Friday, June 10, 2016

the most alienating thing that ever happened to me, as a female engineer

Recently I had dinner with a colleague Raf from my old job on Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I told him how I felt that Microsoft had a less diverse culture than Google.  He asked why.  I told him one story in particular.

For two months before shipping Flight Simulator, we'd stay late every evening.  Management would bring in dinner, and the team would watch television while eating together.  My team always wanted to watch baseball.  Every evening, without fail, there would be baseball on the television.

Once, I asked if we could watch "Friends" instead.  This was met with incredulity and laughter.

A few weeks later, as a joke, my colleague Mike changed the television show to Friends, and then took out the batteries from the remote control.  He placed the empty remote on the conference room table near the door.

Our coworker Steve walked in, saw Friends on the television, and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.  He jabbed the remote with increasing fervor, walking up many steps until he was nearly touching the television.  He pointed the remote with outstretched arm, looking puzzled as the screen continued to show Friends.

As Steve was looking confused, Mike laughed so hard that he fell to his knees on the floor.

Steve finally turned over the remote, saw the missing batteries, chuckled, and put the remote back on the table.  Moments later, Todd walked in and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.

Now both Steve and Mike were laughing.

This repeated several times.  Mike laughed harder with every subsequent person that fell for the prank.  Eventually he was red in the face and could hardly straighten up from how hard he had laughed.

I think this may have been the most alienating event that occurred during my time at Microsoft.  If I had walked in, and baseball was showing on the television, it would be completely unthinkable for me to grab the remote and change it to Friends.  If I had done that, the outcry would've been thundering.  People would question my social skills.  They would tell me that I lack social etiquette.   And yet every person who walked in that night felt completely at ease to change the channel without clarifying.  They didn't bother to ask, "Oh, are we watching a different show tonight?"  They assumed that of course it's natural that they should change it to their show.

There were many other little things like this.  Morale events were always go-kart racing.  When we got new T-shirts, there were never women's sizes.  I remember being amazed and gratified my first week at Google in 2003, when they handed out T-shirts at TGIF and there were women's sizes.

When I was having dinner a couple days ago with Raf, he asked me, "When this happened and you felt out of place, did you ever question whether you really liked engineering?  Did you ever feel like 'Wow, maybe engineering isn't the right line of work for me'?"

Me: "No.  I had such a good time writing code at Caltech, and programming as a kid.  I knew I loved it.  That was never in doubt.  I just didn't know if I'd ever find a company where I felt at ease."

Raf: "Do you think that if it were a different woman who went through what you did, she might have concluded that she's not meant for engineering?"

Me: "..."


More overt things happened too.  My official work mentor offered me a ride in his fancy sports car, and then reached over and buckled my seat belt for me, touching me a lot in the process.  A manager told me I need to be more assertive, and then later when I was more assertive, that now I was too confrontational (issues that magically disappeared when I got a new manager).  In a way, the overt problems were easier for me to discount.  I could tell myself that one person was being an asshole, but most of the team were probably not assholes.  It was harder to tell myself that when the whole room was laughing at the ridiculous notion that maybe my preference could be given equal treatment to theirs for one day.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

grrr objective-C

me: do you know objective-C?
aff: no. when i need to make mac changes, i just add square brackets until that shit compiles


I find objective-C to be such a confusing language.  Sometimes the syntax is, and sometimes [foo bar], and yet other times it's [foo param:bar].

We use unity3D with C# at Evertoon, which spares us from having to touch objective-C most of the time.  I never thought one day C# would be the language I turn to thankfully.