Tag Archives: Tech industry

GraceHopper-MorePowerful

Increasing your programming skill

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I’m a geek feminist trying to get into IT, specifically object-oriented programming and Flash/Actionscript. What I’m having the most problems with is practice – I’m taking some Continuing Ed courses because I have a totally different day job, but I still don’t feel like I’m gaining much skill in programming, probably also because I know exactly what I WANT to learn, but I haven’t found anything yet that covers it.

What I’m wondering is, for the typical programmer/developer job path, how do you figure out how to solve programming problems that aren’t covered in your classes? Do you just search through the language documentation (e.g. Java API) looking for relevant code?

This is in many ways closely related to an earlier AAGF question about finding newbie coding problems, but also a little broader: programmers, when you were learning, did you go to the puzzle sites, or work through language docs, or work on open source, or something else?

Multiple small broken window panes, through which greenery outside can be seen.

Does the sexism in CS ever get better?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

Dear Geek Feminists:
I have a little story for you, and then a group of related questions. About two years ago, I was miserable, isolated, and overwhelmed in my undergraduate computer science (CS) program at a male-dominated polytechnic institute. I went to my advisor, an accomplished woman professor who had taught and studied computer science at quite a few schools, and asked her if she had any advice about dealing with sexism in our discipline.

“It never gets better. Either you learn to deal with it, or you leave,” she said. I was crushed by this, and I believe her fatalistic assessment contributed to my failing out of that school in that semester.

My question, then, is in several parts.
1) If you’re a woman in CS, does it ever get better? If it got better for you, where and how did that happen?
2) If you’ve learned to deal with it, how?
3) If you left – as I left, as Skud left – would you go back? Did you go back?
4) If being ostracized and viewed as gross and weird for being feminist and female “never gets better,” why stay in CS?

What do you think?

Rectangular plain biscuit with the word 'NICE' baked into it

Cookie of the Week*: Chad Whitacre (whit537) came up with a better name

This is a guest post by Annalee. Annalee is a python programmer and general-purpose geek. She can be found on Twitter as @leeflower and Dreamwidth as annalee.

Cookie of the Week* is an occasional series highlighting action in the geek community to fight sexism, in order to show that fighting sexism is possible and happening.

When Chad Whitacre announced on Twitter that he’d just released a new version of Testosterone, “the manly testing interface for Python,” a friend of his called him out, asking “what, exactly, makes it manly?”

After a brief, polite back-and fourth, Whitacre slept on it, and apologized.

Then he announced that he’s renamed his project. Here’s an excerpt:

really do want to encourage women in tech (I have three young daughters), and a project like testosterone does not do that. I remember being surprised to see a woman at PyCon 2011. I don’t have the data, but anecdotally I’m telling you there were LOTS more women at PyCon 2012. Let’s do more of that!

It is now assertEquals, “the epic testing interface for Python.”

If anyone’s wondering how to handle being called out on twitter: this right here is how you handle it.

So here’s your cookie, Mr. Whitacre:

Rectangular plain biscuit with the word 'NICE' baked into it

Image description: a rectangular shortbread cookie with scalloped edges and the word “NICE” stamped into the middle.

Does anyone else have any cookies to spare this week?

* Disclaimer: cookies may not be baked weekly!

wall-mosaic

The Gap and the Wall

Last week APM’s radio program, Marketplace, did a story with Freakonomics about the patent gap between men and women. Women are responsible for only about 7.5% of patents in the US. That doesn’t surprise me. What is interesting about this story is that the presenter points to research that shows that when women compete with men they tend to perform worse (not just in comparison with men) than when they compete with women only. He casually recommends that companies like Google allow or encourage women to segregate themselves so that they can attain their full potential without being affected by the gender interaction.

Does this sound familiar? This is the case being made for sex segregated education. Women passionately defend girl’s schools and women’s colleges as safe and nurturing spaces for young women to learn and grow, and I am sure that they often are. My concern is, specifically, with engineering. To my knowledge, there is no women’s college in the US which grants a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I know that some women’s colleges cooperate with a neighboring university so that their students can attend engineering classes, but when women students attend classes at a coed school, they are no longer participating in a women only program. Women may perform better when they are segregated, but the truth is that the real world isn’t segregated and I don’t want it to be. Sooner or later men and women are going to have to work together. I would prefer we change the things that contribute to poor performance by women when working in the presence of men instead of removing all the men.

Do you think you would do better work if you could work in Lady-Land without the Male Gaze? If we are open to segregation why not also look at quotas? Both systems are interfering with “supposed” pure merit systems in an effort to even the playing field.

If you accept that the composition of the community affects the performance of the individual members and you are willing to change the composition of the community to allow some members to perform better then why not move the community to parity as opposed to segregation? Why not require that women need to make up a certain percentage of management and the workforce? I would like to see how women perform when they are represented equally at all levels of an organization.

