Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GHC14 Day 2 - keynotes

The day 2 morning session started out with a special surprise guest of Megan Smith, the CTO of the USA. I have to admit I do not follow a lot of politics (I have a low BS threshold) and I had failed to make the connection. I saw Megan Smith talk last year at GHC and was impressed even though she worked with projects outside my direct interests. I did know that the new CTO was a women. I just failed to connect the name and face and experience. It was exciting to hear her talk again but I avoided the long lines at the meet & greet so no photo op for me.

The morning session also included the numbers for the conference: 8000 people in attendance (about 540 men) from 67 countries. That is double last year and like last year, it was sold out weeks before the event. Sponsors were thanked and the top universities and companies sending people to the conference were listed. It was no surprise to see the local schools and large sponsors topping those lists. Companies participating in the Top Company for Women in Computing ABIE Award were recognized with a banner at their booth in the career fair. Unfortunately neither of my largest clients were recognized. Red Hat was present at the conference but Cloudera was not. Companies related to my field where I know employees, such as TerraData and Rackspace were present and also participants in the initiative.

The keynote itself was a discussion between the President of Harvey Mudd College, Maria Klawe and the new CEO of Miscrosoft, Satya Nadella. I was actually impressed with much of what he had to say as it reminded me of things that have worked for me.

  • He believes that everyone has a "superpower". Use your superpowers. Frequently for women the superpower is a sense of empathy. Often it is job related talent. Be passionate about your work, find something worth doing, do it well, drive the technology (and the company) forward. 
  • Women have a low threshold for BS.
  • He is proud of the work done by the women in his company - at all levels - and would not be surprised to see a women follow him as CEO. Several statements relate to a belief that it is about skill, not gender or anything else. All teams need a diverse background, passionate workers, and the right talent. Hiring and promotions are about the right *person* for the job - including his. 
  • He believes the industry can benefit from a re-entry program for returning workers. The term bootcamp was used and attacked as a threatening term but the idea was welcomed. Create a re-entry program that trains returning workers then helps place them in the right job.  It reminds me of many new grad entry programs I have seen. Obviously this is currently aimed aimed at women who choose to take a few years off for family, but if done correctly, could even encourage more men to be the ones to take a few years off for family. Right now it is easier to enter the workforce as a "trainable new grad" with no skills than to find the right job for outdated experience. It is up to the individual to find the training to update their skills BEFORE applying for a job.

Of course there is the now international controversy of asking for pay raises, but he showed up.  He showed up a day early to listen and to see and experience the conference - not just for the hour on stage. After the keynote, he LISTENed to the criticism, he appears to have LEARNed from the mistake, and he is LEADing by example with his apology and moving forward to make change happen. We all have to be willing to have the hard conversations, and with an honest two way dialog and not just a defensive anger. Also, as a side effect, it has brought the pay equity issue back to front page, however briefly.


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