March 30, 2013

Towards a More Equal Tech Culture

Given the timing of this blog post, it could come across as a response to the Adria Richards incident. It's not, at least not directly, I don't know what specifically (if anything) prompted the posts I'm responding to. For the best commentary on the Adria Richards debacle, see On being adult about childish behaviour... by Tom Coates.

Right. On to the matter at hand.

There are often blog posts and initiatives to encourage more women into technology, and as with all things I'm interested in what actions we can take to make engineering and technology more diverse.

I thought it was great that Alexandra (founder of Good Night Lamp, company I'm CTO for) kicked off a Tech City International Women's Day event and I'd love there to be a programme like the Etsy Hacker Grants here in Liverpool. See this talk on it for more details...

The companies I'm involved in at the moment aren't solvent enough to launch that right now, but hopefully in the future. I did suggest it to ACME/Liverpool Vision for their upcoming digital strategy for Liverpool. Maybe drop them a line to encourage them to do it if you think it's a good idea.

So what else to do? It's one of the (many) things that we worry about among the organisers here at DoES Liverpool. Our Dave ratio isn't that bad, but sadly that's because we don't have very many Daves.

I've always felt a bit paralysed on the issue but, indirectly from Suw's blog post agitating for a female Dr Who I found this post from John Scalzi explaining the issue in a way that I finally understood - Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.

In particular, in a follow-up post he included this:

12. You wrote the article and pointed out the straight white men live life on the lowest difficulty setting. Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?

Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? What I’m doing is pointing out a thing. What you do with that thing is your decision.

That said, here’s what I do: recognize it, and work to make it so the more difficult settings in life becomes closer to the one I get to run through life on — by making those less difficult, mind you, not making mine more so.

It's about levelling the playing field for everyone, but not by making it harder for straight, white males - by making it easier for everyone else.

However, that's the only place (I feel) where Straight White Male isn't the lowest difficulty setting - working out what would help matters. We have, thought not as much as we could/should, tried things out: we had a women hot-desk for free to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, and the last two Barcamp Liverpool events have been Friday/Saturday rather than Saturday/Sunday so that people with childcare to think of can still attend some of it (which shouldn't be a women's issue, but tends to be proportionally so in the UK today).

Our, my, concern is that such attempts are missing the point, at best, or patronising, at worst.

Hence this blog post. What should we be doing to improve diversity at DoES Liverpool and in technology in general? If you're starting a meetup or want to celebrate the next Ada Lovelace Day (13th Oct this year) or International Women's Day or something more useful that I can't think of, and you think I can help, then get in touch.

Posted by Adrian at 02:36 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 24, 2013

An Assortment of (relatively) Old But Interesting Links

These tabs have been cluttering up my browser for months now... nagging reminders that I'm not blogging as much as I'd like (one of many things I'm not finding as much time to do as I like, but what's new...)

Anyway, rather than just close them, I'll share them here. Feel free to read them and then imagine what the blog post they would've inspired would look like, or write one of your own instead :-)

Posted by Adrian at 06:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 04, 2013

Sun, SF, Startups and Sub-par Strategy

It's been a strange day. In the main it's been a lovely day - I've spent it getting brunch and hanging out with a load of engaging and interesting people in the SoMa and Mission districts of San Francisco (we're presenting Good Night Lamp at the Launch Festival this week). It was a warm, sunny day perfect for promenading and chatting, which is what we did.

They are all founders of, or working in, a startup. I don't think I've encountered that since I was in Cambridge, but the difference here is lots of them are startups you'll have heard of. I don't get that in Silicon Roundabout - in a grouping of a dozen or so people there'll be a sizeable number working at digital agencies, and in Liverpool even more will be freelance/agency and a few not in technology at all.

Some of the conversation was about startup culture and how, despite the obvious economic benefits for the winners, it's fuelling a bubble which is spawning lots of me-too and superficial startups, and pricing people (even relatively successful geeks) out of property and gentrifying the city (which is seen as a bad thing).

There's an element of "first world problems" and self-aware I-know-I'm-part-of-the-problem to all this, as I'll readily admit to with my influence on the Georgian quarter in Liverpool, but it's not clear what the solution would be.

At least it confirms that recreating Silicon Valley isn't what we should be aspiring to, but rather we should be looking for ways to combine the economic benefits of a startup ecosystem including some big successes with a skew towards solving "good" problems (where "good" is obviously rather nebulous, but is mostly about not just about creating economic value - so in addition to obvious social good, that would include Flickr, for example, but be less keen on SEO firms or Groupon). And look to avoid creating a monoculture where any one industry dominates the city.

Then when I got back to my hotel, an email to the DoES Liverpool mailing list pointed me at this report on high-growth companies in Merseyside.

It's not a particularly good, or interesting, report but it struck a strange juxtaposition with the conversations earlier in the day. As usual, it makes the mistake of equating "digital and creative" with digital marketing agencies (see Digital? Creative? Startup? for my earlier thoughts on this) and so entirely misses tech startups from its analysis. It also persists in segmenting companies on their local authority, as if Sefton and Knowsley, and to a lesser extent St. Helens, are useful separations from Liverpool for anyone other than local councillors.

It claims to be better than previous, similar reports because of its data-driven analysis. However, whilst using data from and Thomson(!) will be an improvement over the SIC codes used by Government, I'm unconvinced that in 2013 it provides as complete a picture as the author claims, and also means it focuses on existing (at best, and historic at worst) companies rather than looking to the future and what could be.

As a result it seems an unconvincing piece of analysis to support the rather atypical local business accelerator programme Project EV. Which is rather apt, in a way.

Posted by Adrian at 07:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack