Category: career

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!

First world problematic decisions

One of the reasons I’ve been somewhat lax in my posting schedule recently is that I was wrestling with a career decision. Since it was occupying my mind, it was something of a struggle thinking of blog posts to write. And well – career decision. I couldn’t exactly post about it publicly.

This week, I did finally make a decision, which I’m pretty much sure means I now get to talk about it.

So – I’m relatively happy in my current job. I’m well set to progress up the career ladder, with some plans in that direction being mentioned to me. The work is fulfilling. I’m treated very well. So, it would take something pretty major to make me turn my head to another job.

Well, that happened. I was approached by a former awesome manager about a role in another company. At first, I did it due service – I checked it out, thinking that I most likely wouldn’t  jump ship because I am happy where I am.

What followed was a few weeks of flip flopping in my head. Current company is large, and has the issues that you will get working for any large company – that feeling of being a small cog in a very impressive machine. The other role is at a smaller company, meaning that anyone invited to work there will definitely have the feeling of making a difference.

In terms of problems, this has been a rather nice one to have. It’s certainly not a situation I’ve been in before, and likely won’t be again!

A lot of my own personal satisfaction comes from feeling like I’m actually relevant. Which speaks volumes about my ego. I spent a long few weeks writing up pros and cons for both jobs. It was ultimately a narrow thing. I didn’t discuss the problem with my current workplace, as this was not a decision driven by money – I wanted to avoid a situation of offers and counter offers. Some people will probably see me as somewhat crazy for going with that approach, but my own self image means I’m not going to behave like a complete mercenary.

As you can probably guess if you’ve read this far, I’ve opted to jump ship. I’m happy with my decision, and I’ve done it in a way that leaves me little leeway to change my mind. I do feel somewhat guilty, admittedly, as like I said – I have been treated very well. To my current workplaces credit, they have been very understanding and have let me know that if there is anything they can do to change my mind, I should mention it. Which is always a nice thing to hear – but I will stick to my decision as I don’t believe in messing people around. In return, I have a month of probably long hours to make sure that all the things I have started are finished, or left in as perfect a condition as I can manage.

I’ll be sad to go, but ultimately, I am very excited about moving on. I won’t get to see some of the things I put in motion through to fruition, but I have a boat load of new challenges to look forward to. I suspect that while I’ll have regrets at some point, I’d regret not chasing a new challenge even more – and that was the one thing that ultimately made my decision for me.

Recruiters behaving badly

Recently, I blogged about an issue I had with the telephone system at work – which turned out to be a recruiter phoning me.

Well, I had another phone call at work today, from another recruiter.

I’m not sure why this is a thing. It’s not a problem I’ve had before. These recruiters are not getting my direct work number from my LinkedIn profile. I deliberately don’t publish any of my contact numbers on there. What is actually happening is that they are seeing where I am currently employed from my LinkedIn profile, and phoning the reception where I currently work to get put through to my work number.

I’m getting more annoyed by this behaviour. I specifically mention in my profile that any contact should be done either via email or through a LinkedIn message. I am open to being contacted. Not because I’m on the market for new work, but because I can occasionally forward on a recruiters details to my connections who are looking for work, or just because a once in a lifetime opportunity may show up.

So. I publish no contact numbers, and ask specifically to be contacted via other means. Now, while the majority of recruiters respect this, it’s apparent that a small minority see no issue with trampling this rather simple boundary. I feel that contacting me at my current work place to try and poach me for another position when I’ve barely been here five minutes, is kind of rude to me and my current employer.

This isn’t the only time I have encountered recruiters behaving badly. I’ve experienced my CV being doctored to attribute skills to myself that I have no claim to. More insultingly, they introduced some typos when they did this. This led to an experience where at the interview stage, myself and the interviewer realised that they had been missold my skills, just as I had been missold the role itself. My jaw dropped when I looked at the copy of my CV that they had received. That interview was terminated early, with apologies all around, upon us both realising that I would not have applied if I had not been lied to – and that they would not have interviewed me had me skills been correctly represented. The end result was that time was wasted on all sides. Also, embarrassment for me.

Then there was the recruiter who told the place where I was interviewing that I was a contractor. I’m not sure why she did this – I’ve never been a contractor, so I don’t know what she hoped to achieve with this. In fact, I spoke with her in the initial conversation and explicitly stated that I have never been a contractor. The role for which I was interviewing was a permanent role, so there was really no reason to misrepresent me like that. Strangely enough, I didn’t get that job.

That said – I have dealt with many recruiters, and usually have a positive experience from it. Out of all of them, this is only 4 that have behaved badly. This is definitely only a minority. The main result of their shenanigans is they get removed from my connection list, and possibly from their clients, so ultimately they shoot themselves in the foot. I still find the behaviour mystifying though.

Surely it would be better for all parties if they attempted to recruit in a more honorable fashion? Misrepresenting candidates and clients in this way can only lose them business.

My conclusion – people are strange.

How many software engineers does it take to return a call?

I managed to embarrass myself with what should be simple technology today.

I have a phone on my desk at work. I’ve worked here for just over 7 months now. My phone has never actually rung before. I’ve never had to use it – everyone who needs to speak to me is seated in my general vicinity. I have no need to speak to end users for my role.

Until today. It rang. I picked up the receiver to answer. Imagine my joy that it immediately went on to speaker phone! I briefly explained to the caller that he was on speaker phone, and told him I would try to fix it. I pressed the button that looked like a speaker icon.

Seems reasonable, right?

Pressing the button hung up on the caller. Cue laughter from my office buddies when they realised what I’d done.

So, I started trying to figure out how to call the person back. An office mate came to help me, and pointed out that my calls were all being forwarded. We went through a few options, and managed to not be able to find how to turn it off, so we gave up. He didn’t know how to find the history, though. So, another helpful office mate showed me how.

I found the number, and clicked the redial button … to be put through to the reception desk downstairs. I was very apologetic when I explained that I’d rung the wrong number, and hung up to try to return the call again.

This is when I realised it was an outside number. Which apparently needs to be prefixed. Some asking around later, and it turns out that the magic prefix is ‘9’. Another office mate helped me to figure out how to return a call with a prefix.

So, I did this. The person who had called me answered. I hadn’t had chance to ask his name before I inadvertently hung up on him, but thankfully I remembered his voice.

More apologies later, and what was my mystery caller after? Turns out he’s a recruiter, who somehow got my extension number – which is a mystery in itself, since I haven’t published it anywhere. After all, people might phone me if I did!

15 minutes and 3 software engineers later, all so I could tell someone ‘thanks, but I’m happily employed where I am’.

Not that I’m bitter or anything – but I can think of no good reason why a phone has been complicated to the point that it’s taken 15 minutes of my life to phone someone back. And my calls are apparently being forwarded elsewhere now, and I don’t know how to turn that off. Or see where those calls are actually being forwarded to. Yeay?

tl;dr : It should not take 3 people, 15 minutes and an instruction manual to either answer a phone or return a call.