Diversity, People Skills, Success…

[Originally published 8/5/2017]

[Edit 8/6/2017: On the recommendation of a friend, I read the original Google posting at length. It doesn’t change how I feel about the thesis I described below, which only partly addresses the original. The following is unaltered from when I hadn’t read the original.]

Apparently, some Google engineer decided that it was ok to write an anti-diversity article and it made the rounds at Google. I don’t know how that article went over, probably a mixed bag. I didn’t read the article… I don’t really want to. I understand that the thesis was that women are less successful in engineering because they’re more into people than things. Engineers need to be into things to be successful. Something like that.

I want to speak to that thought because I think it’s important. And not because of an article that I didn’t read. Even though I might not be exactly on point with whatever that Google guy wrote I think this is a worthy topic.

I’ve been doing this for many years now — about 35 altogether (close enough). I think I’ve known more engineers that you could call ‘elite’ than the average. Put me in that category or not as you like. What I can tell you is this: a good foundation is essential, intelligence is helpful, hard work is inevitable. But aptitude and IQ alone will not get you into the top 1%.

The best engineers do a lot more than solve hard problems alone, they make others better, they facilitate connections, they show people that new problems are similar to solved problems. They teach. They motivate. They criticize. They praise. They inspire. These things are what get you the “super” results.

Consider this: As of this writing, I’ve been an “iOS engineer” for 10 business days now. Somehow, I’m managing to make an impact. If my impact was only about the code I write it would be pitiful. I made a difference these last two weeks because of the people around me and how I work with them. It’s not just reading some code, it’s also about the connections I made or helped to make. The team is better because I’m there. And it’s a real joy! People who didn’t know about each other and didn’t know they could be helping each other are doing so, because I helped connect them.

Can a person really think engineering isn’t about having people aptitude? Some days I think it’s entirely about people aptitude.

I don’t want you to read too much into this, just good people skills won’t do the job either. Certainly not to get you into the top 1%. Neither will just compiler skills. Just database skills. Just networking theory. Queueing theory. Statistics… Speaking… Writing… I could go on. You can aspire to get a lot of these skills over the course of a career. With luck, you’ll get some of them, and you’re going to get them from people different than you. The people that are most like you will help you the least in terms of improvement. Conflicts, discussion, reconciliation, adaptation, improvisation. These things will make you better. They might make you great.

I’ve focused my efforts on women in tech, mainly because of some wonderful friends and colleagues I had over the years. They taught me things I could not have learned myself. They inspired me and continue to inspire me.

Women, as a gender [a dangerous way to start a sentence!], do not have fewer skills that are useful to an engineer. That’s just bogus from the start. But though they represent half the population they do not represent half of the rooms where I conduct business. And that’s a tragedy. The men are missing out on the skills and teaching women would have brought. As for the women, well, as many of them would have made wonderful engineers as the men, and they lost out.

The math of the situation is simple: In every room there should be a woman for every man. But there is not. And if that is to change in the future, we men must help bring about that change in the present. Because, in the present, we are the not just the majority of successful engineers, we are also the majority of the help that is available to the women in this and the next generation of successful engineers.

I want to end on this note: I personally have focused my efforts on women in engineering. But they are not the only under-represented group. There are many. And they all need champions and allies. They certainly don’t need any further denigration.

Written by

I’m a software engineer at Facebook; I specialize in software performance engineering and programming tools generally. I survived Microsoft from 1988 to 2017.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store