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?

1.http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/166220/business-benefits-gender-diversity.aspx
2.http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/other/women-matter-oct-2007
3.http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/impactgenderdiversitytechbusinessperformance_print.pdf

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.
overall-gender-tech-final.png
Figure 1. Percentages of Male and Female Employees at major technology corporations. Left/blue is males and right/fuschia is females.
source: https://gigaom.com/2014/08/21/eight-charts-that-put-tech-companies-diversity-stats-into-perspective/


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.
womenbyexperience.png
Figure 2. Percentages of women per range of experience.  
source: http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2015#profile-women


menbyexperience.png
Figure 3. Percentages of men per range of experience. 
source: http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2015#profile-women


Summary



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).  https://github.com/triketora/women-in-software-eng


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 http://jlstrater.github.io/gr8ladies-d3.  Please contribute verified numbers from your teams/companies!

References
1 From the American Psychological Association (APA) http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
2 University of Oregon Diversity Initiative http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~asuomca/diversityinit/definition.html
3 Dictionary.com definition #4 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/minority
4 United Nations Human Rights -- Office of the High Commisioner of Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/Pages/internationallaw.aspx
5 Queensborough Community College Diversity Definition http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/definition.html


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.


Introduction



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 jenn@gr8ladies.org

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 gr8ladies.org

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.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Google Glass Review

I had an amazing opportunity to try out Google Glass at the GirlsInTechMinneapolis event at the Local in Downtown Minneapolis on August 1st, 2013.  Unfortunately, I did not get to spend more than a few minutes with it as there were many individuals that attended (a great win for women in Tech though!) 



me wearing Google glass

If you haven’t heard of Google Glass before, it’s basically a computing device projected onto a clear glass lens that is positioned in front your eyes much like a regular pair of glasses.  The view appears as a semi-transparent picture in picture over your regular line of sight. The main applications seem to be oriented towards information retrieval such as accessing weather, social media feeds, and Google searches. 

Physically, the device is fairly conspicuous.  It looks about the size of a regular pair of glasses.  Google Glass comes in an array of colors; this one was bright orange. The major visual oddity is that the right side contains the actual device, but there is no glass lens on the left side. The device on the right side spans from the lens to the ear and is about the same height as the side arm on a pair of large sunglasses such as Ray Ban’s.  It was slightly warm to the touch and several people complained after a while it became too hot.  The touch pad is located directly above the right temple and although it feels a little awkward at first, I acclimated.  The sweeping motion for gestures needed to be a little stronger than on my iPhone and I spent most of my time trying to figure out the correct amount of pressure to apply to get it to work.  The frame construction is a little flimsy and the device kept bouncing when I moved my head or went to perform a gesture.  Also, although manageable while wearing it, the lopsidedness made me feel as though I was going to drop it when removing it.  In addition, the battery life was rather limited.  It spent about half the evening on the charger.

Visually, the display was not as clear as I had hoped.  After seeing several videos of the device, I was expecting the picture in picture semi-transparent feel, but I had trouble reading text on the screen (and I have 20/20 vision).  Paired with the frequent bobbing of the frames, this made the experience less than ideal.  I can understand how several of the participants complained of dizziness.   If there is a configuration to make the image sharper that would make it much better, but unfortunately the battery was going dead and I didn’t get a chance to try.  The interface itself was very nice though and the transitions smooth.  The screen response time was actually quite impressive.

Although the crowd and room were mostly to blame, the device also had trouble with voice commands.  It was only able to pick up the take a picture command and when I tried to do a basic Google search, it pulled up a completely unrelated news article.  The event organizer was having much better luck with it and was able to pull up weather, twitter, a photo reel, and other niceties once we quieted.  The best and easiest feature to figure out by far was the camera.  The device responded rather quickly and could distinguish this request even in the loud environment.  On viewing, the photo quality was quite impressive for such a small device.

In conclusion, Google glass doesn’t have the full capabilities of a Smartphone or tablet so it’s not a replacement for other devices, but it does make for a neat accessory.  I am interested to see what Google does for its next release and if the price point makes it a little more accessible.

Thank you to GirlsInTechMinneapolis for hosting this event and fundraising for the Google Glass.  The purchase of Google Glass and the event was funded via Indiegogo to support women in technology particularly middle and high school outreach programs.



GitMsp organizer Kate demoing the Google Glass at the event August 1st (photo via twitter)


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