We cannot get enough women into tech fields, the pipeline is far from full. A further problem is that once women do get into tech jobs, they often leave in mid-career.
Women Technologists Count, a report from the Anita Borg Institute, takes a look at the reasons why women in mid-level jobs tend to leave technical career paths to become managers and/or leave the industry entirely.
An article at Fast Company, Why Women Leave Tech Companies, And What To Do About It, details more about the study and its findings. The article includes an infographic which summarizes the findings. I suggest you read the full article in addition to taking a look at the infographic.
Here’s the tale of Adria Richards at the recent PyCon Conference. It unfolded like this:
1. Comments from men seated behind Richards sexualizing forking and dongles made her uncomfortable. She wanted to alert the PyCon organizers in hopes something would be done about it. She choose to alert them with this tweet.
2. The PyCon organizers responded and ask the men to stop.
That should have been the end of the story. Yes, you might have an opinion about how Adria handled it or what the guys were saying, but the fact is the response that followed was way out of proportion to either part of the incident.
3. All hell broke loose. Lots of angry tweets appeared. An unnamed man who was in the photo got fired, even after he apologized. He was not fired by Richards, but by his company, PlayHaven. The PlayHaven blog said
PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation. The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go. We value and protect the privacy of our employees, both past and present, and we will not comment on all the factors that contributed to our parting ways.
Richards told her story on her blog, But You’re a Girl. Richards became the target of hate, death threats, a DDOS attack against her website and publication of all her personal information including her address and phone number. There was also a DDOS attack against her employer, SendGrid, who announced on Facebook within hours of the incident that Richards was fired. Later, SendGrid issued a statement saying,
We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to PyCon personnel. To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs.
What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.
4. People began taking sides and arguing their cases either for or against the joking men, Richards, the companies doing the firing, the response of the PyCon organizers and more. The arguments tended to reflect the gender and/or racial identity of the person making them, but interestingly there were exceptions to this. It’s in the unpredictable and independent-minded exceptions that I find hope. I’ve highlighted a couple of them in the reading list below – from men writing at TechCrunch and The Verge.
John Koetsier from Venture Beat managed to get through to Richards by email. He reports,
Last night, at about 2 a.m., after a series of emails with her, I said this:
Tell me at least that u will not be the next Kathy Sierra.
Kathy Sierra is a smart, passionate, funny woman in technology who essentially said her goodbyes to the online world after receiving multiple rape and death threats for, essentially, being a woman in technology.
Kathy Sierra hasn’t posted on her blog since 2007. That’s how long incidents like this against women have been a public problem. Richards responded to Koetsier with a simple,
I’m staying safe.
Can We Agree on a few Things?
We all seem to agree on a couple of basic things. Getting more women in tech would be good for the tech scene and good for the bottom line of the companies doing it. Making women feel comfortable in mostly male environments at tech conferences is worth the effort.
Many people in tech and many conference organizers are doing their part in making these two basic trends reality. PyCon, for example, published a Code of Conduct for its 2013 conference which states,
PyCon is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form.
Yet many men in tech aren’t hearing the message. They set off to work in the morning with their outdated attitudes intact. They pack for a tech conference but forget to bring along their empathy. And yes, some men respond to events they didn’t even witness with disgusting attacks.
Can we agree that women are speaking out – have spoken out in incident after incident – about this in very public ways but many men aren’t listening? For example, look at this post from last year: DEFCON: Why Conference Harassment Matters. Standardista calls it Death by a 1000 Cuts when describing the long, continued onslaught by haters and trolls against women in the tech community.
Can we agree that women in tech should not have to go up in flames each time they speak out, but should be both respected and heard by their peers?
Come on, everyone, stop yelling and start listening. Let’s stop blowing things out of proportion and ruining lives.
National flame wars like this one don’t change opinions – they merely make people speak out in defense of their current opinions. (Here I am doing the same thing.) Spewing hate only makes flamers look immature and insensitive.
I’ve been reading other articles about this, trying to find the perfect voice of reason that might change minds in Trollville. I’ve collected some of them below in a list that shows you the many opinions about what happened. Reading all sides of the story might help you come up with something that could be a change maker in future stories like this one.
Mashable’s SendGrid Fires Adria Richards with a link to the SendGrid’s Facebook announcement, which seems to have been removed now. Even though SendGrid pulled its announcement about firing Richards off Facebook, Mashable had this quote from it: “Effective immediately, SendGrid has terminated the employment of Adria Richards. While we generally are sensitive and confidential with respect to employee matters, the situation has taken on a public nature. We have taken action that we believe is in the overall best interests of SendGrid, its employees, and our customers. As we continue to process the vast amount of information, we will post something more comprehensive.”
