Sunday, May 13, 2018

On leadership and male allies...

Much has been touted about leadership and leadership styles - certainly in Silicon Valley over the last several years.

Here's an article that seems to finally cut through a large extent of the BS and focus on what really works, based on history and the fact that we live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people who may or may not have their own short/long-sighted agenda's and have varying degrees of commitment and persistence to pursue their goals.

I haven't read all these books yet, but, would certainly like to.

I get preached to by a lot of senior management and, sometimes, executives with varying degrees of success.  Some say that I don't listen to "direction", some say that I'm "perceptive, visionary, resilient, gritty..."  blah blah.  Whatever.

I say, what are you telling me that will help me reach my goal?  Do you even understand my goal and the challenges that I (and people like me) face day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year?  Are you able to advise and help regarding the specific challenges I have?

If you don't, then no amount of talking to me and "guiding"/"directing"/"advising" me is going to work - it boils down to lip service.  Which means, yes, I will probably not listen to your well-intentioned advice because it does not make any sense to me and it certainly does not help me or others.  Which, also, means that you did not do your homework before providing "advice"/"direction".

For male allies (or those that tout themselves as such), here are some resources to get under your belt and start your journey to building reliability as a male ally (note:  this is just the minimum, baseline to getting started).  It is not easy to be a male ally - you will face lots of opposition from both men and women alike.  But, as they say, nothing that is worth doing is ever easy :).  And, frankly, the experience might help you understand what women engineers and technologists go through everyday.  The subtle behaviors that you might not see/notice, come to the forefront - not always, but,  there's a high probability that you will if you let yourself see it.
  2. Twitter:  Better Allies
  3. NCWIT:
  4. ABI:
  5. SLATE:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Yup - I fell off the engineering ladder - finally. 23+ years was a good and difficult run...

Written - 3/25/'18

And now I am one more statistic in a long list of statistics - compiled, shared and pontificated over with much rah-rah and zero true effort from companies to make a difference. 

So, I'm looking at product management and realizing that there's a lot of similarity with what I have done and am doing for CodeChix.  So, it's actually pretty good - I get to develop my skills in an area that I've never had a chance to look at but is essential to running a company.

And I can no longer hide in my cubicle when I want to - time to learn some skills that I don't have... yet.

I still refuse to wear heels or makeup.  Absolute no.

And in silicon valley, that's not a problem, thank heavens.   Jeans and sneakers are still my staple - yay!

And I'm still going to have opportunities to dabble with coding, I think - will have to see.

And, oh yeah, I quit VMware.

Went to New Zealand to climb my fourth glacier (Franz Josef - heli in/out which was cool), hike the Tongariro trail, see and photograph Mt. Doom ad nauseum (not to mention Hobbiton), visit the Weta Workshop, white watered Tutea Falls which was both terrifying and exhilarating since we had to morph into a rescue boat when another boat flipped over and 8 people ended up in churning waters with paddles and booties floating everywhere, stargazed at Mt. John observatory at 1 in the morning and saw the Magellanic clouds before the rainclouds moved in over Lake Tekapo (awesome night sky!), saw the unique glow-worms in Waitomo at night in an underground cave 150 ft deep in pitch dark (a bit unnerving) and, generally, had a hectic, activity-filled 3 weeks before heading back and starting a new job this week @walmartlabs. 

Nothing like adventure to rejuvenate and shake the rat-race doldrums.

But, now, back to the rat race.  And getting DevPulseCon squared away - fingers crossed.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

My thoughts on the nomination for finalist for the Women in Open Source award

First off, I was not expecting to make it to the finalist round of this prestigious award.

And I am completely, humbly grateful and happy to have made it this far, doing something that I gave up pretty much all of my free time (weeknights and weekends) for the last 9 years or so, when I started CodeChix in my living room.

Open source has been a part of my tech life ever since I wandered into it during my student days at CU Boulder, where I was in the "dungeons" (that's what we lovingly called the windowless, card-entry large rooms of tables with SUN workstations) working on projects/homework etc.

It started with hanging out on USENET groups and fiddling with Minix and, voila, Slackware showed up.  And, the complete un-usability of the initial versions which kept crashing and backup/restore was an exercise in patience and stamina (including developing a great curse-word vocabulary in multiple languages).  Fast-forward to the 2000's, the rise of programming languages other than C/C++, open source growing from a fledgling, struggling effort of die-hards with long beards (yup - you know the sort), and, in this decade, it is mainstream and has found a foothold that is no longer low-profile as it once was.

My own dabbling with Python, Go and other languages and a variety of tools to help me build things that I need in my own day-to-day life, not to mention, at work, has been the best way for me to stay technical and keep the flame alive.  I try to instill this in all others whom I interact with, to the point that some people take a different route if they see me coming down the hall (perhaps, I should dial back the enthusiasm a bit, hmmm).

The entire premise, mindset, attitude and drive of the free/open source communities has been a huge inspiration to me - and one that I, personally, try to emulate as much as possible.  It is not the mindset of hyper-competitiveness, aggression, climb-the-ladder-at-all-costs, put-other-people-down, oh-look-at-me-I'm-so-great and other attitudes that proliferate the industry.  It is the co-operative and collaborative mindset, the uplifting of those who are struggling and helping put them on the path to growth and success, the inspiration and freedom to dabble in whatever technology you want without having to pay an arm and a leg to do it, the community of super-smart, diligent, committed and helpful people (most of them white men/women, BTW) who make this movement a movement.  It is the way to free oneself from the bounds placed on us by either society or technology or environment.  And find a way to contribute to a greater good by whatever means we have time and capability for.

CodeChix has been my passion, my joy, my grief, my struggle and everything in-between these past several years.  There have been countless times I have felt like giving up and just saying, "Hell with it - what am I doing?  This is not going anywhere and there is no way I can make a difference in this quagmire."
Particularly, when many former colleagues who join startups and become multi-millionaires, jeer at my foolishness for doing something that will never make me a rich, prosperous, status-symbol person.  And, believe me, I am constantly asked why I'm not using my "great skills" to do something in the for-profit startup world with so much automatic help/mentorship from VC's and fellow startup-pers who can guide/help with every step.
I don't have any mentors who have done what I'm trying to do (and have done so far) - working full time in a demanding job and founding/running a non-profit in my "free" time.  And caring for elderly parents in even more "free" time.

With all the flak that I have to take (both at work and outside of work) for CodeChix, I wouldn't change one damn thing.  CodeChix has given me far more that I could have imagined - a voice and an outlet to share with others who are and have been running into the same issues (and more) that I have (and am) constantly run into.  It has exposed me to so many fantastic women engineers (most of them far better than me technically and otherwise) who have inspired me to improve myself and others.  Things I never thought I would have - ever.  I have learned (had to) skills I never had in order to get past hurdles that showed up.  And I have relied on so many wonderful, helpful people who were there for me through some very, very difficult times indeed.  I would never have known them were it not for my work with CodeChix.

Yes, the work is brutal - I have no life, as such.  I work a tremendous amount - from board work, to fundraising, to vision, strategy, execution, accounting, taxes, technical scouting for the next thing to teach at DevPulseCon, speaking at conferences, listening/counseling/mentoring so many young and not-so-young women who reach out where I see the struggles they are going through and it enforces my will to continue to fight because no one else seems to care.  And I take vacation time from work to do this.  And, if I get sick, everything falls apart until I get better and re-chart trajectories with brutal prioritization and focus.

This year might be a turnkey year (somewhat like last year) where the industry might actually start caring about retention of women engineers and technically-oriented women in PM and other roles.  I'm hoping - time will tell.  Maybe, all the millions of dollars spent on marketing/promotions and "looking good externally while trying to hide what's happening inside the company" will change and the C-level executives will start looking at the "Why" seriously and employing their formidable analytical/execution/financial powers to addressing the nebulous and insidious cultural issues that proliferate behaviors that affect retention.  We will see.

In the meantime, I hope to use all my efforts (whatever I can spare) towards moving the needle by expanding DevPulseCon to India - fingers crossed this will happen if I get funding and significant support from companies both in the US and in India.   First task is to have a great DevPulseCon in April in Mt. View this year - the line-up of speakers and workshops is looking fantastic :).  I should be able to open registrations very soon, I hope.  I still need a few more sponsor companies.

My fellow nominees for the Women in Open Source awards are all phenomenal - I am beyond honored to be considered to be in their league.   As a builder of a technical community in a very niche area I hope to be able to win this award to bring light to the essential need for women engineers worldwide to have a voice, support and recognition for all our work/contributions and struggles so far.

To that extent, if any of the above resonates with you, I would love to have your support and your vote.

May the code be with you.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Working towards DevPulseCon 2018 - April 20 & 21 @ Computer History Museum

Well..... this is the fourth year for DevPulseCon with our safe-space panels and open source technical workshop tracks - I never thought it would come so far and grow so fast.  I'm pretty stunned, frankly.  Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Once again, I'm working weeknights and weekends trying to bring together all the threads to make this year's DevPulseCon another huge success like it was last year.   And searching for new open source technology/software/hardware etc. to teach.  And then find someone to teach it per our guidelines.

Each year I think it's going to get easier and each year, I have to work more and harder to get the same things done.

Sponsorships, board meetings, being the board chair and pushing things/people, recruiting, interviewing recruits, looking for volunteers, budgeting, streamlining the payment/account management process with my treasurer, coming up with which technical topics I want to target and what safe space panel topics would be most relevant at this time, finding speakers, instructors, coordination, logistics (food, venue, layout, A/V blah blah), blasting out emails, setting up eventbrite, website updates once we nail down the speakers/instructors/topics etc. 

And the list goes on.

And it doesn't get any easier to try to find a conference chairperson with my limited budget.  And to find volunteers - dedicated, no-nonsense, non-flaky volunteers who understand the mission and are passionate about technology.

My board has helped me find some sources this year (YAY!) since I have had NO time in my new group at work to dedicate time towards CodeChix work in the last 6 months.

I'm still looking for sponsorships from companies across the bay area - I have 2 committed sponsors so far and need at least 5 or 6 more.  Fingers crossed I will get them soon so that we can have the growth I need - another 50% growth in number of attendees.   A whopping 300 women engineers - lick finger stick in the air.  I'm hopeful.

Last year, we had 220 women engineers attend for the 2 days of the conference.  I had no idea there were that many women engineers in the bay area.  When I started CodeChix nine years ago, I barely managed to find one other person - that too for a very short time since her schedule was as crazy as mine.

How did I manage to get to this point?  By the great help and blessings of so many people around the world and open source friendly foundations and groups.  I could never have done it without the fantastic women engineers I've met and learned from.  I could never have done it if I hadn't seen so many women engineers suffering silently and being bullied and intimidated into submission for whatever reason.  Like me at various points in my career.  Brilliant, dedicated, sincere and committed engineers who truly want to be engineers (as opposed to many who just care about money/title/status and not about building unique, great and useful products).

I hope DevPulseCon gives them all hope that there is one place that they can come to where they will be able to talk about all the horrific things they have encountered and together we can find possible solutions (maybe build something) to mitigate these persistent and insidious cultural issues.

And be reminded that the real reason they are doing what they are doing is because technology can free us all and that, since we're all engineers (not code monkeys), we have the power to truly make a difference.  As they say, God helps those that help themselves.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A new year, new beginnings and new challenges (from Jan. 2017)

This post, for some reason, didn't get published in January 2017.  So, a year later, here goes.  A lot has changed and a lot has not.

After a rather brutal 5 month release at work with long hours and pressure, I just returned from a much-too-short holiday season trip to Patagonia, Argentina (didn't have time to get to Chile) getting my fill of glacial climbs (Perito Moreno), icebergs of Upsala and Spegazzini and snow-capped peaks of Chaltén and, my favorite, the Gentoo and Magellanic penguins in Tierra Del Fuego.  Hence, the iceberg and glacial references throughout this post.  Hopefully, one day, I will have a chance to go back for a longer stay at one of the most beautiful and unique places on this planet.

Gentoo Penguins, Perito Moreno Climb, Lago Argentino

As the new year gets underway and we gear up for unprecedented upheaval and turmoil and prepare ourselves to deal with unforseen challenges, I thought it would be good to understand the lay of the land from the perspective of the women engineers in the industry who have been working long and hard and kept under the radar.

We are not the ones that give feel-good talks at so-called "technical" conferences where the "technical" aspect of the talk starts and ends with the title of the talk.  In fact, most of us don't give talks, in general (unless, we're either pressured into it or feel like we have something reasonably worthwhile to talk about and we have high standards).  We are too busy building things and making them work and doing so in a hostile and, often, insidiously toxic environments, designed and encouraged to intimidate, rule-by-fear and bestow racial and/or gender superiority and privilege.

And yet, we are here, quietly (or, in some cases, not very quietly) being engineers and programmers and leaders and role models.  But, only to those who are in the unenviable position of running into the serious hurdles that we run into when we have garnered the chops, brushed off the overt, superficial obstacles and have encountered the iceberg below the water.  Well below.  And it's enormity is overwhelming.

