Category Archives: portland

Why I’m Part of Code n Splode

When Code n Splode started in 2007, it was in response to an event at OSCON and discussions that followed. Several of the people who would become involved had attended a “women in open source” BoF that left them unhappy with how issues of women’s participation in the technology industry were being discussed. (I missed the BoF but heard plenty about it afterward.) In the conversations that followed that week, we came to a kind of consensus that we wanted less talk about the problem and more direct action, and that women feeling isolated because we didn’t know many of our female colleagues (as few as those might be) was definitely not helping. So Code n Splode was born in response.

The meetings have a similar structure to most user groups: there’s a technical talk or workshop given by one of the members, and afterward the group moves on to a local pub for the “splode” part of the evening, a general discussion of whatever we want to talk about from our professional and personal lives. The guidelines for men’s participation have changed over time; the current rule is that all women are invited to attend and participate, and men are welcome as the guest of a female participant. The goal is to create a safe space for women to talk about our technical work in a friendly and open environment.

Why safe space? It’s no secret that the technology industry can be antagonistic, heavily competitive, and hostile toward outsiders who don’t immediately prove their technical competence. While not all women have experienced problems with this, many women (and men) have, and being a member of a visible gender minority often only increases that sense of otherness and hostility. Creating a group that is officially women-focused and has clear guidelines for inclusive behavior provides support in that environment. Men in the industry are part of a majority group; there are no defined “men’s user groups” or “men’s software conferences” because in many cases, that’s already what happens by default. In the open source world in particular, women make up a very small percentage of participants, and I find that having space where I feel visible and normal and not weird for being female is extremely valuable.

Besides that, having a cross-technology group where we can discuss our work with our peers is exciting. I’ve used this to present topics that don’t fit into any single-technology user group, like text game programming or privacy issues in software design, and I’ve attended other topics that don’t relate to my own work at all, but are interesting because of the enthusiasm of the women who are presenting it. It’s also a great environment for women who have never given a technical presentation before, and might not feel like they have the experience to present at a conference yet. This helps us learn the skills to move on to bigger events, meaning that over time we can encourage better representation of the women who are already present in these fields.

The best thing, the part that really demonstrates why this group is important, is seeing the effect it has on the women who participate. We’re learning to negotiate for better salaries, to find jobs we enjoy, to present our work to a larger audience, and we’re building friendships we can rely on when the problems of our industry are hitting us personally. It’s not a “fix” for the imbalances of the technology world, but a support system that helps us continue to be a part of this industry and still have fun.

Does this sound like something you want to participate in too? We meet every 4th Tuesday of the month, and you can find details on the group’s website or Calagator.

More Income Questions and Answers

As promised, a little follow-up.

Matt asked in comments: “I’d love to see how this compares to the bay area.”

For the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area, the mean annual wage for Computer and Mathematical Science Occupations is $91,440. (The Portland metro area number for that was $74,890).

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara is a separate metro for this report, and the mean annual wage there is a little higher: $109,130.

For more west coast comparison, the Seattle metro comes in at $87,620.

In comments on Hacker News, a couple of people expressed surprise that developers wouldn’t know how their wage compared to the local average. It may seem obvious if you’re already paying attention to this yourself, or work for a company that uses cost of living and prevailing wage to determine compensation, but many developers really aren’t aware of this information. I’ve seen that to be especially true for younger workers, or those who haven’t had a lot of mentoring in their career. It’s very common to assume that what a company offers you is an average amount to be paid for that job, and that other people around you are earning a similar amount. This happens even within individual companies.

Hacker News also had some interesting discussion of whether wage variance from city to city was related to how companies in those places were valued by investors, i.e. if investors penalize a company from being in Portland, that should affect wages, but if companies are getting an equal level of investment, then wages should match other cities. One of the things I’ve been wondering is whether wage variance in Portland is partly related to company revenues: I’ve seen a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that employers that are paying developers less than other local competitors are also doing less well as a business. I don’t really know where to find the data to study either of these issues, though.

Another thing on HN was a discussion of whether a company paying developers in different cities the same amount is fair. Alex from BankSimple says that they decided it was, but other people thought it penalized developers who lived in more expensive places. There’s several issues wrapped up in this: is the market for developer talent local, national, or international? Do developers have sufficient freedom to move or choose where they live that the trade-offs between bigger and smaller (more expensive and more affordable) cities is a fair choice? Much of this depends on the specific company, but given that programming can often be done from anywhere, without requiring the same built resources as other industries, this is worth discussing.

One last thing: I think all of this highlights how useful an annual wage survey for the software industry would be. I’ve been looking at the AIGA survey of design salaries and what they report. They break their data by categories like type of company, location, and whether the company’s client base is local or national or international. It makes it really easy to find out what someone at your job level, working for a similar company, could expect to earn.

How Much Does a Software Developer in Portland Earn?

One of the topics I’ve become interested in through PDX11 and other economic development discussions is the variation in wages for local programmers. Surveys like the one we did last year reveal a wide range of annual incomes for developers, so while software development pays better than the local median, that gain appears to be more significant for some of us than others.
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Upcoming Presentation: Interactive Fiction

Tomorrow night I’m giving a talk at Code n Splode about interactive fiction. I’m planning to do an intro about how the history of these games has had some interesting outcomes from the technical side (including encouraging open culture/open source practices), do a coding demo with Inform 7, and have some group game play time (9:05, Aisle, and maybe the intro of Lost Pig). It should be a lot of fun, and I’m excited about being able to share what I’ve learned so far.

Note: Code ‘n’ Splode is a women-focused technology user group. If you need more details about the group and our guidelines for participation, see here.

Build Up

Things I’m thinking about:

  • Antarctica
  • The ridiculous face Kirk is making right now (he’s napping in one of those sprawled out poses)
  • Coast Trip, July 2010 Coast Trip, July 2010 Coast Trip, July 2010
  • Documentation for unconferences, code sprints, and other tech activities, and how much time it’ll take to produce the docs I want to use
  • This report (PDF) on personal income gaps between Oregon and the rest of the country, and in particular the parts about lower proprietor incomes, and lower wages in higher paying industries (like technology)
  • Pondering whether tech workers getting paid lower while working in Oregon is a conscious choice (maybe it’s a partial choice, but then the workers getting paid below the median don’t realize they’re paid less, so they think they’re making a smaller trade off than is actually the case?)
  • Nonprofit regulations (we wrote bylaws for Stumptown Syndicate over the weekend). There’s so much good information for nonprofits in Oregon I wish I had on hand a few years ago.
  • Stuff.

Portland as Digital Timber Town

I hosted a session at WhereCampPDX this weekend on Portland, technology, and economic development.

I started things off by suggesting a theory: that Portland’s history as a timber town has influenced our approach to economic development, in ways that are no longer useful as we switch from a physical commodity-driven economy to a digital one. I also talked a little about the tendency for investment and customers to be outside of Portland, causing money to flow into and out of the economy, but not move around inside Portland’s tech economy (we do spend our money on other kinds of local goods and services).

Participants helped build a list of things we know about working in timber vs. working in tech, then we talked through what the effects of these things are, and what we might do about it. Here’s what we came up with:

Timber (atoms)
* semi-limited renewable resource
* fungible/tradeable commodity
* global market – externally facing
* hard to obsolete
* no 2.0? (low innovation rate)
* high startup cost/time (have to grow the trees)
* usually organized labor
* doesn’t travel (you can’t take your trees elsewhere)

Tech (bits)
* infinite
* maybe a commodity
* maybe specialized
* global market
* can be an internally or externally facing market
* rapidly changing
* low startup cost
* not much labor organization
* travels well

Side effects (what happens in the local economy as a result?)
* Regional cash flow problems
* Can we grow?
* Needs replanting
* Needs the right culture
* Tech moves internally (inside the local community)
* Cash doesn’t
* We build relationships around the tech-sharing
* But not around the cash transactions
* Business and tech people don’t speak the same language
* Risk aversion: tech is easy to share, cash is hard
* Differences in barriers to entry (are these being addressed?)

Lessons/goals (what do we want to do about this?)
* need structures for investing $$$ in community tech
* business mentoring (another camp?)
* companies should invest in the community’s tech skills
* keep projects open
* share knowledge locally
* more exposure to local products and marketplace
* local hiring marketplace
* expose businesses to local tech assets
* more directories
* programmer fund: let’s pool money to invest
* fund projects based on community value
* bring management from companies into the practitioner community (take your boss to the user group meeting)

Creepius Went to OPB

Last week OPB hosted PublicMediaCamp, an evening unconference about news, public media, journalism, and anything else we wanted to discuss. Creepius tagged along and checked out the pledge drive set.

Creepius at OPB

Creepius at OPB

I would not recommend giving Creepius your personal information. Even if he says he’s not going to share it with anyone. He lies.

While he was running around, getting into who knows what sort of mischief, I led a session on Portland, technology, and reporting. Christie and Melissa took notes here. I’ve been thinking about how we can improve the depth of reporting on the local tech scene, so it was fun to brainstorm further with the other participants.

Many attendees expressed an interest in attending a follow-up event, but in the meantime there’s a mailing list to keep the discussion going.