I was chatting with someone in vendor analyst relations the other day, who was jokingly asking me about a “day in the life” glimpse at what I do. I thought that might make an entertaining post from pandemic-land. So this is what that day looked like.
8:30 am: Woken up by munchkin, who wants a snuggle, presumably to generate enough cuteness to have videos unlocked on the iPad. (It’s spring break at his preschool, but my husband and I are working, and therefore anything that buys silence is worthwhile.) Get up, get dressed, view the munchkin’s “Dino Center” which has been erected outside the master bedroom door as a set of plastic dinosaur landmines waiting to be stepped on by unsuspecting parents.
8:45 am: Starting-the-day tasks, which occupy all the time until my first meeting of the day.
- Work email: Respond to inquiry-routing requests. Contribute to various research community discussions, including consensus on the recent Azure Active Directory outage. Answer various other internal questions. Do some back-and-forth with vendors about research projects I’m working on.
- Catch up on Teams messages: Interesting stuff on what’s been seen the previous day on cloud contracts, cross-team discussion on the right HA/DR patterns in cloud architectures, miscellaneous salespeople wanting help with a client.
- Prep for the day’s client calls: Read request, supporting docs, company background, past inquiry history, etc.
- Personal stuff: Look at personal email, glance at Facebook, check in on social Slack, do daily tasks on an iPad RPG game (gotta hand it to those guys for ensuring daily addictive habits are maintained).
10 am: Weekly one-hour team meeting. Various administrative matters. Eat breakfast on call.
11 am: One-hour vendor briefing on new product release.
12 pm: 30 minutes of “free” time, which will be my only respite until the end of the work day. Order lunch. Answer email/Teams, check in on Twitter. Work on responding to peer review comments on a doc.
12:30 pm – 4 pm: Back-to-back inquiries with 6 different clients. This runs from everything from a 30-minute chat with the CTO of a major global outsourcer (who wants to know about the latest trends impacting cloud adoption) to spending an hour with a cloud architect who’s dealing with the merger of two companies (one of whom is all-in AWS and the other is all-in Azure) and needs to untangle wide swathe of multicloud issues. While on the phone:
- I feed lunch to the munchkin (who eats his fries, but none of his grilled cheese sandwich, it will turn out later), and get a few bites of lunch myself.
- Cope with munchkin bombarding me with drawings of invented “Pokemon” with increasingly weird names (and evolutions that look like they belong in Pacific Rim rather than cute anime), done in the style of his dog-eared Pokedex encyclopedia, complete with type, region, and diet.
- Navigate minor crisis created by munchkin’s uncertainty over how to spell “region” (thank you, mute button).
4 pm: 30-minute break so I can drag munchkin onto a Zoom call for his Suzuki violin lesson. Bribe him to cooperate with the promise of one forkful of pie if he also stays quiet until I’m done with calls for the day. Yay, bio break.
4:30 pm: Another inquiry.
5 pm: Talk to reporter in-depth regarding breaking news plus a longer-form article they’re working on.
5:30 pm: Check back in on Teams. Discuss breaking news, load-testing in the cloud, pricing comparison between cloud providers, data protectionism, the role-change of a colleague, and other miscellany.
6 pm: Faceplant. (Count for the day: Seven inquiries, plus three other meetings.) Husband works from the master bedroom, so there is background grumbling at his code. Munchkin reminds me that I still owe him pie.
7 pm: Order dinner. Promise munchkin he can also have ice cream if he cooperates with violin practice. Painstakingly teach munchkin to memorize exactly two lines of a new piece of music. Reward munchkin with precisely one bite of pie. Read various violin-related things for myself.
8 pm: Family time. Which is:
- Dinner (and ice cream). Insist munchkin consume some protein.
- Cleanup. Munchkin protests mightily at being told to clean up the floor, which is absolutely blanketed in faux-Pokemon drawings (sometimes cut out and taped to popsicle sticks to make “puppets”). Floor largely remains Study in Deconstructed Japanese Monsters.
- Bedtime negotiation. Munchkin points out that since he went to bed properly the previous night (rather than staying up reading surreptitiously in his closet out of the view of the camera), he has earned the fifth reward-chart star necessary to get the next book in the “Bad Guys” series, and that therefore I must order it from Amazon (despite the abject failure to actually get the reward system to produce a good habit). This is book #10 in the series; I admire the ability of children’s chapter book authors to turn out infinite content. Also, while he’s at it, he wants books on calligraphy and making “realistic” drawings rather than cartoons.
- I place the next of what has been a seemingly unending stream of Amazon orders for books and household supplies. This reminds me of doing a series of executive dinners all over the US years ago, where the icebreaker was “tell us the last thing you ordered from Amazon”. That turned out to be an unexpectedly intriguing glimpse into lives in different parts of the US, especially differing gender-role expectations.
- Ordinarily this would be (virtual Zoom) Scottish fiddle jam night for me, but a shoulder injury has left me largely unable to play, so PT exercises instead.
9:30 pm: Post-Munchkin bedtime, where the adults stare wearily at the TV and then do more work. So:
- Episode of The Good Doctor while multi-screening other stuff. Match-3 games on the iPad. Facebook, other social media, and reading. Chat on LinkedIn with someone interested in working at Gartner.
- Respond to more work email. Work on responding to Editing’s edits of a doc in the publication process. Do paperwork for previous day’s inquiries; send followup emails and research to clients. Prep for next day’s client calls.
- Write a letter to the board of directors for the community orchestra where I’m the concertmaster, inquiring as to post-pandemic plans.
- Write this blog post.
1:30 am: Bedtime.
So, I want to start this blog post by stressing that, like all of my posts, according to Gartner’s policies, it is strictly personal opinion. But I feel like this issue is important, and that I can say something constructive in the conversation around the role of women in technology and the culture of technology as it relates to women.
Last month, Dell held a customer and partner summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. During that event, keynoted by CEO Michael Dell, “entertainer” Mads Christensen delivered a set of comments throughout the afternoon that began with, “The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy,” (and asking the women, “What are you actually doing here?”) and ended with telling all the men in the room to promise him they’ll go home and say, “Shut up, b*tch!”
Journalist Christiane Vejlo live-tweeted and blogged the event, and it’s since started something of a growing firestorm on the Internet. Dell acknowledged in a tweet that the remarks were “inappropriate”, and today has issued an apology — in the relatively private confines of Google+.
I find the entire incident to be appalling. I’ve attended conferences in Copenhagen in the past, and indeed, all over the world. I cannot imagine another global technology company which would have scheduled this speaker for an event. (VMworld Europe is in Copenhagen. Can you imagine VMware hiring that guy to entertain?) I’m somewhat surprised they actually allowed him to continue speaking once it was clear that he was going to be offensive — or for that matter, not issuing an official apology from the stage at the time, or even stopping the “show” early. These are not borderline-offensive remarks. These are outright hostile, and I imagine that any line manager at Dell caught uttering them to his staff would be promptly escorted out the door by HR. Given that, the apology should have been issued in Dell’s normal press release channels, and not in the limited-viewership world of Google+.
However, in reading the comments threads on the various news articles about this, I’ve been struck by a lot of the commentary — from the doubting this-is-a-feminist-lie “show video or it didn’t happen”, to “women are biologically less fit to be in technology”. It makes me reflect upon my career in technology, the conferences I’ve been to, the client organizations that I’ve seen, and the way that I’ve been treated.
This is a shortened form of the much longer post that I originally wrote, in the interest of not writing an epic; I may post the rest separately at some later date, but for this, I’ll focus on just one observation.
Corporate Culture Makes a Crucial Difference
I’ve spent over a decade at Gartner, and I’ve dealt with an incredible array of IT organizations, and in each of those organizations, you’ll find a different attitude towards women — and therefore a different proportion of women, especially at the mid- and senior levels. (Note that I’m talking about the IT operations and development, excluding the admins, procurement, non-technical project managers, etc.)
However, in most of the IT organizations I’ve dealt with, there are either plenty of women, or there are a handful of women (maybe even zero or one woman in a technical role); there’s very little in-between. Note that this can be different in different parts of the organization; you might have a team that for whatever reason is particularly good at hiring and keeping women, but in general, if it’s just a team, that team is anomalous in an otherwise male organization.
For instance, there are a huge number of successful women in US federal government IT — and, for that matter, minorities historically severely underrepresented in IT (i.e., non-Asians). Rigorous nondiscrimination, along with the availability of successful mentors, leads to hiring and promoting women — in technical and technical management roles that require ‘hard’ skills as much or more than ‘soft’ skills. This includes places that you would normally expect to be male bastions, like the 3-letter agencies — and in traditionally enormously male-dominated specialties like InfoSec. Teams are mixed-gender and mixed-race; the balance suggests that these organizations attract an enormously disproportionately high percentage of qualified women and underrepresented minorities. My experience is that those people are just as competent, if not more so; quality is not being sacrificed, probably because they get a better hiring pool.
On the other hand, I’ve also visited a Fortune 500 company where the Gartner salesperson was explicitly told that they weren’t comfortable with a woman telling them what to do, and that we shouldn’t bring any more female analysts by to visit them — they said would rather deal with a man, even if that man did not have the same level of subject-matter expertise. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t meet a single woman in IT there. (That’s not an isolated incident; I have many more stories of this sort, although that one is notable because they had dealt with multiple superbly-expert female analysts.)
But most corporate cultures aren’t so blatant. Instead, there are subtle and not-so-subtle indicators about the degree to which women are welcome and respected; these messages come from the top, but may also be reflected in the culture of an individual team, especially given the attitude of a line manager, technical lead, or influential engineer. These things generally directly correlate to the probability of hiring, retaining, and promoting women.
I find it to be an interesting indicator of a company and individual’s assumptions when they’ve read my official Gartner bio (which emphasizes my background in operations and engineering) and how much they ‘talk down’ to me technically nevertheless — particularly when I frequently also had a male analyst colleague on the phone without a technical background, despite having the bios, there were still plenty of people who would de facto assume he was technical and I wasn’t. (Note to AR folks: I hate this.)
Conferences are one of those places where the company’s hidden attitudes come to light. Does the company make use of booth babes? Does the company respect a code of conduct that ensures that presentation material (including from outside speakers) doesn’t contain unprofessional imagery and examples? Is the entertainment particularly targeted towards men? (Note that yes, IT demographics encourage targeting men, but perpetrating this also ensures that it will remain men.) There are comfort things for women, as well — for instance, does the conference provide adequate security and response to harrassment?
And of course: Does your company CEO witness your company-hired entertainer make grotesquely offensive remarks, and not apologize instantly on behalf of your company, to your partners, clients, and employees, for having been party to this?
If you work in technology, regardless of whether you’re male or female, ask yourself: What do I really think about women in technology? And the lack of women in technical roles? How do my attitudes influence my actions, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways?