Wednesday Dec 16, 2009

Number of women on staff == "Best Place To Work" ?

I've read countless "Best Place to Work" lists over the years, and usually happy to find Sun on those lists (and knowing when it was missing that the people compiling the list obviously asked the wrong questions if they missed a wonderful company like this one).

The latest list I saw today, posted on Brazen Careerist's site, took a different approach - while specifically looking for companies that would be attractive to Gen Y (aka Millennials) - the looked at companies that offered a lot of flexibility. Realizing that nearly every company now-a-days self reports as being very flexible, the authors decided to use the metric of number of women employed being close to at least 50%.The rationalization was that women wouldn't tolerate a company that didn't offer true flexibility.

My first response was, "Cool! Who doesn't want to work with more women?!", and then I remembered that my teams have always been the exception (often with near 50% women, and never an all white team) - not sure why that is, are women just more attracted to security?  But I digress...I know my personal experience is not the norm.

Sun wasn't on that list. In fact, only two tech companies (Google & Yahoo) were, and I realized, that's probably because the saturation of women in technology is nowhere near 50%, so even tech companies that are very flexible and have "lots" (as a relative term) of women would not have qualified for this list.  What do you think? Should we be using a different metric for gender equality for tech companies? or just hope that the trend reverses and women start joining the tech force in droves?

Sun is a fantastic place to work and very flexible, btw, as recognized by many other lists - and by me :)

Monday Oct 12, 2009

GHC09: What a fantastic conference!

I knew in advance that the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing had sold out, but that did not prepare me for what I encountered once I arrived: the largest, most diverse, most intelligent gathering of women I've ever been surrounded by. The women were students, industry luminaries, open source hackers, coders, program managers, managers, CEOs, directors, mothers, and everything in between.  I swear the age range of attendees was probably 16 to 80.  I met more women from Africa during that conference than had ever in my life before. Several from Nigeria and Kenya, in particular.

The conference schedule, as always, was intense. There just are not enough hours in the day for all of the stuff we all wanted to do.

I attended a full day of sessions Wednesday, each room just as packed as the last, even though official conference launch wasn't until 7PM that evening.  I met with most of my panelists on Wednesday night, which did mean I missed most of the poster session, which was disappointing - but I had so much fun talking to the interesting women that were going to present with me on Thursday, that I couldn't see any other choice!  The conference was off to a fantastic start!

On Thursday, I was lucky to catch up with Dr. Susanne Hambrusch and the students she had brought from the Purdue Computer Science Department. As a graduate of that great university, it is always so rewarding to meet these ambitious and intelligent students. For some of us, we have met at other Grace Hopper Celebrations - others, it was our first time. We all had so much to talk about and I really could've spent a lot more time with them, too! 

You can see my blogs for most of the sessions I attended for the rest of the week, but I just wanted to say something about both receptions.

Thursday night's dancing was deejayed in the style of 80's Wedding Dance Party, but sometimes it's a lot of fun to just get out and dance to those old silly songs! He did mix in some fun Indian and Arabic music to mix it up, and I've never before seen a woman dancing the Macarena with a baby strapped to her front in a snuggly. Dancing with hundreds of women with total abandon is good for the soul!

Friday night was sponsor night! Thank you Microsoft, Google and Intel for the delicious dinner, t-shirts and additional opportunities to meet and talk with amazing women from all over the world.  This evening's deejay was playing much more current music, and you could see the college students dancing like there was no tomorrow.  Well, as this was the last evening of the conference, that did kind of fit the bill...

I was very impressed with the technical support staff in the conference center at the JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort. One of their staff members followed tons of women at the conference on Twitter, so he (or was it a she?) knew instantly if there were networking or temperature issues and they were addressed so quickly! Everything just worked and help was always a tweet away.  The resort itself was lovely with lots of nice dining choices, and even free tequila shots on the patio every evening.  I was very impressed with all of the staff and would attend another conference here in a heartbeat.

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is more than just a professional skills and technical conference. It is a place where I can reconnect with old friends and companions from industry and academia. I get to meet so many interesting women, that every one of them inspires me in some way.

This year, I even got to meet a lot of the women I follow on Twitter right there at the conference!

I've seen a lot of blogs and tweets lately on Women in Technology vs Women Who Do Technology. Personally, as a women who designs and developers software, I am happy having women around me in any capacity.  Yes, it is very nice to have technical conversations with other women, which I find often focus more on how a solution to a problem was found instead of what the final solution was, but at least knowing I'm not alone in the organization or on my team is worth something, too.  I'm lucky, I know. I work with several women who are also developers on my team, as well as females on the management team. The last project I was on, 2 out of 3 developers were women. :-) I met lots of women at the celebration who are not so fortunate.

I am thankful for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing that it brings me closer to my peers and more women like me. I've been inspired to try to start an affinity group for Women in OpenSolaris, and to try to inspire younger women to investigate technology careers. Any suggestions or any one that wants to help, please share or let me know!


Friday Oct 02, 2009

GHC09: Open Source Community Development: A Moderator's Perspective

I was so nervous yesterday hosting my first panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I had put off writing my introduction until arriving at the conference, thinking I'd have plenty of time to do it... not realizing that I would be reconnecting with friends that have moved across country or students I met last year or just this year. Time, suddenly, didn't exist, so I ended up skipping the plenary session on path to executive leadership so I could take the introducion I'd written in my head & put it on paper to make sure I wasn't missing anything nor was my introduction going to take up too  much time.  Sure enough I had to do a couple of edits to get it right, so while I was sorry to miss out on that session, I'm glad I took the time to do so.

When I got to the room, it was a bigger space than I expected, but at least everyone could have a seat :)  My OpenSolaris laptop worked right away with the projector, which made me very happy.  The technician setting up the room recommended I set my computer so the screen saver wouldn't come on. I thought I'd done that before... so I didn't bother checking. Stupid hubris.

I only had two slides - which are on the GHC wiki - the first with the name of the talk and the second had the names of each panelist, in the order she was sitting, with their affiliation. After the session finished, I got a lot of positive feedback on that - it's good to know I'm not the only person that can't keep track of all of the panelists (particularly when we all seem to have last minute changes in our panel lineups).

As I started introducing each of the panelists, I had all of the advice on running a panel running through my head - terrified that I'd screw something up: mispronounce a name or affiliation, stutter or knock my paper list of intros on the floor.  Fortunately, none of those things happened in the first few minutes :)  I did step on Stormy's self-introduction a bit, but she forgave me and made sure she was heard.

One piece of advice I had read, which was really counterintuitive for me given my melodrama training at the Gaslighter Theatre, was to not look at your panelists when they are talking. In melodrama, you say your lines straight to the audience, then turn and face the next speaker. This draws the audience's eyes to the speaker.  But, I found as I did this, just as the advice said would happen, the panelists looked at me instead of at the audience. As rude as it felt, I had to force myself to turn my gaze back to the audience. It worked!

I was so happy with how each woman on the panel had prepared their introduction and had thought about the questions from our proposal, though I was surprised when they didn't naturally follow-on to each other at first. I think this was because I said I didn't want more than 2 women answering any one question, so we could keep the flow going. :-)

About ten minutes into the talk... my screen saver started to kick in. \*d'oh\* I wiggled the mouse. Something happened and the display "flipped out" - it started flashing and was filled with horizontal bars.  I couldn't get the console to respond, so just rebooted... which took us to a brief OpenSolaris advertisement as the system happily restarted. Thank goodness for the fast boot, though!

I did finally stop shaking about a third of the way through the panel and was able to replace my forced smile with a natural one, as I could finally relax and enjoy the panelists.

I was very impressed with what some of the other communities have done to encourage women to join their community and that got me thinking about doing something for OpenSolaris. We're such a big thing - with many sub communities - any suggestions for doing this?

I was so happy with all of my panelists: Stormy Peters, Kathryn Vandiver, Sandy Payette, Teresa Giacomini and Terri Oda! Thank you, ladies!

Friday Sep 11, 2009

Preparing for my panel at Grace Hopper!

