For a second entry in my “With Intention” series, I’m going to riff on a question that was asked anonymously by a Turing student but widely upvoted. The original question asked:
The recently filed Course Report by [redacted name of Turing alumnus], what are your thoughts?
The mentioned review has been deleted, but I can speak to the topic by redefining the question like this:
Some Turing students or alumni post inflammatory, negative reviews of the program. What’s your take?
You can scroll through CourseReport and find plenty of fair criticisms of Turing. At times, our job support hasn’t been good enough. Some students struggle in our program and have to repeat one or two modules — and they might not have understood that as a possibility up front. Those are the kinds of reasonable critiques that we’ve worked to address both structurally and behaviorally. Turing students today are better supported and guided than at any point in the past, and we can still do better.
But the genesis of the question is a more extreme example — the zero stars, Turing-is-a-pile-of-bullshit kind of review.
“Here are the REAL TRUTHS Turing doesn’t want you to know”
This most recent occurrence reminded me a lot of the internally-infamous alum who posted this review on CourseReport and accompanying blog post. These reviews happen about once a year and typically have the following attributes:
- They’re strongly negative of Turing’s quality of education
- They usually speak about me personally with intentionally inflammatory labels and language (ex: cult leader, narcissist, etc)
- They particularly object to or deride our professional development programs, especially “Gear Up”. They always talk about the idea of microaggressions.
- They include what I consider dog-whistle terms like “feminazi”, “snowflake”, or “social justice warrior”
- They take issue with the value of paying tuition and claim that the author would have been better off just reading internet tutorials
- They’re written from a clear voice of “I am finally here to tell you how it really is”
It’ll shock no one that they almost universally come from people like me: white and male. We’re people who, through life, have been told “society values your opinion and perspective — regardless of your expertise.” And now, my people, we have the internet.
They are screaming examples of what Robin DiAngelo calls “White Fragility”, or more precisely what I consider White Male Fragility. Without going too deeply down the rabbit hole, white male fragility is a common phenomenon. When you’ve made it through life without having to think about your gender (because it never holds you back) nor your race (because it never holds you back), being asked to consider the role that these identities play in your life is deeply unsettling. Some people find wonder and want to learn more. Some people are hurt and react with anger: how dare you imply that my path was easy? The latter person channels those feelings into these reviews.
Rethinking it now, months later, I can analyze these scenarios with rationality. But that’s not how I feel when it happens. I think it’ll make the most sense if I explain these situations in the sequence that I process them.
Phase 0: Anger
It usually starts with a Slack message. Someone saying “Uhh…have you seen THIS?” My heart rate is elevated before I click the link. But I can’t resist — I stop what I’m doing and dive in. By the the time I finish the first paragraph, my internal dialogue is raging:
This. Fucking. Asshole. Can you believe this pile of BULLSHIT?!?! How dare you? After all we did for you? After all we put up with? After all the times we coached your peers into giving you “one more chance”? Bent the rules for you? You’ve got to be FUCKING KIDDING ME.
It’s not a great place to be. I’m not prone to anger, but this is personal. When I started Turing I said “I’m ready for my life’s work.” Now this fucking guy is trying to take his potshots, trying to grandstand, to get at me. He’s out to hurt the people I care about. And, worst of all, he just might convince some great people that this isn’t the place for them. He wants to make us angry and it’s working.
At times I’ve tried to “make the case.” Let me break down your argument and prove, point by point, how full of bullshit you are. I regularly think of this tweet:
But damn if I won’t give it a shot! Let’s get in the weeds!
At that point, you’ve given them exactly what they wanted. You’re lit up and they’re laughing. In my old age I’ve learned to accept the wisdom of this quote:
Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.
You can’t reason with the unreasonable. Don’t get dirty, do better.
Phase 1: Gaslighting
From one bad idea to another, my next phase is gaslighting. You thought that garbage would make me mad, let me prove to you how unbothered I am.
The review that triggered this question talked about one of my staff members and how his choice of “cargo shorts and sipping a Diet Coke” during a project evaluation was unprofessional. In my reply, I said something like “it’s one thing to disrespect [staff member]’s fashion, but at least be accurate: he only drinks Diet Dr. Pepper.”
It’s stupid and childish. You think you can get to me? Throw me off? Let me show you how little you matter. It’s like playing the dozens on the playground.
It’s also an exercise in privilege. Let me remind you, internet troll, that I am untouchable. You can write derogatory things about me, talk trash about my staff, complain about the program we’ve built — and we’re so high above you, comfortable in our stature and place of safety, that you hold no power. The truth or fiction of your statements are irrelevant because you, too, are irrelevant.
It feels good. It’s the kind of thing I send links around to friends and say “look how I fried up this chump.” He didn’t know who he was messing with.
It’s basically just stepping into the pig’s mud pile and being really good at wrestling. You’re still dirty, you just dominated the match. Congrats, pig wrestler.
Some time passes. Maybe one of those people who were supposed to laugh at it, instead, said “are you sure that’s the right thing to say?” Wait…we’re supposed to be having fun bullying this person. Why aren’t we laughing?
Sit a little longer, and I get to some of those haunting questions:
- Is this the person you wanted to be when you grew up?
- Is this the person you want other people to see?
- Is this the person that the people you care about will be proud of?
It’s not. Damn it. I controlled my anger! I didn’t stoop to his level! Right? Right? No. I did. It’s not fair that some people get to blow their top and rage out when they’re crossed and some of us have to keep our shit together. Ugh!
It usually takes a night of sleep and a conversation with the people I trust to cut through the fog and realize I’ve messed it up. Do better.
Phase 2: What would MO do?
I’m an unabashed fan of Michelle Obama. I’ve always been a huge Barack fan, but Michelle is just on another level.
Can you imagine what it was or is like for her in the public sphere? Imagine the diatribes you could find about her if you look in the gutters of the internet. I bet some are full of dog whistle terms and others just go all-in — writings about her, her children, her husband. What kind of incredible level of zen master is she to just move on? To just focus on the things she cares about and ignore all the noise?
When they go low, we go high. When they go low, they go high. This is some Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela-level faith. What would Michelle do in response to this person spraying trash?
For context, the original review dove into some significant depth about how we’re constantly referencing our “so-called mission,” that we’re training people to be feminazis and snowflakes, and that if people don’t feel welcome in tech then maybe they don’t belong here. This is my final response:
Sorry Turing didn’t live up to your expectations.
As a mission-driven organization, yes, we come back to the mission often: unlocking human potential by training a diverse and inclusive student body to succeed in high-fulfillment technical careers. Note both diverse and inclusive there — as you point out, diversity is about identity, but inclusivity is about behavior and culture. Turing has never pretended to be supportive of everyone and every thought. Working in tech, where each product we build can affect the life experience of dozens to millions of people, it’s critical to understand how our individual identity affects the way we see, understand, and interact with a broad audience. Building that perspective is core to the success of our mission.
Our vision is a world powered by technology where the people building it represent the people using it. That means actively working to include people of color, women, LGBTQIA, non-English speakers, people with disabilities, and all the other slices of humanity typically overlooked or actively pushed out of tech. Being indifferent or silent is not enough, because the forces that remind people they are not welcome are never quiet, like your words above.
Keep your eyes uphill because snowflakes eventually turn into avalanches.
Phase 3: Aftermath
Looking back now, retyping those words, I feel proud of the person I was that day. That’s the person I want to be all the days — not just after 24 hours of being pissed off. I’m still practicing.
What happened to the review? The student deleted it the next day. A turn of heart? Did I convince him? Did someone give him a hug? Nah.
From the early days of Turing we’ve had the Joan Clarke Society (JCS). Joan was the collaborator, confidante, and righthand lady to Alan Turing. Without her, he and the team probably would have never succeeded in their historical achievements. JCS is the affinity and support group organized by and for women students and alumni within the Turing community. Think of the Beyhive, but a little nerdier.
I wasn’t involved, but here’s how I got the story second-hand:
A member of JCS read the outrageous review and realized the student in question had an interview scheduled with her team. She sent it to her manager with her thoughts. The manager cancelled the interview.
Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. But it’s not freedom from consequences. You have the right to speak your mind and the rest of us have the right, when you’ve shown us who you really are, to decide we don’t like you. See ya!
After we go through the whole cycle, I’m thankful for the exercise.
- I have the opportunity to sit with my anger, understand it, and put it away.
- We have the opportunity to practice forgiveness, if we’re ready.
- People who read the review and say “man, this place sounds like bullshit!” were not going to be part of our beloved community.
- People who read the review and are reminded of the systemic oppression they know all too well will see the community reaction. They’ll see us fight oppression and oppressors — with just a little mud, and a whole lot of grace. And that we’ll fight the same for them.
Turing is not welcoming to everyone and every idea. Just the beautiful, amazing, thought-provoking, stereotype-challenging, future-building ones.
I’m the founder and Executive Director of the Turing School of Software & Design. I believe in leveraging your power and privilege to disrupt the system.