The well-heeled (financially and socially) male dominated tech industry (glacier) is, finally, getting some scrutiny by a media that seems all too eager to look the other way.  Some media headway has been made in this scrutiny over the last few years (some glacial melt ensued), but, I am expecting that headway to reverse course in the coming years.  Perhaps, with a fierce backlash via an undercurrent.  We shall see.  This glacier might grow deeper and heavier as the climate shifts.  And the icebergs will be bigger and, undoubtedly, deeper.

So, let us prepare for stronger opposition to our being in this industry by finding ways to persist, contribute technically (possibly, non-technically as well, if it's needed) and be the resilient women that we are.  Chalking a perilous route on the glacier to grab a nebulous foothold (you should have seen my 1-inch crampons - they were serious), isn't going to be easy.  But, as I tell my good friend, Nithya Ruff, nothing that is worthwhile is easy.  If it was easy, it would already have been done.  And unlike my glacial climb, finding competent, dedicated guides who wish us well and protect and harbor us is going to be difficult, but, let's find them.  They exist and are quiet as well - they too put themselves on perilous paths when they choose to be guides.  And build that route and bring more women like us on to it.  It takes a certain personality and character to do such things and it's not for everyone.  Let us keep that in mind as well and not wallow in judgmental superiority or be portrayed as such because of who and what we are, for standing our ground and keeping it real.

Like the desert annuals, it might be that we bury ourselves to survive and wait for climactic shifts to grow again.  That is what trailblazers do.  Let's leave the "burn out in a blaze of glory and martyr ourselves" drama to the Hollywood movies.

Of engineers and code monkeys

This is a post that has been delayed for months while I mustered up the energy/time to write it.

When I started my career as a software engineer in the mid-90's, I was indoctrinated (by the times) to learn about engineering (not just software even though my degree is in CS) and learn how to think about a problem, identify a possible path to a solution, think that through and, only then, consider anything close to coding/implementing a solution.  And then test the heck out of it before thinking of a release - primarily because I was made very aware that any bugs that showed up in the field had enormous financial consequences to the company (think $1 million/day penalties).   One never wanted to be on the infamous hit-list of major bug producers - trust me.  So, much thought, consideration and vetting was done prior to any software/hardware release mostly in a waterfall-ish model.  These are the people I grew up calling and identifying as "engineers" and up until a few years ago, I thought that most software engineers "grew up" in some similar work environments/circumstances.

Well, I stand in the "delusional" category at this time with regards to my understanding of what "engineers" (particularly software) do and identify as.

Over the last decade or so, there has been an alarming (to me) trend in the industry towards replacing "engineers" with what is generally known as "code monkeys" under the loud, drumbeats of "coding is great, everyone should/can code". 

So, what is a "code monkey"?  Urban dictionary has several definitions, none of which, IMO, really convey what I mean by a "code monkey".

To me, a "code monkey" is someone, who may or may not have college degrees in EE/CS or some other engineering discipline and is solely motivated by producing reams and reams of code in their language of choice without serious, dedicated thought about the problem at hand, root cause analysis, design or testing.  S/he just wants to write some "code" - in the most thoughtless, error-prone, nightmarishly-insecure, unmaintainable fashion with the express purpose of proving that they can produce voluminous amounts of "code" which may or may not actually solve a problem.  For a market that will pay money for it and use it and expect it to function reasonably well.

Perhaps, I am being harsh. 

But, I have run into a number of people in this category who regale me with how many LOC they could write in the shortest amount of time.  And that they were great engineers because they could do that.  Any questions that I might have regarding, well, things like debugging where they would stumble with their answers (or outright lie), led to the assumption that I was "old school" and "out-of-date" and whatever I was asking was irrelevant to what their main goal was (producing reams of code).  And work for a startup with "pedigree", make a "killing" and "retire".  Or worse, start another similar endeavor.  Which, frankly, boggled my mind.

These are the people that I'm relying on to build the next-big-thing in ML and Health apps and mission-critical systems?  And fix security issues in other people's code?  And, , run future companies (not startups) and be part of senior management?  I'm terrified.  In fact, I'm beyond terrified - I don't know what to do/think.  Talking to them to try to provide a different viewpoint did not yield satisfactory results.

