rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

Last weekend, a conversation about diversity took place on twitter between several prominent folks in the Agile and Testing communities. There's a transcript archived here, and if you're not familiar with the gist of what transpired, this reply may make more sense if you read the transcript first.

First, I need to make clear that I'm not involved with the Diversity in Agile project in any way. What I'm about to say is based on having observed other initiatives of this same sort, and on seeing a pattern of discussion that's been repeated in workplaces, in the open source community, and now, to my dismay, in the Agile testing community.

Why give out awards for being a female in the technology field?

jbtestpilot: Request: can a "woman-in-test" explain to me how it feels to be honored & rewarded because of their gender?
Sat Jun 05 05:10:01 +0000 2010

As several people involved in the project have since pointed out, the project isn't giving out "awards". Moreover, the point of initiatives like this isn't to give out some kind of condescending "You're pretty good, for a girl!" award. It's to increase the visibility of women who are successful in the Agile community -- to adjust people's mindsets so that their idea of a successful Agile professional includes someone who happens to be female.

This has -- one hopes -- these benefits:

  • People in the Agile community become less likely to make negative assumptions about women in the community. Life for women in Agile gets better, in that they're less likely to be subject to sexist behaviour, like someone questioning their competence because they are female.
  • The Agile community is seen as a group that welcomes diversity. Women or other minorities who are considering taking part in the Agile community feel as though they are welcome to do so -- that they won't be singled out because of their gender, race, orientation, and so forth.

This isn't about trying to enforce some kind of "diversity quota". It's about making our community more aware of diversity issues, more welcoming for folks of diverse backgrounds, and a better place for everyone who's part of the community, regardless of their background.

What's this about "empowering women"? Is this all about women gaining power?

Protestations to the contrary aside, the phrase "empowering women" isn't about placing women above men. The starting point for this discussion is that women are disempowered, and so "empowering women" means to bring them to a place of equality. It's a level playing field that's being aimed for, not some kind of reverse sexism.

Gender & Biology 101

jamesmarcusbach: @lanettecream I guarantee you every normal male who works with you is actively suppressing certain thoughts. That's just biology.
Sat Jun 05 08:40:56 +0000 2010

I take exception to the insinuation that because I am male, there is some part of my mind that is perpetually thinking about sleeping with my female peers. This might be James' experience. It's not mine, and it's presumptuous and insulting to claim that it is.

Telling someone that she is constantly being viewed as a sexual object by all of her male peers, and further that this is the incontrovertible natural order of things, is not helpful. It's fucking creepy.

Gender & Biology 102

On the topic of biology: while it's been shown that men & women have neurological differences, it's a gross mistake to overgeneralize this and assume that all women tend to think in one way and all men in another. The differences between individuals are much greater than any biological difference between sexes. To use a coarse example: there are both women and men who are fantastic chefs. Even supposing that one sex has more inherent culinary ability than the other, that difference is completely eclipsed by the chasm in ability between individuals who are spectacularly talented cooks and those who are abysmal ones.

We have a whole bunch of different straight white guys on the team. Isn't that diversity?

There are two "diversities" that are being conflated in this discussion. I'll arbitrarily dub them "thought diversity" and "personal diversity".

Personal diversity has to do with each team member's background and who they are. Do they hail from Argentina, Australia, or Angola? Do they have a degree in computer science, philosophy, or none at all? What's their gender identity, their race, their class background? This is personal diversity -- the differences between the team members as individuals.

Thought diversity refers to the diversity of ideas that people come up with as a result of their different ways of thinking. Thought diversity is informed by each person's life experience, and thus by "personal diversity". Say two testers are trying to reproduce an elusive bug. Perhaps one will start by trying actions that have caused similar bugs in the past. The other might start by looking through log files to see if anything relevant turns up. These two different approaches represent thought diversity.

An Agile team needs to cultivate thought diversity because it needs different perspectives on problems to succeed. It needs welcome and support personal diversity not just as a means to engender thought diversity, but because it is the right thing to do. Treating someone inequitably is wrong. It's as plain as that.

Diversity's Not My Problem

Screw that, it's everybody's problem.

If we have an imbalance in who can take part in the Agile community, or in our industry -- if people are leaving the profession because they're being singled out for unfair treatment, or not joining it because they don't feel like dealing with the environment they'll find there -- that's a problem for all of us. By turning people away, we are missing out on talent and ideas that can help us propel our craft forwards.

If you care about the future of our industry, you should care about diversity. Think about it.

rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

Last weekend, a conversation about diversity took place on twitter between several prominent folks in the Agile and Testing communities. I think what was said needs to be archived for posterity, so I made a tool that helps do just that.

This is a straight-up transcript with no commentary. My response to some of the points that were raised is here.

Transcript of the conversation... )
rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

I admit it. One of the best moments of my undergrad degree came when our small group of thesis students was bandying about topics. When I mentioned I was set on doing decompilation, there was a long, awkward silence. One of the other students, apparently speaking for the entire group, said "We wouldn't touch your research subject with a 10-foot pole."

As smugly optimistic as I was, though, my thesis on automated decompilation would never have seen the light of day without the work of Dr Cristina Cifuentes -- particularly her PhD thesis on Reverse Compilation Techniques.

Dr Cifuentes' research runs head-on into some of the most thorny theoretical problems of computer science -- problems like the Halting Problem, which define the limits of what computers can actually do. Amongst other things, she's also worked on binary translation, static analysis, and parallelization, topics that people sometimes shy away from because of their reputation for both practical and theoretical difficulty. But this work yields awesome real-life applications, like programs that find bugs for you by reading your source code, and holds out the promise of many more, like tools that can scan compiled binaries for security bugs, or general-purpose decompilers that can read in a binary originally written in C and 'decompile' it to Ruby source code instead.

I think we forget how many women were involved in pioneering work in the early days of computing (eg the ENIAC programmers) and how many are in the thick of pioneering work today. The hardcore research isn't just done by bearded guys in white lab coats -- women are pushing the boundaries and making the future of computing possible, too.


Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging about women in science and technology. You can find more information at the Finding Ada website.

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Rick Scott

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Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. He's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic.

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