2012: resume fodder

Because I had quite a difficult year in several respects, especially health-wise, some short notes on my 2012 accomplishments.

Total eclipse, partially obscured by cloud
by Flickr user 130GT

Ran AdaCamp. AdaCamp is really originally my baby and AdaCamp Melbourne was significantly my work (with Val, and Skud as local organiser). AdaCamp DC was significantly less so (because I was on study leave between March and May), but still, even on the day they’re a lot of work.

Delivered three talks at linux.conf.au. We gave an Ada Initiative update and an allies workshop at the Haecksen miniconf and our Women in open technology and culture worldwide talk at the conference proper.

Submitted PhD thesis. This was, of course, the end of a huge project. I enrolled in March 2006 and was full-time until December 2009. I was then enrolled part-time from July 2010 (after maternity leave) until May 2012 when I submitted the thesis. The submitted version is 201 pages long, word count is difficult with LaTeX.

Delivered the keynote address at Wikimania. This is to date my largest ever audience, I think.

Saw a total solar eclipse. Less of the work, just as much reward. The photograph of the eclipse shown here isn’t mine, and isn’t exactly like our view (we saw the top rather than the bottom through our bank of cloud) but it’s also from Port Douglas, and is very similar.

Why is someone’s entire adult life relevant to their job application?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Over at Captain Awkward’s advice column, there’s a question about how to deal with a recent name change when potential employees may call references that know you by a former name. The advice moves a little into how to deal with “resume gaps” in general:

Prospective employers will ask difficult questions about gaps in employment, changes of field, etc., but often they are doing it because they want to see how you react to the question before they decide if it is an actual issue. They want to make sure that you didn’t lie on your resume. They want to see if you have a coherent reason for whatever it is. And they want to see if you react with grace under pressure, or if you turn into a defensive weirdo… [P]lenty of people take time out of the workforce to care for kids, go to school, look after aging relatives, etc. and then are in the position of trying to get back into the workforce. If an employer is going to hold your years as a caregiver or student against you in making a hiring decision, that is their bad. Do not apologize! Do not talk about how your skills are “rusty”! If they say “I notice it’s been a few years since you’ve been working in this field, what’s up with that?” say “Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to take some time off to care for my mom at the end of her life,” or “Given the cost of day care, it made sense for one of us to stay home with the kids for a while” or “Yes, it was strange to be a grad student-by-day, bartender-by-night, but my customers were great and I learned a lot from having such a public-oriented position” and then ask a question about the position at hand.

It’s possible to disagree for pragmatic reasons with the advice to disclose here (see for example annalee’s comment on that post), but I wanted to move away from the question of what individual jobseekers should do — to be clear: I don’t fault Captain Awkward discussing that, it’s an advice column! — to the general question of why this comes up. Why do resume gaps matter, exactly? Why is a job candidate who has several unexplained years on their resume a worse candidate for a job?

Here’s my hunch about why it matters: because it’s a proxy for discriminating against (former or currently) ill or disabled people and carers, pretty much. And people with a history of institutionalisation, and others. So at an individual level you can disclose on the principle that while it sucks that there are powerful bigoted people out there, it’s better to find out that they’re bigoted against you before you’re working for them. Or you can not disclose on the principle that while it sucks that there are powerful bigoted people out there, you might be able to stay mostly under their radar when you are working for them. Not the most excellent choice in the world!

This seems in some ways hackable to me. This isn’t a new insight, but part of the problem with hiring is the need to choose one person (or N people), and, typically, having more than N applicants. You need some tools to eliminate people, so people come up with petty absolutes about resumes that are in the wrong font, or are one page long, or aren’t one page long, or that cover letters that use “I am writing to apply for” rather than “I am applying for” or whatever you like. And of course it’s easy to fall into bigotry too. The ideal worker bee is young and male and “flexible” and so on. If society has squashed someone down by keeping them out of the workforce, you don’t want your organization to have to pay the price for the squashing, so let’s require an age-21-to-present-time employment history too. Some people have that, after all.

There’s a real problem with resume gaps, which is that they might be actually relevant time that the person doesn’t want to talk about with you (for example, the employer they defrauded), but I think it’s at least worth questioning the idea of pushing down on everyone who has ever been out of the workforce in order to find them, and there’s definitely also a desire to ferret out “flakes” (people who you want to discriminate against) among some employers.

