WIT: THIS UNLIKELY TECH QUEEN WANTS TO BUILD A NEW GLOBAL HUB IN KYRGYZSTAN

Because behind every great app there’s a great team of back-end developers. Some are where you’d least expect.

By James Watkins of Ozy.com

The blinds are pulled in all the windows of the fifth-floor office. Computer screens and cracks of daylight cast a gray-blue glow, complementing the dark grays and dark purples of mismatched furniture, seemingly thrown together yet too cool to be accidental. The only accents of color are lime greens and bright pinks that dance across screens in lines of computer code. This place has style.

One of several artsy-looking signs on the wall reads “Dance like no one is watching. Encrypt like everyone is.” If I were a location scout for HBO’s Silicon Valley, I’d film the whole damn thing here. But we’re 7,000 miles from California. We’re in Bishkek, the capital of landlocked Kyrgyzstan, at a back-end development hub behind some of Asia’s top apps and tech platforms. Another streak of color? The shock of bright-pink hair on the CEO at the center of the room: Alla Klimenko. Her company, Mad Devs, is a leader in Kyrgyzstan’s burgeoning tech scene, which is increasingly pitching itself as a cheaper alternative to Ukraine, yet more upmarket than India, in the battle to be the brains behind tech titans in Russia, Singapore, Thailand and beyond.

Mad Devs became Mad Devs only about two years ago, but the core team of developers who started the company have been working together for more than a decade. Most recently, they were the development team at Namba, a sort of Netflix-turned-Uber in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan’s most ubiquitous consumer tech company started as an online TV platform, has run an app-based ride-sharing service since 2012 and added food delivery in 2013 (a year before Uber Eats launched). Not satisfied with those challenges, the coders felt they weren’t being given enough to do, says Klimenko, so they started their own company.

It now has more than 50 employees, contracting with Namba as well as Eatigo, a Bangkok-based restaurant booking service with more than a million users across Southeast Asia; Zentist, a Silicon Valley–based dental services platform; an artificial intelligence–meets–blockchain concept called Neureal; and others as far away as the U.K. and Australia. “We don’t work with small projects,” says Klimenko, only meaningful partnerships of six months or more. They don’t have a sales team beyond Klimenko herself, with all their work coming through word-of-mouth.

Tech CEO isn’t the usual career path of 31-year-old Kyrgyz women. Almost all talented young people leave to work in Kazakhstan or Russia, where average wages are four and eight times that of those in Kyrgyzstan, respectively. Klimenko herself spent 18 months working in Almaty, Kazakhstan, returning to Bishkek on weekends. Though the business scene is more developed in Kazakhstan, the region’s economic powerhouse, almost all employees in Kazakhstan’s tech scene are Kyrgyz, says Klimenko. But now, the lack of other opportunities means that tech is one industry where Kyrgyzstan could thrive: “We are hungry,” Klimenko says. “As soon as you give people a chance to earn good money here without leaving the country, they take it.”

That same ambition has driven Klimenko personally as well as professionally. Fiercely independent since childhood, she excelled at physics and mathematics Olympiads as a high school student. Studying computer engineering at university, she was one of the best in her class, and would often be held up as an example to her predominantly male classmates — “Even the girl can do this, and you can’t?” she recalls her teachers saying, though for her it’s more a source of pride than an example of sexism.

Klimenko occupies a strange ideological position on gender politics. She is considering running an all-female intern class next year because she’s convinced that women are usually far better qualified than they say in applications, and yet she doesn’t believe the future is totally female: “There shouldn’t be more women than men” in tech, she says, else “they start to try to dominate each other.”

Klimenko left her first husband (whom she married while still at university) because he wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother; she left her second husband (the father of her 6-year-old son) because he didn’t share her ambition. She is chatty and funny, markedly different from the rest of the employees, whose eyes barely rise from their screens as they eat at their desks. Klimenko hasn’t actually coded since university, after realizing that project management in tech was her forte. It’s “unique” for someone to have Klimenko’s communications and sales skills while still being on the same intellectual level as the coders themselves, says Andrew Minkin, one of Mad Dev’s other co-founders.

Mad Devs is “one of the top local companies” in Kyrgyzstan’s tech scene, says Aziz Soltobaev, co-founder of KG Labs, an organization working to boost the country’s tech infrastructure — although there are a few other companies eyeing international prominence, including software development platform Zensoft. Many of the other leading companies have offices abroad or foreign founders, says Soltobaev, making Mad Devs one of the few to remain in Bishkek. “One of the challenges is a lack of talent,” he says — a problem that Mad Devs tackles by training dozens of unpaid interns in-house, several of whom have no formal training. The team calls their grueling program “The Hunger Games,” which ends with a “hell week” during which the office sofas become makeshift beds. Minkin leads the internship program, mainly because of his size and intimidating physical appearance, says Klimenko.

Of course, it’s still early days for the Mad Devs team, and becoming the go-to back-end development hub for the future economy is a title that emerging economies the world over are fighting for. But if there’s one thing they’ve nailed in the aspiration to bring Silicon Valley to Central Asia, it’s a tribelike company culture. Minkin even has a tattoo featuring the Mad Devs logo. Klimenko’s own tattoo covers her forearm with a “goddess of flame,” and it too was inked with the company in mind — yet another colorful selling point.

Weekly Round Up 6/15/18

 

Um, anything more sophisticated than the Self-Check out lines in Walmart will be hard for the American Public to master, guys.
No more grocery checkout lines: Microsoft may rival Amazon with tech that cuts out the cashier

 

Well, if nothing else is working….
Using tech to stop phone-wielding drivers

 

We don’t hear enough good things about Tech these days….
6 ways tracking tech is changing the world for the better

Whatever happened to just going to camp and being a kid?
NDSU summer tech camp designed to encourage young girls to pursue a career in technology

My favorite story of the week…
Apple closing tech loophole police use to crack iPhones

Please God, No. Make it Stop.
Drone swarms are the new fireworks lighting up China’s skies

 

Trump will never be able to wrap his tiny, barely used brain around this….
The Guy Who Created Oculus Has Now Made Surveillance Tech That Acts As A Virtual Border Wall

Literally what they do best….
Apple Shuns the Tech Industry’s Apology Tour

WIT: WWII code-breaker shares ‘can-do’ attitude with aspiring female roboticists

 

 

 

By the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

When Julia Parsons left Carnegie Tech with a humanities degree in 1942, her career seemed prescribed: Women at that time were educated to work as secretaries, nurses, costume designers, homemakers.  

But with World War II raging and all the men in the armed forces, “I thought, there’s got to be more I can do,” Ms. Parsons, 96, recalled. “I wanted to go in the service, too.”

It was the can-do spirit — plus a couple years of German language classes at Wilkinsburg High School — that landed her an elite and highly classified job among an all-women team of code-breakers in the war effort. From a Washington, D.C., communications complex run by the Navy, she helped to unscramble messages that helped turn the tide of the war.

Ms. Parsons, who after decades of secrecy began sharing her dramatic story in recent years, had a rapt audience in a Carnegie Mellon University lecture hall on Saturday: a few dozen teenage girls, dressed in jeans, plaid shirts and red polka-dot bandannas — a la Rosie the Riveter, the famous illustration depicting the strength of the female workforce during WWII.

This was a gathering of the Girls of Steel, the all-female high school robotics team sponsored by CMU’s Field Robotics Center. Since its founding in 2010, the group — whose logo is Rosie the Riveter with a robotic arm — has grown to more than 50 girls from the Pittsburgh region who build robots to compete in regional, national and global competitions. 

It was a place where Ms. Parsons’ message resonated across more than seven decades.

“It was awesome to see her experiences and how they similarly reflect experiences we have — but in a different time,” said Corinne Hartman, 18, a senior at the Ellis School in Shadyside, who sat front and center in the lecture hall. “She was working with a group of women who worked together to help do this really big awesome technical thing.”

Ms. Hartman said she came to the Girls of Steel after trying several STEM summer camps at which she was the only girl. 

“I felt like my ideas or opinions weren’t being heard, that I didn’t have a place there,” she said. Once she joined the robotics team, “I absolutely fell in love and have been here ever since.”

In Ms. Parsons’ time, a woman’s path to find technical work was even more uphill. 

Right after graduation, she worked briefly for an Army ordnance laboratory, fixing gauges that were used in steel mills to produce shells and ammunition. It was a job that women got, she admitted, only because there weren’t enough men. “Pittsburgh was pretty much devoid of men” between the ages of 18 and 40, Ms. Parsons said. “All of them went.”

The work on ordnance gauges was “pretty boring,” she said, and she quickly enlisted in the Navy. She shot up her hand when a recruiter asked if anyone knew German. 

Before she knew it, she was part of a team working three shifts, round the clock, trying to crack the code of intercepted German messages sent over radio waves by ships and submarines.

It was extremely difficult work, even though they had the German-made encryption machine, known as the
Enigma, and some of the code books, which the British had secretly recovered from a sinking German submarine years before.

Just months before the war ended, Ms. Parsons worked for days to assemble a spreadsheet of all the messages and noticed something. The Germans had sent the weather forecast every day at the same time — a crucial mistake that allowed the women to decode a slew of messages and that helped track down an elusive German submarine.

After the war ended, she wanted to keep serving but hit an unexpected roadblock: She was pregnant. That fact ended her military career, she said. “Now, there are maternity uniforms,” she joked. 

So she came home, raised three children and taught English at North Allegheny High School. She told no one of her code-breaking experience, not even her husband, until she found out in the 1990s the government had declassified the team’s efforts.

At the end of her talk, Ms. Parsons had just as many questions for the girls as the girls had for her. “How do you get into this?” she asked them. “Do you know enough about robotics to know what you want to do for a career?”

A key difference, of course, is the publicity of the mission. 

“We try to get ourselves out in the community,” Ms. Hartman, the high school senior, responded. “This has shown me I want to continue doing robotics in the future.”


What do think of the future of robotics being female? Tell us about it in the comments below!

WIT: The Dangers of Keeping Women Out of Tech

 

 

By Mallory Pickett of WIRED.com

IN 1978 A young woman named Maria Klawe arrived at the University of Toronto to pursue a doctorate in computer science. She had never used a computer—much less written a line of code—but she had a PhD in math and a drive to succeed in a male-dominated field. She was so good that, nine months later, the university asked her to be a professor.

Today, however, computer science is one of the few STEM fields in which the number of women has been steadily decreasing since the ’80s. In the tech industry, women hold only around one-fifth of technical roles. In light of these stats, the prevailing view in Silicon Valley these days is “This is terrible, let’s fix it.”

In Southern California, Klawe has done what tech has not. For the past 11 years, she has served as the president of Harvey Mudd College­—a small liberal arts school in Claremont, California, known for its intensive STEM focus—where the number of women in its computer science program has grown from 10 percent to 40 percent. On the subject, she’s optimistic: Change is possible. Now it’s the industry’s turn—and it could take a lesson from Klawe.

When you meet with men in the tech industry, can you tell that some of them doubt women can succeed in technical work?
That they don’t think women are suited for this? Oh, yeah.

People say that?
I was yelled at by one CEO who said his company was bringing women into technical roles but that if he saw it get to 30 percent, he’d know their hiring process was really screwed up. So I asked if he knew that we’re graduating women in computer science at more than 40 percent. He just blew me off. And when I asked him why there are so few women on his leadership team, he just said, “Gender isn’t an issue for us.”

So what about those screwed-up hiring practices? How do they work?
Look at the interview process. If I’m interviewing somebody, I would probably say, “Oh, it’s so nice to see you, welcome to Harvey Mudd, we’re really delighted to have you here with us.” But it would be quite common for a tech company to start an interview without even saying good morning or good afternoon, just: “I want to know what you know about pointers in C++, so show me how to do that.” Very adversarial, bragging, trying to show how much smarter they are. There are some women who feel perfectly comfortable in those environments, but I would say for the most part they don’t. Also, that kind of environment is just obnoxious.

But that’s how so many companies conduct interviews. Google comes to mind.
Google has studied their interview process, and I’ve heard that it overpredicts success for men and underpredicts success for women. [Google disputes this.] They just haven’t changed much.

Should they change? Judging from how well these companies are doing, it seems like those methods work. I mean, Steve Jobs was apparently an asshole—
He was an asshole. I met him.

—and Amazon reportedly has a terrible work environment, yet these are successful companies.
Yep.

So why change just to be friendlier to women?
Google, Facebook, Microsoft—all these companies were successful because they figured out a new way to make money. Google monetized search through advertising, Facebook became an advertising platform, Microsoft created a dominant software platform. But it’s probably an error to associate their success with their managerial style or their culture.

Some would say those managerial styles and cultures are crucial, not coincidental.
Let’s go back to the first big tech companies, like IBM and HP. Both were highly inclusive, really worked on hiring and promoting women and people of color. In fact, virtually every woman or person of color who’s a leader in the tech industry today—who’s roughly my age, 66—came up through IBM or HP. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and all the people in that generation came along in the ’80s or late ’70s. This happened to be a time when girls and young women were being turned away from computers. Computers became a boys’ domain almost overnight.

How?
Women were once about a third, maybe 35 percent, of the computer science majors in this country. Part of that was—I mean, this sounds so ridiculous—but part of that was because women had better typing skills and were thought of as being more careful. In the ’70s women were majoring in computer science because it was something they were expected to be good at. Then we had personal computers entering homes and schools.
There are two kinds of things you can do on a PC as a child. One is word processing. Bo-ring! The other is playing games like Pong and Space Invaders—computational power at that time couldn’t do graphics more sophisticated than that. And who likes to play those kinds of games? Boys. So it’s not particularly surprising that very quickly boys took over.

Is there a business reason for getting back to a culture in which computers aren’t seen as a boy thing?
The reality is, if tech companies can’t persuade more women and people of color to major in computer science, they are not going to be able to fill the positions that they have. Everybody’s looking at the same talent. They absolutely know what it costs to recruit a single person, and they know that if their churn for employees is, say, every 13 months, that’s not a good business case for them.

 

So when you actually start to increase the enrollment of women in computer science programs, what happens?
Well, at pretty much every place—not just Mudd but Carnegie Mellon, MIT, University of Washington, UBC, Princeton—that has made a significant effort to recruit women into engineering and computer science, not only do the female students do as well, they also take on most of the leadership roles.

With that in mind, have you noticed a change on campus?
Huge. It’s more social, people are happier—it’s just a different vibe. Before, there was a very particular culture, which is fairly common, where computer science is the central focus in the lives of most of the students. They read Reddit and GitHub, they play a lot of videogames, they do hacking projects. There are still students like that, but there are also people who care more about ballroom dancing.

What’s so important about having ballroom dancers be computer scientists?
If computer science is going to affect every aspect of society—and it is—you really would like to have some dancers, and some artists, and some doctors able to work at the interface of computer science in their field. That’s where the demand will be. Having that breadth of knowledge means you have better teams working on projects.

Sure, but is teamwork as important as your ability to write good code?
These days, agile software development often relies on pair programming, where you have two people—a driver and a navigator. The driver codes, the navigator looks over their shoulder and asks questions, and they flip roles about once every half hour. The result is much higher quality software. There are fewer faults.

Yet women still feel unwelcome. What changes at Mudd addressed that?
One was to make the introductory computer science course less intimidating. If you emphasize needing a special kind of brain, students who are underrepresented will do much worse. But if you say this is a discipline that rewards hard work and persistence, everyone does better.

We also started emphasizing more practical applications in introductory classes. In the past we presented computer science as interesting just for its own structure. That was very effective at attracting white and Asian men to the discipline, but only a subset of them, and it was generally not effective for women or people of color. When you start to make the argument that computer science is worth studying because of the things you can do with it, you attract not only more women but also a lot of men who wouldn’t have been interested in the usual approaches.

If everyone knows it’s a good idea to be more inclusive, and everyone wants to support their female employees, why aren’t more companies doing it?
Because changing culture is hard. Every company has somewhat different attributes that make recruiting people and keeping people difficult. Apple is one company that I don’t think is particularly trying. They hired their first VP of diversity and inclusion, and that person stayed for less than a year.

Are some companies succeeding?
Etsy convinced people who weren’t in software development jobs to be trained for technical roles, and they managed to get to almost 30 percent female in their engineering population relatively quickly. Accenture is doing extremely well and came in at roughly 40 percent female in their hires last year.

How did they do that?
The executive in charge of hiring came to me for help. I said, first of all, change your job descriptions. Don’t just list the technical skills you’re looking for. List communication skills, creativity, and people skills, so women will know it’s a workplace that values those things and because those are traits women tend to have more confidence about.

Gender isn’t the only concern, of course. If the percentage of female technical employees is in the teens at many companies, black and brown employees are—
In the single digits! Like, one-handed digits.

What is Harvey Mudd doing about that?
The truth is we made very little progress on race until about five years ago.

What happened?
We had been running a program where we would bring in 35 to 40 high school students for a weekend, and it was primarily aimed at students of color and women. Five years ago, we doubled the program and did two cohorts instead of one. And I started reaching out to African American leaders across the country. We also did research on how to recruit more Hispanic students, and we learned Hispanic families want their kids to stay close to home. So we needed to focus on admitting students from schools in Southern California.

