In the beginning, there was the pure, innocent love of the craft. Hands on a motherboard, fingers on a keyboard, you marveled at your budding power of creation. Your ability to conjure something that seemingly wasn’t there before.
Then the harder part, earning your stripes, whether it was enrolling in formal education or joining an open source project. You felt uneasy, but maybe that was just nerves or imposter syndrome. It’d shake off in time, you thought, surely you’d grow more confident.
So you moved onwards into the hallowed halls of the tech industry — the Googles, the Apples, the Ubers, and the nameless-but-hopeful upstarts. And that uneasiness couldn’t shake. In fact, it oftentimes got worse. Bad Things happened. You tried to talk to your coworkers about it, but most shook their heads and laughed it off.
You tried to talk to HR about it and they transferred you to another side of the compound. You thought to yourself maybe something *was* truly wrong with you.But then you looked down at your hands, those same magical hands that found pure joy in the craft and then you looked up at your screen. There you saw a dreary spreadsheet or code for some pointless widget or the interface for yet. another. food. delivery. app.
It’s not you that changed; your magic did not fade. Our magic has not faded. We all still have immense power and capacity to harness our time and creativity to bring about solutions for the world’s ills and also enchant our own lives.
So the question is: why don’t we feel it? What is it we are doing that so disenchants us and who/what are we doing it for? What and whose vision are we servicing?
At this point we can’t talk about the Bad Things that go on in this industry as mere isolated events. How many women and people of color and others have whistle blown? How many of us see what happens to them and become too paralyzed to speak up or acknowledge anything—even to ourselves?
And even if we decide to speak up, to whom (and on what platforms), would/do we even make such appeals?
The Bad Things are not anomaly or abnormality. This is capital working towards its own ends. For all its talk about “thinking different” and manufacturing some sort of utopian future, the work we are doing , the people we work for, the VCs, and the banks funding them are doing what they have ALWAYS done. They remain in hot pursuit of ever more capital for capital’s sake, rolling over anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Furthermore, while neoliberal capitalism has evidenced great plasticity in terms of what it can tolerate on the surface while still keeping the gears in motion, any racism, sexism, classism, trans/homophobia etc. that we might encounter or suspect is endemic and essential.
Thus, in their never-ending pursuit of this manifest destiny, the people behind these cutting-edge platforms that many of us have so come to trust — the places where most of us upload our most private information and connect with our nearest and dearest — must deputize vigilantes to police the borders of their new frontiers. These vigilantes often go by the names of “online bullies” or “internet trolls”, but they are merely the low-paid mercenaries at the front, pushing forward the message and the mission of the monied and powerful.
This is not new. We can’t talk about the rise of new formations of internet-based hate groups without at the same time talking about the platforms where they gather and organize and the training grounds like unmoderated community forums, tech conferences that refuse to uphold Codes of Conduct, and HR departments that sweep accusations under the rug. Nearly every time one of those platforms and the execs who run them came to a crossroads where they could draw a line in the sand and create a policy with real teeth, they consciously chose not to.
So while the formidable work of groups like Project Include, Code 2040, Black Girls Code, and Girl Develop It is laudable, I don’t think that integration work alone will transform this industry. In fact, I’d argue that the people and organizations that fund these efforts do so precisely so that they can preemptively neutralize elements that have the potential to be truly disruptive and dangerous. With their money and seats on the board, they control the terms such that nothing ever really changes. The ship will still keep boldly going on the course that was charted long ago.
My goal is not necessarily for anyone to flip a table and walk out. I can’t do that myself, and I know we all have rent to pay and mouths to feed. What I do ask is that you:
Embrace your discomfort. Bad Things are happening. Unfortunately, the Bad Things are the system functioning as intended. While certain people claim to be regretful that this happened and others are playing the blame game, this is mere a diversion while the elites quietly re-establish order. A few whistleblowers will become prominent, fall guys will fall, deck chairs will be shuffled on the Titanic and nothing will truly change.
Understand that technology/innovation is not the proprietary domain of the so-called Tech Industry. Much technology and innovation is publicly-funded and open source and accessible to all of us. Even when privately funded, innovation represents the fruits of our labor and we should be able to leverage it all.
Connect with likeminded folks for mutual support and to start actively thinking about alternatives. Let’s challenge ourselves to build and nurture new, independent projects and spaces to unleash our creativity (I am working on something like this, reach out if you are interested).
Be not dismayed! Working together, we have limitless power to harness and direct our passions, courage, and skills to reanimate, reinvigorate, and liberate.
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Audre Lorde
Ever since I was a little one, I’ve been identified as a person who was “good with computers”. Because of my savviness, I was on hand to help all manner of family members, friends, family friends, and friends of friends with their software and hardware woes. As word got out, I was also asked to help out with the technical systems of various activist efforts and non-profit organizations. While this work can be fulfilling there are a few things to keep in mind, and since so many new people are volunteering their time (and technical talents) to organizations these days, I thought I’d offer a few quick tips on how to do good with computers while setting realistic expectations and maintaining your sanity.
While this work can be fulfilling there are a few things to keep in mind, and since so many new people are volunteering their time (and technical talents) to organizations these days, I thought I’d offer a few quick tips on how to do good with computers while setting realistic expectations and maintaining your sanity.
Three Tips for Providing Tech Help to Non-Profits and Other Such Organizations
1) Define the Scope and Timeframe
Although you may end up working with the organization for decades, you want to start small. Figure out what exactly they need help with and identify where you will help. Also be clear about how long you want the initial engagement to last and when/how you will be available to them.
2) Determine Technical Ability and Actual Needs
Take the time to talk with the people who work with the existing systems and figure out what they are comfortable with and what they need. In most cases, the organization needs you because their technical know-how doesn’t expand far beyond Gmail and Excel spreadsheets. While you may be itching to move their technical stack forward, it is generally wise to crawl before you walk. For example, if they are using a certain CRM or CMS that they feel they are very happy with, you might want to see how you can improve on it rather than swapping it out. If you all eventually decide it’s time to move forward, the exercise of working with the existing systems will make you better equipped to help them make the switch. The world (and GitHub!) is littered with “brilliant hack day” projects that were meant to improve NGOs and empower communities. Whenever possible, meet people where they are and work to fix what’s broken first.
3) Document, Document, Document
Look, I am not doubting your commitment to the cause, I know you care, but life happens, burnout happens. So for the sake of all involved, please document how to use any systems that you’ve set up. Even if you stay on board for years, you can’t be available all the time. Give the people the tools and they have a good chance of figuring it out themselves.
Even in the case where a tool has existing documentation, whenever possible please still write out all the steps in language that the folks in the organization can easily understand and keep it in a place where they can all easily access it.
There are undoubtedly a lot more aspects to consider when signing up to offer your technical chops to a philanthropic organization but I think these three should help the engagement get started on the right foot. If you need more tips on how to evaluate potential new opportunities, check out my SupConf talk at the bottom of the post here.
When asked by host Kara Swisher what would be [her] message to Silicon Valley, Erica Joy’s said “Care, just care.”
This absolutely and totally breaks my heart. No offense toEricaJoy(I ADORE that woman); I just think we shouldn’t be put in the position to have to provide the answers, to de-marginalize ourselves. Ta-Nehisi Coates has it right
If they didn’t care when theyownedus, when we lived and worked in their homes and raised their children, when will they care? If they didn’t care as we were waterhosed and chased by dogs in the street, why would they care now? They feel like they’ve already done the caring. We’re better off now and where’s their thanks, right? They think they’ve ceded the ground that they had to cede. What ever we get or don’t get now is up to us.What else do you want? is clearly the thinking and as such it seems they’ll get to us when they’re feeling particularly charitable. It is not a responsibility, it is not how they define themselves. Shaming them in the press only means they need to bail a little water and that’s when we’ll get a little something to drink…and is that what we want? Because, I can tell you. That’s not what I am out for.
Getting more excluded people into exclusive organizations can’t be the actual discussion. The goal isn’t really justinclusion, is it? Because it feels like it is and, yeah, that is not something I *really* care about. I am interested in TRANSFORMATION. So just let it be known that from now on ,I don’t want to talk about increasing inclusion in tech without talking about social and economic justice.Diversity efforts without a truly transformative vision are just ego play.
“So we are fighting our pc battles for the rights of ethnic minorities, of gays and lesbians, of different life-styles, and so on, while capitalism pursues its triumphant march…” — Slavoj Žižek, Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism?