A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

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The technology graveyard is littered with Google ideas

People who know me well (in person) know that I like to talk about Google. In particular, their business model interests me because they have taken a very public, visible approach to R&D. Instead of having developers in secretive, dark “labs” where they are destined to work on projects that will most likely never see the light of day, Google encourages its developers to create visible projects that are showcased (and talked about) on their Google Labs website. This has its good sides (publicity!) and its bad sides (publicity before the apps are ready for prime time.) Most importantly to Google, it makes sure the word “Google” is always on the tip of reporters’ tongues, as Google continually refreshes its product list and finally “releases” products from Labs into the real world.

Google is not only doing this for the publicity aspect, however. Their management team is apparently of the philosophy “Let’s throw 1000 things against the wall and see what sticks.” That is, Google is hoping that eventually, a few of these Labs ideas will pay off and make big money for the company. Google shares this wealth with the employees that create the projects via Founders’ Awards — huge stock option grants for projects that make the company a lot of money. The first two Founders’ Awards were given out in 2005 and totaled $12 million in stock compensation. (reference)

That’s great for the big projects (and believe me, every employee at Google works doggedly to make sure his or her pet project is next in line for one of those awards.) But this blog entry is about those projects that aren’t the next billion-dollar idea. Obviously, by giving employees incentives to create web-based projects of their own accord, Google will have hundreds of these projects going on in a few years. Some of these hundreds of projects will be successful and will integrate with the rest of Google. The truly unsuccessful ones will either languish or be cut entirely. But what about the inevitable projects in the middle?

Let’s say (just using some random numbers as an example) an employee that Google pays $100,000 per year creates a project in his or her “20% time” that is successful. The project, funded by pageview ads, grosses $250,000 per year. That employee does not spend the majority of his or her time supporting the project… perhaps just the aforementioned “20% time”. What does Google do with this project?

“Well, keep it, of course!” you say. “It’s profitable!” Well, not exactly. Now that Google is a publicly-traded company, its shareholders are expecting big things. With annual revenue of $1 billion+ per year and stock prices in the stratosphere, it’s clear that both shareholders and Wall Street are not interested in a project that nets approximately $200K per year after expenses. The question that Google execs will have to ask themselves in the future is, “Is this developer’s time (even part of it) better spent on a project that will never net more than $200-$300K per year, or on a project that has the potential to make millions (or billions)?”

Companies have traditionally solved this problem by creating spinoffs, but at only $200K-$300K revenue vs. Google’s $1B+ bottom line, it’s not worth it to Google to spin a company off, even if it is profitable. The only choices left, then, are to either let that employee continue working on a project that will not substantially improve Google’s bottom line, or to axe the project. It’s the latter I think Google will have trouble with. After all, their roots are in creating a “startup-like culture” for their employees. Google Labs is full of projects that will likely never make the company a dime (except by some marginal publicity), like Google Mars. As long as these projects suck up nothing more than a one-time “develop and showcase” investment of a developer’s time, that’s fine. The problem occurs when these projects continue to suck up more and more time from developers who could be working on “better” (read: more profitable) ideas. It will be a tough call for Google to “prune” less profitable projects, but they will have to in order to continue to be a successful company.

Once Google realizes they have to cut back and only continue development on the projects that did “stick”, inevitably, they will crush a few of their developers’ hearts. I have a feeling some of those developers may even become jaded and go out and start their own companies (sort of like the many software companies spawned by former Microsofties in Redmond.) Those companies may even grow to become quite successful. Hmm…

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Why Are There So Few Women in IT? (Erica's opinion)

One of the reasons I started the thread (edit: read my previous blog post first) was to expose some of the myths that float around in the IT world and are perpetuated by men who (unfortunately) have no real idea why there aren’t any women in their field, and make guesses that aren’t based on any reality. I have heard countless times things like “Women just aren’t good at math”, “Women aren’t risk-takers”, “Women shy away from leadership and men don’t”, etc. It’s shocking how little some people in our field know about women’s real motivations and why they aren’t in IT.

Here’s what I can tell you. I know a pretty diverse group of women, some of whom are quite brilliant, but very few of whom have actually stuck it out in IT. Why? As best I can tell, each of them have had so many bad experiences with the men in IT that they’ve given up on it. Every woman I know who has computers or math as even a passing interest has stories of male teachers, male counterparts, or male bosses tell them some form of “Women can’t cut it in this industry.” The IT industry tends to attract men who prefer computers to socialization. This is where I believe that differences between men and women come in. Now, you can argue whether these differences are built-in or societal (I happen to believe it’s 90%+ societal). Here’s what I’ve seen:

1) I really think the key is the different way males and females in our society are motivated. Female role models motivate by building everyone up and encouraging them to work as a team. Male role models motivate by singling out the “weakest link” and (often) putting that person on display in front of the others as an example of what not to do. When a man in our society is told he isn’t good enough, he considers this a challenge to his ego and strives to do better. Women tend to internalize this and get frustrated about it; they avoid the conflict and either do something else or work with other people who are going to be more supportive. Many males, especially in the tech industry, use the words “You aren’t good enough” as a motivator without understanding that it doesn’t motivate most women. This goes along with the fact that women in our society have much lower self-confidence than men; did you know that 1 in 5 women are on anti-depressants?

2) Women tend to want to work with other people. I have heard a lot of women say “I don’t want to work in the computer industry because it involves sitting in front of a computer all day, and I’d rather be out there with people.” I have also heard this same statement from numerous men, but I think this is a larger influencing decision on women.

While males can generally work with a female leader (though they may criticize her for not being assertive or authoritative in the way they consider to be a leader), women will not work well with a traditionally dominant male leader, and if a woman happens to be singled out, she will generally try to “blend in” in her ideal of having everyone work as a solid, cohesive team.

I have read numerous books that say similar things, including one interesting study about women who win awards. Men who win awards will claim it for themselves (single person mentality) and thank everyone else as an afterthought, while women will make sure to carefully thank everyone on their team and often say things like “I couldn’t have done this without them!”

What can we do to change this? 1) Educate male teachers and role models on how women are motivated and teach them how motivating as a team can benefit all of their students/workers; and 2) Encourage more female role models in the IT industry. I’d like to expand on these two things in the future once I talk to more women and get specific ideas.

If any of you have comments on why you think there are so few women in IT, now is the time to make them. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Why Are There So Few Women in IT?

Well, I started this thread on a web hosting site I frequent, and I figured it’d be a hot-button issue. For those of you who aren’t interested in reading the whole thread, I asked “Why do you think only 1% of our dedicated server and colocation customers are female?” (Actually, it’s worth noting that we have no female colo customers, and believe me, we have enough customers to make that judgment at this point. I’d say the percentage there will be less than 1% even as we continue to grow.)

We do have several women who utilize our shared and reseller hosting plans, but they don’t seem to make the leap from there to dedicated servers or colocation. So I asked why, knowing “women in IT” is a hot-button issue, but wanting to hear opinions regardless.

Before I post my opinion, I’d like you to see what some other people said. It’s important to single these out so those of you who are male and reading this will get a glimpse of what women in this industry hear on a daily basis.

“Because colo or dedicated servers are more complicated to handle for the typical women?”
“Well there aren’t too many guys working at the flower shops either. Some markets are just gender specific.”
“I personally think women…are less likely to take risks…”
“Fact: Men in general are bigger risk takers than women.” (Side note: I love how this was presented as a fact.)
“I think the thing here is that, generally the males use the computers a lot while the females are out putting on makeup…”
“The majority of [women] can be rather emotional compared to men (and yes, I do believe that statement is a proven fact)…” (Side note: What does being emotional have to do with leasing a dedicated server?)
“Women like pretty things. Us men like technical stuff. I really can’t see a woman drooling over the latest GeForce graphics cards and AMD processors can you?”

Now that you’ve heard some of the “facts” that are perpetuated in this industry, I’d like you to hear some actual analysis. I’ll present some of the opinions by others first:

“The fact is that the number of men in the IT field is far greater than the number of women, so naturally it will appear that it is the men who are constantly doing well in the field; its very easy for the small number of women to be left unnoticed and lost among the crowd. The few women I know who actually dared to depart from the norm and enter into this male-dominated industry have done just as well as the men (if not better in some cases), and they enjoy their jobs just as much as their male-counterparts.

As mentioned before, not many people deviate from societal norms. Men who show great interest in IT, gadgets and the like, are conforming to societal norms, women who do the same are going against societal norms. You will always find that very few people bother to, or are willing to ‘go against the grain’.”
(written by a woman who runs a web hosting company)

“Are there more men in IT? Yes. Is it because men are better suited for it? There are studies I’m sure, that go both ways on this, and a professor at Harvard just recently got himself in a bit of trouble with his observations. The fact is, I see women in IT, and have worked with women in IT, who do a far better job than most, of not all, of the men. The biggest thing that I see in IT that women need to overcome is sexism. This conversation, thus far, does not surprise me at all. Men, in general, think that women are not “made” for IT.

My input into this conversation, to answer the original question, is simply that I think society has geared women in one direction for centuries, and 80 years (since they got the vote in the US) is not going to change that. The next generation, however, will be different. Our daughters will be able to do more than their mothers could, but still not everything that I believe they should be able to. Society takes a while to catch up.”
(written by a man who runs a web hosting company)

What I wanted to showcase here is the shocking assumptions that make their way through this industry as “fact”. “Fact: Women aren’t risk takers.” “Fact: Women would rather put on makeup than use a computer.” “Fact: Women just aren’t good at math.” (I’m actually surprised that third one didn’t pop up in this thread, but give it time and it probably will.) Taken out of context, these “facts” seem almost laughable, but they are sadly the norm in this industry. Why is this, and what can we do to change it? I will address that in my next blog (which should be posted in just a few minutes.)

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