Author Archive: The Programmer

Diversity in Tech Efforts Self-Defeating?

15 Apr 2018 /
Inclusion in Tech summit

Tash Wilder, Mimi Fox Melton, Damien Hooper-Campbell, and Tracy Chou [left to right] at The Atlantic’s Inclusion in Tech summit. (Photo: Tekla S. Perry)

Panelists at the Inclusion in Tech summit lamented that we can’t tell if tech is doing better on diversity because the data stinks.

My advice would be don’t worry about it. A lot of the noise around diversity in technology is self-defeating. If you’re a member of an underrepresented group, all you hear is that technology fields are hostile and awful and unwelcoming, you won’t be treated fairly, etc.

And you wonder why certain groups are underrepresented? You’ve answered your own question. Why would anyone who wants to have a happy life pursue a career beset by unfairness and hardship? Why not instead be a meeting planner or a flight attendant?

Asians are overrepresented in technology jobs but that’s a relatively recent development in the history of these fields. I don’t remember, when this transition from underrepresented to overrepresented was happening, hearing a lot about how technology fields were hostile to Asians. I don’t remember conferences being convened for the express purpose of complaining about the unfairness of it all.

Maybe it was happening and I just missed it, but either way, there’s a model for going from underrepresented to fairly represented or even overrepresented, and the model is accept the reality of your starting point, don’t complain, don’t get discouraged by listening to other people complain, do the work you need to do to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Women in STEM: It’s Ambiguous but You’re Still Wrong

8 Apr 2018 /

Woman in STEM

The Dartmouth student newspaper reports on a study finding that gender affects an individual’s perception of women’s anxiety in STEM disciplines.

Men are more likely than women to attribute this anxiety and self-doubt to internal factors, while women usually attribute such emotions to external factors.

Participants in the study read one story, among a selection, about an undergraduate woman taking a STEM class.

In the stories, based on the experiences of actual undergraduate women in STEM, the female main character expressed having anxiety or self-doubt. It was ambiguous whether the instructor in the stories harbored any biases against women.

According to research team leader Mary Flanagan, “Women identify the problem as something that is familiar and men identify the problem as something that is a particular student’s problem. Men are not seeing the systemic biases as much as the women are. That is something that we need to address in deeper conversations about STEM classrooms.”

The stories were ambiguous but stupid men still managed to draw the wrong conclusion!

Flanagan added that a large problem is the culture created by STEM classrooms that is inhospitable to women.

Flanagan, oddly enough, is a film and media studies professor. I have lots of experience with STEM classrooms . . . I never found them inhospitable to women, though admittedly I’m not a woman.

Flanagan said that the goal of the research is to change the mechanisms that create bias and to make STEM fields more inclusive for women.

I would have guessed that the goal of the research, to the extent that research is goal-oriented, was discovering whether gender impacts attribution of emotions.

Why bother with research if your conclusions have been drawn in advance, i.e., STEM fields are unfriendly to women, the reason being the inability or unwillingness of men to see things that are right under their noses.

The study was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

I’d love to see more women in STEM fields, particularly in computing, but I’m consistently disappointed by the quality of “research” in this area.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


This is Where Your PDF Resume Will Take You

31 Mar 2018 /
Microsoft Word

Received the following advice today:

When applying for jobs, never send your resume in .docx format. Fonts don’t always get embedded and hiring managers cannot always open these files. Use PDF.

Do we really want to work for managers who can’t open a Word doc? Imagine the world-class mentoring and career development you’re going to get from such a person.

I mean, my wife can open Word docs no problem and she can’t even figure out how to turn on the TV.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: How to Get Top-Notch Teachers in the Classroom

23 Mar 2018 /
Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid’s Elements.

I read something every day where educators and/or elected officials are talking about the importance for our kids, our country, our future, etc., of teaching computer science, the sticking point being an extreme shortage of qualified teachers.

A person entering the workforce with a computer science degree is unlikely to go into teaching because of the opportunity cost: they can earn a lot more money as a software engineer.

The likelihood of getting a mid-career tech industry professional to switch into teaching is even lower. Teacher salaries are based in large part on years of service. A mid-career person switching into teaching is not going to get a mid-career teacher’s salary, they are going to get a first-year teacher’s salary.

So here’s the idea:

Give CS professionals the opportunity to apply their years in industry to years of service as a teacher.

It’s still a pay cut going from software engineering to teaching but it’s on a scale that people may be willing to take if they’re looking for a new direction in life. It’s not a pay cut to back when you were 22 years old and right out of college.

What’s the alternative? Schools can’t attract qualified CS teachers so they’re taking in-service teachers and sending them to a workshop for a few days to learn to be computer science teachers.

It’s like hiring music teachers who aren’t musicians, or Spanish teachers who don’t speak Spanish.

Are you going to have a good CS program if it’s run by someone whose only connection to the subject is a five-day workshop? No. Are kids going to get excited about computer science? No. How could they? The teacher isn’t even excited about computer science.

How can these teachers know if what they’re teaching is valuable, or how well they’re teaching it?

 

Programming is difficult, there’s no way around that. The first programming class I took in college had a 75 percent drop rate.

The essential difficulty is that we’re used to giving instructions to other humans. If our instructions are less than perfect and we leave out some details, people can still probably figure out what to do. If we send a text or an email with a grammatical error or a typo, the recipient can figure it out.

Computers can’t figure it out. If you’re giving instructions to a computer, everything has to be perfect and you can’t leave anything out. It’s not a natural mindset, operating at that level of detail.

UC Berkeley offers a CS class, intended for non-majors, called The Beauty and Joy of Computing, the idea being that yes, programming is hard, but it also opens up new ways for people to connect, design, research, play, create and express themselves, to translate ideas into code.

You can’t get the beauty and joy and challenge and fun of computing across to students via teachers who just learned programming at a week-long workshop last summer. The only thing that comes across is how difficult it is.

Introducing kids to computer science and programming in this way may be worse than not teaching CS at all. Kids decide pretty quickly that programming is too hard, it’s boring, they’re not smart enough, they don’t have the right aptitude, their efforts are not rewarded and they don’t want to have anything to do with it because it makes them feel bad about themselves.

Computer science is not unique in this respect, but it’s less about presenting “material” and more about conveying a way of thinking. Teachers can’t convey a way of thinking when they don’t genuinely think that way.

If teaching CS is important, provide an incentive to get qualified teachers in the classroom, who can teach what they do, teach something that is part of their life, teach something that is personal and valuable to them, and pass on their own insights and experience.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Too Few Women in Computer Science?

3 Feb 2018 /

Embed from Getty Images

“We have too few women in computer science.” That’s something you hear a lot.

It’s an opinion presented as a fact. I never hear anyone say, “In my opinion, we have too few women in computer science.” Just “we we have too few women in computer science.”

How do we know that? What is the right number? Maybe we have too many women in computer science. How do we know?

I’d love to see more women in computer science btw, I just object to people presuming to know what other people should be doing with their lives . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: When You Need Help, Ask For Help

1 Feb 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

It’s a mixed class . . . most of the students are taking AP Computer Science Principles, and about 10 kids just recently started a second-semester Visual Basic class.

Help

The VB kids were pretty inquisitive at first but started to get discouraged . . . in my opinion because of the way the material is presented to them via an online curriculum.

The current approach to teaching computer science in American schools, because of the shortage of (I almost said “lack of”) qualified teachers is to use packaged courses delivered to students online.

My observation is students assume that because they’ve been put in front of a computer full of lessons, they’re expected to be able to read and understand the material and complete the assignments on their own with no help.

This is a fatal misconception. The material is too difficult for most people who are not already programmers, so the kids decide pretty quickly that they just don’t have what it takes to learn the stuff.

“Tragedy” is probably too strong a word for what is happening in computer science education, but programming is what I do, I think programming and computational thinking are important and valuable skills, and it makes me sad to see them taught in a way that crushes students’ enthusiasm.

 

Brief digression: I take piano lessons. My teacher is a musician, a pianist. Music is part of her life, it’s part of who she is, part of how she thinks. How could someone who’s not a musician teach music?

How can someone who’s not a programmer teach computer science?

 

Because of everything I’ve said above, along with offering technical assistance, I try to encourage kids to stay engaged . . .

UC Santa Barbara

“I’m going to tell you a story,” I said this morning. “First I’ll tell you the moral of the story, then I’ll tell you the story. The moral is: When you need help, ask for help.

“That may seem obvious but I feel like some of you are thinking that you should be working through online lessons with a lot of independence.

“I worked with a class a couple years ago at another school. One of the students there was very quiet but she always asked for help when she needed help. She asked quietly, but she asked.

“And when I gave her an answer, she almost always asked ‘why?’ I don’t mean ‘why why why’ like a 5-year-old, but if she didn’t understand why something was important or why you’d want to do something one way and not another way, she asked why.

“It’s a good question because if the only reason for doing something is because I said to do it, what is she going to do if I’m not there?

“What happened to this girl? She’s now a computer science major at UC Santa Barbara. She was able to do that because she didn’t give up on herself when she didn’t understand something and because, even though she wasn’t the most naturally outgoing person she decided to own her own results and use the resources that were available.”

“You’ve got to own it, kids. When you need help, ask for help. Don’t give up on yourself.”

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Two Reasons For the Low Number of Women in Computer Jobs

15 Jan 2018 /

I saw this chart on LinkedIn with the heading “Chart: Women in tech continue to face uphill battle” and the hashtag #STEMSexism.

Chart

The first reason for the low number of women in computer jobs is that we rarely hear about women in computing except in the context of pay gaps, harassment, discrimination, “uphill battles” and #STEMSexism.

It’s self-perpetuating. “Computing is a terrible profession for women in so many ways.” Followed by “Why aren’t there more women in computing?”

You’ve answered your own question. If you think computing is a hostile profession (I do not, btw), why do you want more women to go into it?

 

The second reason for the low number of women in computer jobs — sometimes the simplest explanations are the best — is that women prefer to do other things.

Men and women are different and make different choices about their lives, as a result of which, women are underrepresented in some professions and overrepresented in others.

Women, for example, are overrepresented in nursing, family counseling, speech pathology, social work, education, to name a few.

Do we hear about a diversity crisis in speech pathology or social work? We don’t, right?

I worked with a nursing organization for five years. About 90 percent of nurses are women, but in five years I can’t remember a single instance where gender bias was cited as a crisis, a dilemma, a problem, or even something as mild as a cause for concern.

Women being overrepresented in certain professions is not widely considered to be a problem. But if women being underrepresented in computer jobs is a problem, then their overrepresentation in other professions is also a problem.

In fact, it’s the same problem. Because where are the women in computing going to come from?

On the safe assumption that the number of women is constant — that a large number of new women are not going to just appear out of nowhere — the women will have to come from other professions that they seem to prefer, the professions in which they are overrepresented.

Sorry girls, we can’t have so many of you working in healthcare, education and other helping professions because we need to boost the computing numbers.

Or — we could calm down about the computing numbers and leave young women to make their own choices about their own lives.

TL;DR -> Women are capable of making decisions for themselves. For the most part, they choose to do things other than work in computer jobs, which is okay. It’s possible that none of us really knows what is the “right” percentage of women in computing and it’s possible that none of us really knows what other people should be doing with their lives.

Thus spoke The Programmer


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

9 Jan 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

Cell phone

This morning, in AP Computer Science Principles, the teacher went through an explanation of the hexadecimal number system, then gave an in-class assignment for students to convert their cell phone number to hexadecimal. Not in two parts, 3 digits and 4 digits, but as a 7-digit number.

It seemed pretty obvious from the interaction and the body language and the looks on their faces that a lot of students didn’t get it, but in a class of 25 students, only one student asked for help. Until the teacher finished with that student and asked “Does anyone else need help?” and eight more students immediately raised their hand.