What would you say to schools that are not making these changes?
What’s facing us is a very, very different future. The haves will be the people who have the skills that are needed, and the have-nots will be the people whose skills are no longer needed—because of automation, because of AI, because of robotics. We don’t know how fast certain kinds of routine jobs will go away, but we do know it will put a further income gap between people who have that kind of education and knowledge and people who don’t. If there are not many women, or people of color, or older people, or low­-income people getting that technical education and those technical jobs, it’s going to further polarize the situation in the country. It’s a question of transforming our society so a large enough fraction of people have opportunities for productive work.

So the stakes are high.
We want the Earth to survive. It’s pretty straightforward.


Do you have a woman in tech you admire? Tell us about her in the comments below!

WIT: We all must think about ‘balance of tech’ – Randi Zuckerberg

 

By Peter Hamilton of the Irish Times

“Nobody ever came up with an idea that was going to change the world when they were 24/7 glued to their phone”, Randi Zuckerberg, an entrepreneur and former Facebook employee, has told delegates at a conference.

Speaking at the Pendulum Summit, a conference in Dublin’s convention centre, Ms Zuckerberg said that “we all have to think about the balance of tech”, warning that while it can do incredible things, it doesn’t spur entrepreneurship by itself.

An older sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Randi began her career in digital marketing at advertising agency Ogilvy before joining the social media giant in its infancy.

She told the conference about the company’s ‘hackathon’ events, where “every few months everyone at the company was invited to pull an all nighter…there was one rule, you could not work on something that was related to anything you did on your day job.”

Ms Zuckerberg herself came up with the Facebook Live idea at one of those Hackathons. While the first ever transmission was only watched by two people the idea ultimately became a success after Katy Perry launched a world tour on the platform and “politicians from around the world saw an opportunity to speak directly to their constituents” with Barack Obama becoming an early adopter.

Ms Zuckerberg quit the company after the successes of Facebook Live because of a “complicated relationship with both tech and Silicon Valley”.

“On one hand I loved being part of a company like Facebook that was changing the world, I loved being in Silicon Valley where everywhere you walk people are talking about solving big problems. I hated being the only woman in the room for 10 years,” she said.

“Even today, my best advice for young women going into technology, is to have a mans name like Randi.

“I had a growing complicated relationship between the huge digital divide we see in the world. We live in a world today where some of us have amazing access to technology and advice and business and speakers. All of us in this room we are so lucky and then right in our back yard’s are millions of people who don’t even have WiFi access, and millions of people who are going to be left behind from this new economy and for me, I had trouble sitting with that.

“Some of the very tools we were working on and creating, they were used very differently by the world then how we dreamed they’d be used. For example, I remember waking up during the time of the Arab Spring and feeling so proud, waking up every morning thinking, wow, we’ve given a voice to everyone.

“And then I woke up the day after this last election in the United States and thought, wow, we gave a voice to everyone. It’s complicated,” she added.

Ms Zuckerberg is now the chief executive of Zuckerberg Media, a company she founded, and has just finished writing 30 episodes of a television show based on a children’s book she has written called “Dot”.

WIT: How the tech industry wrote women out of history

 

By Katie Brewer o f The Guardian

Susie the computer: sophisticated but cheap. Susie and her computer friend Sadie appeared in 1960s adverts to promote a now defunct UK computer company, accompanied by a young, attractive, nameless woman. Feminised adverts like these were a common ploy in Britain at the time, when male managers, uninitiated in the complexities of this new technology, viewed the machines as intimidating and opaque.

“Computers were expensive and using women to advertise them gave the appearance to managers that jobs involving computers are easy and can be done with a cheap labour force,” explains technology historian Marie Hicks. They might have been on a typist’s salary, but women like the one who appears alongside Susie and Sadie were not typists – they were skilled computer programmers, minus the prestige or pay the modern equivalent might command.

As Hicks’ book Programmed Inequality illustrates, women were the largest trained technical workforce of the computing industry during the second world war and through to the mid-sixties.

 

They operated the huge room-sized electromechanical computers that cracked codes, worked out military logistics and made ballistic calculations during the second world war. Later they went on to work for civil service departments – operating the computers needed for government to gather data and run properly. “It was viewed as unskilled, highly feminised work,” explains Hicks. “Women were seen as an easy, tractable labour force for jobs that were critical and yet simultaneously devalued.”
Managers perceived women to be ideal for the computing industry because they didn’t think they needed to be offered any sort of career ladder, explains Hicks. “Instead the expectation was that a woman’s career would be kept short because of marriage and children – which meant a workforce that didn’t get frustrated or demand promotions and higher wages.”

