Late last year, around the time I wrote “The Other Side of Diversity,” I was in a period of serious self examination. I knew I was stressed. I knew I was unhappy. I knew I was in pain. I wanted to figure out why and how to try to improve things. I found that writing, in addition to my work in therapy, helped tremendously. Through both, I first discovered what was contributing to my unhappiness in my personal life by identifying what I valued and where my life was lacking those things. I then sought to understand what I valued and needed in my professional life to be happy and landed on the following:
Solve challenging problems in an environment that I feel is healthy for me and/or solve challenging problems that would help to improve the lives of people in need.
I successfully defined my professional core values. That was the easy part. The hard part was adhering to them.
It’s not easy to leave a company, a company that’s regularly lauded for being the “Best Place to Work,” after spending 9 years there. However, I was not adhering to my defined core values by staying there. Yes, challenging problems were being solved, but the environment was not at all healthy for me. Yes, challenging problems were being solved to help others, but not in ways I could contribute my skillset. So it came down to choosing between my personal happiness or my “career” with my previous employer. I chose happiness. I had to leave.
After making the decision to leave, I quietly began looking around at other companies. There were plenty of opportunities out there, but none appeared to match my core values.
In late 2010, I received an invitation to alpha test Glitch. Glitch was my first time playing a MMO(RP?)G and I loved it. I loved everything to do with it. I invited everyone I could to play and spent way too much time petting pigs and milking butterflies. I bought a house and had a whole stash of music boxes and a nice garden and…yes, I loved Glitch quite a bit. I followed Glitch on Twitter to keep up with the goings on, then I followed Tiny Speck, the makers of Glitch, and its founder, “stoot barfield”, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sadly, Glitch was only in my life for 2 years, but I didn’t unfollow Stewart or Glitch or TinySpeck on Twitter.
In mid-2013, I learned that Stewart and TinySpeck were working on a new thing. A communications thing. I was curious about this thing because TinySpeck made Glitch and Stewart made Flickr and I liked both of those things, so I would maybe like this thing too. I signed up for an invite, which arrived in October 2013. I played around with Slack but didn’t really know what to do with it at that point. I didn’t have a company or a team I wanted to talk to. I put it on my mental back burner and continued in my quest to improve my software development skills. While I was doing that, Slack was improving too, becoming the fastest growing workplace software ever, according to people who write headlines.
Time passed, seasons did not change, because seasons don’t change in the Bay Area. In November 2014, in the middle of my personal awakening process, a grand jury failed to indict the police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown. My Twitter timeline became pretty split down the middle: people I knew in tech who appeared to be oblivious and people I knew outside of tech who were enraged. There was a small amount of overlap but not much. So-called tech leaders I followed were uniformly silent on the issue, with one exception: Stewart.
stay woke - Deriving from “stay awake,” to stay woke is to keep informed of the shitstorm going on around you in times of turmoil and conflict, specifically on occasions when the media is being heavily filtered- such as the events in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014. — Urban Dictionary
When leaders in tech were being mum about the miscarriage of justice in Ferguson, Missouri, Stewart, CEO of a startup with a billion dollar valuation, was woke. Stewart was tweeting and retweeting about the injustice of what happened.
To be a black person in tech is isolating. To see a non-black leader in tech empathizing with the experiences of those in Ferguson, using his platform to amplify the voices and stories of those who might be otherwise ignored was powerful and moving. When I shared video from my protesting, Stewart responded “Be safe.” That was meaningful and important to me.
In early 2015, while I was quietly looking around for environments that might be healthy for me, I was slowly beginning to believe that I was going to leave Bay Area tech entirely. I pondered roles at universities near my family, so I could at least be working on things that improve the lives of students (I believe the children are our future). I chatted with some folks at the USDS. Around that time, I happened to read Nolan Caudill’s post on The Official Slack Blog: Building the Workplace We Want. It’s all very good but a few passages jumped out at me:
Here are a few of the things we value at Slack:
Empathy: Building things for others to use is an act of empathy. Every decision made about how a thing is built and how it should be used comes from the worldview of the maker. How well they can see things through the user’s eyes determines the value of their work. No one person can see the world through another’s eyes. It’s all approximation and guesswork. Thus the only way for us to broaden our understanding of our users, to see things the way they do, is through hiring people with as many diverse experiences and backgrounds as we can.
At Slack, we want to work with people that have the skills to do their job and the gumption to do it well. They possess great empathy, as designing and building a great product is made up of countless acts of empathy, not only for the users but for those you do the work alongside. Diligence, persistence, an unrelenting bull-headed pursuit of Quality — this drive is what compels the kind of person we look for.
What was this? A company that mentions empathy and diversity, two of my personal core values in their core values? Is such a thing even possible? Slack was now the only place that I would leave my previous employer for, but I didn’t see a role that explicitly lined up with my experience. I kept looking for a place that maybe offered something similar.
In early March 2015, Kelly Ellis took to Twitter to detail the harassment and subsequent lack of support she’d experienced while working for our previous employer. Stewart, once again, stepped up where very few, if any other tech CEO’s did: he reached out to Kelly.
Right then and there, I decided that I needed to at least try to for a job, any job, at Slack. With empathy and diversity as core values and a CEO who continuously speaks out about injustice, I couldn’t not apply for a job there. I figured it was my best chance at finding happiness in tech.
During my lunch break, I looked at the Slack jobs page, found the role that best fit my skillset and experience, and proceeded to spend 20 minutes freaking out about applying for it. I was certain I could do the job, well even, but I didn’t have all the qualifications. Then I remembered some study about women not applying for jobs if they didn’t have all the qualifications while men weren’t bothered by such trivialities and decided to just fucking do it already, Erica. 10 minutes before my lunch break ended, I applied. The worst they could say was no.
They didn’t say no.
On May 18, I start my role as a Build and Release Engineer at Slack. I know there are no guarantees that I will find happiness in my role there, but things look promising and I’m excited to try my best with some really great people.👌👍