My thoughts on Ada Lovelace Day, A candid conversation with Sheeri Cabral

Mar 24, 2010 / By Paul Vallee

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I had an interesting conversation with Sheeri yesterday. She had pointed out that today was Ada Lovelace Day, a day devoted to highlight and thank the many women in the Information Technology industry for their contributions. She suggested that if I wanted to blog about it she would find that appropriate, given what we’ve achieved here at Pythian.

First, I consider that a huge compliment. And then, a distant second, I told Sheeri – no I don’t think I’ll blog about it, that’s not my thing.

This is the IM conversation that came out of that email exchange when Sheeri and I connected about an hour later. You may or may not find it interesting, but ultimately I thought it was interesting enough to share.

tl;dr: Happy Ada Lovelace Day.

expanded version:

Paul Vallee:
hey sheeri!
Sheeri K. Cabral:
heya!
Paul Vallee:
so a couple quick notes about ada lovelace then i’ll drop it ok :)
i want to keep the blog as much as possible as a personal voice
that means you get to maintain your voice
and i, mine
i want to avoid overusing it as “corporate message speak”
Sheeri K. Cabral:
that’s fair, the day is to draw attention to the achievements of women in tech.
Paul Vallee:
we have the news release section of the site for that
Sheeri K. Cabral:
yeah, I don’t quite think this is news-release-worthy
Paul Vallee:
personally, it makes me intensely queasy to single out any group
the reason it’s comfortable here is because your sex DOESN’T matter
i don’t want to post on any [insert minority here] IT day
I’m done with all that
my contribution is to make a place where diversity and tolerance are cultural imperatives of the first order
Sheeri K. Cabral:
so then post that :)
because you have made that place at Pythian
Paul Vallee:
and the goal of that is to … make it appropriately irrelevant as a subject for discussion or highlighting
without listing how much of a % of the company is female, etc.
sheeri, it’s just not my subject, it’s not my voice, for my blog
i won’t be posting about it :)
i hope you’ll forgive me
Sheeri K. Cabral:
I’ll forgive you.
Paul Vallee:
the closest i’ve ever come was on carl sagan’s anniversary of his death
Sheeri K. Cabral:
I just hope that your kids and partner don’t feel the same about Father’s Day
because you don’t need Father’s Day
you’re a great father every day, and your kids and partner should appreciate you every day
Paul Vallee:

http://www.pythian.com/news/341/the-fine-art-of-baloney-detection-in-honour-of-dr-carl-sagan/

Sheeri K. Cabral:
but sometimes it’s nice to have a special day.
Paul Vallee:
sheeri :)
Sheeri K. Cabral:
like when someone brings in cookies because your mother gave birth to you.
Paul Vallee:
that’s not forgiving me heh
Sheeri K. Cabral:
I’m giving you my perspective
there’s nothing to forgive, because you aren’t doing anything wrong.
Paul Vallee:
i struggle with this, i do
but ultimately, i rely on this principle
when folks wanted you to go public with your opinion on the mysql merger
you decided to do it with no pressure from me to write or not either way
and i didn’t interfere with your opinion one way or another
and as a result, it came out as pure you, in your voice
that’s how the blog should be
for all of my failings, i can’t go there
Sheeri K. Cabral:
I understand. I made a suggestion and you said “nope, not my thing”
Sheeri K. Cabral:
that’s why there’s nothing to forgive
Paul Vallee:
but that’s not me
Sheeri K. Cabral:
look, I struggle with this because I’m a success regardless of my gender.
Paul Vallee:
EXACTLY
Sheeri K. Cabral:
and if I was bad at my job it would also be regardless of my gender.
Paul Vallee:
EXACTLY
so don’t you think this day is misguided, somehow?
Sheeri K. Cabral:
it’s like affirmative action.
well, almost like it
Paul Vallee:
i mean it’s not like secretary’s day
it’s about “men who are secretaries” day
that’s just … not going to help
Sheeri K. Cabral:
it’s giving a boost to a minority, because they come from a disadvantaged place.
Paul Vallee:
yeah that’s right, it’s not like father’s day at all is it
Sheeri K. Cabral:
well
here’s the thing
the day itself is to blog to draw attention to women in tech and science
so in that way, the actions you take are a celebration
Paul Vallee:
but don’t you see the condescension that i see?
Sheeri K. Cabral:
in the day itself? I see how one can read condescension there.
but you could do a great blog post that says “screw this gender crap. Women at Pythian get paid the same and treated the same as men. Period.”
Paul Vallee:
LOL
Sheeri K. Cabral:
Here’s the thing — the message is “women have a hard time in IT”
the very message of the day is that
and I hate people asking me what it’s like to be a woman in IT, because it’s a stupid question to me.
what’s it like being a man in IT?
I can type without my boobs getting in the way. That’s the only thing I can think of to say.
Paul Vallee:
LOL
ok
here’s my point of view
i think the question “what’s it like to be a woman in IT” is itself problematic
we can’t move on from this until we make it disappear
canadians and americans have a different approach to racism/sexism/etc. by the way
also to religion
here, it is socially unacceptable to voice a sexist or racist thought or comment, or to single people out specifically. there, it comes up a lot.
i’m not sure why that is, but it goes really deep
like, i know our prime minister is a religious man, it’s not a secret
but you’ll never, ever, ever hear him refer to his religion publically
these are things that are in the private sphere
we force them to disappear from our process specifically by not mentioning them. that is how we make everybody comfortable, for the most part.
if the PM were to mention his religion, he would by the very statement make others feel excluded or certain people singled out for special treatment or affection
Sheeri K. Cabral:
or it becomes the elephant in the room.
Paul Vallee:
yeah, maybe so, maybe so. who am i to say which approach is most successful.
Sheeri K. Cabral:
there’s a difference between “god wants me to rule this way” and saying “I went to church yesterday” though.
Paul Vallee:
India is trying something new politically directly related to this by the way. they are assigning a third of the seats in their congress (I think) to women.
Sheeri K. Cabral:
yeah, I saw that.
Paul Vallee:
I wonder why a third (it should be half for purely technical biological reasons)
I think if they made it half, I would be OK with it.
Sheeri K. Cabral:
and to be more of a tangent…..my question is also “how many women is equal”? Honestly, I don’t think women *in general* like to geek out as much. *in general* we’re not as competitive. we don’t care about a lot of the stuff that drives geeks (females and males) to success…again, in general. so one can argue that 10% isn’t “enough” but I don’t think the “right” gender balance is 50/50 anyway.
Paul Vallee:
Well, I think women and men have different thought processes, sure
but some of that would tilt the scales towards women as DBAs, you know
women rate better for recovering from sleep inertia for instance
Sheeri K. Cabral:
just the other day I realized that when playing games, especially video games, I like games you can actually win, not merely competitive stuff. ie, you don’t win or lose at Tetris, or Ms. Pac Man, you just keep going.
card games, for instance, you win or lose at.
Paul Vallee:
True – tie this back in for me?
Sheeri K. Cabral:
and indeed I wondered if there was a gender tie-in there.
so “geeking” out – -finding the fastest disk speed, what’s the best filesystem for an ssd drive, etc.
that is similar to “male posturing” which is more of a guy thing. women (in general) are more apt to say “is it good enough?” not “is it the best!” because we don’t want to rathole forever.
(I guess my point is I think there are strengths and weaknesses each gender brings to the table.)
but overall
if that blog post isn’t your cup of tea
then that’s fine.
:)
Paul Vallee:
I’m thinking of posting this IM transcript :)

… and so, with the lightest of edits and with Sheeri’s permission, I have! Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone.

2 Responses to “My thoughts on Ada Lovelace Day, A candid conversation with Sheeri Cabral”

  • John Flack says:

    I’m with Sheeri on this one. We need to highlight women who have excelled in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering (including computer science, software engineering, and information technology) because we need to encourage young women and girls to consider these careers for themselves. It is a shame that our profession is so heavily male, because some of the best practitioners I know are female. Yet studies show that girls turn away from earlier interests in science and technology around the middle school years. I hope that role models can help change that, because we can’t afford to lose nearly half of our future brain power.

    Doing my part, I have done several career days at my children’s schools, and never fail to tell the stories of pioneers like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.

  • “India is trying something new politically directly related to this by the way. they are assigning a third of the seats in their congress (I think) to women.”

    India, like the UK, Canada and the US, all use First-Past-the-Post electoral system, one of the “crappiest algorithms” as I like to call it. Moving towards proportional representation would also help in increasing women representation in their legislatures. http://www.fairvote.ca/en/women-for-fair-voting

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