DAVID: Hey guys, this is Dave. I need to sit today’s show out for reasons that probably sound obvious.
CHUCK: Oh man.
JESSICA: Oh, Chuck was a frog last week and it worked out okay.
CHUCK: Oh, I seriously hope that you don’t have what I had.
DAVID: Me too. I was in Dallas last week and now today, I’ve got a headache. There’s your opening joke.
DAVID: You guys have a great show and I’ll catch up with you next week.
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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 179 of the Ruby Rogues Podcast. This week on our panel, we have Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning.
CHUCK: Saron Yitbarek.
SARON: Hey everybody.
CHUCK: I think I’m going to do all the ladies first. We have a special guest, Meagan Waller.
MEAGAN: Good morning.
CHUCK: Do you want to introduce yourself really quickly?
MEAGAN: Sure. My name is Meagan Waller. I am a Ruby and Rails developer from Clearwater, Florida.
CHUCK: Awesome. And Avdi and I are here, too.
CHUCK: We brought you on today to talk about some of the accountability and social justice stuff that you’ve been talking about lately. I’m not really sure where the best place to start is. So, why don’t you get us going?
MEAGAN: Okay. So, I’ve mostly been talking more about accountability and social justice after I volunteered with some programs that I like to call the pipeline programs, like Girls Who Code and Girl Develop It. I noticed that I was volunteering for these programs and these women were getting really excited but I wasn’t seeing them at conferences speaking or in the workforce. And I wanted to examine what was happening there, because these programs are being funded by big tech companies and they release their diversity numbers and there are no women that work at their companies. And so, it seemed like there’s this disconnect there.
So, I wanted to start talking more about how we as a tech community can be more accountable and not defer that responsibility to maybe future generations by just helping women and young kids get into programming, how we can foster accountability in our communities and in our jobs right now.
CHUCK: Very cool. So, one thing that I see a lot of is yeah, people basically throwing out the ‘It’s not my problem’ or ‘It doesn’t affect me’ kinds of things. So, how do you address accountability for those folks when it really doesn’t directly affect them? It doesn’t make it harder for them to find a job. It doesn’t make it harder for them to get their job done.
MEAGAN: Right. Yeah, it’s really easy to, when you’re in a position of privilege to say something like, “I’m not really part of the problem,” or, “That doesn’t really seem to affect me.” But the thing is that when our companies aren’t diverse, when we don’t hold ourselves accountable, you’re [unintelligible] and you’re discounting a huge group of people that could be bringing different experiences and just difference attitudes to the workforce that can be beneficial. That obviously shouldn’t be the main reason why you want to be accountable or why you want to try and aim for a diverse workforce. But it’s all part of our problems. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be accountable and to aim to have diverse environments.
JESSICA: There was something at a conference. It was at Distill in San Francisco a few months ago. And one of the lightning talks, a woman got up and she is a theatrical, she’s a psychologist but she particularly works through theater with teams. And she did a great little presentation, the key takeaway of which was when your team is more diverse it’s not just that you get different ideas and new ideas from the members who aren’t like everybody else. It’s that everybody on the team produces more ideas than they would in a homogenous environment.
MEAGAN: Yeah, absolutely.
JESSICA: She said that when a team is a group of people who are a lot alike, then in their actions they emphasize that commonality. And when you add in some people who don’t share those same common things, like the common geek things or aren’t men or aren’t white, then everybody starts bringing out the parts of them that don’t fit in with the crowd the same way, that there’s a diversity within each of us that comes out better when there’s an obvious diversity in our teams.
CHUCK: Well, that’s interesting.
MEAGAN: That’s really interesting.
SARON: So, I feel like if I already have a team, and let’s just pretend I’m a white man, and I have a team of other white men. And my team is awesome and we’re making great products. My first reaction to that would be, “Well, that’s nice. But everything is great as it is. So, why do, knowing that I already have a settled team and something that seems to work for me, why should I go out of my way to figure out how to diversify that?” And especially that would include, “No, does that mean I need to fire some people and get other people?” How does that work for an established group of people?
MEAGAN: Right. That’s where, I think there’s this myth that in order to foster a diverse team you have to either let go of people who are talented and who you work well with, or you have to not hire people better or good people, good developers, or what have you. And this is just not true.
CHUCK: I’m going to prime the pump a little bit here.
CHUCK: Because I hear the same thing regarding “In our business’ best interest, we want to hire the best candidate that we can.”
CHUCK: And so, again it goes back to if I have a man that’s a better candidate than a woman, are you telling me that I need to hire the woman because she’s a woman?
MEAGAN: Right. So, there’s this study that I’m sure that you all have seen. It’s been going around. But they have the resume of the man and the woman. They both have everything exactly the same and the only difference is that one of them is named Joe and then one of them is named Jill. And regardless of who is the interviewer who’s in charge of hiring, man or woman, they always give more preference to the male resume. So, there are these biases that we have just by growing up in a society that is sexist, or is racist, that tells us that men and white men are just better at doing something than that of a woman, regardless if they have the same exact education, the same experience, everything.
So, to say that, “Do I just have to hire women instead of hiring a man who is also qualified?” that sort of line of thinking doesn’t really apply unless there’s the barrier to entry is the same for everyone. And that’s just not the case right now. And so, we need to be proactive and just make sure that when we’re reviewing resumes or when we’re reviewing hiring or any of those roles that we might fall into, that we’re aware of these biases that might come into play and see how we might be enacting them or making them come through, these biases that we may or may not know that we have.
CHUCK: Well, and that’s the thing that’s really tricky, right? I don’t think I’m sexist.
CHUCK: But if you put those two resumes in front of me, I honestly couldn’t tell you if I would react that way. And so…
JESSICA: So Chuck, the studies do show that those people who know that they have a sexist bias exhibit the least sexist bias.
JESSICA: Yeah, yeah. It’s the same, I think it’s the same group of studies. But people who are aware of the bias can compensate for it. And the people who deny that they have it can’t compensate for it.
JESSICA: The whole idea that a less qualified woman is going to be hired over a man, there’s this assumption in there that based on resumes and if we’re lucky an interview, we can put people in a line and say exactly who is more qualified than who. And I laugh at that. That’s such a joke, because when you look at a resume and you look at a job description and you’re trying to line people up in orders of qualification, we don’t have that kind of resolution in telling how qualified people are. And when we don’t, we make guesses and we go with our gut. And our gut does associations with what it’s seen before. And that’s where the bias is coming in when we don’t see it.
MEAGAN: Yup, absolutely.
MEAGAN: And I think it’s also pretty silly for anyone to just count themselves off and say, “Well, I’m not sexist so this isn’t my problem,” because everyone, if you live on planet earth, you have some sexist biases just simply by being a member of society. I know that I personally even as a woman, I have internalized sexism sometimes. I have to check myself constantly.
JESSICA: Absolutely. When we say that everyone has sexist biases, we’re not saying that anyone’s a bad person for having grown up in this culture. It’s like everyone winds up using or buying goods that are made in China by people who aren’t paid a fair wage. It’s just a part of living here. We can’t really help it. All we can do is try to help in the small ways we have.
CHUCK: Well, and I think it’s interesting. I just want to hark back to this. So, just be aware that you may have biases that you’re not aware of. So, you’re not consciously being sexist or racist or whatever.
CHUCK: But be aware that you might subconsciously be doing that. And just explore a little bit deeper to make sure that you aren’t allowing those biases to create situations where somebody is then not treated right or not treated fairly.
JESSICA: So, we talked about hiring. Meagan, what are some things that ordinary developers can do just a little bit differently to be more part of the solution?
MEAGAN: Okay. So, something that I just talked about was this barrier to entry. And that starts at the job description level. I recently was looking for a new job and I was reading tons of job descriptions. And there were a few that really stuck out to me as companies that I’d want to work for and they were job descriptions that said things like, “We’re looking for people who are excited to learn about new technologies,” instead of saying, “We’re looking for coding gurus or programming rock stars” or whatever.
Just these simple things that you can do that we know for a fact women shy away from these roles or marginalized people shy away from job descriptions that look like this, that we can start to make that barrier to entry a little more level across the playing field. And so, if you’re at a company and if you are able to have any say in job descriptions or if you can talk to somebody who provides them, this is a really important step zero for making sure that you’re trying to hire a more diverse workforce.
JESSICA: Oh, I did that at my company. I did that at Outpace, because I try to help with recruiting when I’m at conferences. And I looked at the job description on the website and I was like, “Oh, can I help you with this?” And they were like, “Oh yes, we would love it if you would help with this.” It’s a great way that you can contribute to your company and it actually looks really good, like you’re involved in care. And you can help all the candidates out there. There was something in there about working out, some sort of weight lifting analogy that I was like, “No. No please, just take that out.”
MEAGAN: Yes, yes.
CHUCK: So, I have to ask just out of sheer ignorance. You mentioned a few things. What types of things really show up in these job listings that make it so that you don’t get as diverse a group of candidates coming to your door to work at your company?
MEAGAN: I know I’ve seen listings that like to list off perks of the company, and some of the times the perks are things like, “We like to stay late and play ping pong and drink out of our Kegerator.” These things could be potential no-go’s for people who might have families or for people who might not drink. So, just things like that are just right off the bat indicators to somebody that this might not be a place that they want to work, regardless of how kind everyone is or how talented, or even if there are a few people that would fall into the marginalized group. I’ve seen listings where they list things like, “We have chocolate on demand and we also have women developers.”
SARON: Oh my god.
MEAGAN: Like as if women and chocolate are comparable perks at all.
JESSICA: And those kinds of things, maybe you really are looking for that archetype of the young, 80-hour a week developer whom you can convince it’s, “No really, this is worth it to you to spend your entire life on this company.” But they’re excluding a lot more than women in that.
MEAGAN: Yeah, absolutely.
JESSICA: It’s not just about women. The people who don’t drink is a big one.
JESSICA: I’ve seen a lot of improvement at conferences lately of parties and social activities that accommodate people who don’t drink all the time.
CHUCK: I’m going to open this bag of worms.
CHUCK: Is alcohol a problem at conferences?
CHUCK: I don’t drink, and so I don’t go to a lot of the drinking events anyway. I’m one of the people you’re talking about in that case.
CHUCK: I’m Mormon and we don’t drink. So, it’s pretty cut and dry for me. I’ll go if I want to socialize with folks. But I usually don’t stay very long, because I’m just not super happy at those events.
