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#gilttech does. To this end, we hosted a roundtable discussion last night featuring more than 25 representatives from some of NYC’s top girls- and women-in-tech organizations. We wanted to hear more about their experiences trying to involve girls and women in tech, and about the challenges they and/or their group members have faced along the way. Other goals:

  • To gather organizations working on helping girls and women enter the tech industry by providing coding instruction, mentoring, and other resources/forms of support
  • To put like-minded, successful organizers in touch and facilitate networking+brainstorming
  • To discuss bias (including the unconscious type) and ways to address/resolve it at different levels (from C- to team-)
  • To identify action items for the group to work on

Everyone brought valuable insights and a wealth of experience to the table, which made for a very lively and informative conversation. Participants focused on implementing positive changes that involve and benefit everyone in the tech industry (after all, more women = higher profits). The general consensus is that men need to be a part of our future conversations and our efforts to propose solutions.

Who attended?

Represented groups included:

  • Black Girls Code
  • Girl Develop It
  • RailsBridge
  • PyLadies
  • NYCTechLatinas
  • Girls Who Code
  • ClojureBridgeNYC
  • Gilt Tech Women
  • Gawker Media (starting an internal women-in-tech group)
  • NYC Ruby Women
  • NYC Lady Project
  • Django-NYC

So what comes next?

Participants will be discussing that in our follow-up meetings and conversations.

I want to be a part of the conversation! How can I get involved?

Please fill out the form below to let us know what you’d like to contribute. We’re specifically targeting founders and organizers of tech groups, but enthusiastic male allies are also welcome. (For more about male allies and advocates, read this very relevant study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology.)

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The #gilttech team recently had the great pleasure of hosting a lunchtime talk by Gil Tene, CTO and co-founder of Azul Systems, at our 2 Park office. Gilt cofounder/CTO Michael Bryzek and Lead Software Engineer Yoni Goldberg, both of whom presented at this summer’s QCon NY, met Gil at the conference and were impressed by his amazing talk about performance on the JVM (check out a two-hour version of his talk here). Gil generously shared his knowledge and expertise on latency, measurement (particularly errors of omission of data) and garbage collection (Azul produces a JVM that solves the garbage collection problem).  A huge thanks to Gil for spending the afternoon with us!  

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A snapshot from a recent Facebook event in Tokyo—that’s our mobile app on the screen! (First cupcakes, and now this? Facebook, we dedicate the following poetry to you as a small expression of our gratitude.)

The #gilttech team in Japan is getting into fall in a most poetic way—offering up these lovely haiku for our collective enjoyment. We highly recommend reading these poems while drinking some spiced tea.

Haste thou shall not.
On Friday leisurely meet
the rest of the week. — Paul de Mercey

QA login now sync
/looks optimizations
warm Friday is nice  :-) — Mauro Bellati

きんようび
みんなだいすき
きんようび — Hinako Matsuura

Thanks god it’s Friday
Beer, steak, beer, steak, beer, steak, beer
Thanks god it’s Friday. —Ryoi Qiu

50-50 please
Pierre, Mauro, please please please
50 50, please.  —Thomas Tachibana

Oh Thomas, my friend
if 50-50 you want
simply ask and wait.  — Mauro Bellati

えいごでの
はいくはちょっと
ふしぎよね — Asako Kohno

Autumn approaches
our releases pile high
add to the pile. —Kyle Barrow

Gilt on apple.com
beautiful work on display
happy Friday, all. — Christopher Gonzalez

A cancelled all-hands,
alone I ponder softly
on progress well made. — Ade Trenaman

What fountain of verse!
Friday’s adventurous minds
With beautiful code — William Metcalfe

I work as a lead software engineer for Gilt—my team focuses on our email operations, from design to distribution. I also spend a lot of time training for endurance events such as triathlons and long distance cycling. During the requisite hours and hours of preparing for these events, I spend a lot of time thinking about my workouts and my work at Gilt. One result of all this contemplating is that I’ve come up with an interesting parallel between how a successful athlete deals with stresses to the body, like excess lactic acid build-up—and how a successful business deals with the complexities of its business (ie excess systems build-up). Let me explain.

First Things First: What Is Lactic Acid? 

Lactic acid is a chemical that builds up in your muscles during intense exercise. Accumulation of this acid in your muscles leads to muscular fatigue. It’s that feeling you get after an intense run, when your muscles just can’t work anymore.

Your body removes lactic acid continuously through your blood stream.  A good way to understand this process is to visualize a cup with a hole in the bottom.  As you exercise, you are pouring water into the cup—causing more and more lactic acid to build up in your muscles.  Water drips out the bottom continuously, much like your blood removes the lactic acid from your muscles. As more lactic acid builds up, your ability to perform is reduced. It’s a non-linear scale. Increasing volumes of lactic acid reduce your ability to perform by greater and greater amounts.

What, Exactly, Constitutes Complexity in a Business?

My dictionary describes complexity as “many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways.”  My own definition gives the term a pretty broad scope. I see “complexity” as being anything that changes the parts involved, or the interactions of those parts. A short list of things that count in my book:

  • Employee turnover
  • Hiring new people
  • Changing project focus
  • Employees changing roles
  • Etc…

As you might expect, I paint with a broad brush on the technical side as well:

  • New services
  • New build systems
  • New languages
  • New data centers
  • Different programming ideologies (i.e. reactive, dependency-injection, etc…)
  • New release procedures
  • Any changed lines of codes
  • Etc…

So, almost everything adds a bit of complexity. But the good news is that most complexity goes away with time. Bugs are crushed. Employees undergo onboarding and get up to speed. Old systems are decommissioned. Systems become more stable.

How Are Lactic Acid and Complexity Connected? 

An organization’s ability to handle complexity is very similar to the body’s ability to handle lactic acid. We can maximize throughput in an organization by monitoring the rate at which we allow complexity to seep in; this is very similar to what endurance athletes do every day. “Saving” a bit will allow their bodies to go further and faster. I think “saving” applies to businesses as well. Relating this to my work at Gilt: I pay a lot of attention to the rate at which we introduce complexity. I choose projects for my team that maintain a healthy amount of complexity in order to ensure high throughput.   

At Gilt, we introduced quite a bit of complexity by migrating between binary incompatible versions of Scala. Libraries needed to be built to support both versions. Projects needed to be upgraded. In the short- to medium-term, this made life hard. As time went on, however, much of that complexity disappeared as we got better at migrating projects and completed more of the overall migration. These natural reductions in complexity are similar to the blood removing lactic acid from muscles. 

Much like having too much lactic acid in your blood, introducing too much complexity at one time will slow down progress considerably. A business who wants to succeed (“win the race”) has to control the amount of complexities it introduces initially, and wait for its “blood stream” to cleanse some of the complexities before introducing new ones.

Gilt Corporate Applications is a diverse and vital team of 27 men and women working together across two continents (North America and Europe) and multiple cities (New York, Dublin, Limerick, and Louisville, KY) to make sure that Gilt-the-company continues running. They are the unsung heroes who field all of our “HELP! MY COMPUTER IS ACTING WEIRD” queries and deal with our failures to reset our passwords. They are the front line in our battles against chaos and negative-surprise. Recently I polled them to find out more about who they are, and what makes them tick.

Who they are: systems engineers, technical specialists, security governance analysts, and documentation specialists. Moms and dads. Men and women:

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Average team-member tenure with Gilt: Three years. Many Gilt people are “old-timers” according to standard tech-company attrition rates, but Corporate Applications people are particularly loyal. Some members have been with Gilt since its earliest, earliest days (i.e., when we were using Ruby).

This graph shows how “the Corporate Applications 27” landed at Gilt:

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(In case you’re unfamiliar with narwhals, this should help.)

What keeps these dedicated technologists happy, healthy and holiday-celebrating at Gilt? This graph (its format is called “exploding pie,” BTW) sheds some light:

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Ask anyone at Gilt what they love about working here, and “the people” is almost always the first thing that comes to mind—so this result was expected. A follow-up exploding pie seemed in order:

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More than half cited the ample opportunities to learn and grow on the job. Some team members specifically mentioned learning new technologies, while others cited team-building and management skills. Our pantry options (cold-brew, popcorn, seltzer, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other treats) and flexible vacation policy came in second and third place, respectively.

More about learning: Many people enthusiastically went into detail, sharing bits of wisdom they’ve learned along the Gilt way:

  • "Numbers count"
  • "Everything requires a ticket."
  • "Change is constant so deal with it, Macs are a good thing, and elk makes a tasty burger."
  • "Be Agile. Be ready to take on anything and everything with style. Learn from your mistakes and get better for the next."
  • "What might be important one day (projects, reports) might not be the next, so don’t take it too seriously!"
  • "The true nature of what the Internet is really for [is] shopping on Gilt!"
  • "If it ain’t broke, leave it well alone!"
  • "Work hard and give it your all regardless of the person, situation, or problem."
  • "Own your mistakes and learn from them."
  • "A great team helps you fix things quickly."
  • "Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you break something, it’s OK as long as you fix it."
  • "Having a relatively happy, respectful workplace with flexible scheduling is more motivating for employees to do great work than anything else I’ve ever experienced before."
  • "Document it before you break it. Ask questions."
  • "Don’t make a disk thick until making the comparison on VMware and NetApp."
  • "As much as you think you know, someone knows more."
  • IT folk are not nasty and condescending …They just have really tough jobs!”
  • Learn as much as possible, and use it as much as possible.”

One respondent developed their own motto for the team: “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.” We need to translate this into Latin, stat.

For my last question, I wanted to get to know a bit about what makes the team tick outside the Gilt walls. A lot, apparently:

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Some of people’s interests are particularly worth mentioning:

  • "Cigars"
  • "Welding"
  • "Lawn work"
  • "Cats. Playing with cats, baking with cats, watching TV with cats, telling jokes to cats & laughing at jokes my cats tell, laser tag with cats"
  • "Recreational shooting"
  • Writing, performing, teaching in prisons & Occupying Wall Street
  • "Walking along the beach at sun set hand in hand"
  • "Sitting on the beach and taking it all in"
  • "Spending time out in the bog"
  • "Researching real estate"

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Today Gilt corporate applications—the team responsible for managing our OKTA services, among many many other things—put their own spin on Octoberfest by generously hosting a company-wide “OKTA-bierfest” celebration. The team covered our IT help desk with buckets of Yonkers Brewery bier and platters of cheese (both “standard” and “fancy" varieties, cupcakes, fruits ‘n’ nuts, and homemade pretzels. We’ve had several office parties since fall officially kicked off, but this one has generated the most buzz among tech—so far.

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Gilt Tech is proud to inform you that Gilt CIO Steve Jacobs is one of only 19 NYC-area senior executives chosen to participate in this year’s David Rockefeller Fellows program! Created in 1989 by the Partnership for New York City, a membership organization made up of CEOs from 200 leading businesses headquartered in New York, the Rockefeller Fellows program enables participants to learn more about current civic issues and meet the governmental, business and nonprofit leaders in charge of addressing those issues. Participants also get to tour important landmarks such as NYC courts and jails, transportation centers, and commercial hubs. Steve joins execs from Nickelodeon, Xerox, Citigroup and Time Warner; check the full list here.

Earlier this week #gilttech’s Lauren Ribando, Rangarajan Radhakrishnan and I headed north to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in Midtown for a public screening of Rebuilding: artist/filmmaker Marcus Robinson’s visually stunning documentary about the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site and the men and women who did the work. Robinson started work on his film in 2006—capturing the construction activity on time-lapse film and through his own wonderful paintings, which are interspersed throughout the film (and currently on exhibit on the 48th floor of Tower 4). Robinson’s poignant interviews with carpenters, foremen, surveyors, iron workers, window installers and other workers give a human face to the gargantuan WTC project, and also reflect the intimacy and trust he was able to establish with the crew. Rebuilding makes a powerful statement about the resilience of the human spirit, while documenting the incredible perseverance of both the filmmaker and his subjects.

Rebuilding has been featured on the History Channel and the UK’s Channel 4; find out about upcoming showings by signing up for the film’s enewsletter. And if you’re in NYC, take some time to visit the Tradesmen’s building—it’s a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

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For all of you 9-to-5ers who enjoy your free Gilt tech courses to take place after work, great news: Our next freebie will be an evening course. The focus: data visualization. But not just any data visualization: This three-hour session will cover visualizations for forests, trees and clustering in the context of visualization for multivariate analysis. Leading the way will be Paul Trowbridge, an adjunct instructor at NYU’s Center for Advanced Digital Applications.

Multivariate, high-dimensional data sets pose challenges for low-dimensional visual representation, interpretation and communication. In this class, Paul will explore clustering, trees and Random forests—three common methods for analyzing multivariate data when classification and prediction are key goals of the analysis. He’ll introduce each analysis method, and present visualization strategies and techniques for each method—focusing on Random forests. He’ll review these existing visualization methods, teaching how to produce and interpret each visual. He’ll then proceed to explore some visualization strategies to diagnose and study the quality of the prediction and classification output of a Random forest analysis. Each step in his presentation will draw from relevant example data sets.

The essentials:

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014 from 5-9 PM
Where: Gilt office in Manhattan
Cost: Nothing!
Who: Gilt technologists … and you?

About the instructor: In addition to teaching at NYU, Paul is a PhD student in Statistics at Rutgers and organizer of the meetup group Data Visualization New York, which has +2200 members.

Fill out the form below to submit your contact info. (Note: You must be age 18 or older to attend.) Please keep in mind that submitting this form does not guarantee you a seat. However, it does mean that you’ll receive details about the other courses we’re developing as soon as they become available. We hope you can join us!

REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.

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Ada Lovelace Day is October 14, BTW—mark your calendar!

In my role as Gilt’s tech evangelist (if you’re asking, “what’s a tech evangelist?”—it’s a common question—here’s a start), I prefer to find speaking gigs for the other members of the team. Public speaking doesn’t terrify me (anymore), and often it’s a lot of fun—but it’s more rewarding to watch one of my colleagues get attention (and receive follow-up speaking invites) than to be in the spotlight.

Recently, however, I’ve taken advantage of two opportunities to appear on tech-related panels: One at the Nixon Peabody law firm’s office in NYC, and another at the Interop conference/expo, which closed in NYC last Friday. The Nixon Peabody event was a recap of sorts of the previous weekend’s Code the Deal hackathon, and focused on legal tech. Although I earned a law degree a few years ago, I’ve never practiced and don’t really know much about transactional law other than that it involves a lot of “whereas”’s. However, I do know many lawyers who aren’t entirely ecstatic about their workplace environments. So I evangelized the progressive ideas about work culture implemented at technology companies like Gilt.

As Gilt cofounder/CTO Michael Bryzek has publicly discussed many times, our team culture is built upon a foundation of trust, autonomy, empowerment, and flexibility. These principles challenge the entrenched workplace norms you’ll find in many companies, including law firms: micromanaging, defining leadership by job title/hierarchies, showing preferential treatment to “star players" (instead of focusing on overall innovation and output from the entire team), and knee-jerk risk aversion (in contrast to trusting smart and capable people to take smart risks). Yet they could work perfectly well in any industry, including—maybe even especially—law. Like tech, law is heavily populated by very logical and educated people who know how to creatively problem-solve.

Some might suggest that “entrenched workplace norms” include hiring and workplace practices that hinder women from advancing in their careers. This brings me to my next recent public speaking experience, at Interop. As we all know, women are lagging behind in the tech sector, too. Lemelson-MIT Prizewinner Sangeeta N. Bhatia neatly summarizes the current trend in this September 2014 article for MIT Technology Review:

  • “Girls choose engineering less often and drop out of engineering disproportionately (the so-called “leaky pipeline”).

  • “The percentage of women computer science majors peaked 30 years ago.

  • “The higher I climb, the fewer other women there are at the table with me.”

So that our companies are successful, we need to ensure that the ratio of women to men in tech becomes more balanced. There’s much work to do to boost the numbers—and it’s not going to be easy, given that this sort of thing still happens at mainstream tech events, and women applicants for tech jobs are often told that they’re “just not a culture fit.” Women who speak up and think for themselves are treated negatively in their performance reviews, while their male peers are praised for exhibiting the same behaviors. For these and other reasons, women-in-tech panels remain important. They enable women and girls to learn from other women how to circumnavigate—or at minimum, prepare for—these potential barriers to success.  

As Gilt’s tech evangelist, I was able to inform the girls at Interop that I work for a company headed by a woman CEO. I was able to state that, of five Gilt cofounders, two were women. I discussed with other panelists some of the other perks of being a woman at Gilt:

  • my first manager—a man—supported my career development and helped me build my leadership skills; other men at Gilt, in tech and out, have done the same for me and other women

  • my current manager is a woman

  • Some of my male colleagues have suggested that we hold more women-in-tech events

  • other male colleagues routinely condemn outside-the-company displays of sexism (often with a “facepalm” emoticon, but occasionally with more forceful language)

  • we have a Gilt tech women’s group that’s open to men, and supported by men

In my two-plus years at Gilt, I’ve witnessed male colleagues praising women. I’ve heard male tech execs encourage women on their teams to take advantage of career-building opportunities. And I’ve watched most of male colleagues demonstrate one or more of the behaviors represented on this “Top 10 Ways To Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women” list. Sure, our tech team has room for improvement: For example, it would be great to achieve or surpass the 50-50 gender ratio. Stats aside, I’m grateful to arrive at the office every morning knowing that I can expect to be respected and treated as an equal.

One of the questions our Interop panel moderator asked us concerned the phrase “act like a man”—advice she’d recently heard a woman executive share. Should women strive to “act like a man” in order to succeed? I’d say no. Neither sex has a monopoly on any of the characteristics commonly associated with business world success—ambition, brilliance, toughness, etc. Better, I think, to focus on “acting like a human.” All humans have the capacity to practice open-mindedness, self-respect, and respect for others, while still making shrewd business decisions. The frequent displays of such qualities at Gilt tech, I’d say, are what really make our culture healthy for women—and in turn, healthy for everyone.

Does having a woman CEO affect Gilt’s work culture? Someone asked me this question recently, and I don’t think it’s that simple. After all, not every woman CEO would tell the New York Times that she doesn’t need a personal office. Having leaders who display humility sets a tone for the rest of the team, and that obviously does affect our work culture.

This brings me back to trust and autonomy, two values I mentioned earlier as fundamental to Gilt tech’s culture. We manifest these two values in a variety of ways, but one of the most important for building an open and accepting culture involves our hiring practices. We hire people at all levels of the organization who can be trusted to act responsibly, reasonably, and respectfully. People who already reflect our values will help our team maintain them as we grow.

"There are important skills for succeeding in tech beyond the technical — and realizing that doesn’t mean lowering standards," writes journalist Ann Friedman in a recent article about women in tech. “Turns out that valuing these skills doesn’t just attract women, it also draws in a different sort of male employee.” Friedman quotes Kellan Elliott-McCrea, the CTO of Etsy: 

“The men who come into our organization who are excited about the fact that we have diversity as a goal are generally the people who are better at listening, they’re better at group learning, they’re better at collaboration, they’re better at communication, they’re particularly the people you want to be your engineering managers and your technical leads…[t]hese people are hard to find, and when you can find them, they’re awesome.”

A work culture that champions decency and respect in addition to creativity and talent is a great culture to evangelize. And it’s something that any company can create for itself without endangering growth, competitiveness, or the bottom line. Without the stress, discouragement and low morale caused by toxic workplace factors like exclusion, discrimination and micro-management, employees are freed up to be creative and productive. Why wouldn’t anyone evangelize that?