Gratitude: April 2018

You know the drill. Before the month is out, I just want to take a moment to give thanks for a few things that have been giving me (sorely-needed) life this month.

1) Drake’s “Nice for What?”

I’ve been having a tough month and this song and video came right on time. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history, folks.

2) BBCAmerica’s Killing Eve

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I have had a big crush on Sandra Oh ever since I saw her in the 1995 short film Prey with (the also swoon-worthy) Adam Beach. I unfortunately didn’t really dig Grey’s Anatomy so I was waiting for her next thing and am excited to be able to watch her as the lead every week in BBC America’s fantastic new crime thriller Killing Eve.  Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is also the star and writer of the excellent Fleabag on Amazon Prime) is genius and the villain played by Jodie Comer is creepy and brilliant. Three cheers for a thoroughly female-driven thriller!

3) Autonomy Institute’s “Keynes, Foucault and the ‘Disciplinary Complex’: a Contribution to the Analysis of Work” 

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The Autonomy Institute is devoted to rigorous study of work. I am a big fan of everything they are doing to question the meaning of work and beginning to envision a post-work world. This article delves deep into work’s role as a means of creating and enforcing social order.  I encourage you to read it and then peruse the rest of their site as they are putting out a lot of great scholarship and commentary.

Welcoming Startup Meeting Spaces and How to Create Them

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MakeSpace office designed by Mary Davis

Over the past few years, I’ve played host or guest in startup offices here in New York City surely a hundred times or more. In that time I’ve begun to notice some bothersome patterns that I thought I’d share with you along with suggestions of best practices in startup office meeting space design.

The lights are on but….

The latest in startup hospitality seems to be to let people emerge from the elevators and have absolutely no one great them. The guest stands there awkwardly scanning the walls and listening for some sound of life until they catch the eye of whatever (usually female) employee is nearest to entrance and that person sets forth the chain reaction that connects host to guest.

In the absence of this interaction, the guest is prompted to type in  their information into an iPad, take a seat, and wait eagerly for the footsteps of someone who will come and retrieve them.

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People, can we stop the madness?!

Offices have receptionists because there is warmth and kindness in being received. Trust me, I have worked as a receptionist. It is not a great job, but humans welcoming and directing other humans is the right way to treat people. If you don’t want to have someone’s sole job be receptionist at your company, then making it a rotating duty amongst the team, but someone must be there to great and direct guests so:

Tip #1: Hire/be a receptionist.

Catch a signal

The first thing I usually need when I get to a new office is access to their wi-fi. Unfortunately, this is almost always the one thing the host never has. I’ve seen people run clear around their office trying to hunt down the password. Time is wasted, silliness ensues.

Tip #2: Just post the wi-fi password prominently in every meeting space. 

Tour de l’office

From confusing directions to elaborate lock, key, passcode systems, so many things have stood between me and getting into the bathroom when I am in a new office. Again, time is wasted and awkwardness ensues as I wind my way around people’s desks to get to the facilities. This is a toughie since this is likely one of the things that is hardest to control, but whenever possible…

Tip #3 Minimize the distance between the bathroom and the meeting room(s). 

Can you hear/see me now?

How much time have we all spent trying to get our screens mirrored or locating the right dongle for the office television. I’ve often had hosts ask me to send along my login or presentation so they could just present from their laptops which had already undergone to elaborate configuration to work with the company’s A/V setup. Then of course,  everything falls over when we add the confusing, laggy, and altogether bugginess of video conferences. While so much is still so wonky with modern, digital meetings, there is still a little within our control.

Tip #4 Leave clear A/V instructions and keep all necessary cables and adapters in every meeting room. 


So those are the top 4 things that drive me up the wall in startup offices. What about you?

Fund What You Love

I’ll be honest: I don’t love my job and I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved any job I’ve ever had since I began my working life in earnest. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had several lovely work environments in beautiful offices with truly fantastic co-workers — many of whom I still count as my closest friends — but I’d still not call that loving my job.

No, I’ve had jobs from unbearable to perfectly survivable, and the older I get, the more I realize that here in late-stage capitalism, a job I love is not the goal, –being able to put time and money and resources into things I want to see flourish is. I don’t do what I love, I fund what I love.

By this I mean, I am a donor of my money and time and skills. I currently do unpaid work for at least five different groups and give money and/or advice to dozens more. I don’t work on the front lines of any efforts to cure the sick or free the encaged or smash the empire, but I do my best to give to groups that do. And I’m finally coming around to realizing that funds and funders matter.

