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Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: The Impact Of #MeToo (Part 4)

Silicon Valley has always been a tough world for women to break into, with nonstop headlines of toxic culture and boy’s club overtaking major tech companies filling our news cycles.

The term “boys’ club” in the professional setting has been around for decades, and one of the best examples in media would be Mad Men. Since the #MeToo movement took off in November of 2017, the public as a whole has started to take a harder look at how women are treated in the workforce, from Hollywood to Capital Hill. One community that still seemed to lack attention that it desperately needed was making progress of it’s own, behind the scenes.

Although the campaign began back in 2006 by Tarana Burke, several stories shared on Twitter with the hashtag “#MeToo” led to one of the biggest social movements of the century.

The #MeToo movement made waves around the world, across several different labor markets and impacted countless lives. One of the industries it had the biggest influence on was the technology community, specifically those that are headquartered in Silicon Valley.

Serious allegations hit notable companies including Google and Uber, putting their office culture, employee misconduct practices and leadership teams under the microscope. However, this wouldn’t truly be like the other #MeToo movements that brought down hailed trailblazers of the industry, like Hollywood did to Harvey Weinstein.

Powerful names like Dave McClure, Justin Caldbeck and Chris Sacca, venture capitalists, alongside tech expert Robert Scoble all felt the heat from #MeToo.

But not all is lost—some women found strength in the movement that continues to show through to this day. Thankfully, tech companies in and outside of Silicon Valley have started making the long overdue changes to their organizations.

 

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: Sex, Drugs And Hot Tubs? (Part 3)

“About once a month, on a Friday or Saturday night, the Silicon Valley Technorati gather for a drug-heavy, sex-heavy party.”

Over the past year, it’s been exposed and then further investigated that it’s not uncommon at all for the leaders in the tech community of Silicon Valley to get together often for secretive (or so they thought) drug-fueled, sex parties.

Since these parties made their splash across headlines since the news first broke in early 2018, Silicon Valley’s toxic culture and male-dominated workforce has been under serious scrutiny, by people inside and outside the community.

A female investor in the San Fransisco area told Emily Chang, author of Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club In Silicon Valley, in her Vanity Fair article, “Women are participating in this culture to improve their lives. They are an underclass in Silicon Valley.” Other allegations in the book include that many business deals are made outside of the office, usually in a bar or a private hot tub.

In a Medium article, Paul Biggar, an attendee to one of the parties that Chang depicted in her book, wrote a response denying many of the allegations she made, but did confirm that some details were correct and that the culture of Silicon Valley must be fixed. “I came to Silicon Valley to make things. And while it’s true that wherever there is money and power there are going to be people who abuse it, we need to step up and stop this shit from going on. It is never OK to abuse your power to exploit women or any underrepresented group, or to allow your power to be used by others to do so.”

For more on the prevalence of sex parties in Silicon Valley, check out the podcast, Recode Decode, as host Kara Swisher interviews Chang on “the quasi-corporate sex parties of the Bay Area” here.

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: Introducing Lena (Part 2)

JPEG, or Joint Photographic Experts Group (the organization that created the standard for the file type), was created and revolutionized by the image of one woman—Playboy centerfold feature, Lena Söderberg.

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Featured in the November 1972 edition of Playboy, the Swedish model appeared on the centerfold image under the name Lenna Sjööblom, and from then on, that same image would go onto revolutionize digital photography.

Now famously known as “Lenna,” a cropped version of the centerfold was used to illustrate the capabilities of image-processing algorithms in 1973 by a group of graduate students and professors at the University of Southern California. Since then, the scanned image of Lena has become one of the most used image in the history of the Internet and helped transform our computerized images. But has the image also aided in the hindrance of women in the technology industry?

The use of this image has seen its share of [rightful] criticism over the past few decades, with many calling it one of the original reasons that women have such a hard time being taken seriously in the tech community. In a 1999 essay, Dianne P. O’Leary, mathematician and computer scientist, wrote, “Suggestive pictures used in lectures on image processing…convey the message that the lecturer caters to the males only. For example, it is amazing that the “Lena” pin-up image is still used as an example in courses and published as a test image in journals today.” Many people are even starting to use other images in place of hers, despite the historical importance

A lot of controversy remains around the image: does the picture’s historical value surmount the fact that it’s still a picture of a nude woman? I say, for now, let’s leave the past in the past and use some more recent pictures—we have way better camera quality now anyway.

Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: And Its Continuation (Part 1)

It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is the starting place for almost all things technological and innovative—but it’s also the birth place for technology’s diversity issues.

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Centered around the San Francisco area, “Silicon Valley” as a region and term was coined by Don Hoefler in early 1971, although the phrase didn’t gain popularity in the 1980s. The direction the area has gone towards has come out of the fact that many STEM based operations originated there, including many universities research facilities, numerous venture capitals and U.S. Department of Defense investigations. It’s also where the technology industry’s diversity issue is the most problematic.

In a report from Reveal News released in June of 2018, 10 large tech companies based in Silicon Valley did not pay a single black woman in 2016, while six others did not have a single female executive in the organization.

This issue that has persisted since last century has finally been put in the spotlight, with more and more women (and men) showing their dissatisfaction with the culture that has persisted in a place that is supposed to be one of the most forward-thinking and visionary places on Earth, currently. Emily Chang, journalist and anchor/executive producer for Bloomberg Television, has even written a book detailing the harmful sub-culture that has grown within Silicon Valley. (Great read, 5/5 stars.)

A few major companies have made steps to change their corporate behaviors—or claimed they have—but some are saying it’s still not enough. It would be a shame to see a place that’s meant to inspire and create our future fall to ruins; but having an insufferable environment where that place is being cultivated is much worse. We’ll just have to keep an eye on what’s to come and keep pushing for more change.

Is Taylor Swift Unknowingly An Icon For Female Coders?

Taylor Swift, 10-time Grammy award winner and one of the most well-known pop singers on the planet, quite possibly has the chance to claim stake at yet another title: Taylor Swift, female coders’ icon.

This might seem like a far-fetched claim, but there have been crazier ones made in the tech community (e.g. anytime Elon Musk tries to tweet anything slightly out of the box.)

SWIFT Code is the standard format for Bank Identifier Codes (BIC) and very different from any of the other thousands of programming languages. It consists of a combination of various letters and numbers that helps identify the branch codes of banks. Obviously this isn’t a common type of code and has a very specific use that most coders will never use, but some programmers have still found a way to attach the computer language to the 29 year old pop star.

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Taylor coding at a young age?

A 2017 study from Qualtrics shows that 76 percent of programmers would rather listen to music instead of podcasts or the news while they work, and Taylor Swift ranks highly on all kinds of engineers’ playlists. The same study also reports that 28 percent of respondents prefer pop music over other genres. John Brandon, contributing editor for Inc.com, has his own theories on Swift (not the code) being a coder’s musical preference and the social sciences behind it.

For further proof, check out Kathryn Hodge’s blog, BlondieBytes, where she dives into programming projects performed by herself and other women that were inspired by the one and only, Taylor Swift.

And yet, the best proof of this theory is the Twitter account, SwiftOnSecurity.

With over 265k followers, the users who runs this account claims to actually be Taylor Swift, while also being an expert on all things cybersecurity and industrial safety, among other related topics. From discussing their experience in IT to being a typical fan account for Swift, SwiftOnSecurity has made bold claims that she is the icon that female coders need.

Swift has yet to make a comment on any of these allegations, and I’m sure everyone is as curious as I am to hear her thoughts on the matter. Say what you will about this theory, but in the meantime, I’ll be Dancing With [my] Hands Tied. Alexa play Shake It Off.

Celebrating The 4th Annual International Day Of Women And Girls In Science

This past Monday, Feb. 11, the women and girls in the science trade, currently or whom have already conquered the field, were celebrated around the globe. This is the fourth annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science and theme for this year’s event was “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth.”

This globally recognized holiday, first celebrated in 2016 but concocted in April of 2015, is meant to shed light on the fact that less than 30 percent of our world’s researchers are women and just around 30 percent of higher education students in STEM-related fields are female. The United Nations said that one of the biggest pushes for this international day of observance was a study done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, writing, “As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases.” In the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders report, only 12 percent of onscreen characters with identifiable STEM careers were women.

The hashtag “#WomenInScience” was trending on Twitter internationally as users were sharing gender stereotype-defying stories and messages of support to their fellow women in science.

A collaborative effort between various organizations, International Day of Women and Girls in Science has been a success from the start. United Nations Secretary-General addressed the public saying, “We must tackle misconceptions about girls’ abilities. We must promote access to learning opportunities for women and girls, particularly in rural areas. And we must do more to change workplace culture so that girls who dream of being scientists, engineers and mathematicians can enjoy fulfilling careers in these fields.”

In a time when the world can be cruel and unforgiving, especially to women, this is a necessary relief for all. It’s clear from the data that women and girls still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to leveling the scientific playing field, but we can take solace in the fact that there are people (and lots of them) who are determined to help us do just that.

How Emily Calandrelli And Her Children’s Book Series Are Inspiring The Next-Gen “Techettes”

Emily Calandrelli, West Virginia University alumna and Morgantown native, is set to release the fifth and final book in her children’s series, The Ada Lace Adventures, next week on Feb. 12.

Also known as The Space Gal across various social media platforms, Calandrelli has amassed thousands of followers, posting about topics ranging from the untapped renewable resources in the Appalachian region, to the effects of climate change happening globally. So the question poses itself: Who is Emily Calandrelli?

Just A Young Cadet

Although a current San Fransisco resident, Calandrelli was born and raised in Morgantown, W. Va., where she later went on to attend WVU to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering in 2010. During her time there, she won numerous awards such as becoming a Truman Scholar, being named to the all-academic team by USA Today in 2009, winning the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, and being voted Ms. Mountaineer by her classmates.

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After an eventful four years at WVU, she went on to receive two Master’s degree at MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as Technology and Policy in 2013.

A Takeoff Of A Career

Since Calandrelli left her college days behind, she’s had an even bigger impact in the professional sphere.

Currently hosting her own show, Xploration Outer Space—now in its fifth season—Calandrelli’s personality and love for space is tangible through the screen. It’s so tangible that her work as a host earned her a Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards nomination for Outstanding Host in a Lifestyle/Children’s/Travel or Family Viewing Program in 2017. Not only does she host her own show, but she’s also guest-starred on Netflix’s special, Bill Nye Saves the World numerous times.

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As if these accomplishments aren’t impressive enough, Calandrelli is also a contributing writer for TechCrunch, focusing on topics like furthering equality between women and men in STEM, space exploration and scientific literacy. Not only does she write about these topics, she speaks professionally about them, too, giving talks for enterprises like Google and Pixar.

A beloved alumna—and one who isn’t shy from giving back to her college—Calandrelli frequently returns to WVU for various events, including as a speaker at last year’s TEDx WVU event.

Soaring Book Series

On top of all of her accomplishments, Calandrelli has written and published a widely-successful children’s book series, The Adventures of Ada Lace, with the fifth and final book set to come out next week. The series has won acclaim from large publications, school systems, parents and their kids alike.

“What I wanted to do was create a character that was female who had these types of adventures and did these types of science experiments. So that kids could have a female character to look up to,” Calandrelli told the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (episode 318).

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Ada Lace, the star of the series, is an elementary-aged girl with a passion for science, math, and solving mysteries. Whether she’s trying to build the perfect robot or fighting with her dad, the topics these books cover are not only relatable to girls (and boys!) that age, it also stands to help inspire our youngest generation.

Kids all over the country love the series and Ada herself, but parents might love her even more. “My daughter (8, the same as Ada) loves them, and we can’t wait for the next book in the series,” writes Jamie Greene, for Geek Dad.

Where Will She Land?

It doesn’t look like Calandrelli will be slowing down anytime soon, and for the sake of our girls, let’s hope she doesn’t. To keep track of her future journeys, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram under the handle @TheSpaceGal, or on her website. Like a red dwarf star, she’s shining bright and here to stay for a long time.