How to Recognize Tech Gatekeeping, and How to Ignore it (or Stop It)
The original definition of gatekeeping is “to block unwanted or useless things by using a gate.” Recently it’s definition has expanded to mean deciding “who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.”
Let’s say a friend of mine says they just saw Star Wars. I, a Star Wars fan, am excited. A new fan! Fantastic! So I ask which one. “The Last Jedi!” my friend says. “What? That’s not Star Wars! Any real Star Wars fan will know you have to watch A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.”
I just told my friend he could never be a Star Wars fan because she hasn’t seen what “real” Star Wars fans see.
Gate-Keeping in Tech
Gate-keeping in technology is an issue that needs more attention. It discourages junior developers from learning; limits companies from hiring; and creates a toxic atmosphere that stifles innovation, collaboration, and growth.
It’s even becoming encouraged in some circles.
Early on in my career, I was bombarded by the mantra “HTML isn’t a programming language.” Yes, technically that’s true. Neither is JSON nor Markdown. But typically the phrase is meant to instill a career reality check into someone who just opened an HTML file with
<h1>Hello World</h1> in their web browser.
But really what’s being said is “That’s not really programming. If you’re really a programmer, you’d serve all the data from a database, set up a CI/CD pipeline, and include a README (not written in HTML).”
But let’s keep perspective. The person that created the heading of Hello World took a step to go beyond posting a Twitter status. They’re competent enough to know that they can customize what a browser sees using a middle layer between the browser and the webkit engine. They may not know anything beyond that, and that’s okay (I’ll explain why later).
But first, what are signs of gatekeeping in tech? Let’s look at a few that are good indicators that someone is gatekeeping.