Skud and Emily for that idea.) helps balm your soul.

* See, for example, Vitaly Friedman’s article, in which he remarks, “designers of CSS-based websites tend to avoid extreme interactivity and instead use subtle, refined effects sparingly”. And yet Anthony Calzadilla‘s Spiderman animation, later linked in Friedman’s Smashing Magazine as an example of CSS3 animation, is about as in-your-face as it can get.

A closeup photograph of an open lipstick, with a blurry laptop in the background (by Aih)

The Ladycoders Project, Interviewing and Career Advice

This is a guest post by Addie. Addie is a software engineer specializing in web applications in the Portland, OR area. She’s actively involved in the Portland tech community, including the local women-in-tech group Code N Splode.

This post originally appeared on her blog.

Last fall, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) and had a transformative experience. Over those two days of sessions and networking, I felt like I reconnected with every aspect of myself that has existed throughout my 12 years writing code, and this had a way of healing some old career wounds in a way nothing else really has. GHC is interesting because it brings together women from all stages of the computing pipeline – academics, industry veterans and novices alike, and students – so many students.

Many of the conference’s sessions focused on career development, and rightly so. Many of the students in attendance were on the cusp of starting their careers in industry, and the conference provided some crucial guidance. Some sessions were tuned to issues female developers tend to grapple with more than male developers – Impostor Syndrome and other crises of low confidence, for instance. In one of the most personally powerful moments of the conference, the woman who was my only female teammate on a team of 30+ men in my first job out of college sat down next to me during a “Confidence Building Tricks” session. This woman has been my role model both personally and professionally in the six years since I met her, and this was the first time I’d seen her since leaving that job. At the behest of the workshop organizers, she turned to me and bragged, “I run the Internet” (and she does!) in her best Schwarzenegger voice, and I felt elated.

The final session I attended at GHC involved an informal, rotating panel of women in industry giving career advice to women just about to launch their careers. Everybody had different stories, and the hour of discussion that followed was really eye-opening. I learned that I hadn’t been the only person who’d cried during my first job interview. I learned that I wasn’t the only person to find my college’s career center training to be mostly insufficient when it came to technical interviewing, because technical interviews often reduce a person to their skills and can feel very dehumanizing when you’ve been trained to expect something entirely different. I heard about a variety of industry experiences very different from my own, and reconnected with the nervousness that is standing on the cusp of the unknown as a college graduate-to-be.

After the session, one of the college-age women pulled me aside and said she wanted more advice about interviewing, specifically technical interviews. I reiterated that she should take traditional interview training with a grain of salt, because technical interviews rely so heavily on problem-solving and proving technical skill. I recommended that she investigate the wide array of websites that post sample technical interview questions and problems to solve, and to practice working through the solutions to those problems not only on her own but out loud and with others – to get comfortable “working on the whiteboard”. I told her that the technical content in interviews varies substantially depending on the company – and even the interviewer!, and that she should expect to occasionally deal with problems that are intentionally difficult and not easy to solve. I wrapped up by telling her that it’s easy to feel discouraged and frustrated with oneself after dealing with the rigor of some technical interviews, but that’s a normal response and to not think she wasn’t cut out for this if she has a bad interview or practice session. Once you get the hang of it, I said, technical interviews can actually be a lot of fun.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Grace Hopper conference was interacting with women who approached the “gender in tech” issue from a different angle than me. Many of the goodies in the Expo Hall celebrated being a coder in the same breath as stereotypical girliness in a way that I find quite problematic. But I also saw college women who loved the problematic swag and was reminded that, a decade ago, seizing upon my girliness as part of my identity as developer was an act of rebellion.

I squirmed when women – especially industry women, and especially those on stage, in panels – made gender essentialist claims (implying that women were superior in certain skilled areas). I wished these women wouldn’t make such claims in front of a room full of students who looked to them as authorities, but I also remembered the times in my past where cheap gender essentialism helped me feel a lot better during times of low confidence.

