Jan

12

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.

Jun

24

Women over 40

June 24, 2013 | 2 Comments

How we refer to older women in our language would be translated literally as “the one who holds things together”. Yet, we have forgotten that in the modern world. We are no longer proud of our grey, we hide it with dye in our hair. We go to aerobics classes to try to keep the figure we had in our twenties. Every magazine tells us to try to look younger rather than taking pride in our status as grandmothers and elders.

 

grandmother

I think when she said that was the moment I decided that Debbie Gourneau was the perfect person to hire as our cultural consultant for the Ojibwe content in our game. Debbie is, as the old saying goes, a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She doesn’t feel a need to be one whit different than she is.

She is also correct that in many instances, older women ARE those who “hold things together”. I love my children very much and, as our Dakota cultural consultant, Dr. Erich Longie said when he came to visit one day, “It’s clear your family revolves around you.” I actually knew exactly what he meant and what Debbie meant also. In many families – I would say most – the mother is the hub of the family, just like those airline hubs where I spend FAR too much time. You know, like if you fly Delta you’re probably going to change planes in Atlanta.

My children see each other at Christmas, at Easter, Mother’s Day when they come to see me and they are all there. I’m the one that texts reminders, “Call your sister, it’s her birthday”, who helps pay for weddings, reminds people to send gifts to graduates, tells one person to do her homework, reminds another to call her accountant and hollers at all parties involved until they make up after an argument. It’s a mom thing.

The same is true of running a business. I spent all last week (when I REALLY wanted to be coding) doing a breakdown of our next game into a hundred different tasks, literally. The artist will draw this, one of our cultural consultants will read this dialogue, the animator will create a video, the math problem will be this, the 3-D game challenge will be that. It is the same skill of pulling people together, remonstrating when they make a mistake, helping people develop skills, seeing what we’ll need in the future to all grow together.

It’s no surprise to me at all that women over forty are running technology start-ups. It seems like we’re a natural fit.

I am super-stoked to be on the list of 40 Women to Watch Over 40. Check it out.

==============

7 Generations Game Logo

And if that isn’t enough, our 7 Generation Games has launched! Click here to find more details and get in on the fun and learning! 

Mar

24

There has been far more heat than light surrounding the current controversy over whether a transgender (male to female) fighter should be allowed to compete in mixed martial arts in the women’s division.

This article on The Verge said that opponents of Ms. Fox competition “are not supported by the current science”, citing the fact that the International Olympic Committee allows transgender athletes to compete under certain conditions – set number of years post-surgery, hormonal therapy.

Since mixed martial arts is not an Olympic sport whatever science on which this decision was based most likely did not include any studies involving mixed martial arts. I say most likely because although I asked on my other (personal blog), where I write about sports a lot for citations of this supposedly voluminous scientific literature no one provided me any relevant references and I did not uncover any searching the National Library of Medicine database. A few people did send me references to articles on hormonal therapy but none of these even discussed the issue of sports participation. Their focus instead was on the possible side effects, e.g. cancer or other ill effects, of people with various hormone regimens.

The most reasoned discussion on this topic I have read is on Dr. Rosi Sexton’s blog, and I agree with her three main points:

  1. There is not much at all in the way of data documenting whether or not Ms. Fox has an advantage competing in martial arts. Expert opinion is split on this issue.
  2. No one has a right to compete in mixed martial arts. There are all kinds of qualifications – you have to be a certain weight and gender to compete in a division. You can’t be pregnant.
  3. Mixed martial arts are different than say, canoeing, because you are trying to do bodily harm to your opponent. Unlike in many sports, a Type I error – rejecting a true null hypothesis – is likely to cause harm to others.

Read her blog. It’s good. Personally, I want to address a couple of other points. On twitter, Shelly Summers made the comment that it was difficult to dispute that Fallon Fox (or any transgender fighter) does not have an advantage unless it is spelled out exactly what her advantage is supposed to be. Now here I’m on firmer ground at least because we can couch this in terms of an equation. Logistic regression would be best, with win or loss as the dependent variable. The question then is what are the independent variables. This might seem a straightforward question but it’s not. Let’s start with what should be obvious.

1. Different sports have different requirements for success. Males don’t seem to have an advantage in equestrian – the sport is mixed gender in the Olympics. We have separate shooting events for men and women, but I don’t know why. Winning  the marathon requires more endurance. Winning a gold medal in weight-lifting requires more strength. Women tend to do better in long-distance swimming. Men are better at football.  Height is an advantage in some sports (basketball, volleyball) and not in others. I could go on, but you get the point, I hope, which is that you cannot generalize about “sports”.

2. Even in the sports like football, baseball and basketball where millions of dollars are spent on data analysis, the predictions are far from perfect.

