[BATN] Bay Area gas at record high; experts cite ethanol

James Rogers jamesr@best.com
Sun, 16 Mar 2003 13:16:50 -0800

On 3/14/03 9:17 PM, "Owen Byrne" <owen@permafrost.net> wrote:
> Adam L. Beberg wrote:
>> Females? WHERE?!? In all seriousness I have never worked with a female on
>> any of my day jobs. Never. Sure a secretary or whatever the PC term for that
>> is now, but you can't really count those.
> Again - step away from the epicenter, down in status and suddenly
> they're everywhere - insurance companies and
> banks especially are full of women working with 4GLs and screen painters
> and stuff. maybe its not programming
> to me and you - but its still IT work. And when it comes time for
> promotion - well they have communication skills,
> while you were hired to be the "nerd."

I think this comes down to imprecise definitions.  There are lots of women
that work in the Greater IT Department of a company, but almost none in the
core engineering parts.

In my experience women make better sysadmins than men on average, but
because they are less territorial, more organized, and easier to work with
in this capacity on average.  I tend to hire lots of female sysadmins.  At
the same time, virtually every really brilliant engineer I've ever known was
a man.  Anybody can sling Java or C++, but very few people working in IT do
anything that I would consider serious engineering anyway.  "Engineering" is
a used and abused word in IT and doesn't apply to 95% of what people in IT

A person's experience with the IT gender balance can vary a lot depending on
the type of IT organization they work within.  If you are doing a lot of
theoretical work, technical R&D, or hardcore engineering in general,
qualified women are almost nowhere to be found.  If you work in a corporate
IS/IT department (i.e. the kind with a help desk somewhere and lots of
admins), then there is no shortage of qualified women working there.

On interviewing IT people:

I interview a lot of people, both men and women, for technically demanding
engineering positions.  My primary filter is asking them a small number of
technical questions that, while not particularly meaningful questions in
themselves, can only be reasonably answered if the person has an excellent
conceptual grasp of the underlying subject matter and can apply it
intuitively.  For the purposes of real engineering, I need to know 1) if a
person really understands the fundamental principles of the subject, and 2)
if they are able to easily follow the consequences of those principles in a
hypothetical scenario.  Engineers need to fully understand the consequences
of design decisions.

Many years ago I used to interview people based on what they knew and what
they had done (essentially textbook answers) for various positions.  While
this worked well for hiring good sysadmins it was very spotty for hiring
really good engineers, and so I adopted the above described method for
weeding out the good engineers from the poor engineers.  As time has shown,
it is a very effective way of identifying a person who will make a good

One thing that I noticed though, was that I personally have *never*
interviewed a woman who could pass my new interview regimen.  The questions
I ask are pretty standardized, so both men and women have to run the same
gauntlet.  One thing that is clear is that most have very large gaps in
their understanding of the fundamental conceptual framework, particularly
women.  To be fair many men in IT have this same problem, but there are
still a number of men that demonstrate that they not only grok the
underlying concepts but that they can apply the theory on an ad hoc basis to
come up with answers to questions.  The engineer "hit" rate for people that
pass this test is very high, and I don't know of a filter that gets better

I've been put through the same kind of tests when being interviewed for
engineering and architecture jobs at other companies.  If the experience of
these other companies is anything like my own, it is no surprise why the
core engineering departments are almost completely male.  Many male
"engineers" don't make it through this filter and virtually no female ones
do.  I'm not going to speculate on why this is, since it seems to boil down
to only a few people really grokking engineering, and essentially all those
people being men.

Incidentally, if anybody here has some good interview questions in this
vein, I'd be interested in hearing them so that I can use them later. :-)


-James Rogers