Shelley Powers on gender and tech, and also some of my reflections on how the blogosphere operated at its peak

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I’m gathering notes for a book. Below are some quotes Shelley Powers wrote about women in tech. You will perhaps recall that I quoted Powers often in my essay “RSS has been damaged by in-fighting among those who advocate for it

I notice that her essays from 2003/2007 have suffered quite a bit of link rot. Many of the essays that she linked to are now gone. If there is an argument for RINA to replace the Internet, it is surely around the notion of looking up a hyperlink locally, before looking globally. Though this would involve complex issues of copyright, I’d certainly like to see a regime where linkrot is not an issue because anything linked is likely held in a semi-local region. (I realize that “semi-local region” is an awkward phrase — I mean an app that is not the current app but is also not the global net.)

Posted on 10/31/2003 This is actually from Dori Smith, but I link to Powers, as her site seems most likely to survive the most number of years.

I’ve been working with computers for over 25 years, and I’m at the point now where I don’t recommend that anyone go into this field, and particularly not women. The analogy I usually use is that of pro sports–if you’re going to get into the field, do it for love or for money, but don’t plan on it lasting as a lifetime career.

For love: it’s all you want to do, and it’s okay that either it’ll be a short-term paid gig or a long-term free gig. You do it because you feel driven to do it, and nobody better stand in your way. These folks (both male & female) don’t need any encouragement.

For money: you know it’s not a long-term proposition, but you’re okay with getting in, trying to grab the brass ring and make some serious dollars, and then getting out. These folks (both male & female) are going to pick tech or some other field based on how much money they think they can make in a short-time, and I (personally) don’t really care whether they decide that tech’s the answer for them or not.

The sad thing is that things continue to get worse for women. Smith’s comment was written back in 2003, when the current culture of software startups was just taking shape. In the new culture, it is much more socially acceptable to discriminate against women. The old corporate culture had some pretense of having to care about this issue, whereas the new startup culture focuses on “culture fit” where the “culture” is 5 white or Asian dudes, and no blacks, Hispanics or women.

This next bit is from Dave Winer:

April 17th, 2005

I also see that Shelley Powers has bashed me over the head with the “why-weren’t-any-women-there” cluestick (she posted that in my comments yesterday). I invited a woman, Mena Trott, who never responded to my invite.

But, it is a problem. As I look at the blogmap for Silicon Valley, I see very few female names. And the ones I see don’t write a technology-oriented blog.

Even worse, yesterday Matt Mullenweg hosted a blogger lunch. Open to the public. Anyone could come as long as they were happy talking geek stuff. Ten people showed up, no women.

So, in the future when I’m planning a Seattle geek dinner who will I remember? Who will have built a relationship with me? Who will have shoved a business card in my hand? Who will have gotten me to see their technology? Their passion for technology? Gotten me to link to them?

I’m not going to invite women to blogger dinners just to have gender equality there. Sorry.

He doesn’t say why he won’t invite women bloggers to dinners so as to have gender equality. He feels this is an imposition?

I’m not going to link to everything that Winer has written on the issue, but this one post is sample enough — you can see that he feels the need to personalize the issue. If you read much of Winer, you realize this is an ingrained habit for him. It’s never an issue of “The tech industry should do more to ensure that it is inclusive of everyone who is interested in participating in it” but rather “Who will have built a relationship with me?”

He then contradicts himself by saying he would love to have women at future events:

There will be more events in the future and I’d love to have you there. One other thing: I tried to invite several other bloggers, but I couldn’t find their email address on their blog. This is a huge mistake. Make it easy for us to get ahold of you.

Cool, except women face more harassment online than men do, and therefore they may not want to offer a public email addresses, so that wasn’t an especially reasonable thing for Winer to insist on. (Organized trolling didn’t exist in those years, but there were incidents, such as what happened to Kathy Sierra. And there were numerous incidents that happened to teenagers and younger women who weren’t as well known as Sierra. Although this was long before incidents such as GamerGate helped organize some men to engage in targeted trolling, and I don’t recall any incident as severe as what happened to Leslie Jones this year, the potential for harassment was well known.)