Three women in Dalek costumes attacking an inflatable Tardis

Re-post: On competence, confidence, pernicious socialization, recursion, and tricking yourself

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from earlier in the year. This post originally appeared on January 20, 2011.

The other night I went to a hacking meetup for the first time in months. It’s usually an informal Python learnfest, and as I’m refreshing my Python basics, I went with the assumption that I’d be the least technically skilled person there. Like, of course, right?

The hacking meetup that night was, as it turns out, an installfest, so I ended up generally poking around at the software being demonstrated, and conversing with strangers. One in particular caught my attention with a fairly ill-formed question: what meetups should he visit to learn how to make websites?

Over the next hour, as I answered his questions, it became clear that he just didn’t know much, compared to me, about software engineering, or about the wider world of technology or the web. He’s in the second year of a computer information systems bachelor’s degree, and knows his way around a little Java (of which I am wholly illiterate). He didn’t know about the LAMP stack, or about Drupal or Rails or Django (or why one might choose PHP versus Ruby versus Python versus Java versus pick-your-web-friendly-language). He didn’t know that these tools exist, or why one would use a framework or pre-existing CMS rather than coding “everything” oneself. He has never heard of bug trackers, or source control, or diff. He said he did not know what a wiki was (I scarcely believed this, and told him that Wikipedia is a wiki).

As a side note: I gathered that his entire career trajectory and curriculum comes not even from conventional wisdom, but from “I once heard someone say.” Examples: “Why are you doing CIS instead of CS?” “Someone told me that CS majors get outsourced.” Or, more boggling: “Someone told me Python is useless.”

From one perspective, this guy has more technical merit than I do. He has taken an algorithms class. He can probably do a job interview coding question better than I can (reverse the characters in this string, etc.). But I have a fair amount of wisdom he lacks, full stop.

Then there was the guy who was interviewing me to work at his startup. As we walked, he offhandedly mentioned his current project at his day job: a PHP web app needed to be able to turn user markup into HTML. “And you’ve already checked whether MediaWiki has something you can grab, right?” I asked. He stopped in his tracks. No, he had not thought of that.

I need to stop assuming that everyone else knows more about the tech than I do.

We’ve talked a fair amount here at Geek Feminism about impostor syndrome and sexism (my past post). I’m just going to start with a few postulates:

  • In sexist societies, women get especially socialized to think we’re not as intellectually capable as we are, and to act self-deprecating about our abilities
  • In technical spaces where women are the minority, sexists dismiss our successes and concentrate on our missteps

Regarding the latter, I recently reread Abi Sutherland’s “Permission to Suck”, which included a moment of a familiar self-flagellation:

…every achievement is just a mitigation of the disservice I’m doing womankind.

It’s as though my goalposts came on casters to make them easier to move

But of course that is an error in judgment. Our sense of our own merit gets calibrated by feedback from the outside world, but sexism and impostor syndrome get in the way of that calibration. All the tentacles of this issue — the prejudice, the tokenization, the distorted self-perception, the discounting of one’s achievements and comparative lionization of others’ — bother me because they mess with proper judgment.

On an emotional level, I especially hate that anything is interfering with my data-collection and judgment. I am the kind of person who delayed drinking alcohol and took notes the first time she drank, to record any degradation in perceptions and prudence. I delayed getting a credit card till I’d supported myself for more than a year, partially to ensure that I had the correct attitude to judging purchases & debt. And here is this thing, clogging and fogging my mind, which I know is a lie, but which does not go away even when I speak its true name and snap three times.

Recursion Dinosaur

RECURSION DINOSAUR

And a poisonous effect of the socialization is that it turns women’s conversations about the problem into yet another self-deprecation exercise.

“I hate myself for hating myself so much”

“oh god you’re awesome, I have worse impostor syndrome than you”

“No way, your self-confidence is admirable”

“I’m meta-shit”

RECURSION DINOSAUR rawwwrrraaaawr

So I seek lessons and tactics on how to become a less irritating person to my friends, and a more useful and capable person going forward. Some assorted thoughts and ideas:

Five ways you can feel as competent as you really are

  1. Everything in Terri’s earlier advice, especially a shield of arrogance.

    I’m not saying you need a thick skin. That’s maybe true, but it won’t help your confidence nearly as much as the ability to say, “screw you; I’m awesome.” Shield of arrogance it is.

    If you are worried about being confidently wrong sometimes, note that a small increase in confident wrong assertions is a small price to pay for a big increase in capability, correct assertions, momentum, and achievement.

  2. Know that sometimes thoughts come from feelings, not the other way around. The “I suck” feeling does not necessarily have a basis, just as good weather and ephemeral physiology can put you on top of the world. Instead of looking for reasons that you feel mildly down or incapable, consider disregarding them, acting, and seeing if your feelings dissipate.
  3. If you feel compelled to go from success to success, you may not be risking enough. As these entrepreneurs do, try assuming that you will fail the first time you try something.
  4. Every endeavor that anyone has ever done is therefore in some sense No Big Deal, that is, doable. Some people make the hard look easy, but experience and effort make for far greater variation than does innate ability — or, at least, isn’t it more useful to assume so? Watch other people succeed, and watch other people fail. Mere life experience helped me out here, but so did Project Runway, where I saw good people trying and failing every single week. And so did seeing these guys, at the meetup, at the job interview, being dumber than me. I just had to keep my eyes open and it happened, because I am smarter than the average bear.
  5. Notice the things you know. A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that she worries that people perceive her as incompetent if she asks more than two questions about a hard problem via her company’s internal IRC channel. I asked her to compare how many questions she asks and answers on IRC each day. She hadn’t even been considering that ratio, because she’d unthinkingly assumed that what she knew must be basic, and blabbing about the stuff she already knows is easy and natural and unremarkable. But upon consideration, she’s a good peer in that informational ecology, seeding more than she leeches.

This is all corollary to my earlier injunction to make irrationality work for you. We are all monkeys, seizing on narratives and any status signals we can find. Don’t keep the default sexist irrational assumptions get in the way of your confidence-competence virtuous circle. Make your own recursion dinosaur of win.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Tough as an old linkspam (8th December, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious 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.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspam as portrayed by an actress from a younger generation

Yes, that’s right, linkspams are back! Rebooted! New director! New continuity!

No, not really. Same people. Same style. We’ve just been a bit collectively discouraged by the Delicious disaster, the Google Reader implosion and the neverending freelish.us outage. Talk about making bookmarking unfun. But we’re going to try again, right now supporting pulling bookmarks from Delicious, Pinboard and Twitter. In order to not have to have 200 bookmarks, we’re just going to start afresh with some recent-ish links and go from there. Apologies to people who submitted things in the interim, post them in comments for others to catch up on.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious 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.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Enough of this linkspamming nonsense (7th September, 2011)

  • (Warning: stalking and threats of sexual violence.) OkCupid allowing impersonation, which allows someone to set up an account with your email address inviting, essentially, harassing replies. (In this case, someone also maliciously posted their target’s address, which is harder for OkCupid to check for automatically, but a complaint should result in a takedown.)
  • Don’t dumb girls down: The next time you want to tell a little girl how cute she is, try something else instead. (Discussed on Hacker News, ‘ware general fail.)
  • Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica in International Journal of Communication, Vol 5 (2011). Is there a bias in the against women’s representation in Wikipedia biographies? Thousands of biographical subjects, from six sources, are compared against the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica with respect to coverage, gender representation, and article length.
  • Women’s Quest for Romance Conflicts with Scientific Pursuits, Study Finds: Four new studies by researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that when a woman’s goal is to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from academic majors and activities related to science, technology, engineering and math…
  • Seriously, stop with the booth babes: On the one hand, YES! Absolutely!
    On the other hand, women have been saying this for years and been told, "You're making too much of it."
    Now, all of a sudden, the mens are up in arms. *facepalm*
  • A widely linked nymwars post by danah boyd that we may not have shared yet: “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power: She draws on Skud's survey, and adds some additional context based on her FaceBook research. boyd points out that ethnic minorities and teens have used handles on Facebook—signing up and giving the name that they were most commonly known by.
  • Felix Salmon believes Apple CEO Tim Cook’s sexuality should be publicly discussed. (Salmon discussed it in Don’t ignore Tim Cook’s sexuality and Why I’m talking about Tim Cook’s sexuality.) Ken Fisher at Ars Technica asks Does the press have an ethical duty to out powerful gays in tech? Note that Cook is not on the record about his sexuality or his private life much at all.

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.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

A merry linkspamming band (1st September, 2011)

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.

No Ninjas or Rockstars

Finding a healthy work culture

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers.

When interviewing for a job (as the applicant), how do you select for a healthy culture? What unpleasant traits (e.g. narcissism, sexism) do you avoid, and how do you identify them?

We’ve all had terrible jobs and co-workers. Do you have any practical advice for avoiding the poisonous job (and poisonous co-workers) at the interview stage?

Let’s emphasize problems geek women are more likely to encounter: difficulty getting credit for your work, geek-unfriendly management culture, colliding with narcissists/psychopaths/”assholes”, glass ceiling for geeks, women, and/or geek women, sexism in general, etc. If you’re telling your story, don’t forget to include what you think the first warning sign was!