JESSICA: But that’s the problem. You’re excluded. You’re not explicitly excluded. But you’re incentivized to leave.
CHUCK: Yeah. The question I’m asking though is more along the lines of, you hear about some of the more blatant and obvious bad things that happen at conferences. And they don’t happen often, but does alcohol make those more likely to happen or cause more of those problems? Or is it more of just a cultural thing and we had a bad egg show up to an event?
JESSICA: Does alcohol make that more likely to happen? I’m going to go with yes. However, you can’t blame the alcohol.
MEAGAN: Right. But I’ll also say that I haven’t been to too many conferences. But the ones that I have gone to where I’ve gone to the after events were at a bar or whatever. Every time I’ve done that, I’ve had somebody come up to me and say something like, “Do you need help walking back to your hotel room tonight?” or “I saw you speak today at the conferences and you’re really pretty.” And these things are just not things that they would say to you in a different setting, I think. My bad experiences at conferences have pretty much always been when there’s alcohol involved.
The last conference I was at, I went to Nickel City Ruby, I thought what they did was really awesome. They had an event at night. They’d said, “Okay, we’re going to be doing board game night for people who don’t drink and then we’re going to also be doing the GitHub drink up if people are interested in that.” So, it gave people an option to do something else without feeling excluded.
JESSICA: Yeah, Steel City Ruby similarly had a four track party at a one track conference.
CHUCK: Oh, that’s cool.
JESSICA: So that everyone…
JESSICA: You could socialize and drink, socialize and not drink. You could play games. You could be quiet. I thought that was really good.
MEAGAN: That’s awesome.
JESSICA: And you know honestly Chuck, on this alcohol question I can’t talk because I have done things that I regret and I find inappropriate at a conference after drinking a lot.
CHUCK: Yeah, and I want to make it clear. I’m not advocating that we don’t have drinking events at conferences. But I think it is an interesting topic that I’ve seen come up a few times.
JESSICA: It is. Alcohol magnifies everything. And when alcohol is ingrained in our culture, we’re magnifying a lot of negative things about our culture, our culture as developers.
JESSICA: The one thing I’ve seen a lot of conferences do in the last year, year and a half is instead of a big party in the night, they’ve had alcohol available and non-alcoholic drinks immediately after the last talk. So, you can stay around, have a couple of drinks, socialize. If you want to go out and drink with people, you can arrange that. But it’s a great balance of you can have a few drinks but no one’s getting wasted there at the conference event. And everyone gets an opportunity to socialize without feeling pressured to drink, because it’s only six o’clock.
MEAGAN: Mmhmm. QCon New York was a great example of that.
CHUCK: Very coo. I want to change the topic a little bit, because we’ve talked a little about hiring women and making your job listings and things more inviting. But what about the guys that I don’t do the hiring, I don’t write the job postings, I’m not involved in that. I don’t want to get involved in that. I’m not some creepy guy that’s going to follow women around at a conference or do horrible things to them, or even give them creepy looks or anything. What can I do? What can that guy do to help diversity in the community?
MEAGAN: So, this is one of the number one things about being an ally, is listening first off. And then calling out other people who do these things, because you might personally not be that creepy guy or whatever. But if you’re active on Twitter or if you go to a meetup or if you go to conferences, you’ve met somebody who is that creepy guy. And this thing, I’ve been in groups of men and women and we’ve been at conferences. And somebody inevitably says something sexist. And one of the guys there will be like, “Hey man, you shouldn’t say that because there’s a woman here.”
MEAGAN: And this bugs me so much. And so, I think the number one thing you can do differently is, well first off what this says to me is that if I wasn’t here you wouldn’t be stopping this guy’s behavior. And so, you’re just, this perpetuates this myth of the feminist killjoy or whatever that now that she’s in the group you can’t tell these jokes anymore. You can’t say these things. So, a better thing to do would be just saying something like, “Hey man, you shouldn’t say that because that makes me uncomfortable,” not because that might make someone else uncomfortable. I feel like that’s the number one thing that you can do, just calling out other people and letting them know that you’re calling them out because it makes you uncomfortable or because you’re not okay with it, not because the internet hate mob is going to come get you or something instead.
JESSICA: Ooh, ooh, I’ve got one. I’ve got one for you personally, Chuck.
JESSICA: Just today when you opened the episode, you said I’m going to let all the ladies go first. Can it not matter? Can gender just totally not be relevant?
JESSICA: It’s just, [sighs].
CHUCK: Now, I’m uncomfortable.
SARON: But you expected that, right? That was going to happen at least once.
CHUCK: Yeah, totally. Well, and that’s part of the thing too, is that we’re talking about something, well let me back up. So, I go to a conference or I get on the podcast and I’m talking about stuff that I know about: tech. I’m comfortable talking about it. Even areas that I don’t know a lot about, I’m comfortable talking about it. But there really aren’t consequences for me being ignorant other than that Avdi will explain it to me, right?
CHUCK: Where with this particular topic, with diversity, with feminism or the racial issues or things like that, if I get it wrong, I get in trouble. The internet hate mob may just come after me. Or I may look like I’m intolerant of a group of people. And that’s not cool and things like that. And so, it’s uncomfortable when you’re in the majority when there’s a vocal minority that may be upset with you for the way that you act or react.
AVDI: Just one thing there, can I just flip that on its head and say there’s a chance that I may hurt someone.
CHUCK: Yes, definitely.
SARON: So, why would you hurt someone? What makes that likely to happen? Does that question make sense?
CHUCK: Kind of. I have kind of an answer and it’s mostly just that I don’t know that that’s something that they would be sensitive to.
SARON: Exactly. I feel like the very first step in saying the right thing and making sure not to hurt someone is understanding, what are the things that you could do to hurt someone? And the first part of that is listening, and the first part of that is diversifying your network. You and I for example have had conversations about race and gender off of the podcast. And the more that you diversify your network and the more perspectives you include in your world, the more you learn and understand what these issues are, what these pain points are, what these struggles are, and the less likely that you’re going to hurt someone because you already understand the story. You appreciate that perspective. That’s really the first thing that anyone can do to be an ally.
MEAGAN: Yeah, absolutely, unpacking your privilege. And when you unpack your privilege, you see where inequalities happen. And it makes you more aware and more empathetic with people who don’t look like you. This prevents you from saying things that might offend somebody. But it’s inevitable that we’re all going to say things that offend somebody at some point. And so, it’s also really important to know how to apologize and how to move forward from that. And apologizing is not saying, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” It’s, “I’m sorry that I offended you and here’s what I’m going to do not to do that in the future.” Those are all very important parts of being accountable and being a good ally.
CHUCK: One thing that I want to point out from my end is that I have put my foot in my mouth. I have gone all the way to the knee, saying just really dumb things. And for the most part, the people who I have said something that they’re offended or at least bothered by what I said, when they point it out, they’re very gracious when I apologize. And so, for the most part if you’re trying and you don’t mean to and you’re willing to accept, “Hey, I screwed up,” and don’t do it again, for the most part I found that the folks that you are going to hurt are pretty gracious about it if you didn’t mean it and you’re willing to accept it.
JESSICA: It’s about learning from failure, right Meagan?
MEAGAN: Absolutely. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: We’re also good at that, I hope.
JESSICA: Which is a transition into another thing that you as people can do to help women feel welcome in technology, and that’s talk to us about technology, not about being women.
MEAGAN: Yes, thank you. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Alright, this episode’s over.
JESSICA: No, this episode is not over. This episode is starting. I watched your talk about learning from failure. And I was amazed by the personal stories that you told. You talked about being in high school and then college. And being terrified of failure to the point that you would put it off and put it off until it became much worse than it could have been.
JESSICA: And then you talked about being super excited about this apprenticeship program at 8th Light because it was going to be really challenging and hard. So, you went from fleeing anything hard to chasing after something that you knew would be hard. What changed there?
MEAGAN: So, I think what really changed there is that I was working retail before this. And I was so bored by how unchallenged I was. And it had been a while since I had been in school. And so, I was like, “you know what? Maybe I’m ready for it now.” Another thing that happened was that I got diagnosed ADHD after that, which explained a little bit about my procrastination and my failures. And so, when I got on ADHD medicine I started feeling more ready for the challenge. I think that was a big part of it for me, and being okay with maybe possibly failing at something.
JESSICA: Somewhere in there, you read Carol Dweck.
MEAGAN: Yes, yeah.
JESSICA: Was that before or after you started 8th Light?
MEAGAN: That was after.
JESSICA: Okay. Tell us about what you learned from that research.
MEAGAN: Okay. So, Carol Dweck is a researcher and a psychologist from Stanford University. And she did this study where she found that a single line of praise can have a huge effect on a child’s ability or willingness to want to try something difficult and how they approach failure. And so, she would tell half of the students in a class that their line of praise was going to be “You put a lot of work into this. I can tell you worked hard on this.” And the other half of the class was going to be told that they must be smart. That’s why they finished this. That’s why they did well at this.
And what ends up happening is when you tell students and when you tell people that they did something because of how smart they are, this innate intelligence that they have, what you’re really doing is you’re not giving them a recipe for responding to failure. They come up to it and they think, “Well if I’m not smart enough to figure this out, and I have to exert effort to do it, then I’m showing the world that I’m not smart anymore and I have to put effort into it. I can’t cut it on my natural gifts”. Whereas the students who are told that they were hard workers or that they put a lot of effort into something, when they come up to something hard their conclusion is that they didn’t try hard enough or they could have focused harder or they could have studied more.
And this, I feel like in the developer community especially, I’ve ran into so many people who were called smart when they were kids. And I’ve given this talk a few times now and every time I’ve had people come up to me and they’re like, “How did you know my life story? How did you get up there and tell me what I’ve lived through?” And I think this is a very common thing that a lot of us relate to.
And so, I’ve started to make an effort when I’m doing mentoring or when I’m working with new developers, or even with developers who are more experienced than I am, is I don’t as much as I might want to say, “I could never write software like that. You’re so smart,” I tell them I appreciate how hard they worked on it and that I use their gem all the time, or that I really appreciated their blog post instead of telling them that they’re smart. So that way, they have some tangible thing to look back at and say, “I completed this because I worked hard.” So, if I come up to a challenge, then I just need to work harder at it. It’s something I’ve been fostering in myself and it’s this talk I’ve been giving that I really enjoy giving.
JESSICA: It’s almost like you give people control over their lives and what they accomplish.
MEAGAN: Right, absolutely. Yeah, that study by Carol Dweck was a big breakthrough for me. It explained a lot of things for me.
CHUCK: I think it’s really important to realize that. We all have certain things that we’re good at, but invariably the people who are piano prodigies or go out and create some amazing piece of art, it’s not their first one.
CHUCK: And it’s not this automatic thing. It’s because this put the work in and they practiced and they became good at it.
JESSICA: And what you’re not seeing is the thousand failures before this one glowing success.
MEAGAN: Right. And I think Einstein is a great example of this, because we all learned about Einstein’s theory of relativity in school and how he’s this genius. But we don’t really talk about how it took him over 10 years of constant diligence of trying to figure this equation out until he got to this theory of relativity. We also don’t talk about how his wife had a big role in that part of coming up with this theory of relativity. But we look at people, we see the end product. But we don’t see all of these failures that came before it. So, it makes it that much more difficult for us to imagine being a success if all we’ve ever known is failure.
So, I like to encourage people to start trying to remove the stigma around failure by talking more about their failures. I enjoy listening to talks about people’s newest gem or some amazing thing that they’ve created. But if you were to start talking about, “It took me three years to do this. And here are some of the ways that I failed before doing it, then I succeeded,” you’re automatically including everyone that’s listening to your talk. Because I guarantee everyone in there has failed at something or they might feel like, “Oh, well this person who I’ve always had on a pedestal, they’ve always been a Ruby hero to me or whatever, now they’re much more relatable.” And who knows? Maybe that person that’s in the audience listening to that talk is inspired enough where they are giving the talk next year or something.
JESSICA: That’s awesome.
CHUCK: So, it sounds like we’re talking a little bit about Impostor Syndrome, which is something we’ve talked about on this show before.
CHUCK: So, how do we help people overcome that?
MEAGAN: So, I have this feedback loop that I like to try and enact to help overcome Impostor Syndrome. It’s you first need to praise effort. This is number one. When you praise effort, you let people know that if they can’t figure something out, they can ask for help because they’re not being judged on how smart they are. Nobody feels like they need to be the smartest person in the room. So, praising effort is the first thing you need to do. When you start to praise effort, what ends up happening is that people are less afraid to expose their ignorance.
And exposing your ignorance is an apprenticeship pattern from the ‘Apprenticeship Patterns’ book that Dave Hoover wrote that I really enjoyed when I was an apprentice. And that was my favorite pattern in it, was exposing your ignorance, because this is so scary. I remember when I first started my apprenticeship I was so terrified to ask for help because I thought that if I asked for help, people would be like, “Why did we hire her? She doesn’t know how to do anything.” It took me a week to set up my Ruby environment for the first time because I was too scared to ask how to curl RVM. I didn’t understand how it worked. And so, when you start to praise effort people start exposing their ignorance.
And really, exposing your ignorance, when you realize that it’s not about showing people what you don’t know, it’s more about showing that you have a capacity or a willingness to learn something new, it makes it so much easier to just ask for questions, to ask for help on questions when you’re stuck. And so, when you expose your ignorance and everyone that you’re working with starts being more comfortable asking for help and exposing their ignorance, it leads to this safe space for people to fail.
And when you have a safe space people can fail, Impostor Syndrome sort of doesn’t really as big of an effect because if everyone’s allowed to fail and everyone is allowed to learn from their failures, then you’re not scared that you’re faking how much you know something, because that’s not even an issue anymore. It’s not a question if you can just ask for help if you don’t know something.
CHUCK: I want to push it back on the people who work with newer folks, too. And there’s a book I read a while back called ‘QBQ! The Question Behind the Question’. It talks about personal responsibility. And so, where you’re talking about it’s your job to find the answers. It’s your job. You take responsibility for your own direction and for getting that help. But the people on the team also have a responsibility to help people make those transitions and create that safe space for people to explore and learn. And granted the people who are getting helped are probably gaining more from the experience than the experienced people who are helping them. But it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It doesn’t matter who’s going to benefit.
It’s like when, well I have kids and I’m going to use an analogy here. My youngest was just potty trained. But before he was potty trained, if something was stinking around the house it was probably him. Now, I didn’t put that there. I didn’t make the stinky stuff. But it was my responsibility to clean it up. And sometimes, we have people on your teams who are going to have some kind of problem. And even though it’s not our problem directly, we have the responsibility to go and help clean it up, or to go help them. And I think this is a big part in creating these open and safe spaces where we understand that it doesn’t matter whose problem it is. It’s all of our responsibility to take care of it.
I think this applies to the other discussions we were having with marginalized groups, too. We didn’t make the mess, but we still have a responsibility for the community and for the environment we’re creating. And so, I just want to encourage people to take the opportunity to really be involved and to help people out and create these safe spaces at work, at conferences, wherever you’re at, for everybody so that people can come and get that kind of help and be encouraged to move ahead with what they’re trying to accomplish.
MEAGAN: Yeah, absolutely.
JESSICA: Meagan, one of the stories that you told in your talk was about your first project as a software craftsperson. Can we just be craftspeople?
JESSICA: Sorry, you said craftswoman in your talk and I’m like, “Oh, the gender. Why does it matter?”
MEAGAN: Right, yes.
JESSICA: But that sounded really frightening.
MEAGAN: Yes, it was.
JESSICA: Did you start with providing estimates as a brand new developer who’s not even familiar with the tech you were working in?
MEAGAN: Yes, I did, yeah. That was a failure in itself that was a little different than a test failure or something, which…
JESSICA: That wasn’t your fault.
MEAGAN: [Chuckles] No, it wasn’t my failure. But it was an opportunity for my team to examine what went wrong and how we can learn from that. And the conclusion was, don’t estimate stories for technologies that you don’t know. And [chuckles] so…
JESSICA: Your team has made that first project, or what did they do to make it a better experience for you? And what advice would you give a team so that new developers don’t have that same kind of frightening experience.
MEAGAN: So, what we ended up doing, so the technology, it was an iOS application. I didn’t have very much experience with iOS. And the only other person on the team who had more experience than I did was the team lead who was on three different teams, so he was spread very thin. And so, I was working on this story and just beating my head against the wall because none of the other people on my team knew anything about it. As much as they wanted to help they just couldn’t. I couldn’t bounce ideas off of them. They didn’t’ know how. They didn’t know anything about Objective C or iOS or Xcode or anything.
And so, when we had our retroactive and it was obvious that the story wasn’t going to be completed, I voiced my concern that I’m flying solo on this story and I’m not able to complete it and it’s frustrating to me. And my team members were frustrated that they couldn’t help me. And so, the conclusion that we came to was that we were going to, on Fridays, do an iOS workshop. And I led an iOS workshop for them where we got Team Treehouse accounts. And I led them through the tutorials and the code examples and answered questions if they had it. So that that way, they could at least be around to bounce ideas off of, or to take smaller parts of the story.
So, it was really about seeing that this disconnect between, they couldn’t help me, and I was stuck in trying to bridge this happy medium. And that really ended up helping a lot. I left the team and the two women who I had in the workshops were working on iOS stories a few workshops in. So, we learned from what the mistake was, which was having a team with, having a not very well-rounded team as far as the technologies that we knew. And then fixing that by teaching them those technologies.
JESSICA: That’s interesting. So, as a team you took time to learn the technology that you needed in order to complete your work.
MEAGAN: Yes, yup.
JESSICA: Speaking of which, you’ve been a developer for a year and a half?
MEAGAN: Yeah, yeah, about a little over a year and a half.
JESSICA: And how many different languages have you worked in?
MEAGAN: Quite a few. I started with Python and I moved to Ruby and then Java. I’ve done Clojure and ClojureScript and Elixir, iOS. I’m doing Rails, Ruby on Rails right now. But I’ve had my feet in quite a few languages.
CHUCK: Phew, you’re an old pro.
JESSICA: Wow, that’s amazing.
JESSICA: Yeah, that’s fantastic. That also speaks to what, another thing that you talked about which was how being a technologist anymore, it doesn’t mean being an expert in X technology. That’s got a time to live, an expiration date on it.
JESSICA: It’s about being an expert learner.
MEAGAN: Absolutely, yeah. I’m much more interested in having the fundamentals of programming down where breaking down a big problem into small test cases, the language at that point doesn’t even really matter. I can learn the syntax. I can learn a new language. But if I don’t know how to break down a problem, it doesn’t matter what language I know how to write. If I can break down this problem, then I can basically learn any language I want, I think. That’s how I like to approach it.
JESSICA: You just said break down the problem into small test cases.
JESSICA: I like how you used test cases as the unit of decomposition rather than functionality or services or classes.
MEAGAN: Yeah. I don’t like to think about functionality or services or classes or what the data model might look like. I want to think about all of the small steps that I need to accomplish to finish this task, or this big project, or this big story or whatever. And then the implementation just comes afterwards. If I can break down the problem, then I can do whatever I want with the implementation.
JESSICA: Yeah, if you can define the problem with those small test cases…
JESSICA: Then the implementation maybe is not straightforward but at least you have a lot of freedom in it.
MEAGAN: Right, absolutely.
CHUCK: I have a question that I want to ask. I haven’t been a new developer for a long time. And I don’t know what the issues are coming up through the ranks to get to the point where you are, successfully having a career and participating in the community and all of these things. What kinds of barriers do people run into at this point as they come up through the ranks? Are there specific experiences that you had that we as more experienced folks can unlock the doors or give new folks a boost up?
MEAGAN: So, like I said a little bit ago, it took me a little over a week to get my Ruby environment to a point where I could gem install something. And I think that when I was first starting out and I would want to use some library, the documentation would have all of these assumptions right off the bat. And that was a big obstacle for me. And I know that’s been a big obstacle for a lot of newbies that I’ve helped. Something that might seem obvious to us like how to add something to our path was absolutely impossible for someone who’s new to figure out.
And that was a big thing for me, was documentation just making these assumptions. So, I think that if we could just assume that people don’t have the same level of knowledge that we might have and try to break things down smaller and say, “If you need to add something to your path,” well what if somebody doesn’t know how to do that? So maybe we should also explain how to do that or at least link to a resource that shows you how to do this correctly. I’ve started doing this with my open source projects or if I’m working on a client project. I’ll make sure to make the readme as thorough as possible. I feel like this is a really important thing to do.
