Tag Archives: programming

Linkspamming the night away (11th May, 2011)

  • May 13 in Boston: A project-driven introduction to Python for women and their friends (unfortunately now gone to “waiting list only” status).
  • An open letter to the Australian SF community: However, the venue staging was awful, in terms of its accessibility. High, and only accessible by temporary stairs, the stage was off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, anyone in an electric scooter and anyone with a significant mobility impairment… This should not be acceptable to us as a community in the twenty-first century.
  • How To Encourage More Brown Women To Launch Tech Startups I realized that simply asking, “Are you going?” is enough to make a difference in someone’s awareness.
  • As benno37 says: Tip to open source developers: don’t name your library after a sexist/offensive/illegal activity. I’m looking at you upskirt! Seriously, wtf. (So that not everyone has to google for the term, upskirt is a library to parse the Markdown syntax for webpages. The Wikipedia page for Markdown has loads of alternative implementations to choose from.)
  • Confessions of a Fairy Tale Addict: Because it is a lifestyle choice, to write fairy tale books. Make no mistake. I mean, in our culture, the phrase fairy tale practically means: trite, lightweight, and fluffy. You know, girl stuff.
  • There’s a long series of interviews conducted in 2010/2011 with women working in planetary science. See for example Natalie Batalha (From postdoc to Deputy Project Scientist on Kepler), Amy Jurewicz (Stardust, Genesis, and SCIM) and for that matter Emily Lakdawalla (It is NOT failure to leave academia).

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Career change to programming

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our commenters. This is the last post from round 4. Round 5 will run in the second half of 2011.

I have a 24 year old niece who is currently working as a fashion designer but is thinking about changing careers and getting a Computer Science degree. After two years in her job she has discovered that she doesn’t fit in very well with the culture or with her co-workers. She does really well with the graphic design programs (while all her co-workers are computer phobic), and she took some programming classes back in high school, so I think she can do it.

Since I’m an old geek feminist myself I’d like to encourage her in whatever way I can. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to work for more than 10 years due to health issues so my knowledge of what skills are needed, and what job opportunities exist out there, is pretty outdated. My question is this (and I hope it can be phrased in a way that provides general help for anyone in this situation, not just my niece) -

Any advice on how to make this career change easier? She’s looking at going back to get a master’s in computer science (she would have to take a lot of basic math/science first) but I’d love to hear other suggestions. Are there informal venues where she could learn? Conferences or clubs or something like that? What are the best online places where newbies can hang out and learn? What programming projects could a beginner work on to get some hands-on experience that would make them more employable? What would help to give her confidence in her ability?

For example, back when I got my own degree (1978–1982), I worked at several different programming jobs on campus, mostly to pay my way through school, but it turned out that the work experience was invaluable when I started looking for a full-time job. Is this type of thing still relevant or is it hopelessly old fashioned?

Drupal Voices 100: Jack Aponte on Diversity, Power and Privilege in Open Source Communities

Neville Park is a queer mixie nerd in Toronto. This post originally appeared at Wild Unicorn Herd.

An interview with Palante Tech‘s Jack Aponte (a. k. a. Angry Brown Butch) on, well, diversity in Drupal.

Background: Drupal is a kind of CMS (content management system); it’s a particularly powerful and versatile platform for building and managing websites. It is free and open source, which means that you don’t have to pay to use it, and anyone can help work on it. There’s a very large and international community of people who use and work on Drupal, and like the wider tech community, it’s dominated by white straight cis men. Open Source people, and Drupal people in particular, pride themselves on having a “doacracy”—a community that values getting stuff done above traditional authority. This could create a beginner-friendly, non-hierarchical environment of subversion and experimentation. In practice we just have white straight cis men getting SUPER DEFENSIVE at the suggestion that maybe they got where they are not only by the sweat of their brow, and shouting down any mention of patriarchy, racism, or any other systemic oppression when people run the numbers and get to wondering why there’s so little minority representation in Open Source.

There is a nice summary of the podcast at the link, and my transcript is below the fold. I’ve added links to give context to some of the references Jack and the interviewer make.

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I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.

This is cross-posted at Restructure!

I demonstrated an aptitude for computers when I was a young girl, but I didn’t have home Internet access until I graduated from high school. I blame the Patriarchy, partly.

