Amilia St. John April 21, 2016
My name is Amilia St. John and I am the daughter of Alex St. John. Yes, that one. For those not following the horrific toddler meltdown my father has been very publicly broadcasting over the past few days, here is a short summary: My father, a prominent figure in tech because he helped create the Microsoft DirectX technology platform, posted an article recently on Venturebeat claiming that:
“Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations.”
“[he] can’t begin to imagine how sheltered the lives of modern technology employees must be to think that any amount of hours they spend pushing a mouse around for a paycheck is really demanding strenuous work.”
It’s the usual self aggrandizing agenda that older generations like to pedal on days when they need to feed their superiority complexes. My father’s article led to a massive outcry from the gaming industry and a subsequent invasion of my father’s blog by the (rightfully) angry internet masses.
On the blog, they uncovered extremely distasteful recruiting slides and supplemental blogs with revolting opinions regarding women, minorities and the mentally handicapped in the tech industry. Since these findings, countless others and I have found ourselves at a loss for words how anyone, especially someone in a position of power, can think that it is acceptable to broadcast such offensive material.
As his toxic waste trash fire not only is associated with my last name but also my face, I felt compelled to respond to my father’s sexist, ableist, and racist rants.
(Important disclaimer: I have not lived with or near my father for many years and I lead an independent existence. I very strongly disagree with his opinions but have unfortunately ignored them for too many years.)
I am 22, a female, white and currently moonlighting as a “wage slave” (as my dad would call it). I work full-time in technical position (yes, a 9–5 and yes, I am never forced to put in overtime). One could say it is the sort of job that requires me to “move my mouse around a lot.” This can be particularly difficult when the “shackles of my gender” become too burdensome to bear.
But as a woman, to enter this privileged position in the first place I had to face a lot of difficult situations. (And no, none of those situations involved a wrestle with my “victim complex”.) The experience has left me with more than a few opinions about my father’s views on this subject (which are exceptionally vile and wrong).
(The important caveat to this mini age, sex, race debrief is that I cannot speak for the experience of other races, women (and men) in the tech industry. However, the disparity and the need for a change is clear. For an excellent perspective from a black woman in the industry, I highly recommend this article by Erika Joy.)
I wasn’t always going to enter tech. I only hammered that part down around a year ago, but the journey encompasses my entire life. Like my father, I dropped-out of the traditional education system. But unlike many women before me, I received exceptional mentoring and coaching from other technical women in the field and, as a result, I was able to persist in pursuing tech as a career. This access to mentoring is not an option for the majority of women entering tech, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have received it.
I entered tech for the following reasons:
- My interest in the field of software development
- ‘Dat Market / employability / livable wage
- Because lots of people said I couldn’t
- Because not enough women are involved in the tech field
The last reason is the most important and what I intend to discuss for the next several paragraphs. Women make up 29.1 percent of the tech industry, but only 16.6 percent of technical jobs. “Women in technology” is personal to me, and I feel it is my responsibility to share my experiences with other women. In a world where so many women are finally gaining the opportunity for a voice, the tech industry is quiet. And what my father seems to so fundamentally misunderstand is that this is NOT, as he insinuates, a result of women “claiming victimhood.”
(I will give credence to you that there MAY be a very small percentage of women who will perpetually victim-complex themselves out of difficult situations, but my only justification for that is the recent evidence brought to my attention that a percentage of men still believe all women are emotionally vulnerable, self-identified victims. If men like that exist, then perhaps less-than-ideal-women may exist, too.)
I will start with the root of the problem beginning in K-12 education. I was gifted at an early age with the amazing advantage of knowing that tech was an option in the first place. Not only did I know it was an option, I had many family members already working in tech, sharing tech and encouraging me to learn from them. Even so, I found it difficult to make the transition for, unsurprisingly, many of the reasons that plague women entering the industry. Sometimes not feeling intelligent enough, I could not find relatable peers to work with in my classes, and even if I did, purely academic relationships would often be misconstrued as ‘something more.’ Many attempts to solidify my path have resulted in open discouragement from both women and men alike. The worst part is that I have had it extremely easy compared to other women.
The majority of US K-12 schools do not even offer any computer science curriculum in the first place. In fact, only 5 percent of US high schools even offer the computer science AP exam in the first place. As a result, many women enter college without even considering computer science as an option, and may only choose to transition to the major after their freshman year. Even if they do eventually decide to switch majors, it can be difficult or nearly impossible to finish within four years as a late transit. Adding to this adversity, many women and minorities feel intense isolationwhen confronted with the hard reality that they do not fit in with their overwhelmingly male classmates. Worst of all, many women enter into CS majors only to find that they are already hopelessly behind as they discover that their male counterparts already know the material from tinkering in their childhoods. As a result, many women and minorities end up dropping out of the major altogether.
And I can draw the obvious conclusion of what my father would argue from here, allow me beat him to it. “Isolation is good for you, stop being a victim, tough it out”. While I agree that developing a thick skin is important, this isn’t an actionable solution to solve the problem shown by the statistics (although promising developments, are bubblingas the number of CS students at Stanford increases).
(Even if a woman does get thick skin, the joke is on them as woman’s perceived competency drops by 35 percent as soon as their colleagues start to feel that they are being “aggressive”.)
So let’s say a woman does successfully complete a CS degree and enter the career pipeline in the first place, and let’s pretend that her “self-imposed victim complex” doesn’t weed her out early. What happens to her next?
Unfortunately the prognosis remains bleak. After entering the field, women begin to get weeded out of engineering roles in favor of client-facing roles that “perfectly suit” their “stronger social skills.” In my father’s recruiting slides, he advocates for this exactly, quote:
(Dad, if you use my face in an offensive slideshow again I beg you to please at least throw me a bone and put in a more flattering picture. As a self absorbed millennial I have provided the internet with a profusion of selfies in a rainbow of sepia tones. Please choose any of those.)
Widely held beliefs like these are playing a huge role in hindering women from continuing as engineers. While many of these “more social” roles may be high paying, they remove truly technical women from technical jobs, furthering the imbalance. This directly impacts women later in their careersas it has been shown that technical positions are more likely to lead to senior roles in the industry. My father’s suggestion to continue the practice of “promoting” women out of engineering roles will only further reinforce gender norms in the workplace and ultimately harm the supply of senior female technical executives.
And finally, here we are at this written hemorrhoid from my father’s blog:
“Why do young white males tend to be the ones who pick up computers, teach themselves to code, start businesses in their basements with their friends and get rich? It’s an obvious opportunity to everybody isn’t it? If you are a different race, gender, or religion… what’s your excuse? I know of very very few successful bootstrapped tech companies founded by women or blacks.”
By posing an open-ended question, I suppose it’s easy to allow users to fill in the (rather insulting) gaps. My father’s own conclusion being that everyone who is not a white male has a victim complex and is allowing themselves to be held back. It is very convenient to pretend that the reason white males are so successful is because they are the self-starters, geared toward success, etc., while everyone else is simply too lazy, apathetic and whiny to make something of themselves. By pretending this, he shields himself from all of the realities that put white males in a position of power in the first place.
Perhaps rather than pointing out the disparity and using it as an opportunity to belittle and insult ~64 percent of the US population, my father could use this insight as a springboard to reach a more obvious conclusion: Why haven’t people like him used their positions of privilege to help solve the problem? Maybe their attitudes are partially (entirely) to blame?
Consider that as many as 50 percent of women working in STEM fields have chosen to leave over the past decade as a result of hostile, unwelcoming work environments. Rather than telling these women to buck up, suffer in silence and keep working, it would be more effective to address the root of the proverbial elephant in the room: The men (and sometimes women) who believe what people like my father are spewing, and regurgitate it at their female counterparts. The real crux of the issue is that by propagating this offensive ideology (even if it could be just my father trying to get his jollies by instigated fights with everyone on the internet), he is feeding the fire for the dull brained Neanderthals in the industry who actually are anti-women to continue propagating these practices.
And it is from here that I beg my father, for the love of his daughters, to stop hindering our progress as women in the industry and start using his influence to promote positive experiences for minorities in tech.
(And to stop promoting abuse and exploitation of people with Aspergers. And also to stop being an obnoxious lunatic.)
Suppose he does not. Given my allegedly inflexible millennial tendencies and gender inherited victim complex, I have no doubt I will eventually give up on tech and be forced to move in to his home (I hope he has space) where I intend to start my dream blog about the college tuition bubble and how baby boomers ruined our economy.
If you are an individual interested in furthering the fight to improve ratios for women and minorities in the industry, there are so many opportunities to get involved! Start a female and minority hackathon, volunteer to mentor young women and minorities in computer science, or even just start by learning more.
Here is a (short) list of other resources to get you started:
Girls Who Code: An excellent nonprofit with a focus on teaching women k-12 how to code. They make it relatively easy to start (or join) a group in your area!
Code 2040: An awesome site with a focus on blacks and latinos in the coding industry
2020 Shift: Focus on minorities in hybrid careers in the tech business. I love this website because it is all about entering the tech world if you ARE NOT in a technical career.
Code Academy: A great start to dive in to the basics of coding.
Scratch from MIT: This is an amazing tool for young children learning how to code. It teaches children to think logically while removing the syntax hurdles.
Grace Hopper Conference: Grace Hopper is a female and minority focused conference. I have unfortunately never had the opportunity to go but I constantly hear what an amazing experience it is. Students can earn scholarships to finance their trip.