Friday, July 31, 2015

On panels and interviews...

I was on a panel interview today regarding the topic of "Women in Technology"/"Diversity".

And it reminded me why I stopped doing interviews and panels altogether.

It was nerve-racking.  I had lots of make-up on (necessary according to the really nice woman who did my make-up), bright lights, no idea what questions would be asked and which direction the conversation would go (always dicey with me given my strong opinions and my dual-role as full-time engineer as well as a Founder/Exec. Dir.) and one never knows which bits of conversations might be used out of context etc. in the far future.  Stressful.

But this panel was special - it was at one of my favorite public media organizations  - KQED.   I love NPR, have always listened to NPR for as long as I can remember (yes, even when I was little and my dad would put on PRI every morning on the ancient radio that we had) and donated whenever I could.  The quality, breadth and depth of KQED/NPR programs never ceases to amaze me and I was honored that they wanted me to be on a panel.

So, I HAD to break my "no interviews" stance and go.

Not to mention, it was a chance to promote CodeChix in the hopes that maybe, someone who cared (enough) would donate substantial funds and we could actually become a non-profit organization that would have funds to actually make a difference.   Hey, I can hope :).

The entire panel discussion lasted about 14 minutes (did I mention nerve-racking?), and I managed not to say anything too controversial :) - I think.  My fellow panelists were great and their banter made it easier for me to relax a little.  Sophy Lee from Shuddle (who brought her Public Relations manager with her), Cecilia Stallsmith from Bessemer VP (it's a venture capital firm).

We were shown a video of 3 women (all working in San Francisco, I believe) who spoke about the dearth of women engineers in the field, cultural barriers and how great coding was.  I couldn't tell how many years of developer experience each of the three women had and whether their developer experiences were purely web development (typical for SF jobs).  Guessing at their ages, it seemed like they were all pretty young (20's, maybe early 30's).   It made me feel very old :).

Following the video, we were asked about our thoughts on the video and, then, Thuy Vu, our moderator, (who, by the way, is fantastic, as is Monica Lam, the producer), asked us questions about what we perceived regarding the retention and recruitment of women in technology.  Not particularly specific to women engineers persay.

I talked about CodeChix and what we do and what I want to achieve through the organization.  And quoted some numbers which I thought I remembered from this article and, of course, got it wrong (sigh).   I managed to mention something about "background radiation" towards the end when we were asked about Ellen Pao (all of us were a bit startled by that question) including mentioning that I was "cautiously optimistic" about cultural change.

Cool picture of the KQED Newsroom tech - not sure what all that equipment is (other than the monitors)

To be frank, it all went by really quickly and I don't quite remember all the things I said and what all the questions were.  But, it did make me realize that there needs to be a panel or some such discussion somewhere *just* focused on veteran women engineers/developers, particularly ones who work outside the "SF Bubble".  And the unique issues that occur with our kind (especially the ones that have been around for a while and have seen many changes and have had many good and bad experiences).  It is a controversial area and, unless it's talked about and pushed in front of people, the question of why the needle isn't really moving in the right direction, is going to continue to come up.

These are women engineers that built the long haul networks that carry cell/home/video data across continents, that built systems to distribute satellite video to thousands of households, that make the software that runs fortune 500 companies via virtual machines, that build gadgets that transform industries.  They are the unsung heroes - and they should be heard (if they want).  By the world.  They are the ones that inspire and show us the true essence of grit, brilliance, handling the "background radiation" with balance and grace, and shining against the odds.  Because the odds are not going to go away anytime soon.  They might reduce a bit, but, that, too, is to be seen.

I am privileged to know such women - they are few and rare.  They tend to shirk publicity (almost like the plague), but, I think I can convince them if the opportunity arises.

I haven't seen the video or audio recording of the panel yet.  It's supposed to air at 8p tonight on KQED newsroom.