We’re missing more than half the picture

I was at an elementary school science fair last night. There were several volcanoes, a coke & mentos experiment, some plants grown in various conditions, and so on. As behooves a Silicon Valley school, perhaps, one kid looked into what materials block WiFi most effectively. (Note to self: aluminum foil is not the best material for wrapping your laptop or your head in.)

But there was one in particular that really stuck with and saddened me. It looked at boys’ and girls’ perceptions of traditionally “gendered” occupations, specifically whether they thought of a man or a woman when given the name of the occupation. The experiment was conducted by surveying the student’s peers, so mostly 9 and 10 year olds.

The results were fairly predictable, and probably pretty reflective of the actual occupations’ current gender balances. For better or for worse, boys and girls largely agreed on the makeup of those occupations.

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Careful examination, though, will show you that in every case–whether the occupation tends to be male- or female-dominated, the girls were slightly more likely to assume that the opposite gender could or would be found doing the job.

There was one profession, though, that showed a very noticeable perception gap between boys and girls: tech worker.

  • Slightly more than half of the girls thought of a woman when they heard the profession. That’s huge. That bodes well for the pipeline problem, right?
  • But almost 80% of the boys — 9 and 10 year old boys, living in Silicon Valley, many with one if not two parents who are tech workers — assumed a tech worker would be male.

 

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When I shared this on Twitter, a couple of people suggested the boys were responding to the reality around them. But no one had an answer for why the girls weren’t responding to the same reality.

 

All of this suggests to me that parents are doing a fine job of telling their daughters that girls can be anything they want to be (and for now, at least, the girls are buying it). But maybe not such a good job of telling their sons that girls can be anything they want to be. And guess who will likely be the gatekeepers of high-status, highly paid professions as these kids come of age?

Granted, it’s a lot to put on a n=29 survey…but as an indicator, it’s concerning.

 

Hello, Security, My Old Friend

Back before software-defined networking, I spent time promoting a different “SDN”: “Self-Defending Networks”. That was Cisco’s marketing tagline for their Security portfolio. At the time that I joined, they had just brought together security-related products from different BUs as the Security Technology Group, under Jayshree Ullal.

Now, Self-Defending Networks wasn’t something that held up under even the lightest technical scrutiny. All of the products except for NAC were acquired, so each had its own element manager with its own policy schema, and none of them really talked to each other. And it’s kind of hard to run an effective security team if each member speaks a different language and operates from a different rule book, regardless of how individually skilled they may be. That’s why I find the possibilities of having a common layer of abstraction (a la ODL) so compelling: you can’t have reliable security without holistic, end-to-end management (too many gaps), and if you have good holistic, end-to-end management, you can spend less time and energy on security.

I’m joining Skyport Systems because it resolves a lot of these challenges in a very streamlined way. It also manages to simultaneously address many of the reservations people have about entrusting sensitive data to external cloud providers, while also providing a consumable Security-as-a-Service offering that eliminates a lot of those security tool integration challenges. That’s a pretty good trick, in my opinion.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve worked with several members of the team before. (Fun fact: I accepted the Skyport offer during Back to the Future week. I think I’ve identified the team’s Doc, too.) It’s an intense, high-energy crew, but importantly, one that is generally pretty strong in the Sense of Humor department as well. The leadership team members each have both startup experience and successful track records in large companies, meaning that they’re not afraid of getting their hands dirty, but also have the mindset and rolodexes to scale the company.

One other consideration I had, as a marketer: technical realities aside, I liked that Self-Defending Networks was a fundamentally positive, hopeful vision to strive for. Too much of security marketing (in IT and in modern politics) is all about instilling fear–which often skews perceptions of and responses to risk in wasteful and even counterproductive ways. I prefer a more positive message: providing a foundation of trust. I think Skyport has the right bones to support that.

More soon.

Things I’ve (Re)learned on Break

Every so often, I ask people what they would do with themselves (not their money–their time) if they won the lottery or otherwise didn’t have to work again. Most people respond with things they’d buy–for themselves, and for other people. So I ask again about how they’d spend their time. Very often, they’re at a loss. They mention trips they’d like to go on, things they’ve been meaning to get around to for forever, maybe spend more time with their kids and friends, but it’s almost always stuff that would only last them a few months. I always notice this, because I spent a fair amount of time a few years back thinking about what exactly I would do if I won the lottery, and I revisit the question every so often. I never really get much past the first year.

Even so, there have been many days in the last couple of years when I’ve wished I could just…stop… running. Stop running around in circles. Stop always dashing from kid-thing to work-thing to home-thing to kid-thing. Stop always being the mom who’s always in a rush and seems unfriendly because she doesn’t have 15 minutes to stop and chat. Stop spending two or more hours a day behind a steering wheel. Have time to think, without interruption. Read. Think about what I’ve read. Move. Get outside. Have a conversation with a family member that doesn’t start and end with “Hurry up”. You know the feeling, I’m sure.

    *     *     *     *     *

My two weeks off are nearly over. I could use another 2-3 days, really, but I’ve gotten to most of the things on my to-do list:

  • Purge dressers. My kids hadn’t been able to close their drawers easily in months because they had clothes from last winter as well as the summer in them. I didn’t even know if they had winter clothes that still fit, or how many. Bad Mom Karma was hovering over me. It took most of last week, but I’m close to ensuring that my children won’t freeze in the coming frigid winter (ok, we live in coastal California, but still…) I’ve also purged the house of ALL of the too-small clothes–some 15 trashbags worth. THAT felt really good.
  • Exercise and physical health. In my 20s, I used to do a 4-mile loop hike in the nearby hills several times a week after work. My plan was to get back to doing that hike in the mornings after I dropped my daughter off at school. I have to give myself a middling grade on this: I’ve managed to do it 3 times. Morning appointments have come up, and I’ve been sick for a few days. It also takes quite a bit longer than it did when I did it before: I live further away, and I’m slower and flabbier, so it takes up about half the day, all in all. Still, I so rarely get outdoors during my normal life that even that little bit of nature time has been good. I’ve also finally done something about the constant neck and shoulder pain that’s been dogging me for months. It’s not all better, but certainly improved. We’ll see how long that lasts.
  • Book hotels for an upcoming family vacation. Still not done. Hopefully by tomorrow.
  • Clear off my desk and deal with household administrivia. Also not done.

On the other hand, I’ve made a number of good meals. I got together yesterday with one friend I haven’t seen in months, and I have a date tomorrow with another I haven’t seen in over a year. (Yeah, I know.)

But it struck me the other day, as I was running one of the numerous little errands that we normally cram into our hectic weekends, that the last time I was running errands in the middle of the day–during the two years I was a stay-at-home mom (SAHM)–that…that’s all there was. Running errands. Changing diapers. Meals. Dishes. More diapers. More errands. I used to struggle desperately to come up with something that I (or more often, my kid) had accomplished during the day just to have something interesting to say to my husband when he got home. I did have some time to read, but on the whole…let’s just say I was not cut out for SAHMdom.

It was a good reminder. Because while I’m really appreciating the opportunity to slow down a bit for a couple of weeks, I still have a number of things I needed to get done in a finite amount of time. I appreciate the finiteness of that time. And I know I have a big new thing in front of me that I’ll be diving into soon. I’m not looking at the quiet desperation that comes with frittering away endless weeks and months with nothing but domestic minutiae.

Basically, because the time is finite and the goals are specific and concrete, it’s still easy to maintain a sense of drive and purpose, even as I take my foot off the gas pedal for a bit. (Metaphorical gas pedal–if anything, I’m driving around more than usual.) That’s a lot harder when the time seems infinite. The other element that’s still largely missing is the social element. Work–when it’s a healthy environment–provides a shared sense of purpose. I have some specific things I just need to get done right now because they need to get done, but the kids aren’t that excited about their newly manageable drawers.

I was thinking this morning about my parents’ friends, who are all now retirement age. A lot of the men are kind of at loose ends, trying to find ways to fill their days. The women, on average, are doing better: they mostly have already in place social networks that were unrelated to work, and/or have created new ones through volunteer activities. The two who really seem to be doing well are ones who really haven’t retired at all–they’re just doing work on their own time and terms, and not worrying about the money. One started a non-profit focused on science education, especially targeting underprivileged schools. She also volunteers in the science classes of those same schools, and helped her son get his startup off the ground. The other first did a tech startup with a friend–he had this huge grin as he told me about figuring out how to work a label-printing machine and packing up widgets in boxes for shipment–and then started a mineral water label with his ex-marketer wife, so now he’s learning all about retail considerations and the food business.

So: however crazy it makes other things–I, personally, need to have interesting work to do with interesting, curious, creative people. I’m not good at not having any concrete goals. I should probably figure out how to balance things a bit better so I don’t wind up like the retired gentlemen at loose ends, but as the kids get older and more independent, that seems like it will be increasingly more possible. I’ll probably “retire” someday, even without the benefit of the lottery, so I should probably have some notion of what to do with myself. Beyond the first year.

Well, this is a surprise…

So there I was, happily tooling along, planning eventual world conquest by open SDN and the Brocade SDN Controller.

And then an old work friend called about a startup. And then another one. At first I said, Sure, let’s have coffee and catch up, I’d love to hear about what you’re working on. Because it’s always a good call to spend time batting ideas around with smart, interesting people, right? But one thing led to another, and well, they hooked me.

I’ve been doing internal “startups” in established companies for close to a decade now. I like blank sheets of paper. A lot. Yet despite having spent most of my life in the Valley, I’ve never been at an actual startup. There are pros and cons about doing bleeding-edge things within established companies; I know them all intimately at this point. I also know there are lots and lots of things I don’t know, because I’ve never had to before. There’s a certain adrenaline rush to getting something off the ground. Once it approaches cruising altitude though, I usually start to get antsy. The Brocade controller isn’t quite there yet, but it’s getting close, and I knew I’d be getting antsy by the end of 2016.

And so, with a great opportunity in front of me to learn all kinds of new things alongside a bunch of old friends and some pretty interesting new ones, I decided I could probably hand off controller/SDN marketing to someone else, in good conscience, sooner rather than later. Believe me, this has come as a bit of a surprise to me, as much as it likely has to anyone else, given how invested I’ve become in it all over the past several years. But there are different kinds of things I’d like to learn about now.

So this is my last week at Brocade. It’s a bit bittersweet, because there are so many awesome people at Brocade (no emo post on Medium for me…). But it’s a very small world, and I’m confident they won’t get too far away.

Where am I going? Stay tuned–all will be revealed in a few weeks.

Stop Hiding. Just Ask.

I came across an exchange on Twitter the other day that made me sad. In part:

Opensource newbie

It made me sad because I spent longer than I should have in a similar place: curious, interested, wanting to know more and also to have input, but being surrounded by people who’d been doing “this stuff’ for 20+ years. I was at a loss as to how I’d ever “catch up”, never mind be in a position to provide value.

Here’s the thing: I wound up in that place because I’d invested a good 20-25 years of my life by that point in making sure I was really competent. Competence and knowing what you’re talking about are things that are valued very highly in my family. Moreover, I grew up surrounded by engineers, who tend to enjoy arguing and sometimes pounce with delight on logical lapses or other types of weak arguments. So from an early age, I shied away from spending a lot of time on things that didn’t come naturally. Early in my career, I did the same: I carefully stayed in roles that didn’t require me to have any specialized knowledge. By my mid-30s, I was in a rather small box–one entirely of my own making.

Now, had anyone else told me I just didn’t have what it takes to do any particular kind of job, I most likely would have furiously plunged into proving them wrong. Instead, I took great care to avoid fulfilling the stereotype of the clueless (female) marketeer: I asked no questions that could be “dumb” questions. I’d quietly go read up on things on my own, but a lot of the time I didn’t have enough context to make total sense of what I read. Still, I avoided asking questions.

What finally did it was screaming boredom. I just didn’t want to keep doing what I’d been doing any more. I decided I’d rather be dumb than bored.

It was terrifying.

Eventually I found a colleague who was working in a similar area, but was coming into marketing after a long time as a engineer. We’ll call him Fred. Every so often I’d walk over to Fred’s cube and announce (pre-emptively, in my mind), “Hi, I have another stupid question,” to which he would helpfully reply, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.” And then proceed to explain both the theory and the depressing reality of whatever I was asking about. I have since learned to spot Freds fairly quickly, and over the last few years I’ve built up a wonderful network of Freds. Thanks to social media, most of them are not in a nearby cube, but several states or even a continent away–but that means I get a much broader perspective on whatever I’m curious about than if I just asked the person in the next cube whose vantage point on the world likely only differs from mine by a few degrees.