When I explored the discomfort that surfaced while witnessing others coping with the women-in-tech issue in ways I found problematic, I saw so much of my younger, less experienced self. I empathized strongly with the coping mechanisms we all employ to make the difficult journey as a female or other minority developer. Like all coping mechanisms, some work better than others. One of the big questions I grappled with in light of this, and still grapple with, is this: being well-versed in women-in-tech issues is something that requires education and lived experience just like any other specialty. As we’re learning, we’re going to accidentally hurt people along the way. How do we correct problematic behavior when we see it, without alienating? How do we learn, and encourage participation, along all steps of our journey, and cope with the inevitable cases where someone says something that isn’t quite clueful and steps on some toes?

I’m reminded of all of this thanks to a discussion popping up in several of my social circles lately regarding the Ladycoders Project, a (now fully-funded) Kickstarter campaign and upcoming career-development seminar for women in technical careers. After learning about this project, most of the women in tech that I know were initially jazzed: we all love the idea of empowering women to succeed in an industry that doesn’t make it easy. Every female developer has a thing or two she’s learned the hard way that she would have preferred to see in a seminar like this one. Most of the initial discussion I saw was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

It didn’t take long, though, before some folks started investigating the Ladycoders site and found some content that disturbed them. That “good” and “bad” mock interview in the Kickstarter video didn’t sit right. The seminar opens with a session called “Skin Deep”, which focuses specifically on appearance. The outline to the “Certifications and Skills” session includes a bullet point on “why you have to be qualitatively better” (presumably, than your male peers). There’s language in the Kickstarter’s FAQ which has made LGBTQ individuals – who face many of the same issues (and more!) in industry as cisgendered women – uneasy. But the session that sticks out the most (and the worst) is “Men Aren’t the Enemy”, which posits:

Men don’t deliberately keep us out; it’s our job (for now) to be easily integrated into an all-male team, nonthreatening, and hyperskilled

This statement has (rightly) made many women in industry quite angry, myself included. Geek Feminism’s Timeline of Incidents catalogs an ever-growing list of sexist events across communities. People have (and will continue to) say that these exclusionary practices aren’t a “deliberate” attempt to keep women out, but anybody who has experienced the isolating chill of exclusionary behavior understands that it is harmful, whether or not it is deliberate, and it does keep women out. (Further reading: Intent is Not Magic.) The rest of the sentence suggests a path of least resistance that relies heavily on performing stereotypical gendered behavior; I’m not the only person who detects a strong whiff of victim blaming in all of it.

Many of us who have been discussing this project feel incredibly torn here: we have serious problems with some of the content on the Ladycoders site, but we also think the project has an excellent goal. There’s a lot of good advice in the session outlines as well – in particular, I liked seeing bits about “the myth of the one-page resume” and building up a public code repository on a site like GitHub. There’s also emphasis on practicing whiteboard exercises and mock technical interviews. Since this project is just getting off the ground – the seminar hasn’t happened yet – we don’t know how the problematic stuff in the session outlines will translate to in-person education; the only information we can go from is what’s provided by the website and the Kickstarter. The problematic content inspires far more questions than answers.

Some of us are also torn because of a discussion a few weeks ago following a post called “The Dark Side of Geek Feminism”; Skud’s post summarizes the scope of the discussion quite well. We’re still grappling with some difficult questions: if our feminism really isn’t about setting rules or hoops to jump through, how do we skillfully engage with problematic content? How do we take a stance on something when we all come from different perspectives, opinions, and backgrounds? How do we call out ignorant or hurtful statements while still showing compassion? While Ladycoders doesn’t explicitly state that it’s a feminist project, its goals (to increase the participation and representation of women in industry) match those of [geek] feminists. As individuals, we all draw our lines in different places when it comes to problematic content and behavior.

I can only speak for myself here. I think the problematic content in the Ladycoders outline has the potential to do tremendous harm, and ultimately drive women away from industry by delivering misleading information. That’s my beef with it.

Circling back to Grace Hopper here for a moment, I had the same feeling when I came out of Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote address. As I’ve said before, I really have trouble with Sandberg’s “inspiring” speeches to women because she places so much emphasis on women’s ambition and hard work, as if every obstacle constructed by institutional sexism can be overcome just by working a little harder or shedding a bit more blood. As a young person it is enormously empowering to feel like what’s possible is solely within the realm of one’s imagination and willpower. And there is some truth to that. But there are also so many systems at play, and when it comes to being a minority in any field, those systems can work very strongly against us.

The problem with not acknowledging the oppressive influence of the system in one’s approach is that it can be utterly heartbreaking once the system gets in the way. If I’ve been taught that my success in industry just comes down to my agreeability, my ambition, my skillfulness in not threatening my male peers – what happens when the problems that such behavior meant to solve arise anyhow? How do I cope in that situation – do I blame myself? Do I decide I’m just not cut out for this, and quit? What information could I have received about these inevitable obstacles that could have fostered resilience?

This is what I’m worried about when I hear Sandberg speak, or read about Ladycoders encouraging me to do all the work to integrate with my all-male team. It just doesn’t match up with the reality that I’ve lived. In fact, it would require an inhuman amount of energy and the emotional fortitude of a robot. One approach does not fit all situations.

I’d like to pivot back to the advice I gave that college student back at GHC, and some general sentiments about my own experience with interviewing and otherwise getting by in industry. There’s a lot we can do as developers to better ourselves – to make ourselves better candidates for a job, and outstanding employees once we’re on the job. But the onus shouldn’t just be on us. The tech industry is very young, and there are a lot of things it’s not doing well either. I have major criticisms about the general trend of software companies hiring for a very specific set of skills and experience rather than aptitude, and being unwilling to invest significant resources in training: I firmly believe this is damaging for all parties, and allows for the continued glorification of the stereotypical hacker type who spends all of their time on code, disadvantaging developers who prefer more balance. Peter Cappelli has been writing some great pieces about the skills gap myth that tie into his book “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It“. It encourages me to see a voice putting pressure on institutions instead of individuals for once. Needless to say, I have the same opinions about organizations with gender diversity issues: it is the organization’s job to proactively make themselves appealing to people of all identities; if the responsibility has been placed on the token person in that diverse group to point out what you’re doing wrong, you’re not doing it right. We absolutely need to work on improving ourselves as candidates and employees, but the pressure on systems and institutions to fix themselves up could be so much stronger, and that’s where my passion lies.

Personally, I love talking about interviews and general career advice. There’s a lot of things I’ve gotten right and many more I’ve gotten wrong. I’m an excellent interviewer, and getting a job has never been difficult for me. I’ve still had some interviews that I would have conducted differently if given the chance to do them again. On the job, things have been a bit more challenging for me – I’ve spent more time as a “new employee” than not, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I’m not very good at being “new”. I’m not very good at asking lots of questions in lieu of reading documentation, motivating myself to jump into a foreign code base, or warming up to a new development team. I’d like to be a more focused and organized worker, and I’d like to spend more time on skill development than I currently do. So I have plenty that I’m still working on.

I asked some other female developers about their experiences interviewing women, and learned some interesting things. I want to wrap this up by passing on some advice I think is useful and trends women-or-minority-specific, but a bit more constructive than the problematic bits in the Ladycoders outline.

