tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
This morning I got inspired by [twitter.com profile] mountain_goats yelling at [twitter.com profile] scotte_allen and wrote a song. Scott E. Allen is the mendacious assclown who introduced a bill into the Wisconsin state legislature barring SNAP recipients from using food stamps to pay for dried beans, as well as any other foods he doesn't think are "healthy". (I don't know where he received his doctorate in nutrition.)

Sure, calling politicians "assclowns" doesn't solve any problems, but trying to control what poor people put in their bodies doesn't either. And the latter is pretty fucking personal to me, since I grew up on, and ate food by virtue of, public assistance from birth to age 16.

There are only so many synonyms for "assclown", though, so after joining in the Twitter yelling for a bit, I thought about the bigger picture and wrote this song.

Grazing yogurt pretzels
From the bins at Stop & Shop
I wonder if the creeping feeling's
ever gonna stop
Iran-Contra on TV
every single day
I don't know what's happening but
I know I'm gonna pay
Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A bit over four years ago, I arrived at Mozilla in Mountain View for an internship on the Rust team. That internship became a full-time job when it became clear to me that I was no longer welcome in my Ph.D program.

A year and a half ago, I left Mozilla. I've had plenty of critical things to say about Mozilla, and a few critical things to say about the Rust team specifically. That doesn't change the fact that working on Rust made me feel like I was part of something again, and that it turned how I felt about my career in software into a much more positive direction. There were ups and downs, but during the best times, working with the Rust team was the most positive experience of my professional life over the past 15 years. Not to get too sentimental, but there is a certain way in which it saved my life.

During my two and a half years on the team, the pressure to get to 1.0 and the uncertainty over what that would mean were constant presences. It was a goal that, I think, provided mostly positive stress, but I could feel the worries about when it was ever going to happen, if it was ever going to happen. Everyone who worked on Rust wanted it to succeed, but the problems that usually happen whenever several driven and creative people try to collaborate happened, and made it harder to come to agreement over what 1.0 was going to mean and when it should happen.

I haven't followed Rust development since I left, but hearing that Rust 1.0 has been released today means a lot to me even so. Congratulations to everyone involved, but especially to [personal profile] graydon2, without whom none of this would have happened.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
I stumbled upon this essay I wrote almost ten years ago, which I wrote in order to shake out all the laughs before writing a genuine statement of purpose.

I have edited it heavily in order to remove the more libelous parts and to redact the names of the person I was asserting I wanted to work with as well as my own name-at-the-time. Those mentions of specific people that haven't been edited out are of people who I think highly of. Really. I meant well.

I'm posting it not just because I think I'm funny, but also because the parts of this that aren't lies are a little bit revealing of the career path I actually took and I like to think that might be helpful for someone reading this who's starting out in the same field. Not that I would recommend anyone do what I did.

At the time, I said I was going to make this public once I had tenure. Since I'm never going to have tenure, I'm posting this now. And really, isn't knowing that I'll never have it a little bit like getting it, without all the hard work?

"Statement of Purposelessness".

Originally written in Cambridge, England, November 21, 2006
Heavily edited, May 10, 2015


I would like to be admitted to your graduate program in order to study functional programming. I like functional languages (particularly Haskell), because they let me be as lazy as possible when I write programs, and I'm a very lazy programmer. I also like Haskell because Haskell programmers seem to be a lot hotter than other programmers on average. What can I say, I have a weakness for guys with ponytails. The only problem is that there aren't enough women who do Haskell, but the men are girly enough that that kind of makes up for it. I mean that in a nice way.

I want to attend your university and work with [REDACTED] because few other professors are as successful nerds as the one I aspire to be. I hope to learn from him about how to title papers with ridiculous puns, take off my shirt during talks, and still be respected by more or less everybody. I would also like to learn from him how to get a cushy industry job during the tech bubble and then retreat back to a cushy academic job when the bubble bursts.