SendGrid posted the “more comprehensive” explanation on their blog.
At TechCrunch, On the Internet, Everyone Knows You’re A Dick written by John Biggs. He talks about “lad culture” on the Internet and says, “When this laddishness metastasize into true hate posing as defense of the herd it becomes truly dangerous. It is a waste of energy akin to methodically lighting a car on fire because you don’t like the song on the radio.”
At City Girl Goes Digital, Why I Stand with Adria Richards. She comments, “As a woman in the tech scene, this week has just been draining. I’m sending all positive light and love her way.”
At Feministe, Standing with Adria. She writes, “But inappropriate workplace behavior is the problem. Not the woman who documents it. And even if there’s outrage about her documenting it, firing her from her job is beyond the pale.”
At Amada Blum Words, in Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We all Lost, the post starts by saying that the writer doesn’t like Adria Richards and goes on with, “There is some small part of me that appreciated the backlash she received this week, something I’m ashamed to admit, because I’ve long viewed her as a bully who uses these instances to her personal gain, driving traffic to her blog. But people were missing the point.Within 24 hours, Adria was being attacked with the vile words people use only when attacking women. They called her a man hater (this was the nicest thing they said) who robbed a father of three of his livelihood. Then the threats began- on twitter, on her blog, on facebook. She should get raped, she should be fired, she should be killed, she should kill herself. A petition was started and people threatened SendGrid’s business. The company itself suffered a DDOS attack. All this ridiculousness made Adria look reasonable in comparison.”
Standardista, in Death by 1000 Cuts, comments, “It’s tiresome when you’ve heard inappropriate sexual jokes in a professional setting 1,000 times. It’s ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’. At some point the micro-aggression kills your spirit. Adria was tired of confronting directly. Many people argued “why didn’t she just confront them.” Is that our job? How many times do we have to repeat this chore? Many people are too scared to confront people. When was the last time you confronted a mother who was smacking her child? Or a police officer who was harassing a black teenager? Why do people think it’s OK for them to insist that Adria have confronted the men behind her when they themselves don’t confront when they’re offended.”
Hold the Elevator
Imagine we are all trapped in an elevator together. It’s a common enough movie trope for when the characters in a story need to make up or get acquainted. Here we are – the offenders, the offended, the trolls, the opinionators – all together in a small box from which we can’t escape. What would we say to each other while we waited for the elevator to move? Let’s do that.
Did you see this post about The Finkbeiner Test? It’s a test similar to the Bechdel Test that is applied to movies and TV shows. The Finkbeiner Test, however, relates to the way media writes about women in STEM fields.
Here are the basic guidelines of the Finkbeiner Test:
To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention
The fact that she’s a woman
Her husband’s job
Her child care arrangements
How she nurtures her underlings
How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
How she’s such a role model for other women
How she’s the “first woman to…”
Here’s another trick. Take the things that are said about a female subject and flip them around as if they were said about a male. If they sound ridiculous, then chances are good they have no business in the story.
I read about the test yesterday, and then I saw Sheryl Sandberg on 60 Minutes last night. Part way through the interview, her husband appeared at her side. And, sure enough, there were some shots of him at work and some discussion of how HIS accomplishments had been important in HER career. It was couched in terms of how his support and encouragement were important for her, and how important it is for a woman to choose a life mate who will support her career. Nevertheless, it means 60 Minutes failed the test.
Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, came out today. I just downloaded it. I can’t wait to read it. I’ve read so many comments and reviews of it already, I’m burning to see what I think myself about her plans to improve the work situation for women. When she’s speaking for herself and not interpreted through the lens of an interviewer or reviewer, I hope to find my own meaning there.
If I write my own review of Lean In, I’ll have to see how hard it is for me to do while passing the Finkbeiner Test.
Here are a few of my previous writings about women in tech. How am I doing in terms of the Finkbeiner Test?
She’s been in the SEO and PPC business for 16 years. Sixteen years! You don’t find that kind of longevity and expertise in many web-based businesses. She owns a company that enables her to do the thing that is closest to her heart: find young women with marketing backgrounds and train them to be both expert marketers and technically confident and authoritative, too.
Who is this woman? Terri Jenkins, the owner of W3PR.com. She and her husband, Mark run the company from Albuquerque, with a second office in Los Angeles. Their business involves internet marketing, advertising, SEO, PPC, social media marketing, website conversion, and Google Analytics.