This brings me to a wonderful talk I unexpectedly attended a few months back. My daughter had been taking a Scratch class through Coder Dojo, and the last night of the session, the parents were all asked to gather in a different room for a pitch from one of the Coder Dojo cofounders, Bill Liao (@liaonet).

Liao opened by stating that coding is poetry, which won me over right there. To be good at poetry, he said, you have to be deeply fluent in a language, in a way you can be only if you speak it from a very young age. It goes without saying, perhaps, that when you learn to speak a language in a fluent, natural way, you do it by interacting with other people. Or as Liao put it,  “I learned to code in my bedroom, and I think working alone in your bedroom is a terrible way to learn to code. I think working with others on a project is a great way to learn to code.”  You can watch an abbreviated version of his talk below.

And this, in turn, brings me to a lesson taught to me by my friend Brent Salisbury (@networkstatic), who became active in OpenDaylight in its very early days. He was trying to convince me to get involved. “But Brent,” I protested, “I haven’t coded in 20 years, and I never got good at it even then.” He told me it didn’t matter. ODL desperately needed documentation. QA. “Play around with Python,” he said. “Hell, I’m dyslexic–if I can code anyone can.” The point being that any project in which people are doing things mostly on their own time–which is most open source projects–desperately needs help of all kinds, and will usually gladly welcome a range of skills, not just narrow technical ones. “I’m just learning how to code, but this is really interesting to me–how can I help?” is as good a door-opener as any.

And of course the way to make book-learning–or any learning–really stick is to try to use it. At Brocade, we have a couple of SEs who have spent most of their careers as network engineers, but are really excited about SDN. They’ve been delving into the documentation–both on the ODL site as well as the materials for my company’s distribution–and making notes about how it works in ways that make more sense to someone accustomed to running a network. I myself had learned about SDN and ODL from a more classical software perspective, so reading what they’ve written was really helpful to me, as they naturally point out very practical nits and concerns that hadn’t occurred to me. Now we’re in the process of converting their work into papers the bigger world can access, which should be helpful to a lot of other network engineers trying to get their heads around this stuff. Note: none of us is writing Java code. All of us are contributing to the growth of an open source effort. It takes a village.

Becoming an expert also takes a village. It’s why throughout history, you find innovation happens in clusters, where talented people gather, get to know each other, and exchange ideas. The lone genius is a myth. Mozart was mentored by Haydn, among others.

Ask for help, and ask how you can help.

An Ode to C

I actually wrote this several months ago, before I started this blog. Two (really three) great but very different blogs posted this week made me decide to dig it up.

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I took some C classes in my early 20’s.

It was mostly for the exposure. I had absolutely no call for anything of the kind in my job at the time, nor any plans to significantly alter my career path. And yet, they’re some of the classes that have stuck with me the most over the years.

Until then, my sole coding experience had been short BASIC programs to create silly graphics with quarter-inch color blocks on Apple IIes in elementary school. This was different.

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Talking Into the Future: Your Personal Brand and Career Transitions

This post was sparked by one written by Hans De Leenheer (@HansDeLeenheer), 4 Tips for My Marketing Utopia. I actually disagree with many of the specifics of his post, but it contains one comment to which I’ve given quite a bit of thought in recent years as I’ve watched various colleagues move around:

“If you have to change jobs in a few weeks, will you still be able to back everything you said without apologising?”

There are people in the tech world who will passionately—vociferously—argue that the architecture of their current product is the only intelligent way of handling the Next Big Thing in IT. And then they move on to a competitor and suddenly everything they ever said in the past about their new employer or its approach apparently never happened. Continue reading

Mentors, Sponsors, Role Models and Heroes

Today I found myself remembering a #FF paean that Brent Salisbury issued to Martin Casado a few months back:

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It got me thinking of people who have affected the course of my career, and also about why some stand out more than others. In a few cases, I’d struggled with what to call them, and that definitely affected the course of those relationships.

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