I've achieved my current state of programming language enlightenment by being stubborn, unimaginative, lazy, and foolish, so I plan to stay on that horse and ride it to the finish line. 13 more paragraphs )

In summary, please admit me to [REDACTED UNIVERSITY] because if I don't get into your school, and don't get into Cambridge either, I'll probably have to go to Portland State [**], and people will laugh at me. Then again, I might end up working in the operating-system-in-Haskell project if I went there. So like I said, people will laugh at me. Also, if you don't accept me, I'll [REDACTED SERIES OF CRUDE THREATS AND BOASTS WHICH NO LONGER REPRESENT MY VIEWS ABOUT WOMEN]. No, but srsly, I would like to be IN UR UNIVERSITY IMPLEMENTING UR LANGUAGEZ, because god knows the faculty aren't going to do it.

aged 25 11/12

2015 footnotes:
[*] This seemingly-incredible statement was based on working in the Valley during the dark hour between the 1990s tech bubble and the San Francisco-based tech bubble.
[**] The redacted university either rejected me, or I never even finished the application. I honestly can't remember. I wasn't even planning on applying to Portland State when I applied to [REDACTED], instead applying at the last minute in March, so really, the joke's on me.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
It's so great to be able to go out to lunch with a couple of white guys between ages 22-39 and talk about nothing but compilers the entire time. I don't even mind that nobody ever seems to stop to breathe long enough for me to ask a question about something I don't understand. Really, I can just learn about this by osmosis.

I'm here at my desk at 8:30 PM on a Friday night because of my passion for my work.

I'm here at my desk at 8:30 PM on a Friday night because I'm even doing work at all.

// TODO: Fix this later.

I can totally listen to this meeting and isolate this bug at the same time.

It's so liberating that I can have a beer at 5 PM without even leaving the office. Or have one with lunch. Or have one when I come in at noon and lunch is the first meal I'm having that day.

I know I came in at noon, took a long lunch, and now I'm leaving at 4:30, but I'll just do some more work on Caltrain.

I'll just move to the South Bay to be closer to work even though most of my co-workers are hundreds of miles away anyway. It can't be that bad.

I'll just move to San Francisco to be closer to work, I mean, 50% of my take-home pay is a small price to pay for living in paradise.

I can totally commute from Berkeley to Alameda without a car.

Working in San Mateo? That'll be great! It's the heart of Silicon Valley (would Po Bronson lie to me?)

Living in Monterey will be great, I can go to the beach every day after work and it certainly won't be mainly for staring at the sunset and crying.

I guess I'll just live in Salinas because I can't find an apartment in Monterey that I can afford, because how bad can it be to share a house in a cul-de-sac with an ex-Marine?

Erlang is pretty similar to Haskell, after all.

I can cope with listening to the most senior engineer on my team have slapfights with the management every single time he's in the office. I mean, it's not like he's yelling at me.

Continuing to work in the same office with someone who I know sent anonymous threats directed at me will be totally fine. I mean, it's still better here than anyplace else in Silicon Valley.

Working support will be great -- I'll finally have the emotional energy to work on open-source projects after hours, which is absolutely what I want to do with my free time.

Nah, I don't mind walking to the mailbox to mail these CD-ROMs to the customer. It'll be a nice chance to stretch my legs. What, you say the customer never even uses the CDs so I can just send them blank discs? Great, even easier!

You say your company doesn't need to care about diversity because it's a meritocracy? That's a totally valid point of view. Can you tell me about the stock options again?

Fly to Japan because the customer refuses to open up a port so we can ssh into their machine to figure out what's going on? Sure, I wouldn't mind doing that.

I think it's totally cute and funny that you start conversations with all your employees about sex work and porn at the lunch place next to work, but explicitly say the conversation is ending now so you don't get sued for sexual harassment as soon as we walk back into the office. I mean, I know you're doing it to make your Muslim employees uncomfortable rather than to make me uncomfortable even though you think I'm a woman, so it's all good.

I don't mind reimbursing you $30 for the "business lunch" at Buca's that you assumed you would be able to expense even though your team is only 3 people and the company is a worker-owned collective that's losing money.

You don't need me to do that task either because you can do it yourself? All right, cool, I'll just spend this internship writing on LiveJournal and staring blankly at papers on logic programming. It's what I wanted!

Sure, I'll totally work on that PLDI paper with you.

Yeah, I definitely want to write the second version of a package manager whose first version was an abject failure, that'll be a good way to save my career.

