Posts Tagged ‘nicole sullivan’

Comic Update: Digging Delicious’ Grave

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Today’s comic features Yahoo employee Jonathan Snook and (former employee) Nicole Sullivan getting the Squirrel’s help in digging a fresh grave.

I use Delicious. (That link may not work much longer… Hooray for link rot.) A lot. Heck, just today I was updating my (last minute) Christmas wish list by cleverly attaching the “wishlist” tag to items I wouldn’t object to seeing in my stocking. Fellow Mindfly designer Erica literally shrieked when she learned of the site’s fate, and is now scrambling for some replacement location to store her lovely bookmarks.

I can’t say I know how Delicious was supposed to monetize, but I’m getting tired of the amount of future deadlinks Yahoo seems to be putting the world through, first with GeoCities and now Delicious (and others) and who knows what in the future. Flickr?

I hope not. I actually pay for Flickr. And how the heck else will I share my cute cat photos? Yfrog? Gag.

There’s options out there to export Delicious bookmarks into. I’m considering my options, but at the moment, Pinboard is getting a lot of recommendations on the tubes.

Rest in peace, Delicious. You didn’t deserve to die so young.

Comic Update: The Ladies Room

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Today’s comic addresses the incredibly delicate topic of gender representation in web development in the most logical of locations: the women’s bathroom. It happens to feature Elaine Nelson, Nicole Sullivan, Naepalm (the chinchilla version of Janae Weidmaier) and the Squirrel wearing a pink bow.

Disclaimer: It uses the word penises.

Which may be inaccurate. Is the plural of penis actually penii?

I’m going to now take a moment to strap on the sort of safety helmet that special children get to wear, because I’m about to do something extremely questionable: offer my opinion on the subject of gender and the workplace. It’s based on my experiences, on the conversations I’ve seen from others on the topic. It may have some suppositions, but lacks any sort of hard research as I left my lab coat in the wash.

The Background

First, the topic recently reared its head in my field of vision with the post Woman in Technology by Nicole, which discusses exactly that. Joe Clark took some issue with some of the post’s points, and wrote his own piece My fundamentalism is better than your fundamentalism. Lastly (well, this stuff never ends, but lastly in the chain I’m addressing) Elaine took issue with Joe’s piece and added her own voice to the discussion with Reaction Rant.

Where I’m Coming From

When women in web technology rises up as a topic, I get nervous. The Squirrel is a male red squirrel, but Kyle Weems (aka me) is a straight white middle-class American male in his early thirties. I’m the sort of person that women turn to and inform is the reason society is where it is today (and usually not in the positive feedback sense.) No, really, I’ve had female friends tell me my people (white males) are the reason the world is messed up. With more cuss words.

So when the storm hits I’m usually looking for a tree to hide in before the lynch mob arrives.

The topic becomes more surreal for me because I work at Mindfly Web Design Studio, a company that makes websites that is based in Bellingham, WA. I am the only male employee of the company. Granted, two of the three owners are men. One is a woman. But each of the other four employees are women. I’ve taken advantage of the situation to twice write about Ada Lovelace Day to discuss the identities of my female coworkers, but to quickly lay it out, they are: project managers, designers, coders, content writers and content strategists. If a bus hit the men at my workplace, the women could make a website without us.

Mindfly organizes and runs an event called Refresh Bellingham, which is to promote and inform people about web development. It’s really geeks and beers talking about making websites. Despite what you may think when you hear “geeks and beers”, and although the attendee population of the event is more male-skewed than my company, it still has a notable percentage of female attendees. Something in the 30-50% range most of the time.

So when I hear about women in technology being an issue, I’m in a place where I can understand the issue exists in the same way that I understand that tiger attacks are bad. I’m intellectually aware of the problem without facing it personally.

Inclusion For Women

So we’ve got a problem in the world at large which is not enough women in computer sciences, specifically in web development (for the purposes of my conversation). Ok, this is a fact. Or, rather, that there’s proportionately few women in the field is a fact. Nicole’s article doesn’t ask for a specific ratio of men to women in the field, actually. She rather asks that the criteria for joining the field (aka, the schooling) be focused more on gender-neutral traits rather than the “code-cowboy”. (I’ve actually never seen code-cowboy behavior as she lists it being rewarded, so I’m taking it on faith that this system exists.)

Joe’s response is more pointed, challenging the concept of under-representation and in his words:

“Any claim that women are “underrepresented” in a job is actually an order issued to women to make a career choice other than their own. It is an order, to paraphrase Sullivan, to become not a veterinarian’s aide but a vet, not a dental assistant but a dentist, not a medical assistant but a doctor. It’s also an order to fire men to make room for women, since no job category has unlimited growth (and to achieve a desired 50/50 split would require hiring nothing but women for years or decades). That’s what you’re really saying when you make the claim that women are “underrepresented”: That women haven’t made the right choices and that men need to be displaced.”

I’d say Nicole’s article is more about encouraging more women into the field than setting targets on acceptable levels that must be maintained. (I couldn’t find a reference to under-representation or a desired ratio in her post at all.) So Joe’s rhetoric seems more broadly aimed at past discussions on the topic than Nicole herself.

My thoughts, fueled by only a single frappacino this morning, are that an attempt at an even ratio is at best an artificial effort that’s potentially as pointless as making sure that fifty percent of all nurses men. There just may not be enough proportionately even interest between the genders to make that realistic without essentially forcing out interested people of one gender for disinterested people of the other.

But on the flip side, we should be doing are best to ensure we’re not selectively removing the opportunity for women to enter the field by encouraging bad traits that (a) women are less likely to have and (b) aren’t really that beneficial to anyone anyhow. (Really, read the “code-cowboy” section of Nicole’s post and ask yourself if you’d tolerate that dick. I wouldn’t.)

I’m not sure, myself, what tools best provide opportunities for both genders, but I found that Nicole’s “good developer” qualities are things that anyone I’d want to work with would possess, regardless of what is in their underpants.

The Nagging Fear of White Men

Where things start to get ugly is when opportunities start becoming crafted for one gender only to help fuel this effort to bring more members of that gender into the industry. Nicole references Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf, which apparently was a trigger for a lot of the ugly behavior that followed.

Why does this make men nervous, disdainful or petulant?

Consider the following: According to A List Apart’s 2008 survey (which admittedly may not represent the entire industry), 16.2% of the respondents were female. If for the sake of encouraging diversity 50% of the scholarships, sponsorships and conference panel slots went to women for the sake of improving visibility and access to the industry, that means that 83.8% of the industry’s population is fighting for half of the opportunities while the other 16.2% got the other half.

Now, that’s an arbitrary percentage of numbers. It could be argued that for the social, greater good this is a needed effort to improve the ratio in the industry and provide role models for women. But for John Doe, it may not be to his perceived personal good when he finds he’s got a disproportionately smaller piece of the pie because he has the audacity to be born with a penis, and now has to fight even harder for his piece of the pie.

You can say that it’s all good, because there’s enough Johns being represented out there, and it’s high time Jane got her due. Awesome. Yes. I agree Jane needs more face time. But it still hurts for you when you didn’t get to go to a conference because you couldn’t personally afford it. If you’ve been excluded before for your gender as a woman, you should consider that it doesn’t feel any better for men either when they come up against it. And just because there’s a million successful men at the top doesn’t mean the men at the bottom are getting an easier time of it. When enough of these highly visible opportunities appear that you’re by default excluded from, the fear kicks in: Am I going to have to do this all on my own?

The above was an explanation of where the ugly can come from: fear. It is not an excuse. It does not excuse petty, jealous, bigoted or ugly behavior.

Nothing does.

I am personally glad female students got an opportunity to go to JSConf. Would I have loved to have someone pay my way? Absolutely. Could I afford such a trip on my own? No. Does it suck for me? Sure. But taking that out on people who equally deserve an opportunity is just low caliber behavior, and I won’t be a part of it.

Petty Goes Both Ways

It’s not just men, though, that are at fault with the poor behavior.

Rebecca Murphey participated in a Twitter exchange on this topic, sending off a response to John-David Dalton that went as follows: “having to like dick jokes, having no peers, having ppl make sexist jokes & grope you .. definitely not barriers, nope.

Now, the tweet Dalton wrote about perceiving no barriers to women in CS professions was (in my opinion) incredibly naive. But there’s nothing more distasteful to me than a lump statement about men that makes us into sexual predators or highschoolers. Every time the topic of gender in the industry comes up I see someone using this argument: the concept that men are predatory, juvenile, hostile workspace-creating monsters.

Let’s get this straight. Some people, of both genders, are predatory and juvenile. They represent, at best, a small fracture of most of society. The fact that men dominate a field does unfortunately means that the bad apples in that field are going to be men. But I’m tired of being lumped in with them. I’m not a groper. I’m not telling dick jokes around the ladies. I’m not putting bikini shots in my presentations. These people exist, and they need to be called out for the monsters they are by members of both genders. But to use them as an example of how all men are bastards is as irresponsible as using shrill prima donnas as the example of how all women are bitches.

If we’re going to responsibly tackle the difficult topic of gender in the industry, we need to engage one another in good faith. Period. Knocking over burning barrels of trash isn’t going to elicit the kind of reaction anyone wants, and the fact that our field of debate is the Internet means the fires always burn hotter.

Elaine’s response to Joe’s post loses some of its credibility due to this very issue. To quote her: “Fuck you. No, seriously. Fuck you.

I get it. It’s a rant. It’s also going to get this dialogue nowhere fast. Right when I hit this phrase, I started losing sympathy for Elaine’s post. This is a shame, because I 100% agree with the “TLDR” statement she used to sum up her rant: “Men and women need to be able to pursue the careers that are most fitting to their talents and interests. They aren’t always able to do so now.”

I feel sorry for her mother’s experiences, but when she told Joe to fuck off, she lost any maturity points she had above the jealous, petty men who got ugly about Google sponsoring women conference attendees. If we can’t respect the people we’re in a conversation with, we have no chance to create a common ground for the future. This constant need to burn down our ideological opposites in every arena is what makes the Internet so damned burdensome at times.

Also, last I checked, it never solves anything. Let me check here. Joe, did you turn around your views from being cussed at? No?

Cake: Eat It or Have It

Lastly, I want to address an issue of hypocrisy to me.

Recently I participated in a short Twitter dialogue about Girl Geek Dinners, which Nicole made a tweet about desiring to attend. I found it somewhat hypocritical to advocate inclusion for women while practicing exclusion for men. The responses from women I got were to the effect of “standard geek dinners are by default male geek dinners.” This may be true elsewhere, but see my bit near the top about my own experiences. Also, if it were explicitly “men only”, would it be sexist? Would it be exclusion?

I encourage female participation in any form of geekdom. I encourage making it explicitly female-friendly to ensure a more likely attendance ratio. But to quote Matt Wilcox: “Gender based exclusion is sexist, whichever way around. Can’t cake and nom.


* Yes, I’d prefer to see more women in the industry, and encourage good developers over code-cowboys.

* Petty, ugly discriminatory or inflammatory behavior from both genders makes the discussion more difficult and solves nothing and regardless of what sort of fear motivates it.

* Constructive dialogue is important.

* You cannot practice exclusion while preaching inclusion without losing credibility.

* Cake is delicious.

Edit: John-David Dalton clarifies his experience and viewpoint on the women in web development issue at his blog here. Sometimes we all (myself included) forget how unforgiving 140 characters can be. Knowing where he comes from puts a much better perspective on his participation in this most recent process. Thank you, sir, for elaborating.

Comic Update: Robot or Not?

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Today’s comic finishes (finally) the An Event Apart “storyline” that starts here, and has part #2 here. It features AEA speakers Andy Clarke, Nicole Sullivan and Ethan Marcotte. It also features Naepalm, the chinchilla alter-ego of Janae, one of my fellow Mindfly Web Studio designers. The comic also has a brief cameo by everyone’s favorite archaic browser complication: the dreaded hasLayout.

It’s been a long journey to crank out these three comics, which highlight some very important points. First, continuity in a web-design commentary webcomic is difficult at best. Second, that cheese tidal waves represent the best of all possible worlds. Finally, that An Event Apart: Seattle was an awesome extravaganza and Janae and I are still trying to squeeze out all the drops of precious information we absorbed into Mindfly’s waiting arms.

One of my favorite presentations was Ethan’s Dao of Flexibility, which discussed adaptive layouts and fluid grids in detail, opening my eyes to the real power of the world of media queries. I’ve been tinkering away in my acorn-filled lair since the conference, working away at a new design for this site that harnesses these arcane techniques for my own dark purposes. From time to time, I have to pause and laugh with evil glee.

Thanks, AEA.

We’ll now return to my regular schedule of making fun of HTML5 politics and Opera.

Comic Update: Push To Dispense Free Cheese

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Today’s comic continues the storyline started by the last episode in a display of continuity rarely tolerated here. It continues the celebration of my attendance at An Event Apart: Seattle by showcasing many of the speakers of that groundbreaking event: Andy Clarke, Nicole Sullivan, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, Aarron Walter, Jared Spool, Luke Wroblewski, Jeffrey Zeldman and Dan Cederholm. Also making a noteworthy appearance is Naepalm, the chinchilla alter-ego of Mindfly Web Studio co-worker Janae.

It also is my response to Jeremy Keith’s challenge (made at the event) to create an icon for “Push to Dispense Free Cheese.” I dare anyone else out there to do better.

No, really. I want to see that.

For the past couple of years I’ve followed the going-ons of An Event Apart through the Twitterscape. The inaugural comic of CSSquirrel featured AEA: New Orleans 2008 (and Andy Clarke’s underpants.) This year was the first opportunity I had to attend in person. It blew me away.

Let’s start with the speakers. They are top notch, cream of the crop, cutting-edge members of our website-making industry. They aren’t just paving cow paths (HTML5 philosophy notwithstanding). They’re kicking down the door of the future and lighting up places we’ve never been before. Even better, they’re sharing these cutting-edge thoughts with the rest of us.

I am fully incapable of transcribing in a single blog post what I learned there. It took me eight hours of working alongside Janae to figure out how to compress this information into what became four hours of presentation for our esteemed Mindfly colleagues, and that was with access to informative slides. So instead, let me point you towards some online writings that sum up the event and the lore contained within:


As awesome as the speakers were, another amazing component of the conference was the attendees. I live in lovely Bellingham, WA. It’s about two hours north of Seattle, is nicely sandwiched between mountains and the bay, and is a great place to live. It is not, however, literally crawling with web designers in the same fashion as large cities like Seattle or New York. So to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of invested, devoted website-making peeps is a heady experience. With people coming from design studios, universities like UW, and even sites like I Can Has Cheezburger, it made for a great opportunity to talk shop with people of all different web design backgrounds.

At some point in the recent past I saw someone ask on Twitter if it was worthwhile to pay for a conference for information they could get later on a blog. I can say for certain that yes, it is. There is a quantity of data being that is shared in live meetings that any attempt by myself or others to fully regurgitate in writing is incapable of matching. Speakers absorb earlier comments by their fellows, incorporating ideas into their own presentations. Crowds at lunch and after-parties discuss the merits of the ideas discussed, bringing the focus of several hundred minds to the same issues in one short period of time. Friends known online become real concrete people with a firm handshake, a booming laugh, and other qualities that engrave the real feel of who they are.

Note to self: I forgot to actually acquire one of Dylan Wilbank’s excellent business cards. Dang it.

There’s one more comic that will finish this year’s AEA storyline. But knowing the quality of this event, having finally experienced it firsthand, I can tell you it won’t be the last time AEA gets the squirrel treatment.

Meyer, Zeldman and everyone else that made my two days in Seattle so awesome: Thank you.

Comic Update: Do Browsers Dream of HTML Sheep?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Today’s comic, the first in a small An Event Apart related storyline, features Andy Clarke, Nicole Sullivan, Pete LePage and Naepalm in a future where rogue browsers must be “retired” by browserrunners.

It touches on what people may find hard to believe: Microsoft (like us) wants IE6 to die, already. In less than two hours after I post this, Pete LePage is going to get in front of the AEA audience and tell us that very thing.

I’ve got to get back to listening to more awesome speakers. Enjoy! (And if you’re at AEA, feel free to say hi to the guy in the CSSquirrel shirt. I don’t bite.)