Join Us for Open Source Day at Grace Hopper 2012

This post is lightly adapted from the original, which appeared on the Best of Systers Blog.

Systers is the world’s largest email community of technical women in computing. It was founded by Anita Borg in 1987 as a small electronic mailing list for women in systems. Today, Systers broadly promotes the interests of women in the computing and technology fields. The community celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

As most folks likely already know, registration for Grace Hopper 2012 has opened, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the conference! In addition to all the amazing keynotes, technical sessions and workshops, I’m particularly looking forward to participating in Grace Hopper Open Source Day. Now in its second year, Grace Hopper Open Source Day introduces conference attendees to the wonderful world of open source software through a variety of activities. Grace Hopper Open Source Day takes place on Saturday, 6 October 2012, though we’ll have several related activities taking place during the rest of the conference.

Participants coding at Grace Hopper Open Source Day 2011 (photo credit: Anita Borg Institute)

So, what is Open Source Day?

Open Source Day is your opportunity to collaborate with your fellow attendees to write software for one of ten open source software projects, all of which have a humanitarian or social good focus. Attendees of all skill and experience levels are welcome and encouraged to attend. Even if you’ve never contributed to an open source project before, you will end the day having created something valuable for the public good!

We have ten projects who’d like your help, including two local Baltimore, Maryland organizations, GoodSpeaks and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. GoodSpeaks works “to help all charitable organizations – especially smaller organizations working at the grassroots level – self-report through video to increase visibility and support” and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance promotes, supports, and helps people make better decisions using accurate, reliable, and accessible data and indicators to improve the quality of life in Baltimore City neighborhoods. In true open source style, we’re giving Systers the opportunity to scratch their own itch by working on Mailman, the software that powers the Systers mailing list. We’ll also be working with projects devoted to accessibility, disaster relief, education and free culture. You can find the full list of participating projects on the Grace Hopper site.

So, interested in Open Source Day but wondering what you can do to be better prepared for the festivities? Excellent!

Once again, we’ll be hanging out at the Free and Open Source Software projects booth in the expo hall. If you’re completely new to open source software, please stop by and visit us. We’ll have several folks on hand to answer your questions and to tell you more about open source project communities you may want to join. If you’re an old hand at open source and want to volunteer to staff the booth, we’d love to hear from you! You can also sign up for booth duty shift directly on the Systers wiki.

Members of the Open Source Day committee have also organized a series of talks designed to help folks participate in Open Source Day and beyond, including a Wikipedia article edit-a-thon. We’ve also scheduled two panels discussions on participating in open source projects that are geared for newer contributors. We hope that Systers who have participated in open source software projects will join us for these panel discussions to share their experiences with others. (And who doesn’t want to learn how to edit Wikipedia articles?)

You must be registered for the Grace Hopper Conference in order to attend. For full details on registration, visit the Grace Hopper Open Source Day page. We hope to see you there!

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An Inside Look at Hiring Processes: Some Thoughts for Women Seeking Employment in IT

A recent article in The Register caught my eye and inspired me to share some of my past experiences as a corporate recruiter for two tech firms. (I also asked a few of my colleagues who are currently working in recruiting to take a look and share their thoughts.) Titled “Why women won’t apply for IT jobs,” the article cites findings from the Australian Computer Society Foundation Trust Fund, with their executive director noting, “Women won’t apply for IT jobs unless they are certain they meet every single criterion for the gig.”

Readers of Clay Shirky’s A Rant About Women will recognize similar points made in this Register article, and no doubt many a useful article and research paper has been written on this same topic. (In fact, I’d like to read them—please share in the comments on this post.) I’m not here to explore this field of study, rather to give folks an inside look at corporate hiring processes with a view to helping women feel more confidence in their searches for tech jobs, regardless of whether their skills exactly match those in a particular job description.

Please note that this is a summary of some of my experiences, experiences I’ve heard about from friends, and general hiring horror stories shared by colleagues over cocktails at HR functions. Your mileage may vary. Greatly.

Hiring Managers Do Not Know Exactly What They are Looking For

Anyone who has ever managed people will tell you that hiring well is challenging at best, particularly when many managers in the technical field are engineers first, social creatures second. Just because someone is gifted technically does not somehow make them equally gifted with the power to recognize exactly what skill set is required in a new hire to make their team most successful. In fact, managers often know that their team requires many disparate skills, and they create job descriptions that are a laundry list of these many different attributes, knowing full well that such a candidate likely does not exist. Worse yet, that laundry list of skills is usually a list of every possible skill a future employee might need over a period of several years, rather than a reasonable assessment of what any given individual would do on a day-to-day basis.

