John Klossner's Ink Tank

Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and women in technology

Lucy-beard  I was recently attending my son's Cub Scout pack meeting. It was near Halloween, and this meant the children, and some of the adults, had an extra opportunity to wear costumes, which most took advantage of. (I had my traditional "oops - it's almost Halloween?" costume on.) There were the usual suspects and -- based on a very unscientific sample of 50 Cub Scouts in southern Maine -- the economy hasn't affected Halloween costume sales this year.

One boy stood out from the rest of the Batmen, ninjas and Star Wars characters. He dressed as a Girl Scout, complete with wig, headband and makeup (I give him high marks on concept and execution). The thing that caught my eye, however, was everyone else's reaction to him and his costume. While most people responded to the costumed persons in their immediate vicinity, everyone made a beeline to the Girl Scout, and most made some sort of smart-alecky comment, which almost always included the term "sweetheart." When this boy had to get up to accept an award the room reacted as one, with a combination of gasp/laughter/shriek. He couldn't have gotten more of a reaction if he had been dressed as a member of the Taliban with a sign espousing universal health care for all gay illegal immigrants.

I wonder if a similar event could've taken place at the local Girl Scouts' Halloween meeting. If one of the girls had dressed up as a Cub Scout, would she have received the same response?

Maybe, but she might have gotten as big a response if she had dressed up as an information technology worker or, better yet, an IT manager.

FCW recently ran a story covering a book about women in the technology field, highlighting the women in the federal IT community. This was accompanied by an editor's column mentioning the book and the editor's own experiences in the federal IT world. As he puts it, "To be frank, that’s [women in positions of power] not what one expects to encounter in the modern tech world." Lest this be taken out of context, the column went on to consider how government was ahead of the private sector in terms of women in IT and leadership positions, and the factors behind this difference. But, to paraphrase an old saying, isn't progress truly made when people are in positions they were never in before and nobody notices?

There are many reports and studies on how and why there are fewer girls in school math and science classes, and how this translates to the workplace: fewer women in technology jobs and leadership positions. There are numerous reports on the salary differences between men and women. (For fun, Google "pay differences between men and women." Pick one of the entries that has a comments section. I think many of the comments were written by people in attendance at my Cub Scout Halloween event.) And there are numerous anecdotal accounts of female employees having more difficult experiences with promotions.

And a roomful of adults still hoots when they see a 10-year-old Milton Berle. Does the FCW editor quoted above still want to refer to this as the "modern" world?

Note: I came up with two cartoons for this issue. I drew the first one with the idea of illustrating the double standard for women in IT -- having a tougher path -- but, in getting feedback, it seemed that it was too subtle. (That's cartoon speak for "nobody got it except me.") The second one worked a little better.


Posted by John Klossner on Nov 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM1 comments

Klossner: Why the federal government is like the Red Sox

I have lived in New England for more than 25 years now. Given another 50 I might be considered a local, but probably not. Since my children were born here, they have a better shot at being referred to as "natives" by the natives, or at least my children's great-grandchildren — if they decide to stay in the region — will be. In the meantime, there are several ways to "pass" as a New Englander:

  • During the 30-day summer, eat ice cream at least 150 times.
  • Wear shorts until the temperature falls below 30 degrees (bonus points if, like my neighbor, you wear shorts year-round).
  • Say "that's the thing about New England — if you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes" every time a storm rolls by.
  • Wear L.L. Bean duck boots to a formal event.
  • Stack firewood in your dining room.

Of course, an essential element to passing as a native New Englander is to be a Boston Red Sox fan. This was an easy transition for me. I enjoy sports and I didn't grow up with a "hometown" team, so following the Red Sox didn't require my ditching another organization. I have followed the Sox during my entire time in the region, and I think I can even hold my own in a discussion about whether Bill Buckner deserves the vitriol that has been thrown his way (he doesn't). But I can't tell you whether Mel Parnell should have pitched in 1948.

Then there are the Yankees. I don't think I'm breaking any news by saying that being a Red Sox fan is based on not liking (OK, despising; OK, loathing with every fiber of my being) the New York Yankees as much as it is rooting for the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees are everything the Red Sox are not — basically, successful. They have won many more championships (until this decade, the Red Sox were better known for their lack of championships and a long list of creative, heartbreaking losses through the years), made much more money, and been held up as the standard-bearer for athletic success. (If any of my fellow Sox fans read this, my membership in Red Sox nation will be revoked.) Of course, the Yankees are also perceived as personifying the bad money side of athletics: With an operating budget that dwarfs the majority of other major league teams, they have resorted to buying the best players available. (Now will you let me back in?)

One could think of the Yankees as the private sector, and the Red Sox as the federal government. And, similar to the Yankees-Red Sox relationship (now there's a euphemism), each of the organizations derives a certain amount of satisfaction from pointing out the foibles of the other.

For example, I discovered this article on “The Worst Jobs of the 21st Century” when it ran two years ago and have kept it in my files for some time, waiting for the appropriate moment to use it. (Note that other occupations in the "worst jobs of the 21st century" list include farmers, computer programmers, economists and travel agents. According to Forbes magazine in 2007, trying to write code to figure out the travel budgets for your chain of international ranches wasn't a lucrative career move.) This would be the equivalent of the Yankees running articles on the "worst baseball teams to play for," wouldn't it?

As the saying goes, times have changed.

Government jobs have become attractive again. Recent economic events have made government jobs — with their promise of decent pay, benefits and the position still being around six months later — more attractive than private-sector positions which, um, don't promise much of anything. This is in marked contrast to years before when the private sector, with obvious edges in all the money categories, was much more appealing to job-seekers.

A recent story in FCW reported that spokespeople in the private sector were concerned about losing talent to government agencies, and accusing the agencies of being "more aggressive" in their recruiting. A quick read of the comments section can give you an idea of how much government folk are enjoying the irony. For years, talent has flowed to the private sector. At the same time, the private sector has had no qualms about recruiting from the government employee ranks. The moment this is reversed, the private sector cries "foul."

Have agencies done anything illicit? Not that I've seen reported anywhere. Maybe they've marketed themselves a bit more aggressively, although how aggressive is it to point out that "there are still jobs with benefits here?" And the private sector certainly can't complain about aggressive recruiting, can it? Are these spokespeople really complaining about government "poaching," or are they complaining that they don't have enough to counter government offers? These seem to be the slings and arrows of competition, as both sides want to find the best talent.

This is comparable to the joy Red Sox fans have found this century, finally having found some success. I'd go into detail, but this has been covered in minutiae elsewhere, and I want to be sensitive to the Nationals and Orioles fans reading this. Even though I'm trying to pass as a New Englander, I don't want to pass as an obnoxious Red Sox fan.

Having said all this, the baseball world seems to be righted on its axis again. The Yankees have bought their way back to prominence and stand favored to win the World Series this year. The Red Sox suffered another historic collapse to add to their storied past. So don't give up hope, private sector.

(In a related note, notice that Forbes put "print journalism" on their list. There's nothing like reading your own obituary.)

Posted by John Klossner on Oct 28, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Klossner: The link between IT dashboards and '80s hair bands

My 12 year-old daughter has access to several computers in our home. Each computer has iTunes. Her father's iTunes folder currently stores 5.3 days worth of music, in case he finds himself in a situation in which he is stranded and unable to do anything but listen to his iTunes collection for 5.3 days. My daughter also has access to a stereo, along with a couple hundred music CDs stored on bookshelves, under chairs and between couch pillows. If she were to brave the trek to our attic, she would find a couple hundred LP albums in boxes. My daughter has an iPod of her own, although I don't know how many days of music she has on it. When my daughter was 2 years old, she wanted to hear Ella Fitzgerald's greatest hits over and over. Despite hearing "A Tisket A Tasket" in my head all day, I was thrilled that my daughter and I would share musical tastes. I couldn't wait until we attended our first Beatles tribute-band performance together.

And now she is walking around this same home singing Journey songs at the top of her lungs.

At the risk of insulting the armies of Journey fans now working for the federal government, Journey -- for those of you who were not around at the time or who have had memories erased by the trauma -- was one of the most popular “big hair bands” in the 1980s. I would have to say they are best known for anthemic-synthesizer and guitar-oriented songs that filled the arenas and stadiums where they appeared. In the controlled radio formats of the time, you couldn't go more than an hour or two without hearing a Journey song.

Journey is seeing a renaissance with the renewed interest in 80’s pop music in general and the opportunities for new media to be used in reviewing the original material. For example, Journey has become very popular on YouTube as a source for video spoofs of their original music videos, with one remake even winning a film festival award. Their songs are also being covered by other musical acts, which is where my daughter discovered the song she now sings at the top of her lungs several times a day.

This is what the evolution of technology has brought us. We can find music in many different formats, aurally and visually. We can store it on a wide variety of hardware. We can take it with us, making it accessible everywhere in our worlds.

But it's still a Journey song.

This brings me to IT dashboards. Dashboards are a technology that takes data and gives graphic presentations of the data and its performance. For example, a chart or graph can be created representing a program's schedule -- if the program is on schedule, it stays green, if it slips or falls behind schedule, it turns yellow or red, depending upon how much it is falling behind. It is a fairly straightforward concept, and has been around for some time, and it is finding renewed popularity with the new administration.

There are problems, however, and they have nothing to do with the technology. They are almost all data-related. Too much data, not enough data, data that takes too long to interpret, or the wrong data in general are all potential dashboard problems. Think of it as having a 64G iPod touch with in-ear headphones and 5.3 days with nothing to do. And all you have on it is a single Journey song.

Welcome to my world.

John Klossner FCW Dashboards

Posted by John Klossner on Oct 06, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments