What Caught My Eye - Week 7

Diversity in Tech

Two links this week in this category.

  • Linux Journal published this piece by Doc Searls in December. It makes a call for more female involvement in Linux.
  • Susan Sons wrote a response, 'Girls and Software', which I thought contained some interesting points. A trio of quotes I thought were thought provoking:

    Unfortunately, our society has set girls up to be anything but technologists. My son is in elementary school. Last year, his school offered a robotics class for girls only. When my son asked why he couldn't join, it was explained to him that girls need special help to become interested in technology, and that if there are boys around, the girls will be too scared to try.

    My son came home very confused. You see, he grew up with a mom who coded while she breastfed and brought him to his first LUG meeting at age seven weeks. The first time he saw a home-built robot, it was shown to him by a local hackerspace member, a woman who happens to administer one of the country's biggest supercomputers. Why was his school acting like girls were dumb?

    Thanks so much, modern-day "feminism", for putting very unfeminist ideas in my son's head.

    The new breed of open-source programmer isn't like the old. They've changed the rules in ways that have put a spotlight on my sex for the first time in my 18 years in this community.

    When we call a man a "technologist", we mean he's a programmer, system administrator, electrical engineer or something like that. The same used to be true when we called a woman a "technologist". However, according to the new breed, a female technologist might also be a graphic designer or someone who tweets for a living. Now, I'm glad that there are social media people out there—it means I can ignore that end of things—but putting them next to programmers makes being a "woman in tech" feel a lot like the Programmer Special Olympics.

    It used to be that I was comfortable standing side by side with men, and no one cared how I looked. Now I find myself having to waste time talking about my gender rather than my technology...otherwise, there are lectures:

    • The "you didn't have a woman on the panel" lecture. I'm on the panel, but I'm told I don't count because of the way I dress: t-shirt, jeans, boots, no make-up.

    • The "you desexualize yourself to fit in; you're oppressed!" lecture. I'm told that deep in my female heart I must really love make-up and fashion. It's not that I'm a geek who doesn't much care how she looks.

    • The "you aren't representing women; you'd be a better role model for girls if you looked the part" lecture. Funny, the rest of the world seems very busy telling girls to look fashionable (just pick up a magazine or walk down the girls' toy aisle). I don't think someone as bad at fashion as I am should worry about it.

    With one exception, I've heard these lectures only from women, and women who can't code at that. Sometimes I want to shout "you're not a programmer, what are you doing here?!"

    I've also come to realize that I have an advantage that female newcomers don't: I was here before the sexism moral panic started. When a dozen guys decide to drink and hack in someone's hotel room, I get invited. They've known me for years, so I'm safe. New women, regardless of competence, don't get invited unless I'm along. That's a sexual harassment accusation waiting to happen, and no one will risk having 12 men alone with a single woman and booze. So the new ladies get left out.

    I came to the Open Source world because I liked being part of a community where my ideas, my skills and my experience mattered, not my boobs. That's changed, and it's changed at the hands of the people who say they want a community where ideas, skills and experience matter more than boobs.

    There aren't very many girls who want to hack. I imagine this has a lot to do with the fact that girls are given fashion dolls and make-up and told to fantasize about dating and popularity, while boys are given LEGOs and tool sets and told to do something. I imagine it has a lot to do with the sort of women who used to coo "but she could be so pretty if only she didn't waste so much time with computers". I imagine it has a lot to do with how girls are sold on ephemera—popularity, beauty and fitting in—while boys are taught to revel in accomplishment.

    Give me a young person of any gender with a hacker mentality, and I'll make sure they get the support they need to become awesome. Meanwhile, buy your niece or daughter or neighbor girl some LEGOs and teach her to solder. I love seeing kids at LUG meetings and hackerspaces—bring them! There can never be too many hackers.

    Do not punish the men simply for being here. "Male privilege" is a way to say "you are guilty because you don't have boobs, feel ashamed, even if you did nothing wrong", and I've wasted too much of my time trying to defend good guys from it. Yes, some people are jerks. Call them out as jerks, and don't blame everyone with the same anatomy for their behavior. Lumping good guys in with bad doesn't help anyone, it just makes good guys afraid to interact with women because they feel like they can't win. I'm tired of expending time and energy to protect good men from this drama.

    Interesting piece. I've been sitting on this piece for about a week now. I can't decide what I think about it if I'm honest. I find myself unconvinced that we need to go back to days before gender was an issue, but I also can't articulate why this doesn't seem the right course of action.


  • Interesting slide from ISSCC showing a die shot of IBM's POWER8: