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Philo

When Punning Can Get You Ahead In The Interview Process

A Q&A with Ginger Wong, Software Engineer at Philo

Over 91 years ago Philo T. Farnsworth invented the electronic television. Today he has a San Francisco based startup named after him that is finally creating the television experience we've always wanted. Philo is growing fast to shape the future of television and they're looking to hire innovative, passionate and collaborative team members through PowerToFly... who also can crack a few jokes.


Ginger Wong, a Software Engineer at Philo, gave us more details on how Philo makes hires, what their interview process is like, and why she feels heard there.

Want to join the Philo team? Click here to see all of their available roles on PowerToFly and don't forget to press 'Follow.'

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What is your role at Philo?

Ginger Wong: I'm a Frontend Software Engineer at Philo, working on developing our product's UI/UX across web and streaming TV device platforms.

Why do women and underrepresented talent feel they can thrive at Philo?

GW: I find that Philo has a no-nonsense, no-politics work environment that proactively emphasizes fairness for everyone, whether it's to each other as employees, or even to our customers. We are also pretty transparent about what's happening within the company and have many open channels of communication so everyone can be heard.

The team and leadership have been great at openly recognizing the work that you and your colleagues have done. If there are new product initiatives that you would like to pursue on the engineering side, they will work with you on developing these ideas and getting them into production!

What about your interview process should candidates be aware of?

GW: For our technical roles, after an initial phone screen, we usually give our candidates a small, and hopefully fun, project to work on at home. We leave the assignment somewhat open-ended because we want to see what their strengths and interests are in this role and we'd like to see how they'll end up putting this project together.

If their project submission lands them an on-site interview, they'll get to speak with a few members from different roles on our team. This way we can get to know how candidates think and solve problems, as well as determine how well they can work in a team environment like ours (the "culture fit" aspect).

We find that most candidates really appreciate the take-home mini-project because it lets them show us their work in a low-stress way on their own time and their own terms. However, for people who find it challenging to find time for the project, we also offer an on-site alternative.

What traits are you looking for in your next team member?

GW: On the engineering team, we generally look for people who are self-starters and are open to a collaborative work environment that could involve other developers, designers, as well as our Marketing or Support teams.

We tend to love people who enjoy problem-solving, and who also have a good, detailed sense for user experience. They also don't necessarily have to know in-depth all the languages we use, but if they have a strong willingness to learn and a good foundation to pick it up quickly, that would be highly encouraged.

PS - An appreciation for witty humor and a tolerance for dorky puns are bonuses!

What do you love most about working at Philo?

GW: Besides the no-politics work environment mentioned above, I'm currently really appreciating the work/life balance that Philo offers! I find that our product goals and delivery schedules are very reasonable to work with. And as my own personal schedule frequently shifts, I love still being able to flexibly work during my sometimes odd hours, with a dependable, equally passionate team that is dedicated to consistently shipping a great product!

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Why Female Presidential Candidates Are Still Told to Be Chill, Not Shrill

The Dated, Everyday Tech Stifling Women's Voices Shows the Importance of Diversity in Tech

"You're not like other girls. You're so...chill."

I've gotten that "compliment" from multiple guys in multiple contexts — and I'm ashamed to admit that until a few years ago, I took it as one.

Occasionally I'd wonder why. After all, anyone who knows me well knows I am the Anti-Chill: a tightly wound stress ball, ready to explode into tears at any given moment.

So what was giving these guys the wrong impression? As it turns out, it was my voice. My cool, unnaturally-deep-for-a-woman, never-shrill voice.

And if I'm honest, I always prided myself on not sounding 'like other girls.' No uptalk or high-pitched squeals of glee from me. I thought I sounded smarter and more serious. Talk about internalized misogyny.

This isn't just me though. There is a societal double bind that forces women to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the right pitch and tone for each situation.

Just consider the advice that Democratic-debate coach Christine Jahnke gave female candidates to avoid being labeled as shrill: "… go slow and low. Very purposefully slow your pace and lower the tone a bit, because that will add meaning or gravitas to whatever it is you're talking about."

In a nutshell: try and sound chill, not shrill.

What I didn't know, until recently, is how this bias against women's natural voices is being reinforced and amplified by century-old technology. (Just one of many examples of how technology designed by and for men ends up hurting women in the long-run.)

Author Tina Tallon explains this little-known fact in her recent New Yorker article, summarized below:

How 20th Century Tech Is Holding 21st Century Women Back

With the rise of commercial broadcast radio in the 1920s, women's voices began getting critiqued. As Tallon explains, station directors asserted that "women sounded 'shrill,' 'nasal,' and 'distorted.'" So when industry standards were set, directors didn't take women's voices into account.

When Congress limited the bandwidth available to each radio station in 1927, station directors set a bandwidth that would provide the minimum amount of information necessary to understand "human" speech.

They used lower voices as their benchmark, so the higher frequency components of women's speech necessary to understand certain consonants were cut, making women's voices less intelligible.

  • Researcher J.C. Steinberg asserted that, "nature has so designed woman's speech that it is always most effective when it is of soft and well-modulated tone." He explained that if a woman raised her voice on air, it would exceed the limitations of the equipment. As Tallon says, "He viewed this as a personal and biological failing on women's part, not a technical one on his."

Why You Should Care

Women have always been told to lower their voices, but this 20th century approach to sound frequencies is still accepted as the standard, literally forcing women to lower their voices if they want to be heard.

  • To this day, many algorithms and speakers distort women's speech by limiting higher frequencies, causing women's voices to lose definition and clarity.

Tallon sums it up well:

"Consequently, women are still receiving the same advice that they were given in the nineteen-twenties: lower the pitch of your voice, and don't show too much emotion. By following that advice, women expose themselves to another set of criticisms, which also have a long history: they lack personality, or they sound 'forced' and 'unnatural.'"


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So as we continue to grapple with implicit biases against women, from what it means to be "presidential" to who's considered an "innovative leader," let's remember the importance of diversity in tech.

Had a woman been involved in researching/setting the standards for radio frequencies, she might've been able to steer the industry towards a voiceband that would allow men and women to be heard equally well. And perhaps had a more impartial voiceband been established, I'd have heard a more diverse range of female speakers growing up, and internalized fewer biases myself.

That's why we care so much at PowerToFly about making sure cutting-edge companies have diverse teams.

Times were different then, sure, but the fact that Depression Era standards are still impacting how we hear (or don't hear) women's voices is a vital reminder that what we do today impacts our world for centuries to come.

Agree?

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