DataCamp, the Teacher Gave you an F

Mike Treanor /lfw
Apr 16, 2019 · 13 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

My first instinct when I heard this story was to say something … to speak out … and I did. I tweeted something … probably something somewhat clever, perhaps a bit memorable, but not very productive. I can’t even remember what it was and I’m not going looking for it.

Matt Dancho posted an update on the progress of the efforts to do more and it got me motivated to do a bit more than tweet a quick blurb of support.

It is common in this age of constant stimulation to ‘feel’ as if we have ‘done’ something when the reality is very different. All I did was type a small message, less than 140 characters, while sitting at my desk. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t see anyone. I was looking at an LCD screen the entire time, as I am now, and really just entertaining myself.

That doesn’t mean that social media has no effect. Of course it does, but doing something or changing something is what really needs to happen. The alternative is to continue reading and responding incessantly to this deluge of chirping bird songs while the world continues to function as other people think it should.

There is no ‘work’ in this activity. I’m not ‘doing’ anything about the problem. But what can I do? Well, I could go look up more data and make something more illustrative of the broad problem and how this fits neatly into the trend of dodging the issue until something else shiny comes along to distract us. Better qualified people are already working on that and have produced plenty of data, shared passionate anecdotal accounts, and debated the issues.

So what can I do? Well, as a former teacher for about 20 years, my expertise is in ideas … learning new things, sharing inspirations, passing on traditional ideas, debating the validity of an idea, and helping others to generate their own unique ideas that may just change the world someday.

I doubt anyone from DataCamp would accept an offer to debate, discuss, or otherwise acknowledge the issues that get all together here reading and talking about this issue, but I feel very qualified to grade your paper. So I am. The results are below. The original text from DataCamp is bold and my comments are in quotes.

My first impressions of the overall tone of the document:

As I read the sad excuse for a ‘press release’ regarding the situation, I thought what many people must have thought: ‘This was a chance to do so much better. I’m disappointed in DataCamp. They have let me down. I really wanted them to do the right thing. Instead, they are doing the ‘legal’ thing.’

The document that was released is sadly and obviously written by lawyers who have no interest in changing anything. The leadership at DataCamp allowed this watered down drivel to be released to the public as their only response to this issue.

Do it different. Do it better. Leadership requires leading.

A note to our community

Hi everyone,

It is a nice touch of humanity, in an otherwise inhuman and thoughtless document, to mention the community’ and ‘everyone’ so prominently. I suppose for the people who only read the headlines, it might give the impression of a friendly or supportive tone. The rest of us are not fooled.

Perhaps a better way to begin would have been ‘Ms. Woo:’

DataCamp’s mission is to build the most comprehensive online learning resource for data science and analytics. To achieve this as a company, we depend on the contributions of a community that’s comprised of employees, instructors, and learners.

This is an odd addition to this explanation and quite a bad way to start. Maybe it was an afterthought since the document didn’t look long enough. Some of us put filler in our papers in college when we were done after 8 pages but the assignment was 10 pages. Starting off with filler content is a very bad sign … the lawyers really should have caught this.

In any event, I guess I will grade it for content. DataCamp’s mission is not an issue here. This was not an issue that is related to normal business operations. At least we all hope that is the case: the general consensus is that this was an isolated incident that occurred outside of business hours.

The behavior exhibited by the alleged sexual assaulter reflects very poorly on the company, if these are the type of people they choose to work with and place in senior roles. This is the question that needed answering.

We assume they investigated. We assume they found evidence of misconduct. What are they going to do about it? It is not related to the “mission” of DataCamp. If the response, at the conclusion of the investigation, was to fire the employee and apologize to Ms. Woo, this story would be very different.

This could easily have been the story of courageous leaders breaking down the crumbling old walls of the manipulative and silent past by making a public statement and taking public action to send the clear message that we don’t want this behavior anymore. Maybe we cannot stop you from doing this, but you aren’t going to do it here … something like that. Take a stand!”

But no, we get a mission statement. And then we are enlightened by the fact that companies depend on employees to function … as if anyone didn’t know that. Really? Now this is just getting clearly condescending. What readers do you think are missing from their small brains the fact that an online education business needs employees, instructors, and learners?

I’m exasperated already at the stupidity of this document. A little filler can be tolerated, but there is some fair chance that this might have been better if they had just used a script to randomly pick dictionary words.

Translation: “We are good even if we don’t act right. Believe us because we say so and we picked the right shade of blue for our branding campaign. I’m not buying it.”

In response to feedback from our instructor community, we would like to address an important issue.

Translation: ‘We have no leaders who can address this important issue. We didn’t want to take action on our own. We wanted to hide and hope nothing happened. We had to wait until some of our employees put pressure on us.’

Guess what: something happened. And you need better reasoning than ‘some of our instructors gave us feedback so maybe we should say something.’

In 2017, an incident of inappropriate behavior occurred involving one of our executives and an employee that should never have happened. We want to take this opportunity to acknowledge what occurred, highlight the actions we’ve taken in response, and affirm our commitment to a safe and inclusive working environment.

Translation: The word ‘occured’ says that they acknowledge the truth that, in their opinion, this incident happened and that it was an ‘executive’ at fault. I give them credit for pushing that past the lawyers. It is the shining light in an otherwise vast, sticky void of oozing darkness.

So they say it should never have happened … again, ‘duh’ I think we can figure that part out. Next, they acknowledge, highlight actions, and affirm commitment to a safe environment. We’ll see …

Specifically, in October 2017, at an informal employee gathering at a bar after a week-long company offsite, one of DataCamp’s executives danced inappropriately and made uninvited physical contact with another employee while on the dance floor. The employee raised a concern with a manager a few months later about the executive’s behavior that night, at which time the executive apologized to the employee. DataCamp immediately and thoroughly investigated the incident.

So this is the historical play by play noting what happened, that it was brought to the attention of the management, and that an investigation was started. Sounds good so far …

The investigation was conducted by a third party not involved in DataCamp’s day-to-day business with guidance from outside legal counsel.

It would be nice to know who exactly conducted the investigation and receive a copy of their report. Perhaps it isn’t something to be made public, but the victim should at least have received the results and an explanation the next steps planned.

No mention of that … but we get to hear that there were lawyers involved, inspiring confidence all around, especially since these were investigators and lawyers that do not have have names or business credentials.

In third grade, we call those things ‘supporting evidence’ as we make our stumbling attempts to teach kids how to write a five paragraph essay. I was hoping for a bit more from people with college degrees.

It included discussions with the employee, the executive, and other employees who were present during the incident. Its findings determined how we describe what happened and how we responded.

Since we do not know what the ‘findings’ were exactly we cannot judge the effectiveness of the response directly, but through a process of deduction we can say that there was an ‘incident’ that involved ‘uninvited physical contact’ and that the employee and the DataCamp representatives have indicated that this was confirmed by an investigation.

I cannot be sure which jurisdiction this crime occurred, but the DataCamp US office is listed on their website as being in New York. I am not a lawyer, but even a cursory search by an amateur can locate this information:

Image for post
Image for post

There are most likely other laws, such as those related to sexual harassment, city codes, or federal laws that I did not locate. In any event, I think it is common knowledge that this activity is illegal. It is also widely viewed as unacceptable, unprofessional, and immoral. In addition, it is widely tolerated and even covered up when it occurs among high ranking officials and employees in management roles.

This last part is the problem. DataCamp did make efforts to investigate, though we cannot be sure how thoroughly. They made an effort at transparency, though it appears to be mostly a condescending attempt at placating the parties involved. So this isn't’ a blatant coverup, but it is a half-hearted attempt at best.

Do better. That is my opinion so far. When a 6th grader turns in a book report with frighteningly little thought or insight, we urge them to do better. I’m not offering DataCamp a chance to do better. I don’t have to. Any time they would like to do a better job, they are free and welcome to. Every second that passes is another chance to do better. Tick Tock.

We are sincerely sorry that this incident occurred.

Yes, we are all sorry. We do not need this information. It is a manipulative emotional plea. What we need is for leadership to lead. This isn’t the playground where we can say ‘sorry’ and give it another shot. Some things just cannot be tolerated in an environment where you are expecting people to work together.

The question coming up in my mind, and probably yours, is this: how common is this behavior at DataCamp and what has been done in the past to address it? We would like to know what you are going to do about it. So after the ‘we are all sorry’ line, I am pensively reading along in rapt enchantment to locate that elusive answer to this obvious question.

To be absolutely clear,

Ah, they are being absolutely clear! This is it! They are going to take a stand!

the executive’s conduct with the employee on the dance floor was entirely inappropriate,

Inappropriate … yes, yes!

was not in line with our expectations of any DataCamp employee and was inconsistent with our policies and culture.

not in line with expectations … yes … inconsistent with culture! This is it! When something is inconsistent with the culture, it must be purged from the face of the company with fanfare and brimstone!

The executive’s behavior that night demonstrated a lack of regard for the imbalance of power that exists in situations like these between members of a company’s management and the employees.

Ok, legal definitions … it’s getting foggy again. I need to drive slower …

There have not been any other incidents reported involving this or other executives or managers at the company. The incident was antithetical to both the true culture of our company as well as our belief of the personal ethics and integrity of the executive in question. As a company, we acknowledged then, and reiterate now, that the conduct should never have occurred and apologize for how this has affected our community.

Ok, so it never happened before with this person or any other … that we know about … and not only is it inconsistent, but another 30 point word! antithetical! That’s gotta mean something big! … and the ‘true’ culture! (as opposed to what, we aren’t sure) … and another apology …

After the conclusion of the investigation, DataCamp immediately took a number of corrective actions.

Ok, so I am weary from the exhortations and accolades. I hope we are getting to the point. It says ‘took a number of corrective actions’ .. that sounds bland.

For the executive, this included extensive sensitivity training, personal coaching, and a strong warning that the company will not tolerate any such behavior in the future.

And … training, coaching, and a strong warning. The poor fellow had to deal with training and coaching already. The strong warning might have been too much. I wonder if they were able to get his favorite Aunt to come in to pass it along to him … maybe with a plate of his favorite cookies? That might have cushioned the blow.

So this person who exhibits behavior that is antithetical (30 points!!) and inconsistent … is somehow ok now since he got a warning and a few days of long lunches with a coach. I’m not buying it. Not even a little bit. At this point, I’m just crestfallen. All of this wonderful prose. All of this buildup. All of this … well we know what it really is … and it all leads up to … a warning.

A warning …

Yes, I’m still stuck on that. There was supposed to be a lightsaber duel or something at least.

It is hard to read the rest of this after discovering the true intent, but I shall persevere.

We also took additional steps to ensure that we foster and promote an inclusive and safe work environment for everyone, to prevent an incident like this from happening again. Some of the actions we took include:

  • conducting mandatory trainings for all employees on important issues including Respect in the Workplace, Unconscious Bias and Behaviors of Inclusion
  • conducting mandatory management training for the leadership team
  • hiring an experienced Chief People Officer and adding more experienced managers to our team
  • updating our Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Anti-Harassment Policy, which affirms that the company does not condone sexual misconduct or harassment
  • implementing transparent measurement and reporting on employee culture and engagement with an emphasis on our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives (read more about these initiatives and the related employee survey results in our 2018 in review post).

Many buzzwords … but the main takeaway here is this: they were not doing any of these things before. It wasn’t important enough or valuable enough to guard their ‘true’ culture from the antithetical heathens who might seek to bring it crumbling down.

They even had to update the ‘handbook’ to let people know that this company does not condone sexual harassment. Hell no they don’t! They give out stern warnings! Perhaps with cookies! So you better not go into that fight without a lot of ammunition.

We appreciate that our instructors represent DataCamp within the community every day. So, we thank you for your frank feedback and know that candid and sometimes difficult discussions and feedback are how real growth happens.

Blah … patronize … blah … elicit feedback … blah … placate the people who just want to type something on the internet and feel like they did something … blah …

While we have taken a number of important steps, we know this is an ongoing process and will continue our efforts to provide a safe, diverse, and inclusive work environment for everyone in the DataCamp community. We hope the actions we’ve taken underscore our commitment, and demonstrate that DataCamp has grown and learned from this. Achieving our mission and living up to the potential of our community depends on it.

I don’t even want to mention the fact that some people prefer the stern warnings while they are aroused. Maybe he is one of ‘those’ people. I’ve got nothing against the leather and latex crowd, but maybe it is wise to think things over before you go around handing out all of these warnings. Things might escalate.

Seriously, you really needed to let the guy go. You don’t want someone like that still working there supervising employees and standing as a beacon for sexual harassment with stern warnings attached. Everyone at the company now knows that you value his behavior more than the rights of the people he works with.

In any event, this is a far cry from living up to the potential that your community depends on. For this effort, your grade is a 30% … there were some glimpses of hope and this obviously did not occur at the workplace. This doesn’t excuse the perpetrator, but gives some credence to the company.

You get an ‘F,’ but you have other chances to do better. Would you feel better if I tell you “I’m sorry?”

Tick tock. Do better.

We hope you will all join us in writing the next chapter of DataCamp.

Thank you. I hope I have been of service and that the community enjoys my intriguing chapter in this ongoing saga. I had enjoyed the content and the instructors. I enjoy the podcast very much, but many of us are not going to support condoning this type of behavior.

Please take my olive branch. Take this as an opportunity to do more soul searching. Is what this guys offer to the ‘team’ really worth having the ‘sexual harassment company’ medal pinned to your lapel?

— The DataCamp Leadership Team

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade