Archive for January, 2010

“It’s Because I’m a Woman” (Going *There*)

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with someone at work lately. I work in a small school, so I won’t go into the details…and they’re not that important, anyway. I was discussing it with another colleague, who, as it turns out, has had some similar interactions with this same person. Both of us had the same reaction – it’s because we’re women.

I cringe as I type this, and cringed when I admitted to my colleague that I thought that was the reason. I personally hate to go there, and am concerned when others do – automatically pointing the finger at gender (or age, race, sexual orientation, or other differentiating status that may be discriminated against) as the reason for someone’s behavior. What if it’s just a reaction to me – not *female* me, but manager, techie, smart-alecky me? Or what if it’s just his personality, and he would act the same way even if I were a white male?

I don’t believe that gender is an issue in most of my interactions with people, pleasant or otherwise. Occasionally, however, I can’t help but feel that it is. It’s not anything that I can point to specifically – it’s a subtle difference in how I’m treated versus a (male) colleague, or a patronizing attitude; it’s an undermining comment, or sometimes, an outright dismissal of my opinions and expertise. It’s all of these things, combined with that certain “je ne se quoi” that makes me *feel* like gender is a factor.

At the end of the day, I suppose gender discrimination, for me, is sort of like obscenity for Justice Stewart – “I know it when I see it,” or, well, experience it. So I’ve experienced it, and I’ve gone *there*. Now where do I go from here?

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A Housework Benefit? Really?!?

Stanford’s Clayman Institute posted an interesting article to its blog today about the amount of time academic scientists spend doing housework — 19 hours per week, to be exact — and the impact of that work on job productivity. Their assessment? Universities should offer a “housework” benefit to enable women to spend more time doing what they’re paid for.

Seriously? I’m as much of a feminist as anyone, and deeply interested in gender equity in the workplace. And I’d totally *love* to have a housework benefit — I mean, who wouldn’t? But their argument that it isn’t a “good use of resources to to be training people in science and then having them do laundry” is a hard one to swallow. If that’s the litmus test, then really, is it a good use of resources to care for ones children, shop for clothes, or read a book for pleasure? If I gave up all of those things, I’d have a *ton* more time to spend at work. How great would that be? (kidding)

Yes, I get that women are disproportionally saddled with housework. I would think that single people of both sexes are, too. But is this really something that eats into one’s work time, or prevents someone from taking a demanding job? And isn’t the benefit of taking a high-level, professional job the relatively high-level salary that goes with it (which, presumably, can be used to pay someone else to do your housework)?

For me, the trade-off I make is not between professional work and housework, it’s a trade-off between housework and other ways to spend my personal time. Guess what doesn’t get done at my house, very often? C’est la vie…

Are You Doing “It”? (Cloud Computing…What Did You Think?)

Everybody’s doing it. You know you want to, too….

Well, everybody’s talking about doing it, at least. But what is “it,” exactly? Turns out it’s rather complicated, and somewhat subjective. There’s outsourcing. Hosting. Software as a Service (SaaS). Public clouds. Virtual private clouds. And so on.

The “it” I’m talking about, of course, is cloud computing. And we’re definitely doing it at my school. Or, well, talking about it anyway. Planning for it, really. So if you’re planning for “it” too, it’s really important to know what you want “it” to do for you—what your objectives are—to ensure that you pick the right flavor of cloud computing, or right flavor mix, to meet your needs.

Here are my objectives at the moment (subject to change, as we’re currently developing our strategy), as well as some underlying assumptions:

  1. Create an easily maintainable, highly scalable, and environmentally-friendly IT infrastructure
  2. Reduce overall IT infrastructure costs
  3. Focus IT resources on the college’s core “business” – teaching and learning
  4. Increase access to technology resources and services
  5. Promote [my school] as a technologic leader and innovator

Implicit in these objectives is that a fully-implemented cloud computing strategy will:

  • Shift the focus from capital to operating expenses, with an overall cost reduction
  • Reduce the amount of staff (FTE) needed to support and maintain a cloud infrastructure
  • Reduce electronic waste and energy consumption
  • Increase flexibility to meet growing demand or bring new services online
  • Enable campus constituents to access campus services from anywhere

My vision for our institution is a technology-free data center. I want to walk into my data center and see fresh white walls, bright lights, and *no* servers. It’s not that infrastructure isn’t important – it is. It is the foundation upon which all of our services are built, and like the foundation of a house, it needs to be solid, reliable, and secure. But operating a data center provides no strategic advantage for my institution, and I would suspect, for most institutions. By leveraging various forms of cloud computing to realize operational efficiencies, we can refocus our finite IT resources towards supporting activities that *are* core to the institution—namely, teaching and learning.

I don’t know if it’s possible to get to an empty server room (and realize the benefits of such), but we’re sure going to try over the next year or so. Will you be doing “it” too?

Lessons from a “Racist” Webcam

A couple of days before Christmas a big news story about HP’s “racist” webcam hit the airwaves. It was, in true network news fashion, over sensationalized, but despite that, serves as an important reminder for those of us in IT – diversity matters, not just for diversity’s sake, but for the sake of the products we create. I’ve read in several places that early voice recognition software didn’t recognize female voices, and more recently, that some software might not fit women’s learning styles. Why? Because they weren’t designed with women in mind, or (in the case of voice recognition) tested on them.

We all do it. We grab our student assistants—hey, you’re a student, can you look at this?—to “test” our websites. We seek out IT-friendly faculty to evaluate our newest instructional aide. Or we round up our sys admins and database developers to garner feedback on our latest application in development. The problem, of course, is that these groups are not necessarily representative of our target audiences for these products and services. Our student assistants and faculty friends are likely more tech savvy than their peers, and predisposed (we hope) to viewing IT favorably. And our staff, well…

IT is not a diverse profession. It turns out that this matters not only for those of us who are in it (and desperately seeking peers “like us”), but for *all* consumers of technology. HP’s webcam isn’t racist, but it may be a product of its environment. On its blog, HP noted that they use “standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose.” Perhaps this “standard algorithm” would be different, if more people of color were on the design team?

A Year in Books

This blog is primarily focused on issues of importance to me in my work, and so this post is a bit of a departure, but I thought perhaps an interesting one. I read a lot of interesting articles, white papers, and the occasional book for work; but when I’m not at work, I read a lot. About all sorts of things.

A good friend posted a list of the books she read this past year, and I thought that I would do the same. Since I didn’t actually keep track throughout the year, here are just a few of the recent reads I can remember. I also thought it would be fun to include those books already in the queue for 2010.

What other books do you think I should add to my list, and what will you be reading this year?

Recently Read

  • Just How Stupid Are We by Rick Shenkman
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Paper Daughter: A Memoir by M. Elaine Mar
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • God Says No by James Hannaham

In Progress

  • What is the What by Dave Eggers
  • The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr
  • The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins

In the Queue (in no particular order)

  • No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
  • The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
  • The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic
  • We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo
  • The White Album by Joan Didion
  • Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti
  • Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson

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