JESSICA: Totally. There’s a privilege that we have as experienced developers. And privilege says nothing about how hard your life is or easy. It only lists problems you don’t have. As experienced developers, we have the privilege of knowing how to set our path, of being comfortable at the command line, of understanding version control. There’s so much context that we have that new developers need to be brought up to speed on.
JESSICA: My sister wants to learn programming and she’s like, she texts me, “I wrote my first program!”
JESSICA: I’m like, “Good, where’s the repo?” “The what?”
JESSICA: Oh, I need to teach you GitHub.
CHUCK: Yeah, and it’s hard sometimes to do that because it’s second nature to us, to do that in such a way that it’s not where they go back and they go, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
JESSICA: There’s a parallel here of things are very obvious to us, so obvious we don’t even realize that other people don’t know them. It’s like having a bias. We don’t realize the problems we don’t have.
SARON: I think another one besides just tech skills are all of the things that make up a career too, like speaking and participating and giving lightning talks and such. We did on the Code Newbie podcast, we had Marty Haught talk about conferences and CFPs. And I had so many newer programmers afterwards say, “I didn’t even know I could propose a talk. I didn’t know what a CFP was.” And I think that for me, it’s been really helpful to have more experienced people say, “Hey, did you consider submitting a talk to so and so?” And that means a lot, because that tells me that, “Oh, this really experienced person thinks that what I think and what I have to say might actually be valuable” whereas I don’t think that I would think that what I had to say was valuable, if that makes sense.
MEAGAN: Right, absolutely. There’s this assumption that if we just open, if conference organizers just open up a CFP to the public and women don’t apply or marginalized people don’t apply, it’s because they just didn’t have anything to say or they didn’t want to apply.
MEAGAN: When the reality is that they don’t know. They might not know it exists or they might not know what it means. Or they might not know that they’re allowed to apply. And so, just simply reaching out to someone and making a genuine effort, I’ve had conferences email me personally and put a personal touch on it and say, “I went to your website and I really loved this blog post that you wrote. I would love if you gave a talk about this at our conferences.” And that just makes a huge difference when it comes to getting different people to apply to your conference.
SARON: Exactly. And really does…
MEAGAN: Or speak at your meetup or anything.
JESSICA: Or for your job.
MEAGAN: Yup, absolutely.
SARON: And it doesn’t take much. It can be just an email, a tweet, just a little nudge that says, “Hey, you’ve done this awesome thing. You should consider talking about it and sharing it.” And that just, even if you don’t do it right away, it will stick with you. And you’ll think about it. And the next opportunity might be the one where you actually talk.
MEAGAN: Right. And on the flipside of that, I’ve also had conferences or meetups email me to be like, “We haven’t had any women speak at this conference, ever. You should apply to it.” And it’s like…
MEAGAN: I don’t think I want to be the guinea pig for this. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Yeah, we know that yeah, it just sounds weird. It sounds weird to me and I’m not a woman.
MEAGAN: Yeah, yeah.
JESSICA: On the other hand, I actually respond to those if I can, because I want the attendees. There might be some women in the audience who would be much more encouraged in their career path if I did show up. And I at least respect them for noticing and caring.
MEAGAN: Yes, absolutely.
AVDI: I’m just curious with the newbie experience if any of you have experienced the phenomenon of people making you feel bad for not knowing things.
MEAGAN: Yes. And I think that this is not usually intentional. And it sounds something like, “Oh wow. You don’t know what that means?” And it makes me feel you know, when I was new and they would say, “Oh, why wouldn’t you just use the tap method to do this instead.” And it’s if I knew it existed then I probably would have used it. And so, it’s much better to say something like, “Have you considered using this method?” and linking to it, or “This does the same thing that you’re looking at, that you were trying to do here. Maybe this would be a better way to do this,” than just, “Why didn’t you use this? How come you don’t know about this?” I’ve had that definitely happen to me when I was new and it made me feel like I needed to learn every Ruby method and know exactly what it did in order to be a successful Ruby developer.
CHUCK: Only James Edward Gray has done that.
CHUCK: I wanted to jump in here, too. I listened to this podcast last week. NPR has a podcast called Planet Money. And they did this episode ‘When Women Stopped Coding’ and it seemed like that was the thing that really started to turn women in particular in this case off. But I think it’s a common thing for all kinds of new developers in that yeah, they go and they sign up for a computer science class or something. And it’s the intro class but there’s still that expectation that you’ve spent hours playing with or coding on a computer.
And so, that’s what turned them off, is that our society and the computer sellers had targeted young men and boys as their target market for computers. And so, when women or other marginalized groups who didn’t have the opportunities to be on the computers in the 80s and early 90s when they were starting college, they would come in and they would be treated as, “Why don’t you know this? You should already know this?” And there’s an actual example in there if you listen to the podcast. And it turns out that yeah, what we really need is just content and conversations that are a little more friendly to people who may not know the answer.
JESSICA: And it’s not just women who will be helped by that.
CHUCK: Oh, totally.
JESSICA: In this, women are a little bit, the gender balance is a little bit of a barometer or inclusiveness generally, of are we including people with great potential who didn’t get opportunities dropped in their lap when they were kids?
SARON: If you all don’t mind, I wanted to get back to hiring women and other marginalized groups. Earlier we talked about how you have unintentional biases that you may not be aware of and you don’t know, what are some ways to counter that? For example, for CFPs, there are blind reviews. You don’t even know what the name and the gender or anything is until at least one or two rounds in. Are there similar things happening with hiring practices that can solve that problem?
JESSICA: Some of the studies have shown that if you come up ahead of time with a list of qualifications and the list of questions that are going to get you to those qualifications, questions of a resume, questions as an interview, and the list of the kind of answers you’re looking for and the kind of answers you’re not looking for, when you’re really specific upfront when you define your requirements, the bias is drastically reduced. And you wind up with better hiring.
CHUCK: Why, because you know what you want?
JESSICA: Yeah, you actually thought about the problem before you went about solving it. Imagine that.
CHUCK: That was deep.
JESSICA: It’s almost like creating test cases.
SARON: Yeah. I’m thinking about the times when I, not specifically for programming roles, but when I worked at startups I did some of the interviewing and some of the hiring. And a lot of the process was yeah, meet with so and so employee and, what did you think of that person? And that’s not very good. [Chuckles] And that’s not, that just introduces so many biases when you’re just, how did you feel about that person? Would they be a good fit? Whatever that may mean. And I think that you’re right. Thinking through exactly what you’re looking for before and doing more of a matching I guess of, did this person say these things? Did this person have this specific quality? I’m sure that that goes a long way.
JESSICA: Yeah. Your gut instinct is going to have some impact.
AVDI: Yeah, can we talk a little bit about hiring for culture fit?
SARON: Yes please. Let’s talk about that.
JESSICA: Hiring for cultural fit.
CHUCK: Well, it seems like too that there’s a little bit more of the, we talked about it earlier where it’s, “We have the Kegerator and we work 80 hours” and blah, blah, blah, blah. And a lot of people will chalk that up to culture.
AVDI: Yeah, you have this discussion, “Well, they just didn’t seem like they fit into our culture.” Well, what does that mean?
AVDI: And that’s [sighs] god, that extends across a lot of lines.
AVDI: Because it also can mean this person was a 40-year-old parent.
SARON: Ooh, good one.
AVDI: Instead of, or this person was a Mormon so he wouldn’t drink with me.
AVDI: And that felt weird to me.
CHUCK: Or, we swear a lot here and they didn’t seem comfortable with that.
SARON: So, what should the cultural fit mean?
AVDI: Or does it matter at all?
JESSICA: Oh, I have an answer to that.
SARON: I think it matters in terms of values. I think it matters if, I don’t know, if it’s a community-based company or organization and you’re dedicated to uplifting that community and expanding that community. That’s a value that I can see being very important to you doing a really good job versus just do you like alcohol? That should [chuckles] not be relevant to you doing a good job and reaching your potential at that company.
JESSICA: Exactly. It comes…
CHUCK: Yeah, but it does affect the way people get along as far as what their interests are and what they have in common. So yeah, I think there’s some value on both sides. I’m just not sure where the line is.
JESSICA: The line comes down to defining your requirements again. What is important to your culture? Is it important that everyone drink? No. Is it important that everyone case about the quality of their work? Yes, to varying degrees in varying companies. What is important to the job that it is a cultural thing? Culture is defined as how we do things around here. And it’s important that you hire people who are comfortable with the way you do things around here. If you’re constantly pairing, then you need somebody who enjoys that constant interaction. Define your cultural values and then you can totally base your selection on them.
SARON: So, if I say…
CHUCK: I really like that it comes down to values, just core things that are important.
SARON: So, if my cultural value involves drinking a lot, is that okay? Because that feels not okay.
JESSICA: When you write it down, it’s going to look so stupid.
JESSICA: And your HR people are going to be like, “No, no. We can’t support this.”
SARON: [Chuckles] Okay, good.
AVDI: I’m reminded of the MythBusters. I’m a huge MythBusters fan and a lot of people, when they’re watching MythBusters they imagine that clearly, these two guys Adam and Jaime must be great friends because they work so well together. But in all the interviews you read, they’ll both say they’re not really friends. They don’t hang out at all outside of their job. They don’t have a lot of stuff in common. But they work really well together. And what they’ll both say is that they have a tremendous amount of respect for each other’s abilities. And they trust each other with their lives on a lot of the stunts they do. So, there are clearly some shared values there. But there’s not an assumption there that they have to be best of friends outside of work.
JESSICA: That’s a great point, the difference between respect and a casual rapport.
AVDI: And I think I’ve seen this development of an idea in tech that a job should be like your family and it should be your best friends. And I’m not sure that that’s the healthiest idea.
JESSICA: I’m pretty sure it’s not.
SARON: Yeah, I agree.
CHUCK: You must have met my family.
MEAGAN: I had an interview recently where the interviewer asked me, before I’d even been offered the job or even gone through another part of the interview process if I was going to promise to be loyal to the company. And this was a huge red flag to me. I think that this notion of loyalty to a company as part of culture is something that I think a lot of people steer away from. I know that there’s been a, I think there was an episode on Ruby Rogues about that, of loyalty to a company and career changes and whatnot. But you guys talked about that.
AVDI: Yeah, I haven’t about that at all.
