Friday, July 22, 2022

Gender equality: A built-in bias


     Within the U.S. and in many countries of the world, women make less money than men for the same work, have less mobility, and less chance of advancement. At the same time, they often have to work harder and do a better job in order to be perceived as doing as well as men. Many, probably most, agree that this situation is not a fair one nor is it a productive one. Yet, except for a couple of valiant countries which have made the situation a top issue, little progress is made from year to year.

     I believe that this is all part of traditional, and expected, gender roles. It is generally understood that most families can no longer financially support themselves on one paycheck -- yet the woman's paycheck, and career, is often the one sacrificed for children, family, and emergency needs. Managers expect that, within a couple, the woman will be the one who will have to push aside work in order to take care of children or handle other family requirements. Currently, although often true, it is not always the case. Yet, the expectation continues to exist. This carries over to evaluations. If I have the expectation that one person is not going to be always accessible and always able to perform their work duties and I have the expectation that another person IS going to be always accessible and able to perform -- then who will get the most visible assignments? Who will be considered for promotions first?

     Note that this perception is often not true (but IS true more often than might be desired) -- but the bias remains and affects evaluation, mobility, and treatment. So, even before possible work disruption actually happen, the perception is already working against the woman.

     Changes to society take a while and perception changes even more slowly than statistics. But a good approach to reducing, and someday eliminating, the perceptional bias is to take up the reins for full support of the family.

     Current medicine leaves no choice but for a child to be borne by a woman. But, beyond that, there are many things that can be done to even the responsibilities and perceived responsibilities. Parental care -- to be able to be taken by women AND men -- is an important item. Safe, affordable, affirming childcare needs to be generally available. Flexible hours, and necessary sick and emergency time, needs to be available for all.

     Changing the laws and benefits are not sufficient, of course. If parental leave is available for both parents and only women use it -- it will NOT improve perception (in fact, it validates it). If flexible hours and necessary sick and emergency time is available to all but only the women use it, or use it much more often than men, it will NOT improve perception.

     In order to reduce gender bias, laws and benefits must be in place for all employees. With that as a foundation, society then must make active use of such so that all can be perceived with the same needs and reliabilities. The existence of the support must be present and then women AND men must make use of them in order for biases and assumptions to slowly disappear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Work Ethic versus Burnout


     I grew up in a matriarchal household with my mother having lived her childhood through the Great Depression. Under such conditions, all was used until it was dust, all food disappeared from plates, you got something new only if there was nothing that could be reused or improvised, and you continued to work until there was no more work to do. When under economic depression conditions (personal or societal), it was a very reasonable, rational, approach to life. They did not want my generation to have to go through it -- and I don't want my children to have to go through it. But, it was an overwhelming factor within the environment of my childhood.

     We did not leave the table until our plates were clean. But we did not choose our portion sizes. Sometimes, at our two or three times a year restaurant visits, my mother didn't want to finish her meal -- so I was expected to finish hers in addition to mine. Unsurprisingly, I had weight issues and continue to fight the feeling that I MUST clean the plate. I have a slogan I have devised -- "waste or waist". If one chooses their portion size (or are willing to have leftovers/"doggy bags") then requiring a clean plate can be reasonable. If the portion size is not personally chosen and it is not feasible to take it away (such as on trips) then the clean plate mentality can be quite detrimental to health. This completion mentality also applied to daily work.

     My mother was always working. If she was on a paid job, she worked from the time she clocked in until she clocked out -- only taking legally required breaks. As the years passed (and her health declined, in addition) she could allow herself to rest at home -- but only after all other work items were done (dusting, vacuuming, polishing, washing, straightening, putting away, ...) But, during my childhood, she was always doing. If she finished one set of required duties, she would start something else. It effected a considerable aversion to home canning for me -- it's great if you need it or like doing it but if it is a matter of keeping busy then, perhaps, it isn't quite as wonderful.

     Like a leaf in a storm, I was part of my mother's continuous travail. In general, that was good for me as I learned to search for what needed to be done -- and to do it. (Though, if you look at a previous blog, you will see this has some tiresome side-effects). Luckily, studying and reading were considered to be working and, thus, I did very well in school as well as helped clean the house and yard daily.