Terri describes herself as a hybrid – both a technologist and an advertising guru. In order to do her work with PPC campaigns, SEO and marketing, she has to keep current with leading edge technology and the technological implications of new developments to her industry. She says her first love was technology and talks with fond memory of having a beta account at CompuServe and being one of the original advertisers on AOL.
Terri and her husband started their business in L.A. During the dotcom boom, they had over 25 employees. After the dotcom crash they struggled, but didn’t give up. They made their office a virtual workplace, with all remote employees. Now their work takes place in the cloud. Recently they moved to Albuquerque, where Terri’s parents live. Their business consists of Terri and her husband, three women who work remotely full time, and one man who is part time.
When we met to talk, she was delighted to share the news that she’d just hired her first new full time employee since 2008, a young woman with a marketing degree. She said the young woman is smart and eager to learn. Terri looks for employees like that. She says, “As part of their training with me, I want to make sure they a cross-trained with the technical knowledge, too.” She adds, “That gives them and me something extra other ad agencies don’t have – a well-rounded knowledge that we can offer.”
Terri said she sees a lot of insecurity and lack of confidence in young women. She enjoys nurturing them and helping them “own what they know and use it unapologetically. Young women need to value their own opinions to be effective and authoritative.”
Sixteen years on the front edge of relevance is impressive in a world of rapid change. I asked how she does it. She said, “I feel like I read for a living.” Her reading is designed to make sure she understands everything in the Internet world that’s being talked about. She uses the knowledge to improve her own business as well as that of her clients. Virtual phone service, cloud based meetings and document sharing, and online project management tools are all concepts she’s incorporated into her business.
She shared a few of her clients. W3PR works with Red Bull to implement SEO and PPC ads for sites like Shawn White and others. They work with Atari on the re-release of old video games from the 80s. They’re working with AMC Theaters on the promotion of the new dine-in theaters going in around the country. There are many other examples from their client list that testify to their success.
In 2010, the New Mexico Technology Council awarded Terri Jenkins a Women in Tech Award, recognizing her longevity and her talent for inspiring others. A perfect award for someone who says nurturing young employees brings her a great deal of satisfaction.
You can follow Terri on Twitter @TerriJenkins. She likes to share what she knows there.
Fast Company listed the most influential women in tech. It’s all good, but the most interesting list for web geeks is the evangelists list, which includes Shireen Mitchell, Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang, Allyson Kapin, Molly Holzschlag, Debbie Weil, Cindy Padnos, Addison Berry, Susan Scrupski, Pamela Jones, Laura Fitton and Gina Trapani. . . . Many of these women are pictured in the Women in Tech Flickr Group, where there are over 200 images and growing.
What do you do if you are a web developer with the soul of artist? Do you go home in the evenings, take care of feeding the family and do your household chores, then paint with any remaining time? Caroline C. Blaker does that. But she does something else, too. She takes all that info about PHP and JQuery floating around in her brain from her day job and uses it to generate a new form of conceptual art she calls Twitterscapes.
Twitterscape February 20, 2010 2:14PM by Caroline C. Blaker
The images are of pixels created from Twitter information. Characters and symbols are translated into pixels of color. I asked her if the pixels of color could be translated back into language and she told me they could not. She did tell me the red pixels represent @ signs. If you watch the Twitterscape visualizations on a computer, the image changes every few seconds.
Blaker began “painting with pixels” using paints she applied using a rubber spatula to create blocks of color about an inch wide. You can see some of her work with paint on canvas in Diptych and The Kinetics of Connection. You can also see some of her work behind her in this video. I caught her explaining a bit about Twitterscapes to someone on the first night of her showing in the Chroma Studios gallery in Albuquerque.
I hope you caught that last statement, where Blaker said that the Twitterscapes you see now are just the baseline for what she can expand this concept to include in future art projects.
Some Q & A with Caroline C. Blaker
I asked Caroline a few questions about herself and her work.
Q: Tell me about your background.
A: I am a web developer and an artist. I have been an a painter since the age of 9 and have had general interest in many forms of art since before I can remember. I grew up in Connecticut. I studied ceramics in college (Washington University in St. Louis) where the conceptual implications of temperature, fire and use of earth materials turned me onto installation. I came to web development after graduation knowing that I would need the skills to promote myself. I have been a web developer professionally since 2005. At this point in time, I have spent 2 years working for a local web development company in a lead programmer capacity with project management responsibility.