  • Learn about terms like Impostor Syndrome, Stereotype Threat, and microaggressions as soon as possible. It’s normal to encounter one, if not all, of these at some point. Being able to put a name to that uncomfortable feeling will help you feel less alone in your experience, and will help you communicate your needs more precisely.
  • The most important component of a technical interview is being able to problem-solve on your feet. Try doing this with both easy and hard problems; examine the way you react when you don’t know how to solve a problem, and consider more constructive ways to engage with it. Asking for clarification or additional information is totally okay. Give as much information as possible while you’re thinking through an answer; it’s okay to say “I know this isn’t the optimal solution, but here’s the first thing that comes to mind.” Technical interviews can actually be a whole lot of fun once you get the hang of these things.
  • One of the benefits of switching jobs regularly is more frequent interview experience. If you’re looking for a new job after a few years away from interviewing, realize that you’ll probably be a bit less polished. Take some time to review potential interview questions and practice with a friend. I know some people that regularly interview between jobs even if they aren’t actually looking; this doesn’t work for everybody, but it does help the practice stay fresh.
  • Appearance and personality mean so much less during a technical interview than they do any other interview, and this can be disorienting for people who have been trained on non-technical interviews. I typically interview in jeans and a sweater (and also a nose ring and candy-colored hair – YMMV, but this hasn’t been a problem for me), and I incorporate things like my motivations and values into my narrative about my career history, technologies I’ve worked on, etc. With time, you’ll find ways to make responses to questions about past experience both informative and personally insightful.
  • Yes, women tend to express less confidence and more doubt in their abilities. I am absolutely one of those folks. At the same time, I’ve found most interviewers find it refreshing that I’m admitting what I don’t know instead of pretending that I have everything figured out, since so many other interviews can feel like trying to smoke out the candidates who are faking their expertise (an unfortunate side effect of this industry’s stereotypically hyper-masculine culture: braggadocio). I try to reframe my deficits in a positive way: “I haven’t worked with that – but I’d like to learn it,” or “That’s not in my skillset, but given my experience with x, I’m sure I’ll pick it up in no time.” There is a way to be honest about one’s limitations while avoiding self-deprecation.
  • Being personable in a technical interview is really about showing excitement and passion for a particular technical topic or field of study; figure out what you’re enthusiastic about ahead of time and feeling engaged with your interviewer will be a lot easier. When you’re researching the company you’re interviewing, what aspects of their work seem the most interesting to you?
  • Interviews are a two-way street. You are always interviewing the company, too. If they do something that doesn’t impress you, that’s important data and shouldn’t be ignored. Don’t be so fixated on your own performance that you miss warning signs. Think about what you’ve liked and didn’t like about past jobs you’ve worked, and questions you could have asked to get information about those components of the job in the interview. Sometimes your mind will go blank when an interviewer asks if you have any questions – if you know this happens to you, come with a list!
  • Curate your online presence. If you have a unique-to-the-Internet full name like me, this is a lesson you learned a long time ago – we of the unique names are really easy to find on Google (right down to the Tamagotchi haiku I wrote as a 13-year-old that wasn’t really a haiku). Make sure you have a web presence that conveys an accurate picture of who you are both as a developer and an individual. Personally, it’s important to me that my web presence is authentic and not sterile – think of how you want to present yourself to someone doing a web search on your name in a variety of career contexts (future employer, future coworker, collaborator on an open source project, peer in your local tech community, etc.), and decide what you can do to get yourself to that point. (This was a big topic at GHC and I think it’s going to become increasingly important. You can use your presence on the Internet to your advantage!)
  • Talking about past negative experiences is a tricky road, but if you avoid the issue altogether in interviews, don’t be surprised if those issues re-emerge after you get the job. This is the one I’m doing the most work with right now. I’ve been harassed and bullied on the job, so now I ask about company harassment policies in interviews; I’ve had neglectful managers and a void of performance feedback, so I ask about the frequency of performance reviews, one-on-one meetings, and the organization’s managerial philosophy. The big one that I’ve just started doing – and it scares me a lot – is being public about my priorities as a geek feminist and my interest in improving experiences for minorities in tech while I’m in an interview. I’ve realized that I’m no longer willing to work for companies that haven’t even done the most basic research on the issues facing women in tech, so if they react poorly to my disclosure, that’s important data. Yes, this has terrified me, but so far it’s led to positive results.  I’m still figuring out the right questions to ask in that department, and I’m learning as I go.

Want to read more on this topic? Here are some links that have emerged while my peers have been discussing Ladycoders and constructive career advice for tech minorities.

Red/Yellow cards

The gamification of feminism?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers from Annalee Newitz. Paraphrased:

Do you have examples of or ideas for the “gamification of feminism” – ways that people have turned advocating feminism into a game or fun activity?

Red/Yellow cardsExample: KC Crowell printed and distributed sports-style “red cards” and “yellow cards” to give to people being sexist at DEFCON 20 a few weeks ago.

What are your examples, ideas, and thoughts?

A Response to Nice Girl’s “The Dark Side of Geek Feminism”

Guest blogger Christie Koehler is a software engineer, community organizer, yoga nerd, vegan, queer, buddhist, Mozillian, co-founder of the Stumptown Syndicate and co-chair of the Open Source Bridge conference. This post is cross-posted to her blog at subfictional.com.

The recent post The Dark Side of Geek Feminism, authored by the pseudo-anonymous Nice Girl, and the mostly uncritical responses to it concern me for a couple of reasons.

First, it attacks all of geek feminism based on the actions of a few unnamed individuals. I find this problematic because there is no certification for being a geek feminist. Anyone can call themselves such. Certainly, there are those who call themselves feminists and claim to align themselves with our efforts to support women (in tech, geekdom and elsewhere), but then undermine those efforts with their actions. Or support women to the detriment of other oppressed groups. Folks who do this should be called out on their behavior. It’s not an attack or a condemnation to do so, it’s an opportunity for dialog and for social change.

