Empathy in Engineering, Progress Update 1

Four months ago I made it my new years resolution to make empathy a core trait in my engineering. Here are some things that I’ve done since:

  • Formally made WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) a requirement for all Vokal web projects and worked with design and QA to make sure everyone was on board. This will guarantee the team’s work is accessible to the broadest audience.
  • Rolled WCAG validation into CI for web projects at Vokal which included publishing protractor-axs to npm.
  • Opened a pull request to fix WCAG violating contrast issues on nodejs.org. This fit in nicely with the rebranding Node.js did. I’d like to roll this into the build process if it can be done in a lightweight way since there is some objection to using PhantomJS.
  • Gave a talk at Vokal on documentation, including talking about how good documentation (and teaching) requires empathy and an understanding of the learners point of view.
  • In the same talk, covered a lot of points about being a good open source community member, and updated some of our standards at Vokal to match.
  • Wrote a topic for Node.js on Blocking vs. Non-Blocking which officially landed in Node.js 5.9.1. This follows on my attitude that documentation is an important part of empathizing with users, and beginners whom this topic was targeted at, in particular need support.
  • As a beta participant in an ongoing performance review service, got very positive feedback on my goal of being more approachable at work.
  • Subjectively, I think the slight shift in how I frame and prioritize things has made me a more effective manager. This is something that I need to reflect on more and to also get more feedback on.

The clear themes so far have been enabling a broader audience to access content, providing better documentation, and prioritizing for other people’s well-being. Some changes have led to better engineering quality, while others have led to hopefully more fulfilled people. I’ve checked a number of obvious boxes and am starting to get into some more difficult to frame ideas. Hopefully they will become clearer over the next few months.