It’s been a really productive two weeks in North Dakota, installing our game in schools on two reservations, in tribal schools and public schools. I didn’t write this post to talk about that. Rather, in keeping with some of the really useful posts I’ve read about start-up failures, I wanted to share with you the one thing that didn’t go right this week.

Just spoke to the Chief Marketing Officer for our 7 Generation Games start-up and she told me we did not get accepted to the playco lab accelerator. She felt bad about that since she really does think we are a terrific company, we already have traction with games installed in the schools and paying customers, and the fact that she lives in the Bay area meant it would have been very convenient for her.

The Invisible Developer and I had mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, we think our company is awesome and going to be incredibly successful.

We’re really pleased with the work we do and an accelerator (or anybody) saying they don’t want us gives us kind of the same reaction when somebody calls your baby ugly – how dare you!

On the other hand, we’re just coming back from two weeks away from our cocoon-like home offices by the beach, and The ID has said approximately 2,982 times that he doesn’t like to travel. When I told him that Maria had called and said we were not accepted, he did a reasonably good job of hiding his glee.

I don’t mind travel but I am mindful of the sage advice I received from Jenny Q. Ta of sqeeqee to never give up a half a percent of your company before you have to, and we are not at the point where we need outside money. Although having some validation from an outside group might be nice, it might have helped our marketing to have access to a network within the acceleration, we still have 19 months of SBIR funding, as well as our own funds from The Julia Group.  All of that being said, yes, it does bother me that we didn’t get it, because, I think we’re awesome and I want everyone on earth to share that view. Also, whenever I read these articles about people who cannot find start-ups outside Silicon Valley/ with female/ minority founders and they are supposedly really looking , I think, “Gee, we must really suck because we are all of those things and they don’t want us.”

Then reality sets in. I am a statistician, after all, and not too many people know regression lines better than me. (Yes, you may be a far better statistician than me , but 99.99% of the population has no clue what a residual error is and the fact that I just made that percentage up makes it no less true. Try to parse that statement for a moment.)

Years ago, I was listening to (okay, eavesdropping on) a “top executive”  at a Fortune 500 company who was discussing his next career move, he said,

“It has to be perceived as bigger, better and then I’m still on the path to CEO. If it’s seen as smaller, worse, then I’m fucked.”

Maybe that is true in his career path, but in my experience as a statistician, small business owner and human being, life seems more like a regression equation. Even though you may have a straight line in one direction or another, there are ups and downs. Take for example the regression line I just happened to have laying around with 100 data points

r= .70 Overall, the trend here is very positive – about .70, to be precise. If you looked at either of the two low points shown with arrows, you’d say, holy shit, the trend is really going down, I’m failing. In fact, though, if you compare the initial low point, you can see that each of these new lows is higher than the previous one.

In my life, I have seen far more trends like this one, if you are lucky, and really none where every single point falls on the regression line.

Statistics imitates life. Or maybe it’s the other way around. How about that?

Today I’m getting around to day nine of the 20-day blogging challenge while I wait for The Invisible Developer to get out of the shower where he is curled in a fetal position whining about having to go outside when it is 14 below zero. Actually, he is probably just taking a shower, but lots of whining has taken place this week, let me tell you.

Today’s question is what did I do this week that would I do again in teaching or what would I not do again. I think I’ll answer both. Coincidentally, (or maybe not, since I’ve been working on a course re-design to incorporate SAS programming), both of those things have to do with SAS. Short version, if your data are in a form amenable to SAS, it is a godsend for teaching statistics. If your data are not in a very SAS compatible format, it just blows. If, God forbid, you are limited to using SAS On-demand, as I am this week because I have yet to receive the Windows 8 compatible version from the university, and I am in North Dakota, working on my laptop, well then, your life is about to suck, I am sorry to say.

The thing I would totally do again, if I was teaching an epidemiology course, is PROC STDRATE. I love everything about this procedure. The documentation explains the procedure in very plain language which I did not have to rewrite at all for the students, I just included the overview in my livebinder.

