Monthly Archives: August 2016

The End is the Beginning is The End…

September 9th (and the days around it) has, for better or worse, become an important day for me. I got married on September 9th, 2009. I found out later that September 9th was my first ex-boyfriend’s birthday. I started working for Brad Larson two years ago on September 8th. And this year I am completing an important contract on September 9th. It seems fitting.

I feel like I have accomplished nothing of importance over the last year.

I am not blaming anyone besides myself for this. I don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t know if I have been suffering from depression, which has prevented me from fully engaging in anything. I don’t know if I am trying to do too many side projects and am getting distracted with blog posts and conference talks and tech books. I don’t know if I jumped into the deep end too early and I haven’t learned to deal or cope with things yet. I don’t know.

I just know that a year ago when I looked back on everything I did in the year I worked for Brad I was really proud of what I had accomplished and the person that I was becoming and I honestly can’t say that about myself right now. This was a wasted year.

I am tired of feeling like nothing I do matters. I’m tired of being a cog in a system and not seeing anything I work on ever get completed because it eventually gets passed on to someone else and I never see it again and feel no ownership of it. I am tired of feeling like I am chasing after the wrong things. I am tired of not saving enough of my money because I am buying stuff to fill the empty, meaningless void in my soul.

I want to do something important and significant. I want to do work I am proud of. I don’t want to look at code I wrote a year ago and go “Damn! I used to be smart. What the fuck happened??”

I need a change. I don’t know how I am going to do this or what I am going to do, but I do not want to keep living this way. I am tired of this. I want to make something that matters. I want to push myself to be more than I am right now. I do not want another wasted year. I want to look back on September 9th, 2017, and go “This was a good year.”

I am putting this year behind me. Nothing is irreparably broken. It sometimes takes a lot of time and patience to fix things that are broken. It takes some time to backtrack and get back on the right path when you’re lost. It’s easy to give up and walk away. I am not going to do that. I am going to find something that matters to me and I am going to do it. I am going to hold onto that and keep it close and use it to motivate me to keep pushing. Because I don’t want to live like this anymore and I don’t want another wasted year.

The Cassandra Effect

Back when I was a sixteen-year-old high school student, I had a boy behaving in ways that made me very uncomfortable. Any time he saw me in the hallway he would flinch in pain. He started telling everyone in the school that I was the Queen of Darkness and Evil and been sent by Satan to tempt him.

I was a teenager and I had absolutely no idea how to deal with this behavior. The year previously one of my teachers saw another student harassing me and reported it to the vice principal and this person was dealt with immediately. I felt like I could trust the vice principal, who had told me if I ever experienced anything like this ever again that I should go to him and he would take care of if.

So I did. A meeting was called between me and this other student. The vice principal came in and gave me a warm look. Then he saw that the student I was reporting was an honor student and all the warmth drained from his face. He grew very cold and rigid.

He informed me, in front of my abuser, that he did not take spurious reports seriously and that any other reports of harassment about this individual would be ignored. This gave him carte blanche to make my life miserable.

I have gaps in my memory of my sophomore year of high school because of the stress from this situation. I was misdiagnosed with a learning disability and eventually bipolar disorder all because this authority figure did not believe me when I told him I was being abused. This moment had an impact on my educational and eventual professional career because I went from being an honor student myself to getting D’s and F’s.

This was not an isolated incident.

I have encountered a version of this so many time over the course of my life that it is driving me crazy and I can’t take it anymore.

I have had situations where I have known a group of people for years, then I will notice someone starting to sabotage me. It’s always someone who is either in a position of authority or someone who has been there longer than I have. Either I will directly see them having conversations with authority figures above them or I will just see the evidence of it.

People I have known who used to be friendly will immediately grow cold and distant. There will be conversations in the halls that will stop the second I come into view. They will turn around to avoid passing me in the hall. Eventually they get angry and hostile.

Then it’s always a matter of time before I am asked to leave. The clock starts ticking and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it because no one will talk to me directly about it. I have gotten good at recognizing the signs so that I can set up an exit strategy, which is usually fine with the people I am among because they don’t want me there anyway.

I feel like I am trapped in a video game where there is a level I can never beat. I see it over and over again and it makes me angry that there is nothing I can do. It’s a nightmare I never get to wake up from. I feel like maybe this time I will disable the bomb before it goes off and it never happens.

It is incredibly difficult to get men to understand that this is happening because it doesn’t happen to them. Being a man gives you a degree of credibility that you do not have as a woman.

No matter how progressive or aware you are of sexism, I have not had one man believe me when I tell him about this happening.

I get good natured, “Now, now, you’re being paranoid. You’re seeing malice where none exists. It’s probably a misunderstanding.” A man they have never met get the benefit of the doubt over a woman they have known for years, and THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS!!!

Being a woman means you are always in a position where you have to prove yourself and your version of reality. I have had two separate professional instances where I have worked with men who were making incredibly bad design decisions for the code architecture because they fundamentally did not understand what was happening under the hood. I have presented a carefully constructed technical walkthrough of what these decisions would do and why they cause bugs and crash apps, and the response I have gotten was always “Well, I am just doing what Apple wants me to.”

Guess whose side gets taken. Hint: Not mine.

You are not allowed to make any mistakes. I talk to guys who tell me they made a mistake they thought for sure would get them fired but that they were allowed to fix it and everything was fine. This never happens to me.

I still don’t know the reason why I was fired from my first programming job. I know I got a call right before dinner on a Saturday night telling me that everything I did was terrible and that when the CTO looked at my code he felt like I grabbed him by the hair and punched him in the balls. He would not tell me what the problem was. I lingered there for a few days while they consulted with a lawyer to see if I could sue them. The only changes that I saw to the project I was doing before I was let go was that someone changed the color, which would have taken me all of ten minutes to do. I don’t know if they saw an earlier version of the project, which was a train wreck, because they refused to speak to me about what the issue was. They had been primed by the guy I worked with to think I was incompetent and after they got confirmation of it they looked for any excuse to get rid of me.

People talk about gossip like it’s the weapon of mean girls in junior high. It’s not. It’s the weapon of men.

We place so much pressure on developers to be “the best.” Everyone has to be an 10x engineer. Everyone has to be a code ninja. This has created an incredibly hostile environment where a lot of people feel there is a zero sum game. Having a better developer than you on your team means they are taking away something of yours and you must get rid of them. Women are especially susceptible to this because we have to prove our credibility and it’s not just a given like it is for everyone else. This works so effectively because people are already predisposed to thinking we’re not as good to begin with.

I have also been on projects where I could see an iceberg coming a mile away. I try my best to establish that something bad is going to happen and that things need to be fixed. I try to cover my ass because I know that a problem is coming and I don’t want to be blamed for it when no one does anything about it. They don’t do anything about it, then I get yelled at for not alerting them to the problem earlier even thought that is all I have been doing for months. It’s instantly forgotten or it was never remembered or taken seriously because it came from me.

This makes it difficult for women to establish a base of trust and credibility to be able to rise through the ranks of a company. There are a lot of jobs where I would not make myself a manager because I know that no one on the team will do what I tell them. I have basically given up on that career path because I know it will be filled with failure and disappointment.

I would like to start a product company in the next three to five years, but I know that if I want to do that I need to find a male co-founder to talk to people for me because if I want to have any chance of success I need to work with a man who will give me a degree of credibility that I will never get on my own. I need to find someone who will respect and believe me and back me up when I tell him something. Fat chance of that happening.

When we talk about sexism in tech, we talk about women being asked if they’re designers at conferences. We talk about women being asked to get coffee because someone assumes they are the secretary or just because they’re the woman so they should be the one to fetch coffee and take notes.

We need to have a conversation about this bullying and gas lighting behavior. All it takes is one person on a team to drive great developers away. If you have a team of 20 people and 19 of them are great but you have one foul ball, that one does so much more damage than you can see. All this person has to do is tell a few people that someone is incompetent, who tell other people that too, and before too long everyone on that team “knows” that someone is shitty developer. This is how social crap works. Having a team mostly comprised of men means that most of the time they don’t understand this because they have not been forced to figure out the rules of the game to master basic survival skills the way that women have been forced to.

I am angry. I am tired of this happening over and over again. I find it absurd that I am trusted to write a book on a topic and flown all over to talk about technology but that the second I have a disagreement with a man on my team that I instantly have no credibility. This fucking sucks and I don’t want to take it anymore.

Hey, Just Wanted to Let You Know You’re Garage is on Fire. You Should Do Something About It.

I came back from a business trip a little under two weeks ago. The trip was incredibly difficult and draining for me. I missed my pugs. I missed my own bed. I wanted nothing more than to come home and have some awesome pug snuggles.

I got home and discovered my basement had leaked at some point while I was gone. There is a pool of standing water in one quadrant of the basement. I do not know where it originated. I believe, based on my forensic CSI skills that it came through a window in the corner of the basement, but I don’t know for sure.

My ex-husband helpfully boxed up most of my books in cardboard boxes that were helpfully soaking up a bunch of nasty contaminated water that was sitting in the basement.

I could not deal with it. I am still trying to deal with it.

I speak on here a bit about having depression. Having depression usually means that I either can’t deal with anything or I can deal with one thing at a time. I work from home. I need to keep my job. For the last few weeks, the only thing I have really been able to deal with is doing the things necessary to keep my job.

My basement is unfinished, so I believe if I throw away all of the wet and damp books and cardboard in the basement that there will be no long term damage to the house.

I am aware of the fact that this is a health hazard. I filled my garage can last week and didn’t have room for all of the rest of the stuff that is contaminating my basement. I know there was probably someone or something I could do to get that taken care of without me having to do it myself, but I can’t deal with that right now because all I can deal with is keeping my job.

I went on Twitter to commiserate about how sucky it was to come home to find a problem I had to deal with and I got a lot of finger wagging from people who seem to be under the impression that I am an idiot.

“You know that’s a health hazard, right?”

“Why don’t you have a sump pump?”

“Why do you live in a house? You should relocate to San Fransisco.”

People telling me these things makes me feel like a helpful neighbor telling me my garage is on fire and I should really do something about it while I am also trying to deal with my house being on fire. I am not stupid. I am fully aware of the fact that this is a problem. I know that I need to get that water out of my basement and throw away all the ruined things down there. I just can’t deal with it right now.

Learning From the Masters

Recently I joined Sector67, a hacker space in Madison. I have written on here about all of the various things I am interested in doing (robotics, electronics, etc…).

Every time I talk about wanting to learn a new skill, I keep hearing people tell me not to do tutorials but to choose a project and use it as a learning experience. I have written on here before about this, but there was some aspect of this argument that has always bothered me. I didn’t grasp it until I heard it from the organizer of the hacker space.

He told me that buying electronics kits were a waste of time because at the end of the kit you only knew how to construct the kit and nothing more.

That is the crux of the argument.

I feel that people have a fundamental misunderstanding about the learning process. People are under the impression that we are all computers, we can only do what we’re programmed to do. He and others are under the impression that doing a kit or a tutorial teaches you only what the purpose of the tutorial is and you get nothing beyond that.

I don’t feel that is true for me. It may or may not be true for others, but I don’t feel that is the case for me.

One thing that art students do is to recreate the works of the masters. It gives them a perspective of what was in the artist’s mind when they created great works of art. It may feel like you’re not being creative or implementing anything on your own, but getting a perspective on what has already been done and being exposed to various styles helps temper your own talents and perspectives. After you build up a base of skills and experiences you have much better tools to implement your own artistic vision.

You don’t start out making a great piece of art. You don’t start out writing an amazing app. You don’t start out building a nuclear reactor.

I get that a lot of people don’t do well with a formalized learning process. I certainly didn’t. They have memories of sitting through boring lectures about data structures without having any context about how that leads to writing efficient applications. I don’t think that is a fault of the formalized learning process, I think that is a fault of how that particular formalized learning process was applied.

I was speaking yesterday to a kid who wants to be a gaming tester who said that school bores him and he can only learn when he is actively engaged. We all learn better when actively engaged.

I don’t think there needs be a separation of formalized learning process and hacking. I think the two should work together.

I think the MAKE series of books and Ray Wenderlich’s tutorial series are great examples of formalized learning structures that are also interactive and incorporate the hacker mentality of doing useful things and seeing how they work.

When I do tutorials for iOS programming, it fleshes out my understanding of how the applications work. I see and absorb programming style. I also got a lot out of actually taking programming classes. My teacher Eric Knapp went over with us how to detect code smell. He had us write applications that repeated code and were structured badly and showed us how to write good, maintainable applications. I have met people with ten years of experience who don’t understand how to do this because they never had any formalized learning structure.

Having a lot of experience doesn’t necessarily correlate to being good at what you do. Thinking critically about how to approach a problem is necessary as well. Sometimes you can get a jump start on this by learning from other people’s mistakes. It’s important to make your own mistakes as well, but there is a place for building contrived projects that teach you how things work. You learn several building blocks and you infer that if A is true and B is true then C is true as well.

Every programmer starts out writing “Hello world!” You don’t jump from writing “Hello world” to writing a neural network. You have a lot of intermediary steps. You have to spend a lot of time figuring out what problems have already been solved so we can build upon the experience of others rather than reinventing the wheel over and over again.