Friday, November 19, 2010

Women, Development, Analysis and Accusations

According to some statistics, tech women leave the field more often then men. The same statistics shows us going into analysis a lot and that career move is supposed to show that women are mistreated by hostile tech culture.

I have no problem with the stats themselves. If they show women moving from tech to analysis, then it is what it is. What I do have a problem with is the implication.

If one dislikes communication with male tech colleges, moving into analysis is likely to be a monumental mistake. Significant part of analyst job is to communicate with techies. In a sense, communication with techies is the job itself. Women in tech know this.

On Communication
While developer may avoid communication with other developers to a large extend, analyst can not. It is analyst job to explain what needs to be done and analyst is the go to person whenever someone has a question. Alternatively, if the developers are allowed to get creative over some part of the system, it is analysts job to let coders explain what was done and then document it.

Anyone with few years of experience in tech knows about this aspect of analyst job. If they are moving into analysis, they are doing so either because they want to communicate more or at least because they do not mind communicating more.

Analyst Position on Project
Analyst is central position on many projects and moving there is not a retreat but often step up in career. The quality of analysts work has often bigger impact on project success then individual developers work. Analyst is expected to learn the domain in a much deeper way then individual developers and have much more influence over what the software will do and how it will look like. All those things make analysts job attractive to many people.

On the other hand, analysts have very little formal power. The above is expected to "sort of happen" through soft skills, writing and talking.

If tech colleagues are hostile, sexists or harassing the women, exerting the influence you are supposed to will be hard or impossible. If you have trouble gaining their respect and feel being not listened to, being analyst very bad career choice. It is literally setting yourself up to a failure.

And again, I believe that experienced women who are moving from tech to analysis know all this.

Analysis - More Upsides
Fair amount of young people of both genders I met wanted to become analysts rather then programmers. They have seen analyst as the position that gets to solve problems while programmers are supposed to implement the solution found by analyst. Be warned, that is not necessary an accurate description of how the things are.

Analyst also gets to talk directly to the customer and it is attractive part of the job for some people.

Analysis - Fuzziness
Analyst is often supplied a lot of hard to interpret contradictory information and he is supposed to turn it into something clear and consistent. It requires a lot of guesswork. People with low tolerance towards fuzzy unclear situations are not a good match for that job. My unscientific observation is that many techies do not want to do analysis for that reason.

Is it possible that tech women are more comfortable with fuzziness then tech males? I do not know.

Analysis and Difficult Communication
If the communication on the project gets bad, analyst suffers the most. Unhappy customers complain to analyst first. They tend to pressure analyst over things he or she simply can not influence. If there are multiple competing visions over project direction, for example multiple groups within customers company fighting each other, it is analyst job to navigate complicated political situation without making all those people angry.

That requires a lot of listening to all those people. Analyst is essentially powerless third party supposed to reconcile their positions with as little drama as possible. Is it possible that women are more comfortable with this aspect of the job?

Moreover, there are certain things developers really do not like to hear and it is analysts job to say them. Those mostly center around unexpected changes or need to throw away significant amount of work due to change in analysis. This may lead to frustrated, annoyed or even angry confrontations. Someone who perceives his colleges to be hostile is highly unlikely to enjoy that part of analysts job.

And to reiterate, analyst can not simply avoid an unpleasant team member while developers can. The harder the communication with the person is, the more time will analyst spend dealing with him or her. Women are supposed to be more socially adaptable, I was told so by psychologist, so it is likely that we can do real good job on this front.

Conclusion
Analysis is an attractive career option for many people. Move from developer to analyst is unlikely to be an escape from unpleasant hostile sexist colleges. If they are not listening to you, disrespecting or hostile, everything is likely to get worst on analyst position. If they are sexists or harassing you, gaining analysts position is unlikely to make it better. You will be communicating with the same people on daily basis.

I would rather guess that the developer to analyst move is done because someone:
  • is confident of her communication skills and wants to use them more,
  • wants to have more influence over final product,
  • wants to take on more responsibility,
  • developed an interest in domain and wants to learn more about it,
  • wanted to become analyst in the first place and seen coding as a first step in that path,
  • sees analysis as a better long term career then tech (in terms of job security, future prospects, etc).

Off-topic 1
In my experience, female programmer is more likely to be underestimated by people without technology background. A person with technology background knows whether what I am are saying makes sense and is more likely to accurately guess my abilities. My tech colleges have very good idea over what I am able to do as they work with my code daily.

People without technology background are left to impressions and guesses and that is when prejudice and biases play big role.

Off-topic 2
In my experience, programmers tend to be more introverted then the rest of the society. They are more likely to discuss areas of interests in small groups then to create some kind of hyper-masculine alpha male environment. Otherwise said, if you want to have a beer with them after work, you will have to organize it by yourself.

As a rule, gender mixed groups I met out of work are louder, wilder and tell inappropriate jokes more often.

In any case, if your colleges really created super aggressive alpha male environment, as rare as it may be, then you do NOT want to be analyst there. Any position would be better then that since analyst is the one who will have to deal with that culture the most.

Off-topic 3
Being women in tech is alright position to be in. I am tired of hearing how vulnerable I am and how difficult my life is, when I know it is not. Going into it is equally good choice for both women and men. It is a shame girls are not being told that.

Author moved from development to analysis and back.

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