“Two commonly used event frequency measures are rate and risk:

  • A rate is a measure of the frequency with which an event occurs in a defined population in a specified period of time. …

  • A risk is the probability that an event occurs in a specified time period. “

It also includes datasets that can be used as an example, and they are easily typed or copied and pasted into your SAS program. Further, these data are very similar in format to the types of data that students will usually come across. Most important, this is one of the most useful procedures for students beginning to learn epidemiology, providing a lot of statistics in one- population attributable risk, population attributable fraction, standardized morbidity rate and more. It will save loads of time over computing statistics on a calculator to answer homework questions – which I think is just silly, because it is 2014 and we have computers. Also, the syntax is relatively easy.

You can read one example of using STDRATE for crude risks, reference risk and attributable fractions here.

So, that was the good part. What I would never do again, if I had any choice at all, is

a) Use SAS to create maps, or really, analyze in any way, data that was either not already in a SAS dataset or in a very easy to read format, e.g. , no missing data, no variable length variables, and

b) Use the SAS Enterprise Guide version of SAS On-Demand for anything, ever

There are some significant drawbacks of the SAS Web Editor as well but they pale in comparison with the slowness of SAS Enterprise Guide in the on-demand version. While some programs you could maybe get a cup of coffee while waiting for it to run, with the on-demand version of SAS EG you can drive to Starbucks, wait in line, by your coffee, drive back to the office, park, take the elevator to your floor and STILL be there just about when your cross-tabulation had completed. It’s ridiculous, which is sad because if it ran ten times faster it would be a really great tool. It’s terrific on my desktop.

Someone on twitter commented that they hated SAS because it did not play well with open data. Aint that the truth! Now the exception is if you can get  your data in a SAS dataset format. Then it’s wonderful. Well, I was using HIV prevalence data from gapminder.org  – great site, by the way – and it took me an HOUR to get it read by SAS Web Editor. You can only upload csv files or SAS files to the web editor, so I couldn’t use PROC IMPORT to read in the Excel file. The data I had used country name as the ID and that didn’t match with the ID in the SAS map files – it’s a long sad story with the moral that if I had the option of not using SAS for maps I would certainly be looking into that right now and if I never have to use SAS Enterprise Guide again (which only seems to have the US map in the On-demand version anyway) it will be too soon.

Yes, in the end, I did get my world HIV in the end. The computer will not defeat me!

world_map

 

Day eight of the 20-day blogging challenge was to write about a professional read – a book, article or blog post that has had an impact on me. To be truthful, I would have to say that the SAS documentation has had a profound impact on me. SAS documentation is extremely well-written (to be fair, so is SPSS) in contrast to most operating system documentation which is written as if feces-flinging monkeys were somehow given words instead, which they flung onto a page which then became a manual. But I digress – more than usual. It’s not reasonable to suggest to someone reading the entire SAS documentation which is several thousand pages by now. Instead, I’d recommend Jennifer Waller’s paper on arrays and do-loops. This isn’t the paper where I first learned about arrays – that was before pdf files and I have met Jennifer Waller and she was probably barely in elementary school at the time. It’s a good paper though and if you are interested in arrays, you should check it out.

Here is what I did today, why and how. I wanted to score a dataset that had hundreds of student records. I had automatically received the raw score for each student, percent correct and what answer they gave for each multiple choice question. I wanted more than that. I wanted to know for each question whether or not they got it correct so that I could do some item analyses, test reliability and create subtests. This is a reasonable thing for a teacher to want to know – did my students do worse on the regression questions, say, than the ones on probability, or vice-versa?  Do the data back up that the topics I think are the hardest are the ones that my students really score worst on?  Of course, test reliability is something that would be useful to know and most teachers just assume but don’t actually assess. So, that’s what I did and why. Here is how.
filename sample “my-directory/data2013.csv”;
libname mydata “mydirectory” ;
data mydata.data2013 ;
infile sample firstobs = 2 dsd missover ;
input group_type $ idnum $ raw pct_correct qa qb qc q1- q70 ;

** These statements read in the raw data, which was an Excel file I had saved as csv file ;
** The first line was the header and I forgot to delete it so I used FIRSTOBS = 2 ;
*** That way, I started reading at the actual data. ;
*** The dsd specifies comma-delimited data. dlm=”,” would have worked equally well ;
*** Missover instructs it to leave any data missing if there are no values, rather than skipping to the next line ;

Data scored ;
set mydata.data2013 ;
array ans{70} q1- q70 ;
array correct{70} c1 – c70 ;
array scored{70} sc1 – sc70 ;

