Trying to pick who joins the coding club is wrong

I’ll start with a personal controversial statement: I’ve never liked nor attended many “women’s events”. The very few I’ve been to I felt very uncomfortable hearing stories of being a victim. I’ve never seen myself as a victim in my industry, or for being my sex generally – it’s always made me feel very strong, empowered and special. I’ve also been more looked after and catered for sensitively than I have been harassed – both in technology, and the videogaming community. I know that’s not the same for everyone, and I realise “women” events are very useful for women who unlike me, may find their sex interferes with their career path, or life choices. I’ve always been in the “take it, and give it back in a disarmingly funny or smart way” club (or, you know, just ignore) when someone does something that I don’t like, regardless of their sex/colour/height/amountofbodyparts.

However, last month I saw a women’s only event I was interested in. Not because it was women’s only, but because it offered an opportunity for me to learn Ruby with other beginners, in what seemed a very friendly environment. It was this RailsGirlsLondon event. I was also keen to find out what women devs would be like – as a developer, I’ve never worked with one. As someone who helps companies build teams, I figured it’d be useful knowledge to ensure I could advise on how to set our teams up in a way that was more comfortable and engaging for women to see if that helps women join the companies I work with.

So, I applied, duly tweeted about it to promote it and sat to wait and hear about my application.

I found out last night I didn’t get in. And here’s why (from the organiser, when I asked directly):

We tried our best to select people based roughly on the following criteria:
– not much programming experience
– has perhaps attempted learning on their own, but were unsuccessful
To apply this, two of us (both girls), went through the application list individually and made selections. Then we went through the list together again comparing our thoughts. The ones that matched we accepted/rejected, the ones that mismatched we further discussed. Also, after making the final selection, a third person from the organising team, went through the selected attendees, to verify our decision. There was no clash of opinions at that point.

I have a big issue with this. An event to help women get into coding, that then excludes women based on organiser preference? So now I get to be made a double outsider – I’m a “woman in technology” who doesn’t qualify for some reason* to attend a “women in coding” event. * (I meet both those listed criteria they gave).

Why wasn’t this done as random selection? Or first 40 to sign up? Any way that would let everyone know they had equal chance?

So the community turns on itself, and gets to pick who’s in the club?  No, I don’t buy that. That’s exactly why this (or any) industry can be hard for any outsiders to feel included in.

I want to end on a positive note.

I went to my first LRUG last night and in the room there was me and at one point, two other women, but mostly just me and around 80 guys. I was a bit nervous, even for me those odds were on the scary side of being the outsider. Also I was there with my recruiting hat on, not my technologist one – eep, double outsider! But you know what? I was made to feel completely included, everyone was nice, kind and charming, and I felt completely at home.

I’m going to stick to inclusive events as I always have, and hope that those trying to help the industry become inclusive start by taking a look closer to home.

Hyper Linda’s nails it, really:


I’ve left comments on, but I will only be publishing comments that are relevant to this specific post, not about women in technology in general. Thanks.

Posted in developers, engagement, work | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost

Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost.

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Brilliant, thanks Leigh

Lost Boy

So earlier today Thayerasked if I had any suggestions for things to do in Minecraft for younger kids. I thought I might as well write this up as a blog post rather than a long email, then everyone else can add their suggestions too.

Of course, the first thing I did was turn to the experts: my kids. Both my son and daughter have been addicted to Minecraft for some time now. We run our own home server and this gets visits from my son’s friends too. They also play on-line, but having a local server gives us a nice safe environment where we can play with the latest plugins and releases.

So most of the list below was suggested by the kids. I’ve just written it up and added in the links. We’ve assumed that Thayer and Nemi (and you) are playing on the “vanilla” (i.e. out of…

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My thoughts on speaker diversity

Another day with another (technology) conference being picked up on having all male (and in this case, white, same age etc) speakers.  The lack of diversity at events where people speak is a fairly commonplace thing.

I have a couple of brief thoughts about this before a longer post this weekend (am about to dash on site with a client).

  1. Greg Povey and Rachel Coldicutt have a list of 486 (FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SIX) female speakers who came forward after a call for female speakers to register themselves as keen on speaking – please email them if you’re running a conference.  Perhaps I can call on them to also turn this list of folks into a list that can be emailed directly by conferences?  Google Group or something?
  2. I’ve been asked to speak at events around once a month for the last ten years, I always (except once) say no, because I am phobic of public speaking. So sometimes it’s worth bearing in mind this could be a bit of a self sustaining problem: not enough women speakers = scared to go and be The Woman Speaker and not be Good Enough. Hard for the conf to find the women, hard for the women when found to Go For It.
  3. I’m hoping to run a course in March with Stephen Fulljames to help people start speaking, snappy title, “Speaking for non speakers”. If any other women feel like point 1, please email me and I’ll do what I can to make sure you get a spot.  sadly not now, due to time and costs. Ho hum.

More later, but hopefully some brief food for thought.

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Would you be happy to give up your seat, no questions asked?

Sat on the train the other day, I noticed a woman who was chubby. She may have been pregnant, or just a touch overweight, I couldn’t be sure. She was far enough away from me that asking her if she’d like my seat would have caused a bit of a fuss – and if she wasn’t pregnant, the possibility of a humiliation I would hate to put on anyone.

It got me thinking. The little “Baby on Board” badges are cute, and when they work I’m sure are great – but the problem with waiting to be offered a seat is it requires those in them to be aware of their fellow passengers. With all the best intentions in the world, come commute o’clock, most of us just zone out with some reading, music, or staring out the window. We don’t see who’s around us, and huge bumps, walking sticks, gammy legs or people with small babies are easily over looked. As in my case the other day, you may not know who needs your seat but be entirely willing to give it up should anyone else need it.

So, I want to create an idea. Those of us who are happy to give up our seats, no questions asked, wear badges whilst travelling instead (coat, bag, hat, doesn’t matter where!) – we put the emphasis on giving, not asking. So when someone who needs a seat gets on transport they can have a scan for the logo and ask without recourse for your seat.

And I do mean no questions asked. It may be a man or a woman who asks you – they may have a bad back, a stinking hangover, or an anxiety problem that means sitting down helps. They may just genuinely be overweight and find it hard to stand. They may have just actually had a really shitty day and standing home for an hour is just the last thing they needed today. They don’t just have to be heavily pregnant or 100+.

I’d like some help. I need some design expertise to create a striking logo for the badge, and I’d like recommendations for a badge company I can buy a boat load off.

Team Prime will foot the cost of a few hundred of these to get the vibe going in London, but if people want to take the design and print their own that’s awesome too. I want to sell the idea, not the badges. If it does work out and takes off, I’ll work out a way to fund as many as required.

[edit for new traffic 20th Feb 2013] lots of traffic coming through on this today – so wanted to update and let you all know I found a designer, who is hoping to have the badge ready for March 🙂 so chuffed. Amazingly, it looks pretty similar to one suggested in comments below, so that’s great knowing 2 people have come up with the same idea separately  that shows it will be easily identifiable. 

We hope to have the badge up on my company site ( or a standalone if the designer manages to get that together in time – he’s donating his time, so I’m at his (very kind) mercy.

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Who are the best technology recruitment consultants in London?

Another day, another snarky (and valid) tweet about how a shit recruitment agent (note I say agent, NOT consultant) has done something stupid and wasted someone’s time, or worse still.

I’m a big fan of positive action, and I _know_ there are some great people working in recruitment services.  I agree the industry on the whole is mostly full of sloppy sales people who often have a poor understanding of our industry, and seems to attract folks with dubious morals at best.  BUT, there really are some gems out there who get tarred with the same brush.

So, please – if you’ve had a good experience with someone working in the recruitment industry, I’d really appreciate it if you could mention their name and what company they’re currently working for below (with a url) and what you do – and we can build up our own mini database post that others can refer to. Even if you’re reading this ages after I’ve posted it, but have a recommendation to share – please do.

We can nurture and incubate the good’uns in the industry by celebrating those who recruit well and giving them more business; let the shit ones fester in their own mess.

I’m only interested in positive attributions here please, I want this to be a useful post for folks looking to recruit knowing where to go and for what specialism.

I may even turn this into a small industry awards and super group with it’s own manifesto.. But please, candidates and clients alike: help me highlight who you recommend.

