Agile Computing Authors: Liz McMillan, William Schmarzo, Carmen Gonzalez, Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie

Blog Feed Post

Why I’m a Feminist


Some people may find this an odd topic for the first post for what is ostensibly a technology blog, but they’re probably wrong. How women are perceived and treated in the technology industry is vital to its long-term health.

I’ll be honest, for much of my life I was turned off by the label feminist. I found it too easy to buy into the opposition marketing that being pro-women was somehow anti-men. The technical term for this idea is bunk, but that doesn’t stop it from being a widely held belief. What eventually led to my acceptance of that term as positive in its own right and in particular a label that applied to me was remembering that life, in most cases, is not a zero sum game. Helping women become valued members of a community does not somehow diminish my ability to be a part of that community. if anything, it enhances it.

There was recently a fire-storm on Twitter over some comments made by Paul Graham that were at least partially taken out of context. The controversy surrounding the quotes and the swift reaction to them on Twitter is interesting in itself, but I’m more interested in some of theother comments that Mr. Graham made during his conversation with the reporter.

First of all, I’d like to look at these as exemplars of opinions that I think are too widely held, and not necessarily as strongly held convictions of Mr. Graham. I take him at his word when he says that he did not believe these comments would be used for an interview-style post and that if he had, he would have spent more time ensuring that they fully reflect his beliefs.

Here is one of Mr. Graham’s quotes (emphasis added by me):

For one thing the number of women is increasing. I think there were a dozen startups with female founders in this batch. It might have been as much as a quarter. I don’t know the exact number. Someone could go and count.

That’s something I’ll probably be asking Jessica [Livingston] more eventually, but yeah.

She’ll have to go count too. There’s a couple of reasons why there are not as many female founders. There’s two questions, “Do we have some problem specifically? This you could identify by looking at the pool of YC startups versus some other comparable pool. I noticed that Andreessen Horowitz, for example, has a page on their site with their seed portfolio which are presumably all companies of similar stages, or at least the time they invested.

I happened to notice because about a quarter of them were from YC, that means three quarters of them are not, it would be interesting to go and see. If you want a pool of startups at similar stages and qualities, it would be interesting to look at that other 75 percent. If you want to know some demographic questions about founders, see what the founders are like at those other startups.

While it’s commendable that the number of YC-funded startups with female founders is increasing, I’d like to call attention to the last statement. This demonstrates a common flaw when organizations want to see how well they’re doing at attracting women. The problem with the proposed analysis is that it assumes that the best benchmark is how well other VC firms are funding women founded startups. This is flawed because you’re still limiting your analysis to the existing pool of founders/startups. The more interesting question is are there ways we could be encouraging more women to start companies who might otherwise have self-selected out of being a founder.

This is important because it demonstrates a flaw in much of the logical thinking about sexism. It seems logical to assume that if you’re not actively trying to prevent women from starting companies then sexism isn’t a factor. The problem is that many of the effects of sexism are not caused by conscious action. I’d like to think that the relatively lower percentages of women in STEM fields are not caused by people actively discouraging women to enter those fields. However, sexism is still prevalent in the form of unconscious biases. In particular, stereotypes are self-reinforcing.

If you are put into a position where you are made to identify with a group that is stereotypically less able to perform a certain task, then your performance on that task actually decreases. The converse is also true, that you can improve someone’s performance on a task by getting them to identify with a group that is stereotypically better at that task. None of this is the result of someone consciously saying, “well, I guess I’ll perform worse on this math test because I’m a women”, but that is the effective result.

One of the reasons I’m a feminist is that I believe it is not enough to simply accept the status quo. In order to make the world a more equal place to live, we have to actively fight against not just conscious acts but unconscious biases. Once you start to recognize that these biases exist, it gives you the opportunity to look for creative solutions to the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields.

Here is another quote from Mr. Graham (emphasis added by me):

You can tell what the pool of potential startup founders looks like. There’s a bunch of ways you can do it. You can go on Google and search for audience photos of PyCon, for example, which is this big Python conference.

That’s a self selected group of people. Anybody who wants to apply can go to that thing. They’re not discriminating for or against anyone. If you want to see what a cross section of programmers looks like, just go look at that or any other conference, doesn’t have to be PyCon specifically.

