Hablamos Español – Jeb Bush, Sonia Sotomayor, Tim Kaine, Rubio, Paltrow, Affleck…

We have been studying Spanish for the past few years and after trips to Costa Rica, Spain, Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico, and Chile, it has become clear how incredibly pervasive the Spanish speaking culture is in the United States as well. Despite the title, this is not a political post, but a nod to the diversity that is so thinly veiled behind the English dominated world. A favorite restaurant employee, a Supreme Court justice, construction workers, many politicians (whether you agree or disagree with their political positions), landscapers, “caucasian” celebrities, professional athletes, and many others all speak the second most popular language on the planet (behind Chinese!).

So here is a short list of my favorites, not in any order and certainly omitting many. I’ll start with Jeb Bush because he inspired me to write this post after seeing him on “El Punto,” the news show hosted by the popular Spanish television anchor Jorge Ramos. Please excuse the ads, Univision goes a bit overboard and I promise hearing Jeb Bush speaking fluent Spanish is worth it.

Next up is the Supreme Court Justice of the United States Sonia Sotomayor in an interview with Jorge Ramos from 2013.

If you don’t speak Spanish, jump to the last 30 seconds where you can see her dancing salsa with Mr. Ramos, muy divertida!

Also, the NY Times article “Habla Español? Tim Kaine Is Latest Candidate to Use Spanish” features several politicians including Tim Kaine, George W. Bush, Michael Bloomberg (or Miguel Bloombito as he is sometimes referred to for his poor Spanish skills), Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. Finally, the article, “Guess Who Else Speaks Spanish?” lists 10 more Spanish speaking celebrities with short videos of them speaking.

Yet despite the number of people who speak Spanish around the world, it is shockingly underrepresented in the high tech world. When I managed Mexico for a high technology company, every trip was a revelation. A small calibration lab in what looked like a rundown part of town housed state of the art equipment that was sometimes new, sometimes old, but always kept in impeccable condition. Thirty year old measurement microphones used regularly were still stored in their original mahogany boxes with the original manuals nearby. Engineers often times utilized older equipment to the fullest long after their North American counterparts had moved onto to the “latest and greatest” product offerings.

If your sales and marketing teams are not paying attention to Latin America, they should be. It is a massive market poised for growth. Unexpected highlights include Mexico’s emerging importance in high tech, Costa Rica’s focus on Corporate Services, and Columbia’s exploding IT sector (the third largest in Latin America). To be fair, these efforts will probably not create overnight record breaking growth in the bottom line, but a long-term strategic plan will certainly pay dividends over time especially since most companies are not focusing on Latin America at the moment. At the very least, you will find (like I did) a rich, open culture that greets the rest of the world with a hearty, “Tengo ganas de trabajar con usted pronto.”

Mansplaining Women in Tech

My manager at my first engineering job after college was a woman. In my second engineering job, my coworker was a female engineer. Years later I worked for a company where one of the two owners was a woman and she provided my first real training as a sales engineer. The other owner of the company, a man, handed me a stack of technical manuals and just said “read these.” However the woman trained me by example, setting a high bar for ethicality, professionalism, and technical expertise. Based on these experiences (and at the risk of “mansplaining”), here are a few of my thoughts on the situation.

It is 2017 and it is still pathetic how male-dominated the tech world is. My third job was working for a “progressive” engineering company. That environment demonstrated gender issues more typical of the high tech world where the few women employees were in “Marketing / Order Entry / Human Resources” roles while Product Development, Management, and Sales (everything else) were male. There were a few women though in technical roles, but they never had it easy as the only females in rooms full of dozens of men. Situations like these were a rude shock after working in environments for years where gender issues weren’t issues at all.

Most men would find it hard to imagine getting dressed in the morning and having to consider whether the clothes they were planning to wear were going to “send the right message” to the group of women they would be working with that day. “Is this suit too form fitting?” “Should I button one more button of my dress shirt?” The challenges would continue throughout the workday where they would have to monitor every comment to make sure they were coming across professionally and not “as a man.”

In my opinion, the solutions to deep seated gender prejudices start with both men and women not allowing thinly veiled sexism to gain acceptance in any way. Sexist jokes can be met with silent disapproval and “mansplainers” can gently be coaxed into more reciprocal verbal exchanges. The Taylor Swift trial is another example of how powerful women can use their influence to confront serious gender based abuse. However, despite her win, prominent news sources still published negative headlines such as Reuters’ “Despite losing trial to Taylor Swift, DJ insists he never groped her.”

It is also possible to not support companies that clearly violate gender equality standards. We now use Lyft instead of Uber. Uber is well known to have an openly hostile environment toward women. If you would like to take a deeper dive, the Accidental Tech Podcast discussed “women in tech” in a recent episode (at 45:34). Unfortunately, it was a couple of guys discussing it so if you would like to hear a discussion from female executives in high tech, then look no further than Kara Swisher, Executive Editor of ReCode, and Lauren Goode, Senior Technology Editor at The Verge, interviewing Niniane Wang and Joelle Emerson. It is over an hour of in-depth discussion on topics ranging from harassment in “hyper-masculine environments” to “Broflakes.” A Broflake is a man who has no trouble criticizing women, but then says he’s afraid to participate in an honest conversation about gender issues.

Ok, enough for now and we didn’t even get to the infamous “Google Manifesto.” However, so you don’t feel unsatisfied, here’s a link to the Vox article, “I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you” written by a woman who “is a lecturer in computer science at Stanford,” “taught at least four different programming languages, including assembly,” and has “had a single-digit employee number in a startup.” Fascinating!

Gloria Steinem speaking with supporters at the Women Together Arizona Summit at Carpenters Local Union in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Cuba Is NOT Covered in Your T-Mobile Data Plan!

But over 140 other countries are included at no charge and wow, thank you T-Mobile for this honest and useful text message!

It is amazing how mobile communication has unified the world. A T-Mobile customer can take their phone from Argentina to Venezuela in South America and from Bahrain to Zambia in the Middle East / Africa enjoying free 2G data and texting at no charge. Voice calls are only $0.20 a minute.

To be fair, T-Mobile has its share of problems. Some truly terrible customer service, overloaded networks, a lack of coverage outside of major cities, and a load of salespeople in stores that could benefit from adult supervision top the list, but overall they are pushing the industry toward more open and fair access for all. They have also forced the duopoly of AT&T and Verizon into cleaning up some of their horrible business practices.

Some people think the world gets worse and worse every year, but in truth some of the changes brought about by technology are for the better. Global communication is one area that is critical to creating a better world. On a side note, one of our fellow travelers pre-paid AT&T $5,000 for unlimited voice / data service in Cuba. Ouch!

Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’

Last month’s recap ended by citing one expert’s opinion (John Kirk) that the future of Apple is potentially intimately entwined with acoustics. His article, “Apple’s Future is Ear” from Tech.pinions provided a detailed analysis of the historical and current events leading to his conclusion. It’s obviously a clever title. To summarize, the author thinks that Apple is paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods. This is not as far fetched as it sounds. Siri had an early lead in this area and currently Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Now personal assistants are gaining popularity. What didn’t do well was the visually based system called Google Glass. Due to its invasive nature, people who wore them became known as “Glassholes.”

With all the negative press about Apple these days, I was concerned that Kirk’s lengthy analysis might be fundamentally flawed so I took the time to carefully reread the almost 7,000 word post. I came away even more convinced that the naysayers do not understand Apple’s core values when it comes to innovation. Buried right in the middle of Kirk’s article is the section called “Socially Awkward.” In it, he says “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that resistance to the new AirPods is anything new. There has never been a meaningful change that wasn’t resisted by self-righteous, holier-than-thou, know-it alls” and goes on to list the “technologies” that have fallen into the same category such as the cell phone, Walkman, radio, automobile, bicycle, phonograph, and kaleidoscopes, and books. “Novels were considered to be particularly abhorrent. In 1938, a newspaper ran an article with some top tips for stopping your kids from reading all the time.”

It’s true that Siri is not up to the job yet, but as Kirk points out, Apple has always had a long-term plan and the benefits would transform the technology world… again. A few of the benefits of an AirPods based interface could include:

  • Walking instructions – Which are in their infancy, but on their way… It’s not a good idea to look at a screen while walking.
  • Spatial awareness – They’ll remind us to take the mail with us when we leave the house, and to buy toilet paper when we pass by the local supermarket.
  • Contextual awareness – Sensors in the device will know if we are in conversation and will break in only with the most important verbal notifications.

Kirk mentions many more and the quotes he uses to support his assertions are wonderful. The entire piece is a far cry from the negative knee jerk reactions that are filling the Apple news outlets lately. Overall, the Tech.pinions website seems to be true to its name. It has “the singular vision of providing the technology industry with quality opinion based columns.” They also explain that they “only allow contributions by those who have credible, respected, original, authoritative and informed opinions on the technology industry.” From the balanced, high quality articles they post, I believe them.

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The Rise of the Incompetent Experts

Recently, the backlash against Apple has become relentless. Even the more mature, balanced sources for news from experts have begun to take potshots.

donglesOne reason for this is related to the growing number of “Incompetent Experts” online, also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. As Wikipedia explains, the D-K effect is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.” It has become so prevalent recently that ArsTechnica published an excellent post on it called, “Revisiting Why Incompetents Think They’re Awesome” based on the original APA paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF).

Of course, when it comes to technology, Reddit has the largest number of incompetent experts. The Verge article mentioned above was only five hours old when I wrote this and it already had almost 500 comments on Reddit. It’s hard to understand the haters. Apple transformed the personal computer first with the Apple II, then with the Graphical User Interface in the original Mac, the music industry with the iPod / iTunes, the mobile phone with the iPhone, the laptop with the MacBook Air, and tablets with the iPad. You would think by now people would give Apple the benefit of the doubt, but these so-called experts have proclaimed (again) that their newest products are flawed in a huge wide variety of ways.

One corollary of the effect is that it is hard to tell who is really an expert without a basic level of expertise. Also a true expert opinion might be “context sensitive,” i.e. an expert with an opinion that helps one person might be completely inappropriate for a slightly different person or situation. The article explains this in detail in sections entitled, “Context is everything,” “Culture complicates things,” and “Education and work.”

Of course, this effect not only applies to Apple: In the first paragraph of the ArsTechnica article, the author points out tongue-in-cheek, “Another election day in the US is rapidly approaching (Tuesday, Nov. 8—mark your calendars!). So for no reason in particular, we’re resurfacing our close examination of the Dunning-Kruger effect from May 25, 2012.”