I asked the teacher, “Can I address the class for a minute?”

 

“First off, doing a 7-digit hex conversion is not easy. I know professional programmers who can’t do it. So I’d expect someone trying to do it for the first time to need some help.

“In fact, if you know any professional programmers, ask them to do a hex conversion on their phone number. Let me know what happens. I guarantee you won’t have to ask too many people before you stump someone.

Snap programming

“None of the material in this class is easy. Snap programming? You might look at it and think ‘There’s a cat and a fish and a duck . . . I’m not understanding it but it looks like a program for 5-year-olds. It’s embarrassing as a high school student to have to ask for help with it. Maybe I’m not very smart.’

“No, Snap is a university-level curriculum from Berkeley. Academically rigorous. I worked through the assignments myself and I found them pretty challenging. I’d expect many of you to find them challenging as well. So you should be asking for help.

“If you need help, waiting for someone to ask if you need help is not going to be a winning strategy. In school, in life or in anything. Because if no one asks, then you need help and you don’t get it.

“There’s probably a natural reluctance to ask questions because what if I’m the only person who doesn’t know the answer? Then I ask a question and look foolish.

“It’s going to be unusual in any class that you’re the only person who doesn’t understand something. If you find that happens to you a lot, you may have a problem. But normally it’s going to be pretty unusual.

“I can tell you in this class, there’s definitely more than one person who finds the material pretty challenging. As I said, I find it pretty challenging myself. It’s not so challenging that I need help with it, but it’s definitely challenging enough that I’d expect most people who are not programmers to need help with it.

Hexadecimal

“I’m also hearing some people today saying to themselves or to the person next to them, ‘Why do we need to know this?'” That’s actually a very good question. Binary of course is the fundamental language of computers, but why would you need to know hexadecimal? Anyone?”

No hands go up.

“OK, we’ll talk about that in a minute. If it’s not clear to you, in this class or any class, why you’re being asked to learn something, put your hand up and insist on understanding the relevance.

“One final anecdote:

“I worked with an AP class a couple of years ago at another school. About this same timeframe, late first semester, I was in class on a Monday and before the class started, one of the students asked me, ‘How was your weekend?’

“I said, ‘It was okay. How was yours?’

“‘It was great! I played like 47 straight hours of [some video game I can’t remember the name of].’

“And he was one of the worst students in the class, maybe the worst.

“I know he and his parents had met with the principal and the teacher to figure out why he was doing so poorly in computer science. It had to be the school’s fault, right?

“So I’m trying to wrap my mind around this. You played 47 hours of video games, you have no idea what’s going on in this class, and it’s the teacher’s fault?!

“No, it’s your fault. You put nothing into it so you get nothing out of it, you don’t ask for help, and that’s why you’re failing.

“Moral of the story: Don’t be that guy.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: It’s Not Easy to Teach a Subject in Which You Have No Training

29 Dec 2017 /
Mr. Rex Manihera, a teacher at the Glendowie South Primary School at Auckland

A recent issue of Science has an article on the pipeline for computer science teachers . . .

The first sentence says, “It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.”

That could be the whole article, really. That’s about all you need to know about the current state of computer science instruction: It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.

Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, is quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to convince a computer science professional to give up a job that pays up to three times more to pursue teaching. And I don’t think we should.”

Wilson’s opinion that computer science classes should not be taught by someone who actually knows something about computer science is probably influenced by the fact that Code.org is one of the leading providers of training programs and online curricular resources for in-service teachers tasked with teaching computer science.

How would this “train a neophyte” scheme work in other academic areas?

Assuming you could provide a one- or two-week training workshop to prospective teachers, would you:

  • Hire someone who has never played an instrument to teach a music class?
  • Hire someone who has never picked up a drawing pencil to teach an art class?
  • Hire someone who doesn’t speak Spanish to teach a Spanish class?

These all seem like absurd ideas with a very low ceiling on what you could hope to accomplish pedagogically. Why does anyone think it makes sense for computer science? Someone needs to explain that to me.

