Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Work Life: Lack of Female Employees in Tech Industry - Thoughts on Dropbox Hiring Practice Article

Interview Questions

If someone came in right now and announced that the zombie apocalypse had just started outside, what would you do in the next hour? What is something that you’re geeky about? What is a superpower you would give to your best friend? (questions from LinkedIn article)

"They don’t lead to better hiring outcomes as Google learned." Yet it is used at DropBox and they appear to be doing well. Google used to use them, and see where they have gotten. I think the problem with the question today is either the interviewers no longer understand why they are asking those questions or the interviewees just do not know how to interview.

"Dropbox's interview process is juvenile ("frat-boy" indeed) and their C-suite dudes need to get a clue." (Clinical Coordinator) "Are these interview questions some kind of sick joke? Did I really work so hard all these years, only to be rejected because I don't know (and don't care!) what I would do in a zombie apocalypse?" (Attorney at Law) "Asking what you would do with the last hour of your life is deeply personal and has 0.0 correlation with work ability." (Analytical Marketing Expert) "I'm with you, these questions are bull." (owner)

I just find these responses interesting. Basically, many of these comments boil down to (in my opinion) is "that fits my model, therefore my opinion makes sense and it is so obvious that this does not require any more arguments to support my opinion." Why do they not consider that both companies have started just as small as theirs but has grown that much faster with what they think are bad interview questions? Or not consider the interviewer wants to know how you analyze the problem, come up with a solution, and provide the reasoning behind the choices? Are questions that just want you to regurgitate an answer whether you know why that is the answer any better than these? What are the better questions?

I somewhat agree with one comment by Elizabeth Langdon, "I do not, for a minute, believe that anyone would be excluded from consideration at DropBox, or anywhere else..." It is rare that an open-ended question is one of the questions that make or break the interview.

I know this is just from the internet and should be taken with a grain of salt. So, I am just posting this to encourage my readers to put more effort into providing a constructive criticism than just ranting.

I am not bashing the content of the comments just the lack of value of the comment while projecting that it should have value. I also agree that oddball questions are not the most effective questions or at least should be asked by someone that understands the purpose of the question.

Gender Card

Another pick topic in the article and the comments is the unfairness to women in a technology company.

First argument is that the questions are geared more towards men. Do women not consider the end of the world, or imagine having powers, or being geeky? Who hasn't thought of the end of the world with all the world-ending movies that we have? I can guarantee that most men and women have thought of it more than I have. Who has not dreamed of having superpowers? I do not even see the correlation to gender. Perhaps, the poster thought they had to choose a superhero? I can see that there are more male superheroes than women. And then there is about being geeky? There are plenty of female doctors, lawyers, and other very high educated positions who I would consider to be geeky. I wouldn't even say that I was geeky.

The second item is about discrimination against women. There is some but I think it is even less so than other industries. I have worked primarily with men. In my current employment, there are more women than I have worked with in the past. Even then they are a minority. Interestingly, there are more female IT managers than male IT managers even with that discrepancy. 

I do not know anyone that would have any problems working with women. Many would even favor having more women in the group. And plenty of them willing to go farther with favors from women than from men. I have a hard time believing that the IT industry discourages women more than other industries.

Sadly, there are very few female engineers. Even the ones that I have met and worked with, few have really proved their value. Of the rare few, they have truly deserved their respect and positions. Some I would consider may even deserve higher positions, but I think they struggle equally with their male counterparts.

I really liked this statement by Debbie-Lee Mumford, "Like most things in life evolution is a slow process. For those woman that have been held back, or have not succeeded in male dominated environments; are we looking at the reasons why they don’t succeed? Or are we crying foul because we cannot change things to our liking soon enough? I think there is a lot more to this discussion and we are scratching the surface."

Another statement from Gayle Coffman, "If you can not or will not fight for your own rights then fight for the women that will come after you. You have 10 years experience. I am glad it is getting better that it was when I started in IT 34 years ago but it is only because your rights have been hard won by your American female predecessors. Don't forget how it used to be."

Although in the article, Coffman appears to be somewhat against Mumford but I agree with what both stated. Not just women, but for anything that is right. I am not one for extremes. Just because I did not have the luck to have things lined up for myself, I fight for certain rights. But, I choose which fights are to be taken and I do not expect changes to happen overnight. I think with many things in our society, we expect change too quickly. Things already move much faster than they did in the past, but being spoiled by technology we have succumbed to the illusion that we can get results instantaneously (or close to it).

