What? More Women @ {Future} Stack 13?

October 10, 2013 - by Ben Wen

What I am most interested in, and what I want all of my associates, not only in the [Systems Service Engineer] school but in other branches of the business to be interested in, is helping the young women make a success of this work. It is very, very important, and I know you young ladies will have the cooperation and help of everyone in our business. - IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Sr. ca 1935, addressing the graduates of IBM SSE

I’ve been gratified to observe in the smaller technical communities in which I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working a ruthless egalitarian streak centered on competence. Gender, skin color, spiritual persuasion, gender-identity, political leanings, and unfortunate team affiliations didn’t matter. All one needed to do was ensure customers were satisfied, work got done, and/or the code compiled and ran mostly correctly*.

So it was with a happy heart that I accepted the request to pen an article about Joyent’s Future Stack scholarship sponsorship of an under-represented developer population: women. Say what you will about the vagaries of group identification, the effectiveness social engineering, or the contortive phrase “under-represented minority”, I simply want to find and educate the very best young people to join our ranks in software development, with the help of everyone in our business. Congrats to the inaugural Future Stack scholarship awardees! More please!

Now, I’m not saying that these environments were a perfection of universal harmony and USS Enterprise-cartoonish diversity. If anything, the most creative and productive communities were no-holds-barred contentious, apolitically-correct crackling arenas of differing views, passionately held and devoid of ideology. But – and this is an important but – they were sharply rational and yielded readily to the scythe of hard evidence.

At Joyent, I am again blessed to be in the electric swirl of creativity, and love having as broad a perspective as we do here. Of course, more women engineers’ perspectives would be even better, ahem. The creative spark here is evident in Node.js and in the wide community that surrounds it, igniting the imaginations of developers, entrepreneurs and Node.js monitoring tool authors (hi, Forrest!). Further, Joyent holds a mildly idiosyncratic view of the cloud, hewing closely to a “rebooting as a last resort” philosophy that drives a “thou shall safely debug in production” tooling which in turn attracts customers of a certain persuasion, i.e. those who like to keep their apps running. We also have a wickedly perverse attraction to performance. Engineer Brendan Gregg’s Systems Performance: Enterprise and Cloud book is deep, and his data graphs and maps have garnered props from visualization master Edward Tufte:

Ok, we’re far, far from perfect. We have the core and (rare!) crash dumps to prove it. But we don’t shrink from identifying floating-point mantissa truncation bugs that prevent time from progressing, in production, either. And well, we’re not exactly the most diverse group in that, by my wildly inaccurate count, half the engineering team graduated from Brown University. Help me prove that all bat-shit crazy competent OS engineers don’t just come from Providence, RI, lovely as it may be this time of year. I have a case of Guinness riding on it. Hack code deeply? Send in your resume, github id, etc to the appointed place, please!

But back to Future Stack. Joyent Engineering SVP Bryan Cantrill’s (Brown ’96) talk on Joyent Manta is another good example of the power of no-abstraction-barred systems design that can be practiced. Simplifying data analytics, Joyent Manta builds on the well-known, powerful Unix pipeline model, but at massively parallel scale. It is an in situ compute cluster on object storage. The storage engine uses ZFS and a new hybrid filesystem that can quickly and selectively expose and rollback files for the compute cluster. There are lots of other interesting bits too: Postgres, Zookeeper, and Node.js. Lots of Node.js. And Mario Kart 64 analytics as motivation. No, really. kartlytics.com

Say what? Come to Cantrill’s Future Stack talk on Day One, Thursday Oct 24 at 11:10a and hear about the future of high-performance Big Data analytics, Manta, the future stack you already know.

Join Joyent at Future Stack 13 and use our 25% discount rate!

Speaking of the future past, it’s a little surprising that Thomas Watson’s 1935 quote would seem to need to apply today. So please inform any of the girls and women in your world who are interested in the field that while there are old challenges, there are companies like New Relic and the sponsors who are trying to advance not just the technical parts of the field. In this way, we can solve the hardest problems with the best minds, especially the ones from Providence.

*Note that I have the good taste not to mention tab-width disagreements.

Public Service Message: Volunteer at Level the Playing Field Hackathon in Oakland and Mountain View for 6th-12th grade girls: lpfi.org/hackathon

Check out New Relic’s Joyent page.