Category Archives: women in technology

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.

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!

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!