Archive | December, 2011

Broadband for ALL, dammit (a slightly political rant)

29 Dec

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by someone I’d never met asking if I’d like to get involved with the Broadband for America coalition in Iowa. She said several people had told her that I might be a good person to help the organization. I’d never heard of Broadband for America but, following her smart move to stroke my ego, I decided to check it out. And then I immediately told her to sign me up.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m not a geek. I’m never the first to hear about the coolest new widget, nor the earliest to adopt it. And until recently, I am not one to keep up with the latest news affecting the technology sector. So while I know what broadband is (high-speed Internet access), I didn’t know why there was a coalition promoting it for America.

Broadband for America’s mission is simple: To make broadband access available to every household in the nation; to provide data transfer speeds to make broadband valuable to users; and to provide the bandwidth necessary for content providers to continue to make the Internet awesome. Why? Because broadband is essential for job creation and for keeping America competitive in the 21st Century.

I’m guessing nearly every person reading this has broadband at home. But I was surprised to learn that 100 million Americans do not. The Internet has become as important to our daily lives as electricity, so why shouldn’t it be as readily available to all? That’s the goal of the National Broadband Plan, an effort by the FCC that is supported by Broadband for America. The Plan—mandated by a stimulus bill in 2009—outlines suggestions for providing the country with broadband service over the next 10 years.

If all of that is old news to you (like I said, I’m often late to the show), you may be more interested in Broadband for America’s latest initiative. The organization is circulating a petition called “Hands off the Internet,” which urges those in Washington to stop it with unnecessary (and, in my opinion, dangerous) Internet regulations that could potentially destroy online innovation.

Time to step off my soapbox, which I promise not to drag out too often. Before I do, however, I would urge you to take a look at the Broadband for America site and—if you agree with what they are up to—sign the above-mentioned petition. It only takes a second but is at least one small way to have your voice heard.

…and now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Need a job? Get creative.

15 Dec

Scott Rocketship just lost his job, joining 13.3 million other Americans in the world of unemployment. That sucks. But instead of sending Debbie Downer tweets about his new situation, he is harnessing social media to find work. Scott has the right idea—and other job seekers would be wise to take a page from his (virtual) book.

I’m just old enough to remember when job searching meant reading the Sunday newspaper (and I mean the PRINTED edition) and then sending resumes and cover letters (and I mean via SNAIL MAIL) and hoping someone would call you back for an interview (and I mean on a LAND LINE). Then came the Internet. By the time I graduated college, job searching meant searching online classifieds, emailing a resume, and waiting for a return call via cell. And that’s the method many people are still using nearly two decades later.

Emailing a generic resume to every Monster.com listing just doesn’t work. Not when unemployment is 8.6 percent, and definitely not if your skill set is outside high-demand fields like nursing and IT. In a crowded unemployment market, you have to get creative to stand out.

Back to Scott. In just a few hours, he created an interactive online resume on Storify, a web service originally designed for curating news stories from social media sources. It includes an Instagram photo of him, tweets from people who recommend him (and some from himself about his skills), and links to his writing projects. The site is simple yet dynamic, which is important when you are one of hundreds or thousands competing for one job opening. It’s only been a few days since Scott lost his job but I’ll be interested to learn how well his creative approach works.

I’m always on the lookout for cool freelance writing and project management work and, as such, I’m always interested in cool ideas for marketing oneself. A quick online search uncovered a few creative ideas for modern-day job searching:

• Creating a video resume, posting it on YouTube, and then linking to it on Twitter and other social media.
• Adding QR codes to resumes to link to online portfolios or other supplementary information.
Stalking hiring managers like prey on LinkedIn. It doesn’t have to be creepy.
• Advertising yourself like a business on Facebook, Google, and more. This 28-year-old got his dream job for $6.

I’m sure there are many more amazing ways one can get creative in their job hunt. If you’ve done something unusual or know someone who has, please share your stories with me (just leave a comment here). If you are searching for a job, maybe you will be inspired by what others are doing and try a new approach.

Am I sexist?

9 Dec

I’d feel more comfortable having a woman as a mentor than a man. Is that sexist? At least one man in my office thought so when we got on the topic of why there aren’t more women in tech startups.

The debate started when I read about a new Des Moines startup called Hoops & Garters in Juice. The online bridal registry was started by two women, which I thought was pretty awesome given the scarcity of women-led tech startups both locally and nationally. In fact, only 3% of tech firms are founded by women even though we make up more than half the population. Why such a disparity?

My co-worker believes women and men are fundamentally different (I agree) and perhaps women are more risk-averse or aren’t willing to give up family time to start a business. That doesn’t explain, however, why women own 28% (and growing) of all businesses in this country. Clearly there is something about technology that doesn’t appeal to women in the same way other entrepreneurship opportunities do.

I think this disconnect starts for women when they are very young. I don’t believe girls are encouraged in the areas of math and science in the way boys are. Research backs me up. There is a deep-rooted stereotype that boys are better than girls at math and science and, although false, that belief negatively affects girls’ performance in these subjects. A lack of female role models in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professions only reinforces young girls’ lack of self-confidence.

My personal experience backs up these findings. I will never forget failing a timed multiplication test in the 7th grade. Rather than offering suggestions such as tutoring and re-testing, my male teacher informed me I could not take pre-Algebra the next year. He also told the entire class how many students passed and failed the test. His effort to praise the pre-Algebra kids ended up completely deflating my self-esteem. My single mother, who also didn’t excel at math as a child, compounded the problem by trying to make me feel better by telling me I didn’t really need math to succeed in life.

In recent years, educators have admitted there is a gender gap in math and science, and they are working to make improvements. Programs like Microsoft’s DigiGirlz also help get girls excited about STEM careers, but it will take time for their effects to be seen in the workforce.

During my workplace argument on this topic, I suggested women might be less likely to start a tech business because they don’t have as many role models as men, nor as many mentors of the same sex available to them. The sexist part, it seems, is that I believe women may be more comfortable (whether consciously or not) with female mentors. The four men participating in this discussion said if they made the same argument about men wanting to work with other men, I’d be up in arms. Perhaps. But I think there is a valid reason why persons of a historically oppressed class (women and minorities) may feel less intimidated around other members of that same group. We share an experience that others simply cannot understand. It is easier to let our guard down with each other because there is a foundation of trust that is established simply because of our common social circumstances.

When there aren’t other women in a field, I naturally feel less welcomed and more guarded (in the same way I would expect a man might feel like an outsider in a female-dominated occupation, such as nursing). For the first time in my life, I now work in a male-dominated office (there are 11 men here and only 3 women) and a male-dominated field. And it’s damn intimidating. So I am not at all surprised by the lack of women at networking events I attend.

I may not be surprised, but I am disappointed. When men or women are underrepresented in any field, it suffers. Your industry cannot address the needs of all if it is not being run by all. The tech startup world is simply not as innovative as it could (and should) be because women aren’t contributing enough to the process. And that’s a damn shame.

So, I ask you. Am I sexist? Actually, what I really want to hear are your thoughts on why my new industry is where it is. Why aren’t there more women starting technology businesses? And how do we change that?