Category Archives: working in Italy

Mad at Italy

Is it possible to be angry with a whole country? At the moment, I am furious with Italy. It was never particularly my dream to live in Italy. I ended up here because I married an Italian, he got a job here, and it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time. When Read More…

Is it possible to be angry with a whole country? At the moment, I am furious with Italy.

It was never particularly my dream to live in Italy. I ended up here because I married an Italian, he got a job here, and it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time. When the going got rough, as it sometimes did, keeping my family together was my paramount consideration, so I stayed on.

My career suffered for it. I have for decades been on the cutting edge of various high-tech trends (I’ve been online, one way or another, since 1982!), but being in Italy considerably limited my opportunities. Not much original work in high-tech goes on in Italy. The multinationals have local offices, but those mostly do local sales and support – not my cup of tea. There are very few Italian high-tech startups, and I’ve been intimately involved with two of them. I had high hopes for TVBLOB when we began, but after a while it became clear that, even if the company does well (and I still hope it does), my personal opportunities within it would be… far less than I had hoped.

So I couldn’t turn down an offer of work from Sun Microsystems, even though it came with the condition that I move to the US. (“But I thought Sun was all hot on remote working?!?” I hear you cry. There are good reasons why working remotely from Lecco won’t work long-term, which I will explain later.)

What’s even sadder is: I’m not the only one. Foreigners who came here pursuing a dream of la dolce vita are giving up and returning home, some because they are afraid of raising their children in a country which offers so little to young people. Even some Italians, in spite of their deep attachment to their hometown, country, and family, are getting out – or at least facilitating their children’s escape.

Pandecena Milano June ’07 – In Which a Cunning Plot is Hatched

Famed Italian blogger Luca Conti (pictured at top right, showing off his Nokia to Sara Piperita) has pulled off what many bloggers dream of (and quite a few actually do, in other parts of the world): making a living by blogging. Or, at least, managing to get paid for various kinds of consulting (as a Read More…

Famed Italian blogger Luca Conti (pictured at top right, showing off his Nokia to Sara Piperita) has pulled off what many bloggers dream of (and quite a few actually do, in other parts of the world): making a living by blogging. Or, at least, managing to get paid for various kinds of consulting (as a result of his blogging) while also running around the country blogging various interesting events he now gets invited to, plus other perks like fancy cellphones. The Italian PR world has figured out that bloggers are influential, and is courting them assiduously – or at least a small fraction of them. I am jealous that Luca’s job now includes boat trips on the Amalfi coast but, hey, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. (And I’ve got nothing to complain about: my own professional life is shaping up interestingly lately…)

Whenever Luca comes to town there’s a dinner (Pandecena), and these are excellent occasions for social and professional networking (aka lots of conversation with people I enjoy). This dinner was particularly well-populated because it had been scheduled for the night between the two days of a conference called Web 2.0 Oltre (Web 2.0 – Beyond) being held in Milan at which many of the “usual suspects” of the Italian blogosphere were panelists, speakers, etc. No one in the room had actually paid to attend the conference, for the excellent reason that it cost 1600 euros to do so!

I’ve been using Twitter lately (not today – stuck til I get my password fixed), which breeds an odd sense of familiarity with people I’ve barely met, and, having seen something day-to-day of how their minds work, it’s fun to then spend some face time. One such person at this event was Marco Formento, but the photos I got of him were scary…

I also enjoyed meeting Madga of Spotanatomy, a fun and insightful blog about advertising that has been referenced on this site before.

Quintarelli, Orban

^ A woman I didn’t meet, Emanuele Quintarelli, David Orban, and Marco Palazzo of DueSpaghi, an Italian social network about restaurants. The structure of the site is due to be translated soon, but that doesn’t help with the meat of the matter, the actual reviews. Translation is a thorny problem for websites. It’s so hard (and expensive) to do it well.

occhiali

^ Marco had fun with some PR stickers.

