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Quick Thoughts from Grace Hopper - F*cking with Clusters

About Quick Thoughts from Grace Hopper

Previous Entry Quick Thoughts from Grace Hopper Oct. 2nd, 2028 @ 02:15 pm Next Entry
I've never considered myself as a minority in computer science. It never made sense to me when women complained that they had no one to talk to and felt like they weren't being taken seriously. How could a field where most inter-personal interaction consists of plain-text communication possibly care whether you are black, blue, or are plumbed(hmm... possibly not the best term) differently than someone else.

Yet, when talking to inferno0069 last night, I realized that there is a difference between how I interact with women at this conference and how I interact with my colleagues (men AND women) at home. I had trouble pinpointing down exactly what it was, but after thinking about it for most of the morning, I think it comes down to posturing. In a typical computer science (and probably most engineering fields), there is a ritual upon meeting someone who's technical ability you don't know:
You don't start right away with your technical area. You start by, essentially, bragging about how much you know about random details of the field and the associated culture (e.g. discussing some new hardware platform or chip design or linux package that bears no relation to what you actually work on and want feedback on. This may include cultural topics like the current tech book that's hip in the industry). Keep your argument together long enough, and the person you are talking to will see you as a RealScientist and take what you actually have to say seriously. Don't do this, and you are dismissed as a girl looking for help on a problem, or looking to piggyback off of someone else's brilliant ideas.

Part of the reason I think I've had so much trouble seeing this is that it doesn't apply to communications between Mudders, or once someone familiar with the school knows I'm from Mudd. Also, once I am somewhere for more than a few days, I feel like people generally consider me to be 'one of the guys', and I'm set. At Grace Hopper, there is a general undercurrent of trust in one another's technical abilities within their field. I've been able to launch directly into "Hi, I'm a 5th year PhD student and I'm looking for collaborators in anonymous P2P storage networks" without worrying at all that the person I was talking to was going to talk down to me until I proved my worth.

I'm off to another session, so I can't flesh this out now, but I was wondering if any of you see this too and what you've done about it.

Holy crap, that was thunder...

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From:paperclippy
Date:October 2nd, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
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I absolutely see that too. It sticks out more to me though, because I have little interest in chip designs, linux packages, video games, etc, which is part of why I have always felt, especially among Mudders, like an outcast among CS majors.

Luckily I don't feel that way at my job. None of my male coworkers have ever regarded me as anything but a competent, intelligent worker (at least, I haven't felt the need to prove myself to them). At Mudd and in my previous jobs and other experiences, I have absolutely felt that I needed to prove myself, because I don't fit into the "one of the guys" culture. The other problem is that I feel like if I were a man who didn't fit into the culture, I would still be taken seriously, but as a woman, I am not.

But anyway I like my coworkers. They treat me with respect even though I don't hang out with them gaming and coding outside of work. We have three female software developers in a group of about 45-50 (I lost track, we keep hiring), but I never feel any sort of discrimination here.
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From:amoken
Date:October 2nd, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
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You know, I think you've got something there. I always have trouble explaining exactly what it was that made me feel discriminated against at UCLA, and this was a huge part of it. I would launch directly into talking about the relevant thing, because that's what I'd done at Mudd, and they would just dismiss me and forget about me, often asking me to prove myself by accomplishing the task before they'd talk to me again about me doing the task for them. WTF?

I think this happens more in academia, large companies, and companies full of older people (which is kind of ok; older people probably do know more than me about a lot of things, though not all of them are relevant anymore). When I arrived at FI I was on the defensive, being quiet or proffering irrelevant info more confidently than relevant. That changed after I got to know my coworkers, and now I'm pretty damn confident with total strangers, even in interviews, where theoretically I do need to prove myself. But if they weren't taking me seriously, they wouldn't have invited me, right? Screw them. I know I'm good. And if they read my CV they know it too.

I had the same experience at InfoVis as you are having at Grace Hopper. I was immediately taken seriously, despite not having presented, published, or postered. I didn't notice it consciously; I just felt very comfortable there and decided this was a conference I wanted to attend every year, because the information and the atmosphere suited me well. The grad students there didn't look down on me because I didn't have a grad degree; instead they asked me lots of questions like I was some sort of oracle with insight into their future.
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From:istar
Date:October 2nd, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
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I do a lot of posturing (and I've encountered it a lot in others, when talking to customers and other engineers in the last few years). I've listened to a fair number of people who come right out and introduce themselves with a long spiel about their years of experience and qualifications leading up to the crowning moment of being on this conference call!

Casual posturing doesn't bother me at all... I learn interesting things when talking to people with diverse technical backgrounds, and it helps us establish a common denominator of technical conversation without making anyone feel bad. It's the unnecessary bragging and conversational power-struggles that really burn. People who feel the need to elevate themselves and antagonize others in every social interaction have fragile egos.
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From:istgut
Date:October 7th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)
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While I was reading Stephenson's latest recently, I thought of you. One of the complaints I hear from many women is how engineering culture tends to be one in which thoughts and ideas are mercilessly torn apart and need to be defended, even if they are good. In the book, there is a big focus on "planing" or throughly out-arguing someone, like killing them in physical combat. I've noticed that you are very adept at that and I wonder if that is something that you've developed or if it is one reason that you've not felt as much discomfort before.
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