Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A round-up of my GOTO Aarhus experience

Let's pretend for a moment that it is not nearly two weeks since I got back from GOTO Aarhus, and thus this blogpost really should have been written at least a week ago. Let's instead say that I've let my thoughts mature, before writing this blogpost.

No, the truth is that I've been busy both at work and in my private life, so I haven't really had the time to sit down before now, and put my thoughts into a blogpost.

So, what can I say about this years GOTO Aarhus conference? Well, first of all, it was awesome. Great speakers, great people. Just generally great. GOTO Aarhus is definitely still one of my favorite conferences, and they manage to get some amazingly inspiring people to come and talk. Among the speakers at GOTO Aarhus I'd definitely recommend other people to listen to, if they have the chance, are Jez Humble, Dan North, Linda Rising, Michael Nygard, Scott Hanselman, and Martin Fowler. Each of them are not only very knowledgable, but are also great at speaking.

Overall, the tracks were well thought out, and it seemed like there had been some thought given to who was invited (though I think the conference could have benefitted from a bit more focus on diversity, if possible). One thing I did find problematic though, was that the level of the talks were a bit too diverse, even within the same conference track - some were obviously aimed at beginners while others were aimed at more trained people.

That is actually one major criticism I have of the conference: They were not very good at indicating the level of the talk. Often you went to something which seemed interesting, and found out that the level was too basic for you to get anything out of it. This is something that the organizers should aim at improving.

Another point where the conference might be improved would be the agile track. The speakers there were generally great, and the subjects interesting, yet I couldn't help feeling that they were generally covering ground that had been convered many times before. Maybe it is time for an advanced agile track for those of us who have worked with agile for a while? I can't imagine that I am the only one who feels this way.

This was actually something they aimed at with the dev-ops track, and it seemed to me that this was a good approach.

So, what was the highlights for me?

The absolute highly must have been Dirk Duellmann's keynote about Distributed Data and Storage Management for the Large Hadron Collider. It was a facinating insight into problems the rest of us never faces (who else have to take the moon's orbit or the amount of rainfall into account when analyzing data? huge, huge amounts of data).

Other than that, a few other things stood out:
  • The Ada Aarhus meeting, where Linda Rising gave a great talk, and Martin Fowler argued that quotas might be the only way to get more women into IT (he finds quotas problematic, but empirical evidence points towards them being the only options).
  • Talking with the vendors. A lot of people going to conferences don't speak with vendors, and they are really cheating themselves.
  • Listening to Dave Thomas explaining something about the problems he work with to Jim Webber.
  • Catching up with friends and former colleagues and meeting new people.
  • The noSQL panel, where bloated claims by noSQL vendors were talked about. Panels can be either dead boring or brilliant. Any panel which have both Jim Webber and Martin Fowler on it, is bound to be the latter.

As can probably be gleamed, I had a great time, and I am definitely looking forward to going there again. Still, as I said, I would love for better markings of the levels of the talks, and also for there to be an advanced agile track.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sexism in IT, again

I'm currently at the GOTO conference in Aarhus, where I am spending a lovely time going to some great talks and meeting some great people, and I had planned on spending the evening blogging a bit about my impressions from the first couple of days at the conference.


That was until I had lunch with a couple of other people, and I heard about this incident (opens in a new window). Please go there and read the post.

As people who have been around me since I heard about this will attest, I've been pretty damn furious ever since first hearing about it, and then reading Cerian's blogpost (which was posted shortly after I heard about the episode).

I don't think I really have to explain why this incident makes me furious, but for good measure I will try to do so.

First of all, it is an incredible rude way to behave, and even if there were no other considerations, I think that unwarranted rudeness against complete strangers at a conference shouldn't happen.

But of course, it is not just the rudeness - it is the sexism that really gets me angry.

Can anyone even for a second imagine that a guy would have been addressed in that way? Yes, I am sure that there a few men who have been accused of being hired because of their looks, but it is not something people would say about a complete stranger that they had never met before, much less to that complete stranger. I mean, WTF? How can anyone think that it is OK?

Unfortunately, for women, this is a common remark, though not usually said directly to their face (though it happens all too frequently as well).

And it is not just men who makes this sort of remarks.

When we had a meetup of the bloggers/web media people before going to GOTO Aarhus, there was a woman among us who expressed her opinion that among the women studying Computer Science, there were two types:
1) The pretty ones, who got their (male) group members to do the work, and thus, couldn't code.
2) The non-pretty ones, who had to do their own work, and thus, could code.

In her mind, it was obviously not possible to be conventionally pretty, and be able to code.

I could now make some kind of argument about knowing pretty female programmers, but that would just be feeding the sexism. Rather, I'll just say that I cannot fathom why anyone would think it is acceptable to make that sort of comments, yet here there was a woman publicly stating these things. Among people she didn't know.

We seriously have a long way to go. A very long way.

Now, back to the incident. The thing that made me furious about the incident was not the fact that it happened (though that should be enough), but the fact that nobody spoke up when it happened. This is not mentioned in the blogpost about the incident, but I asked Cerian about it, and there wasn't. Or rather, one person said to her that she should ignore it, but nobody said anything to the guy about it.

The GOTO conference has an incredible good track record when it comes to not only getting female speakers, but also getting female attendees (once having to go to court for the right to give a discount to women in order to make the gender less underrepresented - a court battle they won). Yet, even at such a conference, not only does a guy feel entitled to make this sort of remarks, but nobody spoke out against him.

That shows me that the whole culture is still sexist at its core. Not that I think that the people who was there with Cerian are particularly sexist, or even that they agree with the guy, but I do think that they can't see how this sort of remarks are not only incredible hurtful towards Cerian, but also helps create an atmosphere where women, or a sub-group of women, don't feel welcome.

We, the IT sector as a whole, need to change that. Not only because it robs the sector of so much potential talent, but also because it is the decent thing to do.

So, if you see this sort of thing happening, speak up, and make clear that you don't find that sort of stuff acceptable. This is the only way to change the environment, and get rid of the sexism. We need to stop implicitly accepting this behavior by keeping quite, and instead explicitly express our disdain of it.

And it is important to note that it is extra important that we men are very active in doing this, showing our support in changing the environment.

On those words, I think I only have left to thank Cerian for speaking up, and that I hope that there will be some kind of official reaction from the GOTO conference. I know for sure that I will be following up on this issue, so expect more blogposts dealing with sexism, GOTO, and IT in general.