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I got a new job

In October of 2002, nearly 12 years ago, I applied for a job with a software company operating out of a dingy office in the Barbazon building over in the Hollywood District. (Incidentally, it was that Barbazon, the modeling school, so there were afternoons when heavily made-up young girls would line the hallways and cry in the bathroom.) I planned to stay for maybe two years, get some development experience, and move on.

Until recently, that was the last time I applied for a job. I never intended to stay for that long, but the people were great, I was always learning new things, and the vacation was excellent. We ate lunch at Sam's Pool Hall and then the food carts after we moved downtown. We spun off from our parent company, bought another company, and were eventually bought by our Swedish competitors. I began as a relatively junior engineer and wound up managing the Portland development team. It was a long ride for many reasons, but I only really needed one: it was the best job I've ever had.

Tomorrow, I start a new job, a new adventure. Most importantly an unknown adventure. It feels a little insane (it is). I keep wondering if I've really thought this through (I have). I worry that it's a big mistake (probably not). That I don't know enough (but I like learning). That I'm not up for this big of a challenge (I am).

So with a deep breath and not a little excitement, but admittedly a bit of trepidation, I will change my morning commute ever-so-slightly and go meet my new co-workers. Onward and (I hope) upward!

7/13/2014     0 comments

Yet another opinion about women and minorities in tech

Just about every day, I see a new article or news story about getting women and minorities interested in tech careers. Why is it that tech jobs still seem like a big secret that only white males are in on? In my opinion, it's a simple failure of imagination.

When I went to see Madeline Albright speak last year, she said something that really stuck with me. She was talking about her surprise when President Clinton asked her to be Secretary of State. "I never dreamed I'd be Secretary of State," she said. "Not because I didn't have ambition, but because I'd never seen one in a skirt."

So check that out. Madeline Freaking Albright (not her real middle name) had never seen a female Secretary of State so she never imagined it would happen for her. I think the same thing is happening in the tech world. To succeed in diversifying the tech workforce, we need to be able to imagine a future where a software development team with 10 people on it actually includes non-Asian minorities. And 4-6 women. Even minority women. I can imagine that, but I have to confess it takes some effort because I have never seen it.

So why does it matter if we can envision more women and minorities in tech? When you don't look like someone's stereotype, they usually either ignore you or ask you to prove yourself. This is tiring and erodes enthusiasm. You're also less likely to get new opportunities or even be encouraged to enter into a tech career in the first place if people just assume you wouldn't be interested, or worse, if they think you wouldn't be capable.

Here's a good example: Jesse and I were chatting with a guy we met at a party. He asked what we do for a living and we both answered that we were programmers. The guy immediately turned so that his shoulders were squared on Jesse, thereby blocking me out of the conversation, and said, "Really? My friend/cousin/bartender needs a web site. Is that something you do?" That has happened on more than one occasion.

What's up with that? Was the guy just a total jerk? Probably not. The woman who once told me to "shut up, you look too cute right now to be that big of a nerd!" was a jerk. But to the guy at the party, I just don't look like a programmer. Never mind that I have been building websites since 1997. Never mind that I have nearly a decade more experience than Jesse, who went back to school in his 30s. People are hard-wired to make assumptions based on appearance, and I want us to change those assumptions.

It's important to note that women also suffer from this failure of imagination. A woman once asked me what I do for a living and when I told her I was a software engineer, she took a step back. She physically moved away from me as though fearing a contagious disease. This has also happened more than once. It's especially weird when a whole group of people moves away from you. These are probably just gestures of surprise, but when the phrase, "I am a programmer" gets the same reaction as "I am a leper," it has an impact.

So the shift I'd like to see is that we start believing women and minorities when they say they know how to write code/configure your network/fix your computer/whatever, or at least stop being so surprised by it. Also, when young people are casting about for a direction to start their careers, we certainly shouldn't steer them away from tech jobs based on their appearance—these are great jobs that pay well!

The recent movement to encourage more diversity in tech careers is great. Is it possible to speed this up just by using our imaginations to picture what success looks like? I hope so. I hope we all start now so that eventually, we won't have to use our imaginations at all: we'll be able to just look around.

7/10/2014     2 comments

Googlism

The Blogess reminded me of Googlism, which of course led me to a vanity search. It's fun that there are so many Rebecca Campbell's out there. Occasionally, I like to check in on what we're all doing. Here's what came back; the ones that apply to me are in bold:

rebecca campbell is best known as the singer for the now
rebecca campbell is best know as the singer for the rootsy
rebecca campbell is an associate professor of community/quantitative psychology at the university of illinois at chicago
rebecca campbell is the post
rebecca campbell is a tremendous asset to your customer service department
rebecca campbell is leaving uri after seven years and four atlantic 10 championship game appearances
rebecca campbell is the author of these zero titles
rebecca campbell is collaborating with a group of approximately 30 tas artists
rebecca campbell is an assistant professor in the community & prevention research psychology program at the university of illinois at chicago
rebecca campbell is a fucking goddess
rebecca campbell is best known as the singer for the now defunct ottawa pop collective fat man waving
rebecca campbell is our new receptionist and for those of you who want to put a face to the friendly and helpful voice here she is
rebecca campbell is our new receptionist
rebecca campbell is printed as #414
rebecca campbell is

6/8/2014     1 comment

TED Talk: Luis von Ahn

If you have the time, I highly recommend this TED Talk by Luis von Ahn.

What I find so great about this is von Ahn's focus on crowdsourcing in gigantic ways. I had no idea that I am helping put books online every time I type in one of those annoying reCAPTCHA words. Just knowing this more or less eliminates the annoyance factor for me. Also, I have used Duolingo to refresh my basic Spanish skills, but I had no idea I was translating Wikipedia articles as I did so. How cool is that? OK, so at the basic level, I'm probably not actually translating anything unless there are a bunch of articles about people eating onions and drinking milk in the present tense. But this is exciting stuff, and it's an incredible way to think about how work can be done (and coordinated) with massive numbers of people involved.

This led to Jesse and I discussing other possibilities for gigantic crowdsourcing efforts. What if we could harness the power of Bejeweled or Angry Birds in a way that people's time-wasting was actually giving something back? What would that look like? How would it happen? Moreover, is it happening now? And how?

A quick dash over to Google didn't reveal the answers to these questions. There are a lot of web sites like TopCoder and Innocentive that essentially manage contests. I.e., someone with a need posts a description of what they are looking for and then a bunch of people try to solve it, then one or more people get paid for a solution. There are also a bunch of micro-task sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk where people can sign up to do piece work, like copying text out of photos for some amount of money (most seem to be less than $.10 per task).

But I am much more taken with Luis von Ahn's model of micro-tasks, where he is getting value out of something we were going to do anyway. Plus, with Duolingo, the site opens up an educational opportunity not only for middle-class software engineering managers like me, but for anybody who can get to the website or mobile phone app. I really love it when there is winning in more than one direction.

6/1/2014     1 comment