Friday, December 18, 2009

Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can't Teach...

And those who can't even do that, write about it for a living.

Oh yeah? I worked in IT for over 20 years and there were plenty of women, many of them (very good, often better than male) managers, and on the whole, every bit as competent as their male counterparts. Someone needs to get out into the real business world before they write such nonsense.


Greasywrench said...

Those who can - do.
Those who can't - teach.
Those who can't teach - teach gym.

I heard the line in a Woody Allen movie years ago. My point being when I was taking CIS courses in College the two best instructors I had were a Woman who was an ex Cobol programmer and another who wrote tutorial programs and taught HTML and multimedia. My worst instructor was a Man who taught Visual Basic. He sucked and I ended up taking a credit/no credit for the course instead of a grade.

I'll never know how it is with Women as opposed to Men in the real world of IT or programming since I only earned an A.S. in Computer Information Systems based in Office Applications. I ended up going back into Auto repair when I couldn't find a job. I guess you're the expert Matthew. Do male geeks rule the world of IT? My experience is Women are the best teachers. Anecdotal I know, but in my case it's true.

Matthew said...

Okay, a little about my IT background first, so you can see where I'm coming form.

I started out as a tape handler back in the days when data was still being stored on ginormous magnetic tape packs (mid-80's). This was about as close to factory work in a tie as you could get back then.

I worked my way up; computer oeprator (IBM MVS and VM systems, mostly), Senior Computer Operator, and eventually Data Center Supervisor. I then made the (almost unheard of)leap to system's programing, specifically, system's automation (where you program a computer to do the jobs people used to do). I was actually asked to join the Automation group at Smith-Barney -- plucked right out of the Data Center.

I never spent a day in colege, never took any college-level programming or Comp. Sci. courses. I learned by actual hands-on experience with all aspects of a modern enterprise system (Operations, Communications, Data Management, Data Storage methods, SQL's, Programming and so forth).

During that time, I probably worked with a roughly equal number of both men and women (on average, it was a male-dominated field c. 1985 or so, and more females entered the field after that). I came into contact with people of both sexes who were extremely capable and intelligent (a large proportion of both also happen to be gay, but that's beside the point).

Men make the best bosses from the point of view that they tend to be direct. There is often no mistaking what a man wants, since men engage in linear thinking. Women made good bosses because they tend to be more communicative (they let you know stuff you maybe didn't need to know, but which often came in handy), as well as stressing a certain finesse in the work which might lead you to look for a less-direct, but often more clever/elegant, solution to whatever problem you're working on.

Both were sticklers for documentation (programmers the world over hate documentation), but for different reasons; men want it because once they reach a certain level, they promptly forget how to do the work that got them there, and they didn't want anyone under them to have a sense of 'job security' (I had a boss who ALWAYS nailed people on reviews for sloppy documentation because otherwise, he had no idea what they actually did, and had no basis for a performance review!).

Women tend to want documentation because it is simply a handy troubleshooting and training tool, and in some cases where they might not be as strong, it helped them to visualize a concept more easily.

This doesn't account for individual personalities, though. I have worked for people of both sexes who easily fall into the caregory of 'asshole'.

Male bosses in the field tend to be ass-coverers, having once achieved a management job, they intend to die there. Women tend to be facilitators and co-operators, who foster a better team spirit.

But the idea that women shun IT because they 'don't fit in' is a fallacy; if there's fewer women in tech jobs nowadays, it's because American business has done such a great job of destroying the industry with outsourcing (to places like China, Russia and the Middle East), H-1B visas, and the demands it places on it's employees; it's not unusual for the average IT worker to work 70-hour weeks, and often more.

In my days (Citi, Salomon Brothers, Nomura Securities, ADP Finanical Services), there was no such thing as a weekend or holiday, and it was not unusual to work from home for several hours after a 12 hour day in the office.

It's gotten worse since we've moved from centralized, mainframe-based systems to small, distrubuted systems, and with the emphasis placed on multi-media computing experience.

Between the scarcity of jobs, the lowering of pay associated with the ones left, and the demands on personal time, I'm not surprised fewer women choose a career in technology.

Greasywrench said...

Damn! I didn't realize the IT field was so stressful. And I thought the auto repair industry was demanding. In my line of work you're on your own once you're assigned a job. Good shop foremen/owners tend to leave you alone to complete a job. Bad ones tend to stand over your shoulder and ask "how much longer" or "will it be done tonight". That I could handle when I was younger since I was always fast.

Being you're "old school" you must have some strong opinions of what's going on today. As for me - being self-employed is the only way to go for an old timer. I got tired of competing against twenty-somethings and the older I got, the more I realized I hate the authoritarianism involved in running a shop.

Matthew said...

The IT field is stressful because of the vast amounts of money involved. Companies make huge investments in IT because computers often act as a 'force multiplier'; who needs a small army of accountants or clerks when you can plunk a few million down on a mainframe that never takes a break, doesn't make a mistake, doesn't complain and never needs a day off?

And as the machines, software and programming techniques become more sophisticated, computers are applied to an ever-wider circle of tasks. What were once just number-crunchers and word-processors are now capable of performing all sorts of complicated transactions at literal lightspeed (for ex: more stocks and commodities are traded daily by computers netweorked to one another across exchanges than by actual people).

If I remember the math properly, on average, a $1 million investment in IT typically returns $2-to-3 million in productivity alone. Then as you can start laying people off --because computers are now programmed to do their jobs -- you can drop the costs of salaries, benefits, pensionsand so forth. It begins to really add up rapidly.

Your only major expense becomes the IT workers who program, operate and maintain the systems. And since many of the tasks they do can be automated you need relatively few of them, and the ones you have are usually not the sort that could make aliving driving a cab or digging trenches, so they'll put up with a lot of crap just to keep their cushy job.

Once the better (more capable and intelligent) folks start dropping out of the field because of the nonsense, corporate America then cries to Congress that it can't find enough tech workers...and then starts importing them with H1-B's, for even lower wages, if it doesn't just hook up with some outfit in Mumbai to do ther work for them for even less than the H-1B guys (this is one instance in which the Internet WAS NOT a such a great thing).

I can't tell you what it's like in most other industries, but in the world of securities trading and finance, it's a grind. I think more IT people in finance die of heart attacks, suicide, or have nervous breakdowns, than in any other line work, save perhaps Air Traffic Controller.

It definitely has higher rates of substance abuse, for sure.