Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fulbright Update November 2016

As I near the three-month mark of my Fulbright grant, I reflect back on my experience thus far. Although I had a rough start with government paperwork and finding housing, I am now finally starting to experience life in Denmark. Adjusting has taken some time as I have learned how to bike with traffic and find the most efficient route to take public transportation between my apartment on the far southwest side and the university north of the city.

For the educational aspect of my Fulbright experience, I am taking four classes this semester and one in January that will lead into my project work in February.  Every few weeks, I meet with my advisor to discuss how my coursework will impact my project in the Spring.  I also had a minor advisory role in the selection of a master’s thesis with the Groovy compiler for another student.  Students and professors have been mostly positive and open minded when I talk about the Groovy programming language. Some are familiar with Groovy from using Gradle in Android projects. Others are intrigued when they learn that their favorite continuous integration application, Jenkins, uses Groovy.

 The most relevant class I am taking this semester is Program Analysis.  In this class, I am learning the fundamentals required for my Fulbright project "Revolutionary Analysis of Programs Written in the Programming Language Groovy."  Many of the analyses and techniques I am learning in this course apply directly to my project.  As a bonus, I was able to use Groovy in our group project.  Not only does that help with setup for my project in the Spring, but since it is a group project, I introduced Groovy and my Fulbright project to my team partner along with other students in the course.  It was encouraging to receive positive feedback on the implementation portion of the peer review in October.

 I am taking three other courses this semester as well: Web Services, Fault-Tolerant Systems, and Data Security. Web services is an important class for studying Groovy because one of the most common uses of Groovy is in web-based services and the framework, Grails. The lab assignments and project work for this course, have been helpful in understanding what other technologies are available for creating web services.

 A majority of the Fault-Tolerant Systems course has been an independent project.  I am leading a group looking at strategies and tooling for deploying web applications.  For example technologies, we chose Groovy solutions.  We start with a sample application in the framework Ratpack.  The application is built using the Groovy based build tool, Gradle, on a continuous integration server using Jenkins. Although students in my group and colleagues I discussed the project with were familiar with Jenkins as a preferred tool for Continuous Integration, they were unaware that Jenkins uses Groovy and that custom scripts built for Jenkins are Groovy code. It was also a good learning experience for me as I have worked as an application developer. This foray into DevOps was useful for better understanding how the applications I developed are packaged and deployed to production.

 The course Data Security was a last minute change to my schedule.  I was initially slated to take a project management course this semester, but a professor in my section advised me that my scheduled course load was too much even for someone with my background. Looking back, that was prudent advice as the classes I ended up with have been time-consuming and challenging enough.  I decided to take Data Security since it was fewer course credits and an interesting subject.  Data Security has focused on cryptography and securing transmissions between devices and servers.  It was a subject that always fascinated me and is very relevant for the industries I have worked in such as healthcare. However, I was not the one implementing the libraries, so I did not have much experience with it.  The labs for this course have been instrumental in increasing my understanding of security theory and implementation.

 Of relevance to my Fulbright experience, there have been several fascinating discussions during this course comparing policies of the US and Europe in regards to privacy and encryption algorithms including the role and jurisdiction of the National Security Agency (NSA). As an American, I do not usually see this viewpoint, and it has helped me understand a lot about my international colleagues.

 Many of my classes have active collaboration components, and this has been very special.  I was terrified of group work when I started at DTU.  I was worried that I would have trouble finding other students to work with when I did not know anyone.  It has been ok.  Some groups work more efficiently than others, but that has all been part of the learning process.  Teamwork even became the topic of a blog post I wrote for the international student’s office.

Outside of the classroom, I have been busy too.  I have connected with the local Java users group, Javagruppen. I attended their annual conference JDK IO and the October meetup.  As an attendee, I saw some of the colleagues I had previously met through the Groovy community and made new connections with developers from the larger Java community of Copenhagen. At first, I was nervous because I do not speak Danish well enough to have a technical conversation.  However, everyone has been incredibly helpful switching to English for me.  The connections I made here led me to apply for a speaking engagement at a prominent Java conference in Sweden, JFokus, where I will be talking in February.  I look forward to traveling and seeing old and new connections again there.

 I also had the opportunity to lead our groovy global community in a new initiative. has been a collaborative effort between Groovy developers at many companies across the world.  We have provided a safe space for asking questions related to Groovy and the projects in the Groovy ecosystem.  The comprehensive code of conduct and policies has been a bit of a controversial subject for a few community members, but it has also made many of the community leaders feel more comfortable about joining our space and significantly improved the quality of conversations we have there.

 Previously, our open source community had faced harassment on several platforms including Twitter, Github, and an open Slack Community.  I consulted with women in tech and LGBTQ organizations I am a part of that have experienced cyberbullying to come up with a solution to combating harassment in the Groovy community.  The recurring theme was that the community needs to feel that concerns will be handled quickly and efficiently if something happens.  One way to do that is through transparency between the members and administrators.

 With knowledge from my data security course and consultations with other community leaders, I decided to implement a protocol to verify users before they could join the slack team.  The admin team that reviews member requests and possible issues with conduct consists of 12 community leaders distributed across different time zones and languages to handle any problem that might arise.

 We also decided to make all transcripts of our conversations public.  By having the conversations in the open, it makes it more difficult for members to chat without repercussions and also had the side effect that any questions asked are indexed by search engines and will appear there if anyone else in the future searches for the issue.  Now several weeks in, we have over 400 members discussing everything from basic getting started questions to complex decisions about the future of the groovy eclipse plugin.

After I finish this semester, I am scheduled to take a class during the January term in functional languages.  The Groovy language has aspects of functional programming that should make this coursework relevant. I am looking forward to taking more courses in the Spring Semester.  Those will include Compiler Construction, my special course for my Fulbright Grant Project, Static Analysis of Dynamic Languages, and a course in project management.

 Overall, I have found my Fulbright experience to be very rewarding.  I have been able to collaborate with students, professors, and local developers in a way I would never have been able to without the help of a Fulbright grant.  As I look to continue the collaborative effort, I am optimistic for a successful project finish in June and I look forward to applying my new skills to an internship this summer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My first few weeks in Denmark

After a series of unfortunate events from a delayed Residence Permit to thousands of dollars of last minute construction to my home in the US required to rent it legally, I arrived in Denmark frazzled, homeless, and after the other students attended orientation. I like to be prepared and knowledgeable before I enter a situation. I have been preparing for this move since I submitted my Fulbright application nearly a year ago. Especially since it’s been several years since I’ve been in school read lots of information on the DTU website months in advance of my arrival to avoid some of the confusion in my first week. However, my first week at DTU was still pretty terrible, and I really missed out by not attending introduction week. The biggest problem in my first few days was trying to find my classes. Although the building numbers are a great help, the auditoriums were difficult to find. I looked at maps at the entrances of the buildings hoping to find numbers on the floor plans but only found emergency exits. Even the DTU app wasn’t helpful in finding where particular auditoriums are in a building. After following some other students who looked like they knew where they were going, I eventually found all of the rooms. I also felt ill prepared for some classes because I hadn’t figured out there were reading assignments in the campus portal yet or that some professors use a course web page instead. There was a seminar for learning these things on Thursday evening, but by then, I had already figured it out and caught up on my reading. At the end of the week, I was exhausted and defeated. However, now that I’m a couple of weeks in, I’m really enjoying my classes and DTU. I’ve found a small student lounge that isn’t very crowded, has a microwave, and has cheaper coffee. :) I can now successfully navigate to all of my classes and labs. Now that I’m caught up on the reading, the lectures don’t seem like Greek anymore, and I can complete the homework assignments and labs without as much help from the TAs, and I can ask more compelling questions. I even started on my first group project. I’m also excited that I will have my own apartment soon. For most of the summer, that was a major cause of stress for me. However, I’m really glad about the way things turned out. AirBnb is expensive, but I have a wonderful host who has been incredibly helpful in transitioning to life in Denmark. I learned about proper table manners, how to live without air conditioning, drying clothes on a line, and what all of the settings on the appliances mean. These seem like little things, but with everything else that was going on, it was nice to have someone I could ask. Having a host has been a great learning experience about how Danish culture, politics, and social structures work. I’ve met many of the neighbours through him and had several animated but friendly political discussions. His opinions closely matched the travel guides and classes I took before arriving in Denmark, but it was still nice to get the insider’s perspective. He was as nice and welcoming as everyone I have met so far. I took some Danish classes at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis before I left the US, but I’m not very good or confident in my ability to speak Danish. I also feared to be the ignorant American who can only speak English. I’ve found that not to be the case, though. With every store, I go into or person I speak with on the phone, everyone is happy to help me out and speaks wonderful English. As I transition to my first apartment this week, I feel prepared. I have an idea how the transit system works and where to go to school. I will need to adjust my schedule now that I’ll be living further away, but I can manage with changes in small increments like this.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why should I care about having more women software engineers?

