I spent some time a couple weeks ago (my, how time flies) at the Grace Hopper Conference in San Diego. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was a pioneering female computer scientist, the woman who popularized the term “bug” – I’ve seen the Mark IV in Cambridge, one of the computers she worked on, and I remember being fascinated by the picture of the moth in the works of the Mark II. The Grace Hopper Conference is the “Celebration of Women in Computing”, run by the Anita Borg Institute, and I was going on behalf of Microsoft Research’s Gender Equity team to talk about Microsoft and (for my own edification) to take a look at the current state of women in technology. I filled the same role at the last conference in 2004, and it was amazing to me how much better the conference has gotten. The sponsorship, the speakers, the attendance – everything just gets better each year. This year we were up to (I think) 1500 attendees.
It’s always odd for me to go to these women’s events. The demographics, as you might imagine, look very different from those at the other conferences I go to, and having to wait in a line for the bathroom is almost a novelty. I hold such a complicated position toward the idea of “women in computing” that I’m sometimes confused by it myself. When I was young and naïve, I more or less believed that everyone should have access to the single level playing field and no one should need “extra help”; after a few years in the industry I decided that the playing field is neither single nor level and that underrepresented folks need all the help they can get. These were difficult points for me to reconcile initially, but I’m now comfortable with the ambiguity.
The really hard problem, afaict, is one of execution.
You know, there was more to follow up that sentence, but in writing this I realized I haven’t recently thought about the problem rigorously. I’ve been involved in a lot of one-on-one discussions about the issue, and I think the other person has usually walked away agreeing that my position is valid (which may partially be because I’ve been making them swallow lots of alcohol while listening to me), but I haven’t tried to put it down on paper in a while. I’ll have to think more about this and follow up.
<this is one of those half-written posts I was talking about in my last post. I figured I'd just post it and give it a somewhat provocative title, and that might replace an argument.>
(as an aside, while I was in lovely, sunny San Diego, I had dinner with Michele Leroux Bustamante, who’s writing a great book on WCF. It's always good to see our community, and it's almost surprising how someone from the community turns up just about everywhere I go. Michele also pointed me to some beautiful beaches, so I managed to fulfill my beachgoing duty.)