*** Here I created three arrays. One is the actual responses ;
*** The second array is the correct answer for each item ;
*** The third array is where I will put the scored right or wrong answers ;

if _N_ = 1 then do i = 1 to 70 ;
correct{i} = ans{i} ;
end ;

*** If it is the first record (the answer key) then c1 – c70 will be set to whatever the value for the correct answer is ;

else do i = 1 to 70 ;
if ans{i} = correct{i} then scored{i} = 1 ;
else scored{i} = 0 ;
end ;

**** If it is NOT the first record, then if the answer = the correct answer from the key, it is 1 , otherwise 0 ;

Retain c1 – c70 ;

**** We want to retain the correct answers that were in the key for all of the records in the data set ;
**** Since we never put a new value in c1 – c70, they will stay the correct answers ;

raw_c = sum(of sc1 – sc70) ;
*** This sums the raw score ;

pct_c = raw_c/70 ;
*** This gives a percentage score :

proc means data=scored ;
var sc1-sc10 c1 -c10 ;

*** This is just a spot check. Does the mean for the scored items fall between 0 and 1? Is the minimum 0 and the maximum 1 ;
*** The correct answers should have a standard deviation of 0 because every record should be the same ;
*** Also, the mean should either be 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 ;

proc corr data = scored ;
var raw_c pct_c raw pct_correct ;

*** Spot check 2. The raw score I calculated, the percent score I calculated ;
*** The original raw score and percent score, all should correlate 1.0 ;

data mydata.scored ;
set scored ;
if idnum ne “KEY” ;
drop c1-c70 q1-q70 ;

*** Here is where I save the data set I am going to analyze. I drop the answer key as a record. I also drop the 70 correct answer fields and the original answers, just keeping the scored items ;
proc corr alpha nocorr data= mydata.scored ;
var sc1 – sc70 ;

*** Here is where I begin my analyses, starting with the Cronbach alpha value for internal consistency reliability ;

I want to point something out here, which is where I think the professional statisticians are maybe distinguished from others. It’s second nature to check and verify. Even though this program should work perfectly – and it did – I threw in reality checks at a couple of different points. Maybe I spelled a variable name wrong, maybe there was a problem with data entry.

One thing I did NOT do was write over that original data. Should I decide I need to look at what the actual answers were, say, I wanted to see if students were selecting chi-square instead of t-test (my hypothetical correct answer), that would alert me to some confusion.

Incidentally, for those who think that all of the time they save grading is taken up by entering individual scores, I would recommend having your students take tests on the computer if you possibly can. I was at a school today where we had a group of fourth graders taking two math tests using Google chrome to access the test and type in answers. They had very little difficulty with it. I wrote the code for one of those tests, but the other was created using survey monkey and it was super easy.

I’d love to include pictures or video of the kids in the computer lab but the school told me it was not allowed )-:

There’s been quite a bit of discussion on twitter lately regarding generalists versus specialists. This article on KD Nuggets reported an even split in their poll numbers regarding whether companies try to hire a generalist who has knowledge of all areas required by a data scientist, as opposed to those who said that they hired a team of individuals, each one with some of the skills.  In case you are wondering, the required skills were:

  • statistics/ machine learning
  • hacking
  • databases
  • industry/ domain knowledge

There was even some discussion as to whether the Data Scientist possessing all of those skills is indeed a mythical creature like the unicorn. (This irked me somewhat because it is not the first time I have been mistaken for a unicorn. Not only do I possess all of those skills, but I am also a Hispanic grandmother running a start-up. )team with no unicorn shirts

This is NOT, however, a post about my awesomeness but rather about the value of both generalists and specialists even in a small business.

I highly recommend reading this Wired article by Samuel Arbesman, Let’s Bring the Polymaths – and the Dabblers – Back . I do agree with many of Arbesman’s points. Universities are NOT the bastions of innovation that they like to believe. Although some innovators may start at universities, they almost invariably leave. There are multiple reasons. One is, as Arbesman notes, is that universities demand specialization. You are a professor in a specific department and specialize in middle school mathematics education. You publish articles in journals on middle school mathematics. If you have an idea for a computer game, well, that is the computer science department. If you think it would be cool to have an adventure game that is set in a historically accurate pre-European contact North America, well, the History department or Native American Studies are where you do that.

