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Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: AI And Its Inadvertent Bias (Part 5)

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is advancing rapidly with scientists finding new ways to incorporate it into our daily lives.

AI was defined by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein as, “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation,” in their study, Siri, Siri, in my hand: Who’s the fairest in the land? On the interpretations, illustrations, and implications of artificial intelligence

The origins of AI can be traced back to a Dartmouth workshop, but many of the advancements of the technology has been overseen in Silicon Valley. As great as the advancement of this new form of automation is, there is on problem: because Silicon Valley itself lacks diversity, how can we expect the intuitive tool to be created without its own biases?

With some calling bais AI’s achilles heel, others are questioning if it’s even possible to create an unbiased version of this technology, no matter the circumstances.

Still others are working together, fighting to eliminate the biases that are starting to emerge in electronics interwoven with AI.

It’s hard to imagine a world without technology, and it’s pointless to imagine one where we stop inventing, exploring and advancing. On the other hand, we shouldn’t keep creating things that only benefit a subset class of people, or is at least bias towards them.



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.

Image result for Lena Söderberg playboy centerfold

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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 5.17.35 PM

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.


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, 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.

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.


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.


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).


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.

Screaming Into The Void That Is The Internet, And How Women Deal With The Subsequent Issues

It’s no secret that women have a lot on their plate. Between abortion rights coming under fire, to more and more young girls seeking asylum for protection against their abusive families, roughly half of the world’s population has so much to worry about.

When you get down to the nitty-gritty and look to the niche communities and subcultures within the overall population of women on this planet, you’ll find even more problems—more specific problems—that these groups have on top of the ones they already face. So what issues do women in the tech industry face? Well, for starters, a lot. Here are just a few:

How to Break Into the Male-Centric Tech Industry, and Stay There

Across the board (and world), men still lead in careers centered around science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Catalyst reported that when averaged across the regions surveyed, women make up less than 30% of the positions in science research and development in 2014, and even less in positions of power in the industry.

Balancing the Masculinity that Comes with a STEM Career and One’s Own Femininity

The information technology industry has been well established as a male-dominated workforce and because of this, many women in it feel, “…they need to put on a very assertive, almost aggressive mask to get ahead in a masculine dominated workplace,” blogger Mia Lockhart wrote. Finding an equilibrium between preserving their own femininity while still being taken seriously by their male coworkers has proven to be a bigger challenge for women in tech than first expected.

How to Inspire Next-Gen “Techettes”

“Children are our future,” is a phrase everyone has heard, and rightfully so. If we didn’t have a next generation to keep building upon what we have created and learned thus far, what was the point of it all?

Over the past few years, various organizations, campaigns and movements have been created in hopes of pushing younger girls to follow their passions for STEM subjects and turn them into careers. Whether it be the creation of coalitions like Girls Who Code, providing kids with “skills for success,” or age-old groups like the Girl Scouts pledging funds towards bringing girls into STEM, the women in the technology industry don’t want their work to stop with them. With one common goal for all: how can we inspire—and keep inspiring—the next generation of women in tech.

Dealing With the Hate, Toxicity and Antiquated Legacy Systems

One issue that has been decently chronicled is the toxic atmosphere that’s been perpetuated by the tech community, and Silicon Valley has been the heart of it. From drug-fueled sex parties, to good ‘ole (invite-only) boys clubs, it’s no wonder it’s so hard to find women in this field of work. 

“Tech is shaping what the offices of the future will look like, what the jobs of the future will look like, what the relationships will look like. Currently only a tiny percentage of that is being shaped by women. We risk, 20 years down the line, creating a world that is even more patriarchal and masculine than it is now,” Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare, told GQ.

Our Mentors and Our Teammates: Thank You to the Women Who Helped Us Get Where We Are

Having a mentor to help you navigate through life is an unmatchable relationship. Having someone who’s had the experiences you’re going through at work, before you’ve had them and can in turn help you through them? A Godsend.

“Finding a mentor can be an invaluable career asset for women—especially in industries not renowned for their gender diversity, like technology. As well as boosting confidence, mentors can help open up networks, set and achieve goals, and generally give a sense that someone is looking out for you,” writes Jessica Bateman for The Guardian.

As COO of Facebook and tech giant herself, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Clearly women deal with a lot. Some could say too much. And the women in the technology market are no different. If this post has only highlighted a few of the major issues the community is concerned with currently, it’s insane to imagine all the others that are out there. Keep reading to see what comes up.


