Transcription S Interview
Interviewer Jenna Gretsch
July 2009
 PDF Version

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the interviewee and interviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any employers.

S   has worked in the technology field on and off for the past 15 years. She has worked at various size companies, ranging from small start-ups to a large wireless telecom firm. She has worked as an early childhood educator as well. Her skills in conflict resolution acquired in the preschool environment help her immensely in the office environment. Her hope is that one day, we can all sit and eat together at the same table.

JG:  Goodmorning welcome S.

S:  Thanks for having me.

JG:  Let's talk about what you currently do for work?

S:  I currently work for a fairly large wireless Telecom company, I'm a Business Systems Analyst.

JG:  What does it mean to be a Business Systems Analyst?

S:  I try and help people figure out what their requirements are for projects. I write documents that outline these requirements, I help them figure out what the use-cases are, how the product is going to be used - and it could be a product that goes out to customers like a new service or a new device or it could be an internal project like updating an internal system or connections between my company and vendors.

So I help facilitate discussions around - what is the goal of the project, what do we want the outcomes to be, what are the risks, what are some of the dependencies that this project might have on other projects. I'm also an advocate for the business so I work with the IT department in producing a product and my job is to make sure that all of the requirements are met throughout the project - As far as the business is concerned, like for the customer experience, the user experience - and I am responsible for conducting the user experience acceptance testing. So when the project is near its completion, getting ready to deploy, it gets tested by the developers, it gets tested by our IT department for functionality and then I test it for the user experience goals that we have to make sure the interface looks like it should, that it isn't prompting a strange experience that will cause our customers to have the need to reach out and have help calls. So we do the last phase of testing before launching the product and I help it transition to what we call the customer delivery. So after it's launched it goes to another team to sort of manage it ongoing.

JG:  So did you start out with this company in this position?

S:  No, in this company I started in IT. Specifically I was working to support the billings system, billing application among other things. And I transitioned to this job about eight months ago I guess.

JG:  So how long have you worked for that company?

S:  Three years, actually three years today.

JG:  Congratulations.

S:  Thanks.

JG:  How did you get started working in computers?

S:  When I was in second grade my family got a personal computer, it was an Apple II. At that point I learned how to load programs using a cassette tape. I pretty much used it at that point to play games, there were a couple of games I like to play, space invaders was my favorite. I also learned sometime, I'm not sure how old I was, I learned to write very very basic programs in BASIC. Like basically printing to screen.

JG:  Do you remember where that was, was it with your family as well or through education at school?

S:  Yeah it was through my family but then pretty soon I think, maybe I was in fifth or sixth grade, I took a BASIC programming class. There was a summer school class at the local community college for kids. I took that and I remember I made a program that was kind of a maze and there was a character who was like an @ sign or something, still in BASIC, that was having to navigate the maze while a dragon, like the asterisk, was chasing him. I did most of the interface, like I designed the maze and I programmed all of the printing to screen and some of the behavior but I did have help from my teacher on that one, there were some little tricks. And then I think in high school I studied Pascal. So that was my training up through public school. Most of the things I did were things like learning to use a word processor, I think it was WordPerfect, when you had to decide where all of the carriage returns were, and it was awful. There were some really painful evenings where things would get lost and I would have to start over. I was introduced to the idea of using a computer and a keyboard and some of those things pretty early and it was something that was in my house everyday, I used everyday. And I never took off in terms of programming but I think I was comfortable trying to learn to navigate as new products came out, like trying the new things...

JG:  Do you think there was one person who was more influential or just your family in general or was there someone else later in your life that made you more invested in computers or technology?

S:  Well I think my dad was the one who supported me in using the computer and my mom would help me with things too but mostly I think probably my dad used them in his work.

JG:  What work does your dad do?

S:  He's retired now, he was an electromagnetic engineer. And then I guess, I wasn't working in this field, I was living in San Francisco and I met someone at a party who just got to talking about stuff. He was sort of talking about his experience getting into doing some consulting, doing database applications using access and Microsoft products and that he had kind of been self-taught and that it would be conceivable to possibly get into doing consulting that way. We ended up becoming friends and that was also a point where I kind of started moving that direction.

JG:  So you didn't study computers in college?

S:  Nope.

JG:  You said you had an Apple computer do you remember if after that you had experience with multi-user operating systems or was that something you weren't aware of when you were younger?

