Common arguments re: Women in Tech

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ You know, I get really tired of seeing these same arguments every time anybody mentions the lack of women in tech. Like we can’t just discuss it on its own, a group of people need to swoop in and immediately start throwing around these examples; it isn’t a problem, women are just that way! — And, of course, most of these people who claim it isn’t a problem are men. I posted one time in a YouTube video about getting women in tech and for well over a year I was receiving vitriolic replies because how dare I state that I’d like to get more girls watching my programming videos.

A posting on Facebook by Chuck. It says, “A sad graphic for women in Comp Sci.” and highlights a graph of womens’ careers, with all going up – except Computer Science, which drops in the 1980s.

Why am I posting this? Because this thread came up, while I was out minding my own business, and made my day worse by spiking my anxiety and stress level.

The post itself – not a big deal, just showing a graphic of women in CS going down since the 1980s. Instead of asking “why the 1980s?” the thread was immediately taken over by men explaining it is not a problem. It’s womens’ faults; they’re just not into it. If you try to push them into it, then you’re a horrible person.

Completely ignoring the graph and the question – why was it going up, and then fell in the 1980s?

And I’ve dealt with this before. Two years ago, I posted a comment on YouTube that I still received responses to up until 7 months ago, along the same lines. My post about girls interested in tech was met with the same hate and anger that I dare even bring such things up. And YouTube comments aren’t the only place you’ll hear this shit. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you bring up a pipeline problem or a retention problem, you’re the bad person for trying to force girls and women into the field. Why are you bringing this up? It is a non-issue!

Women just aren’t that into tech.

Content warning: Sexism, racism, transphobia.


As a note: I, myself, identify more as genderfluid… mostly agender, but professionally I present myself as feminine and use feminine pronouns and whatever else because correcting people just isn’t that important to me. So for this I am speaking as a woman in tech.


Exhibit A: Women and men are just wired differently.

actuatedgear posts, “You DON’T. You just don’t. By and large, women are NOT programmers. Its not because they cant. Its because they don’t. They don’t want to. It is contrary to their biological tendencies on average to work at ALL, let alone in a highly specialized, highly technical field.”

Radel Gratereaux Gautreaux posts, “Has it ever ocurred to you that, maybe, you don’t need to even that out?
You know, the hole feminism thing… wasn’t about women doing what they want? If they don’t want videogames as much as men do, then that’s their decision.”

There are a lot of reasons why there aren’t a lot of women in tech. There’s a pipeline problem (exposure, education, encouragement), as well as a retention problem (being a woman and/or a person of color in a male-dominated field is exhausting).

Role models – Women can program, and they do program, and women have been part of computer science since the beginning – but how many of you know that? How many womens’ names are swept under the rug in the history of anything, in favor of praising names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? Perhaps you’ve heard of Ada Lovelace, or Grace Hopper, but what about Stephanie Shirley? There are women, queer, and PoC role-models out there in tech, but you just haven’t heard of them. Why is that?

And as much as men like to argue that, “Well, if women were really into computers, then they would just do it, even if none of the visible role-models look like them”, it is difficult – not because women are weak, no. Men get inundated with plenty of examples of role-models that look like them in one way or another; men can take it for granted. In a sense, they’re blind to the lack of diversity because they haven’t had to think about it, because they are satiated with all they need to get into the field – unless they’re a man of color.

Appearance – Another problem with tech is its appearance. I think that in our culture, we still see programmers as nerdy, 20-something white men, overly concerned with scifi television and not having much of a life outside of the internet. But in professional settings, I’ve worked with software developers with a vast array of interests. Many programmers are sporty and active, or love to travel, or do other “non-computer-nerd” hobbies. But when the images of a career field from the outside seems just like the domain of 20-something fratboys with nerf guns, not everybody wants to be part of that.

I actually wrote a lot about this in my BNE: Women in Computers essay that has more data behind it. I hear a lot of arguments that, “well if women really loved computers, they’d put up with the shit and just do it” – but life isn’t so simple, and people aren’t so simple. Some may continue pressing forward in a field despite hardships, and some may not, whether or not they love the field, like the field, are good in the field, etc. People who don’t have to deal with the countless microaggressions and overt problems just don’t see how much that can affect a person: their mental health, their happiness, their ability to focus and get things done.


Exhibit B: There’s no problem with the tech field being mostly men.

A post by Kristoffer that says, ” Women make different choices it would seem. Show me statistics that indicate any problems with that and I’d be happy to join in your sorrow. For now I’ll just respect that there are inherent gender differences which seem to include what majors each gender finds interesting to pursue. As far as I know there are virtually 0 majors which are 100% gender balanced, and with all the new genders popping up every day maybe they’ll never be.”

“Just because tech is dominated by men doesn’t mean we have to change it.”

Except that it makes better products, better workplaces, and a better environment. Bringing in people from many backgrounds can help your company solve problems or come up with unique designs, they can point out problems that a homogeneous group may overlook – for example, seat belts are less safe for women. (See: The World is Designed for Men)

You can see this in any design dominated for one group. The video, “How architecture changes for the Deaf“, was really awe-inspiring for me, and eye-opening at how our architecture is built in a specific way that presents challenges for Deaf people. If you told a group of people who were all hearing to design a building for Deaf people, do you think they would be particularly effective at it without working with Deaf people?


Exhibit C: If women really are paid less, then why don’t business only hire women?

Jacob writes, “so I could save money by hiring an all female work force? seams legit..”

Kristoffer writes, “Do you honestly believe women who are more qualified earn 20-30% less? Why aren’t companies hiring only women if they are so cheap labour? Last i checked the real number was 5-7% which might be explained by men taking more dangerous jobs and work more unsocialble hours and not indicative of systemic sexism.”

Arguments about the wage gap always lead to the same things – women work less, women take more time off, men are more willing to work long hours and not worry about work-life balance.

Work-life balance – Why shouldn’t men have the right to work-life balance as well? Why are we sitting here accepting that work-life balance is terrible in America, and say that it is the price that men pay to make more than women? Shouldn’t we demand that all of our employees are treated fairly, and given the time they need for their families and their wellbeing, regardless of gender?

Why don’t we only hire women? – And if women are paid less, why don’t we only hire women? (BONUS ROUND! This is an extreme favorite of anyone who wants to argue that the pay gap doesn’t exist) Clearly, if we just want to save money, we can just hire a bunch of women, right? You can’t argue that there’s a wage gap because clearly there’s a lack of women in tech, therefore businesses aren’t saving money on this magical resource.

Except it’s not so clear cut. There’s more that goes into hiring than just pay. We’ve all heard of the study of submitting two identical resumes, but one with a masculine and feminine name, and the one with the masculine name being preferred. Just because women may be paid less doesn’t erase the sexism and bias in the industry.

Women may be less likely to, or less effective at, negotiating for a better starting salary. Even then, when asking for raises or a better salary, they may be more likely to be rejected. Though it’s only anecdotal evidence, I have experienced this myself – after asking for raises, I’ve received excuses like, “we aren’t sure if you’re going to stick around, so we can’t pay you more” (e.g., are you loyal to us, even if we pay you shit?)

Women are held to a different standard than men, and what might be assertive for a man might be seen as bitchy for a woman. There is a larger minefield for women to navigate when trying to get paid fairly than there is for men – more challenges, more taboos, and so on.

Additionally, there are other things to consider when it comes to hiring women – companies may not be advertising their positions in the right place, or rely on word-of-mouth or references to get ahead. And if your employees are mostly male, chances are they mostly know other male programmers, and they get the referrals.

It’s not as simple as just posting to the “womens’ job board – where you can get more for less!” (not cheap enough? Try the “women of color job board”, where the wage gap is even larger!)

The wage gap isn’t that big – So being paid less is OK if it’s not that much less? What about over time? Maybe you earn $99,000 in a year and the other employees make $100,000 in a year, so you’re losing out on $1,000. “Not that bad!” – What about over a decade? $10,000. What about over 30 years? $30,000. Is that much money negligible to you? But it’s not just $30,000 – women lose out over hundreds of thousands of dollars over their careers.

Women make different choices – Again, this plays into the same problem as work-life balance. If women are largely taking a break from their careers to rear the children, then why don’t men have the same opportunity? The gender roles and sexism in our society goes deep.

Everybody should have the option to take a break and stay home with the kids. Everybody should have the option to be a stay-at-home-parent without the taboos. Our laws should be supporting workers, not make it a race to who kills themselves from overwork first.

If your argument is that women just choose lower-paying careers… why is that? If those careers are more attractive to women, then why are the jobs that appeal to women the lower-paying jobs? Why are the jobs that appeal to men the higher-paying jobs? That opens up a whole new layer: We value “mens'” work more than “womens'” work? How do we decide the value of any given field?

And finally, what about the women who aren’t taking breaks for building a family and are just as competitive as men? The pay gap still affects them.

See also:

  • Myth Busting the Pay Gap, the U.S. Department of Labor blog This addresses a lot of these,including:
    • “Saying women only earn 77 cents on the dollar is a huge exaggeration”
    • “There is no such thing as the gender pay gap – legitimate differences between men and women cause the gap in pay, not discrimination.”
    • “But the pay gap is not my problem. Once you account for the jobs that require specialized skills or education it goes away.”
    • “Women are responsible for the pay gap because they seek out flexible jobs or choose to work fewer hours. Putting family above work is why women earn less.”
  • Is the Gender Pay Gap Real?

Exhibit D: Actually, men have it harder.

Anthony states, “#femaleprivilege means women are more often encouraged to seek jobs they enjoy, whereas #maleexpectation means men tend to seek jobs they can be successful in. It relates to the idea that men see women as sex objects and women see men as success objects.”

Oh man. Does someone else want to take this one for me?


Exhibit E: Men bring home the bacon.

Richard posts, “Programming in the 1980’s was just starting to take off as a viable career path. As a result, it was flooded with men seeking employment in a new stable industry. Men are the breadwinners in most relationships due to countless reasons.”

Women have had careers since the 1930s, with a dip in that after World War 2 when men came home from war, and then a resurgence again after that. At least since the 1980s, women have had careers and been supporting themselves, and often women and men are both required to work to pay bills, raise a family, and so on.

