on Women talking at technology conferences

Chris Messina has a good post up about women and the Future of Web applications (the conference and the tools).

As far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest opportunities to seize the future of web apps is to cement the necessity of diversity in our processes and in our thinking, not for the sake of diversity alone (deserving though it is) but because the technology that we produce is better for it, being more robust, more versatile and flexible, and ultimately, more humane.

The future of web apps — and the conferences that tell their stories — should not be gender-neutral or gender-blind — but gender-balanced. Today, as it was two years ago, we suffer from a severe imbalance. It is my hope that, in raising the specter of consequences of the lack of women in technology, we begin to make as much progress in stitching diversity into the fabric of our society as we are making in producing source code.

I actually invited participants at Gnomedex 2006 when I was the “MVP” (that is – i didn’t have a schedulled speaking slot but the audience “voted” me on stage to fill a 15 min void for the MVP audience member) to think about these things.

I said that the app builders in the audience should get out of their boxes and start thinking about apps that socar mom’s, and churches and other realms of social civic engagement that could really use some good apps. Places that are not brimming with white guys under the age of 30 (in San Francisco). The audience wasn’t so sure about this idea.

I personally have been asked to speak at one conference this season – Community 2.0 in May. I am working with my speach coach on the talk and very much looking forward to redeeming myself. I worked with her on the last talk I gave at Net Squared in June that went ‘ok’ and I was thankful for that.

I think my story might be helpful in addressing this issue – which is why I am sharing it.

I was tapped by O’Reilly folks to speak at eTel and Web 2.0 in 2006. I didn’t do that great at eTel – I had never given a 10 min speech. I didn’t get any outside voice to help me and I should have but it didn’t even occur to me that one might hire someone to help one in such a situation. I thought I had to do it all on my own.

After the talk they suggested I talk to a speech coach for my upcoming talk at Web 2.0 Expo that they had tapped me to do (that is I didn’t go through the submission process they just asked me) that some of their own hosts of conferences had used – I figured this was a good recommendation. I listened to his advice but it actually failed me – he was not available to help (health issues) but was not clear about how limited his ability to help would be until to late. O’Reilly conferences were not clear with me what the composition of the audience would be (it was a CMP audience not an O’Reilly audience) so I gave the wrong kind of talk.

I was very nervous about the speech – didn’t prep well for (speech coach sort of 1/2 helping (when if I had just been on my own it would have been better) he also encouraged me to push beyond what I had originally said I would cover in the talk – I didn’t sleep that much the night before. I was visionary but that didn’t match what was in the program. 1/2 the audience walked out and I was shaken to the core – basically had stage fright for a year. (here is my blog post following it). There was no talk with O’Reilly folks about what had gone wrong, what could have been better – just silence and never an invite back.

I was “on my own” it was “my responsibility” but I was also in a vacuum. YES it is up to women to take responsibility but if the whole industry is serious about changing who is “always on stage” it also takes a village of – encouragement, good advice, and support.

Women don’t self-promote like the alpha dog’s in the industry do. Sorry it is just true. Ask women in leadership hiring in the software industry. Men over promote their skill set by double when seeking employment (generally) and Women under promote their skill set by 1/2.

I am am getting much better as a speaker. I certainly know what I am talking about in the realm of user-centric digital identity having facilitated over 15 events in the field in the past 3.5 years, doing technical and non-technical evangelism and working on the subject matter for 5 years now. I don’t run around telling conference organizers that I should be speaking at their conferences either. I did apply to RSA to be a Peer-to-peer discussion leader and was chosen to do so for the second year in a row. I also was tapped to facilitate a panel on OpenID, Oauth and the enterprise at SXSW. That is all the speaking I am doing so far this season.

I organized She’s Geeky as a way to address the challenges that we face – both being small minorities at conferences and not many of the faces on stage. She’s Geeky is the most diverse technology conference I have ever been to – it has the most non-white faces I have ever seen at a technology event. Please don’t get me wrong like the woman on stage at FOWA – I love dudes. I don’t think you last long in this industry if you don’t like men, enjoy working with them and can get along in their culture. I also wish there was more women and have decided once in a while to have a women’s only space to geek out in would be a fun thing to support.

I think it is also important to mention something else. As a woman putting yourself out there is risky. I watched what happened to Kathy Sierra – it was kinda freaky. I talked to a friend of mine – another prominent women in tech that week saying how deepy what happened to Kathy had shaken me. She said – well that is what happens if you become prominent enough – you get hate speech and death threats – basically this is what you signed up for if you chose this career path. It is another reason just go about doing my business – working on facilitating the identity community rather then “raising my profile” so conference organizers might tap me. I have had a mild case of a stalker around my work as identity woman a few years ago and I really don’t want another one. Not something guys think about really when they do their day jobs in technology. The latent misogyny is apparently REAL in some corners of this community. We need to know that we have the support of community behind us and won’t be attacked for speaking out against hate speech.

The issues are complex. I hope that as an industry we can continue to address them.

Data Pollution and our age

Bruce writes an interesting essay about our lack of understanding about the potential toxic effects of data. Making the analogy that like our for fathers who polluted the air without understanding the long term implications we are creating data pollution and not understanding what is unfolding. This analogy is most interesting to consider.

Data is the pollution of the information age. It’s a natural byproduct of every computer-mediated interaction. It stays around forever, unless it’s disposed of. It is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully. Otherwise, its after effects are toxic.

And just as 100 years ago people ignored pollution in our rush to build the Industrial Age, today we’re ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age.

He highlights RFID’s, Camera’s face recognition tools for Identification, life logging recorders,

He makes an important point

Society works precisely because conversation is ephemeral; because people forget, and because people don’t have to justify every word they utter.

Conversation is not the same thing as correspondence. Words uttered in haste over morning coffee, whether spoken in a coffee shop or thumbed on a BlackBerry, are not official correspondence. A data pattern indicating “terrorist tendencies” is no substitute for a real investigation. Being constantly scrutinized undermines our social norms; furthermore, it’s creepy. Privacy isn’t just about having something to hide; it’s a basic right that has enormous value to democracy, liberty, and our humanity.

Sense Making for Internet Identity

Eugene Kim has launched a Sense Making webinars to help people understand and act on complex, current topics related to collaboration.

The first one will be about Internet Identity and Gabe Wachob will be “coaching” it.

Digital identity has always posed unique social and technical challenges centered around security, privacy, and convenience. The Internet has made these challenges even more complex. The good news is that a number of new technologies are creating new opportunities for creating a secure and private Internet, where individuals are in control of their own data. This is a win-win scenario, because it creates new opportunities for service providers. The challenge is that this area is complex and rapidly changing.

Our coach, Gabe Wachob, will help you navigate this space quickly and act on this information intelligently. He will:

* Help you understand the challenges unique to Internet-scale digital identity and how these new technologies fit into Web 2.0 and the enterprise.
* Walk you through the alphabet soup of Internet Identity (from OpenID to Information Cards to oAuth and XRD), including how these technologies are being used, how they’re evolving, and what their practical limitations are today.
* Give you insight and access into the community that is developing these technologies, and explain how you can influence their evolution.
* Work with you on the aspects of Internet Identity that are most relevant to you.

If you are struggling to figure this stuff out – I recommend this offering.

Identity Dinner Seattle – Tuesday 24th

For those of you following me on Twitter I have been on quite a road trip the last two weeks. It continues – today I am headed to Portland where I will be participating in Recent Changes Camp (a wiki unconfernece) and then I will be heading to Seattle for a few days.

While there I am organizing an Identity Dinner – this time not a pot luck and hopefully it will not be snowed in either.

It will be in Bellevue (we will figure out exactly where by Saturday) on Tuesday at 6:30 for drinks and dinner at 7 – this give Seattle proper folks a chance to get there in less difficult traffic.

Please RSVP on the evnetbrite site.

Participatory Panopticon strikes Michael Phelps

I have written about the participatory panopticon before (we live in public, sousveilance, cia torture taxi’s, Jamais Casio @ accelerating change, Condi caught) – but more in the abstract about stories in the news. This is the Huffington Post article about the photo of michael phelps.

This story strikes more close to home. I was, in my first career, an athlete competing at the Olympic level. In 1996 I was an “olympic year tournament” for Women’s water polo (only the men competed in the olympics) in 1998 I played in the World Championships in Perth Australia and in 1999 I won a gold medal at the Pan American Games (an event run by the Olympic committees of countries in north and south america). I also retired following that event and the following year many of my friends on the National team and college team competed in the Olympic Games. (if you want to see some of what is on the web re: that time of life for me search “Kaliya Young” & “water polo” )

So with this caveat – we were very dedicated athletes – we trained hard, we never went out and partied while we in Montreal our training home base – (a notorious “party town”). After a big event – like any one of the tournaments listed above we would for a brief night or two – take a break – go out and yes many of on the team would get drunk. ((No one our team didn’t have any pot heads on it but the difference between Pot and Alcohol is minimal.)) Some of us on those evening would do things that wouldn’t be great to have posted on the internet for posterity. That is to say maybe 3 times a year many of our team would celebrate together out and get slightly inebriated.

In sports you get insulated – all you do is TRAIN – TRAIN – TRAIN. You don’t party or socialize much at all. I spent 20 hours a week for years in the water at the peak of my training with no summer’s off, no christmas’ – maybe 10 days a year off to visit my family. Michael Phelps was probably spending 30-40 hours a week being an athlete. So once you win – and Phelps won big – you take a break – you go and do a few things in moderation that people your age do all the time every week. Give him a break.

In reading this quote the thing that I think the person who decided to break the veil of his privacy – to “out” his supposed indiscretion should be outed too….

Whoever it was who had the camera to hand to snap Phelps apparently smoking marijuana through a glass pipe, somewhat unfortunately called a bong, made a few quid, but, in those few seconds, Phelps lost his reputation, his aura and, possibly, tens of millions of dollars in earnings from sponsors.