Hey Silicon Valley--I Have a Gender Equality Solution for Ya!

There has been a lot of talk for years about women in STEM, from trying to get girls to fall in love with science and technology, to getting women to stay in the workforce once they’re trained, a lot of time and effort has gone into studying this problem. Decades of research, funding and programs later and we still have an issue, almost 40% of women leave the field, yet we’re still not entirely sure why.

I applaud programs that seek to encourage females to enter STEM careers and stick with it. I myself have been lucky enough to have been a part of many. But there is one age group that no one is paying attention to: women in their middle age who majored in engineering, but took time off to raise children, that are now empty-nesters.

I know, I know. Why would anyone bother with a 45 y.o. woman, but hear me out. We spend money on programs to train young girls in the sciences, we spend money on programs to get young women to major in engineering. We spend tons of money trying to figure out how to keep them and support them as they raise their children. Yet that’s where it ends. If you chose to leave to raise your kids, you’re gone, forgotten, and let go. But many of those women are done raising kids, and only in their forties. Why not spend some money re-training them and getting them back into the lab?

According to PewResearch in 2014, 29% of women were stay-at-home-mothers. It’s hard to find the data to see how many of them were STEM majors, but of the 40% of women who leave STEM careers, about a quarter of them do so to raise families. This means they didn’t leave because they no longer love engineering, they just chose to take time to raise their kids.

Many of these women are now in their mid-forties and their kids are on the way to college, which leads me to wonder, just how expensive would it be to train these women to become coders and technology workers today? With all the coding bootcamps out there, as well as other retraining programs, why not recruit from this group of women to fill not only your technology needs, but also to balance gender in the workplace?

A few years back, Apple and other big-name companies began offering female employees money to freeze their eggs, with the idea that they can invest in their careers until their late thirties/early forties, and then begin their families. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of “Sequencing," made popular by the book by Arleen Rosso Cardozo in the early nineties. The idea being that women can have it all, just maybe not all at once. This works for certain types of women, particularly those who enjoy diving deeply into their careers and find the work/family balance to be too difficult.

We all agree that a woman can begin her family at age forty, and that in some ways, she may make an even better parent than she would have when younger, given her life-experience. Then why not say the same about a woman in her forties and her career? If we’re physically and intellectually capable of handling an infant at forty, we’re certainly physically and intellectually capable of coding in our forties. Having done both, trust me, the infant is way more difficult.

So why not include Gen X female engineers who are done raising their families and ready to return to work in your recruitment plans? Why not spend some money retraining them, and growing your female base from this older stage of life, rather than only investing in young girls and college aged women?

To help get the conversation started, here are five reasons to consider recruiting Gen X engineers who are done raising their kids:

1.       They’re already in love with engineering! You don’t have to convince them math is beautiful, or that software rules the world, they already know this. As young girls they were interested in STEM fields and pursued them in college. They naturally have the mindset of an engineer, raising children doesn’t change that. And many of them have just spent twenty years or so raising their own engineers and science loving offspring, like Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom, and many of her website’s followers.

2.       They already have engineering degrees. True, the technology has changed, but most have a foundation in engineering, math or computer science. You might be coding in Javascript and Ruby, but C++ is still the sixth most popular language in GitHub, and most of these women have ten+ years using that language before they took time to raise their families. With this foundation, they can easily be trained how to write code using today’s tools and development environments.

3.       They know how to adult. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Women in their forties got their shit together, and they can manage a performance review just fine. In addition, they don’t suffer the same social media/Tinder/out of control rents/roommate issues that younger employees who are just launching from home are dealing with. A woman who has raised children to adulthood is the ultimate adult herself.

4.       They’re done raising kids. This is a big one, and both men and women wonder how to balance work and family. While we still need to continue the important work of bringing that balance to the workplace, many women in their forties are done with this part of their lives and find themselves empty nesters with lots of time to invest in their careers.

5.       They’re excellent program managers. Many educated SAHMs are deeply involved in their communities and often serve in executive roles on school boards, church leadership committees, and other clubs that their kids are involved in. Many also have blogs, write books, and share their love of technology on social media. They haven’t been lounging around eating bonbons the past twenty years, rather they’ve been putting their managerial and intellectual talents towards the next generation. This means that even though they might not have run an international software release in a while, they have for example, overseen the development of a new building for their kid’s school, or launched a new coding club for their kids, or even founded a soccer or gymnastics team. They drew upon their natural leadership skills to do this work, often for free, as a service to their children and the community at large. This capacity is a part of who they are, and all of those skills transfer to the latest apps being developed in the valley.

So there you have it Silicon Valley. Everyone knows you have a gender issue, and I applaud all of the nationwide programs that serve our girls and young women in this way. All I’m suggesting is taking a look at the 25% of Gen X engineers who left to raise their kids, and encouraging them to come back and be a part of the future of your business. What do you have to lose?

Is Hacking an Act of War?

See that picture? It's me, eight years ago, holding a sign that reads, "Dear Barack, Thank you for all your hard work. You had me at Hello."

I’d been in love with Barack Obama, for years, since his election as an Illinois State Senator. His book, “Dreams from My Father,” spoke of a man who represented all the progressive values living within my then thirty-five year old heart. Yes, I know that to be a liberal is a dirty thing these days, but my progressive values are really very simple: that all humans have the right to live a meaningful life. This means they can find work that provides their most basic needs, healthcare to stay fit and well in the body, roads, heat, clean water and air, upon which to rest their dreams. The freedom for all, regardless of race, gender or creed, to pursue an education of the mind, spirit and soul. Bodily autonomy for women and the planet. And most of all, and end to war.

I don’t think this makes me insane, crazy or dirty, and in 2008, when I voted for Barack Obama to be our president, I thought that finally, for the first time in my adult life, there was a man who would carry those progressive dreams to the White House, and beyond.

Today, as he says goodbye and our first Twitter Troll president-elect gears up to take his place, I am heartbroken, for I was so wrong, so very wrong, about President Obama, and the world in which we live. There are so many ways in which a president can fail us, and he’s certainly not the first, but in my mind, the greatest failure is the increase in what I will call, “quiet” military engagement, namely in the form of drones and cyber warfare.

To be fair, neither of these things were invented by this administration, but the man ran on an anti-war platform. He was against the Iraq war and promised to end our military engagements overseas. Actually, he may have just said he’d bring our troops home, which he did for the most part, replacing them instead with drones and airstrikes that define any male over the age of eighteen a combatant, whether he’s carrying a gun or not. The war may have been started by Bush, but Obama took it to a whole new level. Last year alone, we dropped 26,171 bombs on the world!!!

Why? In our country, those on the right have mandated that NOT A SINGLE TAX DOLLAR go to funding abortions for the poor, because that’s killing God’s most vulnerable. 

Is that brown man-child, on the brink of his adulthood, running for his life as the drone crosses his village not vulnerable? Is it because he loves Allah instead of Jesus that he’s not human? Why is his death important to our national security? How does it make anyone safer? Why in the world should I have to fund that, if the ACA doesn’t have to fund birth control pills? Are we still fighting the crusades?

I do not pledge myself to such dogmas and will not surrender my intellect to a religion. I am a human, in awe of this mystery of life that I share with every living thing on the planet, from the creeks, to the oceans, to the majestic trees in my yard, to the birds of the air, to the neighbor across the street and her brand new baby, to my own family and my sons, and their friends, lovers, and colleagues, and yes, each and every person, regardless of skin color, gender, or faith. That we can create life in so many various ways, just like the nature around us, astounds me. There is science to explain a lot of it, and yet there are great questions unanswered, perhaps unanswerable. Why then, in the middle of this great miracle, do we feel the need to slaughter one another, and the living world around us?

We kill and maim in the name of our Gods, our country, our belief that the West is so damn special, we’re willing to wipe out a planet, most of our animal species and any other human who doesn’t live the way we think they should. To me, this is suicide, and as President Obama leaves office, I wonder, if he couldn’t end this, perhaps no one can. Perhaps, this is the way the story ends, we continue to commit suicide by bombing our brothers and sisters in the name of something most of us don’t even believe in and then, one day, the crazy one hits the button and it’s over.