But by the 1970s, there was a change in mindset and women were no longer welcome in the workplace: the government and industry had grown wise to just how powerful computers were and wanted to integrate their use at a management level. “But they weren’t going to put women workers – seen as low level drones – in charge of computers,” explains Hicks. Women were systematically phased out and replaced by men who were paid more and had better job titles.

Discrimination still remains

 

“Today, companies still perceive it as lucrative to treat women differently than men, to pay them less,” says Hicks. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg recently spoke out against the gender pay gap, prevalent in the tech space where giants like Google have been accused of systematically underpaying women. In May the company argued that it would be too much of a financial hassle to compile and hand over the salary records requested by the US Department of Labor. In August the Silicon Valley company was left facing legal action over the leak of a male software engineer’s 10-page manifesto criticising diversity initiatives and arguing that men occupy more leadership roles than women in tech due to “biological differences”.
“Even though companies like Google obviously weren’t around in that earlier period, they’re still benefiting from the same cultures that sidelined women,” says the author.

 

If women had continued to be a major force in computing, instead of being sidelined, the way the tech industry looks today would have been very different, she argues. “If women had been a more important part of the high tech industry all along, would so many platforms and apps have the same problems with rampant sexism and misogyny both in their workplaces and their products? Most likely not.”
The British computing industry lost its edge when it removed women – and ultimately, the move destroyed it, believes Hicks. “There were persistent labour shortages once women were thrown away – a lot of the young men who got trained to do these jobs soon decided to go and do something else because it was still seen as feminised work and there really wasn’t a career ladder at that point.”

The effect of sidelining women

 

If women had remained a part of the workforce, the scope and quality of computing products we have today – particularly software – would undoubtedly be better, says Hicks. She uses Dame Stephanie Shirley as an example of the sort of talent effectively written off by the mainstream industry at the time. In the face of repeated workplace discrimination, the 29-year-old went it alone in the 1960s and built up a thriving software business for female computer programmers.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, Shirley said she knew her work at the Post Office’s prestigious Dollis Hill research station was good enough to get her promoted, but the promised promotion never materialised. “When I began to make it clear that I was pursuing a vigorous professional career, then it became a more entrenched position to keep me out,” she recalls. When the young computer programmer got married, it was expected that she would stop work immediately.

“Women continue to be weighed down with this sort of heteronormative cultural baggage,” says Hicks. “I think it’s clear that just relying on companies to do the right thing is not going to work and I think unions are going to have to become a major force again.”

And it’s vital that the invisible female workforce that upheld the computing industry for more than 40 years isn’t forgotten. “It’s easy to write history just looking at the people who are really good self-promoters – it isn’t as sexy or exciting to focus on a broad swath of faceless workers – but historical change doesn’t come from one person doing one thing.”

What changes would you make to Silicon Valley’s gender equality problem? Tell us about it in the comments below!

WIT: Ellen Ullman’s New Book Tackles Tech’s Woman Problem

 

 

 

By J. D. BIERSDORFER of NYTimes

LIFE IN CODE
A Personal History of Technology
By Ellen Ullman

As milestone years go, 1997 was a pretty good one. The computers may have been mostly beige and balky, but certain developments were destined to pay off down the road. Steve Jobs returned to a floundering Apple after years of corporate exile, IBM’s Deep Blue computer finally nailed the world-champion chess master Garry Kasparov with a checkmate, and a couple of Stanford students registered the domain name for a new website called google.com. Nineteen ninety-seven also happened to be the year that the software engineer Ellen Ullman published “Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its
Discontents,” her first book about working as a programmer in a massively male-dominated field.

That slender volume became a classic of 20th-century digital culture literature and was critically praised for its sharp look at the industry, presented in a literary voice that ignored the biz-whiz braggadocio of the early dot-com era. The book had obvious appeal to technically inclined women — desktop-support people like myself then, computer-science majors, admirers of Donna J. Haraway’s feminist cyborg manifesto, those finding work in the newish world of website building — and served as a reminder that someone had already been through it all and took notes for the future.

Then Ullman retired as a programmer, logging out to go write two intense character-driven thriller novels and the occasional nonfiction essay. The digital economy bounced back after the Epic Fail of 2000 and two decades later, those techno-seeds planted back in 1997 have bloomed. Just look at all those smartphones, constantly buzzing with news alerts and calendar notifications as we tell the virtual assistant to find us Google Maps directions to the new rice-bowl place.

What would Ullman think of all this? We can now find out, as she’s written a new book, “Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology,” which manages to feel like both a prequel and a sequel to her first book.

Don’t panic, non-nerds. In addition to writing code in multiple computer languages, Ullman has an Ivy League degree in English and knows how to decode her tech-world adventures into accessible narratives for word people: “Time went on; I graduated from Cornell and moved to San Francisco, where, one day in 1979, I walked past a Radio Shack store on Market Street and saw in the window a microcomputer called the TRS-80. Reader, I bought it.”

Her work as an active programmer spanned about 20 years, ending in the 1990s, but some experiences stay with you forever. “The role they assigned to me, translator, is perhaps the most accurate description of everything I have ever done concerning technology,” she writes of one gig. As I’ve found in my own scribbling about tech, language skills and accurate translation are essential to understanding in both human and computer systems. The most useful bit of prep I had for that came from the two years of Attic Greek I once took to fulfill a curriculum requirement for a theater degree. Converting text into plain language for the inquiring masses is vital, whether it be wrestling Xenophon’s “Anabasis” or Linux engineer notes into English.

The first three-fifths of “Life in Code” is primarily composed of essays published elsewhere between 1994 and 2004, while newer material from 2012 to early 2017 fills out the rest. The technology mentioned within those early chapters often recalls quaint discovery, like finding a chunky, clunky Nokia cellphone in the back of the junk drawer. The piece on preparing computers for the Year 2000 has a musty time-capsule feel, but the philosophical questions posed in other chapters — like those on robotics and artificial intelligence — still resonate.

While the electrified economy had yet to complete its first dramatic cycle of boom and bust when her first book came out, a 1998 essay in “Life in Code” shows Ullman, Cassandra-like and ever the pragmatic pessimist, already bracing for the coming storm. “I fear for the world the internet is creating,” she wrote. “Before the advent of the Web, if you wanted to sustain a belief in far-fetched ideas, you had to go out into the desert, or live on a compound in the mountains, or move from one badly furnished room to another in a series of safe houses.” These days, she’s still concerned about the damage the internet is doing to culture, privacy and civility.

What hasn’t changed in the past 20 years is the dominant demographic of the technology industry and its overall lack of diversity. Ullman addresses these topics in the latter part of the book, as she observes online classes for newer programming languages like Python and feels put off by the “underlying assumption of male, white, geeky American culture” with science fiction TV shows woven into the course material. She worries that this approach may alienate people who aren’t familiar with it, and imagines a time when the general public is writing their own code for the world they need.

“What I hope is that those with the knowledge of the humanities break into the closed society where code gets written: invade it,” Ullman writes. But, she warns, be prepared for an environment of “boyish men who bristle at the idea of anyone unlike them invading their territory.”

She has many stories of her own to share on the topic of gender relations in the office and points out that not all of them were bad. In one case, she tolerates frequent comments about her hair from one addled man in order to learn more about various aspects of computing from him. “I did have pretty hair; I went on to become a software engineer.”

As then, not all men today are hostile to women and many are quite accepting, but the misogyny Ullman experienced in her programming days seems to have escalated in some places. Perhaps this is because of the antler-whacking nature of today’s hyper-driven culture, as illustrated in the situations of women like Susan J. Fowler, who set the executive dominoes cascading at Uber earlier this year with a blog post detailing overt and unchecked sexual harassment by her male manager. A recent 10-page internal memo (by a male Google engineer) that lambasted the company’s diversity efforts also shined a light on workplace culture for some. The abuse of women, the L.G.B.T. community and racial, religious and ethnic minorities on social media is also well-documented — and much more vitriolic than flare-ups like the recent bout of androcentric caterwauling over the casting of a woman in the lead role on “Doctor Who.”

As noted by Anna Wiener in an interview with Ullman for The New Republic, Twitter “would look a lot different today if it had been built by people for whom online harassment was a real-life concern.” When reading “Life in Code” later, I thought of Ullman’s musings about interface design in general: “To build such a crash-resistant system, the designer must be able to imagine — and disallow — the dumbest action.” Let’s face it, a queer female gamer of color is going to have a very different idea of “the dumbest action” than a 23-year-old white brogrammer and we need that perspective. (As for Twitter, Ullman considers the service a broadcaster of “thought farts.”)

It may take a generation, but progress to find balance and representation in the tech and tech-driven world is happening. And the invasion is underway, with women-in-tech groups like Girls Who Code, Project Include and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (the latter named for the Navy rear admiral, herself a programming pioneer) striving for diversification on multiple fronts. Because, as Ullman observes, “the world of programmers is not going to change on its own.” One hopes she’ll check back in 20 years to comment on how it’s going.

