…because that sounds like fun. Trust me, though, this piece comes with a happy, or at least encouraging ending.
In case readers don’t know, after more than a decade adjacent to the industry (working as a functional and process resource supporting development), I took an actual position in an information technology directorate earlier this year. I’m not entirely sure at this point it was the right decision, but it made sense at the time.
As is the case with most jobs, it wasn’t quite what I expected (though this one was farther off the mark than usual), and after eight months or so here, I haven’t gotten all that much closer to a place of comfort or at least establishing a rhythm I can work within. I’ve been spending some of the spare brain cycles I have left (that aren’t dedicated to managing dysfunctional processes or trying to squash imposter syndrome and depression into manageable little boxes) working to figure out why I’m finding things the way I do. I think some of it has to do with local organizational issues (find me offline if you want to talk specifics someday; I’m not going to vent this spleen online), but a larger part of it has to do with the default culture of the software development and information technology industries, which I’m starting to get a picture of after spending most of a year entrenched in it.
Some of these thoughts came to me almost immediately upon arrival, others germinated later, with special attention being paid to my experiences at that conference in Oklahoma the other week, and also due to the unrelated experiences of a friend, which deserve special mention, because she’s a rock star (more on her later).
So, three paragraphs in, here’s my thesis: the information technology industry is pretty damned male centric, and awfully “bro” on top of that, from the people in the jobs to the terminology used. Coming from my previous employment discipline (contracts and procurement), things are very different, and that’s taken some getting used to, even if I’m not thrilled with the fact that I have to get used to it. As you might expect, I’m not exactly your typical bro – I’m the guy who got sand kicked in his face by the alpha males of the world growing up, which has colored my worldview on a fundamental level. Once the fat kid with glasses, always the fat kid with glasses, at least a little bit. I hate to use the word “trigger”, though occasionally, some of those deep-seeded feeling seep up.
My organization, at least the leadership of it, is all male, and a lot of the interaction is fraternity-eque – so much so that I, who finds himself on lowest difficulty setting so to speak, notice. Compared to the average, we’re probably more diverse than the mean, though there’s a
boys club” undercurrent that’s hard to ignore. The business side of the organization is much more diverse (to the point that in some workgroups, white males are an actual minority) in terms of gender and ethnicity, and as that’s where I’ve lived for so long, coming over to the frat house was a shock.The conference I recently attended was also an interesting experience; a sea of white guys listening to other white guys briefing powerpoints, for the most part. However, the thing that really struck me was the breakout session I attended regarding agile development, which the public sector (for whom I work) really wants to get into and appropriate, even if the public sector org structure (which is often locked down by legislation as well as tradition) doesn’t always allow for it.
I’m used to a certain “agressiveness” in business culture (what with all the golf metaphors and Sun Tzu in my old business text books), and I’ve adapted, even if I like to complain. As the kind of software I work with supports business, that sort of thing slips into this side of the business a well; even if it tends to skew a little nerdy (code cowboys and “my kung fu is strong” sort of stuff). “Agile”, though, while it’s a great, adaptive way to building tools utilizing teamwork, trust, and flexibility, can’t help to come across as awfully jock-frat (at least in the circles that I’ve run in), what with it’s borrowing all of it’s operative terminology (particularly the almighty scrum) from rugby (the most hypermasculine sport I can think of culturally), there’s going to be a lot of cultural transmission, down to the whole “us vs. them” model, and disparaging comments about how projects that ultimately fail, usually because they’re populated by impure Scrum-buts that haven’t totally assimilated (not that there isn’t some truth to that theory, but in some circles, it comes along as really cult-like).
I’m not disparaging a valid design philosophy; it’s great for a lot of things, but tends to get applied wrongly in places where it doesn’t fit, leading to failure (and accusations of not having properly drunk the Kool-Aid*). Or maybe I’m just put off by all the hyper-masculine rugby hooligan videos in the presentations…
I am, however, going to close this think-piece on an optimistic note: that rock star friend of mine, Andrea, of Corgibytes, is out there politely raging against the machine, trying to make things better for everyone and more diverse in the information technology workplace. Having just had a baby very recently, Andrea and her “business/life partner” Scott represented their company at a recent software development conference, and rather than compromise their family and work balance, took their infant along with them to the conference. They got some pushback (as she gets a lot, simply by virtue of being the CEO of the company in an industry where that’s not common), but had a successful experience, especially through Andrea’s presentation during the program, …So A Baby Walks into a Tech Conference: confronting maternal bias in the software industry”, which I’ve embedded below. Take a look…
The response she’s gotten to this presentation has been amazing and encouraging, and the conference is looking at making things more accessible, and providing child care at future events.
This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me feel better about the world, even if my little corner of it isn’t always encouraging.
*-I’m thinking of one guy in particular, a contractor who spent most of his presentation on “agile” berating the government for not embracing his interpretation of the process wholeheartedly; he simply couldn’t understand the idea that the government, the bearers of the public trust, supposedly, can’t just shuck off all the checks and balances built into the system overnight. We’re probably not a good fit as a client for him, honestly. We’re slow to change, we get it. However, there are usually good reasons behind why.