Problem Reminders

Despite being a feminist and advocating for more equality for women in tech, I quite often go through my tech stuff with little rage. I love technology and how men and women come together to build something out of ideas. I feel like there’s such a sense of accomplishment and power from being able to singlehandedly create something from nothing. I don’t spend my days hating men and lamenting on the fact that men have made this tech world inhabitable by woman, an idea that I don’t actually believe in. But then I encounter something that takes me back to the fact that we still have a long way to go.

I talked to a woman who has been working in tech for 10+ years. I won’t list her name or what she does, but if she sees this somehow, I hope it’s okay that I mention it. She told me that if she could, she would have told herself not to get into tech. Now I’m about to embark on my journey into a career as a programmer so naturally I was curious as to why she feels this way.

She told me that she is constantly harassed at her job, to the point where she feels threatened physically and emotionally. HR is aware of the problem, but haven’t actually done anything to prevent it. She feels like she’s stuck at her job because she gets some good benefits that she feels that she can’t get elsewhere and is locked in with a mortgage.

The more I tried to feebly give her advice, mostly telling her that there are better opportunities out in the Bay Area and that not all tech companies are bad, the more she shirked away. In my attempt to help her, I made her feel incredibly uncomfortable and probably reinforcing how stuck and hopeless she was. She’s become so jaded about the tech world with 10 years of experience to back it up. There wasn’t anything I could say to convince her that not all tech consists of guys trying to hit on you and then being scarily persistent when you politely decline.

Eventually, she signed off and I felt like a huge asshole. She was well aware of her situation and I tried to problem solve it away with superficial suggestions. I could not pretend to comprehend what she’s going through. This conversation has been weighing heavily on my mind and I want to apologize to her for being so insensitive.

It also made me realize that I still look through the tech world with rose colored glasses. I’ve been harassed before but my interactions with colleagues have been more positive than negative and I’ve always associated the negative encounters to be a rare thing. I’ve never felt physically threatened or afraid for my safety. Having heard this story, I feel naive for thinking it doesn’t happen to people.

I’m not really sure if there is even a good solution for her right now. I just hope that one day we can get to the point where women feel safe and respected. That’s all that’s really important. I hope that in 10 years, I won’t be wishing that I had gone into a different career.

AdaCamp SF: My first un/conference! (Day 2)

Sunday started out with twist. I had been staying at my boyfriend’s sister’s apartment in San Francisco and we were going to AdaCamp together. We arrived at the building and took an elevator up with 6 other AdaCampers, totaling 8 people. We carried on with elevator etiquette, smiling and saying out “Good Mornings” and adding a bit of “I’m excited for today” when our elevatory abruptly halted on the 5th floor.

Now, this was my first experience being stuck in an elevator, and let me tell you, it’s not really fun. Fortunately, I was in an elevator with like-minded people so we were able to get along and have our own “Elevator Session”, but I can’t imagine being stuck in an elevator with 7 other strangers.

It took about 30 minutes to get out of the elevator. We had already begun to feel hot in the small enclosure that is an elevator. We threw off our bags and jackets and sat on the floor. It was considerably cooler down there. Then we went into discussions about fandom, journalism, wikis, etc because what are 8 women stuck in an elevator to do? We discovered that there were two birthdays in the elevator as well as two Andreas. We had chocolate passed around and it was a good time despite being in a hot box.

When the firefighters came, we were instructed to pry open the inner doors so they can hand us a tool to get ourselves out. By this point, we were tired and hungry and in need of coffee. But with our powers combined, we managed to pry open the door — and get a cool shot out of it — and they handed us a pole with a hook on it. With a few unsuccessful attempts, Jenny, our hero, managed to hook some mechanism that opened up the doors and we were rescued! Of course, we demanded a picture with the firefighters. All in all, it was in good company and despite the frustrations, we managed to get out and get our coffee, in which, I realized that I didn’t even like coffee.

So, being stuck in the elevator meant that we had missed the opening of AdaCamp. But we were right on time for the first session of the day. I think I went to one about interviewing.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve had a hard time with interviewing. I tend to get overly attached to the companies that I interview at and I end up feeling very discouraged when I don’t get it. One of the things I learned (and am working at) is to let things go. In a world where rejection and failure is expected (constantly breaking code, companies not sure of what they actually need), it’s really important to let things go. Now that’s easier said than done, but I feel like the session really did help me relax a bit and realize that I can’t do anything about not getting the job, I should just move on.

The second session that I went to was about Mansplaining. Basically, Mansplaining is the phenomenon where a man is trying to explain something, usually condescendingly, to a woman about something she already knows or is an expert in. The female equivalent is Femsplaining. I feel like this was a true test of how “radical” something like AdaCamp can get. I mean the session was about how a man is talking down to a woman even though she’s knowledgeable about the topic being discussed.

Something like that is highly likely of triggering blame on how men don’t respect women. But while there were a few instances of ranting (which is to be expected since being talked down upon isn’t the most pleasant of experiences), the tone of the discussion wasn’t as hostile as I originally feared it might turn out. There was a lot of thought put into the discussion. Things like, Are the men really talking down to you or are they just want to prove what they know? (In the case of a subordinate talking to a superior) Do they even realize what they were doing it?Were they just hitting on you instead of actually trying to talk down to you? A lot of interesting reasons surfaced and while are a few assholes who talk down to a woman because they truly believe that a woman doesn’t get it, I think we came to the conclusion that most people don’t mean it in a detrimental way.

So we started brainstorming ideas on how to fix this problem. Because even if they mean well, their approach can still be offensive and can cause women to feel defensive. One of the things that was said was to breathe deeply and don’t let yourself get angry. Once you calm down, you can access the situation a bit better and find a way to explain that you already understand the situation.

The discussion also brought up the point that we do it too. There were several women who admitted to Femsplaining after thinking about it. Things like making their husband do things a certain way in the kitchen because it’s the right way. So, I think it was important to note that we do it unintentionally without spite, but that it’s also important to realize when you’re Man/Femsplaining so you can check yourself.

Lunch came afterwards and we had a build your own burrito line. Everything was so tasty that my burrito was more of a burrito bowl with a tortilla on the bottom. I sat down with some AdaCampers and had some good conversations but after finishing my lunch, I just felt exhausted. From the elevator situation to constant discussions, never mind the fact that I had been waking up at 8am for the last two days to attend the conference, something that I almost never do.

The quiet room was amazing. It was a great place to just kind of get away from the conference for a while and recharge. I plugged in my computer and surfed the web mindlessly for a bit. It really helped rejuvenate me and geared me up for some more AdaCamp.

After lunch the conference had died down a bit and some workshops were being held. I came out of the quiet room in the middle of it all and decided to look for a friend. She was showing off a robot that she built out of a cardboard box and some cheap parts. It was really cool! I’ve never really got into robotics and I’ve only had one experience with some kind of LEGO robotics (I don’t really remember what it was). It was sooooo cool. I feel like a kid saying it, but I’m so excited to try it out myself.

I also took a self defense class for the hell of it. It was really fun (in a I hope I never have to use this way) and informative. The class was taught by someone who was well versed in martial arts and another martial artist came to help out. It was kind of scary to see them do the more intense reenactions but it was really awesome too. We learned a few moves to get us out of hairy situations that I hope I never have to use, but it’s good to keep that knowledge with me.

And that was AdaCamp! We ended with a closing and everyone said their goodbyes. We got some swag at the table and things kind of just petered out. I wanted to do more, but my body and mind was so exhausted from the intellectual conversations and activities. I felt that the conference was much more than learning about open source and open culture, it was a bonding experience that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. It was amazing to see so many women who have the same interests as you and since we’re so outnumbered, if it wasn’t for AdaCamp, it would have been hard to meet up on a scale like this.

I think it’s important for women to have a space like this where they don’t feel like they’re being judged for what they say based on their gender. There is so much hostility towards programs geared towards women in tech. Having a safe space for us to rant, discuss, solve, create, invent, and bond is so important. It’s been more than a week post conference and I still feel the effects of being there. I have to say, it was such an amazing event. Thank you to everyone who came, thank you to the organizers and volunteers who made it happen, and thank you for all the love, hugs, and advice. <3

AdaCamp SF: My first un/conference! (Day 1)

I’ll be the first to admit that blogging isn’t my strong suit, but when things are so overwhelmingly exciting/positive/supportive/awesome/etc, I feel the need to shout from my tiny step stool of a blog and spread the word! AdaCamp is one of those things.

