I Was Near That When it Happened

I like talking to Chinese friends about how my mom and I, while enroute to America, arrived in Beijing of 1989 China–on June 4th. On the final approach, the train rolled into the capital station over a bridge. We saw the streets below have been flipped, exposing red bricks that lay at its foundation. At the next intersection, a military Jeep was burning in the middle of the streets. You cannot imagine the excitement this is for a 11 year-old boy, seeing machine guns and flying helicopters for the first time in his life.

Flash forward thirty years, in 2019, I read this story about Eleanor and Manuel Blum resigning from CMU SCS. Honestly, her story of how she was forced to leave the department is a terrible experience. Sexism in work place is like all other forms of discrimination and should be abolished at all cost.

I actually saw a little bit of professor Blum’s work women@scs in 2001 when I stayed an extra semester to complete my degrees. In 1996, when I was freshmen, there were 3 girls admitted to CS undergrad program out of 100 freshmen’s. This ratio improved to 50% girls in 2001. Her work continued strongly. In 2018, my alumni relations representative contacted me and talked to me a lot about how CMU can do better to place its graduates in Silicon Valley tech companies or to start one. He wondered if there were internship channel opportunities I can help to arrange. I mentioned to him that perhaps the best channel will be through the company’s diversity program.

This isn’t a reflection on the mystery that is the hiring process at my then employer. But to be sure, that felt like the most clearly defined entrance to tech at that company. If a minority–nay, if a economically disadvantaged minority, a girl, was interested and demonstrated motivation and could work hard, she is likely to be accepted through diversity program. This is not true for all similarly situated red or blue blooded Americans. (Imho, this is largely believed, considering Trump was voted into office by a large margin and managed to stay in office consoling these poor souls with America(ns) first and MAGA slogans for all four years. I cannot possibly be wrong about this. There are a lot of people who feel hopeless with no clear (and good) leadership for their advancement–presently addressed afflicted youths excluded of course, our affliction leads us…)

But shortly after those exchanges, things slowed down, and I now understand that professor Manuel has left the school.

Honestly, in 2001, I really did find the admittance of all those girls very annoying. Half of the free t-shirts are no longer my size. My 2001 self is your typical Asian nerd, showered once a week, glasses smeared beyond recognition, played games and read papers for fun, the rest of the time spent on meditation. The girls were your prototypical nerdy girl. So, in short, it was not an improvement on my social life at all.

But selfish reasons aside, there is this matter that men, too, need to feel the same kind of hope. Consider an aspiring male applicant to CMU in the fall of 2000. He had to compete against some number of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of applicants to gain admittance to CMU SCS. Now he has to beat out more applicants for half of the quota. This is a major shift in life for males of our affliction(addiction to computer stuff). It is for a just cause, just a little sudden for that male applicant. (It’s being pointed out that I did not mention Freshmen women adds and enhances the CS programs. That is definitely the case. What I say of the abruptly increased competition for academic opportunities for male applicant is still strictly correct. If there is an effective quota to fill 50% freshmen by gender, then the available opportunity is halved. And if those female 50% are more competitive than the other 50%, then that reinforces my point that the structure and dynamics of the admission competition is changed without thorough forethought for and communications to the impacted groups. But I admit that unfairness is life in this scope…))

What was described in the article seems like pretty normal office politics. Some people had an agenda for the project, she couldn’t get her self invited to her own project meetings, and it somehow materialized that perpetrator is an all male team. You should see, best as a spectator, the all female teams I had to work with. Not getting invited to meetings that one, who might be leading the project, and certainly should be invited to, is hardly an affront and oughtn’t be meaningfully deleterious. Isn’t that kind of par for the first hole for controversial leaders? There are of course a lot of really working organizations out there run by female majority executive teams. Gender of the team doesn’t matter: nonproductive, rude and noncooperative behavior abound., IMMHO. But sad, nonetheless, for everyone, enduring, surviving and otherwise.

New grad employment and freshmen admission fairness is important. The theory is that students and new recruits for a job are kind of new at it, they should not be expected to compete with older and more experienced people. Society gives them a chance to learn and grow into functioning organs. More full contact and strenuous competition begins after graduation.

To this end, I think schools should have some balancing affirmative action throughout the school. It cannot require a team to have any male or female participants–in the real world there isn’t any such rules. It should certainly strenuously encourage healthy culture and gender composition, but it should not force it. (It being CMU SCS, someone could probably come up with a taxonomy of minorities, and an algorithm for rewarding teams so as to produce some desired effects on the minorities. It seems pretty straight forward to do something better algorithmically than the affirmative actions we have right now. For example, three optimizing metrics are income of first job, career progress after 5-years(including academic careers), and successful entrepreneurship. So one idea is to target equal new-grad pay and achieve equal 5-year advancement(promotions) for all graduates. Entrepreneurship can be measured using funding or revenue and attributed to founders. Efforts (such as special scholarships and special attention by faculty) can be tracked over some decades to see what works and what doesn’t). The school can officially measure stuff that matter and make good stuff happen–for everyone.)

My experience at CMU is certainly that it is a utopia of academics. Work, study, projects, everything is well thought through by a lot of smart people and everything just works. But this resignation certainly is a dose of reality for students–we live in the real world and it takes a lot to survive, and even more to prosper, no matter gender, race, mission or afflictions.

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