Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Do You Prefer Men or Women?... Engineers, That Is.

We have been offshoring for about 2 years now with a small firm in Nepal. Recently someone referred a different offshore firm and suggested I should check them out as a backup option.

The contact happened to be someone based out of the San Francisco bay area, but he travelled frequently to India and eastern Europe, where he managed different offshore teams. The meeting started cordially, with the person describing different areas of technical prowess, fat communication lines where we can call a local phone number which rings an IP phone in Mumbai next to our offshore developers. He also had pictures showing the office -- very similar to the cube farms one would find in silicon valley.

Then he started asking me about our particular technology needs, what type of work we were trying to support with offshore help.. and then, out of the blue -- he asked me:

"Now, Sandeep... do you prefer men or women?"

What?? What kind of question is that, I thought. "Excuse me..?" I said.

"Well, do you prefer male engineers in your team, or women? We can assign team members however you like."

I tried to explain that it didn't matter. Not just because we have equal opportunities law here, but more from a fundamental belief that what's important is that we have productive software engineers, and we could care less about their gender or any other demographic traits.

Yet this person asked again -- implying I shouldn't get hung up on equal opportunity law, since apparently they don't in India, and if I had any deep-rooted prejudices against women software developers, this was my chance to make that clear, and he'd be more than happy to make that happen. He presented it almost a big differentiator that set his offshoring practice apart from others.

Needless to say, we didn't do any business with this person. However, it brings back the issues with gender prejudices in software engineering. Granted that the number of women in software field is very low compared to men, and on top of that we have stereotypes about women not being as good in math and sciences -- but, is it as bad where an offshore company can get away with asking for gender preference for your offshore team's makeup?

I hope not.

I'm not sure if my or anyone's chastising this person on gender equality would make any big of a difference. But if enough people say No, and say that gender doesn't matter, maybe he'll get the message.

Still, how many times do you get asked by a consulting firm -- "do you prefer men or women for your projects?" I can't help but scratch my head every time I think about it.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

What do Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh Have in Common?

Apparently their birthday. Both were born on today's date -- according to the local public radio I was listening to this morning on my bus ride to work.

I thought that was funny -- polar opposites of talk radio born on the same day (I'm sure not the same year, although that would really be funny)