Yeah, I can certainly write an entire package manager from scratch in three months, especially since it's pretty clear that your plan is to fire me if I fail to do that.

Sure, I'll be in at 10 AM tomorrow.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
I'm organizing an Ally Skills Workshop at ICFP this August, which Valerie Aurora of the Ada Initiative will be teaching. If you are attending ICFP or a co-located event such as the Haskell Symposium, CUFP, or Erlang Workshop (not an exhaustive list), you are welcome and encouraged to apply to attend!

The workshop is geared towards men in the functional programming community who want to learn how to be better allies to women and non-binary people in the community. However, it is open to people of all genders.

For all the details, see the information page, which links to a Google Forms page that you can use to apply.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
So, I'm starting to feel kind of weird about intermingling my video posts with things like "this person who was important to me just died"; if you want to see my trying to post a video a day of me singing a song (sometimes by me, sometimes by other people; sometimes with cats, sometimes without), follow [personal profile] tim_plays.

I will of course continue posting here, such as when people die or when I have feels.
tim: Solid black square (black)
Paul Hudak died of leukemia yesterday. Paul was a founding member of the Haskell Committee, and as such, instrumental in creating the programming language that shaped the course of my professional life for 15 years. He was the primary author of the "History of Haskell" paper (PDF), which is a beautiful look at the history of both a set of ideas and the set of people who nurtured and developed those ideas.

I didn't know Paul well, but of course, I took it for granted that he would be one of those people I would keep running into if I kept going to programming languages conferences. When you go to the same academic conference almost every year, you start thinking of the group of people you see there as a family of sorts... with, of course, closer relatives, more distant ones, and the few you awkwardly tiptoe around. In professional communities, as in families, you lose people, but it's never expected -- especially not when somebody is only 62. Especially not, in my case, when it's a person who I was riding a Ferris wheel in Sweden with seven months ago. I knew he had been seriously ill, but at the time I thought he seemed to be recovering. He was, as I recall, quiet, but over dinner, listened to my story of how I left academia without passing judgment on it or me.

I won't implore you all to thank people whose work has meant something to you for it while they're still alive, because after all, we all know why we don't usually do that. It's awkward. Instead I'll just quote from Paul's book The Haskell School of Expression (an intro to programming in Haskell through computer art and music):
Programming, in its broadest sense, is problem solving. It begins when we look out into the world and see problems we want to solve, problems that we think can and should be solved using a digital computer. Understanding the problem well is the first--and probably the most important--step in programming, because without that understanding we may find ourselves wandering aimlessly down a dead-end alley, or worse, down a fruitless alley with no end. "Solving the wrong problem" is a phrase often heard in many contexts, and we certainly don't want to be victims of that crime. So the first step in programming is answering the question, "What problem am I trying to solve?"
I've been down many of those endless alleys in my time as a programmer, but I think it's safe to say that I've avoided some of them because of the work that Paul did and inspired others to do.

Edited to add:
memorial article in the Yale Daily News; highlights:

“He is the most complete person I have ever seen, embodying qualities that you don’t believe can coexist … extremely kind, patient, gentle yet also super sharp, smart, and creative, and also highly eloquent, and totally cool,” CS professor Zhong Shao said. “He has made enormous impact on so many people in different walks of his life, but most of all, he, by himself, is the best role model which all of us all strive to become. He has certainly influenced me in a very profound way, not just career wise but also how to be a great person.”


"During his tenure as department chair from 1999 to 2005, Hudak made an important effort to expand the CS’s diversity, hiring four female senior female professors to a department that had existed for nearly three decades without a single tenured woman, according to CS professor Julie Dorsey."

On loyalty

Apr. 30th, 2015 03:30 pm
tim: Solid black square (black)

So today's Part 2 is a song I wrote myself, "Valor in Tulelake". This is about loyalty, and history, also subjects I really don't know anything about.

tim: Solid black square (black)
This video doesn't have the cats in it, but this isn't really a cat-appropriate song anyway; it's me covering a cover, Billy Bragg's version of Greg Trooper and Sid Griffin's song "Everywhere". I still haven't listened to the original, but here's an article about it:

Midway through, the narrative takes an unexpected turn as the GI begins reminiscing about his childhood best friend, Lee, a Japanese-American and the two boys’ shared desire to fight Germans in Europe. He then notes the irony that, once America actually became involved in the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he went to fight while the equally patriotic Lee was hauled away to an internment camp....

The narrative and imagery of “Everywhere,” both the song and the video, are clearly rooted in the Second World War, as well as the US government’s deplorable treatment of Japanese-Americans during the course of that war. At the same time, the song also obviously stands as a commentary on war in general—in fact, Griffin recounts that he and Trooper wrote the song “at least partly in response to the first Gulf War.”

I might ask myself what I know about war, and the answer is not much, but neither did the people who wrote this song so that's okay. When it comes to having a ball and chain, or being asked to die for your home, or never ever forgiving, I know a little bit, though, and I wrote something that I'll do tomorrow that this is a lead-in for.
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
So I'm going to possibly-overshare some medical stuff for the benefit of other people, possibly you, because they are problems ranging from simple to complicated but for which there are some fairly easy solutions that it took me -- in some cases -- decades to find out about. Maybe I can save you some time here!

  • Hypertrophic or keloid scars can be drastically reduced in size -- even years after the scars formed -- by what's basically massage (though kind of a painful form of it) from a trained practitioner (including but not limited to some physical therapists). This applies to scars from surgery, and possibly other kinds.

    What doctors said about it: you can get surgery to reduce scars but the surgery, of course, causes more scarring so really, what's the point? Also, something about radiation therapy. But no mention of manual work.

    Who actually helped: a physical therapist, to whom I was referred by a nurse practitioner.
  • If you have occasional sporadic trouble inhaling, and have ruled out asthma, it may be something called "self-limiting dyspnea". At least for me, this is pretty clearly due to learned behavior related to CPTSD (a detailed explanation). The good news is, that at least for me, three sessions of behavioral therapy pretty much reversed what literally amounts to 30 years of breathing the wrong way (where "wrong" is defined here as a way that doesn't give me enough oxygen), as well as a problem with nasal breathing that I'd previously thought was due to allergies and/or permanent swelling from allergies.

    What doctors said about it: maybe it's asthma? Or maybe it's nothing? Who knows, really; or, we'll do some sinus surgery [which, to be fair, helped somewhat, but maybe they should have asked about the behavioral stuff first] and then shoot radio waves at your turbinates and that won't really work.

    Who actually helped: a speech therapist, to whom I was referred by (to be fair) a doctor, but only after having 4 or 5 other doctors brush me off.
  • Pelvic pain can mimic a constant UTI, even if you don't notice pain at times when you're not trying to pee, and not noticing pain may also be a CPTSD issue, as well as the underlying pain itself. Physical therapy can help with this a surprising amount.

    What doctors said about it: here, try these meds. They don't work, oh? How about these ones instead. Well, those don't work either? There doesn't seem to be anything mechanically wrong with you, so that's a dilly of a pickle.

    Who actually helped: same physical therapist as with #1.
  • IBS has many causes (and is related to the previous point in some cases), but one cause is subsequent to a bacterial infection. (I had giardia. In Portland, not after going camping or anything like that. I'm going to just blame the city and their lack of willingness to put anything in the water.) This can go on for years and years and years. At least for some people, including me, a one-week course of antibiotics can fix it completely (except for lasting lactose intolerance, which may be genetic but may have been caused by messed-up gut flora, who knows?)

    What doctors said about it: You have Crohn's Disease! [a month later, after getting a second opinion] Oh, wait, you don't have Crohn's at all, whoops. It's "just IBS", so, reduce stress in your life, because that's easy to do? Or how about let's do another colonoscopy and find nothing. Or... hmm, we could do this lactulose breath test, but it has a lot of false positives. Well, you're positive, but we'll wait 3 months to call you back and tell you that, and anyway, maybe it's a false positive, but you can try these antibiotics anyway if you want. Oh, they worked? Cool.

    Who actually helped: a doctor. So to be fair, they're helpful occasionally, but this was literally the 4th gastroenterologist I saw.
  • Hypothyroidism is massively underdiagnosed because even now, labs' "normal" ranges for thyroid tests are determined from a population including many people with undiagnosed thyroid issues.