Putting non-practitioners in the CS classroom also requires, in addition to the teacher training, a second key component: the prefabricated curriculum.

Teachers are not able to design and teach a year-long class on a subject in which they have themselves only a week or two of experience, so Code.org and others offer packaged courses delivered to students online.

I’ve had an opportunity to see this in action. I volunteer two mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with the first period computer science class. It’s a mixed class, with most of the students taking AP Computer Science Principles, and a handful of kids taking an introductory programming class in Python.

The AP students are using UTeach, supplemented by the Berkeley BJC curriculum. The Python students are using CodeHS.

The teacher, a converted math teacher, does little to no independent instruction during the class period.

The material is too hard in my opinion for most people who are not programmers to read and understand and to figure out the assignments without a lot of help. Keep in mind that the teacher is also not a programmer.

The first two programming classes I took in college had a ~75 percent drop rate. Programming is hard but it can also be fun and beautiful. I don’t think a teacher who is not a programmer is able to convey that. Minus the beauty and fun, there’s nothing left but the difficulty.

I don’t see most students having what it takes to push themselves through difficult material delivered to them via a computer screen with no human interaction.

They give up and they blame themselves. I’m not smart enough for this. I don’t have what it takes.

It’s discouraging to see this because even kids who are not going to be programmers can learn useful ways of thinking about and solving problems from a computer science class . . .

  • How to break down complex problems into manageable parts
  • How to recognize patterns among and within problems
  • How to recognize important information vs. irrelevant detail
  • How to develop step-by-step solutions to a problem, or rules to follow to solve a problem

It’s a way of thinking that can’t be taught by someone who doesn’t genuinely think that way.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Every Form of Harassment is Okay — Except One

28 Nov 2017 /

How did we decide that sexual harassment is the one category of workplace abuse, incidences of which require national outrage and loss of employment?

Ideally, we would all have the prudence and restraint not to make sexual advances toward people over whose career we hold sway, but it happens.

And yet we’ve all been harassed and ill-used in the workplace in other ways by someone more powerful, someone who negatively impacted our career by embarrassing us, intimidating us, undermining us, lying to us, lying about us, stealing the credit for our work . . . it goes on and on.

Rarely do negative consequences accrue to the harasser.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, for example, was known for being abrasive, dismissive, shouting down colleagues, blaming others when things didn’t work out and occasionally wrapping himself in glory that rightly belonged elsewhere.

Did this torpedo his career? Hardly. He’s an American icon.

(In other Pixar news, John Lasseter likes to hug people. He’s now a pariah.)

Bill Gates never hesitated to tell people how dumb they were and how stupid their ideas were. In spite of this, Gates also managed to have a good career.

You can fill in your own additional examples. There are plenty to choose from.

Like sexual harassment, the options for dealing with other forms of workplace harassment are 1) report it; 2) quit; 3) decide that you need or want the job enough to remain silent and take what’s dished out.

I’ve usually taken option 1 or 2. Maybe I would have had a better career with more frequent exercise of option 3 . . . false pleasantries toward people I didn’t like, faux respect toward people I didn’t respect . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Tech Gender Bias: Men Not as Concerned

24 Oct 2017 /

According to LinkedIn:

Despite a string of revelations that women in tech face considerable headwinds — from persistent gender-based pay gaps (per Bloomberg), to limited VC funding for female-led startups (per Fortune), to sexual harassment (per The New York Times) — just 29% of men say that discrimination is a major problem in the industry, according to data from Pew. In fact, some 32% of men claim that it’s not a problem at all.

Everything I read about gender discrimination in tech starts out by assuming it’s a real problem and that all reasonable people agree that it’s a real problem.

Even the supposedly objective LinkedIn blurb above tells us that 29% of men “say” that discrimination is a major problem, while 32% of men “claim” that it’s not a problem at all, “despite a string of revelations blah blah blah . . .”

I’ve worked in tech for 30 years . . . I say it’s not a problem but I’m open to an evidence-based argument that I’m wrong. (NB: “If you can’t see it, then you’re part of the problem” is not an evidence-based argument.)