Women have to support themselves just as much as men do, and there are plenty of single parents, or just single childless people, who want to be paid the same as their counterparts. “This man has to take care of his family” isn’t a legitimate reason that he should be paid more than a woman.

As far as it “just starting to take off as a viable career path” – we didn’t begin having programmers in the 1980s. We had programmers since we’ve had mainframes, and for a long time programmers were primarily women – programming was the womens’ work, the feminine side of computers. Men handled the hardware.

Once programming became more prevalent, men started pushing women out of the industry to make room for themselves…

What changed? Well, male programmers wanted to elevate their job out of the “women’s work” category. They created professional associations and discouraged the hiring of women. Ads began to connect women staffers with error and inefficiency. They instituted math puzzle tests for hiring purposes that gave men who had taken math classes an advantage, and personality tests that purported to find the ideal “programming type.”

From “Computer Programming Used To Be Women’s Work”, from Smithsonian.com

And with the rise of personal computers in the 1980s and marketing targeting boys over girls, girls were implicitly taught that this isn’t for us.


Exhibit F: Men have to lift heavy things.

“We don’t need to bring women into tech because they’re also not doing physically demanding work like construction.”

In male-dominated fields men like to have a certain type of culture. When I was hired at a web startup, the guy programmers were afraid that, because the boss hired a woman, they would have to begin to police how they talk.

Can women be construction workers? Of course they can. Anyone can train their body to become stronger, or learn the technical parts of the job, or do physically demanding labor. That’s not the problem with the fields.

But when men want to keep women out, when they want the workplace to be a “man’s world” and not have to worry about the language they use, they will make the workplace unwelcoming.

It’s easy for men to shrug it off and say, “Well she should just have a thick skin”. Why? Why should anybody have to deal with abuse and harassment just to do a job? Men shouldn’t have to participate in toxic masculinity to prove that they’re “man enough” to be an electrician, and women shouldn’t have to deal with it. Why can’t workplaces be safe spaces?

See also:


Exhibit G: Why do men have to work on the gender imbalance?

Anthony writes, “This gender gap certainly does annoy me. The tech industry is crying out for more talent. This isn’t the 1950’s any more. It is 2017, and time women started committing to filling the tech skills shortage, rather than expecting men to do all the heavy lifting.”

“The oppressed need to do all the work to combat their oppression.” – A common sentiment.

Why should men bother to worry about inequality in STEM fields?

Because it’s the right thing to do.

Because making the world better for women makes the world better for everyone? (However, Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all – Marcie Bianco)

Because we all need to examine our culture and see the problems that women face in tech, in order to fix the problem? (Ignoring it won’t make it go away…)

And we’re not expecting men to do the heavy lifting – we are already doing the heavy lifting. We are asking men to do the minimum possible: to stop ignoring the issues, and to offer us support. To be an ally, instead of acting like it doesn’t concern you, so why bother. Help us, instead of sweeping the problems under the rug to spare yourselves discomfort. Stop blaming us for systemic sexism just to spare your own ego.


Exhibit H: Womennagging is never helpful / watch your tone

Rachel writes, “THIS is why there’s a problem with women in tech. THIS is why I’m sick of hearing all your guys’ shit. I’ve heard all of this before, because any time anyone so much as HIGHLIGHTS that there’s a problem, you all need to swoop in and protect your egos by saying that there can’t POSSIBLY BE A PROBLEM – IT’S THE WOMENS’ FAULT. HEY RACHEL, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO BE A FEMINIST-NAZI AND FORCE WOMEN INTO COMPUTER SCIENCE? Instead of discussing why there was a dropoff in the 1980s we immediately jump to WELL WOMEN JUST DON’T LIKE TECH. DUH. And what do you think girls and women think of when they see a thread like this? Maybe if they’re not aware of our culture and human psychology, girls will think it’s not for them… or at least see the price of entry: constantly fighting this shit. Women? If they’re already in tech, maybe they’re sick of it by now. So many women leave tech. There’s a pipeline problem AND a retention problem. We have to deal with this shit constantly, and you guys can’t just sit down and LISTEN to our stories. You have to exclaim that it’s womens’ faults, that’s just how women are, that men need to “bring home the bacon”. Excuse me? When have women been relying on men as the sole provider of the household? Not in my lifetime! I and most other women need to make some fucking money to support our-fucking-selves.”. Anthony responds with, “And man-hating rants like that merely reenforce a prejudice that you are incapable of debating facts. Womanagging is never helpful.”

From the article on Tone Policing, from Wikipedia:

Tone policing (also tone trolling, tone argument and tone fallacy) is an ad hominem and antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy. It attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself.

In Bailey Poland’s book, Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, she suggests that tone policing is frequently aimed at women[1] and attempts to derail or silence opponents who may be lower on the “privilege ladder”.