Furthermore, the author discounts the need for accountability, equating it with vigilante justice. She claims that “naming and shaming” means “trying these things in the court of public opinion” and that both are “wrong and dangerous.” I find this conclusion to be flawed. Without question, it is a person’s decision whether or not to name their abuser. There are plenty of good reasons for not doing so. However, it’s clear that the author is withholding such information not to protect herself, but in order to protect potential abusers and derailers: “[Naming people] can completely ruin someone’s life. The internet lynch mob that it inevitably creates can haunt a person for years.”

Another aspect of the post to consider is use of the term “lynch mob” (quoted above) and the author’s response to being called out on its inappropriateness. Rather than reflecting on why it’s inappropriate to use such a phrase, she simply says she was being hyperbolic and accuses the person who called her out of trolling. What this tells me is that the author clearly doesn’t understand intersectionality and how it relates to privilege. For me, this kind of understanding, or at least the willingness to achieve it, is a prerequisite for engaging in feminist dialog in the first place.

Which leads me to wonder, is the author really engaging in a feminist dialog, or is she promoting an anti-feminist agenda?

I ask because Nice Girl’s post feels like an attention-stealing effort and an attack on anti-oppression dialog. Rather than having a productive conversation about specific people’s behavior, we’re discussing unidentified “bad feminists,” whom we have no ability to address because we don’t know who they are or the full content and context of what they said.

Nice Girl says she believes “naming and shaming” to be unfair. However, the approach she took is even more unfair because it attacks everyone associated with geek feminism; any one of us could be the person she’s talking about.

I’d be having a much different response if the author had written factually about her experiences and not given her post the damming title The Dark Side of Geek Feminism.

[Note: Wondering why is it not appropriate to use 'lynch mob' in the way the author uses it? Because it is a powerful term that evokes institutional violence against oppressed groups.]

More reading on intersectionality includes: the Geek Feminism Wiki and The Angry Black Woman.


How I Got 50% Women Speakers at My Tech Conference

Guest blogger Courtney Stanton explains how she organized a game developer conference with 50% women speakers. Stanton is a project manager for a video game company in Boston, and long-time feminist scourge of the computer game industry. Her work has been featured on GF several times. Follow her on Twitter at @q0rt.

Hi! In case we’ve never met, the elevator pitch for me goes something like: interactive media/videogames/project management/social justice/interior design/travel/semi-hatred of conferences. Like, *for real* I am not an enjoyer of conference content most of the time, despite going to several of them every year. I always end up sitting in a room listening to the same four straight white men agree with each other on some panel, and then I wander over to the expo floor where a person who doesn’t know anything about the product hands me a flyer and a pen Oh and if I’m *really* lucky, I’ll have paid over a thousand dollars in travel expenses and registration fees.

And so I put on my Ambition hat and decided that rather than complain on Twitter endlessly (well…in addition to, I guess), I should put together a conference for game developers, just to see if it was possible to make one that I would actually attend with enthusiasm. I ended up calling it No Show Conference, because it’s not about pageantry, glitz, or any of the “slick” stuff I see at a lot of conferences. Here, have a link: noshowconf.com

My Criteria:
- Not a bajillion dollars to register
- Don’t make attendees use vacation time just to show up
- Different entry fee/access level for hobbyists/newbies/students/broke friends
- Nothing included should be a waste of time, including the traditional expo hall
- Have an anti-harassment policy and train volunteers on enforcing it
- No panels

And then, because I am sneaky, I also had a secret agenda.

Unstated Criteria:
- Try to get as many women on stage as I possibly could

Since I was the one who made the conference up, I’ve got total control over setting price, etc, so all of my stated criteria have been very easy to enact so far. But getting women in the lineup at game conferences is seemingly difficult, given that so few events even have women speaking at all. I run a monthly networking group in Boston for women in the game industry and their allies, so I know the issue (at least locally) isn’t that there aren’t enough women with innovative, interesting things to say. What gives?

The easiest way I saw for getting more women on stage at the actual event was to get as many women to submit speaking proposals as possible. Selecting presentations was done without speaker information associated with the titles and pitches, so I wasn’t able to “reserve” spaces in the program for anyone based on aspects of their identity — and I wasn’t interested in that sort of reservation system for this event, anyway. It’s a come-one-come-all event for game industry professionals, so more than anything I wanted a really strong set of talks, even if that meant I ended up with, sigh, yet another roster of all dudes.

So! Getting women to submit content: easy? Um. When I’d talk to men about the conference and ask if they felt like they had an idea to submit for a talk, they’d *always* start brainstorming on the spot. I’m not generalizing — every guy I talked to about speaking was able to come up with an idea, or multiple ideas, right away…and yet, overwhelmingly the women I talked to with the same pitch deferred with a, “well, but I’m not an expert on anything,” or “I wouldn’t know what to submit,” or “yes but I’m not a *lead* [title], so you should talk to my boss and see if he’d want to present.”

I promised mentoring, I promised practice sessions, I promised one-on-one slide deck reviews with people who have spent hundreds of hours speaking at conferences. I emailed my Women in Games Boston group, I attended events and encouraged groups of women in person, I sought women out online, I met with women over coffee. I encouraged/begged them to consider translating the hours and hours I’d spent with them in the past talking about their careers, their specialties, their ideas, into a 45-minute presentation. I told them how much I respected their reputations and their ideas and that I’d be thrilled if they had the time or interest in submitting a talk.

Did every woman respond like that? No. But it was very much the minority situation, me promoting the conference and having a woman say, “oh, okay, does [concept] sound like a good fit?” and then them actually turning around and submitting a proposal. One or two women versus every single man who submitted content. (Also, while I have spoken either in person or online with every woman who submitted, several of the proposals submitted by men were guys I’d never met.)

We ended up getting 18 submissions (8 women, 10 men) for 10 planned slots. In between launching the conference and selecting talks, the keynote speaker I had lined up fell off the face of the planet, but super-conveniently for me, one of the submitted talks was a scorchingly good topic for a keynote, so kaboom, problem solved. Then, I couldn’t get the final selection list down to 10. I had 11 and they were all great, covering things I hadn’t seen presented elsewhere. So I reworked the conference schedule, made room for the extra presentation, and called it a win. What we’ve ended up with is a speaker lineup of 6 men and 6 women and *I swear that was not planned* but hey, it’s convenient for my thesis that you can put together a games conference for the industry at large and still get more than one token woman in your lineup.

Having a non-trivial number of women submitting presentations seems to have made it so that a non-trivial number of women are speaking at No Show Conference. Imagine that.

Huge giant HOWEVER: I came away from the process of promoting and recruiting potential speakers with a bitter, unwilling sympathy for event organizers who say, “there aren’t any women speaking because no women applied.” Like oh em gee y’all. I am hoping that this year’s conference is successful enough that I can make it an annual event, and that these months of cheerleading will have planted some idea seeds that I reap when it comes time to wave the pom poms and encourage speaker submissions next year. I’m hoping that the women speaking this year will in turn encourage other women to apply.

I’m hoping I run into fewer women who self-reject their ideas before I even get a chance to read them.

So hey, I was hoping to get some women on stage and it looks like that was achieved! Hooray! …Hooray? Wellll…while I am really, really pleased with our speaker lineup and our session content, I realize that this is not Nature’s Perfect Conference (yet). But I figured the only way to find new problems was to get some of these recurring, obvious ones out of the way. (And I didn’t even set out to tackle *all* of the obvious diversity problems, just the one I felt I’d be most likely to succeed at this time around.) It’ll be really cool when I, as a white person, figure out how to promote speaker submissions more/more effectively to people of color in my industry. Likewise with QUILTBAG game developers and thinker-types. I think I lucked out somewhat in our venue this year from an accessibility standpoint (ramps, elevators, handicap stalls in all the bathrooms), but I definitely wouldn’t claim that I’ve covered all the bases of accessibility for potential attendees (yet) Short version: I’m not perfect, neither is this event, but I am looking for ways to make it better and more open to all people working in games, both this year and in future years. And in the meantime, at least I’m putting on a conference where a version of myself from another dimension wouldn’t sit in the audience tweeting, “oh hey, a panel with a bunch of dudes on it, how novel.”