3. There are several variables that predict athletic success, including in mixed martial arts.

I know a lot more about judo than mixed martial arts specifically, but there is some overlap, so let’s look at what you certainly need:

Have there been studies establishing transgender female mixed martial artists and other female mixed martial artists on these characteristics? I’m almost certain not. If we don’t have any evidence that Ms. Fox does NOT have an advantage, it would make sense to agree with Dr. Sexton that it is best to err on the side of the safety of the other women in the division and disallow her competition.

One thing did immediately strike me when I heard about this story that made me say — wait a minute. Fallon Fox is 37 years old. How many professional competitors in women’s mixed martial arts are 37 or older ? I looked up the women’s rankings in the Fight Matrix for the 145 and 135 lb divisions. I added Ms. Fox into the mix, and to be fair, I also added Peggy Morgan, the woman who would have been her opponent in her next bout, except she has announced she refuses to fight Ms. Fox. While MMA Junkie lists Ms. Fox age as 43, other sources list it as 37, so I used the lower age. To give one more data point, I added Marina Shafir who just won her fight tonight and is the same division as Ms. Fox. Since Marina is only 24, I calculated the results with and without her. Still significant.

Here is the age distribution for those 30 women.

fighterbyage

There is exactly one woman older than Fallon Fox among those competitors – Hitomi Akano. Ms. Akano lost her last two fights . ** NOTE CORRECTED ON 3/27/2013 see comment below.

The average age of the other 29 fighters was 29.21. Using a z-test with this as the population value and the population standard deviation of 3.9 gives a z-value of 1.99. If we were conducting a one-tailed test of the hypothesis that Fox is significantly older (based on an assumption that a transgender female would have an advantage and be competitive at a later age) we would reject the null hypothesis as the critical value of a one-tailed test is 1.64. However, if we were to use the more rigorous two-tailed test and say our alternate hypothesis is that being transgender could be an advantage or disadvantage, we’d still accept the null hypothesis as the z-value is greater than 1.96

At most we can say there is slight evidence for an advantage, and that based on a small amount of data.

We can note that in this sample, as Ms. Akano has not won a fight since she was 36, there is exactly one person in here with a winning record after age 36, and that is Ms Fox. There are nine fighters in this sample that have winning record of 100%. The other eight fighters range in age from 24 to 33 with an average age of 28.9 years.

What we can say from this admittedly small sample of data is that Ms. Fox appears to be winning decisively at an age that is significantly older than the average female competitor in or near her weight division. At least as far as the age at which she is successful in competition, Ms. Fox DOES appear to be significantly different than a sample of mixed martial arts fighters who were born female.  Could this be because she is more determined, trains harder, wants it more or just has an amazing coaching team? Yes, it could. Could it be because we only have a small sample which could be non-representative of women mixed martial arts fighters? Yes, it could. I’d be happy to do a large, well-controlled study with lots of variables, but it turns out that I have to get back to doing the analyses for which people pay me money.

Anyone else is welcome to find their own data, list their sources and post it or publish it wherever they like. Please give a link in the comments if you do. What I did was use the data that was available to me and actually looked at female mixed martial artists and performance. What I did not do was consider data on hormones,  law, a hypothesized set of data that somebody must have had somewhere before making a policy and not someone’s opinion on what people should or should not do in their private lives.

Dec

29

Daughter number 3The third of my four daughters was being questioned about her training before the last Olympics, and answered;

My mother was the first American to win the world championships, so I called her for advice, and believe me, Mom is always brimming with advice, whether you want it or not …

 

 

In fact, all parents have the experience that their own children occasionally take advice from strangers far better than from them. So, for your daughters or mine, here are three pieces of advice on succeeding in the tech world.

1. Learn Calculus – Ignore every person who tells you that you won’t need it, it’s too hard. Take it in high school and take it again in college.  People often say, “I just can’t do math.” That’s bull shit. You just can’t make the NBA. You can certainly do math. My youngest daughter whines that way sometimes and yet she doesn’t sit and read her Algebra book unless we stand over her and make her do it. Here is why you need to learn calculus:

2. Learn to say “Fuck you” and say it both openly (rarely) and to yourself (often).

My friend has a reputation for a great bedside manner. He uses a code phrase. When a patient says something like:

“I have decided to treat my cancer with grapefruit juice instead of chemotherapy.”

He responds,

“I understand how you can see it that way.”

This is his code for,

“You’re a fucking moron.”

You need a code phrase because people will try to dissuade you, denigrate you and generally provide useless advice (contrary to the wonderful advice I am giving you now). They will tell you that you cannot be an entrepreneur because you want to have a family. They’ll tell you that you are not a real ‘techie’ because you don’t have a degree in engineering. If you do have a degree in engineering it will be because you don’t have a degree in Computer Science. If you do have both degrees and have experience as an engineer and programmer it will be because you don’t know a specific programming language. Some people seem to have a sadistic desire to pull other people down, saying things like,

“You may have a masters degree but it’s not computer science from MIT. You don’t program in Ruby or Java and everyone knows that unless you have years of experience in both of those you are not really marketable.”

Feel free to tell those people, either:

“I understand how you can see it that way, but I’m going to go ahead and apply for the position at the accelerator anyway.”

or

“Fuck you! I’m going to do it anyway and I don’t care what you think.”

Seriously, there are very few insurmountable obstacles. One of my daughters received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Germany for a few weeks. She almost didn’t apply because she had a young child. I told her that she was being ridiculous, she had a husband, a mother, a mother-in-law and two adult sisters. Between the lot of us, we could take care of one baby.

So what if I let her teethe with Twizzlers during the week  I was there?

I also took her swimming in the hotel pool every day, to the science museum, to the aquarium and taught her to dance in elevators. And when Maria came back from Germany, her daughter was still alive, better than ever, because, hey, she had a couple more teeth.

This is really the most important piece of advice I have. Don’t let anyone discourage you and that includes yourself.

3. Learn a programming language or two.

If you followed my first two pieces of advice, this third one will be easier. The whole trick to learning a language is to not get discouraged and plug away at it. Read a book. Write some code. Read another book. Look at programs other people wrote. Think of some things you want to do with that language. Try them. Fail. Swear. Try again. Don’t get discouraged.

Douglas Kranch gave a good description of how expertise develops,

” Expertise develops in three stages. In the first stage, novices focus on the superficial and knowledge is poorly organized. During the end of the second stage, students mimic the instructor’s mastery of the domain. In the final stage, true experts make the domain their own by reworking their knowledge to meet the personal demands that the domain makes of them. “

This is why those first two bits of advice matter. In learning programming it is easy to get bored or discouraged as you go through those first two stages. It’s easy to start believing it’s too hard, that guy who told you women don’t have the same natural talent for programming was right, it’s too late for you to start now because you didn’t take enough math in college …

“I understand how you can see it that way.”

Nov

15

I am tired of hearing that men in technical fields cannot meet women. Some stupid company even went so far as to say that they had hired hot women to work at their company so now they were going to have no problem attracting good programmers and engineers. This is stupid on so many levels. As the house rocket scientist said,

“Right. That’s exactly what guys want, more good-looking women to turn them down. I think the way  to attract talent is have interesting problems and pay people well.”

To continue on the logic – some of the technical people you want to hire are women, a lot of those men are married, and explaining to your wife that you are taking a job at another company because there are hot women is probably not the kind of conversation conducive to marital happiness. I presume this company is looking for young men who are very bright with no social life so they will work all of the time. I do have to wonder, though, what the “hot women” hired by the company think of being used as recruiting bonuses.

As a public service, I have decided to explain the three steps to actually meeting a woman. This is based on the extensive research of being a woman, having been married three times (less exciting than it sounds, I was divorced at 25 and my second husband passed away after 10 years of marriage) and accomplished “till death do us part” 67% of the time – in excess of the national average I might add – being the mother of three daughters in their twenties and spending well over half my life as a programmer, statistician and engineer. I believe anthropologists call this “participant observation”. All of these same steps apply in on-line relationships as well.

Jenn after finishing her M.A.

1. Say “Hi”.  This is the first step where many men fail. Have you actually talked to that woman in accounting or who you see every day at the coffee shop? Next time you walk by her cubicle, see her in front of you in line or you pass each other in the halls in your apartment complex, say “Hello”.  That’s all. Just say, “Hi”.  The next time you see her, do it again. (I don’t mean walking by Janet’s cubicle to the water cooler every hour and saying hello. That puts you in the weirdo camp.) I mean, when you walk into the office in the morning or by her desk as you head out for lunch.

After this has gone on for a few days, if you are behind her in line, coming out of the elevator, say, “You know, I don’t think we’ve been introduced. My name is Jack. I work over in the systems administration group.” (Unless your name is actually Jack and you really are in systems administration, you should substitute the correct information in that sentence.) DON’T ASK HER OUT. She probably already knows who you are, but that doesn’t matter. She’ll tell you her name, as if you didn’t know, and something about herself. If she tells you she works in accounting or for Goldman Sachs, ask her about it, how she likes working there, how long she has been there, how did you end up there, did you always plan on being an accountant. You might discover she is the most boring person on God’s green earth and you don’t want to go out with her, but that is okay, too.  After you’ve walked to where her desk is or picked up your coffee, say “Nice talking to you.” And leave.

Exhibit A of how seldom men actually even say, “Hi” is darling daughter number two, shown above right after she finished her masters degree. For four semesters, while she was getting her M.A., she would come over to the building where I worked and we would car pool home. Often, I was stuck in a meeting and she would be sitting downstairs waiting for me in a building where hundreds of the exact men who complain about meeting women worked. At the  time, she wasn’t dating anyone, having just moved back to L.A. to start graduate school. How many people in that time actually stopped and said, “Hi” to her? About seven – four married men who worked with me and knew she was my daughter, and the three security guards who rotated at the front desk, one of whom was a woman and the other old enough to be her grandfather.

An even better time to say hi is when someone new starts at work or moves in the neighborhood. When you pass the person in the hall, say, “Hi, I’m Jack. I know you’re new here – if you need any help, I’m in apartment 12/ I work in the Unix group – feel free to ask. I know it is hard getting used to everything a new place.”

Here is a really key point – do this whenever someone new moves in/ comes in to the area. She may be married, old or not the type of woman you would date in a million years. You ought to offer to help out new men at work too. You don’t want to be seen as that creepy guy who hits on all the attractive women.

Why anyone thinks all of these suggestions go out the window when they are online is beyond me. Do you know how many women on on-line sites get messages that start out, “Show me your tits.” If you wouldn’t do that in the hallway don’t do it on line.

2. Don’t be a jerk. If Janet does come over and ask how to log in to the server, don’t start out with “Well, you see we have these things called computers…” I cannot count the number of men I have seen trying to impress women with their technical knowledge and instead coming off as a pompous ass (and I can count pretty high). If she asks a question, tell her the answer. Then, if you can, add something like, “Did anyone tell you where the company handbook/ procedures/ secret site of insider knowledge is?” and show her where she can find the answer for herself in the future. DON’T ASK HER OUT.

From talking to Janet in the elevator, you know that she works in accounting, is into fly fishing whatever. The next time you see her in the hallway ask her if she could recommend an accountant, tell her you were interested in taking up fly fishing and wonder if Bass is a good place to buy bait. Don’t lie. If fly-fishing makes you want to puke, go with the accountant angle or you may be trying to find some way to get out of cutting bait. DON’T ASK HER OUT.  On the other hand, if she says, “I’m going to Bass on Friday after work, do you want to come?” Don’t be an idiot. Say yes.

Keep in mind, though, that when a woman asks you if you want to go to lunch or go to Mandelbrot’s lecture (well, before he was dead) or go to Macworld, she may just think it would be nice to talk with you at lunch or to have company to hear Mandelbrot talk about fractals or go to Macworld.

Again, all of this applies on-line as well. Darling daughter number three (shown here) has thousands of twitter followers and Facebook friends. Fairly often, she’ll get a tweet along the lines of,

“I would like you to have my babies.”
and many, many more graphic ones. What the hell are these people thinking? If she ever in a psychotic break went out with one of these idiots, I’d smack them in the head the instant they came into the house. The only one that I did not think was super-creepy was the guy who asked her to the Marine Corps Ball. If she hadn’t been in the middle of training for a fight this Friday, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all  if she had taken him up on it.

 

So, when do you get to go out with her?

3. Find the right woman. You might think this would come first. You’re wrong. If you do steps 1 & 2 first, you’ll find out if Janet is married. DON’T EVER ASK HER OUT. What are you, a moron? If Janet has a boyfriend, don’t ask her out either. Seriously, do you want to date a woman who cheats on her boyfriend? If she breaks up with him, and she’s interested in you (and often even if she isn’t) she’ll bring it up in the conversation. By this point, you know if Janet is dumb as a rock, is a born-again Christian or spends her evenings kick-boxing.  All of those may be a turn-off for you or it may be exactly what you are looking for your whole life. You may find that you thought dating someone very religious was off the table but that Janet’s views on always being honest, the importance of family and the way she walks the walk by volunteering at a soup kitchen every weekend are pretty amazing. In short, you’ve gotten to know Janet as  a person. Worst case scenario is you have made an acquaintance who you don’t want to date. However, that same person may have given you a new perspective, may refer you for a job some day or introduce you to someone you DO want to date. Women tend to have a lot more friends who are other women than men do. A second possible outcome is you and Janet become friends. She’s not your type, maybe she never was. She’s married, too old, too young, just not compatible. However, having a friend is a good thing and as a bonus, she may give you some good insight into starting a relationship with a woman.

Ronda trains two or three times a day and loses things at such a rate that it is almost a super-power. She has lost so many passports that I think the State Department has her on a watch list.  If hiking in the mountains for three hours is not your idea of a good time, the two of you are not going to get along. On the other hand, Jenn, lovely daughter number two above, had a minor in Film Studies and teaches history. If your idea of a good time is going to the gym at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, she is probably going to quote some line from a movie I never saw to describe you. Whatever it means, it won’t be good. They are both massive Dr. Who fans, though. So, one day, when you are hanging out with your friend, Ronda, watching a Dr. Who marathon because she has trained for five hours that day and is too exhausted to move, you mention you really liked the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. She rolls her eyes at your boringness and then a light goes off, “You know, you really ought to meet my sister …”  and then you are off again at Step #1.

 

Oct

25

Let me just say off the bat that open data is awesome and there should be more of it available.  This semester, I have been using SAS On-Demand in my statistics class and creating the data sets to meet students’  interests. Despite some people’s aspersions that I read on Twitter that some statisticians know no more than what PROC to use to get a p-value, it is, unfortunately, not all that easy.

I was going to write about adjusted survival curves and log log curves with PHREG tonight but it is already past 1 a.m. and both my time and Chardonnay are exhausted creating analytic data sets for my students.

I did hear back from the helpful folks at the National Center for Educational Statistics (thank you!) and downloaded the School Survey on Crime and Safety for a group of students interested in bullying. Awesome public use data set. Check it out!

My cousin

After that, I had another group of students interested in testing the hypothesis that African-American women are less likely to get married the more education they have. Conveniently, I had the American Community Survey data for California on my desktop from some analyses I had done earlier, so I pulled out the subset of people they were interested in, which is native-born African-American women over 15 years of age. (Actually, the picture is my cousin who has never, as far as I know, been to America, but hey, Ashelle, if you’re reading this, come and visit. It’s nice here.)

I downloaded the data, created a few new variables to fit the students’  interest and emailed them the file and documentation. For example, they wanted to break education down into categories, thinking, rightly, I believe, that getting a high school diploma or college diploma is a better way of categorizing education than by years, it’s not a linear relationship with most other variables.

I did run some of the analyses myself because I was curious and I will say is that the preliminary results are very, very interesting. I am looking forward to their presentation.

So, that is the plus of open data  – real data, real experience and questions the students really want to answer.

The minus – well, it took me a lot of time to locate and download the data. The data set for the study on African-American women I had on my computer, but the one on school crime I had to track down and it still wasn’t exactly what they originally planned – although it ended up working perfectly.

A second minus is that SAS On-demand is SLOW. It is several times better than it was originally. When first released it was so slow as to be useless. Now, based on, I don’t know what – sunspots – there are times it works perfectly, just a tiny bit slower than SAS on my desktop, and other times when it is really tedious. I’m sticking with it this semester because it is a) free, b) used in lots of organizations where my students may work one day and c) showing the potential to be really useful.

A third minus is that one of the students has not been able to get it to install and run, for reasons I cannot figure out. I referred him to SAS Tech support today.

If the professor teaching a statistics, research methods or data mining course did not have a lot of SAS programming experience, I think using SAS on-demand would be a challenge.

So — why bother? I think it comes back to the study one group is doing on African-American women and marriage, another group is doing on bullying in school, a third group is doing on the relationship between arts education and academic achievement using the National Educational Longitudinal Study.

Years ago, when my daughter, Maria Burns Ortiz, was a little girl, I asked her how science class was at her new school. We had recently moved and she had gone from a magnet school for gifted children to a regular parochial school. She said, “We don’t have science.”

I corrected her, “Mija, you must have science. You got an A in it on your progress report.”

She said, “No, we don’t have science at this school. We just read about it.”

So, that is why I am putting together data sets at 1 a.m. My students have statistics, they don’t just read about it.

 

Feb

4

soapbox1.jpgToday I am on my soapbox. These are words to the wise for working people everywhere, but especially to a certain generation – mine – and to a certain gender – women. If “getting the job done” requires that you work 70 hours a week while other people work 40, then the solution is that you need to stop doing it. I’m not talking about the time crunch when everyone is working on a big project until the wee hours of the morning. I mean those situations where other people go out to play golf on Saturday while you are in the office because “No one else knows how to ___ .”  Fill in the blank. Then stop doing it. If you died, they would find someone else and there is no reason for you to do the work of two people unless you are getting the pay of two people, and even then only if you want to do it.

So.. having learned this belatedly, here is what I am doing in my spare time instead. First, I signed up for Flickr. I don’t even own a camera, other than the one on my iPhone, however, people are continually sending me photos, particularly about judo. Also, several articles I read lately have mentioned Flickr as one of the few things my former favorite technology company, Yahoo had done right lately.  A flickr account allowed me to add a slideshow to my personal blog, which is mostly about judo. (Among other reasons, before the whole statistical programming, founding companies gig, I was world judo champion.) Since I have a Yahoo account it took me about five seconds to set up my Flickr account. This is a very wise design because it allows them to sign up people like me who are only mildly interested in their product.

