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Originally posted on Dreamwidth.

Title: Pipeline
Vidder: Sumana Harihareswara ("brainwane")
Fandom: Multi (documentaries, movies, TV, comics, coding bootcamp ads, and more)
Music: "Blank Space", Taylor Swift
Length: 3 minutes, 11 seconds
Summary: The tech industry has a blank space, and is quite eager to write your name.
Content notes: Implied verbal/emotional abuse, a few seconds of very fast cutting around 1:50
License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike (CC BY-SA)
Download: on Google Drive (165 MB high-res MP4, 23 MB low-res MP4, 98 MB AVI), or at Critical Commons with login (high- and low-res MP4 and WebM files)
Stream: at Critical Commons (choose View High Quality for best experience)
Subtitles file:

Premiered just now at WisCon 2015 (the vid party).

Embedded video below:


Video (in order of appearance):

  1. Bloomberg Gamechangers ("Larry Ellison - Billionaire Samurai Warrior of Silicon Valley" episode)
  2. Antitrust (trailer)
  3. Google recruiting film "Google Interns' first week"
  4. The Internship (trailer)
  5. Aardvark'd: Twelve Weeks with Geeks
  6. "Here Comes Another Bubble" by Richter Scales
  7. Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age
  8. The Cowboys And The Indian: an ESPN 30 for 30 short film
  9. Jurassic Park
  10. Ghostwriter ("Who Is Max Mouse?" episode)
  11. The Matrix (trailer)
  12. "Dan Rather Reports: Dev Boot Camp"
  13. "Wayne Enterprises - TV Commercial Remix" by Jonathan McIntosh
  14. The Social Network (trailer)
  15. Jobs (trailer)
  16. Learn to Code (Anyone Can Learn To Code promotional video)
  17. IBM Centennial Film: 100 x 100 -- A century of achievements that have changed the world
  18. She++
  19. Coder Camps' 9 Week Bootcamp Promo
  20. Dilbert ("The Prototype" episode & "Killer Smile" short)
  21. Pirates of Silicon Valley: "Insanely Great"
  22. VR.5 ("Pilot" episode)
  23. Silicon Valley ("Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency" episode)
  24. IBM Centennial Film: They Were There - People who changed the way the world works
  25. FogBugz On Demand ad
  26. Sheryl Sandberg, "Why we have too few women leaders" (TED talk)
  27. CODE documentary (trailer)
  28. AP, "Hacker 'Boot Camp' Helps Launch Tech Careers"

Stills and text (in order of appearance):

  1. Julie Pagano, with permission (the epigraph: "So many 'diversity in tech' efforts are about getting young women into the pipeline. Ignore the fact that there's a meat grinder at the end.")
  2. photo of Margaret Hamilton, NASA
  3. The Baby-sitters Club graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier, particularly Claudia and Mean Janine
  4. Kalpana Chawla issue of Amar Chitra Katha
  5. Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope
  6. Coalition for Queens Access Code 2.0 (promotional email)
  7. Programming Bootcamps Compared
  8. The Iron Yard (tweet)
  9. General Assembly (tweet)
  10. Udemy (tweet)
  11. Geek Feminism wiki, Timeline of Incidents
  12. Hedy Lamarr biography by Carla Speed McNeil in Dignifying Science
  13. "Woman in Tech Tweets About Sexist Dudes in Tech. Dude Gets Fired. Internet Meltdown Ensues." by Lindy West in Jezebel, March 21, 2013
  14. Time Magazine, March 18, 2013
  15. Julie Ann Horvath (tweet)
  16. Julie Pagano (Tumblr)
  17. Geek Feminism blog
  18. "The Day I Leave the Tech Industry" and "Honey, I Left the Tech Industry" by Cate Huston
  19. "Still Here, Part 1: A Memoir" by Randi Harper
  20. "Trouble at the Koolaid Point" by Kathy Sierra
  21. "My experiences in tech: Death by 1000 paper cuts" and "Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy: You Can't Go Back & There's No End in Sight" by Julie Pagano
  22., website and tweet

Thank you to my betas:

  • Skud
  • seekingferret
  • were_duck
  • Leonard Richardson
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden
  • and others.

Feelings and interpretation:

I wanted to vivisect the ways the mainstream US software industry tries to attract marginalized people, especially women, into engineering careers, but doesn't take care to keep people who have entered the "pipeline." I'm not the first, by far, to use the "leaky pipeline" metaphor, nor to use Taylor Swift to critique the tech industry. But I hadn't yet seen anyone use "Blank Space" specifically to analogize the tech industry to Swift's narrator, and I hope I did a good job demonstrating that similarity.
In this video I use some documentary footage of real women in engineering. For instance, a montage of happy-women-in-tech promotional video accompanies the lines:

I could show you incredible things

Stolen kisses, pretty lies

You're the king, baby, I'm your queen

Find out what you want

Be that girl for a month

I feel it's important to state that I don't mean to personally criticize any of those engineers; indeed, I include a clip of my own face in that montage. Rather, I am criticizing how the tech industry uses these kinds of glossy pictures in its recruiting materials, especially using photos of women of color, then betrays us by leaving us vulnerable to toxic work environments.

If anyone wants shot-by-shot commentary from me I can make that happen next month -- request it in the comments. But overall I am interested in hearing what you all see in this vid, whether you comment here or on Critical Commons or in your own journals or whatnot.


I've been aware of fanvids since WisCon 2009 when Skud showed me several, and since then I've watched more and more. But I did not consider myself a fanvidder; a decade ago, I had made a couple of primitive music videos for my spouse's songs, slideshows of still photos or found footage, in iMovie back when I had a Mac. I thought film editing was cool, and had read Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye and watched a bunch of "Every Frame a Painting", but I had no intention of becoming a fanvidder.

And then several months ago, when I watched Taylor Swift's music video for "Blank Space" over and over, I thought, "it would totally be cool if someone made a vid about how capitalism, and especially the tech industry, treats us the way Swift's character treats her boyfriends." It sounded pretty ambitious. I didn't feel up to it. But then some of my responsibilities shifted around, and then I heard that the WisCon vid party was seeking premieres, and I was planning on returning to WisCon after a hiatus, and so I pinged Skud on IRC on March 24th to sort of do a last "should I not do this" check. Some excerpts from the chat:

sumanah: so this is basically a "bounce a vid idea off you" thing
sumanah: Do you know Taylor Swift's song "Blank Space"?
sumanah: core idea: the singer treats the listener as a super-replaceable toy, to play with, use, treat badly, and then dispose
sumanah: and I am thinking of making a vid where that singer IS CAPITALISM
sumanah: like, especially how the tech industry treats The Pipeline of marginalized people
sumanah: so this would basically require a lot of like news video, or Ken Burns Effect on photos, or something
sumanah: so do you think this would be a good thing to submit as a WisCon premier?
sumanah: it would be approx my first vid ever
[Skud says it would be eminently well suited, and offers to beta and help with fiddly bits]
sumanah: the thing I am worried about is that it would be TERRIBLE
sumanah: like just a bad and unenjoyable vid
sumanah: that I would inflict on the viewers
[Skud reassures me that WisCon's a supportive crowd and that this'll be a challenging but not impossible first vid]
sumanah: thanks. OK then I am gonna go for it.

The next day, on Skud's advice, I started a lyrics-clips spreadsheet.

On April 1st, I started learning how to use kdenlive (I tried other Linux video editing applications but they crashed) and made a sort of hello world vid (23 seconds, with quite random video, screencaps, and audio). Then I started learning how to use Handbrake, and then made a thirty-second, one-source vid, "In the Pale Dublight", in about five or six hours. Over the next few days, I learned how to use Audacity to cut a chorus and bridge from "Blank Space" to reduce the runtime from 4 minutes to 2:50, and started clipping my sources. I discovered youtube-dl, reviewed my household's DVD library, and went to town. I am so very grateful to guidance from the tutorial and WisCon vidding party online workshop, and thingswithwings's aspect ratio tutorials in particular!

My early vision of the vid was much broader, covering capitalism and labor in general (sources I considered included The Middleman, Office Space, Arrested Development, "Bingo", The Muppets Take Manhattan, Everclear's video for "One Hit Wonder", The Devil Wears Prada, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Breaking Bad). I was going to start the song with terrible fictional bosses wooing and then terrorizing fictional employees or entrepreneurs, and then transition in the last chorus to the real-life software industry. Elements of this approach survived into some drafts; at least one beta viewer questioned the Ducktales clip featuring Scrooge McDuck diving into a vault of gold coins. I did end up salvaging the Muppets footage for a gift vid for my spouse; I was able to make an unpolished but enjoyable two-minute, two-source vid in about three hours. I was learning!