I recently facilitated a dinner event attended by people from both the commercial and nonprofit spaces, and I noted a distinct snootiness towards people who hadn’t committed their lives to radical struggle defined as working in a cooperative or a foundation-funded NGO. I’ve encountered this sensibility throughout my journey as an independent activist/organizer and it’s lame and wrong. The “revolution” will no more be funded by large non-profit donors than it will by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

The truth is that the struggle has and will always require a diversity of tactics, as well as a diversity of funding and energy sources. The more we radicals understand and accept that, the easier it will be to start building cultures and structures of support that help us better share responsibilities and promote self/mutual care.

Activist guilt, that feeling that you constantly should be doing more for the movement, is real. Survivor/thriver guilt is real, but so is activist/organizer burnout and illness. If we embrace a model of funding what we love rather than doing what we love to death, we just might move our lives and efforts into balance, and begin modelling that new world we seek.

Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Working from Home

“Technology has played a major role in eliminating the domestic drudgery that for centuries culturally stupefied women and reduced them to mere servants of men…” – Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution

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Like many tech startup workers, one of my work benefits is the ability to work remotely from home or elsewhere. In my case, this came as a result of my team gradually becoming geographically-distributed while still maintaining just one office.

Nearly half of my teammates work exclusively from home/remote. However, I am based where the company is headquartered, and, as such, I am expected to work primarily from the company’s office.  This is not a huge problem for me, except for some days when I am either traveling, have personal or family tasks, or those days when there are major issues with NYC’s illustrious public transportation system.  In those cases, it is helpful to be able to work from home or wherever I am currently staying. Unfortunately, that is never without its own complications.

First, the good.

The Benefits of Working From Home As A Working Mother/Wife

No commute

Working from home means I don’t have to go crazy with the minutiae of femme gender performance (what to wear, how to do my hair, making sure I have a full face of makeup), rush to drop off my kid, and then race to the train. Cutting the commute often also means…

Better Self-Care

While I can’t stay in PJs all day since I still have to leave the house to drop off my kid, I usually get a better breakfast and can get to the gym if I have those two hours of commute time in the bank. As a working mother and wife, any extra minutes to myself are a total gift. I am also sometimes able to schedule local appointments on those days or even just grab a quick coffee with a neighbor.

Starting the “Second Shift” Early

As described in Arlie Hochschild’s seminal book of the same name, the “second shift” describes the additional unwaged work many women are expected to do both before and after their waged work day. This shift includes childcare, cooking, cleaning, and responsibilities to/with extended family/community. While my husband is extremely helpful, I am still very much expected to be the “captain” of our domestic sphere. When I work from the office, I have to do this shift outside of work hours, but when I work from home I can sometimes squeeze a bit of it in.  A load of laundry can go down at 9am instead of 7pm and dinner can get started hours before stomachs start grumbling.

While I’d love not to have to do this stuff at all, since it is on my plate, it can be handy to to use some of the daytime hours to try and tackle it.

The Downsides of Working from Home as a Working Mother/Wife

Missing Important Work Conversations/Opportunities

Everyone I know who works remote for a company that actually has an office tells me they inevitably miss out on the hallway banter, and I know that when I work from home — despite having a distributed team — there are many discussions that I don’t overhear and decisions that I hear about much later on because I was out of sight and out of mind. The more I can be in the office, the more I can keep an ear out for how I can be an advocate for myself, my team, and our customers.

The fact also remains that at many companies, leadership opportunities are not extended to people who work remote. I was promoted last year and I think without the day in/day out interactions with my boss, it would have been much harder to demonstrate my value. I put in the fleshspace face time, and he saw me putting in the work day in and day out.

Considering that black people have to do twice the amount of work to get half as far  (and make that double for black women!), I can’t see myself working at home too very much if I want to get ahead.

Fewer Social Interactions

Although I must admit that I don’t talk to my co-workers that much whether in the office or when working from home, there is always something to potentially be gained from quick water cooler conversation or post-lunch banter. The people I work with are very different from me and talking to them can give me new perspectives on our work and the world. I don’t get any of that when I am not in the office and people also don’t get any of that from me. While I have expressed my exasperation with “diversity in tech”, I will say that if we are going to push for diverse teams but everyone is working remote, then it seems the value of said diversity is greatly diminished.

Also, while I have no plans to stop the presses and take up the picket at my current place of employment, I do wonder about the future of unions with an increasingly stratified work force. Unlike the 40 hour work week or disability, remote work wasn’t granted after long-fought struggle, and that makes me suspicious. I can’t help but believe that this whole business of letting people enjoy the “freedom” of working from home is undoubtedly geared towards further alienating workers not just from their labor but from each other.