    What doctors said about it: "Your thyroid is normal" [while declining to state numbers, and I didn't know to ask]. "Lose weight." (never mind that, even if intentional weight loss was desirable, a nonfunctioning thyroid takes that from "probably impossible" into "definitely impossible" territory.)

    Who actually helped: also a doctor, to be fair, but only after having to be very pushy about asking for an antithyroid antibody test (not all hypothyroidism is autoimmune, but in the cases where it is, the antibody test has no false positives to speak of, AFAIK). Also, myself by pushing every doctor I've seen since then to prescribe me enough meds to keep my TSH below 1 (and resisting the gaslighting some doctors do about how I'll get hyperthyroid -- something I've never experienced in my life -- or how I'll get heart problems -- which even if that happens in years, I'd rather be able to stay awake for 8 hours at a stretch now).
  • If you feel that you are "clumsy", especially if that's because people have been calling you that since you were about four, it may actually be because you're (subconsciously, without awareness) tensing all of your muscles all the time because of CPTSD, which in turn makes it hard to move.

    What doctors said: I never thought to ask, because I just blamed myself for being broken.

    Who actually helped: Nobody, yet; still figuring this one out (though it's related to some of the others).
  • Sleep apnea and (C)PTSD are related. After dealing with the aforementioned breathing issues, I was able to switch back from a full-face mask to a nasal mask on my BiPAP (a form of CPAP). (Full-face masks are unpleasant for me because they make my mouth drier, even when using a heated humidifier that's integrated into the machine and a room humidifier (also I live in a desert), and then I wake up, which defeats the purpose of CPAP.)

    What doctors said about it: when I asked if there was anything better than CPAP out there, these days: "In your dreams, homeboy."

    Who actually helped: I figured this out on my own after #2 happened.

This post could be summarized as: Why, Even Though I've Been Thinking For Years About Maybe Going to Medical School, I'm Now More Interested in Becoming a Nurse Practitioner. In any case, I am not a medical professional so this is all just me sharing my experience with no guarantee that any of it will work for, or be relevant to you, even if you happen to have some of the same issues. It's a little like the GPL.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
It's funny how much self-hate so many people have around being fat, or fear of becoming fat if they aren't already, that they will even stoop to make cruel jokes at the expense of a cat because that's marginally more socially acceptable than flat-out saying "I hate myself".
tim: Tim with rainbow hat (pic#148316)

Photo taken by me in London, December 2006

I take this moment to remember Debra Boyask (of many nicknames, [livejournal.com profile] badasstronaut and Teacake being two of them), who died two years ago today on April 23, 2013. I have thought of Debra every day since then. I am far from the only person about whom the same is probably true. She left behind a trail of material reminders, such as her comics; her friends from the UK comics scene made a memorial comic for her. I have a pile of mix CDs she made for me, though the one she titled "Tech Sex in Space" has the most memorable cover.

Two robots making sweet, sweet love

I wrote about Debra's life, at least as I knew it, when she died. There is, of course, nothing new to say about her life that couldn't have been said then. But what does change and grow after somebody dies is memory -- that is, other people's memories of them.

In my current period of rapid personal growth and change, I remember my previous such period: the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007. For me, those memories are all organized around Debra. I ask myself: "Should I make this about me? Somebody, after all, is dead." But if I didn't make it about me, I'd be doing a disservice to Debra's memory, to my memory of her, to the only thing I have direct control over that keeps her in some sense alive. To be true to those memories, I have to be as personal as I can, in my thoughts if not in my writing.

I had known Debra online for five years when we met in person, but when we finally did, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't expect that we would end up in bed in her house in Bristol, a house whose interior will always represent safety and liberation in my mind.
Stairs with a deep red flowered carpet

I didn't expect that neither her life nor mine would ever be the same again as a result. It's fortunate that sexual liberation can happen at any age. I was 25 at the time and she was 40, but I think we both experienced quite a lot of it all of a sudden, in ways that had an enduring influence on both of our lives even if our on-again/off-again romantic relationship was not enduring. (Our friendship was, up till the end, and the eventual flickerings in and out of our romance never did any lasting harm to our friendship.)

I can't speak for Debra as to what I meant to her, and don't wish to. What she meant to me was this: she was the first person I was intimate with who -- I thought -- saw me for who I really was. In fact, she was possibly the only person I've been intimate with where I felt like I was truly present, and that she was truly present with me. There were ups and downs, mostly due to me having unresolved issues (still not resolved) that make it hard for me to be present for anybody (which is also the main reason why my other relationships didn't go well; I'm neither blaming my other partners for how things went nor absolving them completely here). But when it was good, I felt like I was dealing lightning.

This is, of course, personal. But as I said in the beginning, I feel like to not be personal about it is to be untrue to who Debra was, particularly who she was to me but not only who she was to me. Debra chose Kate Bush's song "Feel It" as one of the songs for her funeral, or at least I assume she chose it because it's not a song you would choose for anyone else's funeral. And she was bad-ass for choosing it -- [I am informed that Debra did not choose the song, but still, someone who knows her well must have.] a song about sex, love, meaning and connection that I appreciate more now than when I first heard it then.

"God, but you're beautiful, aren't you?
Feel your warm hand walking around"

I'm sad to say that when I knew Debra I wasn't entirely ready to feel it, yet, not everything, anyway. But she was a person who came into my life by chance and gave me what I needed in order to start trying. I like to think I returned the favor, but of course, I'll really never know; not knowing is all right, though, because my memory of her is more than enough to hold.

"I won't pull away, my passion always wins
So keep on a-moving in, keep on a-tuning in"

A rainbow above a roof, with a diagonal perspective
Photo taken by Debra, January 14, 2007

When I got the news about Debra, I was reading Facebook in the Mozilla Vancouver office, looking for a distraction but not expecting the one that came to me. I emailed my mentor to say what had happened and that I was taking the rest of the day off, went outside and walked down the Vancouver waterfront, not quite aware of either my surroundings or the thoughts in my head. I remember that I ended up at Little Sister's and bought a rainbow umbrella to remember her by, because of the time when we were driving in the countryside around Bristol and we were having an intense, left-brained conversation about gender, queerness, and identity and suddenly a rainbow appeared in the sky like a sign that the important stuff wasn't the ideas stuff.

But on that day, and for the month that followed, I couldn't really feel the grief, except maybe once or twice after listening to Neko Case's song "South Tacoma Way" on repeat for a while. I won't say I'm feeling it all now, either. My own inability to fully feel her loss compounded the pain of losing her.

Somehow, the only picture I could find of the two of us together was one she took of our shadows somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge, when she visited me in Portland in December 2008/January 2009. The icon I used for this post is also from a picture she took of me during that trip (which was the next-to-last time we saw each other in person).

And while I don't think Debra would have liked it (our musical tastes didn't overlap a whole lot), I also think of her when I listen to the Mountain Goats' song "Matthew 25:21":
you were a presence full of light upon this earth
And I am a witness to your life and to its worth
It's three days later when I get the call
And there's nobody around to break my fall

Oh yeah, and one more thing:

Fuck cancer.

Two shadows in the snow
Photo taken by Debra, January 2, 2009
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Michael Church wrote a thoughtful response to my post joining tableflip.club -- quotes I liked:
"Ultimately, corporate capitalism fails to be properly capitalistic because of its command-economy emphasis on subordination. When people are treated as subordinates, they slack and fade. This hurts the capitalist more than anyone else."
"We’ve let ourselves be defined, from above, as arrogant and socially inept and narcissistic, and therefore incapable of running our own affairs. That, however, doesn’t reflect what we really are, nor what we can be."

That said, I feel my point about love was totally missed and that it's gratuitous to say "that's not always true" about my claim "if you had a good early life, you wouldn't be working in tech" when my very next sentence began, "I'm exaggerating..." I feel like the last paragraph is so accurate that he fundamentally got it, though.

I am genuinely moved and amazed by the quantity and quality of thoughtful replies to my post on MetaFilter, where it made the front page. I've been peripherally aware of MeFi almost since it existed, but I've now joined and will have to keep paying attention to it.

At its peak (Friday), my post was also on the Hacker News front page at #16, but I haven't read the comments there and don't intend to.

When I write a piece like this, I'm always afraid no one will pay attention to or understand it. The amount of response I've gotten this time was beyond my wildest dreams and is informing my thoughts about what I'm doing next with my career (once my next 3 or 4 months of mostly not leaving my apartment is over). Thanks, everybody -- you don't know how happy it makes me to know that I hit a nerve, even if that process is painful for everyone involved!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
[personal profile] howlingsilence sent me a private message, but when I tried to reply to it I got the message saying they have chosen not to receive messages. Plus, I wanted to post what I wrote anyway. So I'm replying here; I won't quote the question since it was in a PM, but it was basically asking whether I think back-end Web development suffers from these problems.
I worked in Web development (what would be called "full-stack" now, but I actually mostly did front-end) in 2005, briefly. The company I worked at (now defunct) had one of the best cultures I've ever been in within tech. It wasn't perfect: I got told not to go to meetings because of one of my medical conditions (sleep disorder causing uncontrollable daytime sleepiness). And yes, some people would love to be excused from all meetings, but no one bothered to take minutes during these meetings so it meant I got shut out and set up to fail at my job -- all because of an illness that I wasn't able to get treatment for because my employer misclassified me as a contractor so they wouldn't have to give me health insurance. Tech: it's not always toxic, but even when it's not being toxic, it sort of is.

On the other hand, my boss there was pretty great and, I think, had a good influence on company culture, and I worked with some other awesome people who I'm still in touch with.

That said, I don't think Web development is especially different from other parts of tech. If anything, you may notice inequality more sharply because front-end Web dev is coded as "women's work" (and pays less) while back-end is coded as more-prestigious "men's work". People have written about this.

Hope that helps!

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
So I used the term "burnout" in my tableflip post (by the way: tableflip.club), and also used it when I was telling colleagues I was quitting. But "burnout" is a euphemism in my case, and in a lot of people's cases (I suspect).

I mentioned it in my post, but only in an after-the-fact edit, so: I have complex PTSD. On some level I've known this for a long time, on another level I only knew as of 4 days ago when my therapist told me that the things I was saying were things characteristic of CPTSD and I heard what she said. I'm going to quote a Bessel A. van der Kolk, who's quoted in that Wikipedia article, because this seems pretty on-point:
Uncontrollable disruptions or distortions of attachment bonds precede the development of post-traumatic stress syndromes. People seek increased attachment in the face of danger. Adults, as well as children, may develop strong emotional ties with people who intermittently harass, beat, and, threaten them. The persistence of these attachment bonds leads to confusion of pain and love. Trauma can be repeated on behavioural, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinologic levels. Repetition on these different levels causes a large variety of individual and social suffering.

Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one's current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of healing.

(From an article called "The compulsion to repeat the trauma. Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism", which I'll have to look for.)

I think, though, this realization actually came to me a week ago, but in the form of a realization that I had to quit tech. As of then, I was thinking I would quit, maybe take a little time off, and then get into my career plan B (or rather, preparation for it) pretty quickly. What I only realized after I actually quit is that no, actually, I'm going to need a couple of months to recover. At least. And those are going to be a couple months in which I don't leave my apartment much and generally feel good about not leaving it. (I'm lucky enough to have just enough savings to allow for a couple months of this, though not a couple years; hopefully it won't take that long.) You don't recover from 29 years of trauma overnight.

Did the tech industry cause my CPTSD? I want to be clear: absolutely not. Not the "industry" in general, not Silicon Valley, not any one of the individual places where I've worked. As bad as some of them were, situations you enter into as an adult that you are able to leave do not generally cause CPTSD (they can cause PTSD). As Roast Beef in the "Achewood" web comic said, I come from Circumstances; I was born into Circumstances. On the one hand I could say the Circumstances were my mother, but to be honest I would have to acknowledge the Circumstances -- big ones, to do with war and colonialism and coming from four generations of refugees -- that she was born into herself. That doesn't excuse her from responsibility for her actions, or me for mine (for that matter), but must be understood.