I completely agree with Arbesman that both video games  and start-ups are stitching together diverse areas of specialization, and he describes our start-up , 7 Generation Games, pretty well.

The part where I disagree is with some people who seem to think that we would be better off to replace specialists with generalist. True, if I had to pick one or the other, it would be the generalists, and, as I wrote on the 7 Generation Games blog, I am about half of our development team currently, as well as CEO, and, despite the doubters, it suits me.

However, even as a small company, I think our strength is in having both generalists and specialists. I am pretty good at statistics and programming, know enough about databases and quite a bit about mathematics education and teaching in disadvantaged communities. I’m a good writer and I can give presentations at conferences and pitch at start-up events.

However, again, we have The Invisible Developer who is an amazing programmer and even more amazing still, quite modest about it. He has been referred to by friends and family alternately as Code Warrior, Computer God and The Rocket Scientist (now retired). Almost all Dennis does is software development, with the occasional pitching in on tech support.

Ernie does technical support. He may pitch in to do some video editing or game testing in a pinch, but mostly he does tech support from one end to the other, testing compatibility with different operating systems, answering user questions, maintaining the tech support site, writing documents for tech support.

Maria does marketing. Both Erich and I have presented at conferences, Dennis or I might blog about what we are doing, but overall whether it is making slide decks for investor pitches, a one-sheet to distribute at conferences or selecting which incubator application to submit and when to pass, it’s Maria’s call and her work. Again, she can review contracts, do voice over for video or pinch-hit in other ways, but mostly, she’s writing, blogging, tweeting, meeting and organizing all of the aspects thereof.

Marisol is probably the only real generalist in the company – she does everything for powerpoints for presentations to mailing packages to making Easter egg movies that pop up in the game.

While Erich is mostly providing cultural expertise on Native American history, meeting with the schools to coordinate testing and advising on how to improve the game for the school sites, he also does some editing and presenting at conferences.

Then there are those who are strictly specialists – Justin and Gene do artwork, Danny does animation. The rest of us may crop an image now and again or animate a character across a page as a sound plays, but we are no artists and we know it.

We need generalists – Maria and I meet weekly and try to scope out where we are, where we’re going and keep all the pieces together. On the other hand, without the specialists – people like Dennis who will spend two weeks on trying to get the water in the game flow like real water, or Erich who will drive to Belcourt to get someone to record a story so that the grandmother talking sounds like a real grandmother from Turtle Mountain – our game wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is and I don’t believe our company would be nearly as successful.

And we don’t even want to mention what my artwork would look like …

 

man in canoe

Artwork not by me, thank God

In the 20-day blogging challenge, the prompt for day seven was

“Share a classroom management tip. What is one thing you do that works?”

My initial thought was that I teach graduate school and if you are still having classroom management problems by then, either you or the student have a real issue. It happens, but rarely. Then it occurred to me – story questions!

If you’ve attended many college classes, conference presentations or business meetings, you’ve run into these people with the “question that is really intended to show how smart I am rather than to elicit any information”.  Let me give you an example,

“Well, doctor, that may be true in your academic area but as someone who has spent some time in the real world, I would have to ask if sums of squares would ever be useful in my field where I’m managing a team of highly trained sales people who travel the world convincing customers to use water purification systems that will make the world a better place and safer for our children because there will be lower infant mortality and therefore people will have fewer children and the over-population problem that contributes to unrest will be decreased.”

On the off chance that this may be one of those unlikely events where the story questioner actually wants to hear my answer, I will answer a question like this – once – and as briefly as possible. The false implication that I am not actually working “in the real world”, I ignore because I do not have infinite time to argue with people.

The answer is,

“Yes. There are a great many uses of Analysis of Variance, for example, to see if sales are higher in one country than another, to see if regions where your widget is sold really do have a lower rate of unrest, controlling for other factors. You’ve made a lot of statements about differences that occur, and policymakers might want to see some documentation that those claims can be supported.”

I will answer one question during a talk. If the story questioner follows up with a second, depending on the question, I respond:

  • I’m glad you asked that. We’ll be covering that later in today’s lecture/ next week/ this course. Hold that thought!
  • Interesting point. We’re running out of time for today’s lecture/ presentation / meeting but if you’d like to stick around, I’d be happy to discuss that with you individually. (They almost never do because story questioners just want an audience.)
  • That’s interesting but we’re not really on that topic right now, let’s see if anyone else has a question.

Don’t let the story questioners monopolize your class or presentation. The other people came to hear you, or maybe to learn from their fellow students as a group, not to be lectured by Mr or Ms SQ. Hence, my rule of thumb – in an average class period, any individual student can take up the whole class time for a total of five minutes. In a 50-minute class period, that’s 10% of the class. Since some of class time is spent in groups or working on problems individually, that’s more than 10% of the whole group time. This point was brought home to me years ago when I was teaching an undergraduate course where the Empress of Story Questioners was enrolled. There was literally nothing that could be discussed that she did not have an experience to relate. It got to the point where one day my teaching assistant came to me after class and said,

“You know that woman who sits in the front row and tells all the stories disguised as questions? Well, me and the other three people who sit around her talked it over and if she’s not here next week, it’s because we all got together and killed her.”

 

 

I’m thinking I’m going to need to create a new category on my blog – here is Day 6 of the 20-day blogging challenge, which, if you are just now tuning in is (surprise!), 20 days of prompts on teaching, a challenge I decided to undertake for the hell of it, the same reason I do most things in life. Given that this is particular crunch month for work it’s kind of amazing I’ve done six of these already.

Today’s prompt was,

What is one thing you wish you were better at? Just one! Why? What can you do about it?

Sort of one and a half – the one thing I wish I was better at teaching statistics is pacing. I never feel as if I have enough time at the end of the course. On the other hand, I feel at the beginning of the course that I need to spend ample time on the basics. How can you understand explained variance if you don’t understand variance in the first place? The main thing I wish I spent more time on the past couple of courses I taught was on discussing what we mean by explained variance and residual variance.

Let’s say that we know nothing about each person who walks into a room and we are trying to predict his or her IQ. The mean population IQ is 100, with a standard deviation of 15, which means the variance is 225 (15 squared). Thus, the variance of our random guesses will be 225.  This is the error variance , which is the same as the population variance, since we had no predictors.

Let’s say now we get everyone’s college GPA and we find that the correlation with GPA and IQ is .707  (it’s lower than that in real life, but just pretend). So, now, when Bob comes into the room and I know he has a GPA of 4.0, two standard deviations above the mean, I am going to predict that he has an IQ of 1.414 standard deviations above the mean.

My equation is Y = a +bX   where a = the mean and b = the regression coefficient

On the average, now, my predictions will be more accurate. In fact, the variance of the prediction is now 112.  Instead of being off by 15 points in my prediction, I’m off by about 10.5 points (the square root of 112.)

Notice that:

  • Having a predictor reduces the error in prediction.
  • The amount of error is not the correlation, but the correlation SQUARED
  • If you only have a single predictor, the standardized beta weight in a regression equation equals the correlation

There’s a lot more I have to say about explained variance, but it is past 1 a.m. and I’m trying to get to bed earlier and get up earlier so I won’t die when I’m in North Dakota next week and get up at what is the equivalent of 7:30 a.m. Pacific time. (Because there is no way on God’s green earth I’m going to make it into those schools before 10 a.m. and that’s just a fact. Maybe it’s on God’s white earth, since I believe everything in North Dakota is under a blanket of snow for at least three more months.)

buffalo in the snow

It’s now day five of the 20-day blogging challenge, which, if you are late to the party, FYI is an idea of Kelly Hines to blog 20 days in a month on topics related to teaching.

“Share any tips for designing/ grading/ giving assessments.”

I have two really good ideas for assessment, one of which I always use and the other I’m kicking myself because I have not done it lately but I’m really thinking of using it again for my next class.

1. Analysis paper with real data. I teach statistics, multivariate methods, data mining, stuff like that. As a business owner, I used to say that I would not hire anyone fresh out of graduate school because they could never DO anything. I don’t need someone to prove the Central Limit Theorem for me,  calculate sums of squares with a calculator or look up degrees of freedom in a table in the back of some book. It’s 2014 and we have computers here at The Julia Group. It occurred to me at some point that since I teach graduate students each year, I am part of the problem. Now, I always require students to pose a research question, analyze data to answer it and write a paper discussing their method and results.

