Wednesday, 22 of February of 2017

Category » Women in Tech

Why LinkedIn is Losing Value for Content Creators

LinkedIn used to be a great tool to attract an audience for my articles and talks. Two or three years ago, an investment of less than an hour on LinkedIn would bring me a substantial number of views, and the viewers were interested in my field. Those days are over. Today, that effort brings perhaps 10% of the viewers it once did, and I expect it will only get worse from here.

First – how do I know this? Being a data analyst, I have made an effort to track views over the past 4 years. I use tracking links and observe the response to my posts. My approach isn’t the best controlled or most sophisticated available, but it tells me enough to let me know which posts attract readers, what channels draw viewers, and what times are best for posting.

It might not surprise you to know that overall response to posts has been declining. After all, the number of posts and emails, even the number of channels is increasing all the time, and human beings have only so much bandwidth. But LinkedIn has made a number of changes that make the problem even worse for the everyday content creator, and many LinkedIn users are unaware of them.

For example, have you noticed that LinkedIn routinely reduces the frequency of emails from your groups – even though you opted in for those emails and did not request any changes? So, those who don’t open group emails frequently receive fewer and fewer messages, and may even stop getting messages at all from some groups. No message means no chance of a message getting read, and no chance of a reader taking notice of your post.

Another thing – are you sure that your posts are really getting posted? LinkedIn automatically diverts some posts and comments for moderation, even when moderators don’t request this. Since many groups don’t have active moderators, those posts are never seen. Recently, I looked back at the groups where I post, and found that, in some cases, as many as four or five posts made over the course of several months were still “waiting for moderation”. (I suspect some others may simply have timed-out and disappeared, though I don’t have sufficient records to verify that.)

It appears that LinkedIn flags some people, in some groups, for moderation. This may be hard to detect, as the same user may be affected in some groups, but not others. Or the new posts may be diverted, but not comments. If you can spot the pattern, you’re a better woman than I. I’ve found that this is happening to many people. So, a lot of posts are just going down a black hole.

But the posts are just diverted for moderation, so they should be moderated and appear in the group in a little while, right? Best of luck. I tried writing to moderators about this. Many never responded, some responded but weren’t sure how to address the problem, and one told me point blank that he had no intention of actually moderating his own group.

And then, it got worse.

Once upon a time, any entry in the LinkedIn status box would bring me a couple of interactions with other human beings. I’d get a note, a call, or perhaps a comment from someone I spoke to for another reason. And I knew that, for every person who reached out to me, perhaps ten more saw the post. Then, LinkedIn integrated status updates with twitter. Ugh. The feed was soon jammed with oodles and oodles of twitter posts. Even now that they have eliminated that particular twist, I see lots and lots of links to mainstream media content, with no meaningful comment from the person who posted. That’s mixed with notes about every group my colleagues join or company they follow. The small fraction of updates that are actually about what people are doing are lost. I may get a few “Likes”, but I don’t get real interaction.

A few months ago, LinkedIn decided we needed “Thought Leaders”. Only certain people can be thought leaders. They started with already well-publicized figures like Richard Branson. After a while, LinkedIn opened a path for applications to become a thought leader, but quickly closed that channel. So now, the top of the page is crammed with mainstream news updates, Thought Leader posts, and crap. The thought leaders I see in my feed are all men. Out of curiosity, I alphabetized the thought leader list and checked out the first 100 people. About 90% men. Mostly white and Asian men. I think one black guy managed to make it in there, and good for him.

Bottom line – if you’re a content creator, and you’re not, say, Richard Branson or Jack Welch, LinkedIn has become a very poor vehicle for cultivating an audience. Time to develop other channels. I, for one, have decided to stop posting about new articles in LinkedIn groups, and to cut back my time spent on LinkedIn. It’s just not producing for me any more.


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Lauren Bacon is really on the money

Once And For All: Tech is Not a Meritocracy, a recent post by Lauren Bacon, is really on the money. A lot goes into the mix that leads to success in industry, and the loose collection of things we call “merit” are only a bit of that mix.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would believe otherwise. Consider a few of the people you know who are in positions of power and influence. Are they all fireballs of talent? Does each and every one seem to be the best person for the job? Don’t you also know many people whose jobs seem unworthy of their merits?

Lauren’s post focuses on biases – unrealistic views of ourselves, as well as others, that stand in the way of progress for women and others. She points out that we must recognize the existence of unconscious bias as well as overt discrimination.

Ian Muir responded with a question – what can allies be doing to help? Lauren says she intends to write about that, and I’m looking forward to reading what she has to say! In the meanwhile, let me make a few suggestions of my own.

Every day, each of us has the opportunity to do a little something to help others advance in their professions. If you simply make a point of doing one thing each day for someone in a group that is underrepresented in tech, it will add up to a lot over time. Don’t think you have to be a big shot to make a difference. Every bit helps, and little each day helps a whole lot.

Let me start with an example. Do you know of a conference that is coming up, one that is a good showcase for the speakers and a worthwhile networking venue? Do you also know someone – perhaps a woman or an African American who is not [yet] well known- who would be a good presenter? What can you do to help get that person on the platform? Don’t just say, “Hey, so and so, you ought to apply.” That’s not what the good ‘ol boy network does, and we have a lot to learn from the good ‘ol boys. Instead, call the conference organizers, and plug that person. Do what you can to get them motivated to call your colleague and invite her or him to present.

Taking the conference theme a little farther, next time you are thinking about a conference – look over the list of speakers and take note of the level of diversity. If it isn’t what it should be (for example, 25% of the people in tech are women, so 10% female speakers should set off your bullshit* detector. Try suggesting some qualified speakers. If that doesn’t work, make noise about the problem in public – write a blog post, tweet, put the word on the street. Use whatever channels you like, but call them on it, and do it in public.

The next day, do another thing.

Need ideas? Here are a few. I hope you’ll respond not only by doing some of these, but also by posting some suggestions of your own.

More things you can do to help others advance [I’m going to say women here, but of course, this isn’t just for women]:

    Encourage your local professional group to showcase women speakers, especially new speakers, and to place women into chapter office and key committee positions

    When somebody’s hiring, suggest a women for the job

    Ask others to inform you about talented women they know, or know about

    Ask women what kind of help they need. If you can’t provide that help yourself, look into your network – perhaps you have a contact who can.

    Prepare yourself to call others out when you hear false statements. This might mean emotional preparation, getting ready to disagree with someone in public, or research, such as learning a few relevant statistics, or other facts, that will help to make your point.

    Read a good article written by a woman? Share it with others.

    Maybe you know someone who has every advantage in the world already. He still needs help. Do you know a woman who can help him? Make the introduction! People appreciate those who help them, and often return the favor.

    Don’t let anybody convince you that it isn’t your business to help. Yes, there are people so small and so stupid that they will try to do that. If you encounter such nonsense, just shake the sand out of your shoes and move on.

*[with apologies to dictionary.com]

bull•shit
[bool-shit] noun, verb, interjection Slang: Vulgar.
noun
1.
unconscious bias.
verb (used with object)
2.
conscious bias
verb (used with object)
3.something rotten

Origin:
1910–15; bull1 (perhaps reinforced by bull3 ) + shit

Related forms
bull•shit•ter, noun


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O’Reilly Strata: Where are the broads?

Lutz Finger posted a word cloud of job titles for the upcoming Strata conference, and asked, “Where are all the needed Data Scientists?” A reasonable question, although it has never been my impression that Strata sought to attract analytic talent. It’s a commercial event, designed to attract the corporate buying power that their sponsors desire. My question is the same as last year’s: Where are the women?