But as I hope I already explained in my article, tech didn't make it any better, nor do I think I'm the only one by any stretch of the imagination. I'm gratified that many people on Metafilter agreed that tech attracts people with trauma, exploits us, and compounds the trauma to boot.

I'm not taking back anything I said, I still agree with it all. I guess I'm making this clarification in order to say: if you read that article and felt that you feel like I do, take yourself seriously; it's not "just" burnout, which usually clears up on its own with some rest, but quite possibly something more than that that I would urge you to get competent professional help with. The Resources for therapists page on the GF wiki is something you can show a potential therapist to determine whether or not they might be helpful if you're a tech person with some problems to work through. If they get confused, you might want to look elsewhere, but if they understand or at least have questions that reflect thought, that might be a good sign.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
I've been heavily involved in the Geek Feminism Blog and Wiki for somewhere between 4 and 5 years, depending on how you count. I've been a feminist since I knew what the word meant, but I had a bit of an awakening in 2011 when I got constructively dismissed from grad school. Now, I'm waking up again.

My own role as a male ally in GF has been something I've struggled with for most of that time, and I really am pretty comfortable calling myself a "male ally" now. To be clear, "ally" is something I aspire to be, and have often fallen short of and sometimes been called out about, and is rarely something I actually say I am. I say it now because when I started, I most definitely didn't see myself as a male ally. I saw myself as a guy who usually got misgendered and who was actively burning from the heat of the many indignities of being seen as a woman in tech (which burn regardless of whether you are actually a woman underneath your frayed startup T-shirt).

Over time, that burning has subsided down a bit and I've gotten to a point where people don't believe I was coercively assigned female at birth even if I tell them straight-up. In place of that anger is sadness about my friends' experiences, my younger self's experiences (a younger self who is no longer me), and yes, some guilt about the role I've played myself, sometimes, in making things worse. (I like to think I've also made things better, but it's not for me to do the accounting).

I quit my job and career this week, and wrote about it. Part of what I tried to reckon with in that post is a transition I've made from feeling squarely (and to some extent, correctly) that I was facing the same struggles that women in tech face, to feeling like that set of burdens has lifted off me and been replaced with a different set. The new set is definitely lighter but still not something that I want -- but the reasons I don't want it are different than the old outrage.

As a trans man, I've often felt uncomfortable with my relationship with feminism since I came out, and to be clear, I think I should feel uncomfortable with it! Like any man, I benefit from male domination, and I can't change that -- I can imagine there are ways I could make myself be seen as a woman again (not that the violence to myself would justify any hypothetical gains from that), but I would still be somebody who had the choice. Certainly, just as race, ability, queerness, and any number of intersecting factors modulate what benefits each man enjoys from that, my transness modulates what I get out of male domination. But the benefits are real. My leaving salary in 2015 was 2.55 times what my starting salary was at my first job out of grad school in 2004. This is not just inflation. I was perceived only as a cis woman (perhaps a gender-non-conforming one, but that wouldn't have helped) back then, and am perceived as a cis man by default now. So it's awkward, advocating for the dismantling of the platform I'm standing on with two feet. I try not to be afraid of falling, but it does happen.

But I think I'm ready to say what John Darnielle (my favorite songwriter as well as being a cis guy who won't be first up against the wall when the revolution comes) said in an interview: "My feminism is for me." Like him, I'm a survivor; that's part of why my feminism is for me. Unlike him, I was abused by a woman -- and that is still part of why my feminism is for me, because she, in turn, was a survivor of a violent time and place that got that way through war and colonialism (in other words, toxic masculinity on an epic scale). When working with GF, I've often felt like I had one foot on each side of the fence: that on the one hand, I was advocating for women in tech, and always having to walk a line that, if crossed, will get you written up (justifiably) on our wiki timeline of incidents. That on the other hand, I was advocating for myself as someone perceived as a woman in tech, a person whose flame flickered out (and it was a relief when it did) over the time I contributed to GF.

I no longer feel like I'm riding the fence. I am squarely on one side. I am male (something I was uncomfortable saying outright until fairly recently in my life), I'm socially recognized as male pretty much all the time, but most importantly, I am not "outside" the legitimate ways in which patