Month: April 2016

The problem of women in Software Engineering

Last night, I attended a female only event at the Microsoft Research Laboratory – Engineering the Future.

It was slightly recruitment heavy (and I am happily employed), but I figured it would be worth checking out, because they do cool things there.

Now, I’m typically averse to attending female only events – I think in a culture that is attempting to gain more gender diversity, aiming at one specific gender in this manner is probably counter productive. Also, it brings its own issues.

Before I really get into the meat of this – I really enjoyed the event, and the projects that were showcased to us were amazing. It looks like great work to be involved in, and I’m really happy that I got an invite to this.

That said, lets get back to the female only part.

So, there is a drive to attract more women to the Software Engineering world. Last night, that very problem was kind of apparent. In the only Microsoft Research lab in this country, this female only event had only approximately 50-60 attendees.

When you factor in that this is representative of people in a country, not just a city, for a company as huge as Microsoft, it’s easy to see that the ratio of Men : Women in the field is very off. I also factored in after some networking that a significant portion of the attendees were people studying for PHD’s or other degrees – and were somewhat unsure of where they would aim to be employed. In a nutshell – they aren’t quite software developers yet, and some seem undecided as to whether that will be something they are aiming for at all.

This brings us to another consideration – why aren’t women aiming for a career in technology? Events like these are supposed to help, right?

To be honest, I’m not sure if gender specific events are the answer here. At the beginning of last nights presentations, it was noted that non-gender specific events like this had been run before – but 95% of the attendees were male, hence they decided to try a female only event. I can see the logic. The previous way was obviously not attracting any more women, so they switched the format slightly and had another pop at it.

So, let’s examine the presentation content. One of the reasons I tend to avoid female only events is because some gender bias comes into play in terms of what is presented. You will find that less of the ‘we’re working on this because we thought it would be cool to try’ content, and more of the ‘here’s a human interest project that’s all for a good cause’ content instead.

I guess the thing that bugs me here is that there seems to be an assumption that a lack of dangly bits means that women can’t appreciate something that is being done for the sake of seeing if it can be come, and that we should only be enthusiastic about things that can help us to cure diseases, or world hunger, or other worthy and caring causes. It almost sends a message that as women, we’re supposed to only work on serious things, and forego anything that is more typically fun in that sense.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think human interest projects are not cool and amazing, and can’t be fun – they are, and I love hearing about them – but I also love the cool ‘here’s something we’re trying without being quite sure why’ stuff as well.

I have a suspicion that a non gender specific event would have had a more even balance of both kinds of projects to showcase. Targeted events like this actually put me off somewhat, as the assumption that I somehow cannot be spoken to on the same level as a man in this field is somewhat demeaning. That said, non-gendered events have been around for a while, and they have done nothing to solve the problem of the lack of women in this industry. Maybe this approach is the way forward. Honestly, I don’t actually have a better idea on how to address it.

All I know is that as a female software developer, what really bugs me is being set apart from my peers and treated as if I’m somehow different, or less able to appreciate or understand things, just because I’m female. * To be truly diverse, surely we should be able to ignore things like gender, creed, and colour and speak to everyone the same? Sadly, we still seem to be quite far away from this.

As a final note, this push to bring more women into the field also has another unintended result – it’s very easy to get a job because I tick all the right HR check boxes. This comes with the added bonus that I can be seen as a ‘quota’ hire. I find myself having to work twice as hard, and be twice as good as my peers, just to prove that I’m actually worthy of both the job and some respect. I don’t think either gender gets a win from this, and I suspect the same can be said of other typically minority groups in the field as well.

It’s an interesting problem, and with no easy solution. We certainly aren’t there yet, but I feel that gender specific events and hiring guidelines aren’t actually helping in the way that was intended. I’d love for us to be at a point where the criteria becomes ‘is this person right for the job or event’ as opposed to ‘this person has a characteristic they can do nothing about’.

* Just to add – last nights event did not make me feel demeaned, etc, at all, and was truly enjoyable. I just question the current methods being used to try and encourage women to join this field, as even without a better suggestion, I’m not sure the current ideas are working either!

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An anniversary, of sorts.

This post deviates from the usual light-hearted tone I try to keep with this blog. It does have a happy ending, though!

Some facebook ‘memories’ photos have been showing up in my feed for me to share, and that made me realise a rather relevant anniversary for me.

Today is the 1 year anniversary of when I’d acknowledged that depression was completely kicking my arse, and I’d tucked my tail between my legs and run back to my dads house. The photo that prompted this post was taken on my first night back, when I went out for a meal with my mum, sisters, brother in law, aunt and cousin. I was attempting to present an image to the world that I was fine. I have a rather fixed grin on my face that does little to hint at how unwell I was inside. I spent the next 3 weeks as a sobbing wreck on dad’s settee, whilst trying to figure out how to fix myself.

I won’t dwell too much on the circumstances that had led me to that point. In essence, it was a perfect storm of circumstances – I am prone to seasonal depression over the winter months due to longer nights. I hadn’t managed to pull myself out of that when I started on some medication that was supposed to be able to help me quit smoking – but one of the side effects of that medication is depression. To add to all this, I was embroiled in a rather awful situation in my own life.

Sometimes, I look back and feel ashamed that I didn’t cope better. Because I’m supposed to be better than that. Then I total up everything that was going on, and realise that I shouldn’t have ever expected myself to be superwoman in the first place. I doubt there are many people out there who have the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with such circumstances without there being some kind of effect.

It sounds pretty rough, and it was – it was the lowest point of my life so far. I was really ill. But in my mind it marks the beginning of when I really started to take responsibility for my own mental health, and started making positive changes in my own life. I stopped taking those bloody quit smoking tablets, and switched to anti depressants. I worked towards letting go of the anger and bitterness over the situation I was in. I also became a bit more selfish – I realised that I do actually matter, and I owed it to myself to live a good life and to look after myself better.

I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come in the space of a year. I realised I have a network of solid and amazing people who I can approach for support when I need it. More to the point, I’ve let go of any shame in actually approaching those people when I do need a bit of a help. I have an amazing boyfriend in my life. I’ve moved forward in my career. I’ve adopted some of the principles touted by cognitive behaviour therapy to let go of my tendency towards warped thinking – in essence, let go of dwelling on the negative, and instead take a positive step forward. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, at times it was downright torture in my own head – but it has paid off. My life feels pretty amazing right now as a result – and it was me that got me there (with a little lot of help from my friends).

Now, that may not seem like much, but it’s pretty huge for me. I’m not 100% back to my old self – but that is not surprising. I have changed as a person (hopefully) for the better as a result of my experiences, so my old self is not someone I need or even want to be any more. I’ve lost nothing, and gained so much.

To sum up this post – depression is an absolute beast. Not only does it drag you down, it keeps you down by taking away the motivation to do anything to help yourself. I can only encourage anyone else going through this to please get help. Reach out to family and friends. See a doctor. Get therapy. Try anything and everything. It won’t be easy, but you’re worth it, even if your brain is currently telling you that you deserve all the shit that life is currently throwing at you. Your brain on depression is your worst enemy. Life can and will get better, and there is nothing shaming about accepting that you can’t always do it alone.

I am no longer depressed – I haven’t been for a good while now. I do still have my anxious moments. I know that I can’t allow myself to fall down that pit again, and I try to be very aware of the signs my own body and mind give me that I could be headed that way. I’m terrified of getting that ill again – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that anxiety is merely the very last remnant of a time that is now in the past, and I am very eager for it to stay there. It’s the final thing to let go of – and I will throw it away, because I know it’s not worthy of being a part of me, and has no place in the life I want to have.

There you have it – I’m better, and I’m always working to get even more better. I am a work in progress, and I always will be. And the same goes for everyone else. So here’s the deal for me and everyone who is reading this – decide to be awesome, and keep being awesome. It’s worth it.

* One resource that helped me greatly is the MoodGYM training program. It’s free to use, and is accessed online: MoodGYM.

The consequences of exercise.

It was pointed out to me last night by a friend that I have been neglectful of my blog, and I needed to sort that out. Of course, she was right. She usually is!

So, a lot has been going on for me – new job, new prospects. It’s all been very exciting, and I do have plenty of blog fodder! The main thing is making the time to get it all written down. My most immediate blog fodder for now, though, is the self inflicted pain I have lived with today.

I have found myself working once again with a former colleague who is currently training for a marathon. Which means lunch time jogging. I’ve been off the exercise bandwagon for a short while now, so I decided that yesterday lunch time would be the perfect time to get in on this exercise malarkey again. Exercise is good, after all!

Me being me, I opted to not consider the consequences of going from sedentiary to an hour long five mile jog. On one hand, I should probably be pleased that I managed it with only 10 minutes of walking. That said, I had an awful night sleep due to the pain in my legs and hips.

It took me longer to get ready for work due to the difficulty I had in standing up, putting on jeans, putting on socks, shoes, etc. If I don’t move enough in a 10 minute timeframe, I feel like the lower half of my body has seized up. Going from standing to sitting, or vice versa, is sheer agony.

I have spent most of today walking like a duck.

The lesson here is probably that exercise is bad. I’ll need to practice this jogging thing more next week when the pain has gone away. Until then, I’ll probably see if I can convince the bloke to learn how to do sports massage.

I have no issues recruiting minions to do my dirty work.

Over the weekend, I attended a pool party for the blokes youngest. Of course, I ended up in the pool, because inflatables and floats are so much fun.

Amongst the inflatables were a load of balls. I proceeded to amuse myself throwing these at the bloke. Sadly, my aim is poor. Really, I was getting totally trounced in the floating ball battle, so I opted to take decisive action around the time he threw one that hit me right in the face.

I realised I needed an army. Given only our small party was in the pool, this was actually quite simple. I handed my stash of balls to the small group of children and suggested they needed to start throwing them at the bloke, because it would be funny. This worked perfectly, since they were all better at this aiming and throwing malarkey.

I think it was up to half an hour later when they got bored of this. Still, that was half an hour in which I was highly amused at what I had wrought. And then I got dunked a few times after, which I guess was fair, since I had recruited minions to do my dirty work.

I regret nothing. 😀

The contents of my desk.

On Friday, I enjoyed my last day of work at my place of employment. I start at the new place tomorrow, which is very exciting.

I’d been so busy with my remaining work over my notice period, that it didn’t really sink in until some time on Friday afternoon that I wouldn’t be back there. Which of course, made me start feeling a bit sad about the whole thing.

I brought some cakes for the office, and packed up my desk into a carrier bag over the course of the afternoon. I’m not sure if it’s depressing or efficient that almost a year of my working life can be packed up into a single carrier bag. So, I decided to sum up my desk contents into a list:

  1. Note books and pens.
  2. A pink USB desk fan.
  3. An A3 portable white board and dry wipe markers.
  4. A USB drive.
  5. My coffee mug.

Really, it’s all I ever need at a desk to get the work done. Though my Charisma Fallout 3 Bobblehead may make it to my new desk on Monday. 😀

To sum up – I’m sad to be going, but very excited about what’s ahead. Plus, my desk needs to be cooler. I should probably buy more fans. (Ha ha!)