Category Archives: technology

GHC09: Women in the Flat Connected World

^ Panelists (L->R): Kristin Rozier (NASA); Sumitha Prashanth (Sun Microsystems-India); Radha Ratnaparkhi (IBM); Claudia Galvan (Microsoft); Bev Crair (Quantum, formerly Sun); Meenakshi Kaul-Basu (Sun Microsystems); Lydia Ash (Google) – photo from Meena “Globalization has forced companies to create new processes to empower distributed teams to collaborate. It could mean that individuals have to travel for Read More…

^ Panelists (L->R): Kristin Rozier (NASA); Sumitha Prashanth (Sun Microsystems-India); Radha Ratnaparkhi (IBM); Claudia Galvan (Microsoft); Bev Crair (Quantum, formerly Sun); Meenakshi Kaul-Basu (Sun Microsystems); Lydia Ash (Google) – photo from Meena

Globalization has forced companies to create new processes to empower distributed teams to collaborate. It could mean that individuals have to travel for longer periods of time across the globe, work at odd hours, and work from home or make other adjustments to accommodate a new working lifestyle.

Panelists will discuss and give their perspective on the topic, impact on women, and the technologies and strategies they use to maintain balance.”

This panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2009, run by my colleague Meena, was one of the few sessions at GHC09 that I felt addressed the  practical needs of women currently in technology management: all of the panelists manage geographically-dispersed teams (which are increasingly the norm in high tech).

One theme that came up over and over was the importance of face-to-face interaction, especially for the managers, who therefore end up traveling a lot. Phone conferences, email, and instant messaging simply can’t build relationships in the same way. As Bev Crair said, even for teams that know each other and have worked together for a long time, “Trust breaks down after six weeks of not seeing someone.” I’ve seen this in my own experience of working remotely.

Bev added that relationships can be supported by video conferencing: “We use WebEx a lot.”

But she and others also felt strongly enough about the importance of in-person interaction that (during her time at Sun) she created a rotation program for Sun’s engineering office in China. US-based test engineers visited for three weeks at a time (the company had rented four apartments) and did their regular jobs from Beijing while also mentoring/training Chinese colleagues.

This taught the local engineers Sun standards for engineering, but it also helped the US-based engineers understand local problems so they could better represent their Chinese counterparts when they got back to US.

Kristin Rozier, NASA: “We put a lot of emphasis on face to face” within her small US reearch group. They host an annual symposium where everyone can get together.

Lydia Ash, Google: “As a manager I had to realize that bad news travels much faster than good news.” Solution: over-commuicate rather than under-.

Claudia Galvan, Microsoft: “You need to let go of driving everything from HQ and let the remote sites drive, too.”

Work-Life Balance

Bev Crair: “Working globally means there’s not a hard line between work and home life. I take time for myself and my daughter n the middle of the day. I have to set aside that time.”

Women are about connectedness, so why try to separate work from life?

Sumitha lives with her in-laws (a traditional arrangement in India), who are very supportive of her family and career. She says: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. You figure it out as you go along. There’s no perfect situation. You have to prioritize. And don’t feel guilty about anything.”

Radha agrees that work-life balance is a myth. But there can be harmony if you have control and a support system (family, friends, community).

Two of the panelists’ daughters wouldn’t want their mothers’ jobs: “Too many phone calls.” One thinks that being an engineer is cool because you get to go to all these exotic places.

Women often end up taking care of family stuff (babies, aging parents), which leads to breaks in their career histories. Being able to “integrate” the personal with the professional is critical. Remote work allows people to deal with things e.g. cultural observations (such as the rituals around a death in the family) while still working. We need to have the tools and processes in place for this to happen.

Question from the audience: All this flexibility needs company support. How real is that?

Answer: Even the [US] federal government offers time off for family situations, e.g. up to 12 weeks to help a parent after surgery.

Tools and Pitfalls

It was mentioned that video conferencing can feel weird because of lag times (at long distance) and the fact that it doesn’t provide a sense of eye contact, because the webcam lens is not where you direct your eyes when you’re looking at the video you’re receiving. “Everyone looks stupid in a videoconference.”

Bev said they have extra monitors which display video streams from other offices, to maintain a sense of presence even when not actively participating in video conferences.

Lacking funding or tools for any of this, one manager said that her group put up photographs of their remote colleagues to enhance a feeling of connectedness. Every little thing can help.

Virtual environments (such as Google Lively and Second Life) can become informal and unprofessional very quickly. It’s important to remember that professional presence matters even in these virtual worlds. In video conferencing, watch out for bedhead and undone laundry in the background; what is the message you are sending by your video presence?

Use tool such as Writely to collaborate in real time on documents.

On the whole, a very useful panel, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from these women.

The First Colorado Front Range Girl Geek Dinner: Jai Ho!

The first Colorado Front Range Girl Geek Dinner was held on Thursday, March 5th, on Sun’s Broomfield campus. More than 80 people attended, only one of whom was (a very brave) male. Sun sponsored this first one with food, drink, and venue. There was plenty of interest from other individuals and businesses in helping with Read More…

The first Colorado Front Range Girl Geek Dinner was held on Thursday, March 5th, on Sun’s Broomfield campus. More than 80 people attended, only one of whom was (a very brave) male.

Sun sponsored this first one with food, drink, and venue. There was plenty of interest from other individuals and businesses in helping with the next (contact me to be put in touch with the now-being-formed committee). Thanks to the many who helped spread the news (including Jeremy Tanner, who helped get the word out to startups and other smaller businesses). We had at least 80 attendees (probably more – I don’t think we caught quite everybody at the registration desk), and were in touch with several dozen more who couldn’t attend on this particular date but definitely want to participate.

With this kind of momentum, I think the next CO FR GGD can take place in about two months (but I’ll be leaving it up to others to organize that one as I expect to travel heavily from now through July).

The atmosphere in the room was electric and inspiring, and I hope was encouraging for those who had recently lost their jobs (or fear they might soon). Women helping women can be a powerful resource in the workplace, and that’s what Girl Geek Dinners are about.

Colorado GGD

^ listening to Linda, the “voice from on high”

Linda Skrocki put together a presentation which I ended up delivering (with her participating by phone) because she was home with a flu and didn’t want to infect the rest of us.

Our aim was to showcase Sun’s many activities in social media, in order to illustrate how other companies and individuals can use social media to enhance their own brands, win friends and clients, and influence people. Social media is important in just about any job these days, so I hope the information was useful to other women wanting to add to their work skills.

I noted a lot of interest in the room at the idea of managing one’s personal brand and identity online; that might be a topic for a future talk. One attendee wanted to talk more with us about Sun’s “radical transparency” in relation to a project she’s working on. And it seems that people want to hear more about videoblogging, which of course I’m happy to discuss anytime.

Colorado GGD

My only (personal) disappointment was that I was so busy running the show, I had very little time to talk with anybody – and there was a roomful of fascinating women I’d love to know more about. I look forward to making up for that next time!

Thanks to Kristin Tulp of Level3, we had TV coverage, with a segment by Jodi Brooks of CBS4 news (Denver) on Friday night. As part of a series on “Beating the Recession,” the piece talked about how we “Geek Girls” are rallying together to help ourselves and each other in a hard job market. I don’t know whether the segment will be posted on their site. Perhaps if enough of us ask them…? Here’s the transcript: ‘Geek Girls’ Gather In Broomfield For Networking

other coverage:

In case you’re wondering about the title: Jai Ho is the Oscar-winning song from the end titles of  Slumdog Millionaire. The song’s composer, A.R. Rahman, says that Jai Ho translates as “May victory be yours.” Which seems to me a fitting benediction for my fellow girl geeks.

Thrilled in Boulder

Last Saturday I attended a podCamp in Boulder, similar to camps I’ve attended in Italy. The topics were mostly techie (of course), and it was stimulating to talk with other folks doing social media et al, and get a fresh perspective. But the most fun part was at the end, when we learned part of Read More…

Last Saturday I attended a podCamp in Boulder, similar to camps I’ve attended in Italy. The topics were mostly techie (of course), and it was stimulating to talk with other folks doing social media et al, and get a fresh perspective.

But the most fun part was at the end, when we learned part of the dance moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. (I was participating at first – you can find footage of me if you look hard – but had to duck out to meet a friend and bring her back.)

Web Women Weekend

^ top: the finer points of CSS – Tara and Elena in my kitchen Increasingly frustrated with the low visibility of women in technology in Italy, back in June I and a few like-minded ladies hatched a plan to start doing something about it. The first step was to get together. So I invited them Read More…

^ top: the finer points of CSS – Tara and Elena in my kitchen

Increasingly frustrated with the low visibility of women in technology in Italy, back in June I and a few like-minded ladies hatched a plan to start doing something about it.

The first step was to get together. So I invited them all up for a weekend at our house (sent Enrico off to visit his mother – yes, he is a supportive husband!).

Turnout was not as large as I had hoped (the house could have slept 14 or so), but those who came were motivated – most had to be, to trek all the way out here.

Friday night it was just me, Tara, and Elena. It had been a long week for us all, so we ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up early (as usual) and got to work cooking (while my computer was compressing video for Sun). Tara and Elena eventually wandered in and set up their laptops on the kitchen table, working separately and together on this and that. It was oddly comforting to have them there while I cooked (usually a lonely activity for me); I’d like to have girl geeks in my kitchen more often!

The crew gradually assembled and introduced themselves:

  1. Tara Kelly, founding partner of PassPack
  2. Elena Franco, aka Delymyth, sysadmin
  3. Silvia Cavallon, a former colleague of mine from Incat days, now a tech support manager for HP
  4. Sara Rosso, Internet Services Manager at Ogilvy Interactive
  5. Sara Maternini, corporate blogger and event manager for San Lorenzo, who kindly furnished us with a six-pack of Franciacorta (Italian champagne-method wine)
  6. Celia Abernethy, web designer/builder/programmer and owner of MilanoStyle
  7. Susan Quercioli, a manager of technical projects and people
  8. me

Talk flowed, mostly informally, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t sharing useful information.

There were the expected horror stories:

  • Every woman in Italy knows that being married and in età fertile (of childbearing age) is an enormous handicap in finding a job. It is perfectly legal for a prospective employer to ask your age and marital status (indeed, many job announcements specify the age range they will consider). Italy’s generous maternity leave law has backfired: no one wants to hire a woman who may go out to have a baby, costing the company money. And there are no real protections against discrimination of any sort in the Italian job market.
  • As in many other countries, women in Italy are paid less than men for the same work (and all Italian salaries are low against European averages, especially considering the cost of living here). One of the group, upon requesting a raise, was asked: “Doesn’t your husband earn enough to support you?” As if her work was just a hobby! The reality is that most women in Italy who work do so because their families need their income as much as their husbands’, so, yes, we need (as well as deserve) equal salaries.
  • We see our male colleagues getting jobs, raises, and promotions based on their skills at self-promotion as much as or more than for their actual abilities or work accomplishments – and getting paid more for doing less than we do!
  • And on, and on…

So, yes, there is plenty for women in IT in Italy to be unhappy about. But we didn’t get together just to bitch. The point of the weekend was to discuss what we can do to help ourselves, each other, and the larger community of girl geeks in Italy.

Under Sara Rosso‘s (welcome) leadership, each of us described what we hoped to get out of this event. These included:

  • “How should I write my curriculum to reflect my real-world experience, especially since I don’t have the formal qualifications that companies think they need?”
  • “I’m a female manager in a male world, and I think I can see better, let’s call them more ‘feminine’, ways of managing people. But in my job I don’t have any role models I can look to for advice or examples. I’d like to have someone to talk to about my ideas.”
  • “I’ve been badly underpaid in my career, partly because I find it hard to negotiate, partly because I don’t know the Italian market value of my skills. Where can I get information on salaries and freelance rates, and advice or training in how to negotiate?”
  • “I wanted to change jobs, but I didn’t know enough about possible Italian employers to tell which companies I might actually like to work for.”
  • “It’s great to know that I’m not the only woman in high tech in Italy, and not the only one to deal with these issues. When can we meet again?”

^ Sara Rosso and Susan Quercioli [Susie Q?]

Sunday morning the first-round attendees left, to be quickly replaced by:

  1. Enrica Garzilli, Sanskritist and journalist
  2. Ruhama Zayit, software engineer at TVBLOB
  3. Bruna Gardella, Senior Analyst at Etnoteam Spa

More useful experiences and information were shared (as well as an Indian lunch that I cooked).

At the end of the two days, we had some next steps:

  • Set up an online community where we can discuss and plan. For the time being, this is a Yahoo group.
  • Though we did not explicitly say so, one of the aims would naturally be to get more women to join this community – if you want to join, head on over and ask!

Possible projects for the community:

  • Periodic social events – aperitivi, Girl Geek dinners. A monthly aperitivo in Milan will probably start in November (2nd Tuesdays), organized by Lisa Morris of TVBLOB. And we’re discussing a date and a speaker for the next Girl Geeks Dinner.
  • Practical workshops where we can learn skills we feel we are lacking. One specific suggestion was negotiation – ideally, with role-playing to help us learn how to do it. We need to share info on where we might find people to do such workshops and how we would finance them (e.g., a good friend of mine is the Italy coordinator for the Open University, which might be interested in doing something relevant).
  • Job bank? At the very least, we can start sharing information on jobs we’re aware of via the Yahoo group.
  • Salary bank, with a wide range of both men’s and women’s salaries and freelance rates (in Italy), to help us see how we’re doing and price future jobs and freelance work. Bruna told us that Il Sole 24 Ore already runs quantomipagano.com, which looks very useful but does not cover freelance or contratto a progetto rates. Perhaps we can persuade Il Sole that it’s in everybody’s interest for them to expand their database to include this info. Who has a contact there?
  • Events calendar. Sometimes we don’t go to technical conferences or barcamps because we feel overwhelmed by the vast majority of men there. A shared calendar will let us track events we might be interested in, and encourage each other to go.
  • Speaker lists. Another reason we don’t go to events is because we’re not represented among the speakers – we get tired of being talked at by men. We can develop and maintain a list of women qualified, willing, and able to speak on various technical topics, and, um, gently suggest them when we know about events being organized.
  • Many of us don’t have women technical colleagues we can talk to at work, so we would like to both give and receive mentoring (on specific questions or for general support and advice).

Having this nascent supportive community of women in IT is already proving useful. Had I met Bruna a year ago and talked with her about some Italian IT companies she’s familiar with, I might not have been so much in despair about my job prospects in Italy. Celia said that, had she known us three years ago, she might not have abandoned the web business she enjoyed (and in fact she’s now thinking about getting back into it!).

Your thoughts and contributions welcome!

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).