Any women in the tech field who get your vote of confidence? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Weekly Round Up 8/18

 

 

Maybe they should ask Trump for advice on how to deal with them…. Too Soon?
Tech is not winning the battle against white Supremacy


Guess they didn’t read the fine print…

Here’s why Tech Execs can’t quit Trump’s technology council

It’s all fun and games….
The US Government must work with tech companies if it wants to remain competitive in AI

….Until the subpoenas start flying around.
Tech firm is fighting a federal demand for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website.


Leave the old people alone!!

Robocall scams get craftier as tech industry tries new ways to block the practice.


When I was in 4-H, all we got to do was cook $hit and shovel $hit.

Google continues to push diversity in tech — now with the 4-H club

…But they didn’t have any problem approving them to begin with?!
Apple pulls Apple Pay support from selling White Nationalist and Nazi Apparel.

WIT: Sexism in tech impacts women everywhere. YouTube’s CEO just made that clear.

“Is it true?” Even Susan Wojcicki’s own daughter is grappling with that Google memo.

 

 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has spoken out about her experience with sexism in Silicon Valley in response to the controversial memo circulated by now-former Google employee James Damore and the broad ideological debate that has ensued.

Wojcicki has been with Google since its humble beginnings — the company’s first office was her garage. She became the CEO of YouTube in 2014, eight years into Google’s ownership of the video-sharing platform and after 15 years of overseeing various aspects of the company’s marketing departments and advertising services.

But Wojcicki, the woman who oversaw the development of Google’s now-ubiquitous AdSense product, spearheaded the implementation of Google Doodles, and suggested that Google purchase YouTube to begin with, has experienced seemingly all of the now well-known stereotypes of women in tech. Now Wojcicki has detailed a few of those experiences in a short essay for Fortune.

“Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question,” she wrote. “‘Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?’”

The topic has been the subject of much debate since Damore’s memo — which argues that women are biologically less capable or willing than men to perform a wide range of engineering and tech industry jobs, and that’s why they are underrepresented in the field — first became public.

“Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question,” she wrote, explaining:

I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men.

No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.

Wojcicki then offered a succinct and clear bird’s-eye view of how she suspects many women in tech are feeling right now:

When I saw the memo that circulated last week, I once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. I thought about the women at Google who are now facing a very public discussion about their abilities, sparked by one of their own co-workers. I thought about the women throughout the tech field who are already dealing with the implicit biases that haunt our industry (which I’ve written about before), now confronting them explicitly. I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields, how hard we’ve been working as an industry to reverse that trend, and how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science. And as my child asked me the question I’d long sought to overcome in my own life, I thought about how tragic it was that thisunfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation.

Wojcicki ultimately echoed Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s message to all Google employees (in which Pichai stressed that parts of the memo violated Google’s code of conduct), noting that “while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender … the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”

Significantly, Wojcicki did not attempt to offer solutions, or to praise Google effusively for doing the right thing in firing Damore. Her essay primarily seems to be an attempt to show solidarity with her fellow women in tech. And her underlying message is clear: Silicon Valley’s sexist culture impacts women at all levels of the industry — and even their daughters.

How to: Password Protect a Folder in a Mac

 

 

 

By Henry T. Casey of Laptop Mag.com

Not all of your files are meant to be seen by everyone. Your friends and family may not appreciate this truth, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Luckily, MacBook owners can protect their sensitive files from prying eyes by password protecting specific folders.

Many paid programs offer similar functionality, but we prefer this free method built into Apple that allows folders to be turned into protected disk images. We tested this on a MacBook Pro running macOS Sierra version 10.12.6 but research shows it works the same way going as far back as Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard.

1. Click Command + Shift + A to open the Applications folder.

 

2. Open the Utilities folder within Applications.

 

3. Open Disk Utility.

4. Click File.

 

5. Select New Image.

6. Select Image from Folder.

7. Select the folder you wish to protect and click Open.

8. Click on the Image Format option menu and select read/write.

9. Click on the Encryption menu and click 128-bit AES encryption.

10. Enter the password for this folder twice, and click Choose.

11. Name the locked disk image and click Save.

12. Click Done.

You’ve turned your folder into a locked disk image! You can delete the original folder now, if you’d like. Just don’t delete that .DMG file!

And just like a folder, you can add items to your password-protected disk image before ejecting it.

 

Do you have any tips for protecting your data? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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