By the time I was in high school, I was usually the only person in my classes who didn’t have any Internet access, while most of my peers had high-speed access. When my peers communicated with each other through e-mail and chat, I was shut out of the social conversation and didn’t understand the “technical” terms they were using. I understood the creative potential of being able to communicate with computer users all over the world. I knew that Internet access would allow me to communicate with others without my social anxiety getting in the way. However, my father was hard-set against the idea of “the Internet”.

For five years, I was part of a persistent family campaign to convince my father that we should get Internet access. He thought that the Internet was a software program that was just a “fad” and would go out of style. Back then, the mainstream media was even more confused than now about what “the Internet” was. The news sensationalized stories about online predators luring young girls through “the Internet” to rape them. The implied moral of these news stories was that the Internet was dangerous and full of sexual predators.

My father did not work in an office then, so he heard more about “the Internet” through his coworkers. One male coworker basically explained to my father that The Internet Is For Porn. My father came home and told us that he was never going to let us have Internet access, because girls especially should be protected from exposure to pornography.

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Double Major

I’m back in school, as some folks have probably already gathered from my microblogging. I’m finishing up a double major in Computer Science and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, and if all goes according to plan I’ll be graduating in May 2011.

While this may sound like a strange combination, it makes perfect sense to me – I’m interested in equity issues within the STEM fields, especially computer science.

It turns out the combination of fields come in handy in unexpected ways some times. After proofreading a paper I wrote for a Women and Gender Studies class for me my friend Valerie suggested that some quantitative data might be useful in supporting one of my assertions. In my paper I argued that while early feminist scholarship on sexual harassment failed at intersectionality, more recent scholarship has embraced it. To support this, I wanted to compare the number of citations for Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination to Kimberle Crenshaw’s Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. These are both profoundly influential works, but I wanted to quantify how their relative influence on scholarly work.

So I did what any self-respecting CS student would do – I wrote a script to scrape Google Scholar for citation numbers over time and made a graph comparing the two :)

For your edification, here’s scholargraph.pl:

# (c) 2010 Leigh Honeywell
# Licensed under the Simplified BSD License, reuse as you will!

use strict;
use LWP::Simple;
use LWP;

# set up LWP user agent and cookies; pretend to be Firefox 4 just to be cheeky
my $lua = LWP::UserAgent->new(
    keep_alive => 1,
    timeout    => 180,
    agent =>
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:2.0b7pre) Gecko/20100921 Firefox/4.0b7pre"
);

# edit in your citation numbers from google scholar and the appropriate
# date ranges for what you're trying to do
my $crenshaw = getCites( "10759548619514288444", "1977", "2010" );
my $mackinnon = getCites( "2195253368518808933", "1977", "2010" );

sub getCites {
   (my $cite, my $startyear, my $endyear) = @_;

    for my $year ($startyear .. $endyear) {

        #construct the query URL using the above data
        my $post =
          $lua->get( "http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites="
              . $cite
              . "&as_ylo="
              . $year
              . "&as_yhi="
              . $year );

        # scrape the returned page for the number of results
        if ( $post->content =~ m#of (?:about )?(d*)</b># ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . "," . $1 . "n";
        }
        elsif ( $post->content =~ m#did not match any articles# ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . ",no resultsn";
        }
        else {
            # some kinda error happened, most likely google caught me!
            print $cite. "," . $year . "errorn";
        }
    # don't kill google's servers
    sleep(5);
    }
return 0;
}

Oh and if you’re curious, Crenshaw’s paper was cited far more than MacKinnon’s, pretty much as soon as it was published. Intersectionality FTW!

And as these things always go, of course I spend the evening working on this only to find that there’s a Perl module as well.

CompSci Woman: Looking for stories of women in computer science

My friend Cate and her friend Maggie have started a blog called CompSci Woman that I think many of you will enjoy reading, and hopefully some of you in computer science will be interested in contributing too! The idea is to make it easier for younger women to find role models who are already involved in the field. They note that although there’s actually lots of us, being female and in computer science is usually an aspect, not an identity, so we’re not all going to show up in Google. Read about the ideas behind this project here.

