Today is at least the fourth or fifth time in the last few months I have felt the need to send a reply to someone associated with a startup in Pittsburgh. I figured that was frequently enough that it was time to write a blog post, so I could start pointing people to that.
Dear Pittsburgh Startup,
I am glad to hear you are looking for developers to help with building product XYZ. I appreciate you reaching out to me/a group I organize/a mailing list I’m on/etc. for help.
Unfortunately, your email did not include useful information to help me determine what you are looking for or what you have to offer to a potential candidate. I was also unable to find this information when looking at your company’s website or searching for information about your company. It would be helpful if you provided the following information: what skill level you are looking for, the technologies you use, the elevator pitch for your business/product, employee benefits, and why someone should want to work for you. If you cannot pay much and are hoping to compensate employees via equity, you especially need to do a good job of explaining your business proposition.
One other note is that I have never heard of you or your company. You might have better luck finding talent if you were more actively involved in the local tech community. Good luck with your search!
The above is a rough approximation of the email I usually send in response to these requests. It is my best attempt to be polite and somewhat helpful. I do have some slightly harsher, but perhaps equally helpful, thoughts on this.
In the current market, businesses are competing over good technical talent. You often need to sell the developers on talking to you, not the other way around. When you send a recruitment email with the bare minimum of information (particularly if you are the CEO, CTO, or some other high-ranking employee at your company), it reflects poorly on both you and your business. Imagine your reaction if you received an email from a prospective employee that read “Give me a job!” instead of a thoughtful explanation of why they would be a valuable addition to your team.
I want the Pittsburgh tech community to thrive. I want to see startups succeed here. When you are just starting out (and arguably even if you aren’t), finding smart and dedicated individuals for your team can be critical. Put a little more effort into it. Try a little harder. I know you have it in you.
Here are my sketchnotes from CodeMash 2013. These are the ones I was happy enough with to share. A lot of the code-heavy talks were not really conducive to sketchnoting.
I wish more conferences had some table space. These definitely don’t come out as well when I’m trying to draw on my downward sloping legs (damn my tiny legs!).
Straight Up Design by Jen Myers
Getting Good: How to Integrate Novice Developers by Elise Worthy & Steve Klabnik
"Users Are Losers." "They'll Like Whatever We Make." and Other Fallacies by Carol Smith
CodeMash Keynote - Geek Leaks by Neal Ford
Note: I strongly recommend watching Lindsey and Steve’s Anti-Oppression 101 talk before reading my post if you’re not familiar with the topic. It will give you a much better background for what I have to say. This is not a 101 post, and I am not going to rehash the content of their talk here.
There was a diversity-focused open space at Codemash this year. It got pretty heated near the end, and I had a lot of feelings about it. I am sharing some of them for many of the same reasons I spoke up at the open space. I care about this topic and not in a theoretical sense. This issue is very real for myself and many others on a daily basis.
The title of the open space was “How can we get people to shut up about diversity?” The intent was essentially “how can we improve diversity to such a degree that we don’t have to talk about it any more” – a laudable, but perhaps overly ambitious goal. A lot of different thoughts and perspectives came up during the lengthy discussion. I am going to focus on those that I think are worth analyzing further.
One of the topics that came up was whether we should have minority-only spaces in the tech community. People who were for them (myself included) were largely on the side of them existing alongside, but not as a replacement for, other spaces. Basically, they serve the purpose of providing a safe space for a group of people with similar backgrounds to discuss their experiences. Those who were against such spaces felt they were exclusionary and voiced concerns that those in the majority would have difficulty learning about the plight of minorities if they were not given access.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a space that serves both the purpose of fostering a safe space for minorities to have discussions and educating the majority about the situation. What followed later in the open space was a prime example of why these safe spaces are still necessary.
A major issue that came up during the discussion was harassment. Harassment can mean a lot of different things to different people – for the sake of this discussion, my rough definition is “unwanted and/or unacceptable interactions that make someone uncomfortable and diminish their enjoyment of an event.”