EDIT – Due to the overwhelming comments for Barry, I am now closing comments on this post. It was meant to be a nice way of highlighting many different recruiters, but it’s turned into something quite different. Ho hum.

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#techsmas 2012 sponsored by Nature

It’s that time of year again where I say BAH HUMBUG to your office Christmas parties, and throw one of my own 😉 The Christmas gathering for technologists to talk geek, drink an entirely free bar dry, eat copious amounts of teeny tiny mini food and play games to win gadgets.  Massive thanks to Nature Publishing who have stepped in to exclusively sponsor the event this year, and get you all merry on their recruitment budget. That my friends, is cutting edge social recruitment strategy right there. Love it.

[if you’re interested in how #techsmas started, have a read here]

If you’d like to come this year, I’ll be playing the usual games on Twitter for folks to get invited over the coming weeks, and if you’re keen to come along track the event on Lanyrd – as always I’ll be using Chris Thorpe’s amazing Randomizr to pick folks off there to join the fun too.

Nature will also have a guest list  and it so happens they’re VERY KEEN to hear from front end developers right now. If you happen to be a marvellous junior to mid weight (think 0-4 years experience, salary requirements of £25-35k) I’d drop Chris a line if I were you, and see if you can blag your way in…

Looking forward to it already. And if you’re interested, here’s some pics from last year.

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Communication metadata: can we get on with having real relationships online?

Something that’s been interesting me since around 2001 (the start of my career in online community) is how do we represent and translate detailed social interaction into digital, from offline community.  So far, we’re all adding plenty of social noise, but not making much music. By that I mean that we’re just putting stuff out digitally in a flat way, without having the intricacies of personal relationships.  We’re missing a major part of what relationships are, and how they function.

To continue on from my talk at #OpenMIC (“Turning Like into Love” transcript) earlier this year, it’s about the way digital social tools or social media, are (at the moment) chipping away at relationships and how the future is about taking relationships back.

When we present information out on the internet (tweet/blog/Facebook etc), everything has the same priority and standing.  In the beginning (early 2000s), I didn’t notice it too much, as off line relationship methods were still the usual way to communicate with friends, relatives and colleagues.  Important information was generally passed on by a hierarchy which for me (and I assume most) looked something like this:

  1. face to face
  2. telephone call
  3. text
  4. email
  5. other

But over the last few years for me and most other people I know, Dunbar’s number has gone out the window.  With the ability to keep more relationships in the loop using online means, the general default for passing on news is becoming broadcast.  The other one to one mechanisms listed above still exist for people’s inner circle, but the extended groups of connections get their updates from a one-to-many interaction.

The part of this that I’ve been ruminating on is that this flat structure for all news isn’t working for me.  These days, I very rarely read all the status updates from when I last visited a social media application.  A tweet/Facebook status from a friend about an important life event (child being ill, having a baby, getting married, having a birthday etc) is something I want to see, regardless of when I log in, or even if I log in.  The updates about your lunch, cat photo, hangover or work problem are still interesting, but I’m not overly concerned if next time I log in to my social media account I don’t scroll back to find it – as I’m sure you’re not either.  Missing the fact that you gave birth, got a new job, broke your arm etc though, we might both feel pretty bad about.

I know some companies have had a stab at it – Facebook allows you to categorise friends, and lets you choose how much of everything they post you want to see. But this is still done on an on/off basis of photos or no photos, “important” or “not important” (I’m guessing they use a how-many-interactions algorithm to determine this) etc.  It’s not letting you *actually* define real relationship interaction (if X has marked an update $important, and I want to receive their $important updates, please do CallToAction).  Twitter has hashtags, allowing people to search on updates they’re interested in, but again: the nuance of the relationship PLUS the information is lost.

I had a play with Cadmus some time ago but it’s a bit slow, and is only integrated with Twitter, Friendfeed & RSS for now.  It’s not solving the problem I think we have, though it’s an interesting first stab at sifting news from noise.

