No Fancy Name
Sunday, July 24, 2005
hooray for arfa karim randhawa, and the "pink ghetto" is a stupid term
I had read this article about 10-year-old Arfa Karim Randhawa, who achieved the Microsoft Certified Professional (MSCP) status when she was a 9-year-old, before it made the rounds at Slashdot—where the audience is decidedly non-Microsoft and generally not-so-enlightened with regards to gender-related matters. When /. discussion ensued, I expected a lot of comments along the lines of "Big deal, my dog could get an MSCP" and/or "Oooh, hottie geek girl" (she's TEN, people!) or "Not bad for a girl." The latter two types of comments were few and far between, which is good!

The majority of the comments had to do with the quality and usefulness (or lack thereof) of the MSCP. Personally, I'm not a fan of the way in which certificate programs are typically used in corporations, because they tend to be pieces of paper that hiring managers look for regardless of the actual skills required for the position. Numerous certificate programs test nothing more than memorization of GUI elements and not a lot about the underlying technology—the how (point here, click here) not the why. Not all certificate programs are like that, of course. Many of the Linux/UNIX administration certificates and various database certifications (Oracle, I'm looking at you) will kick your ass if you can't do the thinking that will be involved in your day-to-day work.

But still, a 9-year-old had a goal, studied hard, and achieved that goal. That's a wonderful thing, and shows a greater attention span than I usually exhibit. I didn't get all geeky until I was eleven or twelve, and then it was just all about making my own maps for Zork. I wasn't programming calculators. Arfa has plans "to go to Harvard University or MIT, and then either go to work for Microsoft, in its developer division, or become a satellite engineer." Another prevalent comment at Slashdot, with which I completely agree, was: "get that girl a Linux box so she can really expand her mind and her skills. Truer words have never been spoken.

BitchPhD named Arfa her heroine of the week, not only for Arfa's accomplishments but for the fact that she marched right on up to Bill Gates and asked why 75% of Microsoft employees are men, explaining to him "it should be balanced." Smart kid. But in all fairness to Microsoft, I've never viewed them as particularly problematic with regards to their hiring practices (e.g. choosing less-qualified men over more-qualified women just because the less-qualified person is male). But one of the comments at Dr. B's place really pissed me off. On Slashdot, when someone posts a comment anonymously it doesn't just say "anonymous" like it does in Blogger or Haloscan comments. It says "Anonymous Coward," and there's a reason for that—people posting trollish comments anonymously are easier to automatically filter. So at Dr. B's an anonymous comment was left that said (in part):
a better question would be what types of positions do the females hold? [...] do they hold less "prestigious" jobs such as the pink-ghetto of technical writing and testing rather than research and development.

a friend sent me this link, and i am a women who is sw dev, and for women to equal out in IT, i have to say i would recommend fewer women doing things like these crypto-clever blogs and online journals (the pink-ghetto) and spend their online time learning how to work with the more technical aspects of c or java or php or other web apps.
So many problematic things in this snippet of a comment. Firstly: technical writing and testing are extremely important aspects of a product release. Most companies do not feel it is appropriate to release buggy software to the public, or software that represents a horrible user experience (e.g. it's not "broken," it's just "crappy"). Testers, who are (or should be) used at numerous points in the development process to weed out issues, find bugs, and report accordingly, play an integral role in software development. They may not be the one who fixes a bug, but they are the one who will find it, document when it appears, and basically provide the developer with enough information to do their work over again. Now, on to technical writers. Who do you think fixes up engineers' notes or API documentation so that they're suitable for public viewing? Who do you think is responsible for providing the instructions and other crucial information to the people actually purchasing and using a product? I could go on and on, because on any given day I am a database designer, database administrator, R&D engineer, application developer, UI consultant, programmer, and technical writer. It's called "being well-rounded" and "seeing the big picture" and most important of all it's recognizing that each of those tasks is equally important in the eyes of the companies who pay our salaries, as their goal is to get a working product in the hands of the public.

The anonymous comment says "i would recommend fewer women doing things like these crypto-clever blogs and online journals (the pink-ghetto) and spend their online time learning how to work with the more technical aspects of c or java or php or other web apps" and to that I say "sure—if that's what they want to do." In fact, I'd say that to any boy as well. You want to learn programming? Great! You want to be a contributing member of a development community? Kick ass! Oh, first thing? Open your eyes and open your mind. There's more to programming and development than sitting down and writing code for days on end.

I never thought this would be useful, but two years ago I was interviewed by Stephen Ibaraki for the Network Professional Association. If you're at all interested, you can read the interview, where I prattle on about these and other matters (but note that I did it when I was going to do an MA in linguistics and I've since chosen English, so that might sound a bit strange). The interview coincided with the release of the second edition of one of my ten books having to do with programming, databases, and other techie things, which I write when I'm not working with students in my Databases & Dynamic Web Design course or Writing JavaScript/DHTML course, or doing all things technical for my job.

<sarcasm>Because I see relevance in the "pink ghetto" I suppose I've lost all the geek cred I've banked.</sarcasm>


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