So, I am, currently, pondering what I can do to try to address this big hurdle that I see - the principle source of which is the failure of universities and schools to teach/train young, brilliant minds to think critically and holistically.  And for publicly traded companies to fail to instill basic training to indoctrinate good engineering practices, thought and decision-making in their new hires.  Seems to me most companies have new hire on-boarding which is pretty much a marketing fluff show and games with some current process stuff thrown in.  Oh yeah, and a "hackathon" to prove how technically savvy and cool a company is - really?

I never thought I got an exemplary education when I was going through school/college - needless to say, I stand woefully corrected and wondering what happened in the last couple of decades to trigger such a great deviation in the mindset and training of school/college graduates.

Or, maybe, I *am* totally out-of-it and my view of engineers vs code monkeys is something no one else cares about or wants to address.  That makes me sad.

And, no, I don't think "engineers" can be replaced by robots.  I definitely think "code monkeys" can.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

To the awesome women engineers and their allies at Google (& elsewhere) ...

To the women engineers, developers, techies and their allies:

I just want to say that as the world watches the repercussions of the memo that was leaked last week, we stand with you in solidarity as women engineers from around the world who are well aware of what you might be going through - because, we know what it's like to be in your shoes every single day.

We know that you work supremely hard, that you are brilliant in all that you do (not just programming/coding) and that you will weather this current upheaval with grace, compassion, deep thought and conviction in your strengths and abilities as engineers and thought leaders.  No one has any doubts in that regard.

Except a small fraction of society that is deluded, terrified, uncomfortable and mentally/emotionally sequestered.

There are many, both women and men, that create challenging environments for all of us in our different roles and responsibilities.  Some are overt, others are not.

So, let's get back to being engineers - debug this, identify some of the root causes, pick one to target, innovate on it and build the next "hack the culture" tool to transform our workplaces for the better.  No one can do it better than us.

Please continue your great work, focus on the technology and your scientific and engineering strengths.  The rest is just a distraction that you can watch on TV, if you have time :).

May the code be with you.

Friday, June 23, 2017

All of a sudden, I'm getting "Diversity"-hiring pings from random companies...

This is a rant post.

I'm pretty tired and am running low on patience and I really don't want to have attitude-challenged companies ping me relentlessly to recruit women engineers in a desperate attempt to increase their "diversity" profiles.  I do not want competent women engineers (who have got to this level despite all sorts of hurdles) to be put into companies that have no track record or clue about how to treat them and handle them.  Unless they can prove they can.

To all the companies (startups in particular) who have suddenly realized that their "bro-culture" is going to get them into serious trouble following the Uber drama and outcome, and are suddenly desperate to portray a "diverse" attitude:
  • Do not ping CodeChix for "sponsorship" if you cannot prove the following:
    • Active (provable) steps you took since Day 1 of your inception (company formation) that you wanted and cared about competent women engineers.
    • If your company is more than 2 years old and you had at least a couple of women engineers in your team, that they got promoted or compensated on par with all other employees commensurate with qualifications and recorded (untampered) contributions.
    • Written proof from your women engineers that they are actually happy to work with the rest of the team and don't have to put up with a bro-culture on a day-to-day basis. 
    • A standardized set of technical interview questions that all candidates are asked regardless of gender.  And verification that it is used consistently and has been for at least one year.
    • A record of why any candidate was rejected or hired - particularly, women engineers.
Otherwise, I suggest you REBOOT your company (see below).  

And, yes, it's HARD.  Starting and running your own company is HARD.  Life is HARD too.  

Deal with it.  

It is MUCH harder for senior women engineers to find a decent company and colleagues to work with.  Trust me.

How to REBOOT your  bro_culture company:
  • Fire anyone who instigated the bro_culture (founder's decision.  If the founder is complicit, no worries.  The REBOOT will go into an infinite loop of it's own accord for this special use case.)
  • Rename & reform company (preferably with a competent, non-token, female co-founder)
  • Follow guidelines above regarding records and measures - should be part of your handbook
  • Hire your first female engineer - make sure her options are commensurate with her being one of the first hires in your company (Guideline: if you IPO, she and the next 3 generations of her family should not have to worry about money.)
  • Have a % of her workload include interviewing (rigorously) every candidate that you hire. 
  • Target 3 women engineers as part of your employee pool within the first year.  Make sure the women have complementary skills so they work well together and like/respect each other.
  • Evaluate yourselves every year via polling of employees
  • Establish and evaluate accountability measures for all engineering management.  Take a look at the NCWIT site for information - particularly here, here and here.
  • Ping me/CodeChix for sponsorship with the data you gathered and I will see what I can do