Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Women, Entrepreneurs and Tech

Debate has been ravaging the internet for sometime about why there are few female entrepreneurs and / or engineers speaking at events, and generally in the public eye. I have fairly strong opinions on the matter, but don’t often voice them online – I leave this fun debate for the real word. Until today.

Michael Arrington recently posted about his experience of finding women to speak at his conferences, and concluded that it was not the fault of men that the ratios are poor. His argument: that he tried to find women, but they simply weren’t there. Sure, I can’t fault him for trying, but he failed to dig deeper into why it was hard to find women, and simply decided that it wasn’t his fault.

More recently I saw a Ellie Cachette’s post claiming that the reason we aren’t entrepreneurial is because we want families and babies. Whilst this may be true, I think it is a poor argument and does no service to women. Controversial, Moi?

It shifts the focus of why we don’t find my female entrepreneurs into an argument over choice, which simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. More women are choosing to wait longer before starting a family, and many are choosing not to at all. There is plenty of time for most women to explore their entrepreneurial spirit before starting a family.

In my world*, many of my friends don’t even want babies, let alone have them already**. Sure I’ve had conversations with my friends about kids, but they are all set in some future hypothetical world.

Whilst some women may choose family over job (and I wouldn’t criticise them for that), I don’t think the inequality we face in this industry can be explain by this. Something deeper is at work.

Take a moment, and think of a Nurse and Builder. Keep them in mind.

I believe that much of the inequality faced by women in the workplace today, with or without entrepreneurial spirit can be tracked back to much earlier in life. From a young age we are raised in a highly gendered society where boys play with guns and girls play with barbies. Throughout all of our lives we are bombarded by a media which portrays women in a weak and subservient way, and worst of all. These myths are drummed into us continually, until they become expectations.

Now think again of your mental images of the Nurse and the Builder. I would wager that they are female and male respectively. This is an extreme example of the social conditioning of gender expectations that takes place in western society today.

We are bought up to conform to certain expectations and it takes enormous will power to break free from the mould. Far more women (and men) are doing this than ever before, but it will take at least a generation or two for this to really take effect. Kids being raised today in a world where gender stereotypes are less relevant will hopefully raise their kids into a world where it is almost irrelevant.

* as I write this I’m approaching 27, I live in London (for now), live in a highly cosmopolitan world, and have an incredibly diverse set of friends and experiences.

** the few who do have kids are all from religious background, and as much as I love them, don’t really form part of the everyday world I live in

The Coworking Employee

I like to think that I’m acutely aware of my personal productivity at work, and this puts me in a great position to tune my working environment to maximise both the benefit to my employer, and my own happiness. The two key factors are my hours and location. The hours I work is an entire blog post all by itself, suffice to say that I hate being stressed by a rush hour commute, and the early bird may catch the worms, but I’m no bird, my needs go far beyond basic feeding. The other is where, or more specifically with whom.

Despite having an engineering degree I like to think of myself as a creative. I create software and I put my heart and soul into it because I love what I do. This may seem slightly at odds to the traditional view of a tech based employee, some kind of man-machine hybrid that mechanically churns out software on demand, but if you’ve ever met me I’m sure you will agree that I’m far from the norm in this industry. To keep creative juices flowing you need inspiration and in my case I’m looking for those key conversations where you just met someone and end up having a heated agreement.

Coworking spaces all around the world attract exactly the kinds of people I’m passionate about meeting. I think those of us who get coworking have a shared passion for exactly these types of experiences, and we seek them out whenever possible. They have the uncanny ability to turn your otherwise average day into one that you will remember for a lifetime. You simply can’t find these experiences on a regular basis in traditional office environments, but in coworking spaces they are de rigueur.

And this isn’t just hyperbole, just yesterday I was working out of New Work City in New York, plodding away on some Perl code when I struck up a conversation with Campbell of Loose Cubes (a coworking space finder) and was so inspired and energised by our conversation that I went on to do 5 hours of work on top of my usual working day.

It’s been clearly shown that money is not the key incentive to happy productive employees but that freedom, flexibility and creative ownership are. So sure, as an employer, you could have people like me sitting in their cube, punching in at 10 and out at 6, doing what is required of us, but nothing more, or you could let your employees have that little bit of freedom to work how and where we are most productive, and watch our productivity go through the roof.

Why I Hate Perl: Reason 1

Gumtree, my current place of work, is written almost entirely in Perl, and if you’ve found my blog via a tweet, you will almost certainly know that I hate Perl. I can’t often explain in 140 characters either how much I hate it, or what specifically about Perl I hate, so I’m going to start by writing a blog post every time I come across another reason, and have the volition to actually write about it.

So, what’s todays reason? Context.

My recent talk at Dibi Conference was (and an extended one at Web 2 Expo NY will be) about how we automatically provide context to the vast quantity of data we collect through the web. Without the context data is pretty much meaningless. And the same is true in Perl, without context to your variables, their content is meaningless . Access an array variable in a scalar context, and you don’t get an error, you get it’s length. Access an ArrayRef as though it’s a scalar and you just end up with bleedy eyes.

Providing this context shouldn’t be hard, other compilers / interpreters manage to do it. As a developer I shouldn’t have to mess about with working out context, this should be taken care of for me so that I can get on with the business of building logical process through code.

Thinking Digital – The Aftermath

Despite having been in Newcastle the the past two years during Thinking Digital, I’ve never actually had a chance to attend. My time in newcastle has instead been spent partying hard at the mal, running up Tara Hunt’s champagne bill (love ya!), and nursing mammoth hangovers on the train up to edinburgh. This year, however, I was fortunate enough to attend this conference I have head so many good things about, and I have to say, it lived up to expectations. And not just because Herb Kim knows how to throw a party…

This year the conference was split in two – The Main Hall, and the Livecast Lounge. Now, I loved the theory of the Livecast Lounge – a more relaxed space to listen to watch the talks from, on a giant screen, somewhere you could, eat and drink, talk to fellow attendees, blog, and so on. This appealed to me specifically because I often find it hard to sit in a seat and just listen, I need to do 100 things at once (I’m watching Being Erica whilst writing this, oh, and shopping for wedding presents).

Unfortunately, the Livecast Lounge didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it was great being there, I was just hoping for something a little different. The somewhat stoical atmosphere was, at times, excruciating, and if I wasn’t as bold and crazy as I am, I would have felt quite uncomfortable clapping at the end of talks – almost everyone in the lounge just sat there. I think it went wrong on two counts: first that people bought Livecast Lounge tickets as overflow when the Main Hall was sold out, when from my perspective it wasn’t overflow, but a different way to experience a conference. And secondly that the physical layout of the room reinforced the overflow mentality. Instead of seats in rows I would have thrown in beanbags and couches around the outside, put screens on all the walls (so that you can sit facing people whilst still watching), and found a way to engage with the lounge participants more, perhaps a two-way video link during questions.

I think this was a great attempt at doing something new and innovative with conferences, and despite my thoughts, I had a great few days. Planning for Thinking Digital is already underway for next year, and I certainly plan to go back to the Livecast Lounge.