Details may vary from course to course but what the assignment always includes is REAL data, which means some of it is missing, some is impossible, meaning it was data entry errors or the person just wrote down the wrong information. No one is 992 years old. Data may not comply with distributional assumptions. Your measure may turn out to be unreliable. In all of that, you need to figure how to compute an Analysis of Variance or logistic regression and interpret the output without an answer in the back of the book.

I require the paper to be submitted in pieces, first a draft of the descriptive statistics, then a draft of inferential statistics, then a final draft. One reason for this, unfortunately, is that cheating is rampant at universities, and if you have to turn in lots of drafts, it is going to be difficult and expensive for you to get one of those storefront paper mills in West L.A. to write them all for you.

There is a more positive reason, though. You may (probably will) forget 90% of what was on a multiple-choice final exam that you crammed for. You’re a lot more likely to remember how you solved a problem that you posed yourself, because it’s likely to be of interest to you. For example, a young woman in a recent course wanted to do research on the relationship between obesity and health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease because her family had several members who were obese and had health problems. When I asked whether she’d like to look at BMI or breakdown the sample in different ways, she was emphatic that she was interested in obesity. She used the data from the California Health Interview Survey. Because it was something meaningful to her, I believe she’ll retain a lot more of what she learned than if we had just had chapter tests.

2. Class notebook. This is an assignment I used to give and I would run into students years later who told me they still had theirs and used it. This wasn’t just notes but more of a lab notebook detailing in your own words just how you did each part of the project. They could also copy and paste in anything that would help them. The purpose was for them to have something they could use if they ran into this problem on the job. The notebook was THEIRS. How did you compute descriptive statistics with SAS? How did you compute reliability? How did you compute an ANOVA, what type of post hoc test did you use and why? How did you compute a MANOVA? What did each of those numbers on the printout mean? Because students wrote it for themselves, when they needed to do one of these procedures even a year or two later, they could pick it up and use it.

What both of these assessments have in common is that they allow the students to personalize their learning.

They also both take a really long time to grade because I read every page. I think this would be really hard for a large class unless you had a teaching assistant or grader. Even for graduate courses that tend to be less than 25 students, it’s a lot.

For me, being a woman in technology is like the ending of the Lilo and Stitch movie where he says

Es mi familia. Es chica y rota pero es buena, es muy buena.

(This is my family. It’s small and broken but it’s good. It’s very good. – The person who quoted this saw it in Spanish. I don’t know if the English version ends the same.)

The broken part

I’m a bit bemused by those articles on how online harassment drives women from technology, articles that say things like you can’t just delete the comments and emails that threaten to rape you and your children. I don’t have that problem at all. When I read a comment like that, I think,

“Some idiot said something stupid on the Internet. “

This bothers me no more than the fact that Olav Kirschenko in Russia didn’t get the promotion he wanted to assistant manager at the McDonalds in Red Square. It affects me not at all.

A couple of posts have talked about being afraid because the person found out where they lived, came to their office, they were in serious fear of being raped or killed. I have never felt that fear. It is not simply having been the world judo champion, although that helps. It’s that combined with not having grown up in yuppie Santa Monica. I’ve been in more fist fights than I can count, had knives pulled on me and three times been faced with a man with a gun. I have some scars but I’m still here. Our Chief Marketing Officer asked me what I would do if someone actually did show up at the house and threaten my lovely young daughter, I told her matter-of-factly,

“I’d probably stab him or hit him with a brick.”

I’m little. I have no intention of fighting fair and I believe down deep in my soul in the immortal words of  Zapata,

“It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

Darling Daughter Number 3 said in an interview that she would die in the octagon before she would give up. She meant that most literally. It’s a choice people make to live their lives unbowed and unafraid.

Yes, I really am a psycho bitch. I’m not afraid of being killed and if someone showed up at my door and threatened me or my children, I could shoot him dead and it would not bother me in the slightest.

So — worries about crazy, misogynistic Internet trolls – not  a problem. I don’t know about you, but I totally DO recognize that it is NOT okay that to sleep peacefully at night as a woman in technology it is helpful to be a crazy psycho bitch willing to cheerfully off attackers .

The small part

More than once, I’ve read a post by a woman in technology saying something along the lines of ,

“I’m not sure if there was discrimination against me or not. I just worked twice as hard as everyone else to prove myself.”