CHUCK: Yeah, David Brady wrote a blog post about loyalty and layoffs. And I actually worked with him at that job and got laid off at the same time from that job. That brought about some of the conversation. And then the rest of it came about from a contract that we actually both worked as well. But yeah, we did have a conversation about it on the episode, or on the show as well. And I’ll put links in the show notes.
SARON: I’m so glad you brought that up, because same thing. I interviewed recently at a company and I asked them, what are important values for you in an employee? And loyalty was the first one and the most important and it frustrated me so much, because I’m thinking as a company you’re not going to be loyal to me. [Chuckles] You don’t owe me anything long term. And the idea that I’m supposed to be loyal to you, it just doesn’t make, it’s a huge red flag for sure.
AVDI: That is so creepy.
JESSICA: It really is.
AVDI: So creepy.
JESSICA: It really is. It really is.
CHUCK: Well, and they do it in less subtle ways, too. For example, the last fulltime job that I had where I worked with David, we were basically told, “We’ve never had layoffs and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we never have to let anyone go.” They can’t say that anymore. And when it came right down to it, the people who were trying to imply that there was some loyalty to employees, they didn’t have the power to give it.
SARON: Exactly, yup.
JESSICA: Meagan, what values do you appreciate in a company that you’re interviewing with?
MEAGAN: I appreciate when there are clear-cut means of measuring performance as a value of always helping developers to succeed. Whether that is helping them get to conferences or providing them with materials for learning new things like books and technologies, I think that these are parts of fostering this environment of expert learners. And to me, that’s the most important value, is that do you value your developers learning new things instead of just repeating the same year over and over again? And I much would prefer to see that. So, when I see job listings that say things like, “excited to learn new technologies” versus “excited to play ping pong after work” I’m going to go and apply at the company who is trying to foster people that are going to keep learning.
CHUCK: So, what are the red flags?
MEAGAN: The red flags to me are the ones that are like, “We’re all a family here, because we like to all do the same things together all the time.” And I like the people that I work with but I also don’t want work to bleed into my personal life. And it’s this really weird line that a lot of us are on because so many of us as developers don’t just want to write code in our jobs and then turn it off when we come home. Last weekend I participated in the Rails Rumble.
And this is like this weird thing that happens in our community as developers where our hobby is also our job. And so, this line gets really blurred sometimes between work and personal life. And I feel like when personal life and work start bleeding into each other, that’s a red flag for me. That’s something that I’m not okay with. I want to be able to turn work off when I come home and work on my own stuff versus staying at work really late because they provide dinner and they also provide alcohol and ping pong so there’s things for us to do. I’d much rather go home after work and do my own thing.
CHUCK: [Chuckles] Yeah, makes sense.
SARON: Do you consider a lack of diversity a red flag? If you walk in and everyone looks exactly the same, how do you [unintelligible] with that?
MEAGAN: I do. I do. I’ve definitely applied at companies who they don’t have their team page online for whatever reason, so you don’t know who works there. And then you go and you get an interview and everyone is a white dude or something. And this to me is like, how am I going to be treated if I come in here? Even if they do hire me, even if they are making an effort to be more diverse, I don’t want to just be hired because I’m the token woman. And I’ve had people even after an interview meaning it well says things like, “Well, you’re probably going to get it because you’re a woman.” And this is the worst thing to me.
MEAGAN: Yeah. And so, I think that it’s not always a red flag. I think that it depends on the size of the company. Where I’m at right now, I’m the only woman but there are only six of us. So, it’s a little different than being the only woman in a company of 200 people.
SARON: Yeah, it’s a…
AVDI: Quick question about that.
AVDI: For the guy who’s listening and just took a look around the office and went, “Oh crap.”
AVDI: What’s the best next move for that company?
MEAGAN: I think the best next move is to not just try and hire marginalized people just so that you can throw them up on your team page and say, “Look here. We’re trying,” but to actually put forth a real effort. I know that there are diversity consultants out there. So, if you look around in your company and you’re like, “I want to do something about this,” you shouldn’t just want to do the least thing that you can do which is to change your job descriptions and maybe start interviewing women. It should be to invest in this. And I know Ashe Dryden who’s been on the show before who I’m sure many people know, she does diversity consulting with businesses and conferences to help you come up with an action plan for not just hiring but for retaining and for making the working conditions acceptable for everyone. I feel like this is a really important thing companies can do, is to really invest in it if you care about it. And by…
JESSICA: [Unintelligible] invest, we don’t mean donate money to pipeline programs.
MEAGAN: Yes, absolutely.
CHUCK: Pipeline programs, you mean like Rails Bridge or Girls Who Code or things like that?
MEAGAN: Yes, yeah.
JESSICA: I mean yes, do that. But also prepare an environment where the women coming out of these programs are going to want to stay.
MEAGAN: Mmhmm, yeah absolutely. And the thing that’s really frustrating to me about this is that I think almost everyone can get on board with these pipeline programs because they really don’t require us to do much internal examination of your biases because we just donate money who Girls Who Code and, don’t we feel good about getting technology into the hands of young women? But if we’re not actively creating a place for them, then we’re putting down train tracks to a cliff. We’re not creating a bridge for them to get over it.
And this is frustrating because I’ve seen these billion dollar net worth startup investors who are like, “Oh, I can throw $50,000 at Girls Who Code and have a parade thrown for me,” but you look at their portfolio and they’re never investing in women or marginalized people. And there’s this disconnect here that doesn’t make sense, how you can invest in young kids but then maybe think that the responsibility is on someone else later down the road, when there’s already women in the field and there’s already women in technology who are leaving because they don’t feel welcome or because they’re being harassed.
And so, we need to do something about that now, for the women who are in here so that we can prepare a place for the young girls and marginalized kids that we’re trying to get into it and to technology. Get them through the pipeline and not blame them when they fall out of it inevitably because it’s leaky and full of acid and sewer rats and whatnot.
JESSICA: Yeah. And it’s not just about women. Women are the easiest group to talk about. But there’s, people in between gender, there’s, people of color and so many other groups that are excluded that aren’t as visible, that don’t have even as much of a voice as we do.
JESSICA: And when you consciously are careful with your job descriptions, you’re careful with your inner views, you think consciously about the values your company has, or no the values your company wants to have and how you’re going to get there to where you actually espouse those, you include so many more people and groups and ideas. And you tell the people who already work at your company, “Hey. You don’t need to be all the same. You don’t have to just fit in all the time. You can bring your own quirkiness and your own interests that nobody else has and your own diversity of ideas.”
SARON: Yup. If I were that guy looking around and saying, “Oh crap,” I’d also wonder how that happened. I would look internally and say, “Do we have a personal pipeline problem? How did we reach all these people?” And for a lot of smaller companies and startups, the answer is, “Well, I just reached out to my network. And my network all looks the same,” which again is a very, very solvable problem. Diversify your network. Make your own personal pipeline so that when it comes to starting a company or hiring or getting your first hundred employees, you have a great setup already and you can get diversity without even really trying because it’s built for you. So, I’d look internally and just say, “What happened?” or “What didn’t happen where we ended up here?”
CHUCK: So, one thing I want to talk a little bit about here too is just, and then this is another question. And that is that it seems like when the conversation turns to marginalized groups, a lot of times people in the majority or who aren’t part of the particular marginalized group that’s being talked about anyway, they feel threatened or they feel uncomfortable talking about it. How do we make it so that they don’t feel threatened about it and instead see an opportunity there?
MEAGAN: I think that it’s normal to, I know I’ve seen this on Twitter, people who want to talk about this who feel like they’re not allowed to and they say things. “I can’t talk about this without being attacked.” And I think that this is a line that people walk of speaking over and speaking for, versus advocating for. And so, I think it’s important to not try and amplify your own voice when you want to talk about these things but to, it’s as simple as retweeting somebody else. Or Kronda has a great Twitter list of people to follow if you need to diversify your network to help amplify those voices. Any other suggestions?
CHUCK: So, does it basically boil down to listening and talking to the right folks?
MEAGAN: Yeah. I think…
JESSICA: Mostly it is.
MEAGAN: Yeah, mostly listening, right?
MEAGAN: It’s mostly about listening and then also realizing that you’re going to make mistakes. I make mistakes every day on Twitter or whatever. I see feminists and social justice people that I really admire having to apologize for something because there’s no point where you reach where you’re like, “I’ve learned everything I can learn about this and now I have unpacked all of my privilege and I’m not sexist anymore. I’m not racist anymore. I’m not homophobic or transphobic or any of these things.” It’s always going to happen.
And so, in order to not feel it’s dangerous to speak about these things or I’m going to be called out for speaking about them, it’s just, it might happen. You might make a mistake. You might mess up. But realized when people do call you out for these things, they’re not doing it because they’re trying to make you feel bad or harass you or any of these things. They’re trying to just let you know.
When I call somebody out, I do it because I care about them. I don’t waste my time calling out people that I think genuinely don’t want to make an effort to be better. I’m not going to spend time calling out the people who are in my timeline or on my mentions who are obviously just trying to get a rise out of me. But if it’s somebody that I know is making a genuine effort and I call you out or if you misstep, it’s not because I don’t think that you’re a good person or I’m trying to make you feel bad. It’s because I genuinely care about you and I want you to move in the right direction and have you apologize and we move forward.
AVDI: Also, something that I’ve had to learn more about and understand better is that it is always nice to have somebody who’s in a marginalized group and can explain things to you and can help you through this process. But it isn’t really their responsibility in the end. They don’t have to be there for you. And a lot of people are depending on their circumstances, they may be dealing with constant stress from hate and discrimination and stuff like that. And it’s not really their responsibility in the end to put that stress aside and be nice to you so that you can learn more. It’s wonderful, I’m incredibly grateful to the people in my life who are willing to walk me through stuff. But I have to also recognize that they don’t have to. And I can’t expect them to.
MEAGAN: Right, absolutely. And I’ve noticed this, is a lot of people with really great intentions, they just don’t know where to get started. They want to know more about why someone feels a certain way. But they know that they shouldn’t be asking to be educated for free on this or for somebody to take time out of their day to explain why this certain micro-aggression is dehumanizing, especially when that person has heard it hundreds and thousands of times.
