The Case for More Women in Tech, and How It Relates to Pie

Hoo boy. I started writing this post while I was drunk and it made no sense, so I started over. Don’t write while drunk, people, unless it turns out funny.

We just pushed the beta release of a new (huge) piece of software out the door and, not unlike birthing a 9lb 4oz baby, it took a lot of medication, a lot of not sleeping, and a lot of goddamn pain in the nether regions. And I’m not even a developer.

I graduated with a computer science degree knowing that I didn’t want to write code for a living. I could do it competently enough but it wasn’t what I enjoyed in the slightest. What I enjoyed was breaking shit and trying to figure out why that shit was breaking. But actually producing shit? About as appealing as producing an actual shit. We’ve recently (finally) realized that we don’t have enough QA staff in proportion to developers, and after a few rounds of interviews spanning the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that good Quality Assurance people are really fucking hard to find.

Ideally, a QA person quickly understands how things work, thinks outside the box about how those things actually work (or should work), and communicates well enough to explain why a problem is a problem. Those qualities seem pretty straightforward, but for some reason those kinds of people are not doing QA. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, but they need to start thinking about a career in QA because my team needs them. We need them about 3 months ago.

My desperation leads me to the part where I implore more women – and very importantly, little girls – to enter the tech field. I am sure that the recent #shirtgate incident is not all that far from your minds yet. It’s true that the number of women in the sciences is stupidly low. It’s true that there are many places where being a woman in the industry is more difficult than being a man in the industry, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual work and everything to do with the environment. There are those who believe in gender-based abilities, where boys are good at certain things, and girls are good at certain things, and so boys like certain things, and girls like certain things.  Then they grow up, and the next thing you know, men are engineers and upper management and like strippers, and women go into liberal arts and like diamonds.

Those people are full of shit.

I was raised by a father who earned a PhD in Physics from Brown University and a mother who earned a Masters in Sociology, and their academic demands on me were high. My mother’s math skills were never very good, but she never sympathetically told me, “Oh, math and science were hard for me. It’s ok if you don’t like them either.” Oh no, she Tiger Mommed the shit out of me and said, “You have your father’s math genes and your mother’s linguistic genes; you have no excuse for not excelling.” A friend of mine recently told me that her mother once said to her, “If you don’t do well in math, YOU WILL TURN INTO A PROSTITUTE.” Our mothers’ methods and words may have been a little heavy-handed, but the message was that there was absolutely no reason why the sciences were beyond our capabilities.

So clearly I don’t buy into the gender-based brain differences. The cool thing about brain plasticity is that as your behaviors and experiences change, your brain activity and neurochemistry change. If girls are taught from an early age to fear math and science, or to shy away from exploration and investigation, of course their brains will work differently as grown women compared to grown men who’ve been taught to fear or shun emotions as boys. This is not to say that the differences are necessarily bad, but the argument that one gender is hardwired to be better at some things than another gender is baseless.

But my plea for more women in tech is about numbers. QA is not just about finding bugs and filing them anymore; QA is about knowing the product inside and out from both the customers’ perspectives and the developers’ and being the liaison between the two. In order to do that effectively, having a sufficiently technical background – knowing how to read and write code, and software engineering in general – is huge. And the more of those kinds of people there are in the candidate pool, the fewer people who can’t satisfactorily answer my interview questions I have to reject.

But maybe you think am the one who is full of the shit.

That’s fine. Sometimes I am, and I have a cup of coffee, and everything is all better. But say you do think that gender-based brain differences are A Thing, and that said differences are not only complementary but predetermined  (in which case, I suggest you read this article or this article or this book or this explanation of brain plasticity and neuroscience  in conjunction with this article). Well then, those behaviors you stereotypically assign to women are perfect for QA. Multitasking? Facilitating communication between analytical and intuitive processing? Knowing where things are located? Awesome. If you’ve ever had to fuck with a hash table, come in and interview.

Which brings me to pie.

A common probing question to find out how people think is to ask them how they’d QA a coffee machine or a vacuum cleaner or a blender or some common household appliance. I hate this question because you can just do a 15-second Google search and memorize the answers. So I make up inventions that don’t exist (but TOTALLY SHOULD) and ask them the same sort of thing. My machine of choice at the moment is a catapult that launches pies. Even better if they aren’t familiar with a catapult (it’s surprising how common this is) because then I have to explain the difference between the ballista or a trebuchet or a mangonel, and they have another dimension to think about. My favorite interviewees are the people who either exhaustively come up with test case scenarios for a few aspects (like usability or performance), or come up with a few test cases for a comprehensive number of aspects (performance, usability, acceptance, adapability, portability, security, etc). Such test cases might include:
– Is the catapult built to the customer’s requirements?
– Is the catapult built to the design specs?
– Are those specs still good?
– Does the catapult meet government restrictions for catapults?
– Does the catapult support the weight of the pie?
– How heavy a pie can it handle?
– What happens if I try to launch more than one pie?
– How many times can I launch a pie before the catapult breaks down?
– How easy is it to break down and set up the catapult?
– What’s the farthest I can launch a pie?
– Could launching a pie kill a person?
– How easy is the catapult to operate?
– Are there child-safety features on the catapult? Do they work?
– How easy is it to move the catapult?
– How easy is it to aim the catapult?
– Can a customer stack a pie on his existing shark and launch a shark with a pie on its head?
– How much torque is needed to release the potential energy in the catapult?
– Can the catapult be adapted to work indoors?
– Can you lock the release lever so that only authorized personnel can launch pies?
– Does the pie stay in the bowl/bucket until it’s launched?
– Does the pie not splatter until it hits its target?
– Say I wanted to launch a Baked Alaska Flambé – could the catapult handle fire?

If this is the way your brain thinks, get into QA please, because QA needs you. If this is the way your child thinks, foster that inquisitive mind and encourage him or especially her to pursue math and science. Though it’s totally ok if they do something that isn’t QA, like maybe mechanical engineering, because pumpkin catapults are nice, but I still don’t have a pie catapult.

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11 thoughts on “The Case for More Women in Tech, and How It Relates to Pie

  1. This might be the best post I have ever read in my entire life.

    So much to say and so well said.
    As an engineer, (are you one by the way?), this post makes me so, so happy.
    Especially the QA part. Especially that. 👍 👍
    I wanna send this shit out as a company email.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While a huge believer in genetic predispositions in general, I see plenty of women in IT. More in the Project and QA side than coding, however. And I think this trend will continue at least in the US, with women outpacing men joining IT (particularly as year over year, women are outpacing men for college education in general) On the other hand, started my college career in tech, couldn’t code worth a crap, became an English lit major and somehow still ended up in IT. I suppose my simple point is everything depends on the individual. I definitely believe in Brain Flexibility (some of the studies with brain rewiring for Stroke victims, e.g. is fascinating), Lastly, I find it more interesting the personality types rather than Gender that go into given careers. As a former Marine, one IT company I joined had about 10 other marines in the company as a whole (about a 1000 person company). FIVE of them, including me, were in the same 20 person organization that had to do with IT compliance type things (CM, Licensing, etc). The others were in QA (if anyone can break something it’s a Marine) and InfoSec. all again having to do with compliance.

    In any case, I was just disappointed that there were no photos of pies being catapulted and I hope for posterity’s sake you someday post the drunken ramblings. Those are always interesting even if incoherent.

    And now for my public service:
    Pie Catapult 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaL_c2xJC1o
    Pie Catapult 2 -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si7i2tTKz1M
    Pie Catapult 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6nshKhqyqU

    Like

    • Oh, I totally agree that personalities seem to gravitate to certain areas, though in my mind it breaks down more broadly into people who think more in terms of “How?” vs. “Why?”. Sometimes there’s overlap, but in general I find that I care a lot less about things once I know the Why. This applies to relationships too 🙂

      Like

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