Archive for the 'People' Category

Ada Lovelace Day: Jacinta Richardson

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.  Since I am involved with the Perl community it seemed natural for me to begin there when trying to decide who to write about.  I found it quite difficult to pick one woman.  At times we bemoan the small number of women in the community but every one that I have met has been impressive in some way.

Last year I met Jacinta Richardson at YAPC::EU.  I had heard of Jacinta’s work.  I knew that she had been awarded a White Camel award, I knew that she was a successful Perl trainer, and I knew that she wrote Perl Tips.  Last year I got to see that she is also a great conference speaker, and to see first hand why she was given a White Camel.  Not only is she technically brilliant but she also has a desire to bring out the potential in other people.  She really wants to see improvement in the Perl community and is willing to work hard to see that happen.

Even though I have only known her for a short time Jacinta’s impact on the Perl community has affected me.  Without Jacinta’s support and encouragement I would never have been a keynote speaker at OSDC Australia last year.  Being given that opportunity is making it easier for me to prepare for this year’s conference season.  Thank you, Jacinta.  I look forward to seeing your future achievements.

Who Knows What Motivates You

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

I’m reading yet another paper (pdf) on motivation and free and open source software.

One thing that most of the papers I have read have in common is that they use a survey to gather their information. However, most do not publish the actual survey so that I can see the questions they ask. Surveys will be biased by the people writing them. They will have a predefined list of things that they think are motivators and they will ask questions about them. In the last couple of these papers I have read the researchers are getting a very low response when asking questions about reputation. But really, who is going to actually admit to taking part in an open source project because it will enhance their reputation? It seems so much nobler to suggest it’s because of ideology or that you do it because it makes you feel happy.

The problem with asking people questions about the things that motivate them is that many people don’t actually know what motivates them. Provide them with a list of the sort of things you expect to motivate them and they are bound to find one that the like the look of better than the others.

They will have some idea as to the sort of thing it might be, or things they would like it to be, but they may not know the real reasons as it’s a very difficult thing to work out.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve read Maslow’s book on “Motivation and Personality“. I could give you very plausible reasons behind my actions and I can speak about motivations in an educated way that would convince many people that I know what I am talking about. But, for example, I haven’t got a clue what motivates me to write. I really don’t. Why do I spend hours writing on this blog? It could be a desire for intellectual stimulation; it could be that it’s an enjoyable pastime; maybe I think it will enhance my career prospects; or I want the respect of my peers…

But that’s all just made up from a list of things that I know are supposed to motivate people. I just don’t have a clue. And after reading Maslow I realise that I am not alone.

I’m No Gentleman

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

I am starting to get overly sensitive about the use of gender specific terms in technical blogs. I really don’t mean for this to happen but tonight, when reading Schwern’s use.perl journal, I did wonder why he had to use the phrase “Gentlemen, start your RSS readers” as the word “gentlemen” makes me feel excluded. I assume that this is based on a quote “Gentlemen, start your engines” and I know that Schwern is not in any way saying that women shouldn’t subscribe to his RSS feed but I did notice it – and I’m not convinced I would have a year ago. So something has changed.

It could simply be that studying language has made me more aware of the words that people use or that in 2007 I read a lot of posts about gender and sexism. It could also be because Schwern’s post is about a new blog that discusses geek communication which made me look more critically at how he was communicating the news.

I don’t find the phrase offensive but it did make me stop and read the line again and make me wonder if there was a better way to have said it.

Virtual / Co-located Team Hybrids: Favouring those you work beside

Friday, September 14th, 2007

I have just read another study that suggests yet again that if you work on a team that has members who are co-located and members who are in another geographical location that you will be more inclined to work with the ones who are in the same place as you. Fussell et. al. [1] write about using instant messenger as a means of communicating. They note that it’s much easier for people to schedule tasks when they are together and that, in knowledge based environments, the division of tasks is best done through spontaneous conversation in a co-located environment. However, they wanted to find out if using something like IM would facilitate working and scheduling of work between team mates.

I am not that interested in their observations about IM clients and how these can be improved but rather on the work habits of the teams they observed. Their findings suggested that when workers have multiple tasks to carry out that they will favour the face-to-face ones over the ones that need to be carried out remotely even if all the tasks are equally important. And when given two tasks of equal size and importance, one co-located and one remote, they will spend more than half their time on the co-located one and not leave adequate time to complete the remote one.

I keep reading papers that strongly suggests that it’s better to have a co-located team and if you have to have a virtual team all the members should be in different geographic locations. Hybrids of the two will always lead to divisions between the co-located members and the virtual members. How do you stop people from favouring team members they see and work with everyday over team members who are located in a different place or time zone that they may never have to meet in person? And if you can’t stop them from doing this how do you make it work to your advantage?

[1] I cannot find a copy of this paper that does not require an ACM Digital Library login

Fussell, Kiesler, Setlock, Scupelli. Effects of instant messaging on the management of multiple project trajectories. CHI 2004, 191-198.

Strange Fashions

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Dominus wrote about Playboy yesterday. The thing I don’t understand about Playboy is how their logo has become such a huge fashion accessory among teens in the U.K. When I was visiting my mum last week I noticed a strange pink glow coming from an upstairs room. Upon further investigation I discovered that my little sister has had her room redecorated. The walls have been painted a glowing pink with stencilled Playboy logos in black. She has a Playboy bedspread, pillows, lamps and CD player. She wears Playboy jewellery and asked me, when she saw my nail art, if in Japan they can paint Playboy bunnies on your nails! I ran a search on Argos, the sort of place that my sister shops, and they have 109 different products displaying the Playboy logo. Hopefully she won’t have all of these when I next go to visit.

She has no concept of who Playboy are beyond the rabbit head logo and that there is some connection to pretty girls. She’s aware of the music video with Justin Timberlake and Nelly – but again that’s just girls looking pretty. Or at least that’s what she tells me.

I took a quick look at the financial report from the Playboy group and although their revenues are decreasing in some areas their Licensing Group revenues are increasing. In 2004 they reported revenue of $12.4 million for international licensing whereas in 2006 the figure was $22.8 million. So it would seem that it’s more than just my little sister who wants goods that display the Playboy logo.

Determining Gender from Transcripts of Phone Calls

Monday, August 13th, 2007

I was reading a paper [pdf] that showed that it is possible, with an accuracy of around 93%, to work out the gender of a person taking part in a phone call from a transcript of the call. If the call is between people of the same gender then almost 100% accuracy is reached. I already know that men and woman use different words when they are communicating but I was curious about the specific differences.

The paper showed that in phone calls the most characteristic feature for males are swear words and that for females they are family oriented words. Men are likely to say “dude” in male to male conversations (this was a study based on American English) and women say “cute”. I am missing something though when it comes to the female conversations as I can’t think why women would use the word “refunding” and I have to assume that the use of the words “coupons” and “crafts” is American-centric. Either that or I’m the one having strange phone conversations.

Should’ve Stayed in Bed

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

I got up early this morning and read my email. That was a mistake. Sometimes my email contains things I would rather not read and I don’t want to start my day feeling angry. So, to take my mind off this I decided to find something to do that would be useful but would also allow me to stop thinking for a while. I ended up mending the hem on Marty’s new trousers. He had tried to do this with a combination of safety pins and some sort of clip like thing that is usually used to hold sheets of paper together. I used a needle and thread.

Some women take toiletries with them from hotel rooms – I take sewing kits. I’m not sure which hotel the kit I used came from but it was really good. Usually these contain one or two needles. This one contained six and all the needles were already threaded. This small improvement really impressed me. I could have threaded the needle myself but sometimes they are awkward and not having to do this saves me time. And if you need to sew in your hotel room you are probably trying to repair a button, zip or hem of something that you had thought you could just put on and wear.

Sewing was one of the things I learnt to do at school. I think in the past I have dismissed some of the things that I learnt at school because I don’t use them directly. It’s easy to think to look back at some seemingly obscure thing that I was taught and wonder what the point was. But the things we learnt in our past become the foundation on which we build new learning.

I have been trying to decide what to study next. As I have recently completed a law degree I was seriously considering a law masters in a computer related area. But that was mainly because it seemed to be a logical step as I was planning on combining two areas of previous knowledge. I think I would be able to do it but I don’t have any passion for the law at the minute. I considered a music degree but really I need to attend a university to do that properly and my limited Japanese prevents me from doing that at this time. I think I’ve decided on philosophy. I asked Marty to print me out the application forms last night. His response was to tell me that it was already hard enough to argue with me and did I really need to learn about logic as well?

Communication Problems in Virtual Teams

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I was reading a paper [pdf] by Valentine Casey and Ita Richardson in which they list some of the lessons they learned from observing two virtual teams. One of the things they noticed was that the team members used email to publicly attack their colleagues. When I first read this I thought of all the problems you get on mailing lists when team members say negative or nasty things about each other. But they were actually talking about the problem of cc’ing. They observed that team members would copy in management on trivial matters when they wanted to put blame on someone who was in another geographic location. This practice not only alienated the person who got sent the message but also annoyed all the other team members in the same geographical location as the recipient. To make things worse the managers then got involved in things that really didn’t require management input and they also tended to take sides with the people who were in the same location as them.

I have come across this problem before but it was in the context of teams with competing priorities. For example the marketing team have a new campaign that they want to get out by a certain date but the programmers don’t have the time to code it. So, the marketing team start to cc their manager when writing to the developers in the hope that this will somehow help to make the developers find the time to do it or at least provide a good excuse for the missed deadline. And then the developers cc in their managers and before you know it the whole company is involved.

But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of virtual teams. I suppose I was thinking that virtual teams would have one manager. However, after thinking about this a bit more, I realise that the team may have one project manager but each team member may have to report to a manager in their own location. The paper suggests using a documented email policy to get round these problems but I suppose I don’t really like the thought of this. This is probably because I usually work with pedantic programmers who enjoy finding unexpected ways to manipulate a policy.

Are Virtual Teams Less Suited to Men than Women?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I was reading a paper today by Emmeline de Pillis and Kimberly Furumo that considered the hypothesis that men are more likely to be “deadbeats” on a virtual team than women. Deadbeats are described a “free riders” – people who are content to take credit for a group effort without doing any work.

They carried out an experiment with 201 people who were randomly assigned to either a face-to-face or virtual team of three people. They were trying to show that virtual teams have less cohesion than face-to-face teams and also that virtual teams have a higher percentage of non-contributing members (these were described as either deserters or deadbeats). Their results did show that there is less cohesion, less satisfaction, more time spent on a task, and more deadbeats within a virtual team. Most of the deadbeats were male but their results didn’t have statistical significance. The only deserters were male but again this didn’t have statistical significance.

I was aware that most studies show less cohesion in new virtual teams but I hadn’t really thought about gender issues. I’m going to have to read more papers on this area because Pillis and Furumo believe that virtual work is a particularly poor fit for the average male student. This concerns me. Most of the virtual teams I’m aware of are in the I.T. industry and they are predominately male. I want to know what it is about men that makes it harder for them to work in this environment and what can be done to improve their experience.

Virtual Teams and Conflict Resolution

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Everyone knows that when you bring a group of people together to work on a project that there will be conflict. In the workplace how this conflict is resolved will have an impact on the success of any team. Small group theory shows that there are five main ways that teams deal with conflict: avoidance; accommodation; competition; collaboration; and compromise.

Competitive behaviour can be seen when one person tries to force their views on the other members of the team. It also happens when one member of the team is more interested in their own goals than those of the teams and as a result starts to withhold information or become very negative about any solution that isn’t their own. Not surprisingly this has a negative impact on the team causing friction and division which stops the team from bonding and results in poorer team performance. What I’ve been fascinated to learn is that competition can actually be beneficial in virtual teams.

Why should this be any different in a virtual team?

There are a variety of different ways to show your competitive nature, for example the tone of your voice, your body language, and the actual words you use. In electronic communication these social cues are removed and it’s much harder to tell the emotional state of the writer. If I write an email stating “I don’t think that solution will work” it could be seen as a very reasonable response. If I’m talking to you in person and I say the same thing in a terse voice while looking at you as if you are a complete idiot, my response is going to have a negative impact on you. So while I may exhibit competitive behaviour all the time it may not be perceived by the other team members when only electronic means are used to convey it. If the team members don’t perceive the behaviour it doesn’t have a negative impact on them.

This shows why the negative impact of the behaviour is lessened but why does it actually become beneficial?

It happens because we mistake it for something else. We think that the person is participating more in the team instead of recognising them as someone who has their own agenda for the team. It doesn’t cause the same division or resentment.

Mind you, it’s just as well that this behavioural trait doesn’t have the same impact on virtual teams as it does on co-located teams: it’s much easier to show your competitive side when you have a computer to hide behind.