Grace Hopper Celebration: Why We’re Not Done Yet

Grace Hopper was the single best conference I’ve ever attended. I’ve never been around so many smart professional technical women before and never been more thrilled to do it. And even as I managed to slip away for a handful of sessions, I was never without the feeling that we were not done yet.

It’s one thing to be at an event where women come from around the world to talk about technology and professional advancement. Once that brief moment of bonding is over and you split back to your respective appointments, you realize it is essentially over. If one was sharp, contact information would have been exchanged and follow-ups suggested. I never do that. Not because I don’t want to, but because I get so excited at these conferences, I never remember. The entire thing is fleeting. At some point, the thought comes up that when it really is over, everyone will go home, and a densely packed conference is now thinly spread over the globe. We go back to being the outliers.

I had very interesting conversations since the whole ‘Get Over Pink’ post over twitter with @tara and @kathytpham where a core problem of Pink Marketing was more of a problem than a solution. We also discovered there is no fleshed out alternative. Pink Marketing will alienate some young girls because of the weight behind the color, the implication of feminine leanings. Then again, a lot of girls are like this, so excluding it completely alienates them in the same right, forcing would-be engineers into the typical Engineer Stereotype. There are examples in the market now of more inclusive models, as I’ve cited Kim Possible and Gallagher Academy as some of those. There needs to be a more unified front, a more welcoming face to show young girls that there are women present here already who are just like them and that more is always better.

Also, these industries only represented hardcore technology. What about Consumer Tech, which is always the fastest way to reach people? Sure, there was Pixar, but what about EA? Sony Online Entertainment? Where are the games that take my mind off of the hours I spend at work? You can’t tell me they aren’t underrepresented as far as women are concerned. What about Samsung, who is opening a new User Experience Technology Lab right in Silicon Valley, adding new senior level jobs? What is their ratio? Did the conference not reach out to Consumer Technologies or do they just think they don’t need any more women than they already have? Not seeing these groups represented was not only disappointing, it was upsetting.

The biggest reason why we’re not done is because the question is still being asked why these conferences are needed. Why press it at all? Isn’t it reverse sexism? No. Well, not completely. Sure, some of those incidents happened, but it was why I talked about inviting men as well. It not only lets them see first hand what we’re working towards, but also what we’re truly capable of. When the men we bring can finally feel comfortable enough to socialize with those outside of their protective company, I think we would have made a great step.

It’s over and I can’t wait for it to come around again. Next time, I hope to reach out to the younger crowd. I plan to be more successful in trying to chat with our peers, especially those who work for our competitors. I definitely will drag any male teammates to a session. It’s their convention too.

Grace Hopper, thanks for everything.

Grace Hopper Celebration: Bringing in Men

Through this week of Grace Hopper Recaps, I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m the one female in my office and that got me sent to the conference. I wasn’t the only one in my office to go. One of our senior engineers accompanied me, or rather I accompanied a male engineer to a conference with nearly three thousand women.

The conference was hectic. We both ran interviews for nearly every waking hour. Him more than me, as he started at the same time every morning but would leave an hour later. I would have time off the booth to catch a few sessions and he just burned through. I honestly wish I paid more attention. After the conference closed down, a few of us hit the complementary happy hour provided by Embassy Suites. He said something I did not expect. He felt a bit awkward, and he felt he understood what it must have been like being the only girl in our department.

I was taken back. As I mentioned before, I never really had that problem and I relayed the story with the student from the Yahoo! Breakfast. He was appalled. He had never run into the whole Brogramming culture. Or at least never had to work in it. I told him exactly what I told that student: I always felt respected by our team. He was visibly relieved. The last thing he wanted, he declared, was for me to feel separated. He said that they wanted more women in Sports! He wanted me to know that I was always a good Engineer, and that’s what mattered. There is something both flattering and validating about that.

He also mentioned that he was glad he was only doing interviews and not manning the booth. The girls did not seem to want to talk to him. It was understandable, it was a woman’s conference. The natural expectation is that the booth be run by women. Now that I felt bad about. I have been to conferences before, usually for gaming or AJAX, where I would be at the booth, waving my arms and calling out to the booth people only to get passed over for other engineers who happened to be male. I don’t remember which booths specifically did this, I simply remember that it had happened.

