Women in tech, the workplace, society, etc . . .
buzzed, B&W
I went to a Meetup earlier this week titled Successful Women in Software Industry. Lots of thoughts, biases, etc, so trying to sort some of it out by writing, digesting, processing, etc.

I wasn't sure about going to this particular Meetup, as my previous experience with the group had been a bit of a wash - some semi-interesting technical stuff, but not a ton of value in terms of networking. I was also feeling a bit blah, so wasn't looking forward to biking across the bridge in the rain, but I'm glad I made myself go. I didn't network (nor did I attempt to), but the panel discussion was really interesting.

I remember the panelists introducing themselves:

  • Alice Nodelman - a hard-core dev, traditional CS degree, etc, hacking away at automation tools to help folks

  • Megan Bigelow - customer support manager

  • Leah Silber - CEO/Co-Founder of a small tech consultancy and an event organizer

  • Myllisa Patterson - Marketing director

As the introductions were winding down, I remember thinking that it was disappointing that there were more "real tech" folks up front, but then thinking that this really was a crazy bias. While it wasn't gender related, but software industry related, there's a definite stereotype that developers are the pinnacle of the tech community. Kind of a weird bias for me to acknowledge, especially as often as I spout how the non-profit sector needs to learn that their work is business as much as any other. Tech isn't that different - while the devs may generate some code, turning that into a real product, selling it, supporting it, etc is still business. This was the first churning in my mind that business is business, and that the story of women in tech is really just a subset of women in the workplace (and likely not that specialized of a subset).

Nodelman was the most interesting panelist to me - she shared a few anecdotes that resonated. The first was that she's had to make some rules for herself, one of them being never to drink with co-workers. Definitely a sign of a problem that she's mentioning this as advice for others, and this really felt like advice that's along the same lines as not wearing short skirts or showing cleavage, i.e. the idea of teaching women how to avoid bad situations, rather than addressing the creation of these situations.

The second point that resonated was that she was talking about how she has a partner and a 4-year old, and the experiences around being a parent. How co-workers would ask how she was planning on being a mother, what she planned on doing, etc, none of which would have been asked for male counterparts.

She also mentioned the idea of medicine and the law being examples of where these gaps had closed, though that doesn't feel right to me. The number of women in the demanding positions (mainly in terms of time), e.g. surgeons, law partners, etc is still abysmal.

She went on to talk about how she's not a fan of these types of events, that she's frustrated that she's not seeing change, and she feels she has more impact mentoring and tutoring with Code Oregon than being a role-model. Silber also touched on the idea of role-models, that for conferences she organizes, she tries to balance the speakers, that it takes effort to find them.

I got more frustrated as Bigelow discussed the networking group she co-founded, PDX Women in Tech, and other were talking about mentoring, networking, etc, talking about how there's a confidence gap, that women are reluctant to apply for positions they're not skilled in (on paper). Silber told an anecdote about how she's struggled to not cry at meetings (and the counter-example of a powerful male she heard of who was a crier).

The message I kept hearing was that women had to adapt, that they had to become more professional, but that professional really meant more like stereo-typically male - confident, aggressive, willing to work the long hours, etc. The long hours bit definitely reminded me of The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap from the Freakonomics podcast, where one of the big takeaways for me was that a large factor in the pay gap was that women value "temporal flexibility" (i.e. the freedom to work from home, take time off to take care of children, flex hours, etc) and the "care penalty":

If you take women who don’t have caregiving obligations, they’re almost equal with men. It’s somewhere in the 95 percent range. But when women then have children, or again are caring for their own parents or other sick family members who need care, then they need to work differently. They need to work flexibly, and often go part-time. They often get less-good assignments because their bosses think that they’re not going to want work that allows them to travel, or they’re not going to be able to stay up all night, or whatever it is. And so then you start — if you’re working part-time, you don’t get the same raises. And if you’re working flexibly your boss very typically thinks that you’re not that committed to your career, so you don’t get promoted.

This, along with Nodelman's anecdote how she got a nanny, had to negotiate with her partner what the parenting responsibilities woud be, to take more of a traditional bread-winner/working-man type role, really seemed to me to suggest that the approach to women in tech that I'm familiar with is short-sighted. The idea of getting more women into STEM, into creating pipelines of women, etc, doesn't address the real issue, that our culture values folks who put work ahead of family and outside obligations.

It seems to me that if we really want more gender-equity in the workplace, it's more about shifting our culture around work. Sexism is a tiny portion of the obstacles keeping women out of the workplace.

I miss writing
buzzed, B&W
It's been a while since I've written.  I should do it more.  Some random thoughts:

  • I've been on LJ for almost 5,000 days.  It's changed a lot from my first whiny teenager post.  I feel committed to them since I got a permanent account back in 2005, and my profile is a bit of a time capsule.  It's interesting to see how they've evloved (or arguably gone stagnant), especially compared to Blogger, WordPress, Medium, etc.  I think I feel committed to them mainly since the history, but it's not a great platform for actually writing, with the various interfaces all feeling a little (or a lot) dated.  Maybe some day I'll bite the bullet and actually start my own blog on my own domain . . .

  • I was prompted to write as I was evaluating read-it-later apps.  Trying out Instapaper since it seems to have the best ecosystem, and it integrates with the feedly app (and I still lament the shuttering of Google Reader).

  • I'm writing less . . . I'm not sure why.  My main outlet used to be on Yelp, but moving to Portland seems to have really cut down my participation.  One of the reasons seems to be not getting tapped into the Yelp community on Portland, but that's only part of it.  (I was active on Yelp long before Reno had a community manager.)  Another factor is likely just overload - when we first moved here, we were probably trying out a 5 to 10 places a week.  They all start blurring together after a while, and writing about them becomes harder.  I'm trying to make an effort to write more (which likely means I'll have to revert to that guy taking food pictures pictures so I can have visual reminders for writing).  There's also a part of me that wants to try writing on professional topics, related to software testing . . . I keep thinking I should write about an experience learning a new library, things related to the process and culture, etc . . . just have to make myself do it.  Interesting as I site here writing and reflecting, I just saw Amit posted on Facebook about writing more . . .

Test thoughts
buzzed, B&W
Some random QA related stuff I've read recently:
  • Jonathan Kohl had a recent blog post about Designing a Gamification Productivity Tool that caught my attention, since it was something I had thought about during my previous employment. Clearly, Kohl went much further than my idle ruminations with a co-worker. Something I think could still be interesting, and the idea of going beyond competition, points, and achievements to co-operative play, quests, etc is interesting, especially for large teams.

  • Future of Testing and Automation: The Role of the Tester in 2020 - Has a great quote:
    We also discussed that the developers will never become good testers and testers will never become good coders. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Besides delving into requirements and ensuring common understanding between stakeholders and development teams, testers will need to become more technical to understand the risks sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they will have a hard time in 2020.
    The distinction between testers and coders is something I noted in my previous post about my job search, how I consider myself a tester who can code, whereas it appeared the company I was intereviewing with really wanted a coder who could test.

    The notion of testers having to become more technical also resonates, and was something we were struggling with at my previous job, e.g. we had a lot of testers who were content to run test cases, but in my opinion, weren't showing the initiative to grow more technical, learn more about testing,

DRM is painful
buzzed, B&W
I tend to really like the Multnomah County Library. The central branch is beautiful, they've got a solid website, and they've got a lot of eBook options. But that's part of the problem too . . .

I recently read a blog post entitled Do We Still Need Dedicated Testers, and it reference a book called Humble Inquiry so I found out that the library has it digitally. I end up clicking to get the full text, and that's when I end up going down the rabbit hole . . . I had to:

  1. Log into the library and then click on the Full Download link . . .

  2. Log into ebrary, which meant another account (with different password requirements)

  3. There's a dialog then that asks if you're using a laptop, iOS, or Android. I was on the laptop, but wanted to put it on the iPad so I select iOS (and who knows why there isn't some auto detection here).

  4. Advanced the dialog, which says to install Bluefire Reader, so I get the iPad and do so.

  5. Launch Bluefire, which requires me to create yet another account, this time with Adobe for DRM

  6. Click the download link in my browser, which wants to download a file to use locally on the laptop.

  7. Repeat the above steps on the iPad (skipping the account creation, but still needing to log into three different accounts) and now I've finally got the thing on the iPad.

The process of getting the Kindle setup to work with the library was pretty painful too, and is still a bit painful in that once the book is checked out, you have to go to the Overdrive app to select the Kindle version, then go to Amazon's website to actually download it. It also seems a bit strange to be going to Amazon to return it when I checked it out via Overdrive.

Yay for digital formats allowing for easier portability of information, but man, DRM and all the various towers out there makes me wonder how non-tech oriented folks ever manage any of this . . .

On pond size . . .
buzzed, B&W
It's been a little over three months since I was working professionally. I've been lackadaisically looking for work, knowing that I've got some savings and feeling like I'm of the age/professional development that I should find a position I like, not just a job.

When we first got to Portland, L had a mixer with the other first-year residents, and while chatting with the residency director, he made the observation that I must be pretty confident if I wasn't stressed about not having a job. There was likely some truth to that statement, especially as I was coming from a small company, where I had been a pretty senior and technically competent QA engineer. This confidence was probably further bolstered by the fact that I've never really struggled with the job hunt, that usually I interview once or twice, and I'm getting an offer or two.

This time is a bit different. In Reno, I think I was a big fish in a small pond (i.e. few testers, small tech community). Portland's different, with a much larger tech scene. While there seem to be more openings, few of them speak to me. So, while the pond is bigger, I'm not sure how selective I should be. Granted, it's only been 3 months, but maybe I just need to start casting the net wider, and stop being so selective about what I'm looking for.

Of course, flubbing an interview doesn't help. I've always thought of my self as a tester who can code. If I were to list my strengths, they'd probably be around advocating for strong testing, being a creative and thorough tester, and that I can write code. Coding comes last for me . . . I'm not particularly fluent, and I've generally got some snippets up, doc pages, and StackOverflow. In the case of this most recent interview, I (stupidly) wasn't expecting to have to white board anything, so I was surprised when they asked me to. I made a lot of syntax mistakes, couldn't think of the exact regex I wanted, used semi-colons in Python, etc.

One of the reasons I hadn't really thought to work on my code skills was that at my last position, we talked about how we'd much rather have people with strong test skills over strong coding skills. The problem with that in larger ponds though is that having both strong test and strong coding skills is part of the expectation. I also figured since I had made it through the tech screen, that coding wasn't a big deal. I had learned some node.js, Angular, and Protractor for the tech screen, and figured they'd looked at that code and seen what I could or could not do.

In hindsight, I probably should have realized they wanted a coder who could test. They were very proud of the fact that they had 100% unit test coverage, and really wanted to push towards full automation of their testing. Position probably wasn't a good fit as I want to be doing more than just writing lots of regression tests.

This also points out how depressing the process can be . . . from when I first sent in a resume and through all the various stages (initial phone screen, technical skills test, in person interview, etc) took over a month. During the month, I started getting excited about the company, thinking things were going well, and then it all came to a crashing halt with a simple "We are unable to offer you a position . . . "


Ah well, probably time to start focusing more seriously on finding a job . . .

On job hunting
buzzed, B&W
For those who don't know, I relocated to Portland a few months back. I planned on taking some time off and being selective in my job search. Some lessons learned so far:

  • My resume appears solid - of the four positions I've applied for:

    • Position 1 - medium sized start-up (~100 employees). Didn't make it past the first interview with HR. Whoops.

    • Position 2- never heard back from them. Job posting was good the day after I applied, so I'm guessing they had a candidate in mind.

    • Position 3 - 2nd interview, but no technical skills test. I was surprised I made it that far as my background was not a good fit for the position.

    • Position 4 - currently waiting to hear back after a skills test. Was a crash course into Angular and Protractor

  • Employers really want agile experience
  • - this looks like what sunk me on Position 3. The HR/recruiter mentioned that as a medium size startup, they were transitioning from the small team where everyone wore a lot of hats, to much more specific, focused types. In this case, they were really looking for someone who really had agile experience. Reading between the lines, I'd guess they had a young team that wasn't functioning well and wanted someone to really help guide the team through their sprints and what not. When they asked about my agile experience, I was pretty honest and said something like "Well, the last company I was at claimed to be doing agile, but really it was condensed waterfall . . . "

    Probably need to frame that a little better, something along the lines of a company transitioning from waterfall to agile, working on some teams that were agile, etc, and how working on non-functioning agile teams actually provides me with a solid (albeit theoretical) view of agile

    I'm surprised by how many postings say they want experience with this. Maybe it's my lack of inexperience, but this seems like asking for people who have experience working in an office, working with teams, etc. If you can't get a a team member up to speed on process, something sounds like it's broken?