I'm moderating my first panel at a large conference at the upcoming Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing.  I've been on panels before. I've done entire hour long presentations before. But I've never moderated a panel.

Now, in just a couple of weeks, I will be moderating  "Open Source Community Development" where we'll be tackling issues about how Open Source communities grow, thrive, and possibly die or wither away. Interesting topics I hope we can explore will be about building trust and encouraging women to participate. All of these things I think will be helpful for the OpenSolaris community.

The question remains: how best to moderate? I know from personal experience that I appreciate a moderator who keeps the flow moving, knows when to take a discussion "off line", and keeps up a slide of all of the speakers' names so the audience doesn't have to remember. So, it's a given I'll do those things (and hopefully do them well).

But after reading several great "how to moderate a panel" blogs (thanks, Stormy, for the intitial link that got me started on this), I've gotten a lot of conflicting information, so I'm going to have to make some decisions myself. For example, several folks who have moderated other panels argue that the moderator must always introduce the panelists, while others suggest letting the panelists themselves do it.  Personally, I've always introduced myself, either while presenting alone or on a panel.

Some recommend assigning a few questions to certain panelists in advance and making sure you all meet as a complete group before the panel, while others say that doing so will ruin the spontaneity of the panel.  I believe that at least a short meeting before hand is warranted so we will at least have the name to face thing down.

All the advice is clear, though, I need to make sure I am personally familiar with all of the panelists' backgrounds and areas of expertise so I can direct questions appropriately. While I know a few of these women personally, or follow them on twitter, and clearly learned about them when we were proposing the panel, I still need to make sure I do all the appropriate research.

Do any of you have any advice in this area? After all, as the audience, you will be my customer!

Here are links to the advice I've been reading:

Friday Aug 28, 2009

OSCON, Women in FLOSS, me and a puppet named Jack Adams

A month ago, I was lucky enough to go to a few bits & pieces of OSCON in San Jose with my exhibit pass.

While there I got to meet a TON of really cool, really clued in folks at the OpenSolaris booth. This was a different experience than I've had at other conferences doing booth duty. First of all, our booth was right by the front door, was large with couches for lounging, and we had a lot of cool stuff to give a way.  Anyone that installed OpenSolaris (even just in a virtual box) on their laptop got a free t-shirt. We were also giving away install media and getting started guides, of course, as well as cool stickers for your laptop that said "Powered by OpenSolaris" (I got one myself!).  The people that approached the booth not only knew what Sun did already, but were at least relatively aware of Solaris. Some hadn't used the OS in awhile, some wanted to know the big differences between OpenSolaris and Solaris, others just had questions about very specific technologies.

I got to show my lack of skills at Guitar Hero as I was pitted against Microsoft's Sara Ford in a battle of the operating systems.  To be fair, I'd only played the game once before, and that was more than 18 months before. If it had been Tekken or even Wii Bowling, it would've been a different story, I tell ya!

(Photo by Pınar Özger)

I attended the Women of Free/Libre Open Source Software BoF (Birds of a Feather) session run by Kirrily Robert, which had an impressively large turnout - around 25 people, mostly women (the rest were "advocates" :). It was good to meet a lot of other women working in Open Source and just in technology in general. Like a sneak preview of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, though surprisingly few of these women were familiar with that conference.  We tried to keep it from turning into a venting session about some clueless and/or rude men we've all worked with in the past, and tried to give each other suggestions for things we've found has worked.  Kirrily then had us all go around the room to discuss our favorite woman themed book. Mine, of course, was Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. I'm hoping she'll post the complete list soon, as I heard some very interesting titles come by!

Our Solaris Security BoF was just after that, so I couldn't stay for the entire Women in FLOSS BoF.  When I got to our BoF room, I was dismayed at discovering the facilities team had taken away our projector! I had checked everything out the night before, to make sure our OpenSolaris laptops would work with their projectors and even confirmed with the A/V guy that we would have the same equipment for our BoF on Friday. Everyone I asked that was working for the site said we'd have the equipment, but apparently not.  This started us off on a bad foot - but fortunately, many of us had brought laptops with the presentation on it that we were able to distribute through the small crowd so they could follow along.

I will admit, I was very disappointed by our small turnout we had at our BoF. The guys that were there (sorry, except for Sun staff, it was only male attendees) were very interested in our topics of discussion and asked a lot of great in depth questions. It was taped, so hopefully we'll have the video soon!

Speaking of videos, I was also able to help Jack Adams, a puppet, with his OpenSolaris security concerns and problems.  This came out well, considering the lack of script. All that improv training at the Gaslighter Theatre comes in handy, even for technical talks. Good job, Deirdre, for putting this together! Enjoy!

(though I really should've taken off my badge, so you could see my "I HEART OpenSolaris" shirt better :-)

Wednesday Jul 08, 2009

The Triumph of Women's Suffrage

Mr. Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr. came to Sun Microsystems today to talk to the Women@Sun group about the triumphant women's suffrage movement in the United States that took more than 60 years to gain success. Sixty years! Just for women to get the right to vote!  [1] Mr. Cooney became interested in this movement in the 1970s when attending school to become a graphic artist, when he realized the large prejudice that women needed to overcome and that they were able to do this in a nonviolent way.

This was such a difficult task, as the women had to convince men that not only were women prepared to vote, but that women were educated and informed. Only men could decide whether or not to grant women the right to vote, and many of these men were ignorant, uneducated and even illiterate.  A difficult task at hand, indeed!

Suffragists started with parades in different states to raise awareness of their concerns, along with organizing peaceful rallies. Getting women to join in these events was difficult, as many were afraid that their participation would be seen as too forward by the men and scare the men off of giving them the vote even more, but the suffragists knew they could not be silent. They need to be seen to be heard.

The US Supreme Court had ruled that it was an issue that should be decided by the states, so the women had to levy campaigns in each and every state, a very arduous process indeed! These campaigns were most successful in the progressive west. East of the Mississippi, the only suffrage many women could get was the ability to vote only for school boards and other small, local positions.

Susan B. Anthony strongly believed it was really a federal issue, and began the push for a federal amendment to the US Constitution. Unfortunately, she died before seeing this come to pass, after 45 years of tireless effort on her part.  Fortunately, there were other women ready to take up the task at hand and push the movement forward, even in times of war.

The women found they were ignored by both major political parties, so their took their parades to the democratic and republican conventions. At one of them, the women actually had a silent, still "parade" - where they all wore white with golden jewelry and parasols and lined the street and stood silently while the delegates were participating in their own march down that same street. The eerie silence had great impact on those delegates, bringing the rights of women to the forefront of their minds.

When the suffragists were not getting momentum they wanted at the national level, they began to leverage their vote in the western states to oust seated national politicians, targeting, in particular, the democratic party. I find this an interesting historic note, as the democrat party is now associated with women's rights, but apparently the turn of the 19th century told a different story.

Mr. Cooney has documented this in his book, Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, which is filled with outstanding images of the buttons and posters the suffragists made, as well as pictures of the rallies and events and documentation of the cruel treatment several women received for protesting peacefully outside of the White House during World War I.

Mt. Cooney is an eloquent speaker and I really look forward to reading his book in the up coming weeks, but all of this reminds me that all over the world today, women still do not have the right to vote and have themselves represented. It's so disturbing to me, because it seems like such an inalienable right. How can we be citizens and pay taxes and not vote? But, if it took more than 60 years to make such thing a documented right in a progressive country like our own, it may be many more lifetimes before women the world over have these same freedoms and the same voice. Let's hope it comes sooner than later, for all of our sakes.

[1] As pointed out during the Q&A session, not all women gained the right to vote in all states in 1920.  For many women of color, particularly those that lived in the south, that quest took another 40 years, where they had to fight along side their brothers and fathers to get the same equal representation.

Wednesday Jun 10, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California: Closing Session

The closing session of the Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference closed with a panel from Fortune Magazine's 50 Most Powerful & Highest Paid Women in Business list.

Laura Liswood, Secretary General for the Council of Women World Leaders was moderating and started out describing her adventure she had when she sought out to interview all 15 living women who had been president or prime minister of their countries. It was an interesting journey, one she was even surprised she was able to complete!

Our panelists that afternoon were Safra Catz, President, Oracle; Deborah McWhinney, President, Citi Personal Wealth Management; and Joanne Maguire, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin.

All of the women discussed career paths and how to get what you need from your career.  They all had good advice, but some pieces of wisdom from Ms. Catz really stood out to me.  She noted that no one will make your career easy for you - you need to make your own opportunities. And, back to our  Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, she simply stated, "you don't ask, you don't get." Then finally, "You're not men. You may be better."

Unfortunately, most of the time for the panel was used up by Liswood's introduction and the two previous speakers and the session ran over by 30 minutes. This meant many of us missed our trains - I know, I was running to the train station with several other women, none of us really appropriately dressed for running :-)

On the bright side, I did get to meet an energetic woman that was just a bit sweaty, like me, on the train, and discuss all that we saw and heard during the day.


Tuesday Jun 09, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California: Afternoon Keynotes

The afternoon keynotes at the Professional BusinessWomen of California were focused on financial advice and retirement planning.

Valerie Coleman Morris started out with some sage advice: "Don't worry about what you've lost, you can't get it back."  Harsh, but true. I know I've personally spent too much time on the "what if" game for my 401K and other investments.

Ms. Morris's emphasis on this for woman is due to the fact that in general women spend 13 years less in the workplace than men do - which means we really need to start thinking about retirement sooner and more seriously, to make the most use of all of our working years.  Yes, this is SO hard to think about fresh out of college - all I can say is that I am so glad that there was an older man in my first day of orientation at work that told me retirement is sooner than I thought and talked me into starting my 401K right away.

She warned us that because women live longer, we are more likely to find ourselves with many medical needs that are not covered by any sort of insurance. More reason to save.  Also, she said the average age of widowhood was 55.5, so you won't be able to count on joint social security income or anything of that sort.

Ms. Morris also cautioned all women that were in a committed relationship to make sure that they knew where all the accounts were, where to find account numbers, and any brokerages holding any investments.

To keep our financial planning paranoia going, the next speaker was Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz - yes, the same family as the famous Charles Schwab brokerage. Ms. Schwab-Pomerantz stressed how concerned she was that financial planning of any sort was not being taught in school, and how critical this good planning is for all of us having a secure future.

Ms. Schwab-Pomerantz talked about how to keep our heads above water, even in this economy, giving these few "easy" guidelines to follow (okay, they're not easy, but they definitely have merit and I'm pretty sure she knows what she's talking about):

  • Have an emergency fund
    •  Should be a minimum of 3 months worth of expenses
  • Minimize debt
    • Should not have more than 30% of your income in debt
  • Save
    • Hard to think about while minimizing that debt and creating your emergency fund, but she said that if you think you'll need a retirement income of $50,000 a year you will need to save at least $1.25 million. Wow!
  • Have a will and a trust
    • Again, hard to think about while young and healthy, but you have no idea what will happen when to either your or your spouse.
  • Health Insurance
    • Without this, one health crisis may wipe out all of your savings and put you back to square one at any time.

Both of these women gave me a lot to think about!



Thursday Jun 04, 2009

Leverage Your Language: Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference - Session II!

I'm still processing all of the events from that Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference, even though nearly a month has passed!  The second session of the day for me, Leverage Your Language to Get the Respect, Results and Rewards you Deserve was presented by Colette Carlson, was one of my favorites.

Colette's energy was contagious and it was hard to not get enthusiastic about communication - an area I know I can always improve in!  Colette frequently referred to one of my favorite books,Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, and reminded us that we need to ask for what we need to be successful. She stated that playing it safe will cost us all time, money and sanity.

Throughout the talk, Colette continued to stress that congruency between thoughts, words and actions were critical.  This is something I know I don't always get right, and find myself surprised by someone's reaction to something I said where in my head I meant no ill-will or judgment. In fact, I had a situation turn "crucial" on me this week at CommunityOne, and I'm not sure why.

Colette had a lot of self-invented acronyms which did remind me a bit of Gary Busey, but hers were actually useful. For example, Limiting Ideas Eliminate Success (LIES) - which goes along with the entire idea of asking for what you need and what you want. She said she uses this with her kids all the time - instead of focusing on what she \*doesn't\* want them to do, she will ask them to do what she wants: "Please walk around the pool" vs "Don't run!".

She cautioned us to be careful about raising our voices as that is more likely to be seen as aggressive vs assertive, and reminded us to avoid being passive agressive at all costs as it will hurt relationships and prevent you from getting what you need and want.

At this point, she started drilling into specific use of language. To keep conversations safe and productive, she says we should only start a sentence with the word "you" if it is a compliment, and use "I" for stating concers.  For example,
 "You are a great hostess" is a better compliment than "I had a great time at the party".  Also, something like "I am concerned about the schedule" is better than "you are not meeting the timeline" - because the latter immediately puts the person the defense and will engage their "reptilian" brain - not the best state to have rational conversations.

Other recommendations: use "investing" vs "spending" for use of time, and "get to" vs "have to" to show that you appreciate the work and activities you are doing.  She also says to lose the word "should" from your vocabulary: it really should be will, choose or must.  For example, "I will go to that charity banquet tonight" - too many "shoulds" that you never get to can be disheartening, and means things really should be dropped from your list.

Avoid apologizing for your opinions or attempting to set expectations low - because people will listen with less credence to what follows. Never say, "I could be wrong" or "you won't like this idea" or "I'm sure I'm forgetting something".

Colette noted that it is very important to accept praise with grace and not to b
elittle your own accomplishments and to make sure you show up to meetings and events with confidence and a smile!  Be proud of who you are and why you are being included, and only pay compliments if they are sincere. People can see through insincerity and will like you less for it. I know I've personally seen many examples of this in my career!

She cautioned women against starting right out with the whole story when asked a simple question. For example, if your boss asks you "how was the meeting" you shouldn't start out with "well, the plane was running late and then our taxi didn't show up....." but give the results, "We made a lot of progress and I think the design is going to be accepted. I can fill you in on the details later if you want".  She said this is something women do - and I know I'm guilty of this, as I do love telling stories. :-)

At this point, she went into a barrage of meeting skills that I think we can all benefit from:

  • Speak up early
  • Be Inclusive
    • connect to everyone with your eyes, not just one person.
  • Avoid raising your hand
    • children raise their hands, not adults. This is something she sees as a unique female meeting habit.
  • Make statements
    • Don't present your ideas as questions
    • Claim your ideas
  • Focus on others
  • It's better to be interested than interesting
  • Provide Value
  • Share your "because" (basically what led you to your conclusions or why you are asking for things)
  • Stories, when told at the right time, make things more memorable
  • always smile

It was a LOT to absorb and typing up this blog entry a month later was a good exercise for me to remember all of this. Next comes the tricky part: using it!

Friday May 29, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference: Session I

I still have so many more notes to post from the Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference, but here is my entry on the first session!

Leadership Lessons from Barbie's Mom: 10 Lessons About Leadership, Reinvention and Redemption from the Founder of Mattel Toys.

Who knew that the founder of Mattel, one of the largest toy makers in the world, was founded by a woman? I didn't. I always knew that Barbie was created by a woman, but had assumed she was just the spouse of someone that worked at Mattel (which is sort of right, as she and her husband did run the business together, but both working in very different contexts).

Ruth Handler, inventor of one of the most beloved girl's toys, Barbie, is relatively unknown herself!

Barbie has had over 108 careers in over 50 years - quite a busy lady! And it all started with a simple idea from Ruth Handler - "Little girls want to play at being big girls."  In 1952 Ruth observed that dolls for girls were all baby dolls. There weren't adult dolls to play with. When she brought up the idea at Mattel, she was told that the doll she described could not be made, that the right materials were not available and no parent would buy a doll with breasts for their daughter.

Now to the part of the story that most of us do know: in 1955 the Handler family was visiting Switzerland when Ruth and her daughter came across a German doll based off of a sexy cartoon prostitute. Her daughter immediately wanted one to play with - so did Ruth. It was the doll she had envisioned, finally brought to life.  She saw many young girls on her trip playing with this doll, which had been simply made as a gag gift for men.  She bought one and took it back to Mattell and told the design department to "make this!"

Three Barbie dolls are now sold every 3 seconds. Wow!

It was not an easy journey for Ruth Handler. Even though she had helped found the company, and ran all the finances, she had to be hidden from view when it came time to talk to the men on Wall Street about taking Mattell public. Literally, while her husband entered the Wall Street office from the front door, she had to enter via an entrance used to discreetly remove garbage from the building. I can't imagine such a thing happening today, so I am so glad for pioneers like Ruth for opening doors for the rest of us.

Ruth Handler was also not perfect - when Mattel hit hard times, following a bad fire in one of their Mexican plants and they were suffering from poor sales in Europe, she wasn't sure what to do to keep the stock price up and keep investors happy.  She was approached by an accountant then who  suggested she cook the books... and she did.

Thirty years later, we all know how these types of shenanigans pan out. You can fool folks for awhile, but eventually the gig is up.  Ruth had lost sight of her goals and values, and for that she served 5 years of 500 hours of community service and was fired from Mattel.

Ruth Handler then found her self struck by breast cancer and had to get a mastectomy. She was so horrified by the "falsies" and at the poor treatment she received from sales associates in department stores that she reinvented herself and started a new company: Nearly Me.

There was so much more covered about Ruth Handler in this talk that I couldn't begin to recount it all here, but fortunately for all of us, Robin Gerber wrote a book on Ruth Handler so we can all learn more :-)

One thing that most stuck with me from this presentation actually came from a comment from a woman in the audience. Her father had worked at Mattel and knew the Handlers well, so she also got to know them and had found memories of getting to test out new toys before they were available to the general public. Her father had received a recognition award while at Mattel and it was the wording I found most interesting: "Companies are made up of men and women and the work they do."

Something to think about.

Thursday May 28, 2009

Discussion on Women in Technology at 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto

Katy Dickinson and I presented on our journeys that led us to careers in technology at the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto on Tuesday. The students had such diverse backgrounds and career goals themselves, which made for quite a fun visit!  This particular group is focusing on women in science and technology roles and even keep their own blog, Girls' Tyme

I talked about my early career aspirations to be a waitress or a record store manager, and why I was so glad I got my degree and moved into the technical arena! There are so many more opportunities - and really, how many record stores are there left? Not a good career path (and while I started my restaurant career, I never got moved up out of the kitchen where I was a car-hop....).


Thursday Mar 26, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Women in Technology

Okay, Ada Lovelace Day was actually March 24, so I am a couple of days late, but I believe the bad cold I am finally getting over is a good excused to be a little bit late and doesn't really diminish one of my great sources of inspiration in technology.

Two inspirations, really.  Ada Lovelace herself was one of my first inspirations to pursue computing, when I found my self taking a programming class in Ada88 at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW, for short).  I was a completely undecided major - literally taking calculas and Ada programming for fun, while otherwise focusing on core electives - English, Philosophy, etc.  The text book came with an excerpt explaining who Ada was and why the language was named after her, and I found myself inspired. Surely if she could accomplish technical work more

I transfered to the Purdue main campus the following year, fairly sure I wanted to pursue computer science, but dismayed to find that my two Ada courses would count for nothing and I would need to start over again with Introduction to C++ (CS180).  Was it going to be worth it? That's around when I met a wonderful woman, Barbara Clark, who was an advisor for the school of science undergraduate students.  Barbara, a former mathemitician turned punch card programmer, was positively beaming with energy around the Purdue Computer Science department and was actively engaging women in computer science and the science department in general.  She taught me first hand the importance of diversity in any program, all the while seeking out funding from the School of Science head and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to move these initiatives forward.  Barb didn't do all of this alone, but she did draw people into her cause (including me) and inspire us all to stay in technology, network and strive to aim even higher. Under Barb's watchful gaze, the Women in Science program has flourished at Purdue, there are dedicated floors in dorms to women in science majors, and retention rates of women in these areas are up.

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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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