Women in Web Development: Do The Numbers Really Matter?

My good friend and great LA-based social media mind Alana Joy just published a blog post addressing the oft-discussed ratio of women to men in the tech business. And I have to say, she makes a very compelling point. Despite what you may read in the media, the tech industry is full of strong, smart, savvy, successful women who are actually going out there and getting things done for themselves and their companies. They may not be the loudest demographic in the room, but they’re certainly a strong segment of the population. And, like Alana says, what makes us so strong is the quality of our work, not the quantity of our numbers.

So, while I am loathe to say the glass ceiling has been demolished, or that there are no hurdles a woman working in a male-dominated industry has to face (yes, there are certain types of jokes that are less funny when you don’t have a Y chromosome, no matter how many times the guys around you repeat them), I do think that all this talk of ratios is indeed reductive. Not to mention counterproductive.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think we have a parity problem in tech. There are a lot of women in PR, marketing and human resources, and far too few to gripe with me about managing unwieldy databases or overseeing overnight code pushes. But, that doesn’t mean we need to start satisfying some quota of female coders at my company just for the sake of improving my ability to bitch about code problems over a glass of wine after work. That’s not where the failure is.

The failure isn’t the industry or its hiring practices. It’s in education, summer camps, parenting, and all the other places young girls could be coming into contact with coding, development and engineering but aren’t.

The brilliant Jolie O’Dell made this point very well on her blog recently. It’s not that there aren’t women doing amazing things in tech right now. It’s that the stream of amazing women being funneled into the more technical sides of tech is still very small. And that’s a huge fail. Personally, I was just telling my dad the other day that I never would have gotten into doing what I do had I not sort of stumbled into it. I was never a math person, and while I loved science, my lack of advanced math skills kept me out of the more advanced science classes for most of my education. Despite having grown up in a world of affluence and educational opportunity, I was never exposed to computer engineering or web development as a possible path for me, let alone the kind of product management I do every day.

Once I was tagged as an ‘artsy kid’, a ‘theater nerd’ and an ‘english person’, I was effectively set on a certain educational track that highly favored those disciplines and heavily discounted math, science and technology. I can pinpoint the exact moment this happened too — when I was put into the ‘dumb’ math group in fourth grade, because I was still slow on my multiplication tables. From that moment on, my math and science education was lumped in with a bunch of kids who didn’t get it, despite the fact that when I put my mind to it, I usually did. And, I was never given any option other than the track I was on – even at a well-regarded, college prep school and a fantastic university.

After I graduated college, it was by accident that I found a job at a startup website. And by necessity that I taught myself the web development basics that I needed to understand in order to do that job. Which means it was a total fluke that I found my passion — a passion I fervently wish I’d been given the chance to explore at an earlier age, when I was still within easy reach of the rich educational system I could certainly have taken better advantage of had I known then what I love to do now.

All of which goes to tell you that the system — even in the best schools — definitely has a numbers problem. But it’s not the numbers problem tech trendsetters like to talk about. For me, it’s a pretty familiar problem actually. How do you take an unwieldy data-set with a lot of varying items (aka: students) and properly categorize and classify them all? How do you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and everything gets equal attention?

The answer is, you can’t. Kids are not data points. They’re evolving, organic creatures. And, by putting them on particular tracks, or classifying them into specific groups at a young age, you’re not developing the multi-faceted minds of the future. You’re creating a bunch of self-fulfilling prophecies. And yes, one of those prophecies tends to be ‘girls are good with words, boys are good with numbers,’ and the many similar gendered generalizations that keep women pouring into PR & marketing and trickling into development and engineering.

All of which goes to say that while I agree with a lot of what Alana said about the ratio of women in tech today, I don’t think we can say we don’t have a quantity issue at play. We do.  We have a numbers problem plaguing our collective past and threatening our industry’s future. And, I think that as smart, savvy, successful women in the tech world, we can do a lot to help fix it. We can offer ourselves up as role models, host events like Lynn Langit’s code workshops and help encourage and engage all the young girls we can find to look at this industry as a real possibility, regardless of where they think their paths are pre-determined to go. Nobody owes women in tech anything but an equal opportunity to succeed. And that’s exactly what we owe the young girls coming up behind us as well.

(Oh, and for the record, I can do my multiplication tables in my sleep now. Not that there’s much time to sleep when you’re trying to help coordinate development on a massive, database-driven website. Which by the way, takes more math than that fourth grade teacher with no faith in me could probably have done herself anyway. So there. )

Things I Love Friday (post-T-Day Edition)

Once again, my TILT is a little bit late, but I hope you’ll forgive me for just now coming out of my tryptophan coma — and for keeping it a little shorter this time around, since I’m trying to get this post up before my dad makes me put my computer away to eat dinner (yes, more eating).

Anyway, this week I’m thankful for:

The incredible Annual Thanksgiving Dinner For People Without Home (as it’s casually called) — a regular event where my family joins up with a few other ones to put on a big meal for the local homeless, day laborers and a group of kids from the juvenile detention center in the hills near my parents’ house. This year, we fed 300+ people and it was as incredibly fun and gratifying as ever | I’m also very thankful for my adorable, amazing little brother for stepping up and taking his place as a lead organizer of the event this year. The family tradition continued very well with him! | Loving the Weight Watchers online tools + the incredible support I’ve been getting from everyone on Twitter, Facebook, etc. since I started this journey. Thanksgiving may have been a stupid week to start losing weight, but I’m 3lbs down already, so something must be working | Happy that the weather finally feels like fall. Love the excuse to bundle up and cuddle up | Thrilled to have finally jumped on the Google Voice bandwagon — it’s great to be able to make calls and send texts even though I’m deep in the cellular no man’s land that is Malibu | Looking forward to a great week of holiday-themed tech events – Digital Family Reunion, here I come!

Why You Should Be Thankful For Social Media This Thanksgiving

This post is an excerpt from my latest article on Mashable:

On the fourth Thursday of every November, Americans engage in an annual feast that reminds us of our country’s humble origins, and gives us a good reason to get together with family, watch football and stuff our faces until our pants don’t fit. It’s the official start to the holiday season, and it can either be a fantastic day full of food, family and fun, or a total nightmare full of burnt turkeys and busted travel plans.

Fortunately, you can always turn to the social web to help you plan for the big day. In fact, the InternetInternet can help you prepare a feast, assist you with your T-day travel and keep you entertained once the pie is gone and the plates are cleared. And that’s definitely something to be thankful for…more

Things I Love Thursday

Wow, can’t believe it’s Thursday again already. Part of that is probably my day working from home on Tuesday due to some awful 24 hour stomach thing. Thank god that’s over. Now, if we could just get past the residual weather-changing stuffiness I’m fighting, I’ll be all good to go into the weekend. And thank god we’re only one day away from that.

This week, I’m loving. . .

Grooveshark. Seriously, how did I not know this existed before? | Scarf and sweater weather. Love the chill in the air | Winter commercials coming back to the airwaves. I love all the Christmas and Thanksgiving ones, but the one that really gives me the warm fuzzies is the Mastercard one above. And yes, it has been known to make me tear up on occasion | This great New York Times piece about The Nutcracker’s history in America. Ever since I was a little girl making the yearly pilgrimage to see the Ventura County Ballet’s Nutcracker with my grandparents (whom I hold personally responsible for my love of theater, musicals, opera, ballet, etc.) Nutcracker has held a special place in my heart and this piece was a particularly fascinating sociological study of one of my favorite ballets | warm soup and bread on a cold fall night | finally having the willpower to get rid of all my leftover Halloween candy | Picking out recipes to make for our family’s Thanksgiving and the big Malibu Thanksgiving Dinner we help put on for those that can’t afford to have their own feast…I’m definitely feeling greens and squashes at the moment, so we’ll see what I end up cooking | The Cookbook Collector. I literally felt like crying when this amazing, intricately woven novel was finished. It was so good I never wanted it to end | Daily Worth, an amazing personal finance site for women that also sends approachable, engaging, informative emails about financial issues to your inbox every day. I can’t believe I actually find myself looking forward to a daily email about finances.

Cupcake Camp LA: Count Me In

My name is Mollie, and I have a problem. I’m addicted to frosting. My favorite is cream cheese, but really, any frosting will do. I love the texture, the taste, the way it melts in your mouth…man, I’m getting cravings just thinking about it. Of course, my status as a frosting fiend also translates to a deep and abiding love of cupcakes. And, when you combine those things with the opportunity to help raise money for charity and support Bakespace — a website I absolutely adore — you get one tasty treat indeed.

Which is why I’ll be attending Cupcake Camp LA, a charity event sponsored by the aforementioned Bakespace to raise money for organizations like Angel Acres Horse Rescue, InvisiblePeople.TV and American Tortoise Rescue. For just $15 (and $5 for any kids under 5 I want to commandeer to come with me), I’ll get to taste unique cupcake creations from LA’s best bakers. And, I’ll get to do it knowing the calories don’t count, because the proceeds are going to charity. Or at least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself.

Join me at Cupcake Camp LA on November 20 by purchasing tickets here. See you there! (Just don’t try to get in the way of me + my cream cheese frosting).

Klout Score Analysis: I Klout, Therefore I Am?

According to Klout, I am a specialist. “You may not be a celebrity, but within your area of expertise your opinion is second to none. Your content is likely focused around a specific topic or industry with a focused, highly-engaged audience.” I have a Klout score of 48 and a true reach of 267. That data may not mean much to most people right now, but I’m firmly in the camp that says these stats will soon become the go-to barometer for brands looking to target their marketing and outreach efforts to influencers based on … well, influence.  Not to mention social media teams trying to prove the power of their campaigns, and all sorts of other uses as well.

Of course, as anyone with actual social media experience (and no, I’m not talking about the ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ who think that being able to successfully bot and spam their way to 1,000 Twitter followers makes them qualified to consult about social media for a living), will tell you: the numbers are great and all, but in the end, quality will always matter more than quantity.

Whether it’s the quality of your interactions with your followers, the quality of your expertise in your field, the quality of the links you curate or a combination of the three, people will always reward quality over quantity. So, while I’m happy that my Klout score seems to be pretty decent and growing with every refresh, and while I totally been geeking out over the accompanying stats, I know it’s not everything.

This weekend, I hit the 2,000 Twitter follower mark. Not gonna lie, that was pretty cool. But, what’s even cooler is that I can go down my list of followers and pick out plenty of names of people who I actually interact with on a regular basis and who I count amongst the many voices that help make my days better, richer and more interesting. Thanks to Twitter, not only do I now have the ability to broadcast my social media messages to 2,000+ people, I also have the ability to listen and learn from all of them, plus the people I follow as well. Which of course is what social media really should be about.

So, while Klout may provide some amazing metrics for marketers to better hone in on their core audiences — a path the brilliant Peter Shankman outlined very well recently — I hope those marketers (and the users they’re marketing to) remember that the quantity of someone’s scores and stats is a good way to narrow down your focus.  But, it’s the quality of their overall social media stream that really tells you who is worth focusing in on.

Or, as I put it in a recent Tweet to my friend Srinivas Rao of  The Skool Of Life (a perfect example of someone who Twitter helped me get to know better, and whose friendship I’m very happy to have because of it) “the size of your score isn’t as important as the motion in your Twitter feed. Or something like that.”

Things I Love Thursday

I’m deep in the middle of about a million things – more details to come shortly, I hope – so this week’s Things I Love Thursday will be short & sweet. Just like me (most of the time).

Having Halloween candy in the house | the awesome new Loseit.com interface, which is making it very easy to enjoy picking at that candy guilt-free |  Paying off one credit card in its entirety, and being just a few months away from being totally debt-free (so long college debt, I won’t miss you!) | The video for Tighten Up, by the Black Keys. Love them. See above for why | Daylight Savings this weekend, and a return to the winter schedule I love (although I am SO over this weird LA heat wave) | Hashable, which is one of the coolest Twitter apps I’ve seen in a while |  Having tickets for our next GIT LA event be completely sold out with more than 2 weeks to spare (don’t worry, you can still see the panel on our first ever livestream | Salt & vinegar PopChips. Noms | Planning to go to The Kings game Saturday night | Looking forward to a relaxing, recharging weekend.

Why I Love My iPhone: A Meta-Haiku

Waiting at the gym
Blogging haiku from my phone
Ain’t modern tech grand?