Women in Tech: a different experience

A tweet from @FindingAda this week brought my attention to a blog post by Cate Sevilla of WITsend asking “Are Women in Tech Their Own Worst Enemy?” Cate summarises the lot of women in technology neatly and with some accuracy before going on to bemoan:

….another little ingredient to add to the recipe of female-tech-doom: petty, ridiculous cattiness amongst other women in tech.

She then goes on to ask:

Have each of us done all we can (within reason) to help and encourage our female peers in tech? Or are we fiercely and unnecessarily competitive? If there’s a younger women that’s asking for what tech events you go to to meet new contacts, do you tell her? Bring her along? Or at least point her in the right direction?

@FindingAda described the post as being:

….fabulous, and brave, …. something I’ve seen too much of myself.

While I can identify with being:

….a woman standing in a sea of men at a tech conference….

I can genuinely say that in the domain of educational technology and interoperability standards I have never experienced the kind of attitudes from female colleagues described by Cate and @FindingAda. I have certainly had plenty of arguments and differences of opinion with lots of colleagues regardless of gender, however I really and truly and never experienced this kind of bitchiness.

As evidence of this I’d like to point you to some of the posts that have appeared online to commemorate Rachel Heery.

Sarah Currier commented in response to my own blog post:

I always looked forward to seeing Rachel at meetings. You always knew you had an ally- not an ally in the back-room handshake sense, but in the cut-the-crap, ‘let’s work out what’s best’ sense. She was fun and funny and an excellent role model for younger women coming through.

To which Lorcan Dempsey responded:

….(Rachel) was also very conscious of being a woman in a male-dominated, often techie, environment. I think she would have been very pleased by Sarah Currier’s remark on Lorna Campbell’s blog entry.

This has been my over whelming experience of working with other women in educational technology and other related domains. They may not give you any easy breaks but they are endlessly supportive and encouraging, even while questioning your opinions and picking your argument to pieces!

The Repositories Research Team

The completion of the Repositories and Preservation Programme earlier this year also brought an end to what may have been one of JISC’s longest running support projects, the Repositories Research Team (RRT), formerly the Digital Repositories Programme Support Project (DRPSP). DRPSP / RRT, which ran from 2005 – 2009 is notable in that it was the first JIIE support project delivered collaboratively by two JISC services (now innovation support centres): UKOLN and CETIS. Dedicated support staff were funded at both CETIS and UKOLN and the project was managed by UKOLN’s Rachel Heery from 2005 until her retirement in 2007 and by myself and Phil from 2008 – 2009.

Digital Repositories Programme Support Project

In its initial incarnation from 2005 – 2007 DRPSP focused primarily on project support with team members supporting individual projects through thematic clusters. This allowed the team to become familiar with project activities, giving them a detailed overview of the programme as a whole and enabling them to provide advice to projects on relevant related work. In addition to two project support officers at UKOLN a project officer was funded at CETIS to support teaching and learning focused repository projects. This was particularly beneficial in the early stages of the programme as there is a tendency for issues relating specifically to the management of educational resources and the role of repositories in the teaching and learning domain to become subsumed by the open access / scholarly works / institutional repositories agendas.

During this period DRPSP also ran a number of support workshops focused on complex objects, using UML, writing scenarios and usecases and developing service usage models.

SWAP and SWORD

The team also played a significant role in incubating a number of high profile technical developments, most notably the Scholarly Works Application Profile (SWAP ) and the Simple Web-service Offering Repository Deposit (SWORD) Protocol. SWORD is particularly interesting as it originated from a discussion on repository service-orientation at the 2005 CETIS Conference. This discussion identified “deposit” as the most important repository function for which there was no single, obvious standard for implementation as a web service. DRPSP carried out introductory research, held a series of meetings and gathered use cases and feedback from the repository development community to help incubate work on a common API for repository deposit. This working group ultimately gave rise to the SWORD project which developed a profile of the Atom Publishing Protocol as a deposit API.

Repositories Research Team

When DRPSP morphed into RRT in 2007 the direct project support and institutional advocacy remit passed to the recently established Repository Support Project. This enabled RRT to concentrate on providing support to JISC at a more strategic level. Notable outputs from this period include the programme level synthesis and the repository ecology work.

Programme Synthesis and Evaluation

The objective of this activity was to identify evidence produced by projects that would be relevant to a planned thematic evaluation and synthesis of the Repositories and Preservation Programme. The actual evaluation and synthesis was undertaken by external consultants and the relevant themes were identified by JISC programme managers. In order to facilitate this work the team used a shared blog where they posted evidence tagged by theme that they had trawled from project outputs. This resulted in a blog that effectively acted as a public annotated index of project outputs tagged against themes. The blog platform provided useful functionality in that it allowed the distributed team to work together on a collection of documents, it provided a useful over-view for the JISC programme managers and a starting point and invaluable programme summary for the consultants commissioned to carry through the evaluation and synthesis.

Repository Ecology

The Repository Ecology activity was originally inspired by Neil Maclean’s EDCL 2004 keynote in The Ecology of Repository Services: A Cosmic View! and evolved into a major initiative to investigate models of repository and service interaction and to consider the strengths and limitations of different approaches to articulating or modelling their relationships. The biological study of ecology examined as a potential metaphor to provide new ways to represent the complex multi-faceted environments in which repositories exist and interact. The report and case studies, which are available from the IE Repository, were highlighted by Dorothea Salo on her Caveat Lector blog in a post entitled “JISC is so much win

On reflection

Running a cross service support project with a significant advisory, synthesis and incubation remit was not without its challenges and it is fitting testament to Rachel Heery’s considerable expertise as a project manager that the team overcame the obstacles of physical and administrative distance to produce such varied and valuable outputs. When Rachel retired her departure had an immediate impact on the team and it’s fair to say that Neil Jacobs of JISC, Phil Barker and I had quite a job picking up where she left off.

Despite the challenges of managing such a long running cross service support project we believe that funding dedicated staff in existing services and innovation support centres and bringing them together to form a coherent project is generally a good model for programme support. This enables the support team to leverage the resources and expertise of the host service or centre. In addition the services and innovation support centres are also in a good position to synthesise issues arising from the programme, relate them to broader strategic issues and feed them back to JISC.

DRSPS / RRT was a relatively long-lived project that spanned a number of programmes and whose remit changed considerably throughout its lifetime. The project was fortunate to employ a number of dedicated and motivated staff who rose to the challenge and who, despite the challenges, viewed their time with the DRSPS / RRT project as being extremely positive and productive both professionally and personally.

In the words of one team member:

“I gained an awful lot. I gained a broad knowledge of repositories and projects and what was going on in repositories area. I gained skills in standards development, application profiling…. I made tons of contacts and had opportunities to travel. It was a fantastic job really.”

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the following staff and thank them for their input to DRPSP / RRT: Julie Allinson (formerly UKOLN, now University of York), Sarah Currier (formerly CETIS, now Sarah Currier Consultancy), Michael Day (UKOLN), Mahendra Mahey (UKOLN), R. John Robertson (CETIS), Adrian Stevenson (UKOLN).

A number of JISC programme managers and consultants also made a significant contribution to this project over its lifespan including Neil Jacobs (who stepped into the breach as project manager in 2007), Andy MacGregor, Rachel Bruce, Amber Thomas, Balviar Notay and Tom Franklin.

In particular we would like to acknowledge the invaluable personal and professional contribution made to this and many other projects by Rachel Heery, Assistant Director for Research and Development at UKOLN, until her retirement in 2007.

Thanks!
Phil Barker and Lorna M. Campbell