How to go from Misogynist to Feminist

Gail Carmichael G+ posted a link to Ellen Spertus’ Anita’s Quilt piece. I highly recommend this piece for anyone who doesn’t get why there’s a bunch of fuss about getting more women into tech. I, for one, can admit to having this outlook in my early career. A great quote:

I felt that my status with my family and peers was an honorary male — not able to equal the best men but certainly better than other females. I felt that women’s underrepresentation in the sciences was due to their own lack of interest and abilities in the “hard” (therefore “better”) sciences. Nevertheless, I hoped to find girls like me at computer camp and college, but I was unable to find or befriend the few such women, even when I entered MIT.

Totally captures my attitude circa 1997-2008.

Holla atchya Tech Lady: Apps to Combat Sexual Harrassment

I was almost giddy with excitement when I read about Not Your Baby, a free iPhone App that “generates snappy comebacks to street harassment”. It is produced by Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (MACVAWC) in Toronto and available free thanks to Canadian socialism. The app offers tailored responses to different situations, so it can help you whether you’re being harassed at school by a classmate, at work by a colleague, or on the street by an anonymous creep. An amazing idea! Who among us hasn’t been holla’d at or pursued a little to hard by a creepy acquaintance? I figured the app format could be a little awkward, but I was excited to see a new media approach to the problem.

First: how pervasive is this problem? From my direct experience, there are places in my neighbourhood that I go out of my way to avoid because of the persistence of catcalling by complete strangers. I’ve been fortunate in my career to never have dealt personally with an overly creepy colleague or classmate, but I know scores of women who have. To determine whether I had a skewed view of the problem, I took to facebook to see whether my friends shared my experiences. In less than a day, I got a whole mess of responses like:

“Hey lady! Wanna be my girlfriend?”

“hey bebee…wanna to chat?”

“you misunderstood me… I was only going to hang out with you tonight if my other plans fell through.”

“Baby! Smile a little!” aka “Whatever you may be experiencing internally that is leading you to look stressed out or sad is nowhere nearly as important as your duty to look visually appealing to me, a random dude on the street.”

Among many, many others. So this app is attacking a very real problem. But how well does it do?

The first example I tested out was the “hey bebee… wanna chat?” example, which was a staple in the days of ICQ and more timely situations like online gaming and communities. So I fired up the ol’ iPad (we’re android users in this house, so pardon the goofy scale) to see what Not Your Baby had to say.

Not Your Baby App

Hmm, there’s no option for responses to internet harassment, which is unfortunate because I think an app would be completely appropriate to use in this situation. Anyways, let’s try out some ol’ chestnut street hollas. I selected “Stranger” and “Street”.

Call the Police! A man on the street whistled at me!

I’m not sure about where you live, but where I live, the police are unlikely to care if someone is hollering at you on the street without any overt physical threats. Let’s see what else you suggest…

Don’t be that guy

Okay, not bad. Interestingly the “Random Fact” is “Taking pictures of or filming people without their permission is harassment”. I know women who actually do this in retaliation to such harassment, so does this mean that they shouldn’t do that? Or is this a secret code for vigilante justice that we should read as “filming people without their permission is harassment *WINK*”.

How’s about non-strangers? Like when you’re being harassed by a colleague?

I’m reporting you

I guess this could work, but the women I know who have faced situations like this are usually trying to build relationships with their team, and taking an approach like this can make that difficult. I fully support a woman taking such a stand in the face of workplace harassment, but I’m not sure how practical of a suggestion this is. What if said person was your boss?

I'm reporting you. And I quit.

I’m reporting you AND I quit!

Well, okay, but now you’ve lost your job, and in the US, likely the rights to any severance or unemployment. For Tech Ladies, you might actually be able to pull the “Tech Lady is OUT, son!” move given that it is a worker’s market in the tech sector in many parts of the world. But for a woman in almost any other industry, especially if she’s supporting a family, this advice doesn’t seem helpful.

My overall conclusions:


  • Tech for social change: I love that MACVAWC is applying technology in a novel way to solve a problem that (I’ll venture to guess) everyone woman deals with at some point in her life.
  • Supportive: Even if you can’t use this when you’re in the midst of being harassed, it could be very cathartic to explore the app’s suggestions after the fact, when you’re replaying the incident in your head.
  • Informative: In addition to the “comebacks”, the app offers serious information on harassment and links to resources (at least in Canada)

Areas for Improvement

  • Online Harassment: This is an EPIC issue these days. For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of problem, I suggest you read about The Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian [WARNING: Content is very disturbing]. This is also a scenario where you could realistically use an app to respond in realtime to harassment.
  • Snappyness: The comebacks offered aren’t as snappy as I was fantasizing they would be. Sure, I would probably never use this app while I was being harassed, but I would use it after the fact to imagine what I’d say to the bum before roundhouse kicking the guy in the jaw and incinerating him with my laser eyes!
  • Practicalness: Quitting your job because you’re being harassed at work isn’t a helpful strategy, nor is calling the police because some guy on the street made kissy faces at you.
  • Android-ify: Not everyone has iPhones. This is particularly true in the US among communities of colour, where android has the overwhelming market share. As bad as it is for me in my neighbourhood, at least I can avoid the streets where I know this nonesense goes on. It would be great if the girls and women who have to walk down those streets to get to work or school, many of whom are women of colour, to have access to a free resource like this.

Overall, I recommend anyone interested to download it provided they have the right phone/tablet/emulator. This is definitely a conversation worth having. Try it out yourself and “hollaback” with your comments.

Today I’m having an obvious dance party – Gwen Stefani, Hollaback Girl.

The Interview Manifesto

Since publishing the first all-star interview yesterday, I have received a lot of questions regarding what makes a tech lady all-star. Allow me to deconstruct:

Tech: I’m interested in software and software-related jobs especially, particularly those where a woman is likely to be the only one of her gender in the room. For some examples, I think a Product Manager working for an internet-based start up totally counts. Similarly, a tech writer for a software company definitely counts. This is probably the loosest of my terms for me – if I found a woman who worked as a mechanical engineer for Lockheed Martin, you better believe I’d want to hear her story. So if you consider an interview candidate to work in tech, there’s a good chance I will too.

Lady: To be perfectly clear: if you refer to yourself as female, you can be a lady. I’m using gender, not sex here.

All-Star: Since someone asked this, I wanted to answer clearly: this is not about Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. I’m happy to write about power tech ladies when it fancies me, but that’s not what motivated me to start this. My hypothesis, which has yet to be disproven in my 15 years in industry, is that the women who manage to make it through the sausage fests that are high school CS, university CS, and the entire tech industry have something special going for them. These are really unique qualities that I find fascinating and I think make their stories worth sharing. If you’re considering nominating yourself, you probably meet the bar. And if for some reason you are truly overconfident in your own skills, well I admire your juevos and will probably think you’re worth interviewing anyways. If that ends up being the problem I’m dealing with, then we are in a much better state than I ever imagined.

So in short: when in doubt, just ask. I can manage one interview a week at most right now, so I’m quickly forming a back log. In addition to interviews, I’d love to get contributions from women on the ground. If you’d like to talk about any post ideas, drop me a line at

After all the positive feedback I received, I’ve been having quite a personal dance party for the last few days. Right now, I’m hooked on Bang Bang Bang by Mark Ronson and The Business Intl. It features a catchy tune and some terribly pronounced French. Enjoy!


Hannah Johnston: UI Design All-Star

Hannah Johnston

Hannah Johnston: UI Design All-Star

Designer. Walker. Gelato-aficionado.

There are many sides to Hannah Johnston, a Usability Interaction Designer at Google based in NYC. For the last two years, she has worked on Google’s Search UI, which is to say the face of Google. For instance, she designed several features of the new Knowledge Panel feature, which Hannah points out as being quite useful when you’re searching for things “like celebrities, or mountains”.

How did Hannah get to be a UI designer? Unlike Software Engineering, where you generally study in an undergrad CS or engineering program and maybe some grad school, there is no standard course of study for UI Designers. In Hannah’s case, she started out at Carleton University in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada studying Industrial Design. But in her words: “I got sick of designing furniture”. In between school years, Hannah worked for Virtual Ventures, a computer camp hosted by Carleton that has produced a surprising number of Google’s senior engineers. “I found that I really liked what I was working on at the camp”. Around that time, Hannah ran into a high school friend at Carleton who was studying in the Bachelor of Information Technology program. “The stuff she was studying was pretty much what I was doing in my spare time for fun”. So she made the switch. Having found her calling, she ended up winning the Governor General’s medal, the award for the

Hannah’s Animatronic Pony

top student in each program, and went on to complete her Master’s “on the design and development of customizable game elements for a massively multiplayer online, dance-based exergame”. As part of her degree, she and a classmate made a walking, talking pony, pictured here.


Having been prodded by her over-bearing older Tech Lady sister to apply to Google, Hannah did an internship in Google News UI in New York the summer before she completed her master’s. While she had considered teaching at university until that point, the Google experience convinced her to try out industry for a while. In addition to shaping the UI that hundreds of millions of Google Search users interact with every day, Hannah contributes to Google’s fun social culture with the “art + gelato” campaign that she co-organizes. This is surprising given that Hannah has a self-described reputation as a hardcore introvert. “I could give a TED talk on Exiting Gracefully 101”. She also maintains balance in her life by walking to work (6 miles, every day!) and occasionally writing her blog How to be a Grownup (like a Pro). She is also an amateur DJ, producing monthly mixtapes of new (and some old) music she’s been listening to lately. Her mixes have been declared by my boyfriend’s certified hipster borther as “cool”.

In spite of her shy tendencies, she emphasizes the importance of networking, but doing it in a way that works for you. “7pm cocktail hours are death”, she says. Instead, she finds other ways: “When I meet someone, I ask what they’re doing – it’s an easy conversation starter”. While Hannah doesn’t think that this is something that women need to do differently from men, it’s important that they don’t shy away from networking even if it makes you uncomfortable. In particular, she points out that you shouldn’t avoid talking to someone just because what they’re doing looks hard. “I also email people who are doing cool things – some will get back to you, some won’t, but I’ve made some good contacts this way”. Unlike software engineering, with its glaring gender disparity, the women:men ratio in design is around 2:3 by Hannah’s estimates. However, like in software engineering, the disparity grows dramatically as you move up the ranks, highlighting the importance of professional networks for women.

What’s playing at Hannah’s dance party? “Some embarrassing stuff, like Biggie Smalls”, but if she has to pick one song, it’s The Look by Metronomy.

It’s a very hipster dance party, apparently.

(Programming Note: Tech Lady All-Star interviews will be a regular feature. If you or someone you know is a tech lady all-star, forward your suggestion to

How to work around the world, in 7 easy steps

It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard women wishing they could have the chance to live overseas, but for whatever reason think it’s just not within their reach right now. Really ladies? You’ve got a college degree or are getting one, have enough money to do so, are apparently intelligent, and yet, you can’t see how to get yourself out of the country for a few months? Luckily, you’re talking to me, queen of sneaking my way into work and school experiences abroad. If you follow these steps, I can almost guarantee you can get yourself overseas.

She gets around

My credentials: I have worked in in India, Singapore, Canada, and the US, and most of that was while I was working towards my Bachelor’s degree. In addition, I studied in France and briefly in Germany. All of these were funded on someone else’s dime.

(Guys, these steps generally apply to you too, but right now I’m speaking to the ladies.)


First finish reading this post. And then make sure you have a passport and all that. But if you’re serious about going overseas, do it as soon as you can. The first time I worked overseas was after my first year of university when I traveled to India for my first internship there. Before I graduated, I had been to India again, Singapore, and France. In university, I was already roughing it living away from home for the first time ever, having to cook my own food on my own sad budget, so being further away from home was only an incremental hardship. Also, I was single through most of university, so I had no relationships to negotiate as part of my travels. It also really builds your resume – in my case, it was a major factor in me getting hired by my current employer – so there’s an extra advantage to going sooner rather than later.

2. Be in tech

There is really no easier way to get yourself overseas, especially as a student. There is a serious need for good programmers with the confidence to share their skills. The tech world conducts its business almost universally in English, so if you’re reading this, you’re all set. Even other highly educated jobs, like doctors and lawyers, are so bogged down in locally specific regulations that they generally can’t just pack up and ship off to another place for work. Nursing is possibly the only exception to this, but you’re only ready to go after your degree.

3. Be a lady

Lady clothes are more fun

In many parts of the world (in my case, India is the obvious example), there are pretty strict rules about what’s appropriate for women and men. I only found this worked in my favour – the guys were very polite, and the women I met would actually talk to me and welcome me into their homes. A visiting man would not have had that chance. No matter where you are, you should understand what the safety situation is where you are. In South India, it was completely safe for me to walk outside by myself at 4am, whereas I always walked with a buddy at night in France.

4. Be shameless

I got this advice from my economics professor, and it has been the key to my travel success. Work whatever connections you have. For my first overseas job, I worked for the Indian branch of my dad’s company. As any sane person would, I realize I was tremendously fortunate. However, most tech ladies know someone with an overseas connection, either directly or indirectly. I got my second stint in India through my university’s cooperative education department, and I got my job in Singapore through the brother of a close friend. My university, like many, had an exchange program. As long as I kept my grades somewhat above failing, all I had to do was fill in some applications (it didn’t hurt that I grew up speaking French, but I could have just as easily gone to an English-speaking country).

5. Know your boundaries and negotiate for them

Since I was eager to go away, I was willing to take a pay cut. I earned on the high end of whatever the local wages were. In India, this meant about US$450 a month. Every time I worked overseas, I traveled on the employer’s dime with either free housing or additional salary to cover where I lived. In a particularly crafty move on my part, I even weaseled a free trip to France by having my employer in Singapore route my flight through Paris. While it was enough to get by for the work term, the income didn’t pay even a term of my tuition, even in Canada! (you Americans have it particularly hard in this respect – remember that in November). So it meant I didn’t have a car in a university town where I really could have used one, and I ate out about twice a term, and I dipped into my savings. I was able to make up a lot of the losses in scholarships that were available to students working and studying abroad – these are often poorly advertised, so ask your student awards department.

6. Have health insurance

My Arch Nemisis

You should always have health insurance (another area Americans suffer in), but particularly when you’re far away from your parents’ loving arms and (relatively) plentiful bank accounts. This was hard for me to grasp at first. I had never been seriously sick, and came out of my first trip to India without incident – not even food poisoning. After two relatively uneventful trips to India, I thought I was invincible. So when I got to Singapore – clean, pristine Singapore – I wasn’t worried at all about getting sick. BIG MISTAKE. On my fifth day in the country, I woke up with the worst hangover headache I’d ever experienced, which was peculiar given that I hadn’t had a drink in weeks. Within an hour it disappeared, replaced by violent shivers that persisted through a hoodie in Singapore’s 35oC temperatures. It took another two weeks for doctors to figure out that I had Dengue, malaria’s equally nasty twin mosquito-borne illness. As part of my 6 week illness, I spent two nights in hospital to the tune of US$800. To a Canadian student, that’s a lot of money. Fortunately, my university insisted on health insurance, so everything was covered, otherwise it would have cost me 1/3 of what I earned that term.

7. Bring something familiar

I love Indian food. I’ve been vegetarian most of my life, surrounded by non-vegetarians. It was completely magical to be in India, where almost everything was already vegetarian, and everything else was clearly labeled as having meat. Amazing! I didn’t miss any comfort foods at all – until 2 months into my trip, I hit a wall. The spices started all tasting the same. The available “western” food, like Pizza Hut, were sad imitations (spaghetti? more like noodle curry…). Fortunately, I had packed several boxes of instant oatmeal. It wasn’t enough to sustain me for the rest of my trip, but it was enough to have a bowl a day to fill the void. Recharged, I could get back to appreciating the noodle curry.

Basically, if you want to go, you can make it happen. My overseas experiences were the most valuable I had in university, and some of the most valuable of my life. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to untie yourself from the obligations, relationships, and comforts of your situation.

So what’s stopping you?

The Gender Trap

So this isn’t women in tech specific, but it is about the strong evidence that exists showing that gender differences are almost entirely learned, and I think that goes to the heart of why girls and women self-select out of the hard sciences and engineering.

Some highlights:

  • It’s much sexier in academia to publish a paper validating innate differences between the sexes than it is to refute them;
  • Hasboro’s “Pink Hotwheels for Her” with a prefab track that goes straight to the hair salon is grounds for a riot.
  • CBC radio holds a place in my heart that NPR just never will. Sigh.

A related analysis of where Lego went so, so wrong:

Another WiT Blog

I am Emily Johnston, Google Software Engineer and, as my name implies, a woman. Throughout my career, I have observed an occasional popular interest with Women in Technology (WiT), often as one-off pieces written from an outsider’s perspective talking to other outsiders about how rare and special it is to be a woman in technology, and wouldn’t it be great if there were more women around here? I full-heartedly agree (Spoiler alert: if you don’t, you will probably find this blog pretty tedious), and I would like to take that conversation a little deeper.

I’m not trying to hate on the non-engineers who are trying to tell the story of women in engineering. It’s wonderful! I’ve also found there’s a lot of coverage of women entrepreneurs, which is another rare find in industry, but it’s not quite the same story. But when I was in high school wondering what to do with my life, or even now when I wonder what I’m doing with my life, I wish there was more depth to the women in tech experience that shows up in the media.

To be clear, there are some fantastic ongoing blogs and feeds from some great women in tech. This morning I discovered Gail Carmichael’s Blog on her experiences as a PhD student in CS… and that’s about all I’ve got. Please let me know if I’m missing fantastic women in tech blogs! But I have looked and looked, and they are rarer than a woman in a CS class.

If you are a woman in tech that I already know, beware that I will be coming for your contributions. If you are a woman in tech and have something to contribute, let me know! Oh, and like the Grace Hopper Celebration and Smart Girls at the Party, we’ll end a lot of blog posts with a Dance Party!

In the spirit of changing women’s minds to join tech, I’m partying to Let Me Change Your Mind by Zed Bias feat. Jenna G:
Let me change your mind ft. Jenna G