Another gender stereotype is that women are not as good about the kind of relentless self-promotion and politicking with powerful people that leads to rising through the ranks. It could be that a higher percentage of men are like that, and a higher percentage of women are self-deprecating, but I certainly know many men whose careers suffer because they are too humble, and I know some women that are as self-promoting as any man I’ve ever known.
Are there any specific instances or situations that you experience today that stand out to you as particularly significant or telling regarding women in technology? Any comments made by bosses or colleagues?
Again, pretty much nothing is purely gender-related. Though one woman told me she has a problem because her group likes to do team-building extreme sports together. They are all huge burly men. She, the only woman, is tiny, even for a woman. She can’t really play these sorts of sports with them. When she attempts to participate, like in ultimate Frisbee, they don’t throw to her (they don’t want her to get hurt). She feels left out. She suggested to her manager that the group do other things, like perhaps a pot-luck cooking party, but her manager sadly pointed out that nobody else in the group would want to do that.
One thing that I hate is when women “pick the wrong battles,” for instance, complaining if people use what women perceive as non-gender-neutral terms, e.g., in an email saying “Hey guys! That design has the following technical problem…” I cringe when some woman on the mailing list says “We are not all guys!”
That being said, of course there are genuinely hostile work environments with cases of genuine sexual harassment, and those have to be dealt with. But I think women would be much better off if we let the superficial stuff slide.
I had a manager once who was wonderful in almost all ways…really smart, really well-meaning, but I always made him nervous. He admired the tall pompous guys in the group, but he never quite knew what to make of me. When I did something really clever, he was smart enough to understand its importance, but then he’d look at me all confused and say “How did *you* think of that?” He meant well…
If you could, what advice would you give to your younger self? What do you wish you had known? What do you think you did right?
“What I did right” was pretty much due to a bunch of accidents. I just happened to get exactly the right job at the right time in the right place, so it was my job to design routing protocols at a time when the field was in its infancy. It was because of the way I approach problems, thinking it through conceptually rather than diving right in and solving each special case, that the designs wound up being so successful.
But I was not good about making a big deal out of what I did. My designs were so deceptively simple that it was easy for people to assume I just had easy problems, whereas others, who made super-complicated designs (that were technically unsound and never worked) and were able to talk about them in ways that nobody understood, were considered geniuses.