Dylan’s Desk: Why Silicon Valley is still a man’s world

ipad classroom students

Girls are just better at school, it appears. So why aren’t there more women in key roles at tech companies?

Girls outperform boys in academic achievement in 70 percent of the countries around the world, according to a recent study. The study, done by researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Glasgow, looked at the educational achievement levels of 1.5 million 15-year-old students around the world, from 2000 to 2010.

“Even in countries where women’s liberties are severely restricted, we found that girls are outperforming boys in reading, mathematics, and science literacy by age 15,” said one of the study’s two authors, David Geary, a psychology professor at MU.

The only places where that was not the case were Colombia, Costa Rica, and the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In the United States and United Kingdom, boys and girls had comparable levels of educational achievement.

But everywhere else, on average, 15-year-old girls do better in all subjects, including science and math.

So why aren’t there more women in tech?

As the researchers write in their paper, this finding “raises the question of why – despite educational opportunities and success – women are under-represented in leadership positions in politics, business, and academia.”

Or, as many have been asking in Silicon Valley lately, why aren’t there more female programmers, engineers, product managers, and tech executives at our companies?

The researchers put forward two theories. One is that, while the average performance of girls is higher, it’s the top-performing individuals who go on to these kinds of leadership positions, and “boys at the highest levels [do] equally well [as] or better than girls at the highest levels.”

The other is that relative performance matters to each individual. If you’re better at language arts you’re more likely to become a humanities major in college; if you’re better at science and math, you’re more likely to become a science, math, or engineering major.

In other words, even if you’re better than most of the boys at math, you still might go into the humanities if those are your strong suit.

The authors acknowledge that there are other issues involved, such as the way cultural norms might feed boys into a “pipeline” of clubs, interests, and majors that culminate in the kinds of skills needed to land a tech job — while girls get directed into other kinds of educational and extracurricular tracks.

Put another way: Between the ages of 15 and 21, most girls face an enormous amount of social and academic pressure to leave science and math. They have to put up with schools, peers, and a society that expect less of them, and people who actively discourage them from pursuing these fields. Despite starting academically ahead, they have to work extra hard just to keep up with the boys, who don’t have to spend half their energy simply justifying their right to be there. Faced with stereotypes, discrimination, exclusion, peer pressure, and more, most girls give up.

But the study didn’t tackle that issue.

The aptitude gap persists

There’s a third possibility, which is that academic performance doesn’t correlate with aptitude, and that from ages 15 to 21, the math-science abilities of boys start to outstrip those of girls.

A blogger who goes by the pen name Scott Alexander has done some interesting, detailed analysis of GRE scores and SAT scores by university department, and has found very strong correlations. Physics and engineering departments have a much higher average score on the math part of the test, and a much smaller number of women, while art history and English literature show the opposite pattern.

Now, GRE scores are taken by college seniors, so that could reflect the benefits of four years of schooling. But SAT tests are usually taken by 17-year-olds, and they show a similar, if slightly weaker, correlation. In other words, Alexander writes, by 11th grade, there is already an aptitude gap between girls and boys in terms of their math abilities.

There are all kinds of ways to argue with that point (going back to the pipeline and stereotype arguments, of course), but it can’t be easily rejected out of hand. Whatever the cause, the gap seems to be there.

If we try to square this two papers, it looks like something happens after the age of 15. Girls, who start out very strong in science and math, gradually drift away from it — for whatever reason — and that causes them to lose ground.

If I were looking to solve the gender gap in tech, I’d start by trying to keep 15-year-old girls engaged with science and math — and prevent people from pushing them out.

The Moneyball opportunity

The Missouri study raises another issue for me. It suggests that Silicon Valley companies, which pride themselves on being meritocracies, are missing a big opportunity.

It’s a competitive job market, which means that many companies would be eager to find a pool of talent that is easier to recruit — and perhaps less expensive — than the usual suspects.

This study shows that there’s an enormous pool of talent like that: women, who for whatever reason, had high levels of academic achievement in science and math early on but wound up going into different fields in college.

Now, granted, many of these talented people will lack the kind of training that most companies need. But with the wealth of coding academies around — many of which are aimed at women — it should be pretty easy to rectify that problem.

You just need to find talented candidates who did well in science and math during high school, regardless of whether they followed up on that interest in college, and then train them up. It’s the Moneyball strategy.

Or, you know, you could just look for culture fit.

from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1BqZaMn

Dylan’s Desk: Why Silicon Valley is still a man’s world

Holograms suddenly make Microsoft cool again

An onstage HoloLens demo.

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If Microsoft ever needed a dose of the cool, it’s now. Fortunately, the company seems to have gotten the message.

The company’s rollout yesterday of a slew of new features for Windows 10 includes some pretty nifty features — and at least one big surprise.

