One of the few constants during my journey to become a developer has been the Atlanta chapter of Women Who Code; they hosted my first Meetup, my first hackathon and, as of last week with We RISE Women in Tech, my first conference as a junior developer.
To say the atmosphere was game-changing might be an understatement. The encouragement, the hope, the genuine connections made… I could go on, but the entire time I couldn’t help but think of how all the positivity and support could revitalize, could mean so much to women who have spent the past months or years fighting any toxic culture they might be experiencing. We RISE was ultimately a preview of what I imagine the future of tech will be: what it will look like, what it will feel like and what it will accomplish.
What Tech Will Look Like
“In what other industry is it OK to make mistakes?” Kim Crayton posed that change of perspective to us all during the keynote diversity panel. And importantly this was just one of many moments where failure was discussed frankly by a speaker. Mistakes are more easily accepted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hit you personally. Talking about the inevitability of failure formed one of the most basic connections folks can make, the feeling that you aren’t alone or strange, or the only person who’s gone through hard times. That feeling extended to just about every concept and lived experience that was shared.
Can you imagine how much we could get done if failure was just a little less disruptive?
The sure method to keep resiliency is through a support group; the friends, mentors, and adamant supporters that prove no women is an island. Someday soon women won’t have to sell each other out, and even better, will never feel the need to. We were all charged with putting “sisterhood into practice”, noticing how it was practiced during our two days and later replicating what worked.
I’ve honestly never encountered a more welcoming environment; as someone who can only make it to Atlanta once in a blue moon, it was really special to be recognized and greeted with hugs. There was continuous encouragement and reflection, the kind anybody needs to grow, either in person or on social media. There ideas were deployed in that agile way, like making sure the bathrooms were gender neutral and helping out a mother who brought her baby. Finding a way to replicate great environments, both inside and outside of the workplace, is how we’ll make the great teams of the future.
So far I’ve avoided the actual optics of those great teams because it will most likely not visually look like how most people imagine. In his keynote, Scott Hanselman pointed out performant diversity, the tokenism that so often is seen to be the end of diversification measures. Scott used the images of the Magic School Bus students, the kids from Captain Planet, and the squad from Brooklyn 99 to illustrate his point.
Diversity, however, includes many more groups of people than those most commonly talked about. There are two types of diversity in particular that I was relieved to hear mentioned and I hope will be discussed more within the tech community: disability and socioeconomic. Scott touched on the first while introducing himself talking openly about the chronic medical condition he lives with, type 1 diabetes. I later had a conversation with another attendee who also lives with it, who was just as bolstered by the mention as I was, and who was super excited about how projects like open source software for insulin devices could improve lives.
We also talked about the trend of remote work and how it touches on both issues, specifically the potential for disabled folks or caregivers (theirs, mothers, anyone caring for the elderly) to maintain a stable career. It’s no mistake that the people with the least amount of representation in tech are those who traditionally have the least economic power: women, people of color, the disabled, caretakers, LGBT & other folks of diverse gender identity or sexual preference. There are just as many financial barriers to joining tech as there are cultural, something leaders like Nichelle Bailey of 4TechMoms is addressing and expanding on. Anyone with a passion for tech should have an opportunity to exercise it and in the future we’re looking toward they will.
What Tech Will Feel Like
Just as talk is nothing without action, diversity is nothing without inclusion. Inclusion means psychological safety, having an environment where you can be your authentic self, and, professionally “going to work with your best self.” As Safia Abdalla pointed out in her keynote about working in open source, ‘faking it’ is a form of emotional labor. Authenticity and trusting ourselves will make all the difference in an industry that touches billions of people.
An important caveat to all of this is that it will not be easy. Being a programmer or entrepreneur already means being uncomfortable to get the job done; much is the same when we talk about systematic changes in tech. We’ve all got to push towards a place where we’re comfortable being uncomfortable and adjust accordingly, whether that means calling out a co-worker for a microagression or standing up for our opinions. A certain amount of emotional resilience will be needed, but the more we practice, the easier it will become.
One type of uneasiness is so common it has a name, impostor syndrome, just happens to have been coined in Atlanta by some great female research psychologists. As Aly Merritt pointed out in her talk on impostor syndrome, it is a reflection of the reality that surrounds you; so it’ll only be by creating the kind of environments that resist it that we can fight it. April Wensel later pointed an agile prime directive we should all, in this context, take to heart: “You are always doing your best, given the circumstances.” What I’m getting at is this: the act of doing will be enough in itself and we call all get on to cool things we’ve learned or made. We get so caught up in fighting for our own legitimacy that we can’t fight as hard for a product or a business. There will be so much less fighting when we get where we need to be.
Compassion & empathy underscore so much of how tech should feel, a kind of UX research among ourselves we all need to do. April Wensel, Founder of Compassionate Coding, and disclaimer, a friend of mine, gave a great talk on this very subject. The tools we pull from compassion can go a long way in helping us practice inclusion; taking time to slow down, notice suffering, investigating it, and then taking action to alleviate it.
What Tech Will Accomplish
Multiple studies have shown that diverse teams make better, more profitable products. While those bottom lines are good alone, We RISE contained multiple reminders of technology’s original purpose: to make the lives of all people better, and as we move forward, to make folks happy.
And, at the end of the day, you will be a maker, doing what you love.
At it’s core We RISE was about the actual tech; the majority of what went on was pure excitement for technical concepts, the love of learning we all share in this industry. Passing interactions were where the purest expression of passion for our craft took place: pulling out a laptop to explain React routing, making a friend at breakfast and then going to the same workshop, leaving that workshop ready to explore Express & Node further, planning a hilarious Twitter bot…
Next year I hope to see more true allies (accomplices), more mothers with babies, more fathers bringing their daughters,and more gender diverse folks. And finally, what the hell, next year I may even submit a talk.