It’s no coincidence then that at the end of our Nobel Peace Prize winning president’s reign, we see that he has been at war longer than any other president, he has dropped more bombs, and under his watch has increased our own cyber weapon arsenal while also launching the first cyber weapon on Iran, Stuxnet.

Okay, technically this was also started by Bush as a way to avoid engaging in combat with yet another nation state. Rather than bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz, he opted to fund a project to figure out how to destroy the facility via computer networks. In 2007, Stuxnet officially launched and in 2010, was discovered and outed as its creators got fairly careless, or maybe desperate, with the propagation of the virus. If you want to read the whole story, I suggest picking up a copy of “Countdown to Zero Day,” by Kim Zetter.

This is relevant right now because as President Obama leaves office, the scandal of the president-elect and Russian hacking looms in every corner. Perhaps Trump won’t be sworn in? Perhaps we’ll be saved from the national embarrassment of such a man running our country? Perhaps those Russians have been convincing America to buy the Trump brand for five years? Perhaps they hacked our election?

The FBI claims they have proof that Russia did indeed work with Trump and hack the DNC servers. If this is true, Trump shouldn’t be president if he worked with them. If he didn't directly work with them, then he's one lucky dude and we all get to suffer him. 

But is hacking a political party server hacking an election? We need to ask this because it matters. Did Russia infect our election machines and change votes or voter registration? Or did they merely collect embarrassing data and share it with the media? There is a difference between the two, for the former is a direct tampering with the will of the people and the latter is merely giving the people information with which to make their choices. It's no different than what Super PACs do all the time. The citizens have the will to choose regardless of what they hear on TV. 

More important, is the hacking of the DNC server an act of war?

Before we go jumping to conclusions that our government would never tamper in an election, everyone needs to take a step back and investigate further. The USA has been hacking foreign nationals for almost a decade, and they hack us back. Any defect in Microsoft Windows is a defect for anyone to exploit. A backdoor in a Programmable Logic Circuit (PLC) that we can use, they can use better. Take Stuxnet, when all was said and done, actual centrifuges were destroyed. It was real physical destruction.

We now have troops mounting in Poland. This is because Russia supposedly hacked the DNC server and released the information, all of which was truthful, to the public and the public thought that the DNC was corrupt and didn’t vote for Hillary. Oh, and the annexation of Crimea by Russia (things are always more complicated than they first appear).

So we stand on the brink of yet another war. Again I ask, why?

“The Russians messed with our election.” Okay, but the USA physically destroyed Iran’s nuclear power plant. “But Iran shouldn’t have a nuclear bomb.” Okay, but was our attempt to take out their facility an act of war? The attack destroyed actual infrastructure.

When is a cyberattack an act of war? Isn’t hacking into a foreign national computer to spy considered espionage? Do we go to war over acts of espionage?

Most people don’t think about these sorts of things, but I do. Yes, cyberattacks can be an act of war. They can also be acts of surveillance, spying and yes a means to influence an election. But when do we consider it a first strike?

If we go to war with Russia over this, we set a new precedence. We agree that hacking into a computer is an act of war and worthy of death and retaliation on a nation’s citizens. Putin certainly won’t get hurt in the battle, but those on the border with Poland will. And if this is an act of war, then Stuxnet was certainly war against Iran, and they didn’t retaliate against us, nor Israel, who also worked on the project.

But then again, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear bomb, so I guess that makes them safe to bully via cyberattack all we want--until they finally enrich that uranium.

Russia has more than one nuclear bomb, and a military industrial complex that still rivals ours. And yes, they also stockpile cyberwarfare bombs, called malware. Just like us.

So here we are, and I feel a sense of disbelief. Eight years ago I thought the world had changed, that we were going to start a new era. Instead we’re fighting internally about whether or not a foreign nation affected our election by hacking our computers and lining up troops along their border, all the while dropping tens of thousands of bombs on their Middle Eastern neighbors and hacking the shit out of their systems on a daily basis.

It hurts, because I can see the possibilities of alternative narratives all around me. Technologies that will never come to pass, stories never told. Ways of life and cures beyond our wildest imaginations. But we can’t get there if we continue to kill and kill and kill. That future belongs to humans who have figured out the most basic thing…how to value the miracle of all life over the things we create.

Until then, we will remain here, in the space between.