^ Thomas Christel, a Chicagoan now living in San Benedetto del Tronto, gets tagged by Lele. How one earth did he end up in San Benedetto, you may ask? (And I did.) The usual story: married into it. But he’s managed to keep a high-tech career going, in addition to running a B&B: Thomas is an executive for Yoo+, an online project management application now in beta testing.

^ I can never resist taking pictures of Fabrizio (Biccio) Ulisse – he’s so damned cute!

^ Emanuele and Luca Mascaro manhandling the spumante, courteously supplied by Reed Business.

I did have a bone to pick with Emanuele. He was (one of? chief?) organizer of the Web 2.0 Oltre conference, which somehow did not manage to feature EVEN ONE WOMAN speaker in two days of talks and panels. I had noticed (and been irritated by) this lack on the Web 2.0 Oltre site months ago, but didn’t know then who was responsible.

later – Emanuele tells me there were three women on the stage: Daniela Cerrato (who was in the original program and I must have overlooked her – my bad), Anna Masera (who was added after I saw the program), and a manager from Renault who spoke about that company’s recent push into Second Life.

I had had a battibecco* with Emanuele a few months ago in his own blog comments about the Italian Web 2.0 boys’ club he (and others) organized. He now came over to ask whether I was happy with the presenza femminile at this dinner.

I counted. Maybe ten women out of 40 people. Not great.

“Is that our fault?” he and David Orban asked.

No, not directly, obviously – anyone who wished could join this dinner. But the women aren’t coming to these events, and we need to figure out why. For starters, about that conference of yours…

Emanuele said something about not knowing any women who could have spoken.

“I’ve been online for 25 years,” I said. “And am now a Senior Web Producer for Sun Microsystems.” At which point he asked for my card.

I probably came off as bitter and aggressive in this exchange – a woman making her points strongly always risks being labelled a bitch. So be it.

I don’t believe that Emanuele (or Lele, who also recently had a restricted-invitation event to organize, and somehow ended up with very few women) is a chauvinist (or, as Italians would say, anti-feminist). But there’s a dangerous mindset in which, when you’re drawing up a list of influencers and experts to consult, invite, etc., somehow the people who come to your mind are all male. Women aren’t consciously excluded from your thinking, but… they don’t end up on your list either, do they? And that perpetuates a vicious cycle in which men are publicly identified as the experts, and women remain on the margins, waiting to be invited to the dance.

Well, I went to a school where anybody who wanted to, got out on the dance floor and danced – both literally and metaphorically. And I am by now too old and wise and bitchy to play the wallflower.

So, ladies, it’s time to do something about it. In October I will be hosting Web Women Weekend, at my home in Lecco. It will be an opportunity for girl geeks / technedonne / web women to get together, have fun, and figure out how we can support each other. (Invitation only, so, if you’re a woman in technology in Italy, let me hear from you.)

And that will be something to celebrate.

^ Coda: I took this picture just so we could start a nasty rumor that Luca only organizes these dinners because he makes money on them.
; ) – just kidding!

* battibecco – “a clash of beaks” – umm… birdfight?

What do you think? how do we get more visibility for women in technology in Italy?

FemCamp Bologna 2007: Sessions & Reflections

In the afternoon I attended some sessions, though I missed the most popular presentation of the day, Iocelopiulunghismo (“Mine’s-the-biggest-ism”), by Elena and Feba, a funny and ironic look at (male) bloggers’ obsession with their (blog) statistics. I poked my head into Andrea Beggi‘s unfortunately-titled presentation on “Blogging for Ladies,” but the room was so crowded Read More…

In the afternoon I attended some sessions, though I missed the most popular presentation of the day, Iocelopiulunghismo (“Mine’s-the-biggest-ism”), by Elena and Feba, a funny and ironic look at (male) bloggers’ obsession with their (blog) statistics.

