Dress for inconspicuousness.

When I first got a gig at Microsoft, my account rep noted that I seemed to dress very differently when I came into the vendor agency office and when I was actually at the Microsoft campus.

I tend to downplay my fashion choices when I work as a coder. It’s hard enough to get taken seriously as a female coder without letting my fellow nerds know that I happen to ADORE red sequins and stiletto heels. Given a choice, I dress more like a character in a video game than the person who programmed said video game.

Still, the choices I make as a coder and a female when it comes to the way I present myself offers up an ethical dilemma.

Am I betraying some sort of Chick Code by dressing down so as to not startle my male colleagues? I don’t mean by dressing work-appropriate; there are many choices of work-appropriate attire that would be far more flattering to me without being at all immodest or unprofessional. I mean a deliberate
choice to not wear makeup, or heels, or skirts, or my beloved rhinestone hair accessories and 20s vintage jewelry—in favor of t-shirts, jeans, ponytails, and trainers.

If you’ve seen Criminal Minds, you know that the resident tech genius Miss Penelope Garcia wears AWESOME clothes, jewelry, and accessories. I tend to have the film noir version of her taste in clothing. Hell, let’s be honest: I weekend warrior as a renaissance reenactor and live action roleplayer; I LOVE costuming and looking good.

Still, am I being unethical by failing to live up to my sense of personal expression within professional guidelines? When I was in graduate school in Michigan, I experienced repeated and vicious sexual harassment (and on more than one occasion, actual assault) when dressed in feminine attire, and much less when I wore t-shirts and no makeup.

Should I have kept expressing myself and fought the good fight? Am I being untrue to myself now when I dress down to deliberately appear as a Plain
Jane? Am I being disrespectful to the women who broke into the profession I now follow?

What’s a girl to do?

Is “rooting” unethical?

I have a friend–we’ll call her “Sarah Keeler”–who owns a G1 phone. This is an HTC Dream, if you care about such things. It’s made to work on the T-Mobile network, which happens to be “Sarah Keeler’s” cell phone provider.

Sarah rooted her phone so she could use it as a 3G (refers to the speed of the network) modem for her netbook. This is expressly against the terms of Sarah’s T-Mobile contract, and she knows it.

What is rooting? In essence, a smartphone is just a handheld computer–the second cousin to a scientific calculator. Most people use their computers with a GUI, or graphic user interface. A GUI, like Windows or KDesktop or GNOME or Enlightenment or whatever the unholy Mac user fanboy conglomerate uses–is just a series of windows and menus that are designed to make using a computer easier. On many operating systems, it’s hard to get behind the GUI and get to a command line–sometimes that’s because the code is
proprietary and the makers don’t WANT you to see what’s happening behind the curtain.

That’s the case with Android, the operating system for Sarah’s G1. In simplistic terms, because T-Mobile doesn’t want to allow their cell phone users to use the unlimited data plans provided for their cell phones as a modem for their computers, the capacity to ‘tether’ your phone (by plugging it into your computer via a USB cable or by setting up the Bluetooth modem) is not available as an option on the standard Android installation on these phones. The real irony here is that Android is an open source operating system that a community of developers all work to support, and T-Mobile is deliberately limiting Android’s capacity.

T-Mobile doesn’t actually WANT users to USE their unlimited data plans; they merely want to advertise the existence of the plan. As a result, anything that could make the use of that plan easier isn’t available as an option on the phone.

So, rooting. To root a
phone is to install an operating system of your choosing as opposed to the default one that comes on it. Sarah chose to use a CyanogenROM; this is basically an Android OS with a LOT more bells and whistles–it unlocks the REAL functionality of the phone. Tethering this phone now is a matter of heading to the settings and activating it.

So, what are the ethics of this situation? When I consider Sarah’s situation, I see two different sides. First, I see that T-Mobile is providing a service that Sarah is under no obligation to use. Sarah could go without cell phone service, or abide strictly by the terms of service provided by T-Mobile. T-Mobile offers an additional plan for netbooks and laptops; it’s a card you plug into the back of your computer. Think of it as a cell phone with no dialpad or screen; it only exists to plug into the 3G or Edge networks that T-Mobile supports. Needless to say, this is a separate service and has overage charges (I believe that they have an asterisk on that
unlimited data plan, meaning that it’s not REALLY unlimited if they don’t like the amount of bandwidth you’re consuming).

T-Mobile as a company is not obligated to provide service to anyone. Regardless of the fact that Sarah specifically bought that phone to use as a mobile data point and a modem, T-Mobile was very clear in the TOS that tethering is not allowed. Just because Sarah didn’t know what the word ‘tethering’ meant when she read the TOS (ok–SKIMMED the TOS) doesn’t make T-Mobile liable for her ignorance.

And then there’s the other side of the argument. Everyone needs a cell phone. We could argue about the consumerist culture and whether your possessions own YOU, but the facts on the ground are that people need to be reachable for their jobs and social lives, and the expectation that they ARE available creates the necessity for them to BE available. I don’t know too many employers who would be thrilled to know that their employees are not reachable over the weekend,

T-Mobile offered a phone with an unlimited data plan, and didn’t bother to explain to anyone that you can only use that plan in ways that are severely circumscribed and functionally useless to someone who wants to use this phone as a mobile data point. It’s the same problem as Comcast has when they advertise their unlimited data plan for a cable modem; they’re happy to advertise the existence of such a plan, but if you go over 200GB of bandwidth in a month, they start calling you up and letting you know that while what you did isn’t against the TOS, they will exercise their right to not service your home any longer if you do it again…because they can end their service to you at any time, for any reason.

T-Mobile is playing the same jiggery-pokery with their advertising. Sarah purchased a handheld computer, and should be able to do precisely what she wants with it. To not be permitted to do so is the equivalent of Dell selling you a laptop and telling you that even though
you own that hardware, you are absolutely not permitted to install anything other than Windows on it–or they’ll never sell you another laptop again. While there are dozens of computer manufacturers, our choices for cell phone providers are distinctly more limited.

Sarah owns a piece of hardware; most of its usefulness, however, comes from a service that operates WITH that hardware. At what point does Sarah’s ownership of that hardware become subsumed by the right of the service provider to dictate how she uses it?