Expanded Second Shift 

As outlined above, second shift work does often happen when I work from home. When I work from the office, I always go out and pick up lunch — sometimes even a coffee. When I work from home, I have to take time out to prepare my own lunch which is always a slippery slope into doing several other tasks in the kitchen and sometimes throughout the house.

Being at home means I have more time to run my eyes over everything that needs taking care of throughout my house, which inevitably leads to something needing to be wiped up or swept away or vacuumed. I, of course, can’t be doing that mess if I am not in the house.

Longer Work Day (if I am not careful) 

The lines between home and work are blurred when I work from home. Whereas in the office I see my peers packing up and signaling quitting time, at home I can carry on working until well into dinner if I am not careful or if I let Second Shift cut into First Shift and then feel the need to “work off my debt”. This means that my goal of taking positive advantage of the two hours of commute time often goes unrealized.

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All in all, I am glad that I have the ability to work from outside of the office when I need/wish to, but as a black working mother and wife, I am not a remote work enthusiast. While the freedom of the nomad life might be wonderful for a great many, the opportunity to be temporarily freed from the domestic sphere and also possibly increase my opportunities for career success seem to outweigh the joys of working in pajama bottoms.

Get Out (of the Tech Industry)

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Sunken Place – image borrowed from here

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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

Burning Down The House
As Dr. Martin Luther King was quoted to have said shortly before he died, “I fear I have integrated my people into a burning house.”

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Be not dismayed! Working together, we have limitless power to harness and direct our passions, courage, and skills to reanimate, reinvigorate, and liberate.

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“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

A Few Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Get Hired

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As a manager in the technology space, I have the great responsibility and privilege of hiring people into my company. As part of this work, I have to: help write job descriptions, spread the word, parse through resumes, meet referrals, conduct interviews, conduct/attend hiring meetings, write offer letters, write rejection letters, and onboard people.

While I’m done with “diversity in tech”, I do try to lift up people in my networks. Unfortunately,  too often I am disappointed by people’s inability to conduct a successful job search.  I am not even going to blame those people per se; it is ultimately one of the many ways our educational systems have failed us. That said, I am tired of seeing people (especially my people — specifically women and people of color and especially black women!)  make the same silly mistakes over and over.

So I’ve pulled together a quick list of things common mistakes I keep seeing people make, in hopes that you can avoid them.

1) Not connecting with a referrer or potential referrer before sending along your resume.

If I tell you about the job or tell our mutual friend about the job, reach out to me! I am happy to make connections if I have them. If I work at the place, it is worth your while to use me as your “in”.

So many times I’ve had friends say that they don’t want to have an “unfair advantage”. Fairness in hiring is not the responsibility of the applicant, it is the duty of the hiring organization. Your only job is to be honest and put your best foot forward; so if you have a leg up, use it.

Which brings me to my next point….

2) Not mentioning you were referred by someone who works there

Related to the previous point. If you met me somewhere and I work there and encouraged you to apply, you should mention that in your cover letter. Even if I dropped the link in a Slack or other community that we are involved in you can say “Per the job ad shared by Camille in the Smash The State Slack” or whatever in your cover letter.

Use your in!

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Credit: WOCinTech

3) Not writing a good resume or sending an overly long resume.

Your resume needs to be brief and tell a coherent story. It is not your autobiography and your work is not your total worth. You have a lot to offer the world but it doesn’t need to all be represented in your resume. My pal Andrew Spittle wrote good, short guidance on how to write a resume here.

4) Not highlighting how you meet the job requirements. 

Make sure you read the full job description and tailor your resume to fit most (if not all) of what they are looking for. Add bullet points that explain the work you actually did and any notable accomplishments.

I would discourage you from highlighting the qualifications you are missing unless you want to explain how your other skills and talents make up for it.  Job descriptions are never really an exact description of everything the job entails and the exact skills you need to accomplish it.

You can paint a fuller picture of yourself and your capabilities once you get in for that interview.

5) Not mentioning the company name and the reason you are interested in the company in your cover letter. 

Look, I’ve been there, fam. I remember one job many years ago in which I must have applied to 70 -80 different positions. (Seriously, I had a huge spreadsheet to keep track of it all). But there is never any excuse to use the same generic cover letter over and over again.

I’ve seriously had people send cover letters with another hiring manager or company’s name there. Really, folks?