Telling us over

Mario says, “Also regarding tone, it’s actually very helpful. As a human being bound by emotion myself, it is helpful when both parties of the discussion make an effort to adjust their tone, so that way the discussion can carry through logically, and not be hampered by emotion. A request of this is not a matter of appeasement, but a matter of ensuring a decent conversation for all; and again, both parties need to agree to this to work, as we are all bound and affected by emotion.”

and over

Marco states, ” Also regarding tone, it’s actually very helpful. As a human being bound by emotion myself, it is helpful when both parties of the discussion make an effort to adjust their tone, so that way the discussion can carry through logically, and not be hampered by emotion. A request of this is not a matter of appeasement, but a matter of ensuring a decent conversation for all; and again, both parties need to agree to this to work, as we are all bound and affected by emotion.”; I respond by asking, “are you literally unable to comprehend what I’m saying because you’re too distracted by my frustration?”

and over

Mario responds, “Rachel Not that I’m unable to comprehend, but that I’m trying to comprehend.
Frustration and emotional tension from the speaker in a conversation does make comprehension very difficult for the listener. This is true for all people in humanity, as naturally we are emotional creatures. All of us.
I understand you feel frustrated and I completely understand why you feel frustrated. I’m with you in the effort to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields. But what Anthony is suggesting, is for all of us to make a conscious effort to ensure a smooth conversation. It’s not a matter of appeasement, but a matter of mutual agreement to ensure a fluid and productive conversation. After all, we are all bound by emotion.
It’s up to you how you want to converse with others, but if we all do our best to place our emotion to the side, then it will be a great help to all of us. It’s up to you though.”

and over again

Mario states, “Rachel I never suggested that the onus was on you. Of course the onus is on me to understand. But when it comes to discussing with allies, who cares who’s onus is who’s? Our goal is to solve the problem at hand together. This is why attempting to put our emotional tenseness aside will greatly help our effort for all of us.
But in the end, you can choose to be frustrated, and I’ll still be willing to try and understand your perspective; I won’t bow out from that just because you feel frustrated.
But just know that remaining frustrated will negatively affect my ability to discuss productively with you. In the end, this is a team effort, no?”

that we need to follow your rules to have you buy into helping us is sexist. – Yes, that is sexist.

We don’t actually believe that you’ll listen to our point of view if only we make it more palatable to you; when you say that, we hear, “I want to make myself feel better! I’m not sexist, I just require debate to make me comfortable. Even if you’re uncomfortable, it is up to you to present your point of view, something very personal to you, in a way that is welcoming for me. I need you to welcome me before I can welcome you!”

Mario writes, “Rachel so because we’re not women, that means we’re automatically the enemy? If that’s true, then that’s very disappointing, because we want to be part of the solution with you guys. If you disallow us, then we’ll unfortunately have to find more willing people to solve it with.”

“Clearly, I would help you eradicate sexism, if only you’d be nice to me!”

See also:


Exhibit I: There are male dominated fields and female dominated fields.

TheMikel333 writes, “Well, there may be other reasons, but I don’t necessarily think they’re tied to feminism or misogyny. Just like there are many professions or areas where males are dominant, there are female ones alike. I’m taking computer programming myself, and there are very few females in most of the courses, true, but I’m also taking an elective course about “Fairy Tales”, and guess what, 80% of the class is occupied by females. Maybe we should just accept that not everything that’s male dominant is a byproduct of oppression and ostracization.”

I’ve already talked about this in the “men bring home the bacon” point (Exhibit E), but perhaps the reason that women avoid certain fields isn’t that they’re not naturally interested in those fields – maybe it’s because the dominant group actively or passively make others feel unwelcome.

This can be dealing with explicit sexism: “Women aren’t as good at math as men.”, “Hey, sexy.”

Or implicit sexism: “There’s not really a problem with sexism in tech, and discussing it is a waste of time.”, “We hire for talent, not diversity.”, “I would be on your side if you just accommodated me properly.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


Exhibit J: I’d be an ally, but…

Mario writes, ” Rachel Not that I’m unable to comprehend, but that I’m trying to comprehend.
Frustration and emotional tension from the speaker in a conversation does make comprehension very difficult for the listener. This is true for all people in humanity, as naturally we are emotional creatures. All of us.
I understand you feel frustrated and I completely understand why you feel frustrated. I’m with you in the effort to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields. But what Anthony is suggesting, is for all of us to make a conscious effort to ensure a smooth conversation. It’s not a matter of appeasement, but a matter of mutual agreement to ensure a fluid and productive conversation. After all, we are all bound by emotion.
It’s up to you how you want to converse with others, but if we all do our best to place our emotion to the side, then it will be a great help to all of us. It’s up to you though.”

And I’ll just paste in my response…

You’re clearly not very well versed in being an ally, then, if these are your arguments… “I want to be an ally but…” types are all over, no matter that oppressed group they’re trying to support.

It’s another way that people try to shift the blame to the oppressed group, “you’re not calm enough”, “I WANT to listen but I can’t with your attitude”, “I was going to support you buy you’re not friendly to me” – I hear these things a lot.

The onus is not on us to help you understand, the onus is on you to listen and contemplate and understand. The onus is on you to strive to do the right thing, even if the oppressed party isn’t all buddy-buddy with you. The onus is on you to do the research and BE an ally, not an ally-wannabe.

See also: Exhibit H


Honorable mentions

I’m not going to leave off some of the “yes, this is a problem” comments from the Facebook thread that inspired this post. There are some good points in the points as well, and can help illustrate how exasperated we feel when having to deal with this. Notice that everyone who states “this isn’t a problem” are almost always men, and even when women or femme people step forward and say “yeah, this is a problem”, the not-a-problem-ers fight tooth-and-nail to not be proven wrong.

