Opinion

Women in Technology

The technology sector is generally perceived to be dominated by men. Ask someone to name a prominent figure in the tech industry and they will invariably blurt out the names of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckeberg. How many will recall the names of Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg, Rana el Kaliouby, or Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan? How many undergraduate students will recall the name of Grace Hopper, who developed the compiler as we know it today, thus paving the way for the development of modern programming languages?

Before we start thinking about ways to bring about gender diversity into technology, it is worthwhile to explore how the field of technology came to be dominated by men in the first place. The Atlantic has a great explainer on the topic.

The situation is worse in South Asia. Take Sri Lanka for instance, where Calcey is based. According to the World Bank, only 1 in 3 women participate in the labour force, and between 2010 and 2016, the female labour force participation rate has dropped from 41 percent to 36 percent. The World Bank has also released a report titled “Getting to Work : Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labor Force” which shows that women at all levels of educational attainment find it harder to secure high paying and high-skilled jobs.

These developments have all occurred despite the Sri Lankan economy expanding rapidly since the conclusion of a 30 year civil war in 2009. Positive infrastructural developments such as increasing numbers of girls being enrolled into the education system, and an extremely low female mortality ratio which is way above par even when compared with much more developed countries, has not managed to reduce the gender disparity and wage gap prevalent in the workforce.

So what’s preventing the assimilation of more women into the workforce, especially in the technology sector?

Marriage and Culture
The World Bank study referenced above found that for women, marriage can serve as an additional obstacle to participating in the labour force. A woman’s odds of becoming a paid employee after marriage goes down by 26 percentage points. Interestingly, marriage marginally increases the odds of a man becoming a paid employee by 2.5 percentage points.

The Asian cultural dynamic, which emphasises the family structure, naturally puts it at odds with the structure of the tech industry. When culture places the onus on women to take care of the family and attend to the needs of the kids, this invariably creates a problem where a female would find it hard to balance both the demands of a fast-paced job and a family. Neglecting the family is a no-no, which creates a natural incentive to bow out of the workforce.

Human Capital Mismatch
Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, Executive Director of the Women and Media Collective highlights how the education system fails women by failing to equip them with the skills demanded by employers. In this case, the problem appears to be a case of lack of inclusivity rather than lack of availability.

Dr. Kottegoda notes that there is a general impression that girls are not good at math. As a result, boys are pushed more towards mechanical pursuits, while girls are pushed more towards service-oriented roles, which is why Sri Lanka has fewer female computer science graduates.
The statistics prove it too. According to the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka, of the 1,713 students who graduated in an Engineering-related discipline in 2017, only 420 were female. Similar behaviour can be seen with science graduates. When it comes to non-STEM fields however, the proportion of female graduates is much higher, indicating a reluctance to obtain STEM-related qualifications.

University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka,2017

Lack of safe transportation options and harassment
The World Bank points to the lack of safe public transport solutions for women and the harassment faced by women in public and at the workplace as major obstacles towards attracting more women to the workforce. This is actually a major issue faced by women everyday, everywhere. Thankfully, awareness is being raised thanks to the efforts of a few volunteers and organisations.

So what can be done to encourage more women to join the IT industry?

We at Calcey think there are a few solutions to this problem, but all of them are long-term and will not yield results overnight. After all, we’re talking about changing the culture of a country here.

  1. Encourage more flexibility
    As an industry, we have a responsibility to shape our workplaces so that they are supportive of everyone.That means creating systems which enable people to build their careers around their personal lives, and not the other way round. At Calcey, we have made sure that flexi-hours are made available to everyone, regardless of gender or status. In the same way, new dads at Calcey are entitled to generous paternity leave, which is not something that is widely available throughout corporate Sri Lanka. Calcey employees who end up working at night, are provided with transport so that they don’t have to worry about getting home safely.

     

    Everyday harassment on public transport can keep women out of the workforce
  2. Educate to educate
    The industry must work together with the government to change the discourse around STEM education for the better. While it is the government which can encourage teachers and principals to encourage girls to take up STEM-related subjects, the industry must play the role of the lobbyist by educating the government on the importance of IT, and the opportunities available for women. At the same time, as players in the industry, it is up to us to shine the light on our female employees, and highlight their achievements. This added visibility could potentially help change how parents perceive careers in the IT industry.
  3. Enforce equality and non-discriminatory policies in the workplace
    It is our opinion that technology companies ought to adopt and strictly enforce policies of equality and non-discrimination across the board. This is easier said than done, and companies which have been built ground up with such ideals in mind arguably have it better, compared to ageing elephants of the corporate sphere, where entrenched norms can be very hard to change. This is also one of the reasons why Calcey was envisioned as a complete meritocracy from day one.

While it is impossible to predict that simply making these changes will eliminate all the problems faced by women when trying to enter the workforce, we are pretty sure that they will go a long way towards helping make things better.
Much better, actually.



Cover image credits: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
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What we have learned from digitizing processes

Digitising previously manual processes is basically what popularised the personal computer across the world. Being a software development company which helps businesses around the world reap savings by migrating hitherto manual processes into the 21st century, we have learned a thing or two about what to do and what not to do.

Understand the process very well

Successful digitisation must begin with a careful and thorough understanding of the existing process, the envisaged solution, and what needs to be done to bridge the gap. The key to getting this right is to consult with all the relevant stakeholders, and application of domain knowledge. It might sound simple, but simple things often get overlooked.

Take the case of Compare Networks Inc. (CN), for whom we act as the principal software development partner. CN came to us to develop an iPad app which allowed companies to upload, organise  and distribute their marketing collateral to their field sales staff – spread around the world, through a web-based content management system (CMS).

As a software vendor for multi-billion dollar life science companies, CN had seen firsthand how hard it was for sales people in such large global firms to keep track of promotional material for hundreds and sometimes even thousands of SKUs. Given their technical expertise, CN drew up a vision for solution, and validated it with their customers. They were successful with this pre-selling exercise. They brought their inputs to us, and we built a product, which is known today as ‘imSMART’. Through imSMART they completely digitized the outdated practice of distributing printed marketing collateral, creating a saving of 11 million dollars a year for one imSMART customer alone.

The final product ended up being a runaway success and in our opinion, that was purely because CN took the effort to develop a great overall understanding of the situation at hand and validate their idea for a solution with actual clients. As a result, imSMART was a perfect fit to the problem of disseminating promotional material to a global sales force, and customers never had to go through the misery of adapting to an under- or over-engineered product.

Build an MVP and make it quick
Most digital transformation projects end up making the mistake of trying to build a fully fledged solution from the get go. This is not a great idea because it leaves little room for any flaws to be ironed out prior to implementation.

With imSMART, CN understood this very well. Their MVP was entirely focused on building a basic solution which satisfies the core need. Once the MVP was built, it was validated through user testing. Once initial user testing was complete, CN was free to build in any additional features as necessary.

Involve the end user in testing
Typically, testing may be done using an in-house team of quality assurance analysts, or even by the founders of the very startups for whom we build apps.

In our experience, this is not a great idea, because the frame with which a designer or founder looks at an app could be completely different from how an actual user would look at an app.

Goodmarket, which is one of our clients, is a good case study on how to do user testing right. Goodmarket is a market place for ‘doing good’, and aims to connect consumers looking for socially conscious, non-toxic, organic, and ethically produced goods with the vendors, who are often cottage industries fragmented around the country. By virtue of their scale and size, these vendors are not able to put forward any independent verification to prove their ethical credentials.

Goodmarket wanted to create a platform which can take care of this verification process and act as a self-service portal of sorts for both customers and vendors looking to buy and sell ethical, socially conscious products. We had the privilege of building the Goodmarket’s platform for them, and one of the key drivers of the platform’s eventual success was all the testing that was done with end users, who are often not very digitally savvy.

The insights gained from placing the app in front of everyday users paved the way for us to optimise for form and function, thus making sure that the platform is in alignment with the Goodmarket’s business objectives.

Not every process needs to be digitised

And finally, not everything needs to be digitised. We live in a world which worships automation, and digitisation of processes is pretty much a buzzword that is thrown about in corporate boardrooms mindlessly. The criteria to decide whether a process ought to be digitised is as follows: If things are binary and require less human judgement, go ahead and digitise. If there is a lot of subjectivity involved, you may be better off with leaving the process untouched.

Cover image credits: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

Life at Calcey

The Calcey Way

Good things come in small packages, they said. When we commenced operations nearly 17 years ago, we promised our clients first-rate software solutions built with love by resourceful, focused, and dedicated teams. Today, having grown into a much larger company with 140 employees, nothing much has changed, except for our size. Our founder, Mangala Karunaratne, was once a Project Manager in Silicon Valley and managed an offshore development team. Disappointed with the results of the traditional offshoring model, he set out to build a company which can tap into the rich talent pool in South Asia, while offering clients the personal touch, empathy, understanding and ownership, an onshore boutique development outfit can provide.

We’ve come a long way since, but we still continue to stick by our original vision. Hundreds of clients later, we’re convinced that we’re doing something right. We are proudly industry agnostic, and our structure enables us to work with firms of all sizes. Be it Fortune 500s or a little startup based in a garage in a corner of the world, we’re happy to put our technological prowess to good use without any discrimination. That is why we compete on quality and not on cost.

For anyone looking to understand how we go about our work at Calcey, this is what we have to say.

Hard at work with a client

Our Rules
Rules are sometimes meant to be broken. But, like road rules, some rules exist to make things better for all of us. Think of these as our non-negotiables.

    1. Straight talk
      Frankness is under-rated. At Calcey, we believe that being candid is better for everyone and reduces misunderstandings. In the business that we’re in, good communication is key and misunderstandings are costly.
    2. Fairness
      The world may not always be a fair place, but our offices are. Calcey is a meritocracy, and we strive to do right by everyone. Whether we are dealing with employees, customers, or even the kind lady who runs our cafeteria, the rule of fairness is applied.

      The Calcey family on our 2018 Annual Trip

       

    3. Honesty
      We consider ourselves peddlers of honesty. Sometimes that means turning work down if it is not something we’re good at. At other times that means being open about how a given decision would affect the timelines of a project. Whatever it is, we’d rather tell the truth than try to save face by lying.
    4. Integrity
      A company is simply a group of people, and the way the people go, so does the company. That is precisely why we look for people with strong value and moral principles, because we believe that Calcey should also exhibit a strong moral code. We like people who are in touch with their conscience and know how to do what is right and ethical.
    5. Quality, always
      We take pride in providing our clients with world-class, defect-free products and services. It’s what has helped us become who we are today, and a quality-first mindset permeates all that we do.

      That’s why our clients love us
    6. Be responsible
      We have a reasonably flat organisational structure at Calcey for a reason. We don’t want cumbersome, bureaucratic processes to get in the way of doing good work. All that we ask from our employees is to do their part and do it well.
    7. Respect everyone
      Treat everyone, regardless of their age, gender or status, as you would like to be treated. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, but don’t demean others just to get your point across. We don’t need that where we’re going.
    8. Always learn and adapt
      The industry we are in is like quicksand, continuously shifting underneath our feet. What’s in vogue today may be derided tomorrow as a huge no-no, but that’s not the point.The thing with knowledge is that it compounds, and as you learn more, you can make better sense of the world around you. That’s how you become better at solving problems, and no matter how you look at it, all of us are in the business of solving problems, really.

      We also make it a point to have fun whenever we can
    9. No oversized egos please
      This is a no-brainer. We also think the late Anthony Bourdain did a great job of explaining this in a much better way than any of us ever could.

      It is truly a privilege to live by what I call the ‘no asshole’ rule. I don’t do business with assholes. I don’t care how much money they are offering me or what project. Life is too short. Quality of life is important. I’m fortunate to collaborate with a lot of people who I respect and like, and I’d like to keep it that way.

      Don’t get us wrong though. Sometimes, life works out better if you’re just brave enough to say what you really feel, even if it’s an unpopular opinion which goes against conventional wisdom. Mark Manson calls them ‘Ethical Assholes’. Labels notwithstanding, we’re okay with people who aren’t afraid to be unpopular, as long as they’re doing what’s right. If the Wright Brothers weren’t brave enough to think that they can build a flying machine despite being humble bicycle mechanics, the aviation industry would have never happened.

And that’s it.
At Calcey, we care deeply about creating a work culture which enables people to show up and do their best work. We’re proud to say that we’re a true meritocracy. Good performance should and will be rewarded handsomely. That’s a promise.
FYI though, there are times when things may not go as smoothly as we’d like them to. Every once in a while, there is the occasional all-nighter when prepping for a release. But those are few and far in between, and we work to minimise such instances through planning.

If you are interested in working with us, check out our open vacancies at https://www.calcey.com/careers/ and drop us an email at [email protected].

We like our cricket too. We are based in Sri Lanka after all.