This is probably the question I get asked the most.  It’s usually not this blatant, but it’s often the motivation behind someone asking me, “Why are you starting a women’s group”?  If you haven’t been the only minority on an engineering team or user group, you may not understand the feeling.  Now I’m at a point in my career where I have grown some thicker skin, but at first, walking into a user group or a new office as the only woman was extremely intimidating.  It usually went one of two ways: I’d be asked if I was a recruiter (side note about how terrible the whole tech recruiting process is in the next post) or I’d be instantly tested to make sure that I was a “real” developer.  If I wasn't in the mood to deal with those kinds of questions and ignorance, I'd get frustrated and leave.  If I had gone into NYC for a meeting and left, I'd spend the whole train ride back to New Jersey sulking.

I Almost Wasn’t a Software Engineer

When I finally finished my college coursework in December 2011, I started the job search, but my options were limited.  Many recruiters called me for technical support positions that all promised the ‘opportunity to move into a development role’ -- after a few years of course.  I interviewed for a few of them and I was incredibly tempted.

I was extremely lucky that during one of the interviews, one of the VPs of the company pulled me aside.  I don’t remember his name, but I will always remember our conversation and how it changed the rest of my life.  He very politely asked me why I was looking at this support position.  I responded that that was what the recruiters told me I was qualified for and that I would switch to development once I had more experience with the company.  He very honestly replied that if I really wanted to do support or quality assurance (QA), the job was mine, but if I wanted to program, I should find a developer role.  He stressed that so many people take an initial role in support or QA with the intention of moving into development but never do.  I’ve now seen that to be very true.  It’s very difficult to switch tracks once you’ve started and if you aren't in a job that makes you happy, you're much more likely to give up and leave.  Even though his company didn’t have any openings for junior developers (most companies including that one only hire after graduation in the spring), he encouraged me to keep looking elsewhere.

I’m really glad that I took his advice.  It wasn’t easy though.  The first developer job I got was as a contractor.  The contracting company convinced me to take an hourly rate that was nearly 20% less money than the support/QA positions I was looking at and had no benefits.  And that was after negotiating.  Very few companies were willing to take a risk on a new graduate and I took what I could get.

I am so grateful that my first contract had women in leadership positions.  My tech director was a woman; the CTO was a woman, and even the CEO of the parent company was a woman. It’s amazing the effect that having these amazing women as role models helped at such a crucial point in my life.  At times when I wanted to give up, I looked at my role models in the company and saw what I could be -- if I just gave it time.  I also saw the hardships that they faced.  I saw the men who talked over them and ignored their ideas openly during company-wide meetings.  It made me angry; somehow though they always remained calm.  I gained an incredible amount of respect for these women and the issues they had been fighting long before I came around.

Now, I am now earning much more; I have amazing benefits and much better job satisfaction.  However, I'm at a critical point where many women leave the industry.  I have had a lot of terrible things happen in my life -- some directly related to my job and the tech industry.  There are days that make me want to quit, but if you haven't met me, I'm very determined and very stubborn.  I'll stay in it as long as I can handle it.  One of the most helpful things for me has been to stay actively involved in the community and around other women with whom I can commiserate and lean on for support.  I often wonder how many more women would be software engineers if they had the same opportunities and didn't have to fight so hard for it.  We'd be a heck of a lot closer to gender parity and closing the skills gap.

Ok so you’re probably thinking; that’s just my personal story.  But it’s not just about making your developers feel better and providing positive role models, there are some serious business impacts and research to back up having a gender diverse engineering team.

Business Implications of Diversity in General

Across various industries and countries around the world, businesses with gender ratios closer to parity earn greater revenue and rank higher across various performance indicators1,2,3.  Performance increased even further when the minority group was represented in upper management3. It’s also important to note that not all of these studies are about women as a minority.  In some companies in the Gallop study women were a majority (like at some large retail stores) and by bringing more men into the company, the businesses increased performance1.  The combination of different perspectives is what is crucial to the overall success of the group.
The Gallop study includes some interesting theories as to why gender diversity increases performance:
  • Men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, ultimately leading to superior performance at the business unit level.
  • A gender-diverse workforce provides easier access to resources, such as various sources of credit, multiple sources of information, and wider industry knowledge.
  • A gender-diverse workforce allows the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base.
  • Gender diversity helps companies attract and retain talented women. This is especially relevant as more women join the labor force around the world. Companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy.
The last bullet point touches on a valuable concept.  Increasing the number of women in the workplace is an easy way to reduce talent shortages2.  Especially within technology, there are employers everywhere looking for skilled developers.  By increasing the number of women in the pipeline, there will be a smaller gap in skills.  However, it’s also important to change the field so that women can succeed and remain in skilled jobs.

On Tech Teams

Overall gender diversity is great but do the same principles apply to tech teams specifically? As a direct benefit, “A study of 272 projects at four companies found that gender diversity on technical work teams was associated with superior adherence to project schedules, lower project costs, higher employee performance ratings, and higher employee pay bonuses.”3  On the other side, when women are forced out of the tech industry, there are high costs (est. $150k - $200k) associated with losing valuable employees mid-career3.  Last year, the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) published a great summary of research studies showing technology specific benefits of gender diversity.  I’ve listed it as #3 of my resources. I encourage you to read it and the original sources if you are looking for specific numbers and examples.

How do we fix this?

My goal with each of these articles isn’t to whine about the way things are, but to suggest and discuss ways to improve the situation.  I have found that many of the people reading this blog and listening to me speak are already supporters.  They understand that there is a problem, and telling stories that continue to make them feel bad isn’t my goal.  They sympathize.  They hire women and act appropriately in a professional context. They actively invite me and other women to speak at conferences and help pay our travel to get there.  Yeah, they may say “you guys” every now and then, but so do I! I don’t mean to alienate the individuals who are actively helping to reach our goal of gender parity, so I need your help.  Before we continue on, please reach out, comment, or tweet at me how we can reach the individuals who don’t understand the reason why we care about gender diversity and the plight of minorities in the tech industry?

Next Steps

Next up is #3 Isn’t promoting women through these organizations, preferential hiring, and funding opportunities depriving males of the same opportunities?


Friday, August 7, 2015

Google Fi Review

If you saw me last week at Gr8Conf US, you may have seen me lugging around a giant new Motorola Nexus 6 with Google Fi.  It's the only phone currently available for the new wireless carrier by Google so I bought into it.

I was super excited for everything Google Fi had to offer. Based on my usage for the last few years, I could have a bill as low as $30/month with Google Fi.  After 10+ years as a Verizon customer including the 1.5 years I spent as a call center customer service rep, I was ready to leave the big wireless carrier prices and irritating policies behind.  I was also excited to see the coolest new features from Android and finally get the chance to play around with Groovy for Android.

After a week, I returned it and canceled the service and here's why.

I started the week carrying two phones, but by the weekend I had switched to using the Fi Phone almost exclusively.  However, I found myself reaching for my old iPhone fairly frequently.  The first reason was coverage. I was having trouble getting messages especially in my house and inside other buildings.  I kinda suspected that's how it would go.  I tried T-Mobile about 5 years ago and it was so bad I couldn't get calls or text messages without leaving the apartment where I was living at the time.  At least with this new phone, I could get messages intermittently.  If it was just that, I probably could have learned to live with it.  However, I was also irritated that it continued to charge me data while I was on WIFI in my house.  I noticed very quickly that I was using about twice as much data as I did before.  This quickly negated the cost savings.

But I also had several problems with the phone.  The most annoying one was that the phone paired with the Bluetooth in my car, but wouldn't play audio from either the speakers or the phone.  I'm terrible with directions and depend heavily on Google Maps to get around Minneapolis.  Having loud, clear directions that cut off the radio at the right time is essential. After spending hours trying to get it to work, I gave up.  Most solutions were to keep power cycling the phone, but that didn't work and isn't feasible for most situations.  I shouldn't have to reboot a phone several times a day just to get it to work.

I had high hopes of a fancy new 13MP camera, but that turned out to be more of a problem.  Although the pictures I took were incredibly sharp, the lighting was off and they just looked terrible!  I didn't realize how bad they were until hours later when I finally got the phone to transfer pictures to my home PC.  And why is the process so painful?  When I first got my iPhone, I thought it was annoying when I plugged it into a computer and my pictures popped up(a setting I have since disabled), but at least that was easy.  For most of the settings, I had to go digging to find the right one. I got my first smartphone two years ago and prior to that I hadn't really used macs either.  I didn't grow up using Apple and expected to be able to change quickly.  I guess I realize now how many features I take for granted in the Apple ecosystem.

I started this blog with how large the phone is.  It's 6 inches across!  Everyone I ran into pulled out their own phones to compare and it's a monster compared to most.  Many people joked it was much closer to a small tablet than a phone.  I saw one blog label it a 'phablet'.  It's not a lie. This phone is huge and I hadn't even had a chance to put a sturdy drop-resistant water-resistant case on it like I normally buy for my phones.

There were also several small annoyances.  For instance, I am used to seeing badge notifications on my iPhone.  They let me know I have email, slack messages, etc, without spamming me with notifications all the time.  I expected a switch to push notifications, but I didn't realize that I was missing push notifications until I checked my iPhone. :( I found out now that there are third party apps to help with that, but like I said, it wasn't just one thing that was a problem.  It also kept waking up from sleep. Like it would be just sitting on a table and wake up and show the clock.  There were no notifications or anything and it was just bizarre.  Lastly, during the couple of phone calls I made, the audio sounded distant -- like a mix between poor reception and speaker phone.  Not sure what's up with that, but hopefully they fix it soon.

Not everything was bad, though.  The battery did get me through the day and most of the evening.  And if I needed to stay out, I had the Google Fi external battery to charge it. That was also huge, but hey, it worked and was included free of charge. The screen was incredibly clear and readable even without my glasses.  It was also fairly lightweight for such a large phone.  And although the phone calls seemed distant, the audio was clear and crisp.  I played pandora radio a few times and the sound quality was very enjoyable.

For many people, Google Fi may be a great option, but I'm sticking with Verizon.  It is time for  a new phone now so maybe I'll try an android, but definitely a different(and smaller) one.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Women are a majority in the general population; why are you calling women a minority?

Let’s get started at the very beginning with some basic definitions and education to ensure we are all on the same page.

Definition of Terms

  • ‘Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.’1
  • ‘Gender identity refers to “one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender”. When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category.’1
  • Diversity  “The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.”2
  • Minority, often short for underrepresented Minority, can be defined as “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”3 When discussing minorities, it’s very important to note “... the requirement to be in a non-dominant position remains important. In most instances a minority group will be a numerical minority, but in others a numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like or non-dominant position...” 4
I’d also like to include this related excerpt I found particularly relevant for this conversation:
“A Diversity Issue Exists when…
  • an issue (policy or business practice - formal, informal, internal, or external) has a different impact on a particular group (i.e., impact on men vs. women, black vs. white, American vs. foreign, urban vs. rural, married vs. single, etc.).
  • It happens more frequently to a particular group (i.e., different groups may have dramatically different "numbers" - turnover, terminations, promotions, discipline, few or no role models, etc.).
  • It is more difficult for one group to overcome (i.e., upward mobility for a particular group within an organization - "glass ceilings").
  • A diversity issue exists where the policy or business practice has an impact exclusive of difference (not inclusive of difference). Is there a trend or pattern (intentional or unintentional)?
Having a diversity issue is not necessarily a bad thing. Doing nothing about it given you have knowledge of the issue is where organizations go wrong (negligence). Being in denial about these issues do not make them go away. Ignorance is not bliss inside or outside the courtroom. The real question is why do we have this issue and can we take action to correct it or improve the situation.”5
Now that we’re hopefully on the same page with our terminology in the gender equality and diversity space, let’s bring it back to our discussion back to Technology.  I’m going to keep our focus solely on the gender diversity aspect with a focus on any individual who identifies as a woman.  There is a lot more work to be done with other types of diversity too and I'll talk about that in another post.

Women as a Minority in Technology

It is well established that women are underrepresented in the technology workforce. When you start at the beginning of an article such as Eight charts that put tech companies’ diversity stats into perspective, the overall employment numbers seem lower than you’d expect, but some companies do much better than others.  It continues to get worse though when you finally get to the bottom of the page, where the articles list the number of engineers (figure 1).  The numbers have been similar in some of the companies I’ve worked for. Just ask me how lonely I’ve felt in some jobs as the only woman on a team.  It seems like it shouldn’t matter, but I'll get to that.
Figure 1. Percentages of Male and Female Employees at major technology corporations. Left/blue is males and right/fuschia is females.

As another example, Stack Overflow released some data from its 2015 user survey.  I agree with their assessment that the overall proportion of females to males appears to be much lower than expected. The trend that I found most interesting though is Figures 2 and 3, which show the steep drop off of women programmers as they gain experience.  Stack overflow analysis suggests this is due to an influx of new programmers from recent WIT initiatives, but it could also be an example of the “leaky pipeline”, an analogy to describe the phenomenon that women are leaving the technology workforce in droves.6  Only time will tell which of these theories(if any) is correct.
Figure 2. Percentages of women per range of experience.  

Figure 3. Percentages of men per range of experience. 


At this point, I’ve established that there are far fewer female developers than would be expected. I’ve also shown some of the many sources of data that shows the steep dropoff in experience levels. I didn’t go over it explicitly, but if you read the articles mentioned and do a minimal amount of research there are plenty of data-backed articles that talk about the lack of women in technical leadership positions.  I haven’t even begun to discuss the continued harassment and even death threats that women in our industry(including me) continue to receive.  All of these reasons are why we call women a minority in the technical workforce and why there is a major diversity issue in our industry. It's time to change.

Call To Action

We could talk about the problem all day, but let’s get moving towards a solution. I can refer you to many different programs that focus on bringing code and STEM programs to young girls and women as part of the pipeline problem. However, a need I see (and my personal focus and passion) is supporting and retaining the women in our Groovy community. The first step to success is identifying and quantifying the current state of the community.

As an exercise, think about your own company.
  • How many women are there total?  
  • How many(and what percentage of) women are in leadership positions?
  • What teams are women on?  
    • Do they tend to flock to certain positions?
      • Quality Assurance(QA)
      • Project/Product Managers(PM)
      • Database Administrators(DBA)
      • Front-end vs back-end?
  • How many women at your company are actively working as developers/engineers?
  • If one woman left the company, how would that affect your numbers?

Now that you have a sense of where your company stands, I’d encourage you to contribute to projects like the one Tracy Chou started after this blog post she wrote around the same time we were forming Gr8Ladies (or if you don’t know the ratios at your company, feel free to peruse the data to see what I’m talking about).

Gr8Ladies and the Groovy Community:

I am frequently asked how many women I think there are in the Groovy Community.  My personal experience is about 10% in the workforce and then at conferences, the percentage ranges from about 2-8%.  But what if there are more women at other companies who just don’t go to conferences(in which case, I want to work on getting them there and speaking too!)?  I’ve set out to get a better sense of the numbers so I’ve started this project. You can see the data/graphs at  Please contribute verified numbers from your teams/companies!

1 From the American Psychological Association (APA)
2 University of Oregon Diversity Initiative
3 definition #4
4 United Nations Human Rights -- Office of the High Commisioner of Human Rights
5 Queensborough Community College Diversity Definition

Diversity 101

Over a year ago, I wrote an initial blog post in response to the criticisms of Gr8Ladies and other women in tech(WIT) organizations.  The issue continues to evolve and many individuals are still confused as to the intent and implementation of organizations like Gr8Ladies.  My hope is to clear up many of these misconceptions with this series of blog posts.


When I entered this conversation on twitter, I got several replies that I shouldn’t waste my time responding.  However, this is an issue I’m very passionate about and something I hope I can help with.  Even if I don’t change the mind of this individual, perhaps, I can clarify something for one of the many other people who have asked me similar questions over the years.  It concerns me when people who have influence over hiring, conference organizing, and funding continue to hold these views when research continues to show the impact of increasing diversity (including gender diversity).  Perhaps it’s because I am so deeply embroiled in the topic that I no longer ask the beginner questions or question the underlying assumptions.  I applaud Jon for being curious, speaking his mind, and not being afraid to start this conversation even if it wasn’t the manner(or wording) I would have chosen.

It’s also important to remember that this conversation is continually evolving.  I look back to ideas and conversations I have had in the past and how many my views have changed as a result of my personal experiences and the gender equality education that permeates through the organizations in which I am involved.

I’d also like to add that some of this conversation will get very personal and explain situations that many others may not feel comfortable explaining in the same detail.  It has taken a great deal of time for me to accept some of these self-evident truths.  Please don’t expect others to feel the same way or to share all of my opinions.  Each person takes a personalized journey through their life and any experience can change the beliefs and ideals of even the most stubborn of individuals. Admitting a change in beliefs can be an extremely freeing experience, but many are reluctant to do it.

Next Steps

I’ve summarized the criticisms of WIT organizations into a few core questions that I will answer.
  1. Women are a majority in the general population, why are you calling women a minority?
  2. Why should I care about having more women software engineers?
  3. Isn’t promoting women through these organizations, preferential hiring, and funding opportunities depriving males of the same opportunities?
  4. What makes a woman more ‘deserving’ of these opportunities than someone who ___ ?
  5. How is this relevant to my community?  We’ve never had any hate crimes.
  6. When will we done?

To keep this brief and palatable, I’ll answer one or two of these questions in each post and space the publications so that we have time to read, analyze, and discuss without taking over our lives and day jobs.  If you have other questions or topics you’d like to discuss please feel free to email

Up Next: Women are a majority in the general population, why are you calling women a minority?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gr8Ladies Mission

Friday, on twitter, it became evident that some people may not understand the mission of Gr8Ladies.  I don't mean to call out this particular individual, but as he was not the first person to raise this question and I'm sure he won't be the last, I felt it was a good time to start talking about it.  To begin, Gr8Ladies is an open organization.  Anyone who supports women in the Gr8 (Groovy, Grails, Gradle, Griffon, etc) community is welcome to attend events.  In fact, I will argue, we can't achieve our goals without men being part of the discussion.

I started Gr8Ladies last year after a series of events.  When I met Gr8Ladies co-founder Allison at our local Groovy users group, GroovyMN, last summer I’m pretty sure my first words were something to do with my relief that I found another woman at a user group who wasn’t a recruiter!  Before I moved to Minnesota (and switched to Groovy) last summer, I was part of several user groups where men would ask for which company I was recruiting.  It was annoying and sad that the other attendees didn’t think I could be a programmer and that I had to justify it by answering all of their technical questions.  I have to applaud the Gr8 community for not doing this to me.  However, I digress.

Later that summer, I went to Gr8ConfUS.  It was an amazing experience.  I learned a lot and met some very remarkable people.  The one thing I noticed though is that there were very few women.  In fact, it was only about 3%.  When I had a chance to talk to another woman outside Minnesota, I found it to be an issue in other parts of the world as well.  However, I don’t understand the low adoption of Groovy among women at all.  Everyone I have met in the Gr8 community has been incredibly professional and supportive and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the community more so than other tech groups I’ve been a part of in the past.

In October, Allison and I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing held here in Minneapolis.  I met so many wonderful women who were telling similar stories about their own communities.  I also heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about the importance of leaning in.  This reignited a discussion about what I saw at Gr8Conf and why there were so few women. The next week, I bought

I sat on the Gr8Ladies idea for a few months trying to determine where I wanted to go with it.  I had previously joined Girls in Tech (GitMsp) and started networking with women in other fields of technology.  It was great to have other women to talk to and have events that catered to my interests.  I soon discovered there are so many other women’s groups and I wanted to make sure Gr8Ladies wasn’t going to try the same things.  I also wanted to make sure there was a demand and support system if I did start something.

Then, at the January meeting of GroovyMN, there were six women in attendance, which made up a whole 25%!  I was so excited that it became my first tweet from the Gr8Ladies twitter account.  Within 24 hours, I had followers from around the world and Gr8Ladies was getting positive feedback from some of my role models!  I was awed and excited.  Gr8Ladies officially started.

As I have met and talked with different women in the local community, I have gotten a clearer sense of where Gr8Ladies should go.  There are two theories for the low number of women in technology that I’d like to focus on.

The first is the pipeline problem.  The pipeline problem states that there are not enough women educated in computer science.  Allison and GitMsp have done a great of job of recruiting women into tech fields through programs like Technovation and local mentorship of elementary, middle, and high school girls.  Gr8Ladies will support the efforts of those groups but I’m not sure it’s within our scope to start anything new yet for these age groups.  I would however like to use Gr8Ladies to tackle the pipeline problem by helping women at the college level.  My thoughts are to start a lecture series on subjects that help transition between college and the workplace.  One of my biggest barriers to finding my first job was having the right skills to get my foot in the door.  Another one of my goals to help with the pipeline problem is to establish a Groovy/Grails intro workshop similar to Rails Bridge.  This would be open to anyone looking to learn groovy/grails.  If you would be interested in helping with this, please let me know.

Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ outlines the second problem I would like to tackle.  Leaning in consists of creating small networking circles to promote women’s issues.  It is a proposed solution for the drop-off of women in technology as we age.  With a low number of female computer science graduates to start with and the rate of women in technology leaving the workplace higher than average, there are far fewer women in high-ranking positions.  I commend the work of the few female speakers I’ve seen in the Gr8 community, but I’d like to see more.  My thoughts are to encourage women to stay in or rejoin the workforce by creating a support system for networking and by providing continuing education.  This effort will require more than just the Gr8Ladies.  Everyone can help by mentoring women in their workplace or community.  In addition, once I get a continuing education program started, I will need help from experienced professionals.

I hope that this clarifies the mission of the Gr8Ladies organization.  In summary, Gr8Ladies is not about creating a club that excludes men.  We are as discriminatory against men as we are against other programming languages.  Just because we are a group for the Gr8 community doesn't mean that we discriminate against HTML programmers.  Our purpose is to start a discussion involving everyone as to why there are so few women in the community and how we can change it.  Please feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments section below.