And so, I’ve actually, after some sexist incident that happened in tech, I don’t even remember which one it was because there are so many of them, I created a website called Days Since Last Tech Incident. And it’s like a play on when you’re in a factory and they have this sign up. And it’s like, “It’s been 0 days since there’s been an incident” or whatever. It’s just statically coded to, “It’s been 0 days since there’s been an incident in Tech”. But I also included a bunch of resources for people who want to learn more about how to fix the toxic culture, as well as linking to a bunch of people who are working on fixing the toxic culture so that you can support them, whether that’s looking out for them and being their tank so to speak when they’re dealing with abuse or harassment, or just funding them. There are lots of women and lots of marginalized people who they don’t get the funding that they need for things.
And so, I feel like we can help them with that and pick that up for them. I think it’s Patreon or whatever websites they might be on for funding for their projects or whatnot. So, I have this website that has a bunch of resources on it and a bunch of people who are working on fixing the culture. So, I feel like, I like to link to this when people ask me to be educated on some things. So, I just was tired of linking to all of these websites so I just curated them all and put them online.
CHUCK: Very cool. We’ll get a link to that in the show notes as well. You brought up the harassment and some of the other… it seems like some of the incidents are, they’re a result of the toxic culture. And then we have the occasional very public somebody did something horrible to somebody else. We’re actually dealing with some of this right now where with GamerGate, I don’t know if I, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring it up, but…
CHUCK: You know, where people are receiving death threats and rape threats, just stuff that’s totally sickening. Are there things that we can do to make that better? I see Brianna Wu fighting back and I totally admire here for that. But I’m sitting here. She’s in Texas or wherever she lives. And I feel terrible about what’s going on but I don’t really know if there’s anything that we can do to make the situation better there or to help them fight the people who are just totally out of control.
MEAGAN: Yeah. So, I think like what I just said, being a tank for someone, taking the damage for them. When you’re in a position of privilege, then you have the ability to take more of this damage, so to speak, and to redirect the attention onto yourself. There’s this phenomenon of when men call out other men, the men who get called out respect that more than if a woman calls them out for it.
I saw, related to GamerGate, somebody was one of the members of the movement or whatever it was, he emailed somebody and sent them death and rape threats thinking that they were a woman. And they responded and they said, “I’m not a woman. I’m a man.” They apologized for it and they said, “I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t have sent them to you if I would have known that you were a man,” even though he opposed it. So, by having this ability to be in this position of privilege, you can divert that attention a little bit, I think.
JESSICA: In person, in small ways, it means any time you hear a rape joke or a sexist remark, especially when there’s not a woman around, say “That’s not cool.”
JESSICA: A thousand million that’s-not-cools can change the culture.
SARON: So, why aren’t online threats taken seriously? They just sound so insane to me that it’s, I don’t want to say normal but almost normal and expected that people threaten. And rape threats and death threats online and it’s just, “Well, that’s online. It doesn’t really mean anything.” How is that just okay?
JESSICA: Like we’re supposed to walk away from the internet and still be a developer?
JESSICA: That doesn’t work.
SARON: I don’t understand. Where does that come from? Whose job is it to fix that? Twitter’s gotten a lot of flak for not taking abuse reports or any of that very seriously and not doing anything. So, I don’t know. Is it Twitter’s responsibility? Who needs to take this more seriously so that this is taken seriously?
MEAGAN: It’s all of…
JESSICA: It’s hard to say “That’s not cool” to an anonymous troll.
MEAGAN: Yeah, exactly. I think that, well when we look at for example Twitter released their numbers on their diversity in their company and we see, it starts to makes sense why this was happening, because there are so few women that worked there. And so, this was never a huge concern for them. Security only meant, could you make your account private or could you make it public? It never meant stopping harassment because that was never an issue.
There’s a study about these two, these bots that people have made. Some of them were feminine named and some of them were masculine named. And what they found was that the feminine named bots received 100 times per minute or something crazy the amount of threats and sexual harassment than the male bots did, which I feel like there was a collective from all the women on the internet, “Yeah, we’ve been telling you this forever. It’s a shame you had to create fake bots to actually understand this.” But when you don’t have this diverse team or you don’t have different experiences and different problems people want to solve coming to the table, then these things get thrown to the backburner.
And Twitter is trying to implement new ways to put content in our feeds that we might be interested in versus removing the content that we don’t want to see, which is a huge thing that so many people want. And so, it’s really, it comes down to at least for tech companies that are not combatting harassment the right way, we look at their team make up and it starts to make sense. So, when we start having more diverse teams, we can start solving these problems and cut them off right before we even need to go to the police, because the police, they don’t care about Twitter harassment or anything.
JESSICA: Yeah, this is a social problem and we need social pressures and laws. But you can’t count on the legal system when it’s so spread out and diverse. We have to have a lot of…
AVDI: And it’s always going to [unintelligible], too.
JESSICA: We have to have a lot of spread out people attacking the problem and changing the culture of our spaces.
MEAGAN: Yup. Yeah, and I think a lot of it also has to do with I don’t attack people I don’t know, because first off I don’t want to do that. But I also, I feel empathy for these people because I know people from these different walks of life. And when you don’t expand your world view, when you don’t have a diverse network, when you make sure that the only people that you surround yourself are people who look like you and have the same experiences as you, it doesn’t feel like you’re attacking a person when you do these things.
Especially online, a lot of people think that there’s a huge difference between in real life and online. But that’s really not the case, especially when we have computers in our pockets because of our cellphones. Online is the real world. and when we don’t view these people as real people and when we don’t view the internet as a real space that real people are on, then it becomes super easy to send threats because it doesn’t feel like there’s a consequence for them. And by and large, there really isn’t a consequence for them.
AVDI: I really feel like most of the people who say that online threats aren’t real threats, shouldn’t have a big, you should just brush them off, I feel like most people have never experienced a focused campaign of harassment.
JESSICA: Because it’s not just one threat. It’s the environment. It’s the building up of all of them that everyone makes all of the others worse.
MEAGAN: Yup. And Kathy Sierra, her blog post that she had recently when she decided that she didn’t want to be online anymore because of all the harassment, this isn’t the first time that she’s had to do this because of campaigns of sustained harassment. This isn’t even a unique story to tech or even to the internet at large. And there’s a big difference between, and I’ve received threats from “I wish you were dead,” which that just doesn’t seem like there’s really much consequence to that. But when you get that all the time, it wears down on you. And then when somebody finally figures out, “I know where you live,” then that’s when it gets really scary. And it’s upsetting that that’s the point that it has to get to before people care about it. You should care about it from the beginning.
SARON: I remember reading an article. It may have been from Kathy Sierra but it was someone who got a ton of death threats and rape threats. And the part that troubled me almost more than just the receiving of these threats was the fact that she had to document all of them as potential evidence in case something actually happened. So, not only do you get these emails and these tweets, but then you have to read them and file them away and date them.
CHUCK: Oh, gosh.
SARON: And make sure that you have [chuckles] an organized account of exactly what happened, because in case the police comes you can say, “Oh, this is the proof that this was probably going to happen.” That must be just incredibly emotionally exhausting.
AVDI: It’s a DOS attack.
JESSICA: And then the part where people don’t believe it.
JESSICA: Where people are like, “Oh no, you must be making that up.” What? Why would I spend my time on that?
JESSICA: Why would anyone spend their time on that? But I can almost understand, because the alternative is recognizing that the world is a much less pretty place than we want it to be.
JESSICA: I’m in Saint Louis. And Ferguson is very close to here. And as part of reading the news about that, and I’ve been diversifying my Twitter feeds since then, it’s painful to recognize how much privilege I have as a white person in Saint Louis. And the world is just way less fair than I thought it was.
MEAGAN: Yup, absolutely. I think that, I wish I knew who said this. There was this, people want to think that the world is always fair and just and so they just cut out voices of people who say something that disagrees with their world view. So, that is a huge part of unpacking your privilege, is realizing it’s going to be painful and it’s going to suck. And you’re going to look around you and you’re going to see inequalities all the time. And that’s just a small peak into what somebody, a person of color, or a transgender person, what they go through. Because you can turn it off anytime that you want and they really can’t do that. And so, that’s a huge part of unpacking your privilege and being more empathetic and diversifying your network.
JESSICA: It is. And on the flipside, the people at the top I think of Satya Nadella who issued a very good apology about when he mentioned at Grace Hopper that people should trust the system. Well, that’s because the system worked for him. But it didn’t work for a lot of people who maybe had the same potential and maybe worked equally hard but just didn’t get as lucky.
JESSICA: There’s a survivor bias in that.
SARON: You’re talking about when he told women that they shouldn’t as for a raise and just trust that they’ll be fairly compensated?
JESSICA: The people at the top trust the system because the system worked for them.
CHUCK: Anything else we should explore on the topic of enabling people, new developers or marginalized groups, before we get into the picks?
SARON: Yeah, I had one more actually. Did either of you, or did any of you attend Grace Hopper conference? I didn’t myself, but…
MEAGAN: No, I didn’t.
SARON: But you heard about the male ally panel?
MEAGAN: Oh, yes.
SARON: I’m not really sure how to explain this. So, what I unders-, and I wasn’t there myself. I just saw the tweets and the recap. My understanding is that there were, I think there were going to be four men and they had a Male Ally panel. Apparently it was the only session that wasn’t actually live streamed. Everything else about the conference was live streamed. And it didn’t really go very well. It sounded like the male allies were pretty much telling the women that it’s their job to speak up and to be vocal and to stand up for themselves. And [chuckles] there was a male ally panel bingo that was…
SARON: That was shared. And someone actually called bingo. And it was a list of stereotypical things that male allies that are not actually your allies would say. And they said a lot of those things. Does that about cover it?
MEAGAN: Yes. [Chuckles] Yeah, I did hear after that panel, because it did not go so well as many people expected, that I think three of the four men said that they were going to be doing a new panel where women could talk to them and they would just listen. They weren’t going to say a single word. I think that one went over a lot better. And they walked away actually listening and learning something versus being centered in the conversation which was what the male ally panel really did, was center these lines of thoughts that people have already heard time and time again about just lean in harder and then eventually you’ll make it.
SARON: Right. And that was I guess the ironic part about it is it’s four men on a stage telling thousands of women that they should speak up and be vocal when they’re the ones with the mic.
SARON: And that the fact that it wasn’t live streamed. And then the fact that there was no Q&A. The women couldn’t say, “Well, what are you doing at your company?” There was no, it really was not a conversation.
MEAGAN: Right. And there was no accountability or anything.
MEAGAN: The CEO of Go Daddy was one of the male allies.
CHUCK: Oh, geez.
MEAGAN: And granted…
JESSICA: The new CEO.
MEAGAN: The new CEO. Granted, he has done things to improve the image. But the image is already so damaged that it’s really difficult, especially when you’re not willing to take accountability and have people ask you questions afterwards or even to just sit in the audience and listen, that it just really comes across poorly. And to say things like, “Well, I know what it’s like to be a woman because I have a daughter,” or, “I have a sister,” or a mom or something.
JESSICA: You brought accountability back in, in the form of listening. And that’s interesting, because accountability, I think that applies that accountability is about listening to other people and taking their opinions as just as important as your own.
MEAGAN: Absolutely, yeah. I think that a really important thing to do is to just believe people when they tell you something.
JESSICA: Oh yes.
MEAGAN: There’s this notion, this idea that perpetuated because of culture and movies and TV all the way back, religious text that women are not to be trusted. And this plays out even if you have friends who are women or even if you are a woman where when a woman tells you something, you don’t believe it. So, just take women at their word. If they’re coming forward and they’re saying, “I was harassed at this conference,” they were harassed at that conference. Because nobody gets popular. Nobody gets any advances in life for claiming to be harassed at a conference. And nobody’s going to do it just because it’s the cool thing to do. They’re doing it because they’re genuinely trying to come forward with this terrible thing that happened to them. So, just believing people at their word and taking that knowledge and altering your world view is so important as part of being an accountable person.
JESSICA: Altering your world view, that’s a big one. It’s really sad that the male ally panel was such a disaster, because we do need male allies. But as you said Meagan, we don’t need them to speak for us.
JESSICA: We need them to listen, to believe us, to amplify our voices.
JESSICA: And to defend us from attacks.
MEAGAN: Right. And the thing about the Male Allies Panel that was just, it seemed so weird was it was at Grace Hopper conference which is a conference that has, it was 4,000 women and 800 men. But women don’t need to be told how great these male allies are. These panels should be at conferences that are mostly men I think.
MEAGAN: I think that it’s great to have a Male Allies Panel, but have them talk to other men about how to be male allies.
JESSICA: Oh, and also please get some women on the stage at those conferences.
MEAGAN: Yeah, and not just the panelists asking the male allies questions.
SARON: When you talk about believing women and believing their stories, I was on a train I think a couple of months ago and it was late at night. And I was in, you know the part in between the cars where there’s a little bit of standing room? And I was there and it was a bunch of guys, I think maybe 10 guys packed in there. They were all drunk. They were all being very rowdy. And I just instantly felt incredibly unsafe, just incredibly unsafe. And I was terrified. And you know, nothing happened. I got off my stop and everything was fine.
But later on, I tried explaining how I felt to a male friend. And he just refused to acknowledge that fear. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that I felt unsafe as a woman surrounded by drunk, cursing angry men. And for him it was, “No, it’s fine. You could have just gone to a different car or you could have just called for help. You would have been fine.” And he just couldn’t understand that fear, because he’d never experienced it. And that’s probably one of the most frustrating things about trying to explain your perspective because if someone doesn’t get that and doesn’t connect with it on an emotional level, it’s really hard to convince them. So, just believe us. If we’re scared, we’re actually scared. We’re not making it up. And trust our feelings and trust our perspective and take it seriously.
JESSICA: Believe us even when you cannot empathize, because you can’t imagine being in that position.
SARON: Yes, exactly. Avdi, you actually wrote a blog post recently about being cat-called, which you have no idea how much I appreciated that. I appreciated that so much, because that happens to women all the time. It happens to me. And I always think to myself, man I wonder if I guy would ever understand how it feels to be terrified in this situation. And I just really appreciated that you understood. [Chuckles] You got it. And I don’t know if you want to tell that story, but I really appreciated that post.
AVDI: Yeah. There’s not much to tell. I just have an odd history of experiencing a very tiny slice of what women experience there in various contexts. And I guess I could put the link in the show notes. I’m not going to go over all of it now. But it is a little scary. You don’t know what the intentions of the person doing that are. You don’t know how balanced or unbalanced they are. And for other reasons as well. It’s not a comfortable feeling. And yeah, I don’t know.
JESSICA: Yeah, it’s the same with online harassment.
AVDI: I would not want to live my life dealing with that kind of crap every freaking day.
AVDI: [Chuckles] That was something I was thinking a moment ago when you were talking about nobody reports harassment for fun, for funsies, for attention or something like that. And it seems crazy to even imagine that somebody would. But if you ever feel like, if you’re a dude and you ever feel like maybe women report harassment for fun, I invite you to walk through mentally in your process, in your mind, the process of going online and describing somebody molest you. And imagine, is that really something you would do for funsies and attention?
JESSICA: There’s a great art exhibit. I’ll find the link to it, where an artist wanted to portray what it is like to be a woman online. So, she created an office that is entirely papered with the kind of negative hateful statements that women see online all the time. And it’s very powerful. Everywhere you look, there’s negativity, there’s hate, there’s “I wish you were dead.” And in some spaces, you just never know when you go online if you’re going to see something like that. And it’s debilitating. It’s a very powerful exhibit.
AVDI: Yeah, I spend a day or two bummed out if one person says something nasty to me on IRC. This actually just happened.
SARON: Oh no.
JESSICA: Does anyone tell you to get a thicker skin for that?
AVDI: Of course, of course. This is tech and we’re all bad asses here and other such horse crap. I get bummed out if I get one little thing. And I’m incredibly lucky I don’t get a lot of hate online. I get very little.
JESSICA: Me too.
AVDI: But there’s, I think everybody who’s ever experienced any kind of criticism understands the phenomenon that one piece of negativity, one piece of hate, one piece of just random hate that you can rationally look at and say, “This person is just a jerk and I shouldn’t pay them any attention at all,” that one thing outweighs or can at least equal the weight of ten nice things that people say.
SARON: Mmhmm. Yeah.
JESSICA: So, that’s another thing you can do as a man. If you do have some women that you work with or that you run into at user groups. Say something nice about our work.
JESSICA: Not our appearance, please.
CHUCK: [Chuckles] I thought you were going to say, “Say something nice.” And I was about to say, “Yeah, you might [want to] qualify that.”
CHUCK: But yes.
MEAGAN: And also, don’t say something like, I’ve heard this, “It’s so impressive that you’re a woman in technology.” I know what you’re going for there, but that has the opposite effect on me. It makes me feel very othered. I just want to be a good programmer. I don’t need the qualifier.
JESSICA: Yeah. I’ve also started trying to use the neutral pronoun ‘they’ as often as possible.
CHUCK: Yeah. But that being said, seeing and understanding some of the things that women go through in tech, I really do admire women in tech.
JESSICA: And if you know one of us really well, that’s a totally awesome thing to say in private but not at the user group.
CHUCK: Yeah. Yeah
MEAGAN: Right, not from a stranger. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: No, totally. I get that.
JESSICA: Cat Hogan has a wonderful post about tiny little things that men can do to start changing the culture around to make people of all genders feel welcome. And it’s also a beautiful post, we’ll link it of course, because it’s got links to everything. So, it explains the overall situation. And you can drill down as far as you want. But they’re little bitty things like use people instead of guys. Meagan, you linked to this post.
MEAGAN: Yes. Yeah, I love this post.
SARON: This is the ways men in tech are unintentionally sexist?
SARON: Yeah, yeah.
JESSICA: Which is kind of an unfortunate title because it’s actually an incredibly constructive post of just little things that everyone can do.
JESSICA: And it’s from a few weeks ago.
MEAGAN: And it’s not just ways that men in tech are unintentionally sexist. It’s ways that we all are unintentionally sexist. I know that…
JESSICA: I totally use ‘guys’ for people.
MEAGAN: I know I’m guilty of so many of these things.
SARON: Me too. And it’s not even in tech. It’s really just in life.
SARON: It’s ways people in life are unintentionally sexist.
JESSICA: Totally. And we only talk about, well personally, I only talk about this in tech because that’s the one community I feel like I have some hope of influencing.
SARON: Mmhmm, yeah.
CHUCK: So, I want to bring this up. Some friends of mine run a conference and I’m not going to go into which conference, but they, because one of the things in here just reminded me of this. They set aside a bunch of tickets. The tickets were exceptionally hard to get. They sold out very quickly for the conference. And so, they set aside a reserved section of tickets for women. And they unfortunately called them girls’ tickets. And they got…
CHUCK: Massacred online for calling them girls’ tickets when in reality they were really trying to be inclusive. How do we deal with things like that where ultimately instead of them being educated they were attacked?
MEAGAN: I think this starts at who was the people who were organizing the conference. The fact that girls’ tickets or whatever got out and that was something that they’d said in public that this is what this was called, that tells me that they didn’t consult any women or they don’t know any women.
MEAGAN: To know that this might not be appropriate. But these things are going to happen. And so, first thing to do is to apologize for it when people are rightfully put off by it or upset by it and change it. Don’t call them girls’ tickets anymore. And then in the future moving forward, if you put on another conference, is to reach out to women and to ask for their opinions on things of women. Not women that you don’t know, because this is again falling in line of educate me for free. But actually diversify your network, make friends with women, and value their opinions on things and get their opinions on things. Maybe have some women or marginalized, otherwise marginalized people on the board that’s creating the conference to avoid these things from even happening at all.
JESSICA: This might also be a place where a few hundred dollars’ worth of diversity consulting could save you a lot of grief.
CHUCK: Yeah, it just seems like people get attacked for being ignorant. And I’m not condoning the ignorance, but at the same time it doesn’t always seem entirely fair either.
MEAGAN: I feel like at this point, especially in the Ruby community, the conversations that people are having, I feel like more and more people are aware of this where claiming ignorance is almost I feel like maybe not even acceptable.
MEAGAN: There are so many resources out there, like CallbackWomen and Geek Feminism that like I said earlier, like Ashe Dryden who does diversity consulting even for conferences. She’s put on so many diverse conferences that there are so many resources available that just saying, “Oh, we didn’t know any better,” it’s not really even an excuse that should be acceptable anymore.
CHUCK: Yeah. Dare I say that this conference wasn’t Ruby or even related to a Ruby conference? So, that community is a little less aware. But yeah, it makes sense. And like I said, I’m not saying it was okay to call it girls’ tickets. But I just thought it was interesting.
JESSICA: You also used the word ‘fair’. This doesn’t seem fair. The whole point is…
CHUCK: Yes [chuckles] I get it.
JESSICA: The world is not fair.
JESSICA: And now and then, oh my gosh, now and then it’s not fair to white men.
SARON: Also, I just want to say that I googled just now how to get more women at tech conferences and there are a ton of really great ideas.
SARON: And I feel like if you just read one of them, you would know that ‘girl tickets’ is a bad idea. At least call them women tickets. That’s a step up.
JESSICA: But even then, why focus on just women? Strange Loop did it beautifully this year.
MEAGAN: Oh, yeah.
JESSICA: They had diversity, not just tickets, but diversity scholarships. And they got companies to sponsor and pay for it. And they were able to bring a lot of people of various minority groups who would never have been able to attend the conference otherwise. And oh my gosh. The conference felt so good this year.
MEAGAN: I heard great things about it. I had two former coworkers both get diversity scholarships and it included their plane ticket and their conference ticket and also their hotels. So, it was, they really wanted to make an effort to diversify their conference and they knew what they had to do to do it. And they executed it very well.
JESSICA: Right. And it wasn’t, “Hey look, this opportunity is out there. If you don’t take it, it’s your problem.” It’s, “What can we do to make this possible for you?” personally as an individual.
SARON: Yeah, and so I guess from the perspective of ignorance not being a good excuse. If you have no idea where to start, if you just don’t know where to begin, literally if you google search your goal [chuckles] there are so many clear resources of things that you can do. And they’re all going to be better than ‘girl tickets’.
AVDI: Well, and also [sighs] get comfortable with saying, “That was dumb. I’m sorry, that was dumb.”
AVDI: And what’s weird to me, and I feel this in my own reactions as well, is that as hackers, I feel like hackers are usually pretty good about saying “That was dumb.” The dynamic that I usually observe is somebody’s like, “Yeah, you should do it this way. You should do it this way.” And then somebody shows them a counterexample and they’re like, “Wow, that was totally dumb. I can’t believe I ever said you should do it that way. I was completely wrong.” The strong opinions usually held is the phrase that I hear. And I think in general, it’s a pretty decent pattern. And it’s weird how we don’t do that when it comes to stuff like the decisions we make when organizing a conference.
JESSICA: It’s a lot easier to be wrong in tech than to be wrong in personal skills.
AVDI: Yeah, and what happens is that it’s like, I think everyone’s terrified of appearing to be a bad person or having their intent, believing that their intent was misread and stuff like that. It’s always very scary to have that happen. And people feel like, well if they make a mistake in tech it’s just a mistake in tech. But if they make a mistake in organizing something, then it makes them a bad person. But I think it’s important to just basically use the same strategy that you would with tech mistakes. Get comfortable with saying, “Huh. That was dumb. I should have done something different.”
MEAGAN: Yup, absolutely.
CHUCK: One last question that I want to ask, and that is I talked to other conference organizers of other conferences. Most of them are in the Ruby community but some of them are not. And it seems like one of the tactics for making the conference feel more inclusive is to go out and invite speakers who are in these marginalized groups. So, you find people who are going to give an incredible talk who also meet those cross-sections of diversity. How does that line up? Because before it sounded like it’s not necessarily cool to invite somebody because they are in a marginalized group. Is there a good middle ground there?
JESSICA: There is a difference between…
CHUCK: Or is it just not going to them and saying, “We need a woman” or “We need a black person” or whatever?
JESSICA: Okay, two things. One, as Meagan said and Saron said, make it personal.
JESSICA: Make it about, we want you to speak, not about we want a woman to speak. And I can tell the difference when you invited me to your conference seven months before it…
JESSICA: And when you invited me to submit the day before the CFP closed.
JESSICA: And honestly, I respect both. But yeah, it shows.
MEAGAN: If you just diversify your network and you watch talks of people who don’t all look like you, you’re going to find really amazing talks and you’re going to find really not great talks. This is the same with any group of people. And so, you just have to be proactive about looking for other people who don’t look like you. And you don’t want to ask someone to speak at your conference or have them speak at your conference solely because they fall into this marginalized group and this is this quota that you’ve set for yourself.
You want to invite them because they’re a really great speaker and they have something to add, because it’s really obvious like we’ve said. Especially at a conference when you’re speaking, and it feels like you don’t belong there. So yeah, just being personal about it, actually diversifying your network, and inviting people not just to fill a quota but because you appreciate the work that they do and that you appreciate the talks that they give.
JESSICA: Right. Filling a quota with random people of color and women, that doesn’t help you. But consciously making an effort to look outside your network or broaden your network and look for people who don’t look like everybody else, that’s totally different. That is overcoming and compensating for your bias.
JESSICA: It’s not unfair at all.
CHUCK: Awesome. Well, I think I’m done exposing my ignorance and my biases.
CHUCK: Let’s go ahead and do some picks. Avdi, do you want to start us off with the picks?
AVDI: Again? Oh sure.
AVDI: Alright. I’ll start with the one program-y thing I have which is, I just today read a great blog post by Ernie Miller. And I love it when I come across an article that teaches me something new about Ruby. And I learned something new about Ruby today. He talks about how he chooses between the alias keyword and the alias_method method. And I learned some things about how those two work that I didn’t know before. It’s also really just a fun read. It’s kind of funny. So, great blog post on that.
The other two things I’m going to pick are just Tumblrs that have been cracking me up lately. So, one of them is the ‘worst cats’ Tumblr.
AVDI: It is a tumbler about the worst cat.
And another one is called ‘It’s Like They Know Us’. And if you are a parent, I would suggest not reading this while drinking anything.
AVDI: Because it’ll probably wind up on your screen. It’s a little Tumblr about all those generic stock photos of impeccable perfect families doing things like sitting on pure, white couches and feeding their toddlers.
AVDI: So yeah, I’ll just leave it at that. Those are my picks.
CHUCK: Awesome. Jessica, what are your picks?
JESSICA: I have a pick. It’s a blog post by Brandon Hays and it’s about tribes and communities in open source. It’s really a beautiful blog post about life and about open source, and how to be part of something bigger than you while retaining an individual identity. That’s my only pick this week.
CHUCK: Awesome. Saron, what are your picks?
SARON: I’ve got a few, kind of going on today’s topic. The first one is called ‘How I Discovered Gender Discrimination’. It’s a blog post. It’s a really interesting story about a guy named Leslie. And how he was trying to find a job and his name is Leslie so people assumed that he was a woman. And despite his experience and his resume, he didn’t really get any interviews. And he was very confused and frustrated by that. And so, he decided to put a ‘Mr.’ in front of his name on that resume. And all of a sudden, he got lots of interviews. And he talks about his experience and how he discovered gender discrimination. It’s a really fascinating and a sad story. But one small way that a guy can be mistaken for a woman and it’s not necessarily a good thing.
The second is a blog post by Felicia Day called ‘The Only thing I Have to Say about GamerGate’. And it’s the only thing she has to say about GamerGate. And it’s just really sad but very deep and poignant. And she talks about her worst fears and how she’s this prolific actress and geek icon. And despite her status, how terrified she is to speak about GamerGate and how she hasn’t done so because of her fear. And of course, as soon as she blogged about this then she got tons of discrimination and lots of threats. And I think she was also doxed recently. So, definitely take a good read at that.
And then my final one is more fun. It’s a YouTube video called ‘Tesla from Electricity’. And it’s this really, really cool art project where this guy, I’m not exactly sure what the material is that he’s using but it looks like he’s burning paper or some cardboard or something. And he’s burning it and making the image of Tesla literally using electricity to burn the paper. And it looks really, really cool and it’s really well done. So, check that out.
That’s all I got.
CHUCK: Alright. I’ve got another couple of picks. One of them is another podcast episode. It’s This American Life. And I’m trying to remember which episode it was, but they were talking about disciplining kids and they were talking about again, it was kids in education. And they were anyway, there was a mom. I think it was This American Life. I’m trying to find the episode and I’ll put a link in the show notes. But there was a mom who was talking about how her child who was a child of color kept getting suspended from the preschool that he went to. And then she went to a party, a birthday party or something, and was talking to some of the other parents. And it turned out that her child wasn’t the only one misbehaving. Her child was just the only one that was getting suspended.
And then there were, I believe they went into some other discussions. Yeah, it is This American Life. But there were some other discussions about how they approached these different groups of kids and how they moved up in the world from that. I just thought it was really interesting, kind of challenged the way I think about some of these things a little bit. So, I’m going to put that in the show notes. And yeah, I think that’s really the only pick I have this week.
So anyway, that’s what I’ve got going on. Meagan, what are your picks?
MEAGAN: Okay. So, I have three picks. The first is an open source project that a former coworker and friend of mine, LaToya Allen created. It’s called PassRuby. And I’ll link to it obviously. But it’s for people who might have done the Ruby Koans but aren’t quite sure how to put it all together. So, it’s a mixture of data structures and techniques that you can practice in tandem while still keeping everything beginner friendly. So, if you’ve done the Koans, it will feel really familiar to you. She uses Guard to run the tests and it’s very similar to Exercism with there’s a test suite and then you have to make the tests pass. But it’s done to teach you data structures and also the techniques that you learned in the Ruby Koans at the same time. But it’s a new open source project and she’s looking for contributions from beginners. So, if you’re a beginner or if you just have never contributed to open source and you’re interested, she’s very interested in that.
And then I also have a couple of talks from Madison+ Ruby. I went to Madison+ Ruby this year and it was amazing. But the two talks that I wanted to pick are ‘Binary for Humans’ which was by Haleigh Sheehan from GitHub and it was a really great talk about boundaries and consent beyond the way that lots of people think about it. Our responsibility too as developers, what consent looks like as far as don’t opt someone into a newsletter. They’re not able to say no to it then. So, it was a really interesting talk comparing consent and our responsibility for that.
And also, a talk by Kronda Adair called ‘Expanding your Empathy’ which goes along with this. But it was a really great talk. And so, I wanted to pick that one as well.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, thanks again for coming. We all really appreciate you coming and talking about this and all of the perspective that we got in this episode.
JESSICA: Yeah, thank you Meagan.
MEAGAN: Thank you for having me.
SARON: Yeah, that was awesome.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, I don’t think we have anything to announce. So, we’ll wrap up the show and we’ll catch you all next week.
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