For September/October, they’re accepting guest posts especially on the topic of “How I got into CS.” I know many of our readers and writers here have interesting stories, so if you have some time, please consider writing a post for the project! The letter for potential contributors is at the bottom of this page, but here’s the short version: “If you are interested in contributing, submit your post (include a link to an illustrative image if you like) along with a brief bio and a photo. You can email this to female.compsci.blog AT gmail DOT com.”

I just put my own story up there. Mine’s slightly unusual because unlike many women who suffer from impostor syndrome especially when they first start out, my story was shaped a lot by feelings in the opposite direction…

How I Quit Computer Science (And What Drew Me Back)

To explain how I ended up in computer science, you have to understand the story of how I quit.

(…)

First year computer science was geared towards students who had little to no experience with computers, and I realised that I’d be wasting several years of my life waiting for my peers to catch up. On top of that, it was boom times and CS was being viewed a shorter path to a 6-figure salary than the more education-intensive med school or law school. The people who were there weren’t really in love with the discipline; many were just in love with the idea of being rich. I wasn’t interested in paying thousands of dollars per term to waste my time with peers I didn’t respect in a program that was boring me to tears.

I was disappointed, disillusioned, and wanted a challenge that was clearly going to be a long time coming in CS. So I dropped out.

Read the rest at CompSci Woman.

Restore meritocracy in CS using an obscure functional language.

Students who did not have the privilege of hacking since they were young are at a disadvantage in Computer Science (CS). However, CS departments can teach introductory programming using an obscure functional programming language to limit the young hackers’ advantage. Most students with prior coding experience learned a procedural programming paradigm, so forcing all students to struggle with learning a new, functional language helps restore meritocracy.

In the blog comments, Kite recounts hir experience with an intro CS course:

While I think my course was pretty sucky, one good thing it did was to knock the wind out of the sails of those guys who’d been programming for ages – by starting us on an obscure functional programming language called Miranda (oh did it ever raise a whole lotta grumbles from the boasters). Only after that did we do procedural stuff like C, and then onto C++. Mind you, the whole course seemed determined to be as academic and un-real-world as possible, so C++ was probably the most career-relevant thing we got out of it! [...]

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If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

Often, computer geeks who started programming at a young age brag about it, as it is a source of geeky prestige. However, most computer geeks are oblivious to the fact that your parents being able to afford a computer back in the 1980s is a product of class privilege, not your innate geekiness. Additionally, the child’s gender affects how much the parents are willing to financially invest in the child’s computer education. If parents in the 1980s think that it is unlikely their eight-year-old daughter will have a career in technology, then purchasing a computer may seem like a frivolous expense.

Because of systemic racism, class differences correlate with racial demographics. In the Racialicious post Gaming Masculinity, Latoya quotes a researcher’s exchange with an African American male computer science (CS) undergraduate:

“Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.”
— Undergraduate CS Major

Those “other guys” in CS are those white, male geeks who brag in CS newsgroups about hacking away at their Commodore 64s as young children, where successive posters reveal younger and younger ages in order to trump the previous poster. This disgusting flaunting of privilege completely demoralizes those of us who gained computer access only recently. However, CS departments—which tend to be dominated by even more privileged computer geeks of an earlier era when computers were even rarer—also assume that early computer adoption is a meritocratic measure of innate interest and ability.

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Antipodes robotics team

Team Antipodes is a team of three girls “headquartered in Pacifica, California, USA, but dedicated to collaboration with similar teams from around the globe.” They competed in the 2009 FIRST Lego League, placing third in their regional championships, and have extensively documented their work in the form of notes, video and CAD models to encourage others to experiment and compete.

Team antipodes portrait

Team antipodes portrait

We caught up with Violet, Emma, Kjersti and their coach, Ken, for an interview via email.

GF: When and how did you take an interest in robotics?

Violet: Ever since I was little, my dad has been exposing me to all sorts of technology. One of these things was robots. Robots fascinated me because they had a mind of their own. I wanted to be a part of making these machines and learn more about them.

Emma: The year before we started the team Antipodes my dad was doing a project with it. At first I didn’t want to do it but one day I got bored and started helping him out with the programming. Now I’m here.

Kjersti: The beginning of my 8th grade year. My friend’s Dad started a team, and he invited me to join it because he found out about robotics through my mom. It seemed like a cool thing to do, so I tried it out. This year was way cooler than my first year.

GF: How did the three of you come together to form Team Antipodes, and compete in tournaments?