I poked my head into Andrea Beggi‘s unfortunately-titled presentation on “Blogging for Ladies,” but the room was so crowded I couldn’t stay. I hope and assume that he intended the title to be tongue-in-cheek, but it was risky, and evidently a number of people did not take it as ironic. After what was apparently a useful bunch of technical how-to’s on getting more traffic to one’s blog, he came in for some flak about “what makes you so sure women want more traffic to their blogs?”

If this comment was really made, it was more than a bit silly. There are indeed private blogs intended for specific, closed audiences (e.g. one’s family), and hopefully the people who write them are smart enough to make them accessible only to the desired readers. But anyone else who’s blogging probably does want to be found and read – if you blog and nobody reads you, have you truly blogged at all?

I attended a session on women in the open source community, basically a report of statistics which, while I had not heard them before, did not surprise me in the least. I knew instinctively that women are a small percentage of the people working on open source software (I can remember seeing only one on my particular beat – storage – in the OpenSolaris.org forums). The interesting question is: why are there so few? One possible answer (given) is that people tend to do open source work in their free time, which women have less of than men (this is not fair, but that’s a topic for another time).

Something was said about technologies designed by and for women, a concept that wasn’t clear to me. In that context, we certainly weren’t talking about recipe organizers. Marzia responded with an example, Cercatrice di Rete (“Web Searcher”, the word searcher being in the feminine in this case), which she explained in more detail the next day at the E-Wit conference. It’s a search engine tuned to highlight women’s issues, e.g. searching on violenza returns results related to violence against women.

I suppose it’s one more example of a vertical search engine. I may be missing the point but, if I wanted to research “violence against women”, wouldn’t I just type that in? And if I needed immediate resources to protect me against an abusive spouse (the example Marzia seemed to have in mind), I would probably search on something more to the point, like: “how to murder your husband and get away with it.”

When it was my turn to present, I was disappointed that few of the younger women I’d seen at the camp were in the room. I was aiming mostly at them in my talk Fuori dagli Schemi – Aneddoti e Lezioni di Una Carriera Insolita (“Outside the Box: Anecdotes and Lessons from an Unusual Career”). I was afraid that what I had to share would be obvious to career women closer to my own age (well, okay, in their 30s), who seemed to be the bulk of my audience.

But several friends were present to cheer me on, and everyone seemed enthusiastic in spite of my quavering delivery in unusually shaky Italian (a result of nerves plus jet lag). If you want to hear it, go to this page and look for my name (towards the bottom), and click video at the end of that line (actually, it doesn’t sound as shaky as I had feared, though the grammar is not perfect).

Afterwards one woman told me she had needed to hear my admonition to “make sure the people who count know about the work you’re doing”, because she, too, had suffered from accomplishments that went unnoticed.

There wasn’t time for discussion, unfortunately, so I missed the opportunity to raise the question of what next steps the group could take for us women to help each other in our professional IT careers. I do have some ideas, though, which I’ll be discussing shortly in these pages.

Lele then got up to introduce a group of “cheerleaders.” I was about to rip his head off – the idea that my “go get ’em girls” talk should be immediately followed by sexist, male-pleasing bullshit was just too much. Then I realized that he had been asked to introduce a presentation I’d been curious about, “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World,” on gender in the fan communities of Heroes. Lele had gotten the wrong end of the stick in introducing the three young women doing the presentation as cheerleaders – the cheerleader referred to is character Claire Bennett.

One of the three did a good job of presenting the research carried out by a (mixed gender) group of students at the University of Urbino, but we didn’t actually hear any conclusions: those will be presented in a video to be posted on YouTube. It’s a pity her two colleagues didn’t get to speak, and I wasn’t sure of any of their names as Lele made a joke of them. But I appreciated that they had stood in the audience and smiled at me through my own presentation – I hope they gained something from it (e.g., don’t let someone else do all the talking for you, even if she’s female). later – I know at least one of them did: she left a very nice comment.

Amanda then gave a well-researched presentation on women in IT in Europe. That ties in well with what I heard the next day at the E-Wit conference, so I will talk about it in that context, in a future article.