  • Turn around times are all over the place - Position 1 took 3 weeks to get back, while 3 and 4 responded within days.

In any case, I'm still being selective - looking for small to medium size companies that value testing, and ideally understand the intersection between automation and manual testing . . .

50 years of VISTA
buzzed, B&W
I went to a Friday Forum hosted by the City Club of Portland. Presumably it'll show up in their library. Interesting event, and great to see the enthusiasm of the VISTA members present in the room. VISTA director Paul Monteiro was on the panel, and was asked a question about obstacles to serving. He highlighted a recent change to their outside employment policy, allowing VISTA members to hold second jobs, talking about how not allowing outside employment limited who could serve, with many being those who had outside resources to help them.

This reminded me both of my ideas of being a tourist to poverty while I was a VISTA member, and also a recent article I had read (though unfortunately can't find now). It was talking about the value of volunteering, and how we attach a lot of meaning to it, but an economic viewpoint might say that it's not that great. The example was something like comparing giving a few years of service in a competitive program (Peace Corps? Teach for America? I don't remember), and comparing that to getting an MBA. The crux of the argument was that while we laud those who serve, they're a dime a dozen - whether a particular individual serves or not, these big volunteer programs will fill their spots - i.e. there is no shortage of people who want to serve. In fact for AmeriCorps "hundreds of thousands of people, mainly in their teens and 20s, apply for roughly 80,000 slots." The author then went on to saying a true act of giving/volunteering would be to get that MBA and then donate cash. I've heard this same thought before, even 12 years ago at my first VISTA PSO . . . you can do more good getting the high paying job and donating cash than you can donating your time . . .

So many Apple devices . . .
buzzed, B&W
I'm trying out a new coffee shop today.

When I'm bored, I tend to poke around the wifi network a bit. Back when wifi was only in random coffee shops (or they were trying to charge for it or what not), you'd occasionally come across an unsecured access point. Interestingly enough, this little shop is running a Belkin AC750, and has the dashboard unlocked.

While there's some oddities in how they have the networks configured, the most interesting part to me was the connected devices list. There's maybe 10 people in here, but there are ~50 devices listed (a quick peek at the config shows that leases are set to "Forever"). Many of the host names are things like "ERIKAS-IPHONE" or "SARAHS-AIR-2", suggesting that more than half the devices are Apple devices . . . crazy . . .

Educational obstacles
buzzed, B&W
Back when I was substitute teaching, I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about advantage and education.

The GF and I have spent a lot of time talking about this as well, most recently with conversations sparked by the NY Times Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor. The NY Times has been doing a fair amount of coverage on how college is becoming more and more aristocratic, and this quote resonated with me, since it was referring to the study I had read almost ten years ago:

For one thing, the low-income students who enroll there tend to graduate. For another, research has shown that the individual college attended by upper-middle-class students has little effect on their eventual earnings, after controlling for their SAT scores. But it does seem to matter for poor students. They get something extra from a top college.

The GF pointed out a rad op-ed response today, Why Poor Students Struggle. Nothing particularly new here - students struggle because they don't have the support networks, don't know the "rules" of academia, the conventions of the middle-class and higher, etc. These ideas were touched on in Kirn's 2005 essay Lost in the Meritocracy, which apparently he leveraged into a full length memoir, published in 2009. While Kirn focuses on the fact that our system of education is really just a game, and if you jump through the hoops the right way, you can be a "success" without actually learning anything, he does spend a fair amount of time talking about how being the poor kid from rural Minnesota made the elite world of Princeton an eyeopener.

Today's editorial really focuses on this part, that even though you can play the game and make it into a great school, you likely won't fit in, and to continue on that track has a large cost:

To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from. The transition is not just about getting a degree and making more money. If that was all socioeconomics signified, it would not be such a strong predictor of everything from SAT scores and parenting practices to health and longevity.