    My mother did not suffer from burnout as far as I know. I doubt that she had ever heard of the word. Nor had her parents or grandparents. But she had little energy left to do anything with my brother or myself. She had little time, or energy, to pursue any interests she might have had for herself. She tried to get her GED three times and, each time, was diverted away from her goal.

     When you are cleaning a house or doing a specific physical task, there is an end (unless you are totally unable to accept less than perfection). When you are doing many non-physical tasks for yourself, or a company, there is no ending. It is always possible to contact one more potential customer, work on one more program function, connect up with one more person, (write one more blog).

     So, we end up with ways to approach work ethics and burnout (which, as you probably already noticed, applies to other activities such as eating). I would suggest that a work ethic is doing the work that needs to be done. But burnout happens when no limit is set -- no ending. Physical activities often have a built-in limit. Non-physical activities rarely do. If you hit a burnout, there is no energy left for anything else and, eventually, no energy left to do that "core" set of activities you consider most important. Even more, there is no energy left to prepare oneself for the future -- and that hurts everyone.

     In work, in eating, and, in many other aspects of our lives, limits are healthy and necessary.

Friday, July 1, 2022

FIrst-time work: hurdles and quandries


     There is always a first time to get a paid job. There are first times for everything -- including the first breath we take after we are born. But getting a paid position is one of those types of firsts that are part of the ritual of becoming self-supporting.

     There are two parts of this -- finding a no-experience-needed first-time position and succeeding in obtaining such.

     For many companies, a degree (possibly Associate degree, more likely Bachelor's or above (or the non-USA equivalents)) is considered "paper experience". Some companies presently are starting to trade off paper experience with real-life experience. But real-life experience is rare to have that directly pertain to the skills/experience desired within a company if you are trying to find your first paid position. Sometimes, volunteer work is applicable.

     There are places that are considered to be nests for starting paid work. How many people in high positions talk about their first jobs at McDonald's? Or as a bagger in a grocery store? Not many restaurants still wash dishes by hand -- but, once upon a dark moon, that used to be a good first time situation. My first paid position was as a neighborhood lawnmowing person (an early, very limited, entrepreneurship) followed by newspaper deliverer (on foot).

     These jobs, associated with companies, have a couple of characteristics. First, there was a lot of turnover -- openings came up fairly frequently and if you could pass some basic requirements (cleanliness, polite demeanor, etc.) you could usually eventually get a job at one (perhaps not your first choice). Second, the pay was minimal -- in the past it was livable, in the present you had better still have other financial support.

     But how about the positions that are considered long-term career potential?  (This doesn't mean that you cannot have a long-term career at McDonald's.) First, those companies have to HAVE positions open for people with no experience. It might be in the "mailroom" (in electronic times, not as frequent) or janitorial areas -- but unless there is internal mobility that is not a good first step. But there may not be any non-experienced positions for the company. In that case, get your first experience at a different company where you can develop experiences that are relevant for the companies wherein you would prefer to work.

     For the second part -- finding and succeeding in obtaining an entry-level position -- there are different gauntlets to be run depending on salary/career/social ranking. At the lowest rankings (I'm not going to list them because the titles/positions are subjective -- let's just define them as low money with low potential advancement), qualifying doesn't apply much but finding, and being allowed to apply, becomes a matter of networking and luck. In the past, it was a matter of walking to each opening that was published in the classified section of the newspaper. Now, it is primarily word-of-mouth and potentially via social job boards. But luck (which I defined, and explored, in a recent blog) plays a large role.

     For a middle-rung position (living wage with some potential for advancement or mobility),  old-style searches still used the classified section of newspapers but job bureaus (places where you sign up to have your resume available for distribution or job matching) were frequently used. Once again, classifieds rarely apply anymore and social networking has become a much more important areas of discovery. (Job bureaus are still used.)

     On the high-rung side (moderately high initial salary with large potential in salary, position, and social ranking), there are still some entry-level positions. But, as I mentioned in a prior blog, there are many companies that try to demand experience for initial, first-position, jobs and many companies that require specific knowledge for these positions -- something that is truly unreasonable.

     High-rung positions are found via direct networking or via a symbiosis of recruiters and social networking. A recruiter for such positions might receive, or need to examine, 500 potential resumes in a day. They cannot spend much more than a couple of hours looking at them as they have other duties they need to do each day. 500 resumes in 150 minutes means there is an average of 18 seconds to be spent, ON AVERAGE, per resume. I am a moderately fast reader (I can read faster but with less retention/comprehension) at about 45 words in 18 seconds. This means that, on average, the recruiter will read the first four sentences of your resume. IF something in those first four sentences (or 18 seconds of scattered keywords that catch their eye during scanning) attracts their attention then you may win more time for examination.

