Time for an Introspection

A lot has been said regarding women in tech as of late, and in general I hate every one of those articles; I don’t care for them in the least: they critique a broken system without offering a tangible solution outside of a weary call to action, and thus affect virtually no change whatsoever. Most importantly though, they are universally boring: I want to gouge my eyes out rather than read through to an inevitable and maddeningly boring conclusion that, in reality, merits such a designation purely out of its location in the body of prose rather than by its merit or as a result of its ability to put forth an answer to the academic queries “What’s next?” or “Where do we go from here?” The irony is not lost on me, then, that today I have sat down to write one of these detestable essays. I can, however, take solace in the fact that unlike the vast majority of writers who approach this subject, I have no intention of handling it delicately and only while wearing kid gloves; as I told Sid O’Neill the other day on Twitter, “Call it like it is, don’t hedge, and don’t sugarcoat it — that’s the way to go.” I did not sit down today to write and not offend anyone, and to maintain everyone’s comfortability: too little is accomplished in service of maintaining the status quo in these areas. And on top of that I do, in fact, have an actual solution.

I suppose I have one more thing in which I can take pride, the fact that I have the courage to utter this admittedly provocative statement knowing full well that it will instantly infuriate many: women in tech annoy me. That declaration is not in and of itself the problem, though — I’m calling it like it is, so please try to see past your blind entitlement and self-righteous anger to hear me out — but rather the result, and the causes of that result are the places we ought to inspect, criticize, and change. Telling an overweight person that they look great might be the nice thing to do, and might make them feel good, and might keep everyone in the room happy, but it won’t change the fact that he or she will wake up in a month after a heart attack; being nice and pulling my punches is helping no one in either our hypothetical scenario or this all too real one. At some point, then, it becomes imperative that we address concrete issues in order to move forward towards fixing the underlying causes; today we have reached that point, and so I will say it once more: “women in tech annoy me.” But even so, even in service of attempting to kick-start meaningful progress in this area, why would I say something so intentionally inflammatory?

On one level, I chose to write that sentence even though I will undoubtedly receive a great deal of flak for it because I think we as a community need to get angry in order to rally behind a single banner. In the absence of that belief, I would have taken the middle road everyone else does, chipping away and sanding my cactus of an opinion down until it completely lacked the ability to elicit any emotional response. Perhaps, as Ben Thompson and James Allworth have put forth recently on their podcast Exponent, the apparent existence of a hard and fast ignition point that can be approached time and time again without consequence so long as the issue and question does not cross the sacred line in the sand is a fundamental problem to the tech community that ought to be fixed; for today, however, that is not the issue I wish to tackle, but rather a flaw I seek to exploit in service of furthering my ultimate point. Because all too many of these so-called calls to actions are actually nothing more than obligatory retrospectives condemning the actions of either a company or an individual rather than the call to arms many of these articles pass themselves off as, and that we so desperately need. So get mad, and if that means getting angry at me, then so be it — but I implore you, read this to the end, and then decide if your anger ought to come to my feet in strongly-worded 140 character bursts on Twitter or, instead, ought to go towards affecting — here’s that word again — meaningful change. Because we do need to change, because in saying that women in tech annoy me, I was being completely honest; and thus we have my secondary motive to uttering such heresy.

Every time I see a podcast episode appear in which one of my favorite hosts interviews a female guest, I get hopeful. Call me a sexist, but I have found that women are either as interesting or, often, more interesting than their male counterparts. And so, whenever a female appears on one of my favorite shows, I look forward to that episode perhaps slightly more than I would normally. I will not call out individuals here, though, and designate certain individuals as particularly interesting or enjoyable to hear, for to do so would not only hurt those not mentioned but also let those I do designate stand back with their noses turned up in the belief that what I say here does not apply to them. I refuse to name specific individuals, but — as I said — when I see certain names pop up that I have only heard spoken in somewhat reverent tones up until then, I feel instantaneously hopeful. But then the show starts, and I begin to hear a nervous laugh every few sentences, the guest rambles, and the show goes steadily downhill as it becomes less about the topic at hand and more about a woman involved in tech. I am filled only with disappointment now, because the show I felt so excited to play turned in to nothing more than an hour of petty justification, of someone attempting to prove herself to the world and justify her existence not only on this show, but within the tech space as well. And I hate that with a burning passion — I hate listening to these needy, “I can do this thing too, except maybe even better because” — and this is rarely stated, but goes unsaid as the hosts dance around the elephant in the room — “I am a woman” shows. I despise that desire to prove oneself among anyone young or old, male or female, white or black, but over time I have found it especially prevalent amongst women in tech. And so every time I listened to one of these shows, I would think about writing this article; and today, I finally decided to just so that I could plead — beg — that you women out there writing code and building huge open source projects, and writing prose at massive, widely-read publications, and doing all those other jobs that I don’t even know exist, that you would all just stop trying to prove yourself at every turn.

I, honestly, could not care less if you are a woman: if you have something interesting to say, or do something interesting with your life, then I will read what you have to say and stick around to hear about your job just as I would with anyone else; that is a decision I make irrespective of gender. I have no interest in listening to you tacitly explain your value over and over again. I realize that the tech community is to blame for this, because for all too long it has been an industry dominated by men who look down on women and thus make them feel that they need to constantly prove themselves — I get that. Those are the systemic causes I spoke of earlier, the ones that we ought to inspect, criticize and change, that led me to my remark of “women in tech annoy me”. But how about instead of capitulating, rather than caving to the demands that you constantly justify yourself in a way that your peers need not, how about just doing good work and letting it speak for itself?

Women in tech annoy me — of that, I believe I have made myself quite clear if in no way other than my incessant overuse of the phrase. But would you like to know who do not annoy me? People who do interesting things — not men who do interesting things, but people. That is a very nuanced distinction, but also an incredibly important one. I do not care in the least if you are a man or woman; do something interesting, and I will take note. Justify yourself a thousand times, however, and regardless of your gender, you will forever be lost to me. It’s unseemly and, quite frankly, disgusting to interact with someone whose every word belies an ulterior motive so shallow as justifying their involvement in a particular space. I hate that, and I highly doubt that I am the only one who feels this way. It’s about time you stopped speaking, then, and let your work speak for itself. You do not annoy me because you are a woman in tech; in reality, you annoy me because of what that self-identification has made you become. Change that, and so too will my enthusiasm for your work change as well. Until then, though, I cannot see how you expect to affect any change whatsoever: change must come from both within yourself and from outside of yourself in equal measures. As of today, though, we are only halfway there; it’s time for an introspection.