 

Some possible evidence for gender discrimination:

Gender

Just look at the numbers. It’s a male-dominated industry.

Agreed, but that’s not prima facie evidence of discrimination.

I worked with a nursing organization for five years. Nursing, you may have noticed, is a female-dominated profession. During that time, I never heard one person mention gender bias in nursing. Never. In five years.

Most schoolteachers are women, most therapists are women, most social workers, most MFC counselors . . . I could go on with this but I think we both get the point: Have you ever heard anything about gender bias in any female-dominated profession? I haven’t.

Gender imbalance is not evidence of discrimination. Men and women are different and they choose to do different things. More women choose to be nurses and social workers and more men choose to be programmers.

Limited VC funding for female-led startups

VCs would love to fund more female-led startups, but again, men and women choose to do different things and more men choose to do startups.

Note that there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of women starting small businesses, but more men choose to pitch VC-funded startups.

Gender-based pay gaps

Gender-based pay gaps are not specific to the tech industry.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is not specific to the tech industry.

Online harassment

If you think online harassment is limited to women, you haven’t spent much time online. Standards of discourse are nonexistent. Civility is almost nonexistent.

Jump on Twitter for a few minutes and see how people talk to each other.

I’ve been interacting with people on the web for a couple of decades . . . some of the things people have said to me . . . it’s beyond upsetting . . . you can feel the blood draining out of your face as you’re reading it. It’s not limited to women.

Women are passed over for raises, promotions, plum projects, etc.

Yes . . . so are men. What’s your hypothesis? Men are passed over because they’re undeserving, while women are passed over just because they’re women?

 

TL;DR -> Women are capable of making decisions for themselves. For the most part, they choose to do things other than work in tech and do startups. So what?

Thus spoke The Programmer


Tech Gender Bias: Men Not as Concerned

22 Oct 2017 /

According to LinkedIn:

Despite a string of revelations that women in tech face considerable headwinds — from persistent gender-based pay gaps (per Bloomberg), to limited VC funding for female-led startups (per Fortune), to sexual harassment (per The New York Times) — just 29% of men say that discrimination is a major problem in the industry, according to data from Pew. In fact, some 32% of men claim that it’s not a problem at all.

Here’s why I claim that it’s not a problem: Women are capable of making decisions for themselves. For the most part, they choose to do things other than work in tech and do startups. So what? (Pay gaps and harassment are not tech-specific, obviously.)

Thus spoke The Programmer.


More Words and Phrases I’m Sick Unto Death Of

13 Oct 2017 /

Although I can’t claim never to have said these things myself, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say either a) “It was working fine 10 minutes ago,” or b) “It works okay on my machine,” I would be comfortably retired by now.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

30 Aug 2017 /

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology.

I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is.

Young female technologist

I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around.

As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.”

Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen to men and I’ve had bad things happen to me. I’m also aware of bad things happening to women in other professions. We’ve all had our ups and downs.

How to explain this? Bad things happen to women because they’re women and bad things happen to men because — what? We deserve it?

You’ve probably also read a lot of articles about a “diversity chasm” in tech, usually written by women who work in tech and can’t understand why every young woman in America is not making the same career choices they themselves have made.

Women, like any group, are under-represented in some professions (like tech) and over-represented in other professions — education and health services, for example.

Is a software engineering career objectively better than being a nurse or a teacher or a therapist or any of the careers that women seem to prefer?

I’m happy to admit that I don’t know what the “right” male-female ratio is for any given profession and that I don’t know what other people should be doing with their lives.

Programming has been a pretty good career for me — I like to build things and I like to solve hard problems — but I’ve spent most of my life alone in a room or cubicle staring at a computer screen. It’s not for everyone. There are pros and cons like any other job.

I don’t have a daughter but my son never took an interest in programming and I never pushed him to do so. He graduated college with a degree in business. I have no reason to think his life will be less fulfilling because he’s not working in a technology job.

TL;DR:

  • Don’t pursue a technology career because someone else thinks you should.
  • Don’t pursue a technology career to make some point about gender roles in society.
  • Don’t be scared off by inaccurate (IMO) generalizations about anti-female culture.
  • Follow your heart.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


One Thing I Can’t Tolerate is Intolerance: The Google Memo

8 Aug 2017 /

The now-famous Google memo was first published by Gizmodo under the headline Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google.

If you’re interested in the topic, you should read the memo yourself, otherwise you’re going to get a terribly slanted second-hand judgment, e.g., “anti-diversity screed.” I’ve read it and I don’t think it’s “anti-diversity” and it’s definitely not what I’d call a screed.

I’ve seen that word — screed — used by multiple sources. That’s one way of dismissing and declining to engage with an opinion you don’t like: give it a label like “screed,” suggesting that the author is angry and irrational and not fit to have a discussion with.

In my reading though, I found the original memo to be academic and clinical, much less screed-like than the responses I’ve seen.

As usual (in my experience), the most intolerant people in the mix are the ones presenting themselves as champions of tolerance, diversity, acceptance and mutual respect. They love people of all genders, skin color, hair color, eye color, etc., but they have no tolerance at all for anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way they do.

If you have an opinion that doesn’t fit the preferred narrative, you are harmful and stupid, you shouldn’t be allowed to hold a job and you shouldn’t feel safe in giving voice to your opinions.

The argument against expressing an opinion like the author of the Google memo is, as I understand it, that it’s considered hostile and unwelcoming to women who might want to work in the field of technology.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in firing the memo author: “The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender.”

If it’s hurtful to judge people based on their “gender,” why isn’t it hurtful to say that the percentage of males working in technology is unacceptably high and should be reduced? (I know nobody says it that way. They say “increase the percentage of women” but it’s the same thing.)

Why isn’t it hurtful to implement policies to reduce the percentage of males working in technology? Why isn’t it hurtful to hire “diversity” personnel whose job it is to reduce the percentage of males in technology?.

Depending on which groups you’re in, you’re either not allowed to be discouraged by anything or you’re entitled to be demoralized by absolutely everything.

Thus spoke The Programmer.

Related link: Where are the additional women in technology supposed to come from?

 

Irony alert

“By ‘diverse mix of voices,’ we mean non-white females. Look at the picture. Oh, you thought it meant a diversity of opinions?! Well, in that case, you’re fired.”

 

TL;DR from Google memo

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Where Are the Additional Women in Technology Supposed to Come From?

29 Jul 2017 /

The jobs report for May contained discouraging news: continuing low labor-force participation, now below 63 percent overall. About 20 million men between the prime working ages of 20 and 65 had no paid work in 2015, and seven million men have stopped looking altogether.

In the meantime, the jobs most in demand — like nursing and nurse assistants, home health care aides, occupational therapists or physical therapists — sit open. The health care sector had the largest gap between vacancies and hires of any sector in April, for example.

We hear a lot about a shortage of women in technology jobs but we don’t hear about a shortage of men in traditionally female jobs.

It’s really two sides of the same problem. Unless a lot of women suddenly appear out of nowhere, the only way to get more women into professions where they’re currently under-represented — like technology — is to get them out of professions like health care, which they seem to prefer but in which they are significantly over-represented.

In theory, nursing should appeal to men because the pay is good and it’s seen as a profession with a defined skill set.

But the NYT cites a study from UMass Amherst, showing that not only will most unemployed men resist taking a “feminine” job, but that those men who might have been willing to consider it encountered resistance from their wives, who urged them to keep looking.

So much for diversity . . .

Speaking of which, here is a screenshot of the current board of directors of a nursing organization that I used to work with.

https://www.aacn.org/about-aacn/board?tab=Board%20of%20Directors

Nursing is a white female dominated profession, much more so than technology is a white male dominated profession, but I worked with this organization for about five years and never heard word one about a lack of diversity in nursing.

It’s hard to imagine an organization in 2017 having a 15-member all-white, all-male board of directors without drawing a lot of negative attention but all-white, all-female is okay.

