Sunday, April 13, 2014

Google only acquired male parts of startup company; and more #siliconvalleyfail

Article in New York Magazine about a startup company with four men and one woman ("Amy") acquired by Google. Google elected to only hire the four people with their male bits flipped.

The four men were code monkeys engineers, and Amy was a UX and product designer, and co-founder who contributed tons of ideas. Apparently Google gave massive signing bonuses and salaries to the men, but did not hire her or compensate her during the company acquisition.

Put yourself in this position for just a second. You helped found a company, you contributed major ideas, you got it to the point where Google decides it's worth slurping up. But then:

Do you have any clue what that feels like? It's horrible. It's people saying: "I don't respect you because of how you were born." 

It's impossible to imagine this rejection if you are a majority member. Well, I can tell you - it hurts. A lot. Probably one of the hardest pains out there.

The worst part about me reading this article is that this week alone I heard stories about TWO amazing, brilliant, talented, superstar women completely leave their rockstar jobs to adopt non-rockstar occupations. 

Why did these brilliant, talented, incredible women leave their rockstar occupations? Because they couldn't handle the sexism any more. They had no fight left in them. 

What can you do? Well, sponsor the heck out of / promote the professional women you know. 
1) Talk about women to others: "Jane Smith is doing AMAZING work related to yours, you should check out her papers." 
2) Invite women: "Let's invite Jane Smith as a keynote speaker, her research rocks" "Let's ask Jane Smith to lead this project, I think she'd do a fantastic job." 
3) Suggest women when you're poaching people: "Let's see if we could recruit Jane Smith to our department." 
and, if you're a journalist:
4) Interview women. Some publications do well at this, some are still in the stone ages. There are women scientists out there, and they have opinions and interesting things to say too!

And, if you're google, don't be evil. (Write that one down!).


  1. I gotta say that telling this story as Google being sexist-evil seems like a big stretch to me. From the article, the startup in question "wasn't getting traction". I assume that means it was going nowhere fast. As I read the article, none of the people involved with the company got any significant amount of money in the acquisition. So my guess is that Google was not slurping them up because the company's IP was so valuable, but just to hire some engineers.

    For better and worse engineers are in way higher demand at companies like Google than UI/UX/marketing people. Maybe there's an interesting story about the systemic sexism of the gender ratios of coding versus UX, but that's at best marginally Google's fault. If anyone behaved badly in this story it seems to me that it was Amy's former colleagues. They could have insisted on a different deal. But it sure doesn't sound like they had a ton of leverage.

    I'm all for working against sexism in computing, but this story doesn't sound like much of an example of that to me.

    And just to throw in a couple of anecdotes, just today I noticed that Google hired a researcher whose work has been inspirational to me (Kim Hazelwood), and a couple of my female students are over-the-top excited to start their engineering jobs with Google after graduation.

    (Also, not that it's super important, but The New Yorker != New York Magazine.)


  2. I don't think it's relevant if she was a UX person or not. And, besides, lots of UX people are engineers too. The critical point is she was one of the founders of the company, and helped build it. She was deliberately excluded in the company's acquisition.

    It's important to note that sexism is not always overt sexism, "Hey there, lil' lady!" but also covert - being excluded, being held to unreasonable standards, being judged, being paid less. We need to do a better job as a community to combat this.

    Finally -- while it's tempting to explain away actions Agent A might feel were sexist, and give Agent B the benefit of the doubt, we should be careful in doing so. Until we achieve some modicum of gender parity in our field, odds are high that Agent A was wronged. Now, it is entirely possible Agent B might not have *meant* to act sexist, that Agent B was a product of their culture, etc. etc., but we should never discount the feelings of Agent A, and we should strive to continue to educate all about the stark reality of sexism in our field.