Playing with Negative Space

Why is it easier to teach girls to code than to teach ourselves to treat women well?

When we ask ourselves "why aren't there more women in tech?", we're quick to discuss how the pipeline fails young women. I would be lying if I didn’t think there’s room for improvement here - I’ve written about my own negative experiences as a young programmer - and it’s exciting to dream about new ways to expose eight year old girls to programming, with or without pink. Unfortunately, we only have limited efforts to put into solutions, so it’s important to understand how we can be the most efficient. Wanting to get more girls interested in computer science is fun and non-threatening. Changing workplace environments would have a more immediate impact.

Half of the women in technology leave.

We know that we lose women over caregiving issues. There are too many maternity leave policies that show workplaces are uninterested in their female employees having healthy family lives, and we expect mothers to put in time at odd hours just to keep up. Our industry needs to find ways to be flexible with talented women who also want to have families.

But the main reason we lose women isn’t related to caregiving - it is a myth that pregnancy is the main thing that holds women back when it only accounts for a sixth of women who leave engineering. We primarily lose women to toxic work environments: misogyny and sexual harassment are commonly cited as reasons for leaving. This ranges from assumptions that women can’t possibly be good engineers to a man erasing the work of a woman because she refused to date him. Treating women fairly could very well be the simplest way to increase the number of women in technology.

But we don't discuss the importance of fixing these problems like we discuss the importance of the pipeline. Discussing the pipeline is convenient - we've agreed that improving the pipeline is a complicated and daunting task that we can't be expected to solve in a quick timeline. So we're able to put it off and pat ourselves on the back for thinking about how to fix things in ways that make us feel good about ourselves. Blaming the pipeline means we don't have to confront the internalized misogyny in our day-to-day environments. It's a cop-out.

Admitting that the culture can be hostile is admitting that there's something we can work on changing now. It’s time for us to decide to change.

The next time someone asks you to help get girls interested in technology, also ask them what they’re doing to support the women who’ve already made it through the pipeline.



xoxo stage banner

You and I meeting
for the first time.
Together, we found
built in polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.

Places to experiment, learn,
play, create.
The safety to
talk of speed bumps, loss,


But you and I -
an army -
propping up those colored polygons
to turn defeat against itself or,
at least,
make it something we take on

Places and spaces into
moments and memories and
bonds to hold onto
beyond those polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.


An update on Keybase verification

Keybase updated their verification methods to include a command line method that relies on echo, gpg, perl, and curl. I really like this so-called "hardcore mode" because it uses only tools I already trust - I don't have to install anything from Keybase. The process involves running a script they provide, and you get to read through it and see exactly what it will do.

This actually happened a few months ago, but I just used it to verify my Keybase identity. I'm excited to see Keybase improve the web of trust.


Where books travel


I sit down in my premium economy seat, the abbreviated way of saying "economy as it was fifteen years ago, but at a higher premium", and deeply internalize my physical constraints for the next six hours. A small box outlined by my seat, the side of the plane with its tiny window, the seat in front of me, and a precise, though invisible, boundary between myself and 19B. I grab a thin paperback out of my bag before sliding it underneath the seat in front of me.

It's just barely light out, and I won't be turning on the light above my seat. I have less than an hour to spend peeling through my book's pages before the night will fall, the plane's lights will dim, and a redeye passenger such as myself should fall asleep. I think to myself that I should have packed a hardcover instead - this paperback will certainly bend and fold on its way to wherever it ends up between me and my seat - but a hardcover wouldn't have packed well.

It doesn't matter. Black inks on bound textured pages with their soft scents are familiar feelings. I can read them on planes, on trains, in cafes, or between the sheets of my hotel bed and feel at home in their arms.


I was afforded a recommendation for a book I do not own and another recommendation for a place to find it. I make my way to what is apparently their new store, just one address over from its predecessor, south of the Tottenham Court Road station. It's a bright white all over, like at the start of a new lease where the owners kindly paid for a new coat of sterile paint for the apartment walls. There are many books on many warm wood shelves on many open floors, and each book knows precisely where to reside and how far apart from every other book it should be. Well, they know those details until someone like me comes along and plucks them from their shelves. Gives them new life outside the store. Or instead confuses them just enough that they can't find their way home on their own and end up on a mobile, metal shelf for refiling.

But it's the twenty-first century and we have a mobile app. Just type in some information about a book, and receive where it can be found and how many copies are available. Drat, the recommendation would usually be in Fiction W, but it's currently out of stock. Pop over to searching a few book sites back in the States and no dice to find it directly. I didn't actually want to purchase it from either of the two giants, but if at least one of them had it, my local bookstore could order a copy with some luck.


Off to the poetry section - I find staff picks the most useful here because while I like poetry, I am not a good judge of the genre. I pull the top copy of a staff recommendation off a stack, lift open its cover, and am taken by the boldness of this paperback's particularly stiff cover as my fingers grace it. Maybe this is why the store's walls are so coldly white, to contrast how much life resides within its books.

I read a few lines, smile, and remember how much I love the escape of poetry and how grateful I am that someone more well-versed than I will curate it for me. I read a few more lines, glance up, read another, and am reminded about how this process causes me to tie together poems and the places I am when I read them. I pop in and out of the fragmented world of the poems and the one around me such that they begin to quickly meld into one. And they are. I am there, in those pages, in the moment, in that place. Poetic Scientifica still feels like Portland, and Bright Travellers has already begun to feel like London between my hands.

These thoughts pass. I read the next page, put the book down, and remember I still need to purchase it. And I do.


I know I've already made the one purchase I allotted for this trip, but I can't help myself from browsing more. I'm a bouncy, smiling cliché just shy of twirling through the stacks. So many more books to buy - there are always more books I desire to read - but especially on vacation, especially now with a suitcase already overflowing with tea, I cannot.

So I jot down titles, authors, notes within my graph paper notebook to take advantage of this store's curation. I know that this store's arrangement - the way it highlights some stories and relegates others to distant corners - must be studied carefully before I leave it behind. I turn careful placements in the reality that surrounds me into two-dimensional scratches in hopes that I can remember enough of the feelings that prompted me to want the books I note.

Curating a list for my future self through the curation of another. Touching the pages and reading early excerpts to see what sticks. Seeing another's nose in a novel you were considering and the smile across his face as he closes it.

The art of the physical bookstore that I hear is dying. Today, for me, it is very much alive.

Filed under: Prose, Writing
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Building confidence in the face of impostor syndrome

When I'm plowing away at a project, I almost always feel confident in my abilities. Sometimes, I question if I am a good enough engineer, designer, or statistician, but once I get started, my excitement transforms those doubts into motivation.

But all bets are off as soon as I want someone else to be excited about me and my work - I feel like an impostor. I often feel like I can't be a real software engineer or a data scientist because I do this work within a finance company. I frequently don't feel like a singer or designer because no matter how deep I dive, I have no plans to pursue either professionally. I love the life I live because I span a lot of fields instead of fitting neatly inside a box, but I have trouble feeling like that's something other people will appreciate.

I know I am wrong.

I'm working on fighting it. I haven't figured it all out yet, but here are some things that have been helpful for me:

  • I maintain a list of things I'm proud of. Some are tangible things like code I've written to solve a problem; others, like someone I respect thinking I'm talented, aren't. Looking over this list makes it harder for me to dismiss myself as having done nothing worth discussing.
  • I write down small, even very small, projects that I'd like to see happen. When I'm feeling as though I don't bring enough to the table, I find a bit of time to knock out one of these projects. I get to add another small accomplishment to my list and benefit from something that makes my life a little better, too.
  • Instead of shying away from seeking an opportunity I want but don't think I deserve, I ask a friend to read over my application or talking points and hold me accountable for following through. I find it easier to feel proud of things I've done when my audience is a friend - it's less intimidating when I already know they believe I'm qualified. I'm betting that enough practice with writing first to a friend will translate into being comfortable writing about myself without this step.
  • I remember to pat myself on the back for trying. It's all too easy to decide that not finishing a project or getting a conference talk means you didn't do anything, but that's wrong. You tried, and by trying, you get to think about what didn't work and how to do better when you try again. Or at least feel a little bit more comfortable putting your neck on the line. I can't say thinking this way about failure is easy - it's not. I've been upset on more than one occasion over not getting what I wanted, but after a bit of distance, I make it a point to think of my attempts as accomplishments.

I'd be lying if I said doing these things have eliminated my impostor syndrome, but they've helped me make progress. And I'm going to keep on fighting it.