Hey Girl, didn't I see you at the Tableau Customer Conference 2013?

I just got home from a crazy wonderful week at the Tableau Customer Conference in Washington DC and I am bursting with so much information and excitement.  Too much to talk about in one post.

There was one thing though, an impression, and it was noticeable. There were so many women at this conference. All kinds of women; women in suits, young geeky women, women from every culture, even women with grey hair.

Why is this a big deal? Because usually at tech conferences men outnumber the women noticeably.  I can't guess at the normal ratio, but it's probably the same as in any IT department (5ish to 1?). One of the first tweets of the conference made note of the fact that the ratio there was probably 1:1. And it looked that way. People mentioned it and wondered why.

I think I know why. Because Tableau's conference is a user conference and most of Tableau's users belong the "Analyst Army", and in many organizations' the Analyst Army is fairly gender balanced. For two reasons; women make great analysts and it's a great paying job without having to enter management. (which is logistically difficult for women in their childbearing years).

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, let me state straight out that I am a feminist. I am a feminist simply because there should be equality between the genders in a society. Imbalance is unhealthy. Being a feminist doesn't mean that I hate men - my dad is a man, my brother is a man, my son is a man, and my grandson is a 'big boy' - and I love them all dearly. None of them would want to see me or the other women in their lives be disadvantaged simply because we're female. And not that long ago, we were. Today, we have many of the same opportunities and choices as men when it comes to our education and careers. Same goes for men. They aren't hindered by stereotypes; stereotypes exist, but men can and are choosing to enter into careers that were formerly seen as women's jobs (e.g. nursing).

So, why do I think women make great analysts? I think of it as the hunter, gatherer thing; the division of labor related to our physiology. It's not black and white of course, but a continuum of traits that people possess.

Originally anthropologists theorized that language was developed by men as it was necessary for the strategizing component of hunting.  Later ethnographic analysis of contemporary hunter/gatherer tribes revealed that in fact men did little talk around hunting (mostly silent signal communication), but that women developed language in order to pass on valuable gathering information (where, when, how, what's deadly and what's not). Gathering not only requires communication, but collaborations.  Relationship dynamics are particularly important in the management of child rearing and food gathering.  Keep in mind, men do this as well, and personally, I think men are great storytellers, perhaps from sitting around the fire and telling tales of the kill (big fish stories).

I think it's the gathering traits that tend to be slightly stronger in women that make them good analysts.  If you've seen the HBO documentary "Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden", you'll know what I'm getting at.  "The Sisterhood" intelligence team which began investigating Al-Qaeda in 1995, consisted of 6 women, two of which have commented on women in this field:
Why do women particularly excel at this type of analysis? Storer says, “I guess women are better at seeing the forests and the trees. It may have something to do with a woman’s survival instinct, the need to gather, multi-task, organize it all and figure out how to use it.”  ~ Cindy Storer, Former CIA Analyst
 “I think women make fantastic analysts. We have patience, perseverance, and we’re not always looking for the sexy payoff immediately.”   ~ Nada Bakos, Former CIA Analyst
Then there's the issue of this being a decent paying position without having to go into management. Management has a particular set of stressors which can be incongruent with parenting, mostly the hours. (Not to mention the innumerable meetings, but that's just me.)  Also, once a woman decides to start having children, she knows she will be in and out of the workforce for a few years depending on how many children she has.  This is particularly difficult in a management position, which can be much more political.  One very successful woman I know in a male dominated arena put it succinctly, "Oh, I have to be Alpha". That's the 'Lean In' approach and it's not for every woman.

Ok.  A bit of homage to inspiring women and then I'm done with the girl talk.

Meet Amanda Cox.

In case you don't know her, she's a Graphics Editor at the New York Times, who humbly refers to herself as a Chartmaker. She's my hero because she presents data beautifully.  She has a masters in statistics so don't think for a minute that she's just making pretty charts.  She makes meaningful charts and visualizations that pull the reader into the story with delight.

I started following her work online when she joined the NYT in 2005. Because it was noticeable.  I can't remember the first visualization that caught my eye, but I remember how rocked I was. I was thrilled. Information COULD be presented in a beautiful way and now I had proof.  You can see the process that goes into some of her work on Charts n things.

Meet Kathy Sierra.

She's the co-creator of the Head First series of computer books for O'Reiley media (starting with Head First Java) and inspiring blogger of Creating Passionate Users.  She's my hero, because she communicates beautifully and puts the focus on the user (or audience).

Unfortunately, I discovered her blog after she stopped blogging, but she hasn't taken it down and it is loaded with rich information on UI principles and learning theory.  Plus, she draws a lot of her ideas.  This is my personal favorite, probably because it's Zombie themed: