Sunday November 29th
What are the Metrics we are measuring?
I had a discussion lately
- I had a discussion lately with a friend in which we were discussing the number of Academic and industry partnerships to get more underrepresented persons in tech or in Academia. In their usual brilliance, they said that the issue wasn’t that persons were struggling to get in to such spaces, but that the attrition rate was awful.
- And it’s true. It’s a lazy metric to pay attention to only the process of admittance, rather than looking at long-term attrition.
- If the process itself is gatekeeping these persons who obtain PhDs from tenure track positions, then what is the point of admitting a bunch of people who will never get these jobs? If this is where the process is broken, admitting more students isn’t solving anything. It’s just lipstick on a pig.
My adventures in OWASP
- I’ve slowly been finding myself, with a lot more free time, fascinated by secure computation, particularly MPC. I’ve been working on a small project, and spending my free time looking at the videos. Basically anything and everything by N. Smart or Y. Ishai. I’ve found myself staying up past 5am reading about and listening to the talks. Somewhere along the way, it reminded me of my time in LA, when I was curious about the world of OWASP and was considering whether I did enjoy the world of forensics and ethical hacking. To me, privacy was security and security was privacy (it’s not), and then there was all this other stuff I was looking at, from functional programming to web design to data science and hardware and robotics. How could I choose?
- I had been to a few meetups run by Peter and to be honest, it was interesting, but I realized that I liked privacy, encryption and data a lot more than I did security, even though people often confuse the two. However, along the way, I was still figuring things out.
- In one Meetup, I attempted to go, but figured out that it would take me around 3 to 5 hours each way to attend. When I got there, I couldn’t find the place after a good hour of looking, so I settled in the nearby library instead and used the sketchy wifi to send the organizer an email telling him I couldn’t find the spot, but that I was in the library. Realizing that the last bus for the day was coming in 20 minutes (so there was physically no other bus arriving until the next morning around 6am), I turned around and went home (I couldn’t afford a taxi and didn’t own a smart phone so taking a rideshare or taxi was out of the question for me). Also, back then, the way I got to places was by drawing instructions on pieces of paper. And sometimes, I wouldn’t know which side of the road the bus would arrive and I would have to wait on the next one in that direction (was it South, or North?).
- When I got back, I received a rude email from the host of the Meetup telling me that “when I was serious” I should consider emailing him, and was subsequently kicked out of the Meetup group. It’s funny to think about now, because I’m on the fringes of that community. However, I think about instances like that and what it means for attrition for persons who are legitmiately interested, and really just need help or support. What if instead of that treatment, the person had helped pool resources with someone who also had an interest (a regular of the group) who could meet me halfway at a location, or something like that? Maybe I might have been a pentester today (no… probably not). To be fair, I did learn a bit of Wireshark on my own out of boredom at a job, and was hanging around a lot of SoCal hackers at the time. But sometimes running into walls like that, depending on someone’s personality, is enough to turn them off.
- It reminds me of a professor who told me that he was once deciding between PL and the crypto community, and when he decided to attend an event and told the person sitting next to him at a lunch table that he was there because he was interested in the community, the person took their lunch tray and walked away. So he ended up in PL instead. In retrospect, I’m happy that they ended up in PL, because that’s where I met them, and they ended up encouraging me to apply to grad school, and I got in, and I’m super thankful that he was there to support and encourage me at a time when I felt like it was silly and I was undeserving of the opportunity.
My adventures in Haskell
- I think about some of these things when I think about some of my experiences in Haskell, too. Sometimes, I used to get upset that I wasn’t further along, but some things came up along the way that were legitimately blockers to my learning. There were legitimately persons and opportunities (or lack thereof) that hindered the process for me, and it was frustrating.
- However, at the same time, there were also people who reached out to me. There was Phil, who went out of his way to offer a ride back to my neighbourhood to both myself and another person in our group. This ensured that it was easier for us to show up. There was also food, which made it easier for persons like myself who weren’t making a lot at the time and couldn’t afford to buy food in the expensive startup neighbourhood of Santa Monica or Playa Vista (where many of the events were held) to be there. It sounds trivial, but these things make a difference to people starting out.
- Similarly, my time at MSRI and Simons Institute and ICERM was similar. I’m not a mathematician, and I don’t pretend to be, but I was (and still am) fascinated by Number Theory and encryption. These places made space for me, and I was typically the only CS student there (they even supported me before I had been accepted to grad school! This is excellent, and I think their support helped me get into grad school), but I appreciate that they thought that my being there was okay. It went a long way for me on my journey.
- They introduced me to the world I knew I wanted to be a part of, and showed me that there was space for someone like me, too.
- I was looking at an (unfortunate) Residency a few days ago and saw that no one in the group of persons they had chosen looked like me. Also, all the persons they had picked came from schools with an outpouring of opportunities and support. It never makes sense to me that on one hand, these organizations and institutions talk about opportunity and diversity and representation, while their actions seem to say the opposite. As a friend of mine years ago said of a conference “It makes no sense that they give us free tickets to all these conferences that are sponsored by all these tech companies, if they don’t intend to hire us”. And it’s true. It becomes more of a dog and pony show than anything that really intends to make a real difference.
- At the end of the day, the long-term impact and rates of attrition tell a clear story. It’s hypocrisy. They don’t want us. We are merely window-dressing. But it’s okay; the ones who make it through will start their own communities. We will succeed in spite of you.
And that’s it.
Written on November 29, 2020