My #devopsdays story

Today was day one of DevOpsDays in my home town. I want to thank the organizers for putting together a great program. I really value the work they put into a great slate of diverse keynote speakers. I felt uplifted and energized by those talks. I cherish the work the conference put into a code of conduct and making a welcoming space to come together.

This post is not about that at all.

I am f’ing exhausted.

The second half of the day was spent in Open Spaces. For those of you unfamiliar with the format, attendees are encouraged to announce topics and rooms or spaces are assigned and people just go talk about those topics. There’s no formal speaker. No slides. People just go and talk about things. This is probably the work of some extrovert somewhere.

But this isn’t a post about extroversion or introversion either.

This is a post about the emotional work of being a person of color in those rooms.

The first Open Space I went to was about making happy teams. When I walked in, someone was holding court about they ways they keep their team fun with days dedicated to this or that. Among those days were a day where everyone tries to troll each other or another day dedicated to <insert some cultural reference about Dr. Dre that I didn’t quite get>. Of course, being the brave soul I am, I had to challenge this.

Hopefully, the idea of trolling people for fun is obviously horrible to you. I work really hard to build trust among members of my team and organization and the idea that we’d waste each other’s time trying to troll them says two things. One, I don’t value your time, in fact, I’m just going to play with it while you came here to ask an honest question. Two, it creates this unsaid notion that whatever knowledge you came for is power, and you, dear asker, don’t have it. Disgusting, bordering upon rage inducing.

As for Dr. Dre, when we base our “fun culture” around cultural touch points, we alienate those who didn’t grow up in the same culture, whether we were removed from this culture by when we grew up, where we grew up, or how we grew up, it sets up another way that those of us who are different than your culture norm are reminded that we are outsiders. You wonder why we have such a hard time recruiting and retaining people other than straight white men in tech?

This one Open Space was just one of a handful of times where I felt like I needed to be the one speaking up. I spent time during happy hour, feeling the need to rebut the well meaning but wrong headed sponsor comment that removing names from job applications was a brave act of diversity. I’m sure he read some blog post about hiring bias for obviously Black names and came up with his own ideas of justice. Completely blind to the realities of structural inequalities, just stripping off the names continues to privilege the privileged. Well, this person went to Harvard, and I don’t care what gender or race they are. As if there aren’t inequalities in who gets that opportunity.

I’m sure some people looked at me like I was that overly P.C. guy. Let me tell you that it’s a brave act to speak up against this. It’s an exhausting act. Some days, I want to let it slide, but this last year has left me raw.

Do you want to be a strong ally for people of color and women in technology? Don’t leave it for the marginalized to have to teach you. We’re already struggling to fit in. Do your homework and speak up if you can.

P.S. I could go into much longer rants about how these examples are create bad workplaces, but remember, I’m exhausted and this work shouldn’t just fall to us. Want to learn more? Try Google.

P.P.S. I make happy teams by making my team feel valued, giving them the support and resources they need, eliminating (or automating) the scut work, and giving them time to be their own people and going home at the end of the day. It’s working great, thank you very much.