Last summer, in my post “O’Reilly Strata: Deluded About Diversity?”, I pointed out that representation of women in the Strata audience and on the speaking platform is pathetically low, despite these two important facts:

1) There are as many women in analytics professions as men. (Doubt that? Read this: “The STEM Profession that Women Dominate”)
2) O’Reilly claims to actively pursue diversity among speakers and posts a lengthy and blusterous diversity policy.

Last year I found that only 12% of the speaking slots at Strata went to women. That proportion actually dropped from 15% in 2011.

Think there were no qualified women to speak? Remember, there are as many women in analytics as men. Think no women applied? Nope, that’s not it either, since I personally know several qualified women who did so, and not one of those talks was accepted. By the way, Strata doesn’t have to wait for applications. They could just pick up the phone and invite some women to speak. The grapevine informs me that they have been known to actively invite speakers. Male speakers, anyway.

So how did they do this year? I just tallied it up: women make up 12.6% of the slots at next week’s Strata conference. What progress.


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No offense, girls!

Of all the science, technology, engineering and math professions, only one field – computing- has experienced a long term decline in the participation of women.

I studied engineering decades ago when women were entering the field in significant numbers for the first time. In those days, I put up with a lot of crap that I don’t have to take now, not only because it isn’t allowed, but also because the men in engineering have come a long way forward in their attitudes toward women as fellow students and colleagues. Men in the software community, however, haven’t made the same strides.

These days, young women tell tales of rude behavior from male software developers that stun me, and I’m pretty hard to stun. Hidden behind screen names, these guys will rant at length about the genetic unsuitability of women for programming. A woman I know was motivated to found a women-only programming group after male colleagues ignored her, and one went so far as to turn his back on her, saying, “No noobs with boobs.” I thought my old professors were dinosaurs, but they would never have said anything that rude. Yeesh!

Lately I’m getting the feeling that some of the young men must have been raised by wolves, and that they haven’t completely adapted to the human culture yet. So I have seen men post messages with remarkably pro-female comments at one moment, and then nasty crap the next. Maybe you have seen this too – one day, the guy posts a half dozen messages about the latest high-profile rape or other act of violence against women , denouncing the perpetrator, and reminding us all that women deserve respect. The next day, the same guy posts a nasty joke about women not “getting” computers, softened with a smiley and the words, “No offense, girls!” I can only conclude that the heart is in the right place, but the brain needs some additional training.

Next time you see that, please do what I just did. Let him know that the remark does offend, that it contributes to the negative atmosphere for women in computing, and don’t let up until he takes it down.


Data Science: Where the Boys Are

A friend and colleague asked me about my observation that although there are many women in analytics (see my article, “The STEM Profession that Women Dominate”), that the media and other sources paint the new “Data Science” image as a boys club. In fact, I find that Data Science events are far more male-dominated than other analytics gatherings, and this is even truer for Big Data (“O’Reilly Strata: Deluded About Diversity?”. He and his colleagues wanted to know more, so I put down a few observations…

I think it comes down to the changing face of computer science. At SPSS, I noticed that women’s presence in software development and sales declined over the years. When I entered the company, the heads of both those teams were women, and there were many women on staff, but both roles were later taken over by men and women disappeared from staff. Yet there were always many women in roles that required statistical analysis skills.

In early 2009, I began attending software industry events frequently, and noticed that attendees skewed male, and strongly so. It was around then that I became aware of the decline in women’s participation throughout computer science and software. I also began to encounter a remarkable level of obvious sexist behavior among young software developers. I started to hear stories of male programmers hiding behind screen names and posting strong sexist rants about women in programming.

Later that year the New York Times published the Hal Varian quote about statistician as a “sexy” job and the term “data science” started to come up frequently. But the data scientist was almost always male. Other than Hilary Mason, women data scientists were more or less invisible in the press.

In real life, I see more and more preoccupation with data storage and management, less and less on thoughtful analysis. The more emphasis on programming and databases, the more that the scene becomes a boys’ club. Recently I attended a local “Big Data” event – there were at least 100 people in the room, yet for a few minutes I did not see one other woman. In the end, only about 5% of the attendees were women.

The local Data Science meetup draws about 20% women. I brought an aspiring young female analyst with me to the first meetup of that group. When we entered, we met the organizer of the group. I asked him what his company did. His reply? “We’re bad motherfuckers!” He asked what we did at my company and I assured him that we, also, were bad motherfuckers. The young woman kept her composure, but she did not stay long and I doubt that she cared to return.

Let me contrast that with a conference where I spoke recently – the Association of Public Data Users. Lots of women there, with legit data analysis credentials. Many of them work for the Federal statistical agencies or key private organizations and have serious macho data management skills. But you don’t see them in the tech press. (I was stunned that a [yes, he was male] government official from the open data program spoke to that crowd and seemed to have no respect for them whatsoever – yet I encounter the same arrogance from the tech community all the time.)

“Data science” is now associated with lots of programming, lots of data management. I get calls from recruiters looking for data scientists, and what they want is a programmer, not an analyst. Well, what they want is a unicorn, but mostly a programmer unicorn.


Meta is Number 1 (for the moment)

LifeIsData. TV, “A Video News & Entertainment Channel for Data Pros”, just put out a video on top blog posts from women in the data game. The tweets said Week 29, but I can’t find the other 28, so somebody please clue me in. Also give me a hint about who is behind this channel, because I have no idea.

They do put together nice, professional looking (and sounding) videos. And how could I resist plugging this?

Top 3 Data Women of the Week – Claudia Imhoff, Hilary Mason, Meta Brown (Week 29)

Seems they liked a post of mine from last week, “O’Reilly Strata: Deluded About Diversity?”
What prestigious company! Much to my surprise, the video declares me as Number 1. And snarky!


O’Reilly Strata: Deluded About Diversity?

O’Reilly Conferences’ Strata 2012 New York City agenda features women in fifteen speaking slots, up from 10 last year. That’s a 50% increase! What a commitment to diversity! O’Reilly really takes inclusion seriously, don’t they? Well, no, they don’t.

Have look at these bold statements of commitment to diversity, which are excerpted from a diversity statement posted on the Strata website and some of its communications:

O’Reilly Media believes in spreading the knowledge of innovators. We believe that innovation is enhanced by a variety of perspectives, and our goal is to create an inclusive, respectful conference environment that invites participation from people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, religions, and sexual orientation.

We’re actively seeking to increase the diversity of our attendees, speakers, and sponsors through our calls for proposals, other open submission processes, and through dialogue with the larger communities we serve.

Sounds good. It’s got a great beat, you can dance to it! But the proof is in the pudding. What’s the result? It’s challenging to investigate some aspects of inclusion – it hardly seems appropriate to inquire about a speaker’s religion or sexual orientation, for instance. But gender is a fairly public matter, and there is data to support the discussion, so let’s have at it with that in mind.

Of all the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, computing has the dubious distinction of being the only area where participation by women has been dropping consistently over the long term. We’ve lost a lot of ground since 1987, when 42% of American software developers were women. Today, 25% of the computing workforce is female.

Still, women in computing are no rarity. When you walk into a tech workplace or conference, expect that about 1 in every 4 people you meet will be female. If not, ask, “Why not?”

At the other end of the spectrum are mathematics and statistics, STEM fields where women have the greatest participation levels. The number of women in those professions equals the number of men. Yes, you read that right – the number of women mathematicians and statisticians equals the number of men.

So, if you walk into a workplace or conference and the focus is on analytics, expect that about 1 in every 2 people you meet will be a woman. If not, ask, “Why not?”

Now let’s say you are headed to a technology conference, with a focus on analytics. What would you expect?

Paul Doscher attended the conference last Spring and reported, “Attendance remains around 90% men, 5% women and 5% unknown.” Another source estimated the last New York City conference attendance at 20% women. Clearly these are not dependable estimates, but the implication is that there were not heaps of women present, certainly nothing like what you’d expect if the attendees were representative of the analytics community as a whole.

We have better information regarding speakers, as they are all listed in the agenda. Using the highly complex techniques of picking out the female speakers and counting, I determined that 15 speaking slots went to women at the upcoming conference. (To be clear, some talks had multiple speakers, and some people are speaking more than once, but I counted every name listing equally. The actual number of women involved is fewer than 15.)

Using the even more sophisticated technique of counting the total and dividing, I determined that women represented about 12% of the speaking slots, and again, some of the women had more than one slot. So the representation of women among the speakers is far less than the proportion of women in the analytics professions, far less even than the proportion of women in computing today.

But wait, there’s more! There are many more speaking slots at this year’s conference – which encompasses Strata and Hadoop World – than last year. The total is about twice as large. The 10 slots taken by women last year represented about 16% of the total. So that’s 16% last year, 12% this year. In other words, the proportion of women speaking at the conference actually dropped.

What a remarkable embarrassment for an organization so deeply committed to diversity.

O’Reilly’s diversity statement goes so far as to list a variety of things we can do to help them achieve diversity. Among their suggestions is this tidbit:

…Suggest ways that the onsite conference experience can be more welcoming and supportive, free from intimidation and marginalization (send an email to diversity@oreilly.com)

Hmmm. That’s suuuuch a temptation.

Now, I should disclose that I proposed a talk for the upcoming conference, and it was rejected (or as they put it, “not accepted.”) No biggie, I’m just one speaker, and perhaps they were unimpressed with my topic, my position, or me. Fair enough. But a couple of days later, a colleague, also female and very knowledgeable, mentioned that she also proposed a talk and was rejected. Her topic sounded like one that would be quite relevant to the Strata audience. And then another highly qualified woman mentioned that she had the same experience.

In data mining, we have a technical term for that. It’s called a “pattern.”

My rejection letter claims that there were nine proposals for every available slot. Taking that as gospel, let me conjecture that the reject pile contains many proposals from qualified women who would like to speak. You can claim any one person or proposal isn’t good enough, but if you exhibit a pattern of rejecting qualified women while women remain seriously underrepresented among speakers, people are going to think you are (gasp) not committed to diversity.

Which, I fear, O’Reilly is not.


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Big Data: A Big Trap for Product Development?

Kathleen Morrissey, a Partner at Strategy 2 Market (s2m) will present “Big Data: A Big Trap for Product Development?” at Chicago Product Management Association on Thursday, August 9, 2012.

What an important topic to tackle! How easy it can be to invest a fortune in a solution in search of a problem. I’ll be in the audience, and I hope some of my data-focused colleagues will also attend and add some life to the discussion.


Two pioneering women programmers

National Center on Women and Information Technology is wrapping up its summit today. I’ve attended much of the first two days, and the presentations on research and projects related to women’s opportunities in computing have been some of the best I’ve encountered anywhere. Lots to write about in those presentations! Let me begin with a little story about two remarkable programmers, Lucy Simon Rakov and Patricia Palombo.

Lucy Simon Rakov and Patricia Palombo were the recipients of the NCWIT Pioneer Award, and girl, were they ever pioneers! These two women were programmers for the Mercury space program, the first to send a person into space and home again. They did all of this with about 120 KB of raw computing power! (The next time I hear some would-be Steve Jobs tell me his code is elegant, I’m gonna laugh in his face.)

Mark Guzdial has a nice post on these great women on his Computing Education Blog:

NCWIT Pioneer Awards to two women of Project Mercury: Following their passions http://bit.ly/Lslrio


The STEM Profession that Women Dominate

Posted a new piece on Smart Data Collective earlier this week – “The STEM Profession that Women Dominate.”

Hint – it’s a profession near and dear to my heart, and if you’re reading this – yours, too.