I don't remember exactly how or when I decided to narrow my focus. I simply don't own DVDs of the source for many of the shows and movies I originally considered including, and that pushed me away from, say, Office Space. (I'm lucky that someone had put a pretty high-quality rip of the "It's a Unix system -- I know this!" scene from Jurassic Park on YouTube.) And my current level of vidding prowess probably won't let me make a good vid that starts by indicting ALL OF CAPITALISM and then moves on to accuse the tech diversity industry of related sins with any degree of clarity, much less nuance. Some viewers of early drafts mistook my message, thinking I was primarily celebrating women in tech, rather than critiquing how we are treated. That probably made me want to scope down and make the focus clearer. I also read a ton of vidding meta and advice, which helped. (See "Some vids I learned from" for lessons I learned from other vids.)

Until late April, I felt fears along the lines of "ahh, so many gaps, abysses, this is not finished enough". Then I filled in the timeline such that the viewer had three minutes of continuous visual stimulation. It wasn't quite right, and I iterated in response to beta feedback, but it was a full draft. And then my fear changed to frustration; instead of a visceral fear of falling into those emptinesses, as though they were chasms between mountain footpaths, I now resented all these unwieldy chunks of stone that I now had to juggle or chisel. The fine-grained work could be tedious, and reminded me that I was constrained by the material in front of me; I could not instantiate my perfect golden vision of this vid ab nihilo.

Mostly, when I make art, I write. I write prose and code and stand-up comedy. In film editing I have to convey things more indirectly, and I struggle with that; I am not used to thinking visually or to managing this kind of inherent obliqueness. I am sure that, despite the vital help I got from my betas in preventing this, in this vid I sometimes go too far in the direction of literally putting my argument, in words, on the screen, and sometimes too far in the other direction, of suggesting connections that feel obvious to me and only me. When a beta viewer got confused by a sequence, or noted that other viewers would probably not understand my allusions, I had to calm myself, and remember that viewers only get the audio track and the video track. They do not get an additional intent track that plays alongside the vid to indicate what the maker meant to say. This is the sort of discipline that stopped me from using clips of Lorinda Cherry and Crystal Beasley to pun on the line "Cherry lips, crystal skies". As one vidder advised, "If you want to tell a story visually, you have to be very, very straightforward. If it seems overly simplistic and obvious to you, then you've got it about right."

Some of the sources made this super easy. I found that "Google Interns' First Week" recruiting video and thought, "I could just play 'Blank Space' under this, alone." My DVD of Aardvark'd, the Fog Creek promotional documentary, came in pretty handy. Ads for coding bootcamps kept popping up in my information diet. I found Ghostwriter clips and a chunk of Silicon Valley on YouTube. And I am grateful to be able to use all those screenshots of blog posts and tweets by women about the industry. I tried to figure out how to use way more of these tweets by Julie Ann Horvath but couldn't quite make it work.

I knew it wouldn't be easy to add comics panels, but I so adored representations of technical women like Janine Kishi and Kalpana Chawla, and wanted to include them. Thanks to my spouse Leonard for scanning those pages from our comics collection, and thanks to chaila for the comics-intensive vid "Watershed" which I imitated. (More about that in "Some vids I learned from".)

And, a few hours before the WisCon vid party deadline, I realized that I could solve a couple of problems by adding a few clips of me, from an old FogBugz promotional video. I have absolutely been part of the dynamic I'm criticizing; my happy face has been used to attract other women and people of color into my field or my firm. It feels only fair to make myself vulnerable and include me along with the other people whose images I am reusing.

I used LibreOffice and the GNU Image Manipulation Program to make my spreadsheets, epigraph, title and credits, and used gnome-subtitles to make a .srt subtitles file. And I used emacs, mostly, for all the little bits of note-taking, and to write up these posts.

I used Project Hamster to track the time I spent making this vid, much of it on long train or bus rides. Including my work on warm-up vids, self-promotion, and writing prose like this post, "Pipeline" will have taken about 75 hours' worth of work over two months.

This vid is under CC BY-SA and I hope people feel free to remix it, redistribute it, and otherwise enjoy it, as long as they attribute me as the vidder. Please feel free to show it at vidshows at cons, online, etc.