Stuart Reges has constructed a theory about women in computing that disregards the voices of women in computing. The Allen School has an opportunity—one that we are currently failing to seize—to demonstrate leadership in standing up for our values of inclusion and for the women in our community who have been alienated by Reges’s writing. Here’s how we can do it.
I’ve interviewed formally at ten different companies in the past decade. These include Amazon, Microsoft, Google (twice), Yahoo, a tech consultancy, and five startups. I only go through an on-site interview for a job that I actually want. And yet, as I hit the sidewalk after an interview, I don’t always want the job anymore.
This article is a reflection on some of the best and worst experiences that have tipped my own interviews in one direction or the other, including rage-inducing rudeness, blister-forming cluelessness, and laughter-sealed collegiality. It's also a guide to my resulting view on what is important in a candidate experience: respect, empathy, access, and transparency.
A few months after the birth of my third son, I flew with the baby and the four-year-old to visit the East coast. My husband stayed home with our two-year-old. When I told people about the upcoming trip, they said, "Yikes, what will your husband do? Will he be ok?" or, "Wow, you have a fabulous husband!" All commentary focused on my husband's situation. Not a single remark was made about my role as a traveler with two young children.
Several months later, my husband flew with the baby—and only the baby—on his own East coast trip. I stayed home with the two older boys. This time, comments ranged from, "Wow, he's brave to fly alone all day with a baby!" to, "Oh, man, at least he'll have some help when he gets to the other end!" Again, all attention, be it concern or praise, was focused exclusively toward my husband.
Life seldom aligns itself into such a clean experimental setup. I love these parallel travel stories because the role of gender is so clearly isolated and exposed.
I have a philosophy that something good comes from every first date: a good time, or a good story, or very occasionally, both. As a job-seeker, I've come to think of informational interviews in the same way. I've been surprised at how much I can learn about a leader and his or her organization just from a single conversation over coffee. An hour is barely enough time to get even a rough sense of a company's product, business strategy, and technical challenges. But it's more than enough time to establish a baseline understanding of a someone's personal style and the likely culture of their organization. People tell you who they are very quickly, if you're listening.
When I was a kid, my grandfather gave me a copy of Microbe Hunters. It had inspired him into science as a youth--he became a chemist--and it ended up doing the same for me. I read about the lives and discoveries of self-made scientists of long ago and thought, I want to do that. The book gave me the feeling that I could go into my backyard or garage and make a discovery that nobody else ever had, if I poked around curiously and meticulously enough. It was exciting.
My grandfather has since passed away, but I was thinking about my him recently and it led me to reread Microbe Hunters. It is both exactly what I remembered, and a completely different book.
Remember the Monty Hall probability problem? If not, then you're in for a nerd treat. If you've seen the problem before, can you remember how you felt when you first heard the solution? I think people's reactions to the problem are even more interesting than the underlying mathematics. The Monty Hall problem is underutilized as a personality test.
I think that data-driven decision making is often confused with making decisions while standing near enormous datasets. I'm not kidding. There is something about using lots of data—whatever that means to a team—that can lull people into the complacent assumption that their behavior is data-driven, even if they're not tying their decisions back to data at all.
For me, the most simple test of a data-driven culture is what happens when it's confronted with a significant decision for which no data is available. What happens? If the answer includes some flavor of gathering the required data, most likely by running an experiment, then the team is on the right track. If the answer is to move ahead with a plan based on instinct or experience alone, then the team is not data-driven, regardless of the number of petabytes they sling.
Data-driven culture, like any culture, is a set of shared and reinforced behaviors. The principal behavior of a data-driven culture is the behavior of making decisions based on data. The prerequisite for doing this is the presence of a technical infrastructure that provides access to relevant data, for every role and at every level of an organization. A successful infrastructure allows people to access the data they need, understand what they're looking at, and trust what they find. Without this foundation, there is little hope of creating a culture in which data is a primary guide.
Many years ago, I was part of a cross-functional initiative that seemed headed for failure. I expressed my concerns to one of the coordinators. He closed his office door and said, "Julie, of course it's going to fail. Our job is to do our part well so that we can get our promotions, and so we don't get blamed for the failure." Yikes.
Knowing what I know now about the organizations I've been a part of, could I have done a better job of interviewing? Even if my career decisions would have been the same, could I have walked into certain situations with a clearer picture of what I was getting into?
Of course I could have. Here's a great example:
The centerpiece of every Grace Hopper Celebration is the closing-night dance party. This year, the hotel ballroom twinkled with the light of a million LEDs flashing on Google-branded eyeglasses. The floor bowed alarmingly with the beat. Strangers smiled at each other across the sea of bouncing women. Some of us cried. We were together and we were ourselves.
I attended the conference and its boisterous finale this year without friends or colleagues. I’d planned to bop awkwardly along the edges of the dance floor for a few minutes and then get a good night’s sleep. Instead, I met a remarkable series of women who gave me inspiration and hope, who left me buzzing with energy and ideas. It was much better than a good night’s sleep.
In a week, I'll be heading to Orlando for Grace Hopper 2017, my fifth GHC. The previous gatherings have each resonated differently but have consistently inspired me to action. Last time I attended, I came home and quit my job!
My experience of the conferences changes each time, as a function of where I am in my career. It’s a testament to the breadth of content that the conference can resonate with undergraduates, graduate students, academics, and industry professionals from ICs to executives. It’s also a testament to how pervasive gender issues can be in tech that women of all ages and positions can find common ground in the shared experience of our gender.
I am creating a forum for stories that inspire and guide people interested in pursuing a career in engineering. It’s a place for me to connect with others who may catch glimpses of themselves in my professional experience.
This is where I add my voice to the growing ranks of women and men who are nudging the tech community in the direction of inclusivity, and toward the superior innovation that I believe will accompany it. It’s where I share my missteps so that others can avoid them, or at least have a good laugh.