In addition to a bunch of expected features (such as a single operating system that unifies Windows on tablets and PCs with its phone and the expected addition of the virtual voice-activated assistant Cortana), Microsoft showed off one especially cool thing: Its HoloLens, an augmented-reality headset that superimposes virtual “holographs” over the real world.

Another sign of coolness and integration: Microsoft said yesterday that people who had bought Xbox games would be able to play them on their Windows 10 PCs and tablets, too. If you’re a gamer, that’s pretty cool — and it helps to better integrate Xbox into Microsoft’s overall ecosystem.

The HoloLens has multiple sensors and a custom Microsoft chip called a Holographic Processing Unit to help it understand what you’re looking at and where you are in space. It’s connected to a new Microsoft product called Windows Holographic, which extends that augmented-reality capability to all Windows users. Holographic application programming interfaces (APIs) will be embedded within Windows 10.

Rather than a virtual-reality headset like the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR, which block out the real world and replace it with a virtual one, the HoloLens add things to the real world that only you can see: Virtual display screens on walls, 3D objects you can model on your desktop with hand gestures, or playful little sprites that dance around your furniture as part of a game you’re playing with them.

The videos demonstrating the system are impressive, even if they leave me wondering whether anyone would actually want to use an interface like this once the novelty wears off.

But more important, it shows that Microsoft under Satya Nadella is finally starting to figure out how to pull together its considerable assets into a single, more cohesive whole. That’s something the company has struggled with for years.

“We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows,” Nadella said yesterday. “That is our bold goal with Windows.”

Now, Microsoft has never exactly been “cool.” Even Bill Gates became a lot cooler when he left the company he founded, and that’s saying a lot. But with a mature OS business, threats from gigantic competitors, and a lackluster reputation among techies, coolness might be just what Microsoft needs.

As I wrote in October, Microsoft’s last big OS launch wasn’t exactly spectacular. Windows 8 was an ambitious attempt to introduce a new, touch-centric interface while maintaining compatibility with the massive number of old, keyboard-and-mouse Windows applications out there. It didn’t quite flop, selling 200 million copies in its first 15 months, but Microsoft hasn’t released any sales figures for the OS since February, and this is never a good sign. (If sales were good, Microsoft would be bragging about them.)

Worse, Windows 8 (including its incremental upgrade, 8.1) barely shows up in a measure of what kinds of computers people are using to access the Internet. That’s one way of finding out what kinds of computers people are actually using, and the signs aren’t good. Windows 8 and 8.1 currently account for about 12.5 percent of the computers connecting to the Internet, according to NetMarketShare. Windows 7, by contrast, accounts for more than half of the browsing public — while Microsoft’s ancient and long-obsolete OS, Windows XP, still holds more than 24 percent.

Microsoft bet big on the tablet interface with Windows 8, hoping to cash in on the increasing coolness of tablets from 2010-2012, but its bet failed. The new interface was too confusing for people — and tablet sales have actually slackened a bit, suggesting that Microsoft’s bet was poorly timed.

One cautionary note: People — including me — have been making dire predictions about Microsoft for years. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that more than 85 percent of the desktop computers people are using, according to that NetMarketShare data, are running Microsoft operating systems. (And desktop computers still account for more than 80 percent of overall browsing activity, while tablets and mobile phones have less than 20 percent.) With billions of Windows licenses out there, and robust businesses based on Office, Azure, Xbox, and more, Microsoft isn’t going to quietly fade away any time soon.

But if it can’t capture some of the cool factor, it will have a hard time inspiring employees and customers, and Microsoft will face a long, slow battle against companies like Google and Apple that don’t have such difficulties. That will, over time, erode the company’s dominance, no matter how much of a lead it has now.

Is this week’s news enough to save the company from a long, slow decline into irrelevance? Let’s be clear: The HoloLens alone won’t make the difference between Microsoft undergoing a renaissance and Microsoft fading into a comfortable obscurity.

But as a sign of the company’s more strategic, integrated thinking, it’s promising indeed. And a little cool factor doesn’t hurt at all.

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from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1yTWviL

Holograms suddenly make Microsoft cool again

I talk to Fox Business about CES 2015

Screenshot of Dylan Tweney on Fox Business talking to Charles Payne.
Screenshot of Dylan Tweney on Fox Business talking to Charles Payne.

Wearables will be everywhere at CES, I said last week on the eve of the big gadget show.

“Everyone wants to be the next Apple watch,” I told Fox Business, “but unfortunately we’re going to have to wait for the Apple Watch to come out.” And as everyone knows, Apple doesn’t do CES.

I also talked about the 8k TVs that will be hyped at this year’s CES. “Manufacturers are going to be showing off 8K TVs, which are 16 times as many pixels that you have in your HD TV today,” I said. “But there’s no content for 8K, there are no cameras for 8K, and most people don’t even know why they need a 4K TV yet.”

What else could I complain about? Virtual reality masks like Oculus VR. If you liked the way you looked in Google Glass, you’re going to love Oculus, I joked.