I see a tremendous number of proposals for “empowering” women to get into technical professions that they may just not be interested in, but if the number of women in technology is considered problematic, then the number of women in nursing (and other over-represented professions) has to be considered equally problematic.

Where else are the additional women in technology supposed to come from?

Thus spoke The Programmer.


10 Reasons Why Failure is Good, Except When It’s Bad

11 Jul 2017 /
 Sharon Christa McAuliffe,  Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka. Image credit: NASA

Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka. Image credit: NASA

Once upon a time there was a startup, and the president of this startup, like a lot of people in the early part of the 21st century, celebrated failure — as a learning tool and as a precursor to success.

He encouraged employees to celebrate failures on the company Slack channel, using the hashtag #fail.

Legend has it that the president called one employee on the carpet for suggesting on the Slack channel that it doesn’t make sense to celebrate failure without factoring in the cost of failure.

That is simply a truism, is it not? Obviously the value of failure can be swamped out by the cost, e.g.,

Blew up 7 astronauts but learned that O-rings don’t function in sub-freezing temperatures. #fail

You can think of other examples yourself. You can probably also think of people and/or companies for whom failure was merely a precursor to more failure.

Working for startups is risky, but the president of this startup told all the employees that he would give them a six-month heads-up if the company were ever on track to run out of money.

Then one day, due to the failure to retain a key client, the staff was cut to around 15 people (there were close to 100 at one time) with zero notice and a one week’s severance check.

You could make a case that the “six-month” promise didn’t apply because the company didn’t actually “run out of money,” but most people felt that the spirit of the promise, if not the letter, had been violated.

Was this a failure to be celebrated? It probably depends from which side of the exit door you’re looking at it. Sometimes a pivot looks a lot like an implosion.

Was it celebrated with a #fail hashtag in the company Slack channel? I don’t know.

Lost our key client. Laid off all developers but kept the company chef. #fail

This is a fable and like all fables it has a moral: Failure is good, except when it’s bad.

Resemblance to persons or companies living or dead would be a coincidence.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Learn to Code

24 Jan 2017 /

I’m a programmer . . .

Job searches for me go like this: I’m old, I have to compete with people half my age, but I’ve worked in Orange County since forever so I know some people, and I can write good code in interviews, which the majority of programmers who show up for interviews can’t.

I was out of work on January 5. It’s now January 24. I have three job offers and picked the one I like best.

Moral of the story: Learn to code, kids . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Accoutrements at the New Office

9 Dec 2015 /
3-star ball

The new office comes with a chef, who seems to see himself like one of those celebrity chefs with the quirky personalities.

Not to put a damper on the fun but I like my chefs to be unobstrusive. I just want a bite to eat. I don’t want to manage a new interaction with an eccentric reality show wannabe.

Just dish up the grub, man.

 

We also have a ping-pong table now, which triggers a lengthy discussion of the intricacies of table tennis equipment, conducted for some reason in the midst of a group of people trying to get some work done.

Three-star balls? I got your three-star balls right here . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


What Can Be Done About Gender Diversity in Computing?

6 Oct 2015 /
Gender

That is the question posed in, among other places, the October 2015 issue of Communications of the ACM.

Since gender is no longer a biological imperative connected to one’s physical anatomy, there’s now a simple answer to this. Men (and women, but that’s not relevant to this question) can identify as either gender, independent of reproductive organs and chromosomes, and a thoughtful consideration of the uniqueness and validity of every person’s experiences of self requires a societal stamp of approval.

Google or Facebook or any organization that wants to improve its gender diversity metrics can offer some modest incentive (could be financial, could be you use the women’s locker room at the company gym … use your imagination!) for workers to identify as female. Have a 50 percent female workforce by Friday!

Now that I’ve written this down I’m thinking that maybe I should be starting up a diversity consulting firm rather than giving the idea away for nothing. Room for expansion: Racial identity is fluid now as well (see here and here).

Thus spoke The Programmer.


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