If you are genuinely interested in the job, it needs to show. Visit the companies’ websites, find out what they do, and then figure out why the company AND the position interest you.
We all need money, but (for some perverse reason) people want to feel wanted too.

Even if the place and the position seem dryer than a bone, there has to be something there that appeals  to you. If there isn’t you probably should not apply. If there is, make sure you mention it clearly (and briefly) in the cover letter.

6) Not asking a referrer to pass along your resume

If we meet and chat about the position, don’t hesitate to ask me if I can pass your resume along. The worst I (or any potential referrer can say is no, and even then I think many of us will admire you for your tenacity!

7) Not actually being familiar with the product or service is before you apply/interview. 

See above. You need to understand what the company does and how you will fit in. If it is software, sign up and try it out. If it is a shop, maybe go by and visit and see what they have to offer. Just do your best to understand the company, their offerings, and their possible challenges so  you can come in and be the answer they are looking for.

8) Not taking an interest in the people/person interviewing you. 

You’ve probably heard it said before, but job-hunting can be a lot like dating. Everyone shows up kinda awkward and nervous and unsure of what the outcome will be. While the interviewer will be asking the majority of the questions, you should come prepped with questions of your own about the company and the interviewer(s).

If possible, take the time ahead of the interview to learn a bit about who will be talking to and what they do. How would your role and their role interact? I always like to end with the question, “So what brought you here and what keeps you here? Interviewers usually aren’t expecting it and have to search for an answer. The answers are often pretty raw, honest, and telling of their feelings about the company.

Also, science has shown that people LOVE talking about themselves. So get them doing something they love and they just may associate that good feeling with you!


This is of course not an exhaustive list, beloveds. It’s just a few observations borne from my years of hiring and trying to get hired. For more tips, I highly recommend Catt Small’s fantastic post “Impress for success: Strategic ways to seem more hireable”.

Look, I know capitalism is a soul sucking system full of  mind-numbing contradictions, and I strongly believe that we’d better off without work as it is modernly construed. However, we are where we are at the moment, and in this time, I want to see my folks getting whatever paper and esteem we can amass while we work behind the scenes towards a better world.

Go on and get them legs up, my peoples! 

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Beyond “Childcare Available”: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly

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I was just talking to a group of activists about the fact that while a lot of events both in the activist and tech space do offer childcare, that childcare always seems to be sort of dashed together by a bunch of people who clearly have little to no sense of what people with kids need in order to feel welcome/ like they can attend. The people I spoke to admitted they were clueless about what was needed and felt that “Childcare Available” was part of the standard for inclusive events and not something  to which they actually gave much attention.

*sigh*

So, in the spirit of illuminating people and moving our communities forward, I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move “Childcare Available” from just words on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.

1) Schedule the Event At A Child-Friendly Time

Children — especially small ones — generally need to get to bed at a certain time, which varies from family to family but usually is sometime around 7/8-ish. At the very least, parents want kids home in the evenings to settle down, not trying to hustle them onto a subway or pull them out of their carseats and get them to bed at 10pm or later. It happens — and I certainly can’t speak for everyone — but if you want people with children to participate, consider scheduling some childcare-available events on weekend days.

2)  Childcare Provided By? 

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The ChiChiCo Team

Again, the gesture of providing childcare is a kind one, but as a parent, it’d be helpful to know who the childcare providers are ahead of time. I know, for example, in Chicago that the Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) partners with many groups to provide free childcare at meetings, protests, and other events. Here in NYC, Regeneracion does much the same.

Whenever possible, partner with groups like this and let parents know who will be available to watch children and what sort of activities are planned. I am much more excited to bring my kid to a gathering if I know they are going to be engaged in fun things with other children and supportive like-minded adults.

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The Team at Regeneración Childcare NYC

3) Childcare Money Available

While it is great to be able to bring my kid to events and share my interests, sometimes it is easier for me to focus if my child is not on the premises. In those cases, it’d be great if organizers — and here I am focused mostly on the corporate-sponsored tech events — could offer childcare reimbursements. My kid is most comfortable at home with a trusted caregiver, so if I could provide that rather than having to take them to say a hack day or an all day skills-building event — and inevitably have to do care work — it would be preferable.

4) Center Mothers/Caregivers 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to make your event more parent-friendly (for example I imagine nursing moms would want a clean, comfortable place to pump/breastfeed), so whenever possible just ask people what would help them attend/participate. Don’t fall over yourself making accommodations based on assumptions. Just ask, listen, and see what you can do.

For further thinking on this topic, see this excellent two-part series on conference childcare by by Allison McMillan.