Heather writes, “Let’s see: some customers voiced their opinions that they wanted a male tech instead. Some customers wanted to pay me literally nothing. I never once made the 6 figures college claimed I’d make. Oh, and work/life balance? Hah, forget that: I was on call 24/7/365, even when “off.” And you wonder why more women aren’t staying in computer science?”

Simone writes, “‘Its just the way of the world’….oh come on, you can do better than that. Passive acceptance of this kind of thing and excusing it /colluding with it/ not even seeing there is a problem simply perpetuates the crap that any minority or marginalised group has to put up with. I know, let’s pay anyone but straight white males less, restrict their opportunities and make life difficult when they do venture out of their assigned roles so as to perpetuate the status quo – we can occasionally wring our hands and say its not good but we will still collude and accept it after all – its always been that way. Shit tons of human talent and potential wasted. Bah humbug!”

Simone’s thread blew up; “I can see why you want to be anonymous!” (it’s Facebook, they only are denying having their picture as their profile pic), “Men just go after the higher-paying jobs!”, “Oh, I’M the rude one, eh?”, “There are a lot of Indians in tech… guess it’s their dark-skinned privilege, eh?!”

Raymond responding to the tone policing toward Rachel, ” It doesn’t matter how many facts are provided. Since the problem doesn’t affect you, they will be dismissed in the name of ‘debate.’
Read Rachel’s blog post linked in the thread, and you will see the facts presented for you.
But I doubt they’ll make a dent, because the assumption and argument is always some variant of, ‘well that’s the way things are.’
No women in a boardroom? Women don’t like business.
No women pilots? Their wombs will fall out at high g.
No black people in government? Black people aren’t interested in politics.
Instead of automatically taking the, ‘that’s just the way things are’ approach, the burden is on you to consider that, all humans being equal, there will be some in every subset that like the same things.
If you don’t see people from every subset involved in a particular career, don’t just ‘Oh well!’ it. Especially when those underrepresented in the field tell you it’s a problem.”

Another example that [almost-]everyone who argues “it isn’t a problem!” is a man, and those who argue, “it is a problem!” are men and women.


We’re tired.

I compiled this post because I need something to link people to, I guess. I have another article I wrote about the lack of women in computer science (BNE: Women in Computers) but just having that isn’t adequate. I’m so tired of responding to the same arguments over and over, and it never ends.

We’ve heard these arguments so much.

If this post made you feel tired, imagine how I feel.


How you can actually be an ally and help us

Listen. The first step is to actually listen to people, and listen to a lot of people, and consider what they’re saying. Store their statements in your memory for later, so that you have some context for where we are coming from and the struggles we face next time they arise.

Swallow your ego. You don’t need to respond to every argument, and you don’t need to make sure that you feel secure and happy as the priority in a discussion. This is very common with any ally trying to learn about an oppressed group. Don’t worry about your ego, don’t worry if you’re uncomfortable or a bit insecure with what is being said. Just listen.

Talk to your group. Your job isn’t to prove to the oppressed group that you’re “one of them” or that you “get it”. Your job is to talk to your group (e.g., men at work) about the problems. Your job is to call out sexism when you see it. Your job is to show your group that not everybody is like them and not everybody agrees with them. For example, if a man calls out another man for saying something sexist, then you are also communicating that not everybody in his in-group agrees with him, and he can’t have a safe space to be sexist, that he needs to reflect on what he said and why he said it.

Amplify. Rather than rewording the oppressed point of view in your own words like you’re writing a college essay, amplify the oppressed voices. Retweet, share their posts, and distribute their message in their voices.

Why? If you’re asking “Why?”, then you’re not yet an ally.

For further reading…:


Have something to add?

If you have some screenshots or examples you’d like to add, or some statements regarding one ot the exhibits you’d like to add, please let me know and I’ll add your comment with credit to the post. I think it would be nice to aggregate responses in this post because we’re all tired of dealing with this, and I can only utilize my brain so much to come up with so many statements.

Rachel@Moosader.com


Links

Articles linked to in the blog post

More fun stuff to read

Miscellaneous things that you may want to read.

Sit still and pay attention!

I’ve been having a problem lately… or, really, all semester. I hate sitting still.

Meetings, lectures, whatever. If we are expected to sit down and only listen, I get really anxious and stressed. I have so much to do, I can’t sit still! Sitting around, stewing, is aggravating.

If the format of an event is everybody sitting and listening to one person talk, there is a better medium for this than an in-person meeting: Video.

Lectures should be pre-recorded, and lecture time should be an active use of my time to learn the material. Listening to somebody talk about a topic doesn’t teach us much.

Meetings where there needs to be input from the people listening? Well… I prefer asynchronous meetings, honestly. I know if it is presented as a webinar, people will be surfing the internet and not fully pay attention; I’ve done this for many webinars. But maybe the problem is with the presentation rather than the peoples’ (*cough*my*cough*) attention span.

I don’t really have a fully formed point here. I’m just waiting for class to start and feeling super anxious. I have a lot of work to do, and my body feels like it’s exploding with nervous energy pulling me in every direction.