One possibility then is that by consciously letting go of the idea that your hiring skills guarantee getting the single best hire, or the belief that your resume filtering skills and interviewing skills are helping you past a certain point, and choosing randomly from the best M applicants as selected by your hopefully-consciously-avoiding-bigotry hiring process. And by letting go of your belief that you need total control in order to select The One, perhaps you can let go of at least some received wisdom about seeing “red flags” in any sign that someone may have done something with their weekdays other than work, and that they may not want to talk to you about that.

What received truths of hiring do you think are bogus or discriminatory?

Now Wikivoyaging!

It’s amazing how many people I meet who got en-wikied by Wikitravel, the freely licenced worldwide travel guide founded by Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. I was always a bit sad that it wasn’t a Wikimedia project (once I knew there were Wikimedia projects aside from Wikipedia). I was a heavy editor in 2004 and 2005 and became an administrator in 2006, and still (well, as of yesterday) held that role on the website although I haven’t been very active since 2007.

For entirely separate reasons, I ended up keynoting Wikimania this year, which was great and terrible timing as far as wikis for travel went. Great, because it was at Wikimania that part of the discussion about founding a Wikimedia Foundation travel wiki was going on (Internet Brands owns the Wikitravel trademark and domain name), and I was told about it by one of the people active in it. Terrible, because I was so exhausted and overwhelmed after AdaCamp and my keynote that I didn’t do nearly enough at Wikimania. (The evening of the keynote, I went to my hotel at 4pm and ordered room service dinner. Thank you, room service crème brûlée, for getting me through that night.) I did meet someone who was among those spearheading the proposal to have a WMF travel wiki, but I didn’t attend the travel wiki meetups, nor log in anywhere to express an opinion among the various proposals.

It seems that what was eventually decided was to immediately import content originally written for Wikitravel into an English language version of Wikivoyage, which had already assembled a German and Italian community to create a non-commerical wiki travel guide some years back. The edit history of Wikitravel as of early August has been imported (since August, Internet Brands turned off the API access to Wikitravel changes), with further edits being made by Wikivoyagers including many former Wikitravel (and current, perhaps?) editors. Wikivoyage is in turn being imported into WMF technical infrastructure very very soon (possibly Monday US time), but I finally happened to want to do some editing last night, so I jumped the gun and joined the live version of English Wikivoyage! If you remember me from Wikitravel, say hi.

It’s already possible to use Wikimedia Commons images on Wikivoyage, for which I’m very grateful. I’ve put all the research I’ve done for my upcoming trip to SEE A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE into the Solar eclipses travel article, a perfect use-case for Commons images, which has hundreds of shots of eclipses. I’ll see if I can find a good replacement for the very mediocre image from my 2006 trip to Cairns still used on that article.

Book review: Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs.

It is the day in Australia to be thinking about poor leadership and its sequelae. And coincidentally I’ve just finished up everyone’s favourite summer hardback brick (all hail the Kindle), the authorised Steve Jobs biography, and I just read this today too:

However, sometimes really smart employees develop agendas other than improving the company. Rather than identifying weaknesses, so that he can fix them, he looks for faults to build his case. Specifically, he builds his case that the company is hopeless and run by a bunch of morons. The smarter the employee, the more destructive this type of behavior can be. Simply put, it takes a really smart person to be maximally destructive, because otherwise nobody else will listen to him.

Why would a smart person try to destroy the company that he works for?… He is fundamentally a rebel—She will not be happy unless she is rebelling; this can be a deep personality trait. Sometimes these people actually make better CEOs than employees.

When Smart People are Bad Employees

Well, good to see that someone understands Jobs better than me.

One major thing that struck me about this book is that Isaacson is really quite flattering about… Bill Gates. It is, however, fairly easy to do this in a biography of Jobs, because Gates was really one of the fairly few people with both power and emotional and financial distance to assess Jobs relatively dispassionately and to go on the record about it. He also never had a intense and short-lived mutual admiration relationship with him in the way that Jobs had with many men he worked more closely with. Gates and Jobs apparently always considered each other a little bit of a despicable miracle: astonishingly good work with your little company over there, Bill/Steve, I would never have considered it believed with your deluded pragmatic/uncompromising approach to software aesthetics.

I read these books mostly for the leadership and corporate governance insights at the moment: unfortunately there’s not a lot here. There is of course a lot of unreplicatable information about Jobs personally: I doubt a firm belief that vegans don’t need to wear deodorant is essential to building a massive IT company. Likewise, if your boss is uncompromising and divides the world into shitheads and geniuses, the solution turns out to (in this book) “be Jony Ive or John Lasseter”. Not really a repeatable result.

It shouldn’t (and didn’t!) really come as a surprise, but if you want to know more about Jobs personally, read this book. If you want to know a great deal about the successes and failures of Apple’s corporate strategy, you’ll largely see them through a Jobs-shaped lens. Which probably isn’t the worst lens for it, but not the only one. In any case, it’s a nice flowing read (I read it in a couple of days) and is ever so full of those “oh goodness he did WHAT?” anecdotes you can subject your patient housemates to, if you like.

Technology protest: what do you do?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research write about some responses to social media protest:

It’s common, and easy, to say “just don’t use it.” There’s actually a term for this– technology refusal– meaning people who strategically “opt out” of using overwhelmingly prevalent technologies. This includes teens who’ve committed Facebook suicide because it causes too much drama; off-the-grid types who worry about the surveillance potentials of GPS-enabled smartphones; older people who think computers are just too much trouble; and, of course, privacy-concerned types who choose not to use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, websites with cookies, or any other technology that could potentially compromise their privacy. (This does not include people who can’t afford internet access or computers, or who live in areas without cell towers or broadband access.)… [There is] the idea that refusal is the only legitimate way to protest something one thinks is problematic, unconscionable, unethical, or immoral… I generally do not buy this idea. Here are three reasons why.

The Cost of Opting Out

Opting-out of watching The Bachelorette because I think it romanticizes sexism doesn’t impact me the same way that choosing not to have a cellphone does. If I choose not to have a cellphone, I am choosing to exist in a world where social norms have adapted to cellphones without adapting myself. Face it, someone without a cellphone requires everyone who interacts with that person to make special accommodations for them… not having a cellphone puts one at a serious disadvantage…

The Civic Responsibility to Critique

Members of a community (nation, state, book group, dining club, whatever) have a responsibility to criticize and suggest alternatives to things they find problematic, whether those are government principles, media representations, website policies, or laws. In fact, this is such a cultural norm that the right to protest is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the US Constitution…

It’s Not Free

Social software is not free [the blog means price for those of you who immediately thought about liberty]… Only the most staunch pro-market capitalist would argue that a customer has no right to complain about a product or service that she is paying for, either directly or through the exchange of personal information.

I was, frankly, tempted to let this slide by in a linkspam, but we’re a bit quiet around here this week, so, let’s talk about varying forms of technology protest. Here are some of mine:

I left Facebook and will probably leave LinkedIn (just need to get some opinions from colleagues on whether this will be professionally damaging) over those sites’ like of using users to advertise products (LinkedIn just turned this on, here’s how to opt-out and here is their response to criticism), and Facebook’s continual cycles of making information shared with advertisers or applications and later making it opt-out in response to another wave of protest.

I am undecided on Google+: I intensely dislike their wallet-name policy, perhaps especially given that the initial policy was “name you are known by”, but it also has a lot of the features I miss about Facebook (in-line comments, longer entries than Twitter), so the cost of opting-out is a consideration for me there.

I keep some data in the cloud and use some Google services, although not as many as a lot of tech people (my personal email is not in Gmail, for example). There’s some cost of opting-out there too: cloud computing may be a trap but I notice Richard Stallman has an organisation that pays people to be his sysadmins (or could, at least, I can’t say I am certain whether RMS admins his own boxes). I could host my own Status.net instance, Diaspora, etc, but I don’t have the time or money. There’s also reader/friend cost: many more people follow me on Twitter than on Identi.ca as it is, almost no one ever logs into Diaspora that I’ve seen. I am simply not powerful enough to force my friends to follow me to different sites, so to some extent I stay where they are.

Most recently, I bought an Amazon Kindle which is fairly well evil (ie, so DRMed it’s possible that it will grow legs in the night, scan and eat my paper books, and make me ring Jeff Bezos in future for permission to read them). This is actually a response to even more nastiness to some degree: at least Amazon sells some recent e-books to Australian customers, relative to almost all of the ePub vendors anyway, and moreover sells them at the US price as opposed to the special markup (about 100%) Australians pay for anything electronic or Internetty. So that’s flat-out poor options, there.

I am committed to the right to complain about things I use in general: to be honest I think a lot of the “leave if you don’t like it” criticism, at least from people who are themselves apathetic, is rooted in “it’s not cool to care about things, don’t make me watch you caring”.

How about you? What services do you stick with and complain/protest about, and why? Which ones have you left/not signed up for despite temptation, and why?

Note: a bit of amnesty would be nice in this post. We’re talking about people’s choices, and frantic attempts to convert everyone to your version of technology purity will stop the conversation. If someone says that they are actively seeking an alternative to service X that has property Y, that would be a good time to mention service Z, which offers X-like functionality with more Y. Otherwise, let people talk.

Pseudospam: nymwars continue

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

We have enough nymwars links for them to be their own linkspam, and likely our commenters have more to add too.

Lots of dedicated discussion and link tracking at googleplus.dreamwidth.org and Botgirl Questi’s collection of #plusgate articles.

Front page image credit: Masked by Harsha K R, Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike.

Sexual harassment discussion in the atheist and skeptical communities

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Warning for quoted misogyny, Islamophobia and descriptions of violence against women and harassment, not to mention Oppression Olympics.

On June 20, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posted a video discussing a panel she spoke on at the World Atheist Convention in early June. Here’s an excerpt of the relevant segment:

And I was on a panel with AronRa and Richard Dawkins [which] was on ‘communicating atheism.’ They sort of left it open for us to talk about whatever we wanted, really, within that realm. I was going to talk about blogging and podcasting, but, um, a few hours prior to that panel, there was another panel on women atheist activists… I don’t assume that every woman will have the same experience that I’ve had, but I think it’s worthwhile to publicize the fact that some women will go through this, and, um, that way we can warn women, ahead of time, as to what they might expect, give them the tools they need to fight back, and also give them the support structure they need to, uh, to keep going in the face of blatant misogyny…

So, thank you to everyone who was at that conference who, uh, engaged in those discussions outside of that panel, um, you were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys—um, all of you except for the one man who, um, didn’t really grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel…? Because, um, at the bar later that night—actually, at four in the morning—um, we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, “I’ve had enough, guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed,” uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”…

I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4am, in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

This excerpt is from Melissa McEwan’s full transcript of the relevant section of the audio, which is available at Shakesville. There’s more interesting stuff in the full transcript, including an example of the kind of dynamic where an individual woman who hasn’t experienced sexism denies it exists at all. But Watson’s criticism of the man who sexually approached her in the elevator has let to the Internet exploding, predictably enough. Especially when Richard Dawkins commented, most unsympathetically.

Here’s the setup:

  • PZ Myers, Always name names! [beware comments]: It’s not enough. Maybe we should also recognize that applying unwanted pressure, no matter how politely phrased, is inappropriate behavior.
  • Richard Dawkins, comment on “Always name names!”: Dear Muslima… Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with… Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee… And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
  • Richard Dawkins, comment on “Always name names!”: Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‘creepy’ was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.
  • PZ Myers, Twitter: For those curious, confirmed: those comments were from Richard.

Commentary (warning: some of these links contain extensive discussion of rape, including news coverage): Continue reading “Sexual harassment discussion in the atheist and skeptical communities”

The status of pseudonymity and privacy on Google+

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Here’s a separate thread for people most interested in keeping track of official, semi- and unofficial pronouncements about pseudonymity and/or privacy on Google+ in particular, in addition to the more general discussions taking place at Anti-pseudonym bingo and Social networking requirements. You can also discuss your feelings and reaction to various announcements here. warped-ellipsis, you can re-post your existing links in this thread if you like.

If you’re linking to a blog or Google+ discussion, please also include a summary or excerpt that explains why you’re linking to it. Is it a user test showing such-and-such a property of Google+? Is it a statement by Google or an employee? Is it a change or a clarification? That sort of thing. (No linking/quoting anything from G+ that isn’t marked “Public” please.)

Note: yes, Google+ is in beta/early launch/testing/something, and they’re actively seeking feedback. Please no nagging to people to send in their comments here as feedback, since they now know this for sure and presumably they have or will send it in if they want to, and if they haven’t they presumably have their reasons.

Social networking requirements

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

I knew that someone posted on this blog discussing what requirements a feminist-informed social network would have. Turns out it was me. A year on, and due to discussions around Google+, I think I have some positive requirements. (I recommend reading the old comments thread too.)

Control over identifying information. Name, gender, age, who you are friends with, what you talk about, what events you are in, and what you look like: this is all varyingly sensitive information and should be able to be hidden.

As few restrictions as possible on identity. Allowing use of pseudonyms, not assuming that everyone has two, or two ‘important’, names, free specification of gender if specified at all. As little structured compulsory information as possible. Unstructured, free-form, and non-compulsory are key things here.

Accessibility. State of the art accessibility design including testing with screen readers, colour palettes suited to as many variants of vision as possible, collaborative transcripting and captioning of images, no flashing ads or autoplaying video.

You own your space and control entry. This means you should be able to moderate things. Being able to ignore people is good but is not enough: you likely don’t want to subject your friends to the conversation of a person who you dislike enough to ignore.

Rigorous site-level attention to spam and harassment. No one (much) wants spam, enough said. But harassment—continued interactions or attempts to interact after being told to stop, including ban evasion—should be a terms of service level violation, as should any threats (whether or not the person has been told to stop). Use of threats or hate speech in user names and default icons or other things that appear in directory listings or search results may also need to be considered. This all requires staffing and a complaints system.

Consistent access control. If you set something private, or it was private by default at the time, it should stay that way, probably to the extent where if it can’t remain private for technical reasons, it should be deleted/hidden by the site rather than made public.

Access to your work and ability to export it. The correct thing to do here is a little tricky (are other people’s comments in your space yours to export and republish, or not? what about co-owned spaces?) The autonomo.us community has had some inconclusive discussions.

Fine-grained access control. I don’t think something along the lines of that which Livejournal and its forks have had for years and which Facebook and Google+ have implemented to varying degrees, is required (public blogs have a strong presence in activist discussions) but it’s useful for more universal participation. Some people need it.

Clear limits on sharing. This is something that Google+ early testers are coming up against again and again: ‘Limited’ posts are or were shareable, a commenter using someone’s name with the + sign (eg ‘+Mary’) does or did actually invite them into private comment threads without the original poster’s input. If you offer access control, the software must make it clear what controls apply to any space, and if you have influence over that or not, so that you can control your own revelations in that space. Substantial user testing to make sure that people understand what your interface is trying to say is required.

No advertising. I guess it might be possible to show people ads in a way that has neither the problem of offensive or upsetting ads (“lose weight for your wedding today!”) nor the problem of the advertisers doing dodgy malware ads to harvest your info or worse. Maybe.

What else? How do your favourite sites do on these?

US-based websites and COPPA

Alex Sutherland, who is not yet 13 years of age, told Google+ his date of birth and promptly lost access to his Gmail account.

I’m not posting this to join any obnoxious blamestorm aimed at Alex or his parents: it sucks he lost his email archives and I hope that his parents are able to get it back for him. It sucks he had his trust breached and there’s no getting that back for him.

But I’m mostly posting because people are seeing the provisons of the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for the first time and saying “pfft, not that hard to comply, why ban under 13s at all?” There was an illuminating comment on Making Light that is helpful there:

COPPA has a lot of “common sense” provisions which no doubt sounded great from the point of view of legislators and parents, but which are pretty appalling from the point of view of the operator of a Web 2.0 service. They’re burdensome enough, that, to my knowledge, only sites intended specifically and exclusively for children trouble to implement them. That is, no Web2.0 websites operating in the US permit users under the age of 13, except for specialty children’s sites. Not Google, not Facebook, not MySpace, not Livejournal, not Twitter, not Flickr or Picassa or Photobucket, not any web service here in the US.

Why? Well, you know how when you have a problem with your Gmail, you can pick up your phone and call Google’s tech support line? Ah ha ha ha. Right: no such thing. Well, one of the provisions of COPPA is that there has to be a phone number through which parents can call the service, as well as an email address at which they can email the service. Google doesn’t particularly want to have to pay operators to be standing by. No Web2.0 startup wants to be staffing a phone number open to the general public.

Google also doesn’t particularly want to figure out how to fulfill the provision of writing a statement as to what “information it collects” from (minor) users, since it allows users to type absolutely anything they want into those email bodies. Among sites for children, the open-ended TEXTAREA form field, like the one I’m typing this comment into, are seen as threats; highly structured or brief forms of input — pulldown menus and short text fields — are seen as safer. That prohibits most interesting Web2.0 applications.

Now Google is pretty big, it could afford to solve this if it wanted to, but has decided not to. But I think this is an issue worth knowing about in general: this means that children under 13 can’t participate in the Web as we know it today, essentially, because COPPA means that it’s prohibitively expensive to allow them to use websites that allow free-form content. Opinions might vary on whether this is a good thing (I certainly don’t think so, although I’m also not planning to turn my son loose on Google on his sixth birthday either), but it’s a thing.