I think the main issue is not how we treat women in the workforce, but how education and social expectations are hindering them from excelling in the technical field. I remember in the first level of computer science, the class nearly had half women and half men. By end of the semester, only a third of the class were women. By the following year, there were even fewer. For some projects, even those that remained struggled with the course material.

In the professional world, I have found that more women struggle keeping up with the logical flow of information and arguments. Although I think I do a better job of training than my colleagues, I struggle relating to women's thought process. Am I wrong somewhere? I do not know. I could be.

For example, I was explaining how we should organize our group mailbox. I do not move the messages to different folders. My colleague did not like the mailbox to be full of messages. She keeps pushing that they should be organized into folders. I explained that it makes it difficult for the team to search for emails when they are in folders because each role have different ways to gather certain emails. One reason is that outlook does not search emails in folders very effectively. Another argument is that if I move the email, someone may not know that there was even a new email to read.

Her counter-argument was how was she supposed to read emails that she has not read? I explained that she just had to read from the newest to the oldest until she reaches emails that she already read. This seemed simple enough but for some reason she just said that she could still miss an email. I tried to understand how she would miss it using that method, but she just stuck with that it would not work.

Then she argued how she would organize all the emails to how she wants to review. I recommended her to use the search feature. Each email has a certain unique characteristics that she can search by. I also explained this is why I have been pushing us to standardize certain terms so that it would make it easier to search for emails. For example, use the word "defect" and not "bugs", "issues", or "problems" that way we can search by the term defect. She says that is impossible because people outside our group may not follow that. I stated that my experience is that it is ok as long as we are consistent. To be consistent, we should respond and use the proper terms so that at least our emails will come up with the specific keyword. Over time, other groups would start using our terms as long as we are more consistent than they are. This goes for date formats, ticket number formats, etc. She just nods her head and agrees. After about a week, she does not follow the format and still complains about how full the mailbox is. Everyone else in the group seemed to have already accepted the new process.

Later, another woman joined our group. She also had a hard time adopting a shared mailbox concept. There were times where emails were moved and we lost traceability of certain tickets because there are gaps. So, I tried to explain by using that example. Because their roles need to find emails in a certain way, other roles need to the same emails but in a different way. They want to sort work done in testing into a test folder, work in release to a release folder, and approvals into a management folder. When they need to reference a past email, they only need that one email. While audit requires all the emails. By breaking into the different folders, we lose the ability to track tickets across multiple emails. So it is more important that we do not sort it into folders.

I have demonstrated how they would find their specific email which is basically the same as what they did except they did it in a folder. So it does boggle my mind why they cannot adapt because it is the exactly same thing minus a step. I was not adding a step so why is it more difficult? To this day, they just come to me to find the email which takes me seconds to do.

Maybe I am biased. I am able to work with some women. There is another woman in our group that understood (and also unable to convert the other two). So from my point of view, I think it is more the process is in how we process information. I find I have the same problems with men who have similar thought processes. I chose a simple scenario but issues are more complex as the situation grows larger. After dealing with more complicated situations, I see certain behaviors that seem similar between those that I have difficulty training.


There were many questions about some of the statements in the article. For example, why does it matter that only people who talk are men? Why don't they speak up? Shouldn't the statement be that they are not allowed to speak? That would be an issue. Only men speaking is not an issue. In some meetings I have been in, it is always the same 3-4 people speaking. Now that I think about it, they are all Caucasian while 80% of the team are not Caucasian. Thinking further, majority of management is also Caucasian while majority of the team are not. And most of us don't consider that the company is racist.

No females in leadership? Majority of our managers are women, while a large majority of the team is men. The team does not treat them any differently. Our nation's presidents have been all male, yet female population is about half. 

They were uncomfortable with Break-up Room and Bromance Chamber? I would be too.

The article fails to explain how these relate directly to women. There are serious issues on how society pictures women and expectations of women. I do not think this article did a good job on explaining that.

And the last question, if the workplace is so terrible why are there not more woman started companies? If the situation is so biased, a woman-led business should easily be able to undercut the market and start their own ideals. I am sure there are reasons and I think those would probably be worth more of my time to read and learn about.