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It’s nursing for the future trans-humanists

these are the notes i wrote for a talk i’m giving today at ideawave.  the audience was fairly non technical, so there was a bit of time spent laying the framework for the problem of too few women in technology.


my world is IT operations.  i spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring more women to programming and operational management of software, hardware and work that generally requires a computer science background.   if i draw parallels to the world of science these would be the theorists, the experimentalists and the mechanics that make all the tools and technology work.  the number of women working in technology has been decreasing since the mid 80s by most measures.  i want this to change.

a pencil is technology, your watch is technology.  the text message on your cellphone and correspondence in your gmail account are only new variants of old technology the optical telegraph and the pony express.  the Chappe telegraph sent information over long distances through a character set that was defined by the position of the arms on a semaphore relay system.  this is not that different from characters rendered on a screen today.

these are simply examples to frame that there is nothing new or inherently scary about technology.  Today we have an awful time recruiting girls and women into jobs avocations and careers that are developing or even managing what is commonly referred to as “technology.  I don’t think there isn’t interest.  and this hasn’t always been the case so, what has changed and how can this be reversed?    there is outreach to girls —Barbie can now be a computer scientist.  There has been research about the leaky pipeline that loses girls and women from the field at every turn from childhood through retirement.  For anyone interested, there’s a fantastic book written about this research called “unlocking the clubhouse” by MIT press about the extensive research done at Carnegie Mellon University.  But the problem still exists. not enough women come into the pipeline and it leaks the entirety of our lives.

Technology is everywhere. network access, data access and data capture are all becoming ubiquitous.  our culture is becoming more reliant on external storage and services to stitch together our days – for example google maps helped me to get from my hotel to here, i’ve been tweeting 140 character summaries of these talks all weekend, and I use wikipedia to end more arguments in bars than i’d care to admit.  this information exists in the ether, the tools to access continue to become smaller and eventually become parts of our selves be it metaphorically or physically. (in fact as i was preparing this talk, a tweet came in to just this point).
it’s not a stretch for me as an apple fangirl to say–  I currently consider my iphone, ipad and ilaptop part of ime.

which leads me to nursing!  my mother is an RN and i say the parallels between the skills of a nurse and a database or system administrator are remarkable.

  • i frequently have an an opportunity to give family of the technologically deceased  (say the CTO of a large company whose server has just melted) bad news.
  • i also get awakened at odd hours to answer questions from staff and clients.
  • the first thing I do in the morning is check on all the open concerns from yesterday and do a sort of rounds with the overnite staff for handoff.
  • after major outages, I’ve walked c-level execs through the 7 stages of grieving.
  • i’ve stayed on many-hour long conference calls that could be called suicide watches for other ops staff that were at the ends of their ropes talking them out of doing anything technologically foolish.

just as nursing isn’t for everyone as evidenced by the extreme shortage of nurses in the US at a minimum, perhaps the women who are choosing not to follow IT operations have some reasonable points.

  • most haven’t arrived late to a dinner party they were hosting with takeout pizza instead of the meticulous menu whose component parts are still in the refridgerator because there was a database crash.
  • they don’t get 00:00 calls from midnite staff personnel who want to negotiate a raise right then and believe that they have a superior negotiating position since someone has to be awake around the clock to run a successful network operations center (and i’m sleepy).  I fired that person at 01:00 when i arrived at the office and worked the shift myself.

but i digress.

i choose nursing as my reference career for this talk mostly because it is a such a stereotypically female career that men who are nurses are called “male nurses” explicitly.  wait.  I am frequenty referred to as a female DBA. damn. while i find this ironic and  vaguely sad, the jobs are really similar.  troubleshooting and repair work on complex systems.  one organic, one silicon based. the risks are very different, but that’s one of the reasons I think technology is the better choice for me.

IT Operations is by no means all downside, there are great benefits of future transhumanist nursing most specifically as opposed to traditional nursing.  For example, I’ve never had a client die due to my action, inaction or anything relating to my work (fortunately)  and there are very rarely any unfortunate smells or nasty organic cleanup.

can rebranding and reframing this sort of work be another tool to encourage women to try it?   i’ve done and continue to do outreach. i try to write job descriptions that are more focused on the intangibles of the job than the raw skills and competitive, high risk, high reward portions of the work.  i  host women’s groups to talk about Linux, open source software and databases. i speak where i can about the work i do and talk to anyone who will listen about the fantastic puzzles we get to solve on a daily basis. and yet, there are still (proportionally) only a handful of women in this business I still have to look hard to find women who want to work in IT operations.

i’m reaching out now even further to ask you to please do what you can with girls and women you know to encourage an openness and curiousity about technology.

thank the women you know who work in IT for their skills and encourage them to keep up their good work. they are nurses for the computers of today and the trans-humanists of tomorrow.

i’m going to be one of those early adopters who augments myself early and most of the men i know in IT operations will have a crappy bedside manner — I want to know there are women with good tech chops available in the pipeline to help me out.

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