Powers engaged in that conversation:

Thomas, that’s why I didn’t want to follow Scoble’s challenge of who I wouldn’t invite. Then it becomes less a discussion about a subject, and more a discussion on personalities. Leaving that aside, I didn’t pick you — I questioned why you were there if no journalists were included. That’s when Scoble said that no journalists other than those unlike yourself, which seems to be a rather ‘limited’ and specialized criteria.

As for Mena Trott being the only woman in the area having ‘merit’, again without understanding what the criteria is, this assumption can’t help but come across as offensive. I doubt this is what Microsoft intended.

Microsoft, not Scoble. I wasn’t responding to Scoble the person, I was responding to Scoble, the evangelist and employee of Microsoft when I made my original comment–does Microsoft want women to use Longhorn? But Scoble took my comment personally. You (Thomas) took my comment personally. People thought this whole conversation was funny–black bean soup. Then the issue of quotas and ‘lowering standards’ (not to mention women not having the right ‘qualifications’ or enough ‘merit’) was brought up and I took this personally–still do, to be honest. And so on.

A chance for a good dialog on this issue and perhaps making an important point to a major company like Microsoft was lost because all god’s children took it personally.

About Scoble working for Microsoft and mixing personal posts on the same blog where he wrote official Microsoft news, Powers offered this:

As an aside to this topic, and perhaps worthy of separate discussion, if you’re going to write as both an employee and a private individual in the same weblog, you need to consider before responding whether a question or challenge is directed to you, the person, or to you, the company representative. Because though we may limit our challenges to each other based on personal decisions, corporate decisions are, in my opinion, fair game.

For instance, questioning the criteria a Microsoft employee uses to form an invitation only event is not the same thing as accusing Robert Scoble of being a sexist. By responding to challenges personally, Scoble makes it awkward to respond to any of the actions he takes as a Microsoft employee. This, in turn, makes it difficult to have a conversation with the company, and isn’t that the whole reason people are pushing corporations to have weblogs?

And yet, from the perspective of 2016, what I notice here is rather outside the conversation that happened then. There was a kind of hopeful idealism about weblogs back then, this belief that we had discovered a new way of communicating, more personal and honest and authentic. I suspect that we were all still operating with some assumptions that we’d gained from places such as the Cluetrain Manifesto:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter — and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

I’m almost crying about the lost idealism of this. Microsoft engaged in a daring experiment by allowing writers such as Scoble to mix personal and official musings on one blog.

As near as I can tell, that experiment is largely over. I can’t think of any large company that is still allowing that kind of openness. Corporate blogs have reverted to the language of marketing departments.

The Cluetrain Manifesto has been proven false. Whatever advantages a company might have gained via greater openness, most still prefer to keep tight control over what is allowed out to the public.

I suppose you could argue that there are still folks like Sam Ruby and Tim Bray who write what they want, but their blogs are very clearly personal — they are very clearly not speaking for the companies they work for.

Powers then quotes Bob Wyman of PubSub:

On women at dinner: 33% of the Microsoft contingent at the SF Jim Allchin dinner was female. It wasn’t a complete stag party… Robert has made the point a number of times that at least one woman (Mena Trott) was invited. Can’t we find something more interesting to bash Microsoft about?

[Remember: Software was invented by a woman (Ada Lovelace), the term “bug” and COBOL were both primarily because of a woman (Grace Hopper). The first programmers at UPenn, etc. during WWII were women. The world of software has always had more women than most other technical fields. Until recently, the world’s second largest computer company was run by a woman. If you’re looking for sex discrimination, look in some other field. There are only slim pickings here…]

More link rot. It seems that no longer exists. This confirms for me my habit of quoting long sections from any article that I link to. So long as we stupidly continue to use the Internet, instead of something better, we will be facing the problem of linkrot, and I have to assume that any article that I link to will disappear.

Powers responded to Wyman:

To assume that there is ‘no problem’ with diversity when it comes to gender in the computer science or engineering fields is to totally disregard a given fact: look at the speaker list of any major computer or technology conference being held this year, and if you can find at least 25% women, the event is an exception to the rule.

Rather than increasing in diversity the last two decades, the engineering and computer fields have bucked the trends in every other profession by demonstrating a decline of women entering into, or staying within, the field.

Thomas Hawk then attempted to shut down the conversation by suggesting that people should do something positive:

You want to fix the situation? Encourage your daughters to go into computer science. I know I’ve got two of my own and I will. Or how about this, donate some of your time to teaching young girls about computers and getting them excited about the prospects of working in the technology business someday. I’ve donated hundreds of hours of my own personal time this year to help provide private school scholarships and other positive recreational programs for disadvantaged, mostly black or minority, inner city youth here in the Bay Area. Now that is doing something positive.

I’ve seen a scenario play out where someone complains about the lack of diversity in tech, and the complaint makes someone else uncomfortable who then asks the first person to stop complaining and instead do something positive. “Being positive” is not a great way to deal with other people’s discrimination. This applies to politics as much as tech. Recently Van Jones said he would build a “love army” to oppose President Trump. Kara Brown listed all the reasons this is a bad idea in Love is not the answer. And much of that conversation applies directly to the issue of discrimination. Anywhere. Including tech.

Powers responded to Hawk:

The assumption here is that issuing challenges to organizations that show a regretable lack of diversity is not …doing something positive. If we followed this logic to its natural conclusion, we would assume that women still would not have the vote, blacks would still have to take tests before voting in certain states in the South, and the American worker would still be making $1.95 an hour for 16 hour days.

Challenging the status quo has been an accepted practice for bringing about change since governments stopped arbitrarily hanging people who disagreed with them. If an organization, such as Microsoft, is concerned about how others perceive it, it will pay attention to such challenges. Hopefully the company will then respond in a positive manner, and everyone benefits: women (and minorities) from being included; the organization from getting more diverse viewpoints.

And later:

One of the issues that kept the Scoble thread alive for so long is there was a lot of debate about the criteria that Scoble used to select people. It seemed, at least to me that this kept changing as each new challenge arose. This is frustrating for those, like myself, who are trying to understand what the ‘rules’ are.

For instance, if you talk to the male political webloggers, you’ll find them saying that the reason they think women don’t get the attention is that women are not willing to step into the political fray; that we’re too adverse to confrontation. Their advice is that we need to be able to just jump in and hold our own, or we’re never really going to get the respect.

Yet what Chuqui is saying, and I’ve heard this from other guys (and women, too), is that if you do issue challenges, or pursue a discussion aggressively, get angry, fight back, or get into a person’s face in some form, you’re a bitch. Worse, that doing so somehow makes you ‘unwomanly’.

Come on, people: when are we women going to finally be able to kick off our Mary Janes? Rules. I know this is a game, but the rules keep changing. How can women hope to compete for respect (or eyeballs), when you all keep changing the rules? Or worse, define a different set of rules, just for us? Us “womanly” us?

I’m reminded of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s comment, Well-behaved women seldom make history. I would hate to think that weblogging proves the exception to this historical precedent, and the only women who are heard, or recognized, here are those who never rock the boat.

Off topic: I notice that on many of these old posts, on Powers site, the comments have vanished. I have repeatedly expressed my amazement at how terrible all of our existing software is:

Why is the technology for blogs so difficult?

Who will fix blog comments?

(In that last one I tried to express my disappointment that someone hasn’t come up with a plan that gives us global identity, long-term assurance (global persistence) yet local control and also local persistence — but I don’t know that I expressed myself well.)

In “Sugar And Spice” Powers writes about the kinds of criticism she has faced, and she links to some of it.

I find this interesting, one of the blogs was on Blogger, which still exists, yet the whole blog has been erased. Blogger is owned by Google, so in this case the linkrot is not caused by the death of the company behind the blog. But that makes me more curious. Did the author decide to delete their entire blog? Or did Google decided to delete after it had been inactive for a few years? Or was this deleted by Blogger before it was bought by Google? I have no problem with the author deciding to delete their blog, but if this bit of linkrot was deliberate policy from Blogger or Google, I would be very upset. The problem of linkrot is bad enough without these companies making it worse.

Powers refers to comments she got in response to an article she wrote for O’Reilly in 2000.

Response from Lemur Zone:

Since the path of reason seems to be closed, let’s appeal to your self interest.

Standards/Recommendations Compliant browsers will allow designers, developers, artists and writers to code once. In the case of your employer, this alone could reduce the overhead costs of building and maintaining this site by probably 25%. That money could go directly into Mr.. O’Reilly’s pocket. But through thought, word and deed, I believe that he would share the wealth. This means that there could be a raise in your future.

The downside is that all those wonderful books,and I have a few, helping you to work around those innovations and extending them for a certain segment of the market may not be best sellers anymore.

Jeffrey Zeldman’s post has disappeared from the Web, though Powers links to someone who quotes Zeldman:

An article at O’ confuses support for baseline web standards like CSS-1 and the DOM with an ‘attack’ on innovation by an angry ‘lynch mob.’ The author’s false assumptions make for dramatic reading. You can comment on the story via an online form at the end.”

5 years later, in 2005, Molly Holzschlag is working for WaSP, which Powers had taken issue with 5 years earlier, and Holzschlag tries to defend the job that Microsoft is doing, for which she gets some serious flak. Holzschlag then writes:

Somehow by being an advocate and defending Microsoft and doing one thing – asking for patience from the community while all this unravels – has made a lot of people mad at me. This includes friends, some within WaSP and at least two I really have deep personal feelings for. That hurt so much I crawled into a bottle of wine and cried for most of the day.

I’m a sensitive girl.

For some, the idea of standards implementation is work-related, placed in a box, not worried about beyond the end of the day. For me, it’s religion. Why? I really don’t know the full answer to that, but I do know that it has to do in part with wanting to do something that strengthens the foundations of a technology I truly believe can, does and will continue to change the world in positive ways. Give something to the world that matters before I die.

Some women have families, husbands, children and other passions besides their careers. I don’t have those things. Unless I’m at a conference socializing with Web people, I live alone, eat alone, drink alone and mostly move through the world alone caring about the Web and the people who work it with a consuming, fiery passion. You can make fun of me all you want, say I’m wasting my time, I’m Don Quixote, self-destructive, I’m tilting windmills, I should get a life, I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a stupid girl.

And you’d be right.

But I can’t be what I’m not, so for those people I hurt or upset or angered or enraged or whatever it is that I did to deserve the deluge of hate mail in my inbox, I truly am sorry.

Once again I am impressed with how much the personal and the professional crossed over on the blogs that professionals had, circa 2005. Does anything like this happen nowadays?

Powers wrote:

What I found troubling and disconcerting was Molly’s emphasis on being a girl–as if somehow this made the reactions that much more heinous.

…No one is asking Molly to become an automaton, and not to react emotionally to such personal and vicious attacks. And if someone referred to Molly as a whore for Satan, then they used Molly’s sex as a weapon to attack her at a personal level, like so many others have done in the past –using a woman’s sex in stereotypical terms as a weapon. To this person, throwing Molly’s femaleness back at her, using ‘whore’, was the worst that they could do. It was the ultimate insult. You’re not only a woman but you’re a bad woman, as society judges women.

If Molly wanted to re-assert that yes, she is a women, but what does that and her supposed sex life have to do with her work with WaSP, good on her. And if she wanted to respond that, yes, she was hurt by such a personal attack, damn straight she should be hurt–angry, too. But how did Molly respond? She used her sex as a shield. I am a sensitive girl she writes.

I am a sensitive girl.

When you pick up a shield made of the same material as the sword being used to attack you, you don’t turn the attack; all you do is validate the use of the sword.

…Some of Molly’s commenters have said that I’m overreacting. …Their point is good and perhaps I did overreact. I am sensitive to being a woman in tech, and how others perceive women in tech. And if I dislike guys playing the ‘girl’ card, I dislike women doing the same.

Saha of posted a comment on Holzschlag’s blog:

I’ve just read Shelley’s Sugar and Spice blog post and, eloquent as it might be, I still got to the end and said aloud…”Tripe!”

Shelley seems to have dwelled on trivial matters such as whether you should or should not be using certain words or phrases in your blog….(Shelley: it’s Molly’s blog – she’s a person – she can put whatever she likes on her own personal blog!!) And I think this is what you might be eluding to Molly: where some people can’t understand that your site is a hybrid of your professional AND your personal statements.

Wow. Does anything like this still happen? Do professionals still run blogs that are “a hybrid of your professional AND your personal statements”? I am still in love with the blogosphere as it existed in those years, and I would do anything to bring it back.

One thing I like about these years is the way professionals in tech seemed to be asserting their independence from the corporations they work for. The attitude seems to be “Yes, I have a right to express my personal opinion, and my employer has no right to censor me.” I would love to see that spirit revived. There is an echo of the Protestant Reformation in it. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to a church door and asked “If a large multi national power (the church) insists on appointing people to the top position, not because of their knowledge but only because of their political connections, then why should those of us, professionals who’ve devoted our lives to understanding the truth, have to defer our opinions to him?” I’m under the impression that most of our modern ideas about what it means to be “professional” derives from that Protestant revolt, especially the belief that the moral path forward is to state in public what you honestly believe, even if you know you will be punished for it.

I get that Powers was upset with Holzschlag’s use of “girl”, but in retrospect, what I notice most is how healthy the conversation was. Powers and Holzschlag could discuss this in public from platforms they both controlled. While conversations about gender and tech still happen on thousands of forums, this kind of discussion, where each participant talks from their own site, has mostly disappeared.

A few days later, on 4/21/2005 Powers writes:

The nice thing about the current generation of women webloggers and their initiatives, such as Sheroes and Blogher, is these are well organized events managed by strong, dedicated women. Hopefully with their efforts, women will no longer continue to be invisible.

For me, personally, an added benefit is that I don’t feel I have to continue to fight the good fight. After all, I’ve been beating this dog for four years, and haven’t seen that I’ve been particularly successful. I think all I’ve managed to do is dissuade any technology company from hiring me.

Being a woman in technology and challenging the sticky bricks of male domination in weblogging (and elsewhere) has always been a bit tricky because unlike most other professions, the tech industry has not only accepted weblogging, it has created the technology that keeps the heart beating and the words flowing. When you challenge the status quo–such as question the number of women speakers at a conference, a company’s hiring practices, or even men not linking to women, whatever–you’re effectively challenging people who could eventually be a potential employer.

In retrospect, the thing I find surprising is the hopefulness. Because I recall the years of President Bush as dark years. But there was still the sense that the USA was likely to make progress on racial and gender equality. Now we face the reality that Trump will be President and the USA is moving backwards on such issues.

Posted on 7/29/2005 by Powers:

Google’s motto is “Do no Evil”. We have to assume the company includes getting pregnant as an act of evil, according to a recently filed job discrimination lawsuit.

ZDNet writes:

Christina Elwell, who was promoted to national sales director in late 2003, alleges her supervisor began discriminating against her in May 2004, a month after informing him of her pregnancy and the medical complications she was encountering, according to the lawsuit filed July 17 in a U.S. District Court in New York.

Elwell informed her boss in April of 2004 about being pregnant with quadruplets, and that she wouldn’t be able to travel for some weeks because of complications. Her boss, Timothy Armstrong, showed her a chart of the organization with her name removed in May, saying that she was being removed from the position because she couldn’t travel. He offered another position in operations, which she considered a demotion. She countered with a request for the East Coast sales director position, which meant she could continue in her field of interest, sales, and be able to travel for her job, because she could take trains or drive.

After calling Elwell “an HR nightmare” in June, Armstrong expressed that he no longer wanted her at the New York office. The next day he fired her over the telephone claiming he had a “gut feeling” it was “the right thing to do.”

Holding tech giants to high standards in regards to labor actions? How very hopeful.

I want to add one long quote from Melinda Casino, about “mommy bloggers”. This bit seems sad on so many levels, both that this was one of the few places (mommy blogging) women had some success, and also that this kind of business was later killed off by Facebook, and a few other niche sites such as

While I support the mommybloggers and their relative success in making blogging profitable for them, as a woman who has chosen not to have children, I felt alienated by the relentless focus on mothers during the conference.

An audience member got up and contributed a comment during the closing discussion on Day Two. She said something like, “There are a lot of married women with children here…” I thought she was going to segue into making a point about how we’re not all heterosexual married mothers. But to my surprise her statement — and it was just a statement at that point — was interrupted with a big round of applause.

…Clearly the heterosexual, married mothers are who BlogHer is most concerned about catering to.

Two different lesbians told me, at separate points during the conference, that they felt alienated by the assumption on the part of the conference that all women were heterosexual with kids. Two different women told me this, completely unprompted by myself.

They both cited the same two examples:

the lack of any panel that addressed lesbians’ concerns or issues

the condom and baby bib included in the BlogHer swag bag

I must admit, when I got home after Day One and explored the contents of my bag, I was put-off by the baby paraphernalia and condom—and I’m a heterosexual married woman. It was as if the message was: you’re a woman, therefore the only things you must be interested in are issues related to your sexual reproduction. I’m only brave enough to say anything here, publicly in this post, because I had talked with those two lesbians who quite by accident had validated my own reaction.

The first woman I chatted with felt isolated and expressed regret and disappointment that she hadn’t met any other lesbians. There was no organized attempt to welcome lesbians or allow them a space to network. It would be nice if BlogHer could at least acknowledge that a conference putting women first would, of course, draw a lesbian audience.

She went on to make the astute observation that, for the Bay Area, a region that is strongly liberal and has a large lesbian population, this lack of acknowledgement was astonishing. I agree with her.

It’s important to note, too, that the second woman I spoke with had a child, but she still felt that the contents of the swag bag were alienating to lesbians, many of whom were not concerned about contraception, nor having babies.

Those married women with children who started applauding — why were they clapping?

Phil Wolff later said the woman who stood up said there were a lot of “unmarried” women with children at the conference.

Posted on 8/1/2006 by Powers:

I’d already mentioned my concerns about the marketing aspects of BlogHer. These were, in a way, enforced by Lisa Stone’s only mention of the conference at the BlogHer site. In it she discusses the ‘success’ of the women in the keynote panel of the conference; their success, and how, it would seem, the new BlogHer measures such:

If success is the best revenge, revenge must be sweet indeed for this quartet. For today, each of these women todays enjoys kudos from their readers/users (even critics), while at the same time being able to point to cold, hard facts such as Web traffic and revenue that demonstrate their ideas were worth pursuing.

Is that the true mark of a good idea within weblogging? Web traffic and revenue? Not writing or worth of the thought or the person…web traffic and revenue?

Women make up 50% of weblogging. That used to be a rallying cry, demanding that we be heard. Now it’s been reduced to facts and figures to place in front of the likes of Johnson & Johnson, GM, or some condom maker. This is influencing, heavily, the direction BlogHer seems to be taking.

While Bush was President I often thought that the USA was suffering a dearth of idealism, but looking back I see an abundance of in the writing about the early weblogs. That was such a hopeful time for the ways the technology could help society. We now know that Facebook and Twitter killed off the community interactions of independent blogs, and the Web became vastly more commercial and the Buzzfeed model of simple-minded clickbait killed off a lot of the attempts at serious writing. But for awhile there, in the 00s, it was possible to think that blogs could offer humans (or at least a somewhat elite slice of professionals) a better way to have public conversations.

A tiny shred of the old hopes still survive for some very small niches. The economics profession has had some very good debates, in the old style, helped along by Mark Thoma, who informally plays the role of debate organizer, by linking to everyone important in the profession who writes something good. I wonder if what Thoma does can be made more general?

The fact that the blogosphere still functions for the economics profession suggests that it could again work for other professions. A large puzzle, that needs to be figured out, is how we got to a situation where the blogosphere works for economists but not the tech professionals who create the technology that allows the Web to work? Tech professionals were greatly over-represented in the early blogosphere, but not now. Tech professionals still have blogs, but no longer the active back-and-forth conversations that economists still manage to have. This is actually a bit amazing.

Posted on 6/17/2007 by Powers:

If you’re an older woman in tech you’re faced with a double whammy. In the last post, we discover we’re too old to ‘hack the web’. However, we’re also not considered much of a programmer, either. Or at least, that’s what I read from the table of contents and authors for the new O’Reilly book, “Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think.”

Out of 39 authors, only one is woman, and she’s a co-author of one chapter.

…the point is, before the book is written; before the conference is finalized; before the event is over — you have to think about asking before it’s too late, rather than as damage control after the event.

Ravi Mohan follows up in the comments by making this bizarre remark:

If you are saying there should be more women in a list of good developers you *have* to show a list of candidates!

Uh, what? Surely that is the responsibility of the author and the publisher, not the reviewer. When has a book reviewer ever been held responsible for the problems in a book?

In the USA, the percent of women seeking higher degrees in computer science peaked in the 1980s and has been declining since. The sad truth is the USA is moving backwards on the issue of women in tech.

In a later comment, Powers says:

The challenge is that women’s achievements are not as publicized as men’s, which means that our names may not come readily to mind. There has to be _some_ commitment toward diversity, to go the extra mile in order to find technical women who would be a good fit.

Over time, as women’s achievements are more publicized, the extra effort won’t be needed. But it does start with a commitment — a belief that the work (job, book, presentation) will be better if it represents more diverse viewpoints.

But in these threads, people demand a ‘list of women’, as if we’re all interchangeable parts on a shopping list ready to be bought. It is not very useful and frankly, a little demeaning. We all have our own unique strengths and interests. Not all of us do tech the same way. And no, not all of us want to be approached for these opportunities, which is why we need to extend beyond the same small group of well known (in weblogging) women.

“There has to be _some_ commitment toward diversity” is the obvious point that some plainly answer with “I have no such commitment”. And no doubt this is going to get much worse under President Trump, as every kind of white male bigot will be emboldened to go on the offensive.

10 to 15 years ago I read Powers often, so it’s interesting to go back and re-read these posts. A few thoughts hit me, all of which I’ve had before, but today’s readings have reinforced for me:

1.) Things are getting worse for women. Things were stalled for a long time, and the momentum will shift further under President Trump. 10 years ago there was the presumption that eventually the USA would make progress toward building a more inclusive society. Now it is certain that the USA will move away from that ideal.

2.) A blogosphere of independent blogs, with each blog controlled by the person who is writing, functions as an elite tool that empowers professionals to push back against the corporations that employ them. Again, the analogy to the Protestant Reformation seems obvious. I forget which historian argued that the Protestant Reformation was the inevitable outcome of the invention of the printing press, but that argument would apply to the invention of the Internet and the rise of a blogging. But it’s important to note, it’s not the individual blog that empowers the individual blogger, it is only the social act of linking to each other and engaging each other in conversation — that is, it is the blogosphere, not the blog, that shifts power to the professionals.

3.) The Internet sucks and the Web sucks. Both are obsolete. IP 1.0 was finalized in 1973, and Jon Postel had finalized IP/TCP 4.0 by the spring of 1978. Most of the worlds Internet traffic is still IP 4.0, unchanged in 38 years. HTTP was first published in 1989. We can do much better than this nowadays. All of the things that researchers have suggested over the years: local routing instead of global routing, priority packets (I would leave Net Neutrality to the political process), bi-directional hyperlinks, etc. How many decades do we have to wait before we get these things? When do we start working on these things?

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