Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Language Spy

    At the developer conference I wrote about in a previous post, I had the usual name badge on a lanyard round my neck. Under my name: "Language Spy".

    A significant number of the people I talked to assumed it was my job title. Pity, that, as it's the name of my startup.

    Some time in early February I moved on from the place I called work for four and a half years, gave notice on my flat, and set to coding. As a dotcommer I never move away from the startup mentality, so to me it seems like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
    I'm a geek-of-all-tech-trades, but I work in the language business. I came to it via a very convoluted path through electronics, computer games, the web, and then search engines. What I'm doing now builds on one of my fascinations, hobbies, and side projects of many years standing, the statistical analysis of large bodies of text. I gather huge amounts of language, tell my computer to make observations on it I couldn't possibly do myself, and then write code to render the result in a human-readable form.
    I've got several products in the pipeline, but my first is live on the web and involves time-series political data. If you want to know which of the party leaders is making waves in the UK election campaign, or which of the 2016 US presidential hopefuls is most affected by whatever banana skins Fox News toss at them, it's the tool for you. I am waiting for the general election with interest, because it'll allow me to test my theory that I can use corpus data to call the result.

The URL?

    I kinda wish I had adopted it as a job title now.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Almost the only girl in the room

    If you visit the loo in a department store before Christmas, there'll be a queue in the ladies a mile long, and no queue in the gents. Truth be told it's a situation you'll find any time, but never mind, it's a cameraderie thing.
    There's one place where the situation is reversed though. Visit the loo at a software developer conference and the queue for the gents is five miles long, while the ladies is just walk right in and pee.
    Yes, I've been milling around with about a thousand geeks and learning about cool new software tricks in a cavernous warehouse-turned-Evangelical church that hires itself out on weekdays for relatively Godless geeks to hear their technological prophets impart their pearls of wisdom.

    One thing had changed though since the last dev conference I attended. The first thing the organiser opened with was a statement of a code of conduct.

    This is an important and welcome change, and it's one that has its roots both in developer and startup culture, and in a couple of stories that made the news last year.
    It's probably safe to say that the majority of software developers are men. And it's probably also safe to say that the majority of software developers who work in the startup scene are young men. There has therefore historically been something of a macho culture among developers. It's even spawned a word of its own: brogrammer.
    Last year the industry received something of a wake-up call over the undesirable side of this culture. In March a female developer at PyCon Tweeted a picture of two men seated behind her making sexist comments. One of them lost his job, and after a significant fuss, a denial-of-service against her blog, and a lot of very nasty abuse, so did she. And in August there was the so-called "Gamergate" controversy, when a group of women in the video game business criticised sexism in their industry and received a horrifying sustained campaign of online abuse as a result.
    I can't say these incidents sat entirely comfortably with me from either side. I don't think job losses were a good outcome for anyone, and as someone who's ex-game-industry I didn't quite recognise the space I used to work in. But then again Middle England was always going to have a different gamer culture from California.
     What I can say though is that there was an undercurrent in coding culture that needed addressing. And if it took the certain knowledge that any twattish behaviour would be Tweeted in secconds to do it, then I'm glad to see the culture's reformed itself.
    I spent an evening after the conference drinking Stowford Press and discussing random startup plans with other People Like Me. No hassle, no bother.
   And that's just the way it should be.