I laud the NY Times for highlighting these challenges, but the fact that the issues Kirn faced back when he was a student still exist today suggest that there is still a huge issue that needs to be addressed. I'm not sure what the answer is . . . a co-worker mentioned a study or experiment he had heard of, where they grouped the at-risk college students together, and had provided them with a support network (perhaps similar to Upward Bound?).

Ice buckets, non-profits, and more donations . . .
buzzed, B&W
So, this ice bucket challenge seems to be doing pretty well.

While I'm personally sick of seeding all my various social media feeds overwhelmed with links and videos, commentary, likes, rants, etc, I find the nature of the campaign fascinating. What made this campaign take off? There were previous campaigns of a similar nature, mainly around jumping in cold water (with some horrible stories around it), but they didn't take off - maybe finding bodies of water large enough to jump in prevented those from going uber-viral?

Does the campaign really raise awareness? My gut says no, as I still don't know anything about Lou Gehrig's disease, why it's an issue, etc, and I'm not more likely to donate to the ALSA now. In fact, it's done the opposite, and I'm donating to alternate causes . . .

The fund raising aspect of it is crazy - the press release from August 19th states that the ALS Association had raised almost $23 million, while the press release from the 20th has them clocking in at $31.5 million - that's $8.5 million in a day. Apparently 184,317 donors gave between the press releases . . . that's an average of around $47 dollars a donor. An amazing windfall for an organization that raised $1.9 million in the same time period (July 29 to August 20th) last year. I want to see the timeline graph of donations over time once this is all over and their 990 filing should be interesting this year and next (it'll be interesting to see how their percentage of dollars spent on the cause vs. administration changes).

Who knows what this organization will do with that - I don't know of many entities profit or non-profit, that could gracefully handle a $30 million influx. Do you try to spend the cash and get it out quickly, hoping to benefit folks directly? Set up an endowment, so you can guarantee funding for years to come? Dump it all into research? Bring in more staff? So many opportunities, and could definitely make for an interesting case study for non-profits in the future. To their credit, they're riding this wave well, providing nice updates, press releases, etc.

The tech side of this is interesting too - I wonder if their website ever crashed under the load? It's definitely sluggish now, and attempts to access their donation page (hosted by blackbaud) are sluggish too. There's probably some interesting stories about scaling up to handle this gigantic influx of traffic.

It's also a surprisingly polarizing campaign. I like Charlie Sheen's take on it, but other's think he's ruined it. I tend to support it since I believe most non-profits need cash more than publicity. There's also people criticizing the amount of water that's been used, or just seem negative about it all in general. I mean, come on? You're lamenting the fact that it takes a viral campaign to raise awareness around ALS or that people are doing this publicly, maybe even to boost their own egos? I have expect to see such stories under click-bait links like "You'll never believe . . . " or "Top 5 reasons for . . . ". Let's celebrate the successes for this non-profit and the incredible fundraising they've managed to do.

Even if I'm over seeing the videos, apparently people love seeing their friends and celebrities dump water on their heads, and this thing still has legs. Crazy.

In any case, Kelly tagged me for the challenge around 23 hours ago. I'm not going to have time to dump ice water on myself (and I really don't enjoy being in photos, much less video), so I've gone ahead and donated. Kelly donated to the Micheal J. Fox Foundation instead of the ALSA, and I followed suit since she's the one who tagged me.

The part I like best about this campaign is that it's motivating folks to donate (over 600,000 according to today's press release), and I realize my donating sort of ends the chain, which is why I'm blogging about this, as well as issuing my own challenge of a sort. For anyone who does the ice bucket challenge in the future and lets me know, I'll donate $100 to a cause of their choice.

The "fine print" for this offer is that you have to have done the challenge after I posted this, let me know (tag, message, comment, whatever), and let me know to which organization you'd like me to donate. I'd prefer organizations that can process online payments and that are local as opposed to national, but those aren't hard requirements. I'll do this for up to 4 folks.

Hopefully this does a little bit to keep the spirit of giving to causes you're passionate about alive . . .


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