Q: How do you reach this point in your artistic journey?
A: It began as my extra-curricular study of web design (you know, apart from waiting tables and going out as a college grad too many nights a week) took on more and more of my creative time and began to halt my painting practice in the studio. Even when I did set aside time for painting, I realized I was thinking about web development and my latest roadblock to solve, as I would run into them frequently and very much enjoy the problem solving aspect of development that painting without authority could not provide. My paintings lacked vitality, development, and resolve, which I determined to be going to web development. Of course, I soon started working as a web developer and the skills I had been developing on my own took my career to its first real step.
I decided that I needed to bring my use of creativity full-circle back to the painting studio by doing something. That something, I decided, would be to paint actual pixels (in representative square strokes) on the canvas, so that at the very least all residual creativity that might have been discarded from the web process would get a chance of being reused. I began to experiment with the composition of pixels and began to paint them as little individual entities on the canvas.
I knew that ultimately what I would be striving for would be a completely data-driven art form that I could paint like a painting using my expertise of web browsers and the various technologies available to display data on a screen, but for that I would need at the very least a data set and a conceptual framework to position my efforts for some concept. These became rules-in-waiting until I found the Twitter timeline.
Q: How do you create the Twitterscapes?
I created the script within nine days to pull the data from Twitter and make the images. I am still tickled that my conceptual goal to take web development to the painting studio has come completely full circle in my original intent – how many life events work out exactly as we expect?
Twitterscapes are pictographs of data, determined by the Twitter users’ colors and language, displayed on a web browser. Prints of Twitterscapes are artifacts of those images, but not the true images themselves, which are browser behavior-scripted shapes. The 10px by 20px rectangles that make up a Twitterscape are archetypes of single pixels but yet are made of 200 actual screen pixels each, from a single character from a tweet that … well, is composed of a number of bytes I’m not even aware of!
I’m finally painting with data! and while I may still use the pixel stroke in my future paintings, the pixels have made their full journey from the screen, to my painting studio, back to the screen where they will continue to change and embellish new versions of Twitterscapes as long as they shall last.
Q: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
A: What I feel that I really do is conceptual investigation. I’m enjoying Twittterscapes as a reflection on the broad idea of social media—a snapshot of the rhythm and colors of Twitter in a Twitter minute (ha…) and watching it change, like looking out a window or reflecting on an old photograph. I’m lucky that my desire to merge web and painting converged on Twitter and produced Twitterscapes – but I certainly don’t mean to be limited to Twitter in my investigations into data art or picture making. For example, I’m already collecting spam email data to produce whatever different kind of pictures my investigations take me to using that data. Also, the more I look at them, the more I realize my paintings have been there to free me as an artist to look at things more conceptually outside myself and now that the pixels have truly finished their journey to data art through my creativity, my hope is that I will take my oil and latex paintings much further. One thing I’m looking forward to trying are plaster gauze/latex castings of shapes to overlay onto paintings or plaster gauze 3-D paintings in a sense of deconstructing the painting in a sculptural meme.
Q: What else would you like to tell me?
A: For the beginning creative types – its not always clear on how to make your own sparks fly- in fact, by default, your sparks don’t fly and its up to you to get them going. Completely your personal responsibility. Since you don’t have anyone to tell how exactly to do that, you need to go with your gut feelings. Explore things you are not good at and enjoy what you do (or try to do!). Responsibility for your own well being ultimately results in action for your own well being which ultimately results in the consideration of improvement of one single life (yours).
All things are positive. All of them. Even the horrible things. There are things to learn from every event and idea. Notice them. Keep track of them. Investigate them. If you want to improve the world, you might be able to do it by something you hate. There is no sweeter victory.
Portwiture is a Twitter/Flickr mashup. It matches up content from your tweets with content from Flickr.
Twitter Mosaic creates a mosaic of your Twitter followers which you can put on your blog or print on something like a t-shirt.
Twitter Fountain is another Twitter/Flickr mashup. You get the app, insert your chosen keywords from Twitter and Flickr, and watch what happens.
Twistori displays a constantly changing display of tweets using the words love, hate, think, believe, feel, or wish.
Twyric takes a tweet with a hashtag like #haiku, #lyric, #poetry, #poetic or, of course, #twyric, and matches it by keyword to an image from Flickr. These poetic pairings of tweets and images turn out to be really wonderful sometimes.
Social Collider reveals cross-connections between conversations on Twitter. This one is quite fascinating. I spent a long time studying it.
Have you seen any other artists using Twitter to generate new art forms?