Comments on “So What?”

I really like the idea of changing the nature of computer science degrees – pairing the theory and tools with a discipline. A friend of mine chose to basically do that. She started out in chemistry and biology, switched her degree to CS and wrote an classification application for botanists for her thesis.

Still, I think there is value in in the study of computer science in a concentrated and separate way (disclosure: I have a CS degree). For example, I think that, despite many obvious similarities, there are important and fundamental differences between programming and human communication languages. And there is enough difference that academic study of programming languages just doesn’t seem to fully fit in linguistics departments. I think you can argue the opposite – but academics have already separated the departments and degrees. An interim step may be to encourage more dual degree programs like this:

and in response to a call for research:

Here’s one place you can start for reading:

Another is:

Perhaps a bibliography is called for in this series to help educate readers about what research is out there. The research I’m aware of appears to conclude that there is systemic bias in the industry that specifically discourages women.

Certainly, more research is needed! I would love for this series to inspire further academic discovery.

Original article here.

my comments on “A Fifty Year Wave of Change”

Reading your article reminded me of the first technical conference I ever attended, and a woman I met who was among the first women trained by IBM to be computer technicians.

We had a small, and quiet BoF meeting and she waxed nostalgic about IBM way back then – using punch cards and how things had changed so much since she had taken her first mathematics class. She was so inspiring, hopeful and encouraging to the younger women who attended (I was only 20 at the time).

I agreed when you said “it would be a huge help if the media provided more examples of male and female computer scientists who have interesting lives.” Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and successes.

Original article here.

A comment on the Social Engineering article

Here’s my comment:

I really enjoyed your article, Leslie. I completely identified with you when you said, “in an effort to be the change I wish to see in the world, I’ve distanced myself from questions of gender roles in my work.” I do this, as do many other women in technical fields.

Your experience is a great case study for technical groups that incorporate people who aren’t programmers or evangelists. I think your insights about the skills needed for “social engineering” apply regardless of gender. I know men who end up with the title “geek herder”, because “geek papa” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “geek mama”.

Your statement that “the healthiest [open source projects] are those who place a high value on contribution of any kind” applies more broadly than just the tech world. To inspire lasting participation and enthusiasm, we have to let people know not just that they are wanted, but that they are needed and essential.

Original article here.

a women-focused users group: the very, very beginning

I mentioned nearly a month ago that we were starting a group whose goal is to get more women involved in open source. We had our first group meeting this evening.

We decided on a “chaining” strategy for invitations – no broadcasts on mailing lists we aren’t subscribed to, and people should feel a bit responsible for the folks that they bring along. The accountability for group participation is one thing that I feel strongly about, and there was rough consensus, so looks like that will stand for now.

There was some talk about maintaining at least 50% women in the group. Ultimately, I don’t think a percentage will matter if we have a strong group identity. But it got me thinking – what are the elements of this group that will keep me interested and will continue to draw women in? And then, what can I do to help maintain the group’s identity and goals?

One idea I had was the socratic seminar. Another was a goal of 100% participation in every meeting. During today’s meeting, three of us mentioned that we’d gone to a series of user group meetings without ever saying a word. What I like about the 100% participation goal is that combined with a socratic seminar, it would be radically different from other user group meetings I’ve been to.

For structure, I thought we could have our show-and-tell, followed by an hour or so of group work, and then a post-group-work sharing. I think that the sharing piece is key. And if we keep ’em short – and timed – I think it could be a very interesting.

We’ll see how things go. I offered to talk next month about the temporal database stuff I’ve been working on with Jeff. I asked for five minutes and thought it would be a nice jumping-off point for a smaller group to run off and work on database stuff for an hour. We’ll see if I can make a 5-minute presentation that is useful about temporal data.

group cohesiveness

A couple days ago, I had my mind blown by this Clay Shirky talk from 2003. It was like someone was sitting in the room where we had the women’s BoF at OSCON. He lists three group patterns: sex talk, vilification of outsiders/enemies, religious veneration. We managed to skip over the sex talk (although I did make a joke about auctioning off tickets to the women-only conference to men). But we dove right in with the other two.

It got me thinking about another project we’re working on – a programming group whose goal is to get more women involved in open source, and allows men. I’m not in leading it, but I really want it to succeed. I want to avoid the negativity and baggage that seems to follow women-specific groups.

There’s a list of things at the end of the talk “to design for.” Shirky’s talking about social software, but I think that a couple of the ideas apply to RL as well.

Having barriers to entry for groups, for example, helps strengthen the group identity. You need an identity before opening up participation – so that the group can protect itself when the inevitable attack-on-identity comes. Either in the form of subversion of purpose, or “you suck and shouldn’t exist”.

Hey, there was lots of good stuff in there. If you haven’t read it already, take a few minutes and enjoy.

And more about the new group — something cool already happened in the discussion. A participant pointed out that we should really be thinking about projects in terms of 2-4 person teams. I love that someone piped up with that right away. Deep communication, particularly about code, won’t happen without breaking up into small subgroups.

we need a hero

I spoke with a woman from a university that said she thought what we needed was a hero. Somebody that would inspire people outside our industry and rally the people inside it already. And they should still be living 🙂

I named a few possibilities – kc klaffy, Allison Randal, Evi Nemeth. If you’ve got others, leave them in the comments. Not sure I agree with the her, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

moving on from experiencing to changing the structure

I attended a “women in open source community ” BoF last night. I think that the intention for the BoF was good. But despite the efforts of the moderator, the discussion looped repeatedly on personal problems, and didn’t get very far into the meat of what we might really do to get more women into open source.

What if we looked beyond individual behavior and experience to the structures preventing women from participating?

Someone mentioned a recent study on a public university’s successful effort to increase female enrollment – presumably in a computer science program. We need information like this distilled from academic papers and organized as principles! Arm change-agents with facts and let them loose!

I think that our goal should aim for equal (50%!) representation across all computer-related fields. That is not going to happen without systemic change, or because a few people stop being jerks. It will only happen if the system that brings people into computer science and information technology puts a premium on gender equality.