Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
Work progresses on the new integrated web site, and I’ve finished the design. Unfortunately, WordPress’s export and/or import routine really plays havoc with the categories, and I’m having to manually correct several. As such, I’m reloading the sites again, which means that the recent posts here will be included there. Well, up until midnight, when I’ll shut down comments here and move everything over and then spend who knows how much time fixing the categories for these posts.
Work also progresses on the editing phase of the book. I have an uncommonly good set of editors and reviewers, and feel confident about the quality of the book, aided in part by their efforts. Now, I have to focus on it for the next two weeks, as we can’t slide the production date and I want to ensure the best book I can.
Regarding the dialog about women and conferences, I wanted to thank folks for commenting here on my posts and elsewhere. I appreciate the effort Kimberly Blessing of PayPal makes when she goes to conferences to seek out organizers to help diversify their events. I especially want to point out Dave Shea’s post on his own conference organizing efforts. Specifically (and I hope he doesn’t mind me taking such a large quote):
When we came up with our speaker list, we tried to include some old faces and some new. We brought in some familiar names who may or may not have previously spoken in Canada, people we knew that our audience would be interested in hearing talk. We filled the roster with a core of proven speakers, that was our safe bet. But, as we considered our lineup, we kept asking ourselves, can we go further? Who can we bring in that might not be an obvious choice? Are we overlooking any equally good speaker choices, people who maybe we should be inviting instead that would bring a more diverse viewpoint? And if our first choices didn’t pan out (more common than you’d think), are we able to make our backup choices reflect the same goals?
We considered it from a lot of angles, and what’s clear is that no matter what mix you come up with, it’s never going to be entirely representative. Did we feature enough women? Did we feature enough ethnic diversity? Did we feature enough religious diversity? Did we feature enough diversity of sexual preference? Did we feature enough Canadians? And so the sub-categorizing goes.
You can slice it up any number of ways and come up with many groups we didn’t include. We’ll never win if we head down that path.
Instead, the question to be asking is, was there enough overall diversity in our conference? Is there enough overall diversity in the industry? And if not, what can we do to encourage more?
Dave also wrote on audiences of conferences he’s attended, and how they’re much more diverse than one would expect from our discussions online.
In fact, interest in technology, the web and the internet, is much more diverse than you would credit from the noise created online. Reading the recent posts, one could think there are literally no women, no blacks, no librarians, no English majors, no philosophers, writers, etc. who are interested in the web, the internet, technology, applications and so on. This just plain isn’t true. However, if we selectively focus on a certain group of people, and let them define what is ‘marketable’, what is important, who is important, these conferences are going to become deadly dull, as will the technology, itself.
Hasn’t anyone noticed a sameness to these events? How many people write after attending one of these that the only reason they go is for the hallway chat? I don’t have so much money that I can waste it going to an event just to bullshit with people in the hallways. I can IM with folks and save myself a chunk of change.
There’s only been a couple of conferences in the next year or so I’ve been interested in attending, and oddly enough, each has larger numbers of women presenting, as well as attending. Funny thing is: I was interested before I saw the speaker list. Why? Because of the topics covered, the costs, and yes, the location.
Kottke made a mistake in his original post by doing the percentage thing, and everyone is fixating on this. Nowadays, I’m less interested in numbers than I am by effort. Dave’s group went to a great deal of effort to look for diversity, but not just by group membership, but by interest–and therein lies one major way organizers can help increase overall diversity: stop limiting the ‘gene’ pool, so to speak. Be as innovative in conference design as you would be page design, or program functionality.
The same people organize the same conferences, over and over, and it’s like the same stamp is used for each. O’Reilly’s conferences suffer for this, until about the only that’s even remotely interesting is OSCON. (No offense, Tim, and don’t kill my book deal.) Other organizers do the same, though: they play it safe. Conferences have become nothing more than a commodity, and as everyone knows, an assembly line is a more efficient way to pump out a commodity. Much more efficient than to take the effort to craft an individual product. This year we are seeing the Henry Ford effect: you can’t tell one conference from another.
By the choice of certain ‘superstars’, the conference organizers set the tone for the conference, and doing so is enough for me to lose interest. I don’t want to pay 1200.00 to listen to a Big Bag o’ Wind say how great they are, and how we all need to listen to them. I definitely am not going to a conference to listen to someone who wouldn’t give me the time of day if we happen to bump into each other in the aforementioned hallways. Frankly, I’d rather have people who work for a living talk about what they do. I am less interested in who they are, than what they have to say. O’Reilly’s first ETech conference, when it was a P2P conference was that way: it has not been the same since.
Dave Shea’s conference group, the organizers of SxSW, and other conferences who work on diverse subjects and interests, who keeps costs down, who locate their conferences in some place other than California and Boston (with an aside into Seattle and New York), who care less about how fancy the break room is or who is singing at the Big Event, ultimately end up with conferences that are more diverse naturally. Because of this they’re also getting a more diverse audience. It’s a win/win.
If, though, we focus only on marketability, only on the same names and the same faces–it’s like inbreeding within a family. Do we need to look at pictures to form a better mental image of how this is not good? It shows in our technology. For all that we jump up and down about how cool we are now, our technology is stagnating: we worship a company that brings together a bunch of folk who vote on what’s hot or not–this is not innovative technology. We positively faint when Google releases something new, but most of what the company has released lately is not innovative. Every new startup is exactly the same as four other new startups–only the names change, and most of them are moronic.
I wrote once before, and I feel this more strongly that our computer science programs are losing women because they’re badly designed. The same is true for most of the industry conferences, and is reflected in the field itself. This is not a good thing, and I can’t imagine why people can’t see that this is not a good thing. The end result is going to be technology, applications, and eventually “internets” with a weak chin, low IQ, and that drool a lot. It might be great for Techcrunch, but it’s not good for us.
I really appreciated reading what Dave had to say, and Anil Dash and others. I found it disheartening to read how many people seemed to be excessively relieved and happy at what Eric Myer had to say: Thank god we don’t have to worry about this crap anymore, seemed to be the underlying consensus.
I also found it disheartening to read so many people equate diversity with lack of quality. I don’t want to say that the tech industry, at least among those represented by the tech webloggers, is racist and sexist and xenophobic, but it sure comes across this way at times. If you think on it, if I were a young woman considering a career working with web technologies, and I read these same weblogs, I’d think strongly about another career. Same goes for someone who is black or Hispanic. Who needs to enter a field so heavily dominated by a culture deliberately kept foreign to our own, and one that is actively hostile to who we are?
I don’t know about anyone else, but my Mama raised no fool.
When I started college in computer science, I didn’t know that it was going to end up like it has. I thought that, like many other programs at the time, women were just starting to enter the field but it would get better in the future. I didn’t know that it was going to get worse. If I had, no matter how much I enjoyed the work, I wouldn’t have entered the field.
Consider this: every time this topic comes up, about women in the industry and women in tech conferences, who are the people who get the most links? The most attention? The most respect? Who appear in Techmeme, Tailrank, and Megite? Kottke, Dash, Myer, Messino, Scoble, Searls, Winer–do you see something odd about this? Regardless of how many women write on this, it’s the men who get the attention. I’d say if we want to look at what’s ‘wrong’, we start right here.
Perhaps the online chatter and the easier access to these discussions are why there are fewer women in computer science. Ten more years of weblogging, and there might be no women in comp sci if we don’t look at making major changes–in mind set and outlook, as much as race and sex.
Anyway, back to work. Thanks much for coming by. This is my last post here, until I make my switch.
Karl has created a nice link list, with commentary on the discussion.