Second, I started checking out iGoogle gadgets. Turns out that, since I have a blog on blogger I somehow have a Google account. As with Yahoo, a very smart move. Sometimes designers assume that making it almost effortless to sign up and/or use their product will only attract the clueless, and, as I have been known to say myself, “Stupid people with money” is probably not a very lucrative target market. In truth, very few people will be as interested in your product as you are, especially, as in the case of gadgets, the “product” is four quotes of the day or a National Geographic photo of the day. Making it very, very easy to use is smart marketing. Didn’t I just say I was tired of working all the time?

Twitter is another mini-application I am checking out. I included the link to the Twitter blog here because I found that more interesting than the Twitter home page itself. I am not entirely convinced that this is anything that will interest me, but I did notice Twitter updates on someone’s blog, and Jennifer Laycock had some interesting and positive comments on her blog about it, so I figured, what the heck.

I am taking a month off after next week, come hell or high water, and I have a whole lot of things planned for “wasting” my time. That includes messing around more with all of the above, making real use of my O’Reilly account (the media company, not the idiot on TV), writing a couple of articles for scientific journals, checking out a few more new applications or mini-apps, reading my favorite technology blogs and about a dozen books. And you know what? I will feel no guilt! I learned SAS programming, statistics, FORTRAN, BASIC and HTML all because I thought it would be cool stuff to know. Turns out you can make money with that computer stuff – would would have guessed it back in the 1970s when I was in college? The truth is, you can’t predict what will be useful.

Even if it all turns out  to be as useful as programming in MUMPS, I don’t care. I’ll be 50 years old this year, I’ve been working for 35 years and if I want to be useless for a month or so, I earned it!

Jul

16

A twitter storm erupted recently in response to one person’s thread about how to find a 10x engineer . Since I started programming FORTRAN with punched cards back in 1974, was an industrial engineer in the 1980s and now run a software company, I’ve worked with a few people, rightly or wrongly considered to fall into that category. So, I thought I’d weigh in on the original author’s points.

10X Engineers hate meetings

There are only two types of software developers who don’t dislike meetings. New developers don’t mind meetings too much because they have a lot of questions like “who do I talk to if I need access to this repository” or “What version of Unity was used to develop this game I’m supposed to update?” They also have specific questions about why the sound function they wrote is not working and Bob, who wrote similar functions for another game is sitting right there. Another type of developer actually likes meetings because he is complete shit at his job and it gives him an excuse not to be expected to do it.

Every other engineer I have ever met either dislikes meetings or actively hates them. The ones you think don’t dislike meetings are just pretending.

We have a 10-minute meeting every morning at 7 Generation Games. People not in the office drop in online. Everyone complains about it but we do it anyway. Why? Because, for example, I can find out that Adekola actually finished the teacher reports for Making Camp Premium before he left and see an example. Then, I can tell the people in marketing to include that in their discussions with schools. I can also tell one of the developers to take that code and modify it for Tribu Matemática , the Spanish version of Making Camp. In 3 minutes, everyone knows what the reports look like, that they are available and who is working on the next one. This leaves seven minutes for José to ask Bob about the sound function.

10X Engineers have irregular hours and work when other people aren’t around

I can’t think of any software developers who work better when other people are around. Writing code for anything complex requires having a mental model in your head of at least the part you are writing and, hopefully, some of the larger project in which it is used.

I’ve worked with a few people who were hit it out of the park better than anyone else. One definitely was a late night person and preferred to get to work when he got there. However, when crunch time came, he could work 8am to 10pm and code all that time if he had to do it. He wasn’t going to like it, though, who would?

On the other hand, about half of the really top engineers I know – both software and hardware – choose to work 9 to 5, even when telecommuting. The main reason they give is that those hours allow them to spend time with their children or spouse. Contrary to popular belief, the 10x engineers I’ve known tended to be married, although they did seem to get married a little older than the average.

10X Engineers know every line of code that has gone into production

This is just nonsense. I remember when SAS was rewritten in C (yes, I am that old) and hearing that it was something like 3,000,000 lines of code. I am assuming the author meant that these 10x engineers know every line of code WRITTEN BY THEM that has gone into production.

I don’t believe that, either, assuming what he means is that they can recall it immediately and say,

“Yes, in that function beginning on line 683, I pause the audio that’s playing, change the source file to the audio for the next scene, change the image file for the image for the next scene, increment the counter by one and restart the audio”.

If what he means is that they kind of recognize it like that person you met at a conference two years ago and are trying to remember their name, I might faintly agree.

We wrote Spirit Lake: The Game in 2012-2014. NO ONE who worked on that game remembers all of the code in it. I can say this because it was all done by me and The Invisible Developer and he is as good as you’ll ever find.

Here is an experience I share with every software engineer I have ever met, including the very best ones. I look at code and think,

“Who wrote this crap? Please don’t let it be me three years ago.”

10x engineers laptop screen background color is typically black (they always change defaults). Their keyboard keys such as i, f, x are usually worn out faster than of a, s, and e (email senders).

They always change the defaults part is true. One thing for sure all of the best engineers I ever met had in common is they like to mess with things. I only knew two people who had black backgrounds – ever. When I have time I’ll have to post about pseudo-10x engineers. Anyway, neither of those guys are anything special unless weirdness is a category.

Most of the best people I know have either pictures of their family or their favorite activity, like soccer or hiking, or a vacation photo as a background. Usually the e key gets worn out first because it is the most common letter in the English language. People usually name directories, datasets and variables something comprehensible.

My kids and one of my kid's dog. What real 10x engineers laptop backgrounds look like
Their laptop backgrounds look like this, except with their own kids, not my kids, because that would be weird

Is there anything true about a 10x engineer?

Since my 10x merit badge hasn’t come in the mail yet, I don’t have time to address all 10 points from the original thread. There were two points he made that were consistent with my experience.

Most really good engineers aren’t really good interviewers

I could only speculate about why that is true, so I will leave it as that is what I’ve observed. Maybe it’s because they are uncomfortable with exaggeration or with being asked to prove their competence.

10x engineers rarely job hunt

I have found this totally to be true and it makes sense. If you have someone that good in your organization and your management is not made up of complete morons, they are doing all they can to hang on to their best people. Usually, unless they work for morons, people that good are hard to hire away, too, because their current company is doing its best to keep them.

How would I find a 10x engineer?

I wouldn’t, because we are a small company and we can’t afford to pay what someone like that is worth. On rare occasions, we have been super lucky to be able to catch someone great for a short term contract that they just wanted to take for personal reasons.

We find good people and we develop them to be at the top of their field. I think the best way to identify a good software developer in an interview is take a look at their code. Ask them to bring something to the interview and explain how they solved particular problems in the code. Ask why they made the choices they did. If it is a project they know well and are proud of, you’ll get a lot of information. If they say, “I don’t know” a lot, that’s a bad sign. I’ve also found that people who typically “don’t interview well” forget about the interview part, focus on the project and become interested in telling you all about it.

Oh , and for all those people on twitter who said, “I wish you all got as exercised about diversity and inclusion as you do about 10x engineers “

Well, I am way ahead of you, sister. I have a lot to say about women in tech and over on our 7 Generation Games blog, too.

Nov

2

When I was in my twenties, nearing the end of my competitive years, Dr. James Wooley dropped by the club to visit. If you aren’t into judo, you probably don’t recognize his name as a two-time Olympian. By the time I was competing on the international scene, he had retired from competition, married and was in private practice in Orange County.

I asked whether he missed competition and he shook his head,

“Oh, lord, no!”

(Did I mention he was from Texas?)

“It was great but now I’m finally finished with school, seeing patients, I have a wife and we’re looking to start a family. It was great but I don’t miss it at all.”

From the wisdom of my twenty-something years, I did not believe him for one second. At the time, winning was the most important thing in my life. I thought about it the second my eyes opened in the morning, as I dropped to the floor and did 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups to start the day. I dreamed about winning. I thought Jimmy was just putting a good face on being old and depressed.

Fast forward a decade or so, the first time it was the end of April and I had not even realized the national championships were happening until they were over. That used to be part of the calendar of my life – start training in January for the Nationals, win those in April. Take a break. Win whatever was the summer event – U.S. Open, Panamerican Games. Take a break.

I retired from competition, married, had more kids, earned a Ph.D., started businesses. Jimmy was right – I didn’t miss it and life did not suck.

Now the kids are adults. I have to send the absentee ballot for the youngest express mail to Boston so she can vote. I’m on the fourth business. Life is good.

I’m closer to 60 than 50 now and if you had asked me to imagine that when I was in my thirties, I’m sure I would have thought it would be depressing.

I still teach judo but after several surgeries on my knees and one on my hand, I don’t do it nearly as well as I once did. I have wrinkles, grey hair and investors who don’t want to talk to me because we all know that innovative ideas are the monopoly of young people.

Let me tell you some of the things that DON’T suck about being old.
1. I don’t have to worry about whether I will have saved enough for retirement, gotten an education, been reasonably successful in my career, raised children who were decent people. The answer is, “All of the above”. Much of the anxiety I had as a younger person is gone because those questions have been answered.

2. I wear what’s comfortable and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. My feet don’t hurt from wearing high heels. I don’t walk around cold because wearing a sweater would cover up my girlish figure. Both of my daughters, when they got married, felt the need to tell me that jeans and a hoodie were not acceptable wedding attire.

3. I know a lot of things – from how to make banana bread from scratch to how to code a game in JavaScript to how to interpret results for ordinal logistic regression. All that ‘fake it until you make it’ bullshit is in the past. I’m not faking it. I really do know what it means when my estimates fail to converge or when the knife doesn’t come out clean. I don’t worry about anyone finding me out because there’s nothing to find.

4. I like my husband and he likes me. Yes, we’re both old and wrinkled and grey. He’s lost 50 pounds in the last year, which shows a pretty damn impressive display of will power. He’s brilliant, a great father and makes a good martini. He can help The Spoiled One with her calculus homework and our junior developers with their C# code. He’s not a jerk (women in tech realize having a brilliant guy who is not a jerk is worth something in a lot of ways).

5. Life is easier. One of the advantages of being around a long time is that people get to know you. When you are young, you need to submit proposals to speak at conferences, submit articles to journals, apply for jobs. As you get older, people ask you to work/ write/ speak for them because they know from your previous work that you probably aren’t going to suck. You don’t have to prove yourself because you already did. (Except in the Opposite World of Silicon Valley where education and experience aren’t valued – but that’s a post for another day.)

Mom and Aunt Sylvia

Mom and Aunt Sylvia

Sometimes, I look at my mom, or older friends of mine, and wonder what it is like to be retired, to not have your calendar filled six months, or even 6 days, in advance. I wonder whether it sucks to have nothing you have to do in the day, to have not only your kids but your grandkids safely launched .

I’m guessing that it’s probably just fine.
I’m not just sitting around getting older. I’m also making games. You can buy them here.

characters traveling on map

Or,

you can download a free app, Making Camp, for your iPad here

Wigwam

Aug

21

Just finished the second week of the Boom Startup Ed Tech accelerator, which is GREAT. I am learning a lot and plan on working insane hours for the next few months to put it all into practice.

We have had to answer  a lot of legitimately hard questions about cash flow analysis, burn rate, user base, sales strategy and more. We’re a really small company and creating a product while creating a company is a hard road with just a few people.

After a month away, I sit down at my computer to read more feel good tweets about “teaching girls to code to improve diversity in tech.”

Seriously, fuck all you people.

(If you’re actually in a room teaching girls to code instead of just tweeting about it, that doesn’t apply to you. Anyone who is actually in a classroom teaching instead of pontificating about education has my sincere respect. See Mentoring below.)

Do you know what would increase the number of minorities and women in tech? If they actually saw people succeeding in it and THE REASON THEY AREN’T SUCCEEDING ISN’T LACK OF CODING SKILLS.

The very best sessions (of many great ones) at Boom were by a couple of successful entrepreneurs who talked honestly about their career paths. Repeatedly, they emphasized that there is a knife’s edge of difference between success and failure.

It’s not that only white and Asian males can possibly succeed in technology companies, but the statistics are decidedly skewed.

Let me explain this to you.

No matter how good your product or coding skills, almost everyone faces the same challenges.

  1. Access to capital. How do you live while building a product? You can do it as a side project after work which then gets you into the Catch-22 of investors want (rightfully so) to see your startup as a full-time job but you can’t afford to quit your job because then you will have no income.
  2. Access to users. This is another Catch-22 where people don’t want to invest in a product that has no users but with millions of apps available and hundreds of millions of web pages, billions of tweets, it’s very hard to rise above the noise and attract users without capital to advertise, attend conferences, hire sales staff.
  3. Mentoring. No one knows it all. I have an MBA, a Ph.D. and twenty years of business experience and I am learning A LOT through the accelerator program. There is always going to be someone better than you at some aspects of your business – whether it is sales strategy, financial modeling, or, yes, even coding. Having access to those people is golden.
  4. Access to capital.  Whether it is through sales (not likely) or investor funds you are going to need money to grow. At a minimum you need good credit, but even better investors. Say you do get a million users who download and pay for your game. Now you need enough tech support for a million users, enough administrative staff to respond when people have a problem with payment, updates, incompatible operating systems, etc. etc. If you are dealing with institutional sales, say, to schools, you may need the people right away but the payments come later. How do you hire those people without money?

So, yes, teaching girls to code (or boys, for that matter), is a nice thing. If you are really concerned about having a more diverse workforce, though, maybe you could try supporting the companies run by women.

Really want to support diversity in tech while having fun and getting smarter? Try our adventure games that teach math in a virtual world.

Get games here for $9.99 each. Play it yourself, give it to your kids. You can donate to a child or school, too.

Don’t have ten bucks? We’ve been there. Download a demo here.

 

Are you an angel investor? I’d be happy to talk with you. annmaria@7generationgames.com

If you are offended by people who say ‘fuck’ a lot, Maria Burns Ortiz, our CMO, would be happy to talk with you.

maria@7generationgames.com

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