Organization

There’s been a lot of bitching about how hot and crowded the venue was. In fact there would have been a lovely and capacious alternative venue, the one used for E-Wit the next day, in quarters shared between the Women’s Library of Bologna and the University of Bologna’s Department of Visual Arts.

However, as Federica (one of the organizers) explained to me, Internet access there was so hemmed about with firewalls that it would have been impossible to stream the video which allowed people from all over Italy (and the world) to follow the event live. Many of us present had also attended RitaliaCamp, hosted at a branch of the University of Milan which turned out to be very grudging in allowing attendees network access, to everyone’s frustration. (Hyper-bloggers gasp like fish out of water if cut off from Internet access for more than 15 minutes.)

The organizers of FemCamp opted instead for via San Felice, and, thanks to a sponsor, were able to provide the best wireless coverage anybody has yet seen at a camp in Italy – lack of which would surely have been cause for complaint at the other venue (note to conference organizers: you can never please everybody).

FemCamp Bologna 2007

Saturday morning I got up bright and early – way too early, considering that I had barely slept Friday night (jet lag – I had just returned from Colorado Thursday). Succumbing to travel paranoia, I took a taxi down the hill rather than wait for the first bus at 7 am, and got to Lecco Read More…

Saturday morning I got up bright and early – way too early, considering that I had barely slept Friday night (jet lag – I had just returned from Colorado Thursday). Succumbing to travel paranoia, I took a taxi down the hill rather than wait for the first bus at 7 am, and got to Lecco station in time to catch the (late) 6:47 train to Milan. Which may have been wise, since the later train I’d been planning to take was also late. As it was, I got into Milan over an hour before the 9 am train to Bologna on which I and several other FemCamp participants would be travelling.

I had breakfast (coffee and a croissant), and discovered some newly-restored corners of Milan’s Stazione Centrale.

The station was crowded with people, many headed out for a weekend at some beach or other. Eventually I spotted Sara, and we soon met up with Michelle. My friend and colleague Lisa met us in the station as well, but she had to take a later train as the one we were on was sold out. The rest of us, including three women from Style.it, had all booked seats in the same train car, but weren’t sitting together, or so we thought. But by some weird logic of numbering, I found that my seat 86 was next to Susan’s 82. Which was great: we had a good long chat (she had said she wanted to take a nap, but I rudely preferred that she stay awake – I was afraid that if I gave in to sleep, I would never wake up).

Although we made the entire journey together, including the walk from Bologna station to the site in via San Felice, I never actually talked to the Style.it women; they didn’t introduce themselves, and they seemed such a compact gang that I was shy to intrude (had Mafe been with them, it would have been different – I already knew her from the Girl Geeks Dinner). Oh, well. I had plenty of good conversation with the others, in a random mix of Italian and English.

Arriving at the site (the HQ of TechneDonne), we were startled at the number of people present, and even more at how many were men. Seeing the attendee list on the wiki, we had already been perplexed at the intent of so many men to participate in what was billed as a women’s event. The guys seemed nervous, however: during the early part of the day they milled about, talking and taking pictures mostly among themselves (to the extent that the photos on Flickr show far more men than women!).

Women were only a slight majority at the camp. Nonetheless, a presenza femminile so much larger than at most tech events seemed to cow the men. Later in the day they warmed up and mingled better – I guess they figured out that we weren’t going to bite them (a disappointment for some?).

There were lots of congratulations for Lele, recently hired to be the official blogger for Cisco Italy. Quite a coup for the Italian blogosphere: blogger goes corporate (our very own Robert Scoble). I reflected that I was hired two months ago to help the storage software group at Sun Microsystems with blogging (among other things); evidently I have failed to capitalize on the self-promotion value of that!

delymyth

Alessio, Delymyth, Gioxx

The presentations began almost on time (only half an hour late, for a barCamp in Italy, is a near-miracle), but I did not attend any in the morning. Not that they weren’t potentially interesting, but I was enjoying talking with friends new and old in the courtyard, and the interiors were crowded. Everyone else complained of the heat, but I had seen Susan’s warning on Twitter that the forecast for Bologna that day was hot and sunny, so I was dressed entirely in linen, and very comfortable.

Amanda, Deirdré, Tara

photo by Luca Moretto shows off my new hair to advantage.

Amanda on the left, Tara on the right. I don’t know the identity of the person with the skeptical expression in the background.

I’d just had my hair done the day before. My hairdresser had proposed blonde streaks to lighten up for summer, but I dismissed these as unnecessary – my hair will lighten up by itself in the sun. But somehow Ross persuaded me to do something radical. She’s certainly an influence on my style!

Lunch, as usual, was provided by San Lorenzo. Thanks to the vagaries of jet lag and the half dozen or so coffees I’d already had, I wasn’t that hungry: I ate mortadella, salame, porchetta, bread, a few olives, and, later in the day, biscuits. Then went for more coffee. I didn’t dare touch the wine, or someone would have tripped over me sleeping in a corner of the courtyard.

Marta

Giovanna dishes up yummies, carefully observed and recorded

Glamour magazine is getting its tech on lately: the photographer I’d already met at Girl Geeks and RitaliaCamp was present, setting up all sorts of shots. Here, again, is the lovely (and very smart) Amanda:

Amanda glam

She also shot Lisa and me for an article on women and networking (I think it was – the journalist who’s to write it was home ill, and will be contacting us later for the actual material). We’ll be happy to talk about women and networking and TVBLOB!

Long-Distance Working – A Tale of Two Companies

Old Days, Old Ways: Adaptec When I began working for Adaptec in 1995 (as a result of their acquisition of Incat Systems, the company which created Easy CD), I was already a remote worker. Fabrizio Caffarelli, who had founded Incat in Milan, had moved himself and the engineering staff to California in late 1993 with Read More…


Old Days, Old Ways: Adaptec

When I began working for Adaptec in 1995 (as a result of their acquisition of Incat Systems, the company which created Easy CD), I was already a remote worker. Fabrizio Caffarelli, who had founded Incat in Milan, had moved himself and the engineering staff to California in late 1993 with the goal of selling the company. In the meantime, though still living in Milan, I needed to work closely with engineering staff to document, test, and help to improve our software products. I began travelling to California regularly, but most of the time I worked from home, keeping in touch by phone and email.

Nobody at Incat had a problem with this, but the concept was foreign to Adaptec back then. In 1995, they had not even had email for very long because (so I was told) the company’s executives had resisted, fearing it would be "a distraction" (they may have had a point).

Adaptec at the time did not have any employees working permanently offsite, and they were not about to make exceptions for an unknown quantity like me so, in spite of my clearly-stated preference to become a "regular" Adaptec employee, I was taken on only as a contractor.

Adaptec’s employee benefits would not actually have been all that interesting or useful to me (e.g., I didn’t need US health insurance). However, although even the regular employees had California-standard "at will" contracts, I suspected that, as a contractor, I was more vulnerable than they to cyclical layoffs.

Some people at Adaptec even treated me as an outsider – not realizing (or perhaps resenting) that, to the CD-recording world, I was the face of Adaptec online.

On one memorable occasion, a customer reported to me that he had phoned tech support, quoting me on some technical question.

"Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about," responded the tech. "She’s just a consultant."

I also had the uneasy feeling that, even among some of the people I worked most closely with, I wasn’t perceived as being part of the team, nor as being serious about my career. Part of the reason I started an MBA (via distance learning, of course!) was to demonstrate that I wasn’t just an over-privileged housewife.

While I was doing one of my first MBA courses, an engineering colleague from Adaptec’s Longmont, CO office, Dan Maslowski, came up against a personal situation: he was perfectly happy in his job, but his wife had been offered the opportunity to open the European offices of the (Web) company she was working for.

Dan’s boss didn’t want to lose him, but wasn’t sure how to deal with a remote employee. So they talked to me, as an example of how it could be done, and Dan eventually moved to the Hague while still working for Adaptec. We were a mutual support society of two, commiserating on how difficult it was (and still is) to schedule phone conferences when you’re eight or nine time zones away from everyone else. I even wrote him up as a case study for my MBA course.

My own situation with Adaptec endured, but several changes of manager back at headquarters increased my sense of vulnerability, frustration, and alienation. From some perspectives, I had an ideal job: I could set my own hours (as long as those included lots of late-night phone conferences), and was largely managing my own work and that of two other contractors, all of us working from our respective homes.

But I was at a career dead-end. It was clear that, with Adaptec, I could never become a regular employee, let alone have a career path, as long as I was off-site. I was good at what I was doing, but had been doing it long enough to be getting bored. I could see things that (desperately) needed changing to make life better for Adaptec’s customers, but I would never be in a position to make those changes happen.

Hence my attempted move to California in 2000-2001, to participate in the Roxio spin-off. I wanted to help define, from the ground up, how a new company would deal with its customers, using the Internet as a tool for support, marketing, and relationship-building via customer communities.

I planned to move my family to the US for a year or two – long enough, I hoped, for me to launch a career and then find a way to move back to Italy, where my husband had his own career that he was not willing to give up.

That didn’t quite work out. The whole Roxio situation went sour for me, and I returned to Milan in March, 2001 – back to the same situation in which I had previously felt so vulnerable, alienated, and frustrated.

All those same adjectives still obtained, redoubled. The (ridiculously good) money was not enough to overcome my misery, especially when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t think I could handle a major family crisis while hating my job every day. I quit in July, 2001. (My mother-in-law was successfully treated for the cancer and is still living; Roxio is no longer with us).

A New Dawn: Sun Microsystems

Corporate practice and technology have naturally moved on, and working remotely no longer seems as strange or difficult as it did ten years ago (although in Italy it’s still highly unusual). Having suffered through the early days with a resistant employer, I am now delighted to find myself working with a company that gets it.

Remember Dan? He ended up working for Sun Microsystems, where he’s currently a Senior Engineering Manager. When he realized in February that the new position he had just taken on entailed responsibilities for part of a website, he thought of me.

I knew nothing about Sun, except that Dan worked there and I liked what I could see of his management style. He had even left Sun for AMD, then gone back to Sun, and they’d kept his company blog waiting for him. This is standard practice at Sun (10% of whose ~33,000 employees have blogs open to the public), and is a subtle indicator of the company’s relationship with its people.

Obviously, Dan was asking me to join him knowing that I live in Italy and, though very willing to travel, this is where I’ll be staying. It didn’t occur to me to ask whether this would be a problem; his answer would have been: Of course not. His team was already spread across time zones from Silicon Valley to Beijing, so managing one more person in one more location wasn’t going to make much difference to him.

Arriving at Sun’s offices in Broomfield, CO for a first meet-and-greet visit in March, I astonished to learn that practically all of Sun is like this: teams seem to be formed on no geographical basis whatsoever, and many Sun employees work from home, wherever home may be. According to an official company statement I heard in an online presentation for newbies, at least 50% of Sun employees work from home at least one or two days a week.

This point was made most forcefully for me when I read the first blog post from Deb Smith, a Director in the software group I’m working for. Go read that now and you’ll see what I mean. As soon as I read it, I thought: I’m in the right place. The whole company is built for what they call OpenWork, with all the right systems – and, more importantly, attitudes – in place to make it work well both for the company and its employees.

This is probably a factor in the large proportion of women who stay with Sun – I’ve never seen so many women in an engineering organization!

And it’s not just the women: practically everyone at Sun seems to have been there for at least ten years (the company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), with no intention of leaving. Upon getting to know Sun a little better, this does not surprise me at all. Sun demonstrates that it values its people, and understands the importance to those people of all aspects of their lives, not just their careers. That sounds like an organization I’d like to stick with.

what qualities do you look for in an employer?