Friday, 28 October 2011

On The Similarities Between Girls And Aliens

I discovered, through the power of the search words that lead to my blog, that there was an incident at JavaOne that once again opens the can of worms that is Sexism In IT.

This Makes Me Sad.  I had a really positive experience at JavaOne.  In fact, I would say it was the one conference I've been to in the last 12 months where I felt like my gender wasn't a problem - I even got away with wearing hotpants (tweed is business-casual, right??) without being mistaken for anything other than a developer.

I know incidents like this cause a lot of tension, and I want to explore why.  Get ready for some gross generalisations: women get upset because they feel they're being marginalised or treated differently; men get upset because they think we're being over-sensitive, especially when the cause is something unintentional.  I sometimes wonder, as I'm sure other people do, if perhaps picking up every incident harms our cause more than advancing it.  But then I feel that the unconscious stuff is exactly the stuff that needs to be pointed out - if you don't realise you're causing a problem, you can't change your behaviour.

So what I wanted to do was... well, what I wanted to do was not rant about gender (again) and be a good little non-gendered programmer.  But then I thought that spreading a bit of understanding might be A Good Thing.  After all, we're all about continuous improvement, right?

I'm sure many people have been one of a minority at some point in their lives (brace yourselves for a litany of stereotyping) - the only man at their daughter's dance recital; the only white guy on a basketball team; the only straight guy in a gay bar (accidents happen!); the only girl on the development team... Speaking for myself, in those situations I'm not actually looking for things which prove that I'm Not One Of Them. I'm sub-consciously seeking reassurance that I'm not an alien, a freak of nature, the odd one out.

I've been in mostly male environments for the last 16 years - this is the norm for me, it's my life.  It freaks me out if I'm surrounded by women actually.  What's jarring and uncomfortable is when the difference of your gender becomes apparent: when all the t-shirts are boy-shaped and boy-sized; when someone makes a joke about "women"; when someone addresses the room with "Gentlemen" - or worse, they try and make up for it: "Gentlemen.  Oh, and Ladies.  Well, Lady <nervous smile>".  Thanks, that doesn't make me feel like an outsider at all.

Something else that really highlights the difference in genders is when you have plenty of women at the conference... but they're not the attendees.  They're manning the booths (marketing/sales or just plain hired "help"), they're taking tickets, they're dishing out the lunches.  In these cases, it becomes normal to assume that "girl" = "staff".  Not guest.  Not equal.

TradeTech was one of the worst examples of this that I've experienced.  Those (wo)manning the booths had been chosen for their aesthetics not their knowledge.  There was even entertainment consisting of scantily clad stilt-walkers - at a financial conference!  I made the mistake of turning up in a skirt - for those who know my dress sense, it was not one of my arse-length ones, it was just above my knees - and everyone assumed I was selling something. I had a job to persuade them that I had actually paid for my ticket.

So.  What am I trying to get at?
  • We're not trying to make you uncomfortable when we point out tiny accidental possibly maybe sexist or sexist-seeming comments/incidents.  We're trying to stamp out behaviour that can subconsciously be pushing women (or other minorities/groups) out of our industry.  We like it here, we want to stay, and we want others to join us.
  • It's very easy to alienate people who are not 100% comfortable in your environment.  Every time I see t-shirts in boys size only I'm reminded I'm Not One Of You.
...and what can we do?
  • Well, the t-shirts is an easy one.  So easy, and so stupid, you might not think it's worthwhile.  Especially as people like me don't even want your free t-shirt.  But I want to feel like you wanted me to want it.  Please stock some skinny-fit tees in multiple sizes, and stock smalls and mediums of the normal shape.  There are guys who would like this too.  Even if you can't get rid of your skinny tees, it will do wonders for your image.
  • Never assume your audience is all male.  Never even assume it's "mostly" male.  If your sister/girlfriend/mother/daughter might frown at something you're saying, don't say it.  You'll look like an idiot.  You can assume your audience is all technical, and joke about managers, or is all Java, and take the mickey out of C#.  Don't draw arbitrary battle lines based on gender/race/origin - any jokes should make all the audience feel included, not like specific individuals are excluded.
  • There's already been a lot said elsewhere about encouraging women speakers at events.  I'm totally behind this, but it's a fine line because I'm also totally against positive discrimination.  For the purposes of this blog, I would just say make sure you have some women on your speakers list, in the same way you would probably ensure you have a Java 7 talk, or a talk on the shiniest new technology, or other miscellaneous checkboxes you need to tick in order to make your conference a success.
  • Not sure what to suggest around many of the girls there being staff... I guess something simple like clear uniforms would stop people assuming female delegates are there to hand out lunch.  And making sure that your staff/helpers/organisers are of both genders too.
If you're interested in this whole topic, or want to tell me I'm wrong to my face, come along my panel at Devoxx - Why We Shouldn't Target Women.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Mike and I debut our new Disruptor presentation

Last Tuesday Mike and I unveiled our brand shiny new presentation: Understanding the Disruptor, a Beginner's Guide to Hardcore Concurrency.  This was a preview of the talk we'll be doing at JAX London on the 2nd November.

A video of the session is available, as are the slides.  I promise not to say "so" anywhere near as many times when I repeat my performance at JAX (is there anything more painful than watching yourself on video?).

I thought the session went really really well.  We got some great questions at the end, we had an audience that was engaged, and I was dead pleased we didn't lose anyone with the assembly language.  We had some very valuable feedback afterwards too.

As well as our presentation, there were three great lightning talks:
    Somay Nakhal on Java Thread States - Somay gave a nice overview of thread lifecycles with code and some great diagrams.  I liked how he made this more applicable to the real world than the sort of book examples you get.

    Ged Byrne on the shiny new LJC Book Club - Ged reminded us how great it is to read an actual, paper book.  How committing to reading page by page forces you to learn in a different way to jumping around internet references that might not give you the context you need.  I thought this was a great presentation with humour, and I liked the way he challenged us to "expand our minds".  Although the actual book he was reviewing was Oracle Coherence 3.5, I've decided I need to read Beautiful Software, which Ged quoted at the end of the talk.

    Peter Lawrey on Common Java Misconceptions - A session which plays well with what we're trying to preach when we talk about Tackling Folklore.  He covered a few topics that are assumed to be "truth".  For example, dealing with garbage collection is not a mandatory part of writing Java - you could write GC-friendly code for a start.  Also it's naive to assume the JDK is written in an efficient way, anyone who's actually dug around it for a while will realise that newer, more efficient methods of programming have not been applied to all areas of the (massive) existing code base.  I think it's great to have people out there talking about this stuff, it's too easy to make assumptions and take things for granted.  The most important thing he said: "If you're told something, don't just believe it - test it yourself first".
All of us (me, Mike and the lightning talk presenters) got such a great response it has encouraged us at the LJC to try and push for more real developers presenting their experiences.  We have a lot of great presentations from vendors, but what's more applicable to Java guys and girls across the board is other developers sharing the problems they're trying to solve and how they go about that process.

I'm very much looking forward to presenting this again at JAX.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

JavaOne 2011: Roundup

Having been back in London for a few days I've had some time to digest the madness that was last week.

My lasting impression of JavaOne is almost entirely positive.  Granted, it was my first major conference, so maybe I'm just not jaded yet.  But let me tell you what I loved about it (yes, I did cover some of these in my last post):
  • First and foremost, the people.  I don't remember meeting a single grumpy person. Everyone I spoke to was there to get the most out of the experience, regardless of how many times they'd been previously.  In my experience, techies are not conditioned to be socially comfortable, yet introductions were made and the conversations flowed easily.
  • Of course it wasn't just the attendees who were friendly, the staff and organisers were approachable and helpful, and it was nice to have people hanging around to direct you.
  • One of the (few) advantages of having the event over multiple hotels was the outdoor space between them.  It's unfortunate that it rained,  but I really liked being able to hang around outside.  I especially liked that they had provided power points for your laptop, so you didn't have to be cooped up indoors to update your blog.  I also thought that having to walk between the venues was good exercise, given I didn't make it to the gym last week. However I can see why people want to move the event back to one central location.
  • I personally found the sessions less useful than the networking.  I mostly attended the high-performance / concurrency sessions, but I probably should have been to ones about things I didn't know (e.g. other JVM languages).  My favourite session was Martijn's Diabolical Developer session, but then I'm a fan of stand-up comedy.  
  • Another favourite was the Java Posse live podcast.  I'm ashamed to admit that I've never listened to one before (my excuse: I don't listen to podcasts at all because I don't have a long commute to work, which would be the ideal time).  I thought it was great how everyone felt like a part of the Java Posse and not a passive audience.
  • I really felt that Oracle was trying its best to invoke the spirit of community.  Maybe that's because when I wasn't in sessions or having random conversations, I was in Java User Group or Java Community Process events.  It seems pretty clear to me that the inclusion of SouJava and the London Java Community in the JCP EC has shaken things up a bit.  But then, I would say that - I'm biased.  But the vibe I was getting across the whole conference was that having the community involved in this key decision-making organisation is a step forward.  I would even go so far as to claim that it inspired a number of other players to seriously consider getting on board rather than complaining from the sidelines.
  • On a related note, I really enjoyed the final keynote on community. To me, that was an indication that Oracle takes our participation very seriously.  I liked that it was split into a lot of different interviews and panels, all quite short, which showcased the variety of the Java platform community.  I came out of that feeling pretty warm and fluffy about the future of our technology, and proud to be an active part of it.
Stuff I was not so bothered about:
  • Vendor keynotes.  Pretty dull to be honest.  I understand why they had them but after the first one I didn't turn up to any more.
  • The other bad points I already mentioned in the last post.
Personal highlights:
  • Picking up the Duke's Choice Award (video - note: only seems to work in Firefox for me) for the Disruptor. Yeah yeah, I'll shut up about it at some point, let me have my moment of glory.
  • Co-presenting a session on the Disruptor with Martin.  He invited me to stand up with him when we realised I could go to the event, and I was terrified of the thought.  So I did it.
  • Meeting and being interviewed by the JDuchess ladies.  The video doesn't seem to be available, so maybe I was rubbish, but it was a cool thing for me all the same.
  • Talking about the Disruptor for the Java Spotlight Podcast and the Oracle news guys (again, I can't find the content for this yet).
I had a really brilliant time, and would love to repeat the experience again as soon as possible!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

JavaOne: Initial Observations

So I've been at JavaOne for the better part of three days, it's time to record some of my observations so far:

  • The wireless access is rubbish.
  • <Gross generalisation> technical people are not natural public speakers.  Makes me feel better about the presentations I'm going to be giving (see A Beginner's Guide to Hardcore Concurrency).
  • The sessions are less useful than getting out and chatting.  I've had a really excellent time, I've met: people from other Java User Groups; the Duchess girls; other Duke Award winners; the Azul guys; guys (well, girls) from O'Reilly books; JCP members and many random and awesome people.
  • Everyone thinks that Large is an acceptable default t-shirt size (it's not).  Vendors - if you're really serious about appealing to The Other Gender you need to stock XS, if not actual skinny tees.
  • If you're running a conference, you should probably have your projection screens above the height of the audience members' heads
  • People at JavaOne are dead friendly.  I've ended up in a lot of conversations just by virtue of standing alone for longer than 30 seconds.  It is noticeably easier to talk to people here than at the conferences I've been attending in London.  Not sure if that's a location thing or a domain thing.
  • Socialising in London is great practice for this sort of event.  I am capable of taking advantage of free drink and still maintaining a conversation and staying upright in 6 inch heels.
  • I miss American breakfasts.  I've been gorging myself on pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and eggs benedict.  I'll be calling my personal trainer as soon as I return.
  • Haven't seen anything to contradict my view that San Francisco is not the Brit's typical view of California - the weather is rubbish.  London has been hotter and sunnier this week.
  • Sharing an apartment with your CTO is not as weird as you might think.  Especially if you relegate him to the closet (no, that's not a euphemism).
  • It's difficult to remember to Tweet or blog when you're totally engrossed in conversations with people.
Here's a photo of me representing LMAX as I pick up the Duke Award we won for the Disruptor:


 (Thanks to Martijn for taking the photo).

I was grabbed for an interview which should be available (un-edited - erk!) on java.net at some point, I'll post it when it's available (if it's not rubbish).