Trump Hates [Smart] Girls AND Shut Down The Government, But That Won’t Stop These Women

The United States is currently seeing the longest government shutdown in the country’s history due to a major standoff between the president and congressional democrats—specifically Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—over funds for national defense (e.g. The Wall). From this, over 800,000 federal employees have been without pay for weeks. In response, the Women In Tech Summit is offering scholarships for its conference to women who are dealing with the fallout.

With the government’s inability to come to an agreement, citizens have been left to take measures into their own hands, supporting one another, financially and otherwise. However, this isn’t the first of this kind of behavior we’ve seen from President Trump.

Since Donald Trump was sworn into office almost two years ago to the day, he’s made 45 nominations across nine agencies related to STEM areas, according to CNN Politics. Of these nominations, 39 of them were men and a grand total of six were women. How generous of him. So, what IS Trump’s problem with smart women? Or just women in general, for that fact.

In a study conducted by Girls in Tech prior to the outcome of the 2016 election, almost 78% of respondents said they felt that a Trump presidency would be harmful to women in the workforce.


Following his presidential win, numerous organizations centered around forwarding women in the technology industry have expressed their worry with what Trump’s impact might mean for them, writing open letters and forming new campaigns to band likeminded women together.

On the other end of the mobilization spectrum, hundreds of women have started running for office, more than doubling the amount of women who ran for Congress in 2016. “We’ve never seen anything like this. Ever seen anything like this,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, told NPR.

As we head into the second half of Trump’s presidency, a lot remains to be seen as to what he’ll do concerning his treatment towards women, especially when it comes to placing them in positions of power. For now it looks like it’s up to organizations like the Women In Tech Summit to keep pushing each other forward. Keep fighting the good fight, ladies.





Tesla Named Its First Woman Chair, And No One Cared

Amidst the controversy surrounding the tech giant, Elon Musk, Robyn Denholm was named the new chair of Tesla in November of 2018. As great of an accomplishment that is, it barely made a blip in the news, much less in the minds and mouths of the public.

With the rise in digitization, advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and now the exploration of Mars for water, the overall progress our world as a whole has made in the realms of science and technology has been immeasurable. And yet we have still to see the advancement of the women who are behind these trends, inventions and our general need to know more.

If you picked a stranger off the street, this person would easily be able to tell you that Steve Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple and Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon, among many other male leaders in the tech industry. Ask them to name an influential woman in a STEM role and they’d be hard-pressed to come up with one.

Whether it’s the legacy system of yesteryear that doesn’t push girls toward STEM fields the same way it does to boys, or it’s the toxic environment that women often find themselves in once they break into the tech industry, it’s time to rethink how some of the greatest minds alive currently are being treated.

“I have found that being a woman in tech makes me stand out, and sometimes not for the right reasons. I think it can be easy for unconscious biases to take hold, and it’s both genders’ responsibility to make sure we evaluate everyone on the merit of their contributions,” Nancy Wang, the first female product manager at Google and now the head product manager of the tech startup, Rubrik, told Silicon Republic. Alongside these accomplishments, Wang founded the non-profit, Advancing Women in Product, as a way to advocate for a more diverse ecosystem within the tech community.

This isn’t the first organization of its kind, as more and more like-minded groups have popped up in recent years to help combat the assortment of roadblocks women often face when trying to break into this industry. Consortiums like Girls Who Code have created numerous resources for women of all ages in order to enable them with the skills and mindset they need to work in a STEM position, or just an outlet that will help them explore an interest or hobby. Not only do they have a membership base of nearly 90,000, the non-profit is also partnered with major (and diverse) corporations like Adobe, IBM and Kate Spade.

So, if the groups, the resources and the support are there, why do women still receive so much pushback? The gender gap that has emerged within the tech industry is astounding—almost too large to believe—and many are pushing for a greater diversification of the trade.

Obviously, there isn’t one right answer to this issue, and we most likely won’t see any major improvements to this epidemic in the near future. Looking back to the start of the technology boom, it’s impressive and inspiring to see the strides that women have made and the accomplishments they’ve achieved, whether they received recognition or not. Comparing the start place to now is consoling—but the fight isn’t over yet. Women have come a long way in the technology sphere, but the progress made still shows that there is an equally long, if not longer, journey ahead.