Violet: Last year, our coach went to an event at NASA Ames and saw one of the FIRST robots. He got interested and was inspired to start a team. At first, it was through 4-H, which both of his daughters are involved in. Two of our team members, Kjersti and Emma, were on the team that year. It was not as successful as they had hoped. They had many people who were not very dedicated or interested.  He gave Kjersti and Emma the choice to craft this year’s team, and they decided to shrink the team and only include people who were extremely interested  in robotics, so they invited me onto the team.

Emma: Kjersti and I did it the year before and Violet was our friend who was interested in it also. We competed really well. We are all really good friends and helped each other out.

Kjersti: Emma and I were on the original team in 8th grade, but we split off from that and decided to form our own team independently. Violet was our friend who is super smart and seemed interested, so we recruited her. We felt satisfied with just the three of us, so  we stopped there.

GF: What have been the most enjoyable, and most difficult, times in the
team’s history?

Violet: The most enjoyable are the meetings, because there are always jokes going around, and the car rides back from the tournaments are always fun because the stress is gone. Seeing the robot, named TOR, do well in the competition is always rewarding, too. Though I have to say, our recent trip to Istanbul was one of the most memorable things in the whole season. The most difficult times are when it is the night before one of our competitions and things aren’t working like we had hoped.  Also when the robot is having a hard time at the competition and we don’t know why.

Emma: The most enjoyable have been meeting new people at the tournaments and hanging out. The most difficult are definitely when something is not working right and we don’t know how to fix it and also the long, early car rides to tournaments.

Kjersti: Some of the most enjoyable times have been the competitions. We are there, having fun with each other and at a point where there really isn’t a whole lot we can do the change what we have and we have to be happy. So we are. Some of the most difficult have been the night before a competition. We usually sleep over at our coach’s house the night before (his daughter is on the team) and the whole night we are stressing about our robot and just totally freaking out. It’s probably when we are the most stressed, and there have been break downs.

GF: How do you feel about competing internationally in the Open European
Championship?

Violet: We were thrilled when we found out. We fundraised so much and worked hard to go. When we got there, we were overwhelmed. We got to meet kids from all over the world and compete with them. It was a chance that few get to have and we were lucky enough to get.

Emma: I’m a little nervous but also very excited, it should be amazing to meet people from all over the world and see how their competition is run.

Kjersti: Totally amazed, honestly. Our goal at the first competition was to not get dead last. We accomplished that, but we never dreamed we would make it to an international tournament. We were trying not to be too nervous or stress about the competition, because we were there to have fun.

GF: What do you do when you aren’t making robots?

Violet: I do a lot of plays. In fact during the season, I was in two different shows.  Kjersti plays the saxophone and is in the marching band at our high school. Kjersti and I are also in Girl Scouts and a youth group together. Emma is involved with 4-H, does Cross Country, and horseback riding.

Emma: I run cross country, I do mock trial, I’m in a 4-H club, and I ride horses three days a week.

Kjersti: I’m in my local high school, Terra Nova’s marching band. It takes up a lot of time and practice, but I love it. I also love swimming and watching movies, but most of my time is taken up by school work.

Ken: Violet forgot to mention that she also does mock trial with Emma.

GF: You’ve decided to take a very open and collaborative approach to your work, as evidenced by the detailed information on your website (notes, designs, video and so on). How and why did you choose this approach?

Violet: We want to help other teams that need an idea of how to get started and let people see how we came up with our ideas.

Kjersti: It just sort of happened, but with a lot of pushing from our coach. He’s an architect and knows that it’s important to keep track of everything we do, and after a little bit we discovered that it was really helpful, especially since we weren’t always able to meet at the same times. It became an important tool to keep up with each other.

Ken: The reason we share our work and designs with our competitors, and anyone with access to the internet, is manyfold:

First, it’s a general principal of our league (FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to be gracious competitors. Second, we’ve been recipients of openness and help from older teams (most notably the LegoGuards and TechnoGuards), and it was immediately apparent this was the right thing to do. Third, I’ve been impressed by the many accounts of the long-term benefits of 1980’s Silicon Valley openness vs. Boston Area secretiveness. Fourth, it’s consistent with the whole idea of Antipodes (which means location on the opposite side of the globe) to push the envelope of engineering collaboration with students as far away as possible (Australians). Fifth, it took countless hours of web surfing to get started as a new team.  I realized it would be a valuable resource to have a single location to learn as many lessons as possible from our experience, down to the invaluable detail of remembering to change your tires the week before the tournament and to adjust your programming to account for the better traction.

