Bravely Going Where Man Fears To Tread…

Sigh.
Sigh.

The other day at dinner one of my daughters asked me if I saw myself as a feminist. Fight ensued.

Doh!

It’s not that I’m against gender equality. On the contrary, as a father of four daughters, the husband of a seriously talented wife, and the friend and colleague of many accomplished women, I passionately advocate for equality.

Especially in IT.

Against the Machine

My reticence to label myself as a feminist, however, is largely due to the emotional framing of the word. Which is that: “Men discriminate against women, and this must be fought in every domain: Social, political, intellectual, religious, especially economic.”

It’s this militant aspect of feminism that I struggle with. The emotive lens that assumes every disparity is, if not deliberate, a systemic bigotry that devalues women.

Don’t get me wrong. I have seen, and until more conscious, have been complicit in, religious, political, social, and yes, economic systems that have done exactly that. But very early on in my life I chose to stand against bigotry. This only increased as I grew as a parent. Of women.

Where Is The Evidence?

But I’ll be honest, my current (admittedly male) experience is that by and large this systemic discrimination has changed. Not everywhere for sure. There are entire regions of the world where women are treated cruelly. Even in the west discrimination is not removed from every social situation. But by and large the disparity doesn’t seem to be because of a deliberate, or unconscious systemic discrimination.

My personal experience comes from a career in IT, consulting and managing in companies like HP and Microsoft. In countries from South Africa, to the UK, USA, South-East Asia, and Australia.

In most management teams I’ve worked in we were very careful to ensure pay, conditions, and recruitment criteria did not bias against gender, age, ethnicity, religion, family situation etc. Performance is rated on merit. And throughout my entire career in IT I have worked alongside, and been subordinate to fantastic women peers and bosses. Back in 1988, at the academy where I learnt to program 49% of the students, and 7 of the top 10, were women.

But that there is a disparity is undeniable.

So what gives?

Women have less representation, are in fewer leadership roles, have a lower average salary, and less average superannuation (pension). How can this be if they are not discriminated against?

First, I’ll let Freakonomics Radio and Claudia Goldin, Professor Economics at Harvard, a previous president of the American Economics Association, and one of the preeminent researchers on the topic answer. Please listen to the entire episode, it is very illuminating.

This doesn’t fully answer the question though. Or at least it shifts the focus. Mostly, in modern western democracies, women are not deliberately or systemically discriminated against. At least in the workplace. The salary & consequent super, disparity needs to be considered against other currencies including adoption of risk, & lifestyle choices like flexibility.

Does this let men ‘off the hook?’ Well yes, and er, no.

Yes

Whilst there are still masogynists, gender pay gaps are far more nuanced and complicated. They are influenced at least by women’s choices as any other factor.

No

Why are women making those choices? Do they have to? Is this the result of a more insidious reason: Cultural socialisation?

I think the answer to this one is probably ‘yes.’ I’ll let Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code speak to this in her TED talk: “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.”

[ted id=2448]

I don’t agree with everything Reshma claims in her talk, but I do believe that as a society, we, men and women, parents, teachers, uncles & aunts, peers and managers, socialise gender stereotypes that lead to identities, beliefs, values, and choices.

Teaching (anyone) girls to code is a very good thing. I would argue imperative for continued economic success.

Teaching (anyone) girls bravery, even better.

So Am I a Feminist?

Yes. I am a non-militant, pacifist, advocate for the equal respect and nurture of all humans regardless of gender.

Sketch of Roger titled Feminist
Rog42 the Feminist

My greatest wish for all four of my daughters is that they will recognise the greatness within them. They would take ownership, and not be a victim to the universe. That they will change the world according to their purpose.

The Pi Shaped Professional

The Pi Shaped Professional
Pi Shaped Professional

Today I get to do one of my favourite things. Present on careers in technology to High School students. This is as a speaker at the ACS Foundation's “Big Day In” roadshow.

Which got me to thinking about skills that you need to succeed as a professional today compared to when I started out almost 30 years ago.

Old Advice

A lot of universities will ask if you want to pursue a career in business OR technology. As if those two domains are disparate!! Between you and me, that's my biggest frustration with Technology Universities (in Australia) today. The digital economy means that IT is the business. You cannot separate the two. So yes you can make a choice to focus on being a 'business woman” or a “geek,” but you simply won't be valuable in the industry until you complement your skills on either side of those domains.

The “T” shaped professional has become vogue with many recruiters and even hiring managers. Someone with a broad understanding across business and technology, with deep skills in one discipline. But I think that too is flawed.

Or at least that is old advice.

Competitive

If there's anything that sets the 80's and today apart, it's the approach to business. Stemming from the vast consumerism post the Industrial Age, the Information Age to date has been about competition. How a company can scale, become supremely efficient, and dominate its market.

Management theory, from Jack Welch's “Winning” to Jim Collin's “From Good to Great,” proselytise being the #1 company in market. A carrot/stick approach to incentives. This drives competitive behaviour. Subsequently differentiation that drives specialisation. As an individual you need a broad understanding of the political, and industry landscape for sure, but you want to be the world expert on your client, subject matter, industry, [name your domain here.]

The “T-shaped” professional.

Collaborative

But we're a long way from the Industrial Revolution, even from the downsizing and efficiency drives of the 90's. Today's business landscape is a complex interplay of technologies and disciplines. Success is driven far more through collaboration than competition.

Interestingly this was foreshadowed in the 80's by Ricardo Semler with his orthogonal management approach described in “Maverick” and “The Seven Day Week-end.” More recently Dan Pink talks about this new approach to motivation in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

This phenomena is only going to increase. As planetary scale is democratised to smaller and smaller organisations, even individuals, the diseconomies of scale outweigh the economies.

This leads to disaggregation of large organisations. The consequence is those legions of specialist accountants, or recruiters, or lawyers expert in their specialisation will be without work. Or rather they'll need to find smaller organisations where they add value.

Anyone who works in a small organisation will tell you that the best thing is you get to do “everything.” It's also the most challenging thing. You can't simply pick up the phone and call the Market Research Department, or the Copy Writing department, because, well you are those departments.

Your Personal Value

To enable your business to succeed means being versatile, and I propose that you need depth, deep understanding, in at least two domains.

A nurse that can code is inestimably more valuable to a hospital looking at RTHS (Real Time Health Systems) than one that can't. A lawyer that understands blockchain, or autonomous vehicles will be the lawyer that transitions her career as corporate legal services get automated or removed.

Similarly, the developer that understands loan origination is more valuable to the online bank, or even insurance provider.

So the T-shaped professional is no longer enough.

Become a Pi-shaped professional.

 

The New Three Words Of The IT Zeitgeist

The globe with the word zeitgeist floating above
Zeitgeist

Do you consider what's hot in your career?

There are any number of articles around the Internet, and on this blog, pointing to the coming disruption to all industries. It's unlikely your career will escape unscathed. So it is incumbent on you to continually consider what skills and experiences are in demand.

For my industry, [Information, Business, High] Technology I summarise this in

“Rog42's three words of the zeitgeist.”

Every year I summarise my intuition about what's hot. What's driving the industry. Where I should learn skills, and develop thought leadership to serve my customers.

Over the last 5 years, the top three words have been: Cloud, Mobile, and Social. Yes there are other themes, some relatively new, like Big Data; some perennial, like Security. But overall vendors and customers alike have been:

  • Determining strategies,
  • Hiring teams, and
  • Implementing solutions

Around Cloud, Social, and Mobile.

Over the last year or so, this has changed…

Take a look at the job postings, consider the political mandates, read the press. Cloud, Social, and Mobile are considered all BAU (Business As Usual). The leading companies, if not yet fully executing, have defined strategies, hired (& fired) their staff, and are already benefitting from the returns on these investments.

If your organisation isn't implementing a strategy around Cloud, Social, and Mobile, this means two things:

  1. It's unlikely you'll be in the position to reap the benefits of the next wave of technology
  2. It's very likely your competitors will slowly, but increasingly, outperform you.

So what are the current three words of the zeitgeist? Can you guess them?

More tomorrow…

 

The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

Time for a somewhat light-hearted post after Easter 🙂

I find myself firmly ensconced in an IT career, although it wasn't always planned this way. Recently I shared the top 39 books that have shaped my career, but everything is connected, and movies are as important in filling the maelstrom that is our intuition, emotion, and even cognition.

As with the booklist, I have sorted these in alphabetical order so as not to imply any sort of stack-rank. I've also avoided movies where I rated the book, unless the movie was uniquely determinant. As you'd expect there's a lot (majority) of SciFi here, but not all. Here goes:

1. Back To The Future I, II, and III

There's so much richness in these comedies. If you learn nothing else, learn these two simple truths:

  1. Life constantly changes, so we must evolve. I.e. Life (& we) will be as different from now in the next 10 years, as from the last decade. This is an astounding truth that few people learn.
  2. Moore's Law means the next 10 will be exponentially greater than the last 10. Although we don't have flying cars, we do have 3D printing, IoT, AR, Drones, etc. etc. The movie got more right than wrong.

2. Blade Runner

Another movie that created an impression very early on. When does artificial intelligence become sentience? How can you determine AI from human? Especially when the 'intellect' of the AI may be greater than that of the human. Throw in a dystopian future, flying vehicles, and cinematography that bleeds into your dreams. Another imperative piece.

3. The Creator

This tackles science vs religion, nature vs nurture, and predestination vs free will. From a career perspective even considering the possibility to clone someone was science fiction but could we make it happen?

4. Cry Freedom

Another non-SciFi. For someone who had just spent a couple of years in the military during the troubles in the townships, this was an important film. It is often chronologically incorrect, focusses too much on the Woods family escape, and has inconsistencies in the production. For all that, this was the continuation of a very important journey for me. I saw it much later than the theatrical release.

5. Enemy of the State

Turns out the surveillance nation pictured in this movie was pretty accurate after all. Watch for a great performance by a young Jack Black.

6. Existenz

A Jude Law movie. We descend into virtual reality game world, yet is reality real, or just the next level?

7. Gattacca

Another Jude Law movie. This should be required watching. CRISPR-CAS9 is the real, current world technology that will allow us to modify the genome of our children. Yet the true world changing genii would never have been allowed to be born in a world with that much control. Perhaps I resonate so closely to the protagonist because I too was a 'love child,' (and want to go to Space). Consider ethics when you consider complex systems – led me to do IT & Ethics in my Masters Degree.

8. The Island

This is a modern take that riff's off of “A Brave New World” and “The Running Man.” I just love the technology (& Scarlett Johansen) from the Microsoft Surface inspired (yet Apple aesthetic) table computer, to the Augmented Reality XBox Game (Kinect, and Hololens anyone?), to the Video phones, biometric security, automated home and I want that flying motorbike.

9. The Matrix

Hoo boy, this is the brilliant recreation of the question posed by Socrates as described in Plato's “The Republic” as “The Allegory of the Cave.” Are we real, and if not, would we experience real as real, or rather be back in the delusionary virtual world. You're welcome to ignore the sequels.

10. Minority Report

This movie is no longer SciFi. We have most of the technologies described, if not mainstream, about to be: Driverless cars, long range iris scanning and facial recognition, robots, augmented reality, gesture based computing, and not pre-cogs, but Big Data allowing police to pre-empt crime.

11. The Net

This movie imagined the power of the mobile Internet. They had no idea.

12. No Way Out

Is this the best Kevin Costner movie I've seen? Or maybe the only good one? Great plot, great twist, and the constraints of technology of the day – like 24 hours to render the negative on a polaroid – like a polariod – all contribute to this movie. It would be a tough one to remake.

13. I, Robot

Are robots appliances? What happens when they become more? When they dream of electric sheep? Plenty of real world technologies here from robots & androids, AI, and osteo-integration (spoilers). In-ear phones. Driverless, and hovering, cars. We need to design these systems.

14. Runaway

Another take on tech aided police. Individual targetting bullets? Absolutely.

15. Runaway Jury

Ok. This one isn't SciFi. This one is about influence. It is a study on influence. Anyone who is in influence, like a consultant, manager, sales person, teacher, or instructor needs to watch this movie. I've been all of those roles.

16. Serenity (& the Firefly TV Series)

The control of the Alliance vs the freedom of anarchy. Learning Mandarin is probably a good idea, considering the privacy of the individual when designing the big data and IoT systems. There's plenty to like about this movie, especially the “neither utopian, nor dystopian” aesthetic that brings a deeper sense of realism.

17. Sneakers

Hacking into banks, governments, and controlling the world. This opened my eyes to social engineering, different modalities for orientation (e.g. the blind guy figuring out where he was by sound – genius), and the genius of teams trumping the individual.

18. Star Trek

The series, all the movies, DS9, they all contributed to thinking about the way technology can really enable and empower.

19. Star Wars – IV – VI

Another, less utopian take on a world where robots do the menial labour like controlling the farm equipment (IoT anyone?). Where we have AR, holograms, 3D chess, and light sabres. Watch for the upcoming Disney VR game.

20. Top Gun

So this one had an indirect effect. Once upon a life I wanted to fly. Jets. In the military. This of course was the 80's recruitment movie for the US Navy, to the Air Force's Iron Eagle. I'd already been selected for the South African Air Force, then taken off the course for an unspecified medical reason. At the time I'd been devastated, but strangely this movie liberated me what had been a lifelong dream. This combined with Cry Freedom.

21. Wargames

Where do I begin? Hacking, surveillance, IoT like control, and of course, Artificial Intelligence. This movie was pivotal at an impressionable age in considering IT as a profession. It is definitely worth a rerun. In fact this movie was one of the reasons I went into IT. No question.

There they are.

Definitely not a complete list. Not by a long shot. And not all great movies either. But each of them had some part to play in me ending up where I've ended up.

What movies have I missed?