I’m not the best at explaining what things are so here’s AdaCamp’s description of what AdaCamp is:

AdaCamp is a conference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture: open source software, Wikipedia-related projects, open data, open geo, fan fiction, remix culture, and more. AdaCamp brings women together to build community, discuss issues women have in common across open technology and culture fields, and find ways to address them. - http://sf.adacamp.org/

What is probably the most fascinating thing about their description is that it’s overwhelmingly true. The experience of coming to a conference focusing on tech and seeing that it’s almost 100% women is incredibly moving. There’s an ache and a cry for this sense of community in a world that’s primarily male.

Although everyone is different and many of the issues we discussed could be experienced by males as well, many of the topics resonated with so many women that it was almost unbelievable.

Friday started out with Google SRE hosting a reception for AdaCampers. It was such a nice little gesture for people to meet and greet. I met some fantastic people that I hope to maintaing some long term friendships with. The food was great and the company was bustling. Thank you Google for hosting us, and giving us swag. :)

Saturday morning was the official start of AdaCamp and it was really early for a night owl like me: 8:30AM! I have this tendency to wake up multiple times during the night for things that I am super excited for (sometimes, I don’t even sleep), and I definitely woke up a few times to check if I had suddenly missed out on AdaCamp all together. Cue reoccurring nightmares of missing finals despite the fact that I’ve graduated over a year ago. I did manage to wake up on time (it helps when you’re staying at a fellow AdaCamper) and dragged myself out of bed in a rushed attempt to look presentable. I did bring some makeup, but I figured I should sacrifice painting my face for brushing my teeth.

The morning started off well, we had a welcome speech and some breakfast. Let me say, the breakfast was pretty amazing. As a carnivore and as a person who doesn’t have food allergies, the spread of food was amazing. I’m used to meetups that just order in pizza, generally ignoring cries of vegans and people with gluten allergies. But there was so much variety in food that I was honestly so impressed with the organizers. I think the type of food and policies really reflect on the core values of AdaCamp. They really want to welcome everyone who wants to participate and create a space where you don’t feel like your dietary restrictions or disabilities make any difference at all.

I had applied to AdaCamp thinking that everyone was going to be in open source and a programmer. But I was so wrong. There are so many diverse people attending this unconference: professors, activists, students, journalists, feminists, fandom contributors, project managers, etc. There’s such a variety of people and they all bring something different to the table. And having this diverse set of opinions and values really prompt an interesting discussion. And  I’ve come to learn that I have a unique perspective as well. It’s such an empowering feeling to know that everyone has a say and that we can be adults and discuss important aspects of being a woman in tech.

I’ve gone on a tangent as I often wont to do. After the intro, we had a lovely discussion on Impostor Syndrome[1]. I’ve heard of Impostor Syndrome a few times and I’ve definitely dealt with it before, but having a room of 200 women discussing their internal struggle with not feeling like they’ve accomplished something amazing or wanting to downplay their achievements is just short of life changing. It was just so amazing to see women who I would consider role models or have such an air of confidence speak up about feeling or once feeling like they weren’t good enough. It really helped me put my own gripes in perspective and hopefully, I’ll be able to overcome this annoying voice in the back of my mind.

After the large group discussion on Impostor Syndrome, we broke into discussion groups. One of the cool things about an unconference is that you get to vote on what kind of sessions you want to talk about. There were so many good topics that I had an awful (in a good way) time of trying to choose where to go. I liked that there was a “no guilt” policy in place, that is, if you wanted to leave a discussion to go to another one, you are more than welcome to and no one will be offended.

I decided to join the “What is this HTML5 thing everyone is talking about?” and one dealing with the Likability Paradox. I thought the HTML5 introduction was really well done. I’ve heard of HTML5 for a long time, but it was always one of those topics that I felt a bit embarrassed to ask about since HTML isn’t the most complicated concept in programming. The woman who lead it gave such a good history on it and explained it in a way that anyone could understand it. I didn’t feel like I was patronized for asking simple questions and the discussion was very much encouraged.

The likability paradox was also interesting. I’ve never personally heard of the term before and haven’t experienced it enough to be able to identify it. Basically, there seems to be a problem for women to be both likable and respected. We’ve all heard of a woman being aggressive/assertive/ambitious and then being labeled as a “bitch” or other not so nice words. Whereas if you’re nice, people seem to get the impression that you’re a pushover and don’t really care about advancing your career or whatever. I thought it was interesting to see people talk about their experiences and kind of vent on their frustrations. But I was also impressed to see that the discussion wasn’t just focused on “oh woe is me, I’m being treated differently as a woman” it was more focused on what we can do about changing other people’s perspective. There were even a few times where people realized that they weren’t being unfairly disrespected, but that they were just misinterpreting someone’s actions. I thought this was really important because I feel that AdaCamp isn’t a place for women just to vent about how the world is being unfair to them, it’s a safe place for women to share their experiences and try to find solutions to the problems as well as a place for us to support each other.

Lunch was a build your own sandwich deal. Personally, I’m a carnivore. I don’t seem to find vegetarian meals filling most of the time, but it was nice to see that people who don’t eat meat or have allergies had a selection of food that would parallel my own selection of food in the real world. The food was good and the company was even better.

Post lunch, we broke for more discussion sessions. I decided to go to one about Hobby Level Open Source. I think I’ll write a longer blog entry about this later on, but I received some good feedback and why it’s hard for some people to get into open source.

After closing, AdaCamp had unofficial dinners set up where people can sign up for dinners at restaurants around the city. I decided to sign up for one on mentorship. There’s not much to say, but the dinner was delicious and there was such a variety of conversations that were to be had.

Day one was amazing and I feel like this is way more than I would normally want to read about a conference, but I just have so much to say and I am so excited to blog about it.

PS. With all the amazingly colored hair at this conference, I really want to dye mine. :D

[1] http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

Is OPW sexist?

Today was my last day as an OPW intern and I had hoped that it would end on a positive note. Upon our wrap-up meeting, the discussion of having a women-only program is sexist came up.

Now, this is a topic I feel really strongly about and it’s something that generates strong reactions from either party and I’m not even really sure that I want to get caught up in the mix, but I feel quite unsettled after being part of it.

I’ve been programming since high school. When I started, my classes were 50/50 in gender ratios, partly because my school was 75% female. I had noticed that there were more males in my class than usual, but since the ratio was equal, I never had the notion that women were underrepresented in the field. Then came college. There were significantly less women in my lower division classes, but since some classes were required by other engineering majors, the disparity was not as stark. I made many female friends during this time and was able to work on projects together.

Then came around to upper division classes. Suddenly, I was one of the few girls in my classes. There were times when I’m the only one. When people say that it shouldn’t matter that I’m a girl or not, they’re right. It shouldn’t. But it does. The fact that I was a girl stood out, intentionally or not. If I was absent, it was obvious. If I was in class, it was obvious. My presence stuck out.

For the most part, I tried not to let it bother me. I tried to be like one of the guys. But I’m not a guy. So when people are making guy jokes, it was very uncomfortable for me. Things like how hot a girl was and how they would like to get to know her. Or things like how I was the hottest girl (when in fact, I’m the only girl) in CS. Or how I should cover up my boobs because I was wearing a v-neck tee, which frankly didn’t even show cleavage. I tried to grin and bear it because, hell, I can hang with them; I’m a guy’s girl.

During this time, I treated a lot of women as not cut out for my field. I started woman hating. I thought, hell, I made it in CS, why can’t you? You’re not smart enough. I thought I was goddamn special for being a CS girl.

But on the other side, I was horrible insecure. I felt like I was never good enough. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to be “as good as one of the guys” when in fact, I was better than some of them. Every thing I did was not as good. I felt inferior to even the terrible programmers.

Now you can say that I just have terrible confidence and I brought it all upon myself. But I don’t think that’s true. Whether explicit or not, there’s a message out there for female programmers, “You’re never going to be a man and it’s a man’s world.” And I feel it everyday.

This brings be back to the point on OPW. I don’t think OPW is sexist at all. Yes, it excludes men as participants, but men are welcome to mentor and help interns. There are no restrictions on men voicing their opinions. There are plenty other avenues for men to participate in Hacker School, Google School of Code, to name a few. There are countless ways for men to get in touch with other like minded men. There are plenty of male role models for men to get inspiration from. But women are few and far between. I’m sorry, but being in a room of men vs being in a room of women is extremely different. I find that the all male atmosphere can be cold and uninviting. But in a female atmosphere, I feel more comfortable and willing to ask “stupid questions”.

Another point that people who think OPW is sexist is that it allows less qualified people in just because of their gender. I take huge offense to this. I found that the other participants of OPW to be bright, self-sufficient, and passionate people. They are just as qualified, if not more. The goal of OPW isn’t to bring in women who have no interest in the tech world. It’s to bring in women who otherwise weren’t comfortable applying to other internship or mentorship programs. Women who have been overlooked. And this is not the woman’s fault. You can’t just tell all the women that they should suck it up and just go for it. This is the same hostility that kept them away.

Honestly, I’m appalled at some comments that were surfaced today. It makes me angry that I have to keep fighting for programs like OPW to exist. I’m angry that I have to even address it. I hate being needlessly angry at things.

Things like OPW are necessary until women in the tech force is the norm. Until there’s less hostility for women to participate. Having more women in the tech industry isn’t a bad thing. They’re not taking away your jobs. Men who think women are replacing them don’t think about other men who are also replacing them. Gender somehow becomes the main focus and it’s not fair. What’s wrong with a little female competition?

All in all, my experience with OPW has been mostly positive and I learned a lot. I grew mentally and emotionally as a programmer in these past three months than in the years I was in school. I’ve learned that, while the majority of the FLOSS world is good, there’s still slivers of evil that I should be aware of. I’ll be sure to keep my chain-mail on and fight the good fight.

Thank you OPW for this wonderful opportunity. I am forever grateful.

An update!

I’m working at Wikimedia offices today and I’m already starting to wind down. I had to wake up early to make it up to San Francisco so I’m more groggy than usual. Sitting in an office is such a different experience than working from home. Mainly, I get to see and interact with other people. When you’re working from home, there’s barely any face to face human interaction. Though I do like programming in my PJs at home. I feel a bit more productive when I’m working in the office because there’s a lot less distractions. I’m not constantly thinking about doing the dishes or making myself lunch or spacing out on the internet.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post. I just finished writing up a few unit tests for my extension and I’m feeling really tired so I thought I might write a blog entry. Sorry if it’s ramble-y.

Oh! I met Aleta, an OPW intern, and Marta, a former OPW intern, yesterday. Pycon was in town and people were planning to come meet up but only three people ended up showing up. I’m not sure if people just didn’t realize it was yesterday or just decided to ditch last minute. It’s really hard to organize a meetup. They were both really nice and I’m glad we decided to meet up. We talked about our projects and what it’s like being a woman in the field. It was fun, I felt like we all got along really well.

Maybe I’ll go make some tea because I’m literally napping with my eyes open. D:

Unit Testing

Now that I’ve gotten my prototype working, the next time I wanted to do was unit testing. But I’ve had hard time to get unit testing rolling. Unlike my program, unit testing is much less exciting. Since I didn’t do it along side my program, it’s also really hard to modularize my functions and figure out what I should be testing. I keep looking at the big picture and can’t seem to buckle down and look at what each function needs. I just keep getting bogged down with what I should be doing and before I do it, I come up with something else I need to do.

I think I should take a step back and look at what I need to do. I should write down what ever comes to mind and try to organize it. I don’t know if other people go through this, but whenever I finish something, I go through a period of “I don’t know what to do next” and find myself feeling a bit lost. I’m trying really hard to get back on track, but I just wanted to let you all know that not everything is perfect. But that’s part of the learning process.