Challenging our summer interns with a bot that addresses the use of “hey guys” at work

For the last few summers, our team has worked with Scripted to host interns who are either in high school or have recently graduated high school. ScriptEd’s mission is to “equip students in under-resourced schools with the fundamental coding skills and professional experiences that together create access to careers in technology.” Our CTO Ken Peltzer had previously worked closely with ScriptEd as a volunteer teacher. As other work engagements occupied his time, he continued to open up Group Nine Media for ScriptEd’s summer internship program.

This summer, we were lucky to have Momina Fazal and Patricia Santana join our team for five weeks. We kicked off their internship with the same activity that starts all of our projects — a brainstorm session. Of all the ideas we all came up with, the one idea that stood out was creating a Slack bot that will look out for unnecessarily gender-specific phrases like “hey guys”, then ping the user of the phrase and suggest a gender neutral substitute.

Instead of assigning the interns with the specific features we’d like to build, we led them through a process that allowed them to experience how our developers and product managers work. The interns talked to the stakeholders in our employee resource group for women at Group Nine Media to gather requirements, researched the capabilities of Slack, came up with product and technical requirements documents, and built the tool with the support of our director of frontend engineering, Joe Higgins. The work to open-source GNA was done by Bethanne Zink.

We’ve asked them to write a short post about the product they built. What you see below is written by Momina and Patricia.

What We Created

Nearing the end of our five week internship, Patricia and I reflect proudly on the Slack bot that we created. The Slack bot’s name is GNA, pronounced Gina, and stands for “Gender Neutral Assistant”.

GNA listens for gendered words and phrases used to refer to a group of people, such as “guys” or “bros”, in a channel and then sends a direct message to the user who said that word. The bot offers suggestions for the word you used, so instead of using “guys”, it’ll suggest that you use “everyone”. GNA helps remind people to use more appropriate words in a private way through a direct message and links the user to further reading on the importance of gender neutrality.

Since a bot’s icon is one of it’s only visual cues, we decided to illustrate a friendly yet fierce bearded dragon because they have the rare ability to change its gender.

When you say a phrase such as “hey guys” GNA DMs you a gentle reminder

Why We Created It

It’s no surprise that the tech industry is a male-dominated industry. However, we hope it does not stay that way. By making tech work environments more friendly and inclusive to women and other underrepresented minorities, we are taking a step towards diversifying this industry for future graduates and applicants.

Even though Group Nine is a media company with a tech and product team, every step we take towards making people feel welcome by establishing an inclusive environment is still important.

How We Created It

When creating our slackbot GNA we didn’t jump in and code right away. We did a lot of planning and research on the different platforms and programs we could use to create it. We explored endlessly and considered using everything from Google, Converse ai, to Dexter. We ended up using Javascript to code GNA due to various limitations of some of these off-the-shelf solutions.

Our Setbacks

Along the way we hit various setbacks, building GNA sounded simple enough in our minds but it was tough to actually find our way. In our research we found that all platforms that we wanted to use, such as Google’s, did everything we wanted, except for the private messaging feature, which was a vital part of the project because we did not want to build something that publicly called people out in public Slack rooms. We ultimately decided that we would code the project from scratch with Slack’s real time messaging API.

Features we wanted to include were a gif response based on the buttons clicked in the DM and a hyperlink within the modal to direct the user to the article. Because we had decided to use the modal, we couldn’t include a hyperlink nor a gif inside of it.

The Main Takeaways and Our Hopes

As software engineers in training, this was a huge learning experience. We had to work with concepts and emerging technologies that we’ve never worked with previously. We learned that research is a vital part of the process because in many real-world scenarios, developers are tasked with helping with product decisions instead of just generating code.

We hope to eventually have GNA be in all the channels of the Group Nine Slack team, and maybe even for those outside.

We’ve open-sourced GNA. You can find the instructions and the code here. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback. Leave us a note!

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.