S:  We had a couple of Apples and then we moved over to PCs mostly I think because of the flexibility in the configuration. It was easy to upgrade parts and pieces. I think at that time, that would have been I guess the 80's so the Windows operating system was something I was more familiar with. I wasn't aware of any Unix exposure that I had although I did occasionally play some online games that now that I think about I probably was using Unix to logon and stuff like that. But I wasn't aware of it. I really didn't start to use Unix until I started being a web designer. For a while I managed a corporate external website, the corporate presence for this software company on the web. At that point our website was hosted on a Unix box so I had to learn how to do basic, elementary Unix commands, copying files, things like that, making directories. I'm still not very fluent in Unix, when I was in IT I used it to do some things. We had some scripts and things that we maintained on it, but mostly not. I wish I knew more. I think it's a pretty elegant tool.

JG:  What do you find to be the most demanding aspect of your current job?

S:  I think the most demanding is the facilitating of people. The projects are under tight deadlines and everyone is really time constrained, as I think most people are. In my current job I have to make sure everyone is signed off on the all of the current requirements. Any document I write pretty much needs to have approval by a host of people. I have to get people to have time to read these documents, understand everything that's written and agree or disagree, if if they disagree they have to say exactly the wording that it should be down to the articles, and or's and things like that. Sometimes that can be stressful when you're looking at a deadline and somebody just isn't available to approve or work on the document. The other thing is that when you're getting down to deploying the product and you've been testing it and something isn't going so smoothly, the testing period of that is probably the most stressful time of the project.

JG:  What do you love most about your job, what keeps you in it?

S:  I think what I love about the job -- I have a really strong team. I really like working with my managers. They're really interested in developing people, helping them. They've really supported me in my school. I recently did a Masters program. As far as the actual work goes, I kind of like the sleuthing part of it.

JG:  What does that mean?

S:  Well usually when you start a project you get a one page synopsis of a very hastily written business case, or maybe you have a little more information and the stake holders have given like an initial gut response about what this might entail, what some of the larger chunks of issues are, but you don't really know the details. You facilitate all of these meetings to uncover really what the crux of the problem is and without trying to design the solution you try to figure out what all the needs are. I like that process of, somebody will say something and there may be a hidden requirement and so it's sort of like a detective, you ask questions to get people to think more carefully about what they want. I like the facilitation part of it alot, I think that's probably my favorite part of what I'm doing now.

JG:  How do you balance your personal and professional commitments and do you find this to be challenging?

S:  It is challenging. I had to make a decision to really create some boundaries because particularly in this team there's a work culture of you kind of do what it takes to get the job done. And because you have really tight deadlines you maybe need to do some work from home or, you know--- but the thing is that the work is always there. It doesn't matter how much you work there's always more, so you really are the one who has to draw the line about how to create the balance that you need. It's easy for me to say this now because now I've been in the job for eight months but the first six months were a little painful learning curve. Kind of a very intense time. I think there are some external pressures on my company like any other big company to become more efficient and things like that. So there's pressure for teams to take on more work with less people and things like that.

JG:  What is the gender makeup of your team?

S:  I think it's pretty even. I was thinking about it -- we had a big meeting, my team and the larger organization -- I think there are, at least on the business side there are probably more women than men as project managers. My group is business systems analysts but we're lumped in with a group that is mostly project managers. On the IT side, when I worked there, same company, I'd say there were a third women on my team. As far as projects I've done, there probably have been more men as project managers from IT.

JG:  Do you have children or do any of your peers have children?

S:  I don't have children, some of my peers do.

JG:  Do they find it more difficult?

S:  Yeah, I think my company culturally has some flexibility around telecommuting. In general most often people are in the office, but usually you're on a conference call and somebody has a kid in the background somewhere. So there is some flexibility around schedules and accommodating your family life there.

JG:  What do you think is the biggest impediment for women getting into technology?

S:  My experience has been that nobody has outwardly ever had the attitude that I couldn't do something because of my gender. I have never felt any type of disrespect professionally because of my gender, in terms of the skills I have, my colleagues --- in most of the companies I worked in, the majority of them. The thing that I do experience, at least I did in IT, was sort of more of a cultural bias. I'm not wording this very well, but I did experience kind of like a tiring of a kind of boys-club culture.

There's one manager in particular that I did not work directly under he was a peer of my manager, he was absolutely, absolutely disgusting in terms of his relating to women. He would just constantly be saying inappropriate things and also homophobic, I'd say that too, racist as well. But if I ever needed his help in any kind of skill or negotiating escalating an issue or helping me have some managerial representation on an issue on a call or anything like that he was absolutely on top of it. He was a really good listener and very articulate at stating the problem and he was just really good at that but then it was so awful because he was such a pig --- and you know, his career is doing fine, he's just continuing to be promoted. And it's hard because as far as his skill, not so much the interpersonal part of the job, but the part that related to the day to day application support and all of the issues that would come up, he was fantastic and he really supported me sometimes more than my own manager. But was just so frustrating to have to deal with this. I think that was something, you know, definitely room for improvement -- the group that I'm in now I actually don't think that would fly.

I know in particular that this manager had been approached about his behavior and I know that upper managment was aware of it, and that he had been talked to about it, but there was no disciplinary action and it was never a problem, really. So that's the thing. Over the years I've had some really annoying exchanges. When I was hired to be the web designer for this software company, I was leaving another start-up, one of the co-founders asked me if -- he was from Silicon Valley, and there was some cross-pollination especially alumni from Stanford -- so my manager that had hired me in this new company was known by some of these other people and they asked me at my going away party, one of the co-founders asked me if he was my boyfriend, if that's why I got the job. I was just apoplectic. I wish I would have something that was witty and smart, and put him in his place, like "I'll have you talk to my lawyer" or something like that, but I said, "no" and that was it, and I blushed.

So I mean, things like that. I think the biggest challenge for me personally is something that is probably a larger characteristic of me and this world and the community that I was raised in has made it so that I have a harder time promoting my skills. My brother is also in this same field and for example when I was hired at this company I was on my phone interview and they asked me to rate myself on some skills. I couldn't really rate myself higher than a two or a three on a scale of ten. I was like, ten means you're the developer of this software, so if I know how to use the tool I give myself a two or a three. If I know it inside and out, maybe I'll give myself a seven and my brother said, "Are you serious? If I have even heard of the tool I rate myself a five, if I have even ever heard of this before I give myself a five".

So things like that. I think partly it's my own temperament but also it's hard for me to feel that I'm an expert and to promote myself and to come off as the professional that I really am. I mean I have now done a two year program for Science and Information Management, and I have another masters in Women Studies, I've been a teacher for six years, I have done freelancing for web design and implementation, I've designed interface standards for a software company. But when it comes down to promoting myself, like in an interview situation, or in my work environment, it's hard for me to do that. I think part of that is me and I think part of it is culturally being a woman in this field. There are some things that aren't just givens.

JG:  Was there someone or something that was your greatest hurdle for entering technology and if so how did you overcome it?

S:  I think my greatest hurdles are probably just my own personal hurdles, really. I'm trying to think of an example.

JG:  Well you already gave the example of self-promotion being difficult....

S:  Yeah, I think also just being aware of the environment that is best for me to work in and my own work style. You know sort of aligning that with -- or playing of my strenghts -- and trying to figure out the job that does that versus working against things that I really dislike. Ending up in a job doing things that are really just very tedious for me --- I mean everybody has the strengths that they can play to and then you have to figure out how to do that.

I don't think the corporate environment is probably natural or good for anyone. If you're working in that environment there are probably accommodations you make for your own self. Doing that and still having a good balance in your life and things like that, I think that's probably been a big learning experience for me, for sure.

JG:  Have you ever worked outside of industry in education or in government?

S:  I've done some projects for non-profits and some for the state as well. I just finished the first phase of a project for a local non-profit coalition building an application for them that is mapping fruit trees in the city. I also recently worked with my local county here looking at how to help people in the field use technology, especially wireless mobile devices. So I have a little exposure to governments and non-profits.

JG:  At your various jobs have you had the ability to participate equally in the decision making processes?

S:  Do you mean equally in relation to men?

JG:  Yes

S:  I think so. I have mostly worked as an individual contributor, I really haven't managed people. I have never been a manager per se. I've managed relationships with vendors. I've coordinated projects, I've acted in that capacity, coordinating project teams and things like that. But I haven't had any direct reports before. But in that way I'd say I've probably had equal stake in decision making.

JG:  How many women technical managers have you had in your career?

S:  Probably now, the manager I have now is the only one. But I did have one other woman manager but then even though my job was more technical, I was technically in the, the web channel was under marketing and my manager was the VP of marketing. She wasn't technical. I wouldn't say hers was a technical position. My manager now is a woman, but again, now I'm sort of on the business side it's not so technical. My new VP is a woman she just came from IT. But when I was in IT there was not so many women managers.

JG:  So thinking back to the feedback you've received from managers, has there been a tendency to be more technical or less technical?

S:  I don't think that the feedback that I usually have received has been technical at all, from any of my managers. It's always been around the less technical parts about doing work. My managers have never coached me on technical issues.

JG:  There's often the stereotype or expectation that women are less aggressive, more calming, more diplomatic and friendly, often this can translate into the assumption of women being less hard-hitting technically. Have you had experiences where you've been relegated to the mediator role instead of the technical lead?

S:  That's a hard question for me. I'd say that it might not relate to me so much. I mean I guess the bottom line is that I don't feel like --- I have done some mentoring as far as stuff that is like more technical -- but either I've been managing a project --- or I think my personal tendency is towards being a mediator. I think that's kind of like where I fall in my own personality so...

JG:  But you think that's an essentialized quality not something that has been genderly constructed?

S:  It's hard to say. I would say that probably it's been my experience that women have had the roles of being the mediator or facilitators more in jobs I've had but I can't think of any specific examples.

JG:  Do you know how much money your male peers make?

S:  No I don't.

JG:  Do you ever wonder?

S:  Sure. (laughs)

JG:  Among many women that I've interviewed and including you in this interview, there seems to be a pervasive belief in individual autonomy and volition, the idea that gender does not have anything to do with getting a job. This tends to create a sort of dismissal of social, placing more responsibility on the individual and less on policy, what do you think about this?

S:  Well I have given feedback to my company in a format of written feedback. We have to do evaluations at least once a year, anonymous evaluations. I have given feedback but I feel that although the company does have alot of verbiage and publications around equality, they have a non-discrimination statement, they have domestic-partner benefits, at the same time my experience has sort of varied through this company about how people really behave. So, I think there still is a gap, definitely.

JG:  So there's a gap in terms of equal opportunity for participation, is what you're saying?

S:  I guess so, because when you have people using like the word gay negatively like, "that's so gay" and that kind of thing --- my office mate right now, I really like him alot, but he's always calling people douches, and I don't think that's really so professional. It would be nice --- I mean I also worked in early childhood education field for example and the culture in that environment is so vastly different from the one I'm in now. I know that there are other possibilities. It's hard when you're in it to see that anything could be different sometimes. It's just like this is kind of corporate culture, but I don't think it has to be that way at all. The schools I worked in, I mean I can't imagine hearing the kinds of words and conversations that I hear now in my environment.

I sort of have two truths that I hold at the same time. I don't feel that I have less opportunity in the environment that I'm in now, but I do feel that the culture inhibits. I don't feel totally free there. I felt much freer in my teaching jobs than I do in these corporate environments. I don't feel that I can bring my whole self to this place necessarily, and I feel like there is a culture that is harder on women at times. And, I think that does have an impact, psychically and emotionally, just energy-wise it's just kind of like, ok whatever here-we-go-again, kind of thing. I've never felt doubted of my technical knowledge because of my gender but culturally it's more sort of navigating every thing in between -- all the social-emotional work you have to do in your environment everyday, that takes a toll, that takes alot of energy.

JG:  Have you dealt with the awareness of being junior and needing to ask for advice especially from a male?

S:  Have I been in that position?

JG:  Yes

S:  Mostly.

JG:  How do you think this affects you, if it does?

S:  It's always an exchange. I mean sometimes I feel like there's nothing really in the air, like there's no sub-message and other times I can see ---- I had one manager, he was a fairly new manager also, sometimes I felt like he was really kind of like happy to be in the position, he liked to be in the position where you were coming to ask him about something or for something and I could feel that there was something going on in that regard. I also felt at the same time that I had to take care of him so that I could make sure things could get done. He never could check email. If I wanted something from him I had to leave it on his keyboard on a written note.

So I've had a range. I've had some really wonderful male managers, that were really good at managing people, and I've had some of the most vindictive, troublesome managers, that were women and I felt were not supporting me at all, some real dousies too. I think it really depends on the person too.

I've had some male managers that really weren't playing into that at all. I think there's really a range. Some men really are oblivious to their position and their privilege as men in this industry and some men are aware. I'd say whether they're beneficiaries at some level or not, they don't really use it to their advantage consciously where some men I've worked with are perfectly happy to do that.

It's again always the thing, little things -- like I had this VP at this like awards ceremony and I couldn't help but notice that all of the men receiving this achievement award received a handshake and the women got a hug -- that kind of thing. You know if they called my name I'd be whispering "handshake", just a handshake is fine.

JG:  Have you had a moment when someone is surprised to find out you're a woman?

S:  No

JG:  In your teams, let's talk a little bit about language, is there a tendency to say "you guys" or things like that, does that get tiring? Do you counter that, do you not? Did you used to?

S:  If somebody says "that's so gay", I speak up. I'm not as sensitive when someone is saying "you guys". Personally that doesn't bother me that much.

I will say on that last question, I mean I don't think I've ever surprised anyone. This company that I work for is distributed all over the United States and alot of the people I work with I've never met in person, or some of them I've worked with or over a year and I realized later that I was using the wrong gender pronoun. There are sometimes when I've realized, I wouldn't say I was surprised, but I've realized I've been incorrect in my assumption. There's one person on a project I'm working with now, and I've heard people use he and she when referring to this person. I just thought I'd say that too. I don't always know how people identify when I'm talking to them and definitely make assumptions based on their first name, but not always.

JG:  Tagging onto the language thing there's the time where you're kind of imagining an end user and there's the disparaging tone of the end user as being the "aunt bettie" who is completely inept, have you experienced that?

S:  In my company so far we haven't used personas so much. But for me I feel like it's kind of problematic. On the one hand you're designing a product and you make assumptions about your end user and you may have some first hand experiences to back it up or some market data, or whatever -- I mean there have been some really annoying things -- Like I had a VP last year who kept -- it was on the topic of diversity -- it wasn't so much the end user but it was talking about how important it is to have diversity in your company. And he said, "Once we started having women on the design team for the Blackberry we came out with all these new colors because women wanted to accessorize and the Blackberry took off because now people could buy a pink or a blue Blackberry."

And I just thought, wow, of all the examples you could give to support the importance of diversity in a company, to pick one that talks about accessorizing is so old, you know? Like jeez, let's get creative here.

So I think sometimes people really don't know who their customers are. I think more the assumptions that I find in my meetings have to do around economic status than say gender; assumptions about the customer. Alot of times we have to design something for a pre-paid customer, someone who buys a disposable phone and prepays on a card. There are different types of accounts and sometimes they're offered to customers based on their credit class. So the scope of our projects alot of times revolves around this. I think this gets discussed more than gender as far as assuming an end customer.

I wanted to say one more thing about the language. In my current job, where I said that I don't feel that the sort of mysoginistic comments I hear as often-- except the first day I was being introduced and I remember my interim manager, I had an interim manager at the time, and I like him alot too I think he's a really great person, but I remember he walked into this office to introduce me to these guys and he's like, "ladies", addressing them. And I was just like, oh man, it's my first day on this new job and is it going to be like this all over again now. I had hopes for a little more maturity.

JG:  What advice would you give to young women starting out in technology?

S:  I would say that this field, technology, is constantly changing. It's constantly evolving, there are new things being invented and developed all of the time. The curve of innovation is just kind of, right now I'm drawing an exponential. That means that nobody is the expert. Every five years the field is completely changed. It means you can learn it as well as anybody else sitting next to you. The main thing is to find the thing that you really are curious about because there are alot of different ways you can go. Find the thing you're most curious about and just start learning it. You're not going to be the only person learning it. Anyone in this field has to keep learning to keep working in their job. I think that's what I would say.

JG:  What do you find exciting right now in technology?

S:  I'm excited about the hopefully increasing level of accessibility to technology across the globe. There are places that don't have access to computers but do have access to mobile devices. Mobile devices are really becoming powerful enough to run real applications that can really be useful for people.

I'm really concerned about sustainability. One thing about this field is that it does take a toll on the planet. There's alot of mining, water usage that goes into manufacturing these devices. I think there are steps being taken to make the process more efficient, use less water, recycle the metal-rich water, things like that. As the years go on I'm hoping we can use this technology to manage our resources better. That's the one thing I remember -- I had a teacher in college, Pete Bohmer, and he talked about how it's hard to see in the United States because electronics and consumer electronics are almost disposable now because of the pace that the technology is evolving and the software that is developed to meet the capacity of the technology is happening so quickly that computers are outdated within a couple of years. It's hard to remember that these really aren't disposable and there's alot of people who work really hard to create them. It's hard because in this climate, especially the corporate environment, it's a race and I think it's hard to remember the toll that this industry has on the planet.

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