The reason this approach persists is simple: cast the widest possible net, catch more fish, and hope that one of them is the closest possible approximation of the person you need. Another reason is the bare facts of being at any rapidly moving organization: what you need today, you may not need in a week, a month or a year, so you ask for someone who can do every possible thing in the hope that they can be agile enough to switch their focus more or less seamlessly. It’s a nice thought, but it’s never going to happen that way in real life; no matter how talented someone may be, there’s always going to be a context switch cost when changing priorities, product line, or programming language.

Recruiters Are Often Trying to Channel What a Hiring Manager Wants

Speaking from experience, the creation of most job descriptions goes a little bit something like this:

Recruiter: Hello, Hiring Manager, so great I could get a meeting with you this week!

Hiring Manager: Yes, great to see you. I was due in the War Room 15 minutes ago, so we need to make this quick.

Recruiter: You got it. I know you have three open reqs to fill. How can I help?

Hiring Manager: I need a senior [programming language] person, a senior [application type] developer, and a junior [programming language] person.

Recruiter: Ok, great. We hired a senior [programming language] person last year, will the same job description work?

Hiring Manager: No, I need to update that text—can you send it to me?

Chances that the hiring manager will get around to updating the job description are 50/50 at best. The manager is oversubscribed and short-staffed, so the outdated description will likely be posted in hopes that the right candidate will somehow be found in the pile of resumes that come in. Even if the job description is updated, see above: “Hiring Managers Don’t Know Exactly What They’re Looking For.”

Recruiter: Sure, will do. Now for the senior [application type] person….

Hiring Manager: I need someone really good for that role, I’m dying here.

Recruiter: Got it, got it. What skills do you need?

Hiring Manager: I don’t have time to think about this much right now, but I think So-and-So in recruiting put one together for me a little while ago. Can you track that down?

“So-and-So in recruiting” likely did not create one a little while ago, and the recruiter may simply look for a similar job description on the Internet to have something to present to the hiring manager. Chances that the oversubscribed hiring manager will critically read it are low, as they may be assuming this is the same thing they thought they created just a bit ago and, even if it isn’t perfect, they just need someone good, right now.

Recruiter: No problem. Now for your junior person…..

Hiring Manager: I really need to go. Can you crib the req for the entry level Java dev and just replace Java with Python? I’ll clean it up from there.

You get the general idea.

Many of the Figures in Job Descriptions Have Little to Nothing to Do with What is Required for the Role

Most of the “numbers” in these bullet point lists of job requirements are mapped to salary matrices for an organization, allowing folks in Human Resources to know what they ought to pay you and what job title you ought to be given. When reading a job description that asks for 10+ years of Android programming, what you’re seeing is someone having heard that their hiring manager needs a “senior Android application programmer,” and in this organization, “senior engineers” have 10+ years experience in their field. The fact that no one on this planet has 10+ years of Android application programming experience isn’t considered. You’ll often see job descriptions that ask for 7+ years of Java, etc., and, once again, you’re in the same boat; 7+ years of experience at that organization equates to a particular job grade, e.g. senior software engineer, with the requisite salary range. Many job descriptions are created by starting first from the headcount budget approved for a particular hiring manager for a particular job role, so if a senior software engineer gets paid 100K per annum, and that’s the headcount budget, the call goes out for a senior software engineer.

In reality, the hiring manager likely does not give two hoots about the number of years of experience someone has in a particular area, they just want someone really good, now. Since you can’t post a job description that says “Wanted: Highly Talented, Learns Quickly”—though some companies are doing that these days, largely start-ups—years of experience stands in as an “objective” metric for “highly talented.”

What this Means for Women Seeking Employment

Simply put, if you know that you have one-third to half of the skills listed as required for a particular role, you love the company and its products and are thrilled at the idea of working there, apply. I cannot stress this enough—the worst the organization can do is never contact you or send you a rejection email immediately. Not getting what you want hurts, but it’s more than worth trying for roles that you know you’d be wonderful at if they’d just give you a chance to prove yourself, to get up to speed on that one language out of five that you don’t know, or to take a training course or two to round out areas where you need a little more help.

Bottom line, ladies—we do ourselves a great disservice by assuming that we cannot instead of that we can. I know I do the same in many areas of my professional life, and it’s high time we all gave ourselves the kind of credit and encouragement we give to our friends, colleagues, and families. And even if a hundred pep talks won’t help our Impostor Syndrome, perhaps this inside look at how hiring gets done will help some women realize just how little they actually need to meet “every single criterion” to get the jobs of their dreams.

Was This Post Useful?

If you found this post useful, I’m very pleased. If you have other general questions about the IT hiring process, e.g. regarding negotiating benefits, etc., please note them in the comments. If I cannot answer them, I’ll do my best to find someone who can.

Thank you to Ruth Suehle for her assistance with editing this post.

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My Feminism Isn’t Good Enough for You

Or “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….”

Nice Girl (warning: this blog contains NSFW matters, as you can likely tell from the URL) has penned a post about her experience at OSCON this year and last, and I’m really glad she brought her experiences to the fore. I’ve been watching the women and tech and women in FOSS debate rage for awhile now, and I’m so pleased someone has brought the spotlight around to a concept that I’ll call “My Feminism Isn’t Good Enough for You.”

I’ve heard from women in the FOSS community have been told that they are “traitors to the feminist cause” for wearing pink. Or that they ought not to have changed their last name upon getting married. Or that they were doing all women a disservice at FOSS conferences by wearing provocative clothing.

I think provocative clothing is in the eye of the beholder, but on the one occasion that I’ve observed this behavior personally rather than hearing about it through the grapevine, said provocative clothing consisted of spiky heels, a skirt that cut off at the knee, a professional top with a lower neckline and a suit jacket. I didn’t think it was provocative, and I was raised in a no skirts above the knee and preferably not above the ankle household. Again, eye of the beholder.

I also hate pink. However, dear sisters in FOSS and beyond, if you want to rock the pink, I celebrate you. Go for it. Enjoy it. I will enjoy your enjoyment of it, just not partake.

Here’s my take on feminism – all people, women included, are allowed to make choices for themselves and are not prevented from doing the things they’d like to do due to sexism or other forms of discrimination or harassment. Period. That simple. Telling women to lie about how they ended up at a conference is unacceptable, telling them how to dress is unacceptable, etc. All one does by telling folks how they ought to act for the good of feminism or the good of women in tech is simply buying in to the same crap that demands that one woman somehow represent all women, because we are not to be regarded as individuals, with individual choices and individual responsibility for the consequences of those choices. If someone chooses to dismiss you because you’re wearing “sexy” clothes at a conference, so be it. Your choice to do so, your responsibility to accept that some people will think less of you for doing so, and your choice to measure your desire to dress a certain way against potentially negative outcomes.

Until we live in a world where we don’t judge people over superfluous matters or have their judgement affected by socialized and personal biases – and that time is a long way off, my friends – can we all just agree that we’re adults and that folks can live with the consequences of their actions.

And if you send me something pink as a gift, you’re off my non-existent Christmas card list.

Posted in open source, Why We Can't Have Nice Things | Tagged , | 23 Comments

Keynoting Berlin Buzzwords Conference

I’ll be giving the Opening Keynote at the Berlin Buzzwords Conference in June, and I am incredibly excited about giving this talk and the opportunity to meet up with so many of my colleagues. For a brief teaser on the content of the keynote, check out the speaker interview that the organizing team has posted.

So, gentle readers, what topics would you like to see covered in a keynote on community? Anything in particular that you think I can speak very well to or that you think many communities could use help with? I look forward to your suggestions.

Posted in conferences, open source | Tagged | 1 Comment

New Post on the Systers Blog

Recently, Robin Jeffries asked me to pen a post for the Systers Blog on some of the recent incidents of sexism in the tech industry. The post is now live. The good news? Proposed solutions for making things better. Always a plus.

I look forward to folks’ feedback on it, either in the comments here or on the Systers Blog.

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Joining Red Hat

tl;dr: I’ve traded in startup life for a newly started team within Red Hat focused on helping their upstream communities.

So, I like startup life: the opportunity to define one’s role in the organization, the chance to work on many aspects of the business, and the ability to learn a great deal in a short space of time since so much is going on and so many things need attention. It seems like not that long ago I was penning a post about my excitement to join Portland-based startup AppFog, and much of that excitement was focused on these benefits that startup life provides. Then, Red Hat came calling….

It wasn’t an easy decision – the team at AppFog are great, doing fine work and they’ll be incredibly successful – but the chance to work at Red Hat and continue working to improve the health and well-being of free and open source software communities was too tempting. I’m one of the first few hires onto the Open Source and Standards Team, a group focused on helping all of Red Hat’s upstream communities make their lives better. It’s a new team and we’re all busy figuring out just how we’ll be best able to use our skillsets to help the community, but I’m very excited by all that I’ve seen thus far.

My starter project focuses on community events: where folks are going, what they’re doing at various conferences and how me and the rest of my team can be supportive of those goals. It’s early days yet – I just started this past Monday – but I’ll be happy to share more about what I am doing as I find my feet.

And yes, I got the red fedora at new hire orientation. I’ll get around to posting a photo one of these days. There were even rumors of capes, but that’s a story for another time….

Posted in open source | Tagged , | 4 Comments

PyCon: A Community Walkthrough

I attended PyCon 2012 last week in Santa Clara, California and had a fantastic time. Check out my post on the conference on the AppFog blog.

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