Or you could look at commits in open source projects. Once again self selected, these people don’t even meet in person. It’s all by email, no one can be intimidated by or feel like an outcast for something like that.

This quote has two examples of insidious thoughts that seem logical, but are built on flawed premises. The first is the assumption that simply not actively discouraging participation by women is enough for all of the potentially interested women to join in on an event. This is massively flawed for two reasons:

  1. Just because the organizers are not actively trying to discourage women, it’s very easy for their event to be less than welcoming. For example, most conferences have a number of social events where alcohol flows freely. Is it really surprising to think that women would be intimidated by such events, especially when they are clearly in the minority of participants?
  2. Potentially more insidious is the notion that just putting something out there makes it equally accessible to all groups. Sarah Milstein has a great post on this, specifically about attracting speakers from underrepresented groups to a conference, but the same ideas apply for attendees as well.

The second thing brought up by the quote is the notion that you can’t feel intimidated or outcast by e-mail or other electronic means of communication. This is just patently ridiculous and demonstrates an inability to empathize with other people. It’s well-documented how nasty comments can get on some online forums. In particular, threats of rape and death are far too prevalent to think that they could just be shrugged off.

Rather than focus only on the aggregate of documented cases, I thought I’d share some of my own experiences. Prior to joining Cloudera I had worked a lot with Apache Hadoop and other open source software, but I had not contributed directly to any projects. This was mostly driven by the difficulty in getting permission to share my work from my previous employer. Unsurprisingly, I was very excited to contribute once I got to Cloudera. I quickly learned that not all open source communities are equally inviting to new participants. While I found my patches eagerly accepted by the Apache HBase community, similar efforts to contribute to Hadoop itself were met with what I would describe as curt responses. It was easy to interpret the reactions as if I was bothering community members by my attempts to join in. Now, not everyone in the community reacted that way and I was able to overcome my feelings to still contribute, however, it was not at all what I would call an inviting experience.

If I had not been working for Cloudera, a recognized leader in the Hadoop space, I may not have felt bold enough to go through the process. It’s never easy to put oneself in a vulnerable position, but that’s exactly what you need to do to work in the open source world. You have to put your code out there and not just accept, but also invite criticism. It takes a lot of effort to not view the criticism as being levied against you, but as an attempt by the community to ensure a consistently high quality product. Some communities get this so right by not just working with new participants, but by going out of their way to be thrilled that you’re trying to participate at all. Taking that extra step goes a long way towards attracting more participation. The point is: being welcoming is a lot more than just not actively trying to discourage participation.

Ultimately, my reasons for being a feminist are pretty selfish. I find technology benefits from a wide-variety of views and opinions. The more people we bring into the STEM fields, the wider the variety and the more work I’m able to learn from and build upon. The reason why being a feminist requires direct action on my part is that even in the absence of explicit discouragement, the under-representation of women in STEM fields is not something that can just fix itself due to the unconscious biases that permeate our society.

I’m proud to call myself a feminist and you should be too.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com

@ThingsExpo Stories
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Numerex Corp, a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT), will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Numerex Corp. (NASDAQ:NMRX) is a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT). The Company's solutions produce new revenue streams or create operating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Although it has gained significant traction in the consumer space, IoT is still in the early stages of adoption in enterprises environments. However, many companies are working on initiatives like Industry 4.0 that includes IoT as one of the key disruptive technologies expected to reshape businesses of tomorrow. The key challenges will be availability, robustness and reliability of networks that connect devices in a business environment. Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is expected to...
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of (at least) three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the back-end service, and the mobile application for the end user’s controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target –...
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
From wearable activity trackers to fantasy e-sports, data and technology are transforming the way athletes train for the game and fans engage with their teams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, will present key data findings from leading sports organizations San Francisco 49ers, Orlando Magic NBA team. By utilizing data analytics these sports orgs have recognized new revenue streams, doubled its fan base and streamlined costs at its stadiums. John Paul is the CEO and Founder of VenueNext. Prior ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), sponsor of the IoTivity open source project, and AllSeen Alliance, which provides the AllJoyn® open source IoT framework, today announced that the two organizations’ boards have approved a merger under the OCF name and bylaws. This merger will advance interoperability between connected devices from both groups, enabling the full operating potential of IoT and representing a significant step towards a connected ecosystem.