Matt, as the team’s coach, I didn’t give the team much choice about this.  I just told them that openness is what we do, and they never questioned it.  Although, I know they can tell the difference from most of their competitors that don’t show their designs.

GF: What is your creative process like when you work together? How do your projects begin, develop and get completed through collaboration?

Violet: When we run into a problem, or just need to figure how to do something, usually someone suggests a possible solution. Then we start questioning it and trying to figure out every single detail of it. Since there are a few very visual people on the team, this usually involves a bunch of drawings and sketches. If we decide the solution is not going to work, someone else suggests something else and we start over. Once we agree on a solution we start working on it. Usually we divvy up the work and assign different tasks to different people. If someone runs into a problem with their task, they will ask for advice from the rest of the team. Eventually, the final work will be achieved whether it is a solution to a minor problem or a whole project.

Kjersti: We start with the problem, and basically brainstorm about what needs to happen. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes on, and we try each other’s ideas, until we find the best one and go with it.

Ken: I’d like to add that for any major design issue, we always break out the white board. The girls sit together on the couch as comfortably relaxed as possible and one of them volunteers to write the problems and suggestions out on the board in front of the others.

GF: Do you have any words of advice for other girls who are interested in robotics, as to how to get started?

Violet: Don’t let other people hold you down. Your friends may tell you that you are wasting your time, or someone may tell you that you can’t do it. You have to learn to not listen to these people.   Find a robotics team of some sort, or start your own. It is really a great experience and you learn a ton. FIRST has programs for all ages, and you can contact them about finding a team near you.

Kjersti: I’d say go for it! It’s a lot of work but it pays off in the end. There are more opportunities than you might think to get involved in robotics, so you can ask around, or go to the FLL website to get more information.


The team gave a Google Tech Talk in Mountain View in June, where they discussed their team and activities, and gave a demonstration of their robot:

Having competed in the European Championship in Istanbul, they are seeking donations to help cover their travel expenses. Due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the trip was much more expensive than anticipated and as of this writing they are about $4000 short. If you wish to support them, you can do so on their website.

Hairy-legged bra-burning linkspam (17th June, 2010)

  • Open World Forum 2010 (Sep 30 to Oct 1, Paris) is having a Diversity Summit: Why women matter? relating to women in Free/Open Source Software. There’s an associated poll to gather data about women in FLOSS that anyone involved in FLOSS might be interested in taking.
  • Andrea Phillips is super-excited about Caitlin Burns and Jurassic Park Slope events.
  • Making games is hard: On the barriers that women face: … as someone whose life has been consumed by learning the ins and outs of game development for the past three years, I have to say that making a game is pretty damn hard. And I think that the complicated process of game development itself can be a barrier to women entering the field
  • Discussing sexism in geek communities is more important than discussing gender imbalance: Restructure! writes Ironically, when some female geeks use the capitalist discourse of increasing female representation in STEM fields as a structural strategy for reducing sexism and improving our personal autonomy / right to pursue our career of choice, many male geeks misunderstand these efforts as being anti-choice.
  • In light of Restructure!’s post, see Eric Ries, Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business): That’s why I care a lot about diversity: not for its own sake, but because it is a source of strength for teams that have it, and a symptom of dysfunction for those that don’t.
  • Women and Technology and Myth: Adriana Gardella interviews Cindy Padnos, a venture capitalist. The article is a little bit on the "suck it up, buttercup" end of the spectrum, but has good points about critical mass and homophily.
  • Jessa Crispin has given up reading bad books about women: I had to give up on a pretty good book because halfway through I did a little equation: what was the probability that the two women in the book would turn out to be anything other than gold diggers and sluts. Not great! So: gone.
  • Isis the Scientist has more on John Tierney, bonus humorous pictures!
  • What I got wrong about women in science: Maggie Koerth-Baker writes Several hours after I hit “publish”, I realized that I’d managed to put together a panel on diversity made up of nothing but white people.
  • Her blogging about social justice doesn’t make Renee your on-tap free expert on womanism, anti-racism or social justice.

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.