     Eighteen seconds is not much time. The conclusion is to make those words count and focus on the beginning of the resume. So, if you don't have much/any experience to relate, how do you make those 45 words count in your favor? Job-relevant ACTION concluded with job-relevant RESULT. Or, job posting KEYWORD matched within relevant/reliable/consistent context. 

     Since you don't have (by definition within this blog) the specific experience that you hope to gain as you do the job, your action/results pairs will be associated with qualities that indicate you can succeed in gaining the knowledge needed to do the job well. Such might be aspects of focus, inventiveness, communication capabilities, organization, endurance, leadership, or other character-related aspect that can be applied to perform well in the position. They may also be associated with volunteer skill-related aspects such as pamphleting, programming, selling cookies at a table, or such.

     A primary goal is to reduce, or eliminate, the factor of luck. This requires active networking and focus (both in application and tailoring per position). May the force be with you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Turing Test: Not enough?


     Of late, there have been declarations of Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming sentient. And even louder protestations that it isn't true. Within computer science, there has been an assumption that this can be evaluated by use of what is called "The Turing Test". Created by Alan Turing, a British mathematician and considered to be a founding person in AI, in 1950 -- it was initially called an imitation test. The idea was that if you were unable to distinguish the conversation of a program from the conversation of a person the program could be considered sentient.

     This was in 1950. People conversed on a regular basis in 1950. The criteria of being able to distinguish a person from a program, by use of analysis of conversation, seemed reasonable. Forward the clock to 2022 and that criteria no longer seems to be sufficient. For those who say that AI has reached the criteria set out by Alan Turing -- they are probably correct. There are programs that speak language BETTER than an average person in that language. According to the Turing test, they are sapient. But, according to our current experiences of programs, machine learning, and AI -- it seems that it would be hard to consider them to have had a passing grade for sentiency.

     Which leaves us to the question, once again, of what is sentience? Some of the recent declarations indicate the appearance of emotions, desires. Are these what distinguish sentiency from mechanical responses? Of course, one can move to the religious, spiritual, and theological and say that what we are searching for is a soul. But, if it is a matter of a soul then we are in even worse shape for evaluation. There is no consensus as to what a soul is. If it does exist, where does it reside? If it does exist, is it immortal or connected to something associated with a living mind and only in existence as long as that mind and body exist?

     Science fiction and fantasy -- those genres of "what if" -- have approached such a subject for many decades. But general agreement, even less the matter of consensus, is nowhere to be found.

     If we use the criteria of a desire for survival and a desire for progeny then the state of AI has not been achieved. But, if those are to be criteria, should a goal of reaching such be striven for? Mary Shelley's Frankenstein reflects many matters: human hubris, the difficulty of accepting others, fear of the stranger (xenophobia). But, as seen in the dystopia of the Terminator series, a desire for survival and progeny coordinated with a superiority in speed and execution may prove to be an ultimate competitor to the human species.

     So, let's move back to the start. If we use the Turing Test, alone, as a criterion for sentiency -- we are probably there. If that is not sufficient, what qualities should be measured -- and how should they be measured? And, in some situations, perhaps creating that which meets such criteria may be something that would be a mistake to achieve?

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Value of Repetition


     I have taken a number of Pimsleur® language training courses. The Pimsleur method is a system of delayed reinforcement of vocabulary (and some grammar) that has been used within the US Foreign Service departments for rapid language acquisition. The idea is that a word is introduced and the learner must repeat it -- perhaps within a phrase. Then, a short time later the word is presented again. And then after quite a bit longer (maybe 10 or 15 minutes) it is presented again. Finally, the word is made part of subsequent lessons for a while -- while performing the same process with new words such that each word is at a different portion of the language acquisition series.

     This works -- or the theory of it works -- because humans have both short-term and long-term memories and the ways that information is stored has different processes. These are chemical and neurological. These procedures aid the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.

     But repetition is also part of the cycle of humankind's works. Some are associated with mental processes and some with physical. Newsdesks at media centers have a circular file where a certain topic may be flagged for a new article (perhaps very similar to the last -- or perhaps incorporating new information) about a topic to be created and presented every so often. Perhaps once every five years. Perhaps annually -- especially if it pertains to an annual event (Christmas, 4th of July, Bastille Day, Thanksgiving, Boxing Day, spring planting, ...) Some might remember the previous article, or articles, on the subject but many more will not. Thus, it is useful.

     There is, of course, unnecessary repetition. I find that I tell people certain stories, or talk about certain topics, more often than they would prefer to hear. It isn't that I am trying to pester them -- I just don't know to whom I have already relayed the stories. If you are at the brunt of such, try to be patient as it is likely to happen with you as you age and there are more and more people within your life.

     There is also repetition of physical items. A city manager will have a map, or maps (nowadays probably digital), of the road systems or water systems or sewage systems that provide the lifelines of the community. Certain roads, and routes, will be flagged to be repaved every so often. Presumably, more heavily used roads are repaved more often. Less heavily used roads are repaved less often. Some roads, and routes, are not on any systematic cycle of repaving. They are paved only after a certain amount of active complaints or if people, who have the ear of someone important in the local government, complain. It is unfortunate, but true, that roads through areas of less income often fall into this latter category.

     The same can be done for water pipes or sewage lines -- but, because wear and damage is usually not obvious to detect, they typically happen only after some incident makes it necessary. That is why they tear up a road recently repaved in order to do water pipe renewal or repair. They aren't quite as unknowing as they appear -- they just value cost postponement over avoidance of undoing recent efforts.

     Another area of repetition is that of fashion. Fashion is a supplemental design factor to most items -- clothing, appliances, home decoration, etc. As such, the choices do not usually affect the functionality of the items -- although it is often true that fashion will value form, or appearance, over practicality. That avocado green appliance that you had in the 1960s may have a turn again at some point in the future. Will the leisure suits of the 1970s make another appearance? What about those 1940s shoulder pads in women's jackets and blouses? Who knows? But fashion designers certainly are willing to reuse something that was once popular.

     There is also something which might be considered repetition but might better be considered a premature attempt at introduction. Apple's Newton® of 1993 might not have been of great significance but the iPad® of 2010 certainly has been.

     Even these blogs have topics that occur more than once. I have been writing them for 16 years. Even if I do a search through my blogs,  the keywords may not be the same for the same general area. But, like the case with the news media, some topics may also be worthwhile to present every once in a while as they are topics which persist and for which new audiences may benefit. (Or perhaps I am just rationalizing my desire to talk about them.)

     Repetition can serve various purposes. Some are annoying. Some commercial. And some very practical.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Interviewing: Feedback, Exchanges, and Lack of Assumptions


     I haven't interviewed a lot in my life in spite of a fairly long, varied, career. Most of the jobs that I have had are situations where they have been coming after me. First post-college job was primarily based on academics. Later jobs were based on direct interactions such that they knew I was well-qualified before they even considered me for a position.

     But, that doesn't mean that I haven't ever had interviews. I have had more interviews that I would consider "bad" than those considered "good". Much of the aspects of "bad" interviews have been assumptions on my part. If something is important to the interviewer, I expect them to ask questions about it such that I can answer. If aspects are not well flushed out, I expect further questions.

     Such is an ideal world. Welcome to the real world.

     Once, I was in an interview when they asked me something that showed total ignorance of the subject about which they were asking the question. What should I do? It is doubtful that the interviewer wanted to be told that they didn't know what they were doing. Yet, an answer must be given -- preferably one that would be satisfactory to the interviewer. In my past history, I choked. I just didn't know how to answer a nonsense question. Perhaps it was a deliberate nonsense question to see how I would deal with it?

     In another situation, I was applying for a technical/programming position within a large company. I passed the preliminary interviews via phone and written tests. On to an in-person interview. Remember, I was applying for a technical/programming position. When I got to the interview, I found that I was being interviewed for a marketing position. The interviewer looked at my resume and didn't know what to ask me -- nor did I know what to ask them. I had some marketing experience (primarily pre-sale support) but had no desire to get a marketing position. How do you tell the company that they mis-matched you?

     Another interview. Largely for management but with technical competency aspects required. We went into the interview and some questions were asked. I gave answers which were, admittedly, not complete as I was not highly experienced in the specific technical areas for which they were probing. The interviewer laughed it off and moved the questions to other technical areas. After the interview, I felt it had gone well. It hadn't. They had "written me off" in the first five or ten minutes and then proceeded to fill time for the rest of the 45 minute interview without ever trying to find out whether I could do the work.

     In yet another interview, I was asked how I had dealt with a specific type of personnel problem. Not only had I not experienced that type of personnel problem but my experiences had been the reverse of the interviewer's questions. Be prepared to answer questions on a "what if" basis. IF you had a particular situation, what would you do?

     It is easy to rant and rail about interviewers and interviewing but, once again, we are dealing with reality.

  • Be prepared to tell them the information about yourself that you believe is applicable to the needs of the job -- don't assume they will ask you.

  • If they ask nonsense questions, try to answer based on what you would say if they had asked a reasonable/relevant question. Don't directly tell them the question was nonsense.

  • If they ask questions about which you have no experience, either say so and reply with information about a similar situation or be prepared to delve into a "what if" scenario and how you would deal with it.

  • Probe for feedback -- "Is there something else you would like to know or something you need me to expand upon?"

  • Ask questions. Ask questions about the job, the company, future directions, training, and how you would be evaluated. Unless it is a blind interview (you don't know with what company you are interviewing), research first.

     Above all, remember that an interview is mutual. They want to know if you are suitable for their needs and will be compatible with, and a positive force within, their business environment. You want to find out if it is a situation where your experience and abilities will be valued and, also, an environment in which you can continue to grow your career and yet have a rich personal life. While you should never try to insult an interviewer it should also not be a cause for concern to tell the truth as you see it because this may be an important aspect as to whether the position is for you.

     I have done more interviews than I have had as someone being interviewed. And, although I believe I know how to answer well in an interview, I do better at interviewing than at being interviewed.

     My interviews have primarily focused on the soft skills because, if they have the foundation, the tech skills can be learned. Soft skills are a lot harder to learn and can be quite painful to the teams while the person is learning them. Still, even with technical skills, I focus on what and why rather than how. A great mind is a great hire. A great mind with a great heart is a precious gem. I have hired some great folks who went on to continue to give back.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Gifting: An Intersection of Tastes


     What do I get Uncle John for Christmas? What do I get my mother for Mother's Day? What do I get for my significant other as an un-birthday gift? These types of questions often plague people who live in the consumeristic societies. In my more mature years, I prefer my gifts to be ones that help society and the earth rather than something physical that I will have to triage at some point soon in my life. But physical, social, spiritual, or event-oriented there is still a choice to be made.

     Sometimes, a choice is made strictly by budget. There is a pool of X.XX amount of money available for presents. Person A gets allocated Y.YY out of that budget. What is the "most" that can be purchased for that amount? That isn't inherently bad -- unless it is the only criterion that you have for the gift -- and will be a criterion for the gift whether that budget be time or money.  In cases where only budget  is considered, cash or a generic credit card might be better appreciated.

     But, for most, we want to choose a gift for someone. In order to choose a gift for someone that has a good chance of being appreciated and enjoyed, it is necessary to know the person. Do they have any hobbies? Do they already have a collection (and have not been heard moaning "why does everyone keep getting me GGGGG?")? Even more importantly, is there anything they need but cannot, or will not, get for themselves (in this case, there is a good chance that you won't be able to get it either -- but it is still a worthy criterion)? The better you know someone, the greater the likelihood that they will appreciate the gift.

     But, is that the only criterion for tailoring a gift for someone? Certainly, getting someone something that you would want to receive says something. But, it doesn't say much about the person to whom you are giving the gift. And, unless the person knows you especially well, they may not even recognize that you are, indeed, giving something that is a reflection of yourself. Getting a present based on your own needs, and desires, is perhaps better than a budget-only gift but not a lot better.

     An ideal is a gift that is an intersection of tastes. In this way, the gift is something the other person wants, or needs, and it is something that you, yourself, consider to be of value. This intersection moves the gift from the transient occasion to something that can provide a greater bond, or link, between the two of you. That bond might be romantic but, in no way is it limited to such. The bond of mutual appreciation could be within a friendship, business relationship, or within the world of charities.

     A gift that is given with mutuality allows later discussion, an opening for further expansion in the future, or a better understanding all around.

Gender equality: A built-in bias

       Within the U.S. and in many countries of the world, women make less money than men for the same work, have less mobility, and less ch...