The Secret of My Success

A criticism of me from a recent discussion I had on HN:

...you appear to prioritize appearances and your perceived likeability/unverifiable impression of how other HNers perceive you over momentary discomfort.
My background isn't all that technical. I do have a Certificate in GIS and I am a few classes short of a Bachelor of Science, but, for various reasons, I have a lot more skill points invested in soft sciences, not hard ones. My impression of how people on HN perceive me is not unverifiable. I am also not shooting for likeability. I am shooting for trustworthiness.

In my early days on HN, a lot of people talked about me like I was "prominent for a woman." They clearly remembered me as someone who posted as openly female and clearly saw me as some kind of representative of women on the site.

This seriously weirded me out because I didn't have a technical job, and I didn't have all that much karma at the time. I joined the site when I had an entry level job at an insurance company that I couldn't get promoted out of. I perceived myself as a big fat nobody.

I still perceive myself that way. I'm dirt poor and I have no important connections. I have watched other people use the site to make connections and turn that into real money. This has not happened for me.

My impression that I was "prominent for a woman" on HN ultimately led me to gather some data. That data is basically curated here: Some Raw Data on the Prominence of Women on HN

That data backed up my impression that I had a lot of karma on HN for a woman, even at a time when I had some pathetic amount in the grand scheme of things. These days, I have a respectable amount even in the grand scheme of things, though I am not on the leaderboard.

I have had people criticize me for being "obsessed" with karma. I'm not. I pay vastly more attention to other markers. If I didn't do so, I would have never started the process of digging up data showing that I was prominent for a woman at a time when my karma led me to believe I was a big fat nobody on the site because it was not very high.

Here are some things that have changed for the better on HN:

1. Men on the leaderboard no longer routinely close ranks on me.

When I first joined and still had very little karma, I knew I was making a stir when it became common for members of the leadboard to rebut me in pairs. It wasn't the same two people all the time. It was different pairs of people. But I clearly was upsetting the status quo and people were trying to shut me down. I felt strongly this was about my gender, and not about the content of my remarks per se.

These days, sometimes men on the leaderboard will quietly back me up or side with me, often in a subtle and unobtrusive manner. It is often not in a clear "I agree with/back Michele" sort of way. They just post comments that agree with the content of my remarks without making a big deal of it. This did not used to happen.

2. The community gives me support in situations where, historically, I only saw men get support. This sometimes takes the form of my comments being upvoted a bit while ugly remarks aimed at me or something I am rebutting gets downvoted into the negatives or even flagged to death. Sometimes, there are supportive remarks involved.

This used to not happen. This makes it vastly easier for me participate on HN and to stand my ground on some things and let the community response suggest which position is most acceptable in the eyes of the community.

Someone on the leaderboard once said something to me about "the community stepping in if x happens," but I couldn't see what on earth he was talking about. At the time this was said to me, I never benefitted from that dynamic. Now, I do and it makes HN a vastly more positive experience for me.

I don't usually bother to try to point out such things. My observations of social phenomenon are often completely dismissed by people as irrelevant, just my opinion, not actually happening, not meaning what I think it means and so forth. So, I usually try to point to something like karma because it is somewhat objective. Though plenty of people are still dismissive of that, it seems inherently less problematic.

I was able to find data that verified that I was "prominent for a woman" at a time when I had very little karma. For that and other reasons, I feel pretty confident of my inferences. But I wind up having something of a Cassandra Complex: No one ever seems to believe me.

I spend less time worrying about whether or not anyone believes and more time on trying to act on my observations.


Question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Observation: Though it makes no sound, still, it falls.
I am seeing more women coming out of the woodwork and participating on Hacker News. I feel strongly this is at least partly a consequence of the years that I have spent trying to sort my own relationship to the site. I feel I have played a hand in the falling levels of sexism on the site.

Of course, I can't prove that or get any credit for it. That seems to be the story of my life. I seem to make no sound, no matter how much I talk.

It makes me wonder whether I am a ninja or merely deluded.

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