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.