So for me, it’d be a mechanism that allowed the news sharer to tag/highlight their not-your-normal-news shares, and for people subscribing to be able to filter per relationship on what they class as important. Then, to receive those bits of news how they chose – email, text, DM, FB msg etc.  Or better still, just building for relationships from the get go.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with the question I’ve been pondering on the last few years: how do we start building technology that allows us to mirror our offline relationships online, and why haven’t we?  Where are the technology meets psychology start ups?

First service to nail that, is the next big thing in my opinion.

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A quick post on smart and exceptional customer service

I love I have used them for the last few years, and always recommend them on to anyone who asks for hotel recommendations.  The site is easy to use, has great filtering options, very good prices and great coverage.

Today cemented them in my head as an exceptional company.  I did a bunch of bookings for my Ibiza trip using their policy of no cancellation fee to ensure I could then discuss rooms with my buddies knowing they were safely ours should we go for one.  One of the rooms at Pacha I cancelled the same day.  Pacha refunded the money they had taken on a different day, meaning I lost around £20 in exchange rate fees.

I called to explain I was somewhat upset about that – in every other experience hotels haven’t taken any money until you stay (my fault, this was in the booking T&Cs for Pacha specifically, which I had assumed were the same as “normal” booking T&Cs), and after some fantastic help from a lady called “Julia” in their team, they have offered as a one off to refund the money I lost due to Pacha’s delay on refunding me.

For the sake of around £20, they have earned my complete love and admiration (and long term custom!), and maybe now some of yours too.  They could easily have said sorry, not our problem, and lost me as a customer (and no doubt had a ranty tweet or blog posted from me) – but instead they’ve completely bowled me over with great customer service.

Bravo – I wish more companies made smart and kind decisions like you.

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When hackdays just *aren’t* cool – some PR advice

I just got a bit ranty and grumpy on Twitter.  I saw this tweet:


And upon following the link, it rather made me angry.  The link goes to this page:


Wow. Cadbury want developers to develop their Olympic app for no money, and think they will do so for the chance to win tickets to the games, or some chocolate (or other prizes).  So, let’s get that straight: no payment.  You make their app (no mention of you keeping your IP, so I presume they want that too), and don’t get paid actual real money that will keep your roof over your head, help pay for the upkeep of tools for your trade, feed you and if you have one, your family.  Unless you win and really like just eating chocolate.

Will anyone do this?  Of course they will.  The hackday will no doubt be full – it’s worth a pop for the developers’ marketing potential, plus no doubt it’ll be fun. So what’s my problem?  My problem is developers (well, anyone, actually) should not be exploited or taken the piss out of.  By a multi billion pound company creating a hack day like this, they’re essentially saying “we don’t think you’re worth paying because we don’t have to”.  And that’s just a bit shit.

Some folks on Twitter were asking if this is just ignorance on their part, that they aren’t aware of how this comes across.  Well, that is *really ignorant* then, and just as bad. I don’t count that as a valid excuse to be exploiting people.  Would they expect their copywriters to work for free?  How about their accounts people?  No. Because people should be paid for working for your company.  It’s that simple.

But what if a company wants to run a hack day, and get all the benefits from the crowdsourcing and brainstorming getting some really talented folks in a room?  Go for it!  But PAY PEOPLE MONEY.  Pay for their time, and their ideas, and their input to your company’s research and development.  If their ideas are so important to your company that you are willing to use them as your official app(s), then they should be paid a market rate (or if it’s as high profile as the Olympics, market rate++ in my opinion!).

Hackdays that run without people getting paid cash money for their work are generally because they exist to help folks to make things that they then own and benefit a cause they are passionate about. Not developing for a specific company, and giving up their IP – which is the difference brands need to get a handle of.

As well as paid hack days, companies/brands could consider another professional alternative: do prototyping days with developers who can create apps and products for you in quick time frames at relatively low cost compared to fully developed projects, so you can fail fast on stuff you don’t like and move forward with the innovations you like.  Loads of these folks now exist – there’s a subset of devs who do *just* this.  Want to know them?  Get in touch, I’d be happy to do you an intro.

To sum up: there’s a whole technology industry watching you undervalue them when you pull stunts like this.  For the sake of a few thousand pounds, you get to choose between a PR fuck up and a proper engagement and R&D strategy. Your call.

UPDATE! 14th May 2012 – here is what has happened since this blog post:

Cadbury hack updated text

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