One of the women in attendance at the open space had the courage to share such an experience that she had at the conference. She mentioned that the experience made her uncomfortable and was upset enough that she considered leaving early. I am not going to speak to the details of her situation out of respect for her privacy and because they are not terribly relevant. What is worth evaluating is the discussion that followed.
The conversation took a turn towards how should we handle harassment at our events. During this discussion, a fairly well-known member of the programming community joined the open space. This person, who had not participated in the first half of the open space, quickly took over and steered the conversation. He stated that if put in a similar situation, he would stand up for himself and tell the harasser to leave him alone. Not only did he state that he would do this, but he also felt this was the responsibility of any person being harassed.
At this point, I felt it was relevant to explain that a white male prominent in the programming community is not being put in the same situation as a woman attending the conference. The privilege and power differentials are completely different, and it is bullshit to act like they are the same. I was then yelled at by another man in attendance for “making assumptions” about the speaker. At the time, I apologized to move things along and avoid derailing the conversation, but I find this deeply problematic. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, pointing out someone’s privilege in a situation is not an insult.
It’s privilege that says it’s the victim’s responsibility to make a harasser go away, and that the situation will turn out well if they try to do so. What may be reasonably easy and safe for one person may not be for another. Women are often socialized differently than men to handle conflict, and the harassment they receive does not always take the same form. If you want to get an idea of what women often deal with, try reading @EverydaySexism. It isn’t exaggeration. This is the daily lived experience for many women. The situation is not the same, and claiming so is misguided in the best of cases and harmful in the worst.
The conversation continued on the track of it being the harassed person’s responsibility to stop harassment. The woman who shared her experience looked increasingly upset as this continued. I don’t blame her. This conversation essentially said it was her fault that the harassment continued. That it was her job to stop it. This is often referred to as victim blaming. It is very problematic in a variety of ways including: upsetting the victim, shifting blame from the actual responsible party (hint: it’s the person doing the harassing), and decreasing the likelihood of someone coming forward to report harassment in the future.
There were also some discussions about the pros and cons of having an anti-harassment policy. Roughly the same people who expected the person being harassed to resolve the situation also stated that these policies will not empower the harassed to stop the situation or report what happened. That is a pretty big assumption, especially considering the type of people most likely to be harassed are largely the ones who have been asking for the policies in the first place.
My frustration here stems from the same place as my frustration with the victim blaming. It was people speculating about the experiences of others and dictating how those people should feel about and handle those experiences. We all do this from time to time. I’m guilty too. However, it is especially troubling when the point of the conversation is to make said people feel more comfortable attending our events.
Barrier to Entry
One of the women in attendance pointed out that putting the onus on victims, particularly women, to handle problems may lead to them not attending conferences in the future. The response to this from some was essentially “good, then they shouldn’t attend.” I suppose that is one way to make people shut up about diversity – just stop including them unless they have the fortitude to actively fight off harassment.
I found it really interesting that the women in the conversation, particularly those speaking up, were largely the strong, outspoken type (I think a few even self-labeled as “assholes”). I include myself in this group. We’re great at calling out bullshit. I love people like that. They are awesome, but not all of us start out that way and other types of people are awesome too.
Many of us had to grow a thick skin to be a part of this community. That unspoken thick-skinned requirement is likely part of the reason minorities don’t attend these events. Studies show issues like this are part of the reason minorities leave tech mid-career and don’t come back. The barrier to entry is too high. If you want to make diversity such a nonissue that we don’t talk about it any more, stop calling for the maintenance of that barrier.
If you want us to shut up about diversity, you have to do more than tell us to shut up about it. You have to do more than tell us it’s our responsibility to handle the situation. A lot of us are already trying really hard. We run groups and teach classes and mentor and encourage new speakers and even sometimes help advertise your events. We’re trying to do all these positive things to improve the situation, but you have to help too. Helping isn’t telling us that our experiences and perspectives are invalid. Helping isn’t shouting us down. Helping isn’t victim blaming. Helping isn’t denying us safe spaces where we can likely avoid being shouted down or victim blamed.
So what can you do? I recommend reading Ashe’s post “So you want to put on a diverse, inclusive conference.” She covers this topic really well. There’s also a bunch of other great posts out there. I recommend reaching out to real live people who fit into the demographics you are interested in. Ask us for help!
One last recommendation: shake things up a little bit and make room for new people (minority or not). Some of the old guard is pushing hard for more of the same. The saying goes that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Want us to shut up about diversity? Try something new.
A lot of the discussions at the open space were good and productive. This post is largely about the second half of the discussion.
Much love to those who were helping fight the good fight in this discussion. Allies are very much a thing we need. <3
I want my tech to be more intersectional. I wish this discussion could have been inclusive of more demographics.
I got upset about the madness surrounding the BritRuby debacle today and decided to channel a few minutes of my anger into answering a question. Should technology be intersectional?
Hey everyone! I’m back to talk more about building a diverse development team. Today we’re going to talk about job descriptions. As mentioned in the disclaimer in part 1, I’m generally speaking from a woman’s perspective because that’s the group I belong to. You should totally talk to people from other groups to find out what they think and feel about this topic. Also, I’m not speaking for all women – a lot of this is anecdata based on personal experiences and conversations with other women programmers I know. I’m going to write in some sweeping generalizations about things that stick out to me, but I recognize I don’t speak for everyone and I’m not covering everything. Now that we’ve got that all out of the way, let’s talk about job postings.
A job posting might be the first thing a potential job candidate sees about your company. A lot of the job descriptions we see don’t seem to be written for us, so we question if we should even apply – if your company will be a good fit for us. If you really wanted us to come work for you, you’d write a job description that appealed to us, right?
Most of us don’t want to be ninjas, rockstars, or some other random profession unrelated to coding. <aside>My one exception is that I would totally apply somewhere that says they are looking for scientists. I would rock my lab coat every day, and some studies indicate it might even make me better at my job.</aside> We want to work hard at being awesome software developers, not on our egos. We also aren’t generally fond of working with people more concerned with their egos than their code quality – using this type of language could indicate that your team is full of these people. Try focusing on listing actual traits that you think make an awesome/ninja/rockstar/pirate/robot programmer. It will come off as more professional and let us know what you actually care about.
Stop trying to offer us beer during work hours – if you’re paying us right we can buy our own beer when we go home to spend time with our friends and family. Indicate you want to give us that time to spend with our friends and family. One of the things that matters most to us is respect for work-life balance. We will work hard and smart for you. We get shit done. Don’t try to burn us out. Give us time to go home and relax, so that we can keep getting shit done for you. Indicate that you want to do this in your job description instead of offering us alcoholic beverages hoping we’re going to keep riding the Ballmer Peak until we burn out and go work elsewhere.
Consider telecommuting and remote employees. A lot of us aren’t interested in moving or have life situations that are better served by telecommuting. Having trouble finding people with the skills you need in your area? You significantly increase the pool of people available to you by making these features of working with your company. If you’re willing to do this, make sure it’s included in the job description.
Don’t make Github and OSS contribution sound like a critical part of the hiring process. Statistics show women are less involved in open source and a lot of us don’t have time to code in great amounts outside of work (remember that work-life balance thing I mentioned earlier). Try focusing on more general expectations around proving our skills and talking about past projects.
If you currently have a homogenous team, it’s not a great idea to push the “cultural fit” thing a lot in your job description. This can read as “We’re very happy with the status quo, thank you! No diversity needed here.” Instead, focus on specific parts of your culture that you think are appealing to a variety of candidates.
In general, avoid language that’s going to focus too much on a specific group (be it gender, age, or something else). If you’re not sure if you’re doing this, ask people (ideally diverse groups of people). Alternatively, do some research – it’s totally out there.
To continue that last point, do some actual research on this topic. The Anita Borg Institute, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and many other organizations have some great research and feedback in these areas. Below are two example documents with some information. I strongly encourage you to go digging to find more on your own.
Solutions to Recruit Technical Women
Women in IT: The Facts
I keep meeting people (hr, recruiters, developers, managers, etc.) from technology companies with homogenous development teams (read: mostly or entirely comprised of young, middle-class, white guys) who say things like “our team doesn’t have any women – we’d really love to hire some to improve the diversity of our team.” We’ll call these people, GROUP A. As a note, a lot of people from GROUP A also say they have difficulty finding good talent, diverse or not.
On the flip side, I keep meeting women (mostly young-ish, but not fresh out of college, women with at least a few years of working in the industry under their belt) who are unhappy with their situation and would love to find a better place to work. We’ll call these people, GROUP B. As a note, a lot of people from GROUP B say they have difficulty finding places that sound like a good fit for them.
GROUP A’s prime directive is giving developers jobs and GROUP B’s prime directive is getting jobs as developers. You’d think these groups would get along great, but they seem to be silently passing each other in the night. So, what’s going on here?
GROUP A, you need to start talking to GROUP B. If you currently have a homogenous team, whatever you are doing is not working. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – STOP IT!
I am totally serious about this. Come talk to us – we won’t bite. Ask us what we’re looking for. Find out what you can do to make us want to work for your company. Learn what you’re doing wrong, so you can make better decisions for the future.
If you are serious about this, find women in your community and talk to them. If you are in my community, come talk to me. I have skin in this game, I work in this field, and I want to work with people to make it better. If you’re not willing to have these conversations and change what you’re doing, then you don’t really want diverse teams – you just want to say that you want diverse teams. Actions speak louder than words.
In the next few weeks, I am going to continue on this theme with some information related to this topic. Some of it will be research, and some of it will be personal feelings and anecdata. Stay tuned!
Disclaimer: I know this post is pretty skewed towards women (to the exclusion of other minority groups). I’m a member of that group, and I don’t really feel comfortable speaking for groups I’m not a member of. Also, I’ve never heard people in GROUP A say something like “we want more black/hispanic/disabled/lgbtq people on our team.” However, those groups are totally underrepresented and GROUP A should be reaching out to them too.
Less than a year ago, it started as an idea. A tiny little awesome idea in the pghrb chat room. Over the next few months, that idea slowly grew because of the hard work of roughly a dozen people. This weekend, that tiny little awesome idea, Steel City Ruby Conf, became a real thing that is hardly tiny, but definitely awesome. A Ruby conference with over 200 people in the city of Pittsburgh, the place I’ve called home for almost a decade now.
I am frequently skeptical, often a realist, and sometimes a cynic. Touchy-feely isn’t really my thing. If you know me, you know these things already. If you don’t, I mention it because it helps color the thoughts that follow.
This conference was magical. It was such an amazing group of fantastic people helping and contributing to create a community for a weekend. It’s not supernatural, but it’s so rare and sufficiently advanced that I can’t distinguish it from magic.
This is the best conference experience I have ever had. I don’t say this because I helped organize. I don’t say this because it happened in my city. I say this because of the people, the experiences, and the community. I’m going to attempt to randomly condense some of my favorite things before I come down off the conference high, but my writing is probably ill equipped to convey the level of awesome that went down this weekend.
In the last year, I’ve met a lot of great people in the tech community online (mostly on twitter). This conference helped bring us and many others together in real life. These people are just as (if not more) awesome as they are online. I will be making an effort to travel more, so I can visit them and meet others in their communities.
In addition to meeting my internet friends, I also met a bunch of strangers. In the past, I’ve had a hard time socializing at conferences. Not this time! Corey Haines tasked us with talking to 20 new people – a daunting goal for someone who in the past had trouble squeaking out a “hi” to one or two people at a conference. I didn’t keep an exact count, but I am positive I exceeded my goal.