It is not a good feeling. And I hate that he felt like that.

It’s really not fair, is it? A conference like this should be for the promotion of women and gender equality in the industry, not flip the tables once we have the slightest bit of leverage.

I know for our engineer, he was never really alone, whether he liked it or not. Someone from our group was always around. I really thought about it. The pattern did not happen just for him, but all the men I did see there. They all had their little group to hover around them, but while girls were there to socialize, once the interviews were done they essentially were out of the picture. It was even pointed out during the keynotes that men were the minority.

That isn’t a victory. Everyone who threw a fit because of the JavaOne incident should look clearly on this. It’s the same thing. “Explain it to a woman?” How about completely shutting out men? The men who attended Grace Hopper did so because they wanted Good Engineers in their team. They knew women make Good Engineers. Those are the ones we singled out and ostracized. It’s good for everyone to be able to sympathize. It’s horrible that we don’t recognize that for change to happen, these men will be needed. They don’t just see women as equals, but they also see the need for change.

I won’t make the same mistake. The next time, I will engage them. Socialize. I will try to make them feel as welcome as any student who passed by our booth. I hope I’m not the only one.

Grace Hopper Celebration: Getting Over Pink

One of the panels I went to was about reaching Women in Engineering through Social Media. Overall, it was all very good, especially the insight of Social Media’s current reach and the behaviors of High School and College aged girls over these networks. And, while I do feel that some math and science activities need to be reframed in a way to reach girls, there is a way to go too far.


Take Click!Online for instance. It’s a very well-meaning website dedicated to STEM Outreach over at They have girl scout-esque exercises with the premise that users are spies and exercises and missions will gain them badges. It’s a great format! The premise and design however is not. When the website was described, I had in mind something very much like Kim Possible, a Disney cartoon about a girl who was a freelance teen-aged spy who kicked ass and never wore pink in any episode I can remember off the top of my head. What Click!Online looks like is a back to school sale for the Limited. I can’t get past the front door because I can tell it’s not for me. I can also say that it won’t be for any girl I’ve mentored or any of my friends’ daughters.

To me, it looked like a design firm was given some spec and at some point during the process the phrase was said, “Girls LOVE this stuff!” Maybe some but I would think enough would feel confused and stereotyped if not outright offended. It’s important to look at what the target audience is looking at now. I may hate it myself, but look at any Young Adult / Tween book cover and you will see the pink minimized. Take the Ghallagher Girl Series by Ally Carter. It’s about girls who go to a spy academy. The first book cover has a pink background toned down by neutrals and earth tones. The second is blue with light pink in the plaid. The next is green and black. Girls do not need by be inundated with pink to know it’s targeted for them. It’s a matter of understanding that girls know what they like and not treating them like Computer Scientist Barbie.

I was never a girly girl. I was okay for the most part, but I did get from a lot of sides that many things might have been easier if I bought into the program, so to speak. I would go so far as to acept t that it might have been the root of many of my social anxieties. A lot of the girls I knew who liked math and computers were just like me, tomboys. Pink as a marketing ploy always makes me nervous. It always told me I was not feminine enough to hang with the target market. It’s the flip-side of Brogramming.

Positions like this tell me that a large segment, even among STEM outreach, still believes I can’t be a successful female just because my peers have accepted a love of shopping, cooking, and beauty products. Why can’t I like video games, sports, and tv just because it fit into a stereotype that shouldn’t fit me? Isn’t that the point? Getting women into the industry regardless of how they spend their down time and not be judged by it? Pink tells girls that if you don’t fall in line, you need not apply.

I’m a nerd. I’m a gamer. I’m a girl. I’m fine with that. It’s about time you are too.

Grace Hopper Celebration: No Brogrammers Allowed at the Yahoo! Breakfast

Yahoo! had an invitational breakfast that started at 7 am Thursday Morning. I signed up originally to assist their registration desk, knowing that I would need the opportunity to get off my feet. However, it turned out I was the only one there at the crack of 7 to man the Backend/Frontend Engineer table so I was conscripted.

It gave me an opportunity to really talk one-on-one to these girls without worrying about getting them to draw some code structure. Instead of talking about the joys of Backend or End-to-End programming, they really were interested in my experience surviving an acquisition as well as project opportunities within Yahoo!

Then, as I was rambling on about all of that, a girl comes up. “I heard you have the best job in the world.” I smile at her and say, “Pat must have told you that. She’s been telling everyone that.” I explain that I work in Yahoo! Sports and that I originally came from a Startup, hence the talk of acquisitions.

It turns out one of her first internships was with a Startup. She was also the only girl on the team. And she asked me how I handled it.

I told her that, for the most part, I didn’t have to handle it. Not really. The guys I work with didn’t just treat me like one of the guys, they respected my work. They weren’t “Bros.” They were professionals first who happen to love sports. Apparently, that caught her attention. She liked sports, sure. But she ran into the issue of ‘Brogramming.’

It’s more than an internet meme now. It’s guys being ‘Bros.’ Beer. Code. Popped collars. Pretty much the sort of culture you would expect if the OC happened in a web app suite. There would be meetings and they would make crude jokes. On the way out, they would come up to her saying, “I’m so sorry if I offended you,” after she didn’t show any sign of being offended.

Brogramming is a cliché that makes misogyny popular by implying that it’s ironic or emphasizing a fraternity atmosphere. It supposedly separates the men from the boys, but what it really does is separate the men from the women.

I told her that the one place this did not happen was Yahoo! Sports. Male dominated? Yes. That comes with the content. Women don’t seem to apply to work in Sports Media Engineering. It’s niche. And while I’ve run into Brogramming incidents, that is not the culture. They value my opinion on usability and social integration as well as my more technical mindset. The guys in Yahoo! Fantasy were inclusive and supportive in my want to grow my skill set if it meant they would have one more well qualified Engineer.

I honestly think it struck a chord and I hope to see her in Sunnyvale soon. There’s nothing too awful about being the only female backend engineer in Sports, but more is always better.

Grace Hopper Celebration: The Career Fair

I was lucky enough to represent Yahoo! during the Grace Hopper Celebration. This conference was to promote Women in Technology and Defense and named after the woman who created COBOL, coined the term ‘Bugs’ (a story any first year computer science student knows), gained the highest Non-Combat Military Honor allowed by the Department of Defense, and has a guided missile destroyer named after her. I’ve been wanting to go to this conference forever, so yes, super thrilled!

I thought I’d have plenty of time to hang out and check out the booths and whatever sights Portland had to offer. That was incredibly optimistic. My interviews started at about 10 in the morning and lasted until 9 at night. I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. That first interview set the tone for my entire day.

A question I always asks is, ‘What are you interested in?’ When dealing with High School and College Students, I accept that they don’t always know what’s really out there. Also, hearing ‘I’ll do anything,’ makes me think that one doesn’t know where their strengths are. I also explain that I work with Yahoo! Sports and that working on something I truly enjoy really puts things in perspective. So, the first girl asks if I really work at Yahoo! Sports. I ask, “Do you visit the site a lot?” She says, “I did until the stupid lockout happened,” referring to the lockout happened. My mind went, ‘I want her.’

Now I’m not HR. So I don’t have final say. But, as another Sports Engineer pointed out, programmers who like sports is already a small population. Girls who are programmers who also like sports are rare commodities.

But, really the one thing I loved about interviewing here was seeing girls who wanted to be Engineers. Usually girls who are interested in technology are really only consumers. To run into so many who love programming made me feel better about the field. We found so many smart, talented girls here, I can’t wait to meet them again in the field!

Grace Hopper: A Funny Thing Happened On My Way Through The TSA Line…

Alternate Title: I’m a socially awkward penguin… I was dragging my things through the TSA Security line when this guy turns around. I just assumed he was looking because me trying to haul anything can be comedic. I tend to flail a lot you see. But no, this happened:

Him: Going to Grace Hopper?

Me: Yeah! Uh, is it obvious?

Him (chuckles): Not to everyone.

Me: Oh… Yeah the shirt and the piles of winter clothes when it’s 70 degrees outside and I’m dying… Are you going too?

Him: Yeah, I’m on the Board.

Me: Really!? Are you headed there now?

Him: Yeah, I’m going to for Board Meeting then attending the conference.

Me: That’s so cool! I’ll see you there!

Before I could ask his name or catch up to him, we were sent through the backscatter and I was patted down. Oh yeah, I win at awkward.

Orientation Day: First Impressions

The morning of the Technovation Orientation, it started at 49 degrees on its way up to 80. The traffic at 8 am on a Saturday was just as bad as it was at the same time on a Monday, because it was in Mountain View and that’s just the way it is. I had a very distinct first impression: All web companies over a certain size look exactly the same.

The orientation was held at LinkedIn’s Corporate Office and main development building in Mountain View, CA. Granted, it was smaller in scale than Yahoo’s Sunnyvale Campus, but inside, it was identical. Same size — no, same layout — of cubicles. Same ‘random’ scattering of merch lying about. Even the same weird attempt at clever conference room names even though they are just conference rooms. Between EA, which I’ve visited once or twice before, and Yahoo!, if you switched out the logos, it could easily be either company. Now, I cannot make the comparison to other types of Software Firms, but I’m willing to wager that the similarities stay. The idea that something can be so easily ‘palette changed’ in an attempt to make it new and unique is both comforting and oddly disturbing.

The orientation was on the standard side. It had a high-level view of the organization and its goals with team building activities interwoven into it. It was during these team building exercises where two things really stuck out: Everyone loves a good summer camp. You may go out of your way to do some exercises on your own, but if someone can trick you into thinking it’s a game, it’s doubly enjoyable. The biggest one is that people think drastically differently. Half of the room were engineers, the other half some sort of product person. When presented with a photo of two women, a clothesline, and the act of removing clothes from the line with a stick, those who had a lot to do with users and clients had long involved answers, usually involving dryers or cranks or really any solution that can make the act of drying in whatever climate they determined easier for everyone. My solution still seems similar. There’s another woman in the picture. Give her the stick. It’s cheapest, and they can go about their day without learning how to use a dryer or a crank. All valid solutions, I’ll admit, but hearing someone try to articulate cranks can get frustrating when you really just want to skip ahead.

I was never the best student. No patience at all.

I did keep quiet out of the sake of manners and time. It was just very surreal to me. At least I can admit that I cannot always fathom how people will think.

Now, the last really glaring part of this orientation happened during the moderator’s explanation of ‘Mentor’s Best Practices,’ where we’re told how to emphasize things to encourage teamwork amongst our girls. I was actually rather offended by one of tips. She had explained that if you ask any of these girls what they think of when you say Engineer, they would describe nerdy looking hunchback who works a hundred hours a day and watches Star Trek. My eyes were bolt open and I was choking from shock.

I have back problems. I work 50 hours a week on a good week.. more than that if we have a big launch coming up. I wear glasses and argyle. I. Love. Star trek.


When you are in a team of three, and two people get laid off or leave (which is a common case in this economy), the work doesn’t just disappear. You do it. And if you love what you do even if not the project you’re working on, it won’t matter. And I do love Star Trek. I’ve loved it since I was a child. I’m going to the 45th Anniversary Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas this summer with my husband for our Honeymoon. That’s just who I am.

I’m okay with that.

Isn’t that what we should be really teaching girls? If that’s what you love, if that’s what you’re good at, own it.

When I went to the Bay Area Geek Girl’s Dinner, an unconference filled with Big Lady Professionals, I meekly ordered my drink: a Shirley Temple. The bartender smiled and told me flat out: Don’t let ANYONE make you feel bad for that.

It’s surprisingly deep.

So yes, girls, remember what the bartender says… Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for who you are. Especially, if you’re awesome.