It’s my birthday!

Me: “I should keep up with grading by grading one assignment every night!”

My day –

Teacher work: Wake up, eat, begin working on class prep for the day. Fund an old lecture on stacks and queues, write a lab, adjust an old project to be a new project.

Business work: Create a set of wireframes for contract app, send out emails to client and to interns.

Homework: Spend last half hour before class begins working on homework. Fix queue problem.

Teach class: Give lecture, read through documentation of my homework while my students work on their lab, answer questions as-needed.

Get home: Eat fast food, be lazy for a while.

Work on homework: Figure out WTF is going on with this programming assignment since the project spec doesn’t really give us much to go on.

Look at clock: 1:30 am…

Tomorrow’s plans: Wake up early, work on class prep before my first class, teach Discrete Math at 12:30, work meeting, then meet with intern after class to help them set up their tools, eat, teach my 6 – 9 pm class, do homework until late again.

Friday…: 9 am meeting at work, meeting with intern, then I guess homework all weekend. Also need to write a letter of recommendation and do my taxes and finish up the fiancé visa paperwork.

Maybe I’ll fit in grading somewhere around there.

Just because I’m a student doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t respect my time: Study guides

OK, I was going to write this blog post after I was done studying for the midterm, but I’m just too steamed right now so I’m going to vent and then get back to it. My plan right now is to spend this entire weekend re-reading all the chapters of the book and making notes on everything. (I keep these notes on my GitHub.)

I’m salty because I emailed the instructor a month ago and asked for the best way to study for the midterm. The response I got was:

Hi Rachel

Lecture notes and the book are probably the best way to prepare for the exam. 

So I guess that I’m just supposed to memorize every fucking thing out of the textbook, because there is no clear way to tell what this teacher things is important and what we will be assessed over.


A textbook I teach out of with only a few sentences highlighted

I clearly have not highlighted every paragraph of the Data Structures textbook that I teach from.

“Oh well you should be learning everything anyway.”

Sure, read all the content, absorb it all, but what we need to know of and what we need to have burned into our brains are very different. I sift through the textbooks that I teach out of and I sure as hell don’t highlight every damn line with what I think is important.

And it depends between teachers!

What I highlight and think is important is based on my own experience in the professional world with things that have come in handy, what I’ve needed to know, and so on. What somebody in academia thinks is important, someone whose research focus is operating systems, might be completely different than what someone thinks from a practical standpoint.

Textbooks are full of words. These words might be good in creating a flow for the textbook, but they are not reference material, and they do not only contain the important bits – they contain information on context, examples, and explanations. At some level, when studying, I’d prefer a reference book than a textbook, because there’s so much to sift through and pull out.

Something I probably don’t need to memorize, but is still mentioned in the textbook, taking up valuable space: “Two common techniques for loading executable files are double-clicking an icon representing the executable file and entering the name of the executable file on the command line (as in prog.exe or a.out).” – Operating Systems Concepts, 9th Edition, Silberschatz


It's part of a study guide that I've prepared.

It’s part of a study guide that I’ve prepared.

The study guides I prepare contain all of the information that I expect my students to know, and that they may potentially be tested over during an exam. It may still be a lot to read and learn, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of time they would have to spend in their textbook, guesstimating what may be important and what may not be.

Because how is a student supposed to properly figure what is and is not important? They’re students. They haven’t had the same background as the instructor, and cannot properly judge what the instructor is going to deem worthy to know.

Functions? Yes, you better damn well know the vocabulary relating to functions so that you can know what I’m talking about when I tell you specifically, “you’re not passing in enough arguments into your function call.”, because if you don’t know the definitions you’re lost.

You need to know how to use pointers, and the operator names and in what contexts what * does. But do you need to know how many bytes an integer, float, and double need? I don’t have that information memorized, and it has never affected me. So I don’t tell them to memorize that. That information is good for some background knowledge and context, but they don’t need to know how many bytes they’re allocating, at least in C++, to write a basic program.


So, in summary, it pisses me off when teachers don’t provide study guides. It already seems like a lot of teachers (especially at university level) have disdain for undergrad students, thinking that they’re so frivolous and immature. What could those kids possibly be doing with their time? Obviously all they should be doing is studying! It comes off as disrespectful. Many of us work, many have families – even at the community college level! – We have shit to do, we’re here to learn, but we’re not here to memorize textbooks. Exams really aren’t the best way to assess students, but when we have so many students there’s not really a chance to do things more personally.

I teach full time, and when you teach full time, that’s way more than a full time job. I’m working on visa paperwork and travel plans. I’m studying for classes. I’m trying to get an advisor and learn about gradschool. And I’m the only one at home to take care of things. And, sometimes, I want to play video games.


Next rant: “Why my powerpoints > your powerpoints”? the next chapter on “Why I’m a better teacher than you are”, the ego-driven blog series on why school sucks and why I make it sssooooo much better. ;P

See also: “Why I make my study notes public – so that other students don’t have to suffer as I have. My teaching philosophy in a nutshell.”

More exams are better

Schedule for the Operating Systems class that I’m taking

I am stressed out. The class I’m taking has only two exams – Midterm and Final. The exams together are worth 45% of the grade. This is unfortunate for me, considering that I’m not too great at exams!

In yet another example of “things that frustrate me as a student, so I try to do better at as a teacher”, I don’t like exams that cover too many topics. Sure, make the final cumulative; that’s fine. But, during our “learning period” of the semester, I prefer a tighter cycle – Teach, practice, assess. Teach, practice, assess. You can spend more time doing in-depth study of fewer topics in order to prepare for that topic’s exam, rather than panicking and trying to cover every topic for the first 8 weeks and praying to your exam-god that your teacher’s exams aren’t unintuitive, and that what you think is important to study happens to be the same thing that your teacher thinks is important to study. (For reference, I also hate the lack of study guides!)

Schedule for the CS 200 class that I’m teaching

In my classes, I tend to have about 4 exams, including the final. I like to schedule my courses in chunks, with exams being the clear delimiter between topics. For exam 2, students will be studying up on arrays, pointers, memory management, and dynamic variables/arrays; all related and tie together. Exam 3 is everything OOPey. Structs, classes, inheritance.

For Data Structures, the first exam is over introductory content, wrapping static and dynamic arrays, and building a linked list. The second will be over stacks, queues, and dictionaries. The third will be over trees, heaps, and balanced search trees.

And for Discrete Math, each chapter of the book gets its own exam as well. A nice, clean, split between topics in the course.

I also either prepare study guides, or provide exams from a previous semester. Why? I don’t protect my old exams like a dragon hordes treasure because at some point, somebody is going to have that information. And they’ll distribute that information among their friends, so then only a small pool of people will have it. That’s not fair to everybody, and that’s also not really something I can stop. So start them all on even footing. I hope that it also discourages cheating if students know what I expect of them, and what I intend to assess of them.

So I’m nervous about this upcoming midterm. I have actually taken this class before, as an undergrad, at another university…

… and while I scored really well in my programming assignments, I just don’t do well on these kinds of exams. Math, gimme, I’ll ace that. Exams with coding on paper – ok, I can do that. Exams where you memorize a bunch of random information aimlessly? That is not my strong suit.

The first time I took the course, it was taught by Dr. Cotter, who is one of my favorite teachers. Even having an interesting teacher didn’t make it easy for me to do well!

Of course, I’m older now, I’m more experienced, I’m better at knowing how to learn. I have been using more resources as I study these concepts so that I have a better understanding than I would if I only studied from the textbook. But still, I resent not knowing what is expected of me. I resent the lack of respect for my time, by making the exam an amorphous mystery – good luck.

Today, I woke up early. On Tuesdays, that means 8 am, since I teach my first class of the day at 12:30 pm. I woke up early in order to work on class materials for today and tomorrow, in the morning while I’m free to work from home with my coffee and bagel and music. Because once I’m in the office, my productivity takes a hit.

Over the weekend, I had prepared the topic lecture, made the video along side it. I built the homework and online quizzes. I still needed the actual in-class exercise for class today, which is how we spend the class periods for Discrete Math — I spend about 30 minutes lecturing, maybe more time if there’s some example problems to work out — then I have them work in their groups to learn the new material via these exercises. The exercises start them out simple and progressively get harder, with explanations before each section.

Went to my first section of Discrete Math, lectured, and graded things while they worked on their exercises. Home for lunch, then back for office hours for two-and-a-half hours.

I work on my exam for Data Structures tomorrow, which I had started last week but had not finished. My brain isn’t working; I feel restless, cramped, unhappy, anxious. I do not enjoy being required to physically be in a location when I can do the exact same work in other locations. I know how to be productive, I know what environment I work best in, but so many organizations and companies equate “time spent” with “productivity”, that a lot of my time ends up wasted.

I spent a little time video chatting with Rai from my office. I cried for a little bit, because the exhaustion is always there. I miss Rai, and I’m constantly tired, and I’m constantly working.

And then I keep getting arbitrary little tasks that eat up more time – write a short report in response to the departments’ personality tests on how I’m planning on working more effectively with somebody, reformat ALL OF MY SYLLABI because they don’t exactly match the department template (this is my fourth semester, and suddenly?), have weekly meetings on professional development for myself. One faculty member stops by for absolutely no reason, but makes up bizarre excuses to come talk to me, and it makes me hella uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I need to be physically present to show that I’m working. None of these things make me more productive; they make me less productive because I can’t get in “the flow”, they make me unhappy, they make me unhealthy.

I spent most of my office hours reformatting one syllabus. Because that’s a good use of my time.

Went to my night class, taught that. Came home, time to finish up that Data Structures exam for tomorrow – the multiple choice questions are done, and I worked on part of the programming assignment during my class tonight while the students were working. I still have to write the unit tests tonight so that I don’t have to spend as much time afterward on the grading.

I still have to come up with a list of, I don’t know… additional prerequisites for one of my Fall 2017 classes, because arbitrary reasons. I have to update these syllabi now. I have to finish grading my exams from last Thursday’s class. I have a lot of grading to catch up on in general.

I ate cheese in tortillas with some green salsa for dinner. For breakfast I had bagels, for lunch I had chips and refried beans. I don’t go out and exercise, except for the time that I walk to my destinations on campus. I usually don’t get enough sleep. I wake up anxious and feeling like shit. I have nothing to look forward to, because even if there were some new video game or something, I wouldn’t have much of any time for it. I can squeeze in an audio book on my 40-minute commute to KU. I usually watch YouTube clips of late night shows while I’m eating breakfast in the morning.

I still have to find a graduate advisor and set up my committee and write up my degree plan. I still have to do my own homework and study for exams and go to thesis defenses and write reports on them. All the professors are interested in thesis students; I want to do a grad project. I’m a “non-traditional student” who knows what the fuck I want, and I don’t want to spend years on that kind of research. I have ideas for grad projects. I want to do my own thing, get a degree, and open up more career options for myself.

And, as always, my startup gets put on the back burner. I don’t have time, and I certainly don’t have the emotional energy. I’m miserable.

And when people tell me “Work smarter, not harder” or “You have to make time” I just want to scream at them. My partner is stuck on the opposite site of the world, and has been there for the past four full months. Tomorrow is our anniversary. He was given two weeks notice to pack up his life and go back to his home country. On top of everything else I’m doing, I’m also trying to get our fiance visa paperwork done.

I wake up every day with the radio turning on to NPR. The news is constantly about 45 and his shitshow. I worry about the future. I worry about the climate. I worry about my friends and family, especially after this shooting in Olathe of an engineer from India. One of my students was friends with that man. I have students from so many different countries. Everybody deserves to be safe.

I’m so exhausted, but I have so much work to do. I try to get ahead of the pile at night, but it doesn’t help. I work slow, I’m sad. Then I keep getting handed more bs to work on that has no value whatsoever. I started the semester burnt out – the break between winter and spring semesters was not relaxing, with the political climate.

There’s nothing I want to do. I don’t enjoy anything except maybe junk food and sleep. I’m angry that I’m once again stuck where I am. I keep trying to work toward more freedom, but things just get worse.

How I prepare for weekly lessons

Lecture prep with textbook open and video editor open.

Here’s a preview into how I create the content for my courses. I always hated slides straight from the textbook publishers, so I always make my own. I also frequently have to re-teach or re-view content that I’ve learned previously, so the best way to learn is to consume all the information and then be able to regurgitate it in my own words.

For discrete math, I first go through the book and highlight the important bits – definitions, laws, notes about how things work. So much content in textbooks is just fluff… while it can help you gain context for what you’re learning, I wish it were separated a little more… give me the pure information in one section, and the pure exposition in another. Examples after that. Make it easy to parse.

So I come up with what I want to cover – then I usually look line for additional resources. I frequently quote Wikipedia pages on math because it’s easier to cite; I don’t want to get in trouble for quoting the textbook (because proprietary, ugh.) There are also Wikibooks (a, b) on Discrete Math, and other class resources from other universities.

Next, I build my lectures. Yep, it’s a slideshow (built with the open source LibreOffice Impress), however:

  • I try to write out all the information that I want to cover for the chapter in these slides. I hate when class slides are useless on their own.
  • I use the slides to give information, show examples, and give practice problems.
  • I turn it into a video, for students to watch on their own time.

As I turn it into a video, I alleviate some of the shitty parts of slideshows further:

  • I don’t just record myself talking as I run through the slideshow “live”. Nope. I throw the slides in my video editor (kdenlive, also open source), then record my talk for each slide separately (with Audacity, also open source). I put them all together in the video editor. This means I cut out all the “ums”, pauses, and stumbles.
  • I insert in working math by-hand by recording myself working problems in a paint program (GIMP, open source) with my drawing tablet (a cheapo Wacom), recording the screen with OBS (also open source).

 

I’m currently writing the lesson plan for a chapter on logic circuits, which means I pull out another handy open source tool: dia.

Using dia to diagram circuits

It’s dia!!

I’ve found that I’m too busy this semester to actually grade paper homework. With my own homework and studying to do as a grad student, it just isn’t practical. Therefore, I’m also leveraging our LMS (learning management software) to build custom homework questions that are self-grading, and give students immediate feedback.

Creating a quiz in D2L

 

Millennials rock

“demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.”

I think that teachers of the my generation and future generations will end up being more effective because of our experience with various types of technology. Many of us have grown up editing videos, using YouTube, or even making animations (*cough*Newgrounds*cough*…) and when we leverage our experience into our professional lives, we become that much better at creating tools and content. As kids and teens, we learn to be content creators, whether we’re making videos about video games, or programming tutorials, or drawing, or whatever our interests are.

We aren’t afraid of technology, and we pick up the tools we need and teach ourselves. I have a toolbelt full of software for video editing, audio editing, music writing and sheet music creation, diagramming, art, animating, software development, and more. I taught myself to animate as a tween, which is a skill that has served me throughout the years. I began making YouTube programming tutorials when I was about 18, which is another skill that I still build and use today.

We don’t rely on expensive proprietary software to come along and let us teachers achieve what we need – there are tons of tools for all sorts of things, and many are free and open source. And if those tools don’t exist, there are more and more tools popping up for building your own.

We are the generation that creates!

(And is also sleep deprived from too much work. Looks like I’ll get less than 5 hours of sleep tonight…)