And I wonder, “Didn’t it occur to you that’s pretty fucked up that you had to work twice as hard as everyone else?”.  I loved @shanley ‘s comments on twitter about conference organizers who wanted a woman to speak but they couldn’t get Sheryl Sandberg. Was their male keynote speaker Mark Zuckerberg? I didn’t fucking think so. For those of you who are now put off by my language, let me get this straight – I’m supposed to be so tough that I am not put off by commenters threatening to rape me and my children, but ladylike enough not to swear?

Let’s talk about the twice as hard/ qualified part. I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis when I was 19 years old, back in the 1970s, when I started programming with Fortran and Basic.  I finished my MBA when I was 21, along with winning the national judo championships and U.S. Open. I worked as an industrial engineer at General Dynamics for a few years, where I learned SAS and some languages no one uses any more. By 31 I had won a world championships in judo, earned another masters degree and Ph.D. and been programming for a dozen years on VAX and IBM mainframe systems. Over the next 24 years, I’ve published articles in scientific journals, presented at so many conferences around the U.S. and a couple in Canada that I have honestly lost track of the number. I’ve used high performance computing clusters, everything from DOS to Windows 8 and every version of the Mac OS since the first one. (When I married my late husband, he got me a Mac instead of an engagement ring, because it is what I wanted.) Most recently, I’ve been part of a two-person development team that created Spirit Lake: The Game – (you can buy it here) , and we’re beta testing our second game, Fish Lake, in 8 schools starting this month.

When people talk about supporting women in tech, they look at Girls Who Code  and Black Girls Code, both of which I’m sure are very worthwhile programs. What troubles me, though, is the assumption that we need to focus only on young girls – in short, we, the oh-helpful ones, are the mentors and the solution to increase the representation of women in technology is 5 or 10 years out when these girls finish college or graduate school. WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN WHO ARE HERE NOW?

If you are overlooking the women who are here now, what does that tell the girls you are supposedly bringing up to be the next generation of women in tech that you can overlook 15 years from now? Why do we hear about 16-year-old interns far more than women like me? If it is true, as the New York Times says, that in 2001-2 28% of computer science degrees went to women compared to the 10% or so now – where are those women from 12 years ago?

It seems to me that when people are looking at minorities or women to develop in their fields, they are much more interested in the hypothetical idea of that cute 11-year-old girl being a computer scientist some day than of that thirty-something competing with them for market share or jobs. If there are venture capitalists or conference organizers or others out there that are sincerely trying to promote WOMEN who code, not girls, I’ve never met any. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but it means that whoever they are seeking out, it isn’t people like me, which is why I started out talking about my qualifications. I’ve pitched at start-up events a few times, I’ve gone to some meet-ups, I’ve written this blog for going on six years, presented at conferences, published papers. I’m not running around promoting myself but I’m not that hard to find, either.

What it comes down to is this, in the 37 years since I graduated from college, I have seen a lot of affirmative talk and seen goddamned little affirmative action. Instead, what I have seen is a continuing assumption that women are not interested in technology, are not particularly good at it, and not so much interest in really changing that. Read the wonderful post by Phillip Guo, Silent Technical Privilege – where he talks about how people just assumed he knew what he was doing because he was an Asian-American male – yeah, my whole life has been the opposite of that. Yet, I’m still here.

Tess Rinearson’s post on technical entitlement is also terrific and worth reading, but it’s also the opposite of much of my life. That under-confidence problem? Yeah, I don’t have that. Maybe it’s part of being a psycho bitch. The reason I don’t go to more tech meet-ups is that they really are filled with people who assume that I am not as good or experienced as everyone else. It’s not me, it’s you. When you confuse me with the hospitality staff at the event (didn’t the designer suit tip you off?), it kind of is clear that you don’t think I’m the company for your investment dollars or the co-founder/ presenter of your dreams.

The good, the very good

All of this may make it sound like I’m bitter, but I’m not. I absolutely love my work. The Julia Group side provides me the opportunity to work on a variety of data analysis and programming problems that fascinate me. Many of my clients I have worked with ten years or more. They have followed me from one company to another. Great people, interesting work, good money.

7 Generation Games LogoBut wait, there’s more. Our newest venture, the start-up, 7 Generation Games, has the potential to change the way math is taught and learned. We’ve received over $570,000 in external funding so far which has allowed us to give people jobs, provide the game free to low-income schools and it is having an impact on children’s academic achievement. Every day I learn something new.

I telecommute most of the time. I travel a lot, which I don’t really mind. Because we have a wide range of clients, I work with all different operating systems. My work is fun, challenging, profitable, does good in the world – and I don’t get up before 10 a.m.

Do I think I would have gotten the same opportunities if I hadn’t gone out and started my own company? Certainly not.

So, yes, being a woman in tech is good, very, very good. Just don’t believe the bullshit of 90% of those people who say they are trying to promote women in tech, recognize that you’ll have to work twice as hard, and yeah, it probably helps if you’re a psycho bitch.

Amazingly, given my current schedule, I have made it to Day 4 of the 20-day blogging challenge. This was the  brain child of Kelly Hines as a way to get herself to blog more regularly. Today’s prompt was :

Share a topic/ idea from class this week. What’s one thing you did with students this week that you will (or will not) do again. Why?

I’m not teaching a course right now but I am revising the curriculum for the biostatistics course. The topics students had the most trouble with was hypothesis testing. Even though all of them had a previous course in statistics, many had it back when they were undergraduates, and let’s be honest, how much do you remember from any class you took five or six years ago?

One thing I would do differently is go back to an idea I had when I very first started teaching statistics. I noticed that some students only had a vague idea what an exponent was. A few times I got asked why I wrote that V thing next to numbers (students who had never heard of a square root). I could go on, but you get my point. Students in a GRADUATE program. It turns out you can get a degree in some fields with very, very, very little mathematics. I was teaching the first course in the statistics sequence and I started each term with a 20-item algebra test on the first day of class. It was not part of the course grade, but I told students if they did not get over 85% they were going to have great difficulty in the course. The questions were things like find  A when A² = 9  or identify the coordinates of a given point on a plot.

Usually, I would have one or two students who scored below 60%. Almost always, those students dropped the class, which was, I think, for the best. HOWEVER, important point coming up here …. I did not tell them they couldn’t pass the class. I told them that it would be very much to their benefit to take a course in algebra and come back the following term. I would show them some of the problems later in the course and emphasize that they would be able to do this much, much easier later on if they went and took another math class first. Most students saw my point, dropped the class and took a prerequisite course. Even though it wasn’t an official university prerequisite, it was prerequisite information. The few students who did not knew what they were getting themselves into and planned to meet with me during office hours every single week, and allocated their time for a LOT of extra studying.

The course I am teaching now is not as basic as that one, but I do think the students could benefit by having some assessment of their understanding of basic concepts. Do you know what a z-score is? A normal curve? Percentile?  Yes, I give quizzes, but I don’t mean exactly that. I mean a test of basic concepts, like what does a probability of .45 mean .

So, that is what I am ruminating on tonight. What are the absolute basics of statistics that you need to comprehend before forging ahead?

 

The question for Day 3 is :

“What is a website that you cannot live without? Tell about your favorite features and how you use it in your teaching and learning.”

The first part is easy. Oh my God, I love, love, LOVE stackoverflow, a site where all of your programming questions are answered. It’s free , you don’t have to register. You can just go there and search for an answer to why your css is not properly aligning 5 pixels from the left margin of the container, or whatever is bothering you at the moment. Normally, when I type a question into Google one of the first few hits will be on stackoverflow.com and I go read whatever it is. Even if my question isn’t answered, I’ll learn something and I can usually search the site or look at the related topics in the sidebar and find what it is I was trying to learn.

I can’t really say that I use stackoverflow for teaching, except for indirectly. One of The Julia Group companies, 7 Generation Games, is games to teach kids math and many of the problems I encounter are related to game development.

There are sites, I use for teaching and I was going to list more here but I peeked ahead and saw this question comes up again in the 20-day challenge so I’ll save those for later. There are a few other good sites, including a couple of blogs, that I like for statistics, SAS and SPSS but answering the first part of the question, what site, if I woke up tomorrow and it wasn’t there would you find me screaming NO- O – O – O !!! and searching for the nearest lake to drown myself in? Definitely, stackoverflow.com

 

lake for drowning in

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