We got a ton of support for Girl Develop IT Pittsburgh. Halfway through the first day of the conference, someone suggested people give us donations. For the rest of the weekend, people walked up to Lindsey Bieda and me to give us cash to help get started. We haven’t done a final tally yet, but I think we received over $100. I wish I had gotten down all your names – thank you to everyone who donated! We talked to even more people who showed their interest or moral support for the group – thanks to you too! We have a long road ahead of us, but it’s going to be great.
Seeing and hearing an impromptu jam session during lunch. Hearing Jim Weirich singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” definitely helped with that magical conference vibe I mentioned earlier.
I gave my “My Technology Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be BULLSHIT!” lightning talk – my first time speaking at a conference and speaking in front of that many people. It was terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. It helped a lot to hear Aaron Patterson admit earlier in the day that speaking makes him nervous too. In the Ruby community, our heroes are just people too, and those people want to help build the rest of up.
Kitties! I got a GorbyPuff sticker!
I could mention a bunch of individual talks, but you can see what I learned in my sketchnotes.
The important thing about this conference was people. Earlier, I mentioned my cynicism. This weekend, it melted away. I used to think that my cynicism was a personal flaw (and it still probably is to some degree – we all have our flaws). I’m starting to understand that it is a shield for navigating a crappy world that aims to treat me and others like cogs in a big machine. I don’t need that shield when I’m in a community of people who genuinely care and see each other as more than just things. I need more of this in my life. I may be exhausted right now. Con crud may be likely to follow, but I feel better than I have in a long time.
TLDR: Steel City Ruby Conf is awesome and magical!
In case you haven’t noticed, I am very excited about Steel City Ruby Conf (an upcoming Ruby conference I am helping organize). One of the major reasons for this is that we are targeting people who have never been to conferences before and making efforts to be inclusive (check out my blog post, Why We Care About Inclusivity, to find out more). If you know me (or at least follow me on the interwebs), you know that diversity in tech is an issue near and dear to my heart. I am so thankful for the group of people putting this thing together because their efforts are not only creating an awesome conference, but helping improve the environment in tech.
I was really blown away by the feedback I got about my diversity in tech lightning talk (presented to a group of colleagues), especially because it was even reasonably received (read: they didn’t completely hate it) by people who I thought would outright reject it. In the conversations that followed, I may have even convinced a few skeptics that some diversity initiatives could be good for tech.
It feels really good to be actively doing something instead of just raging into the gaping maw of the internet. While I think anger has its place (and I doubt I’m going to stop my own personal renditions of FEMINIST HULK any time soon), direct action seems way more productive and rewarding.
Between my social anxiety and a touch of imposter syndrome, I generally haven’t thought of myself as someone who could speak or be one of the leaders at a tech event (be it a tiny local user group or a large conference). But right now, I swear I’m getting some sort of contact high off of just the possibility of making things better with my tiny little actions. And you know what? I like the taste of the drug that is making things better.
So what am I going to do while I’m still high on life? I’m going to set some hard goals for myself, so I can keep riding this high into the future and maybe (just maybe) even help others find highs of their own. I will present at tech events, starting with my current lightning talk and eventually growing to longer talks. I will be active in my local tech community, starting with attending more events and eventually moving into (or creating) some leadership roles. I will temper my rage because while anger can be valuable, actions are better.
I’m writing about this in the indelible ink of the internet because I’m having what one of my friends describes as a “come to Jesus” moment (perhaps “Eureka moment” is better for this godless heathen). I want to be able to look at this and get a taste of this feeling when I’m having a setback or a shitty day. I want my friends to see this because they deserve thanks for helping me get here, and I want them to call me on my shit if I don’t live up to my own expectations. And, perhaps most of all, I want other people struggling to figure things out to see that the tech community has a lot to offer, and they can be part of it and make things better too.
This is your friendly reminder that tickets to Steel City Ruby Conf go on sale this coming Monday. You know you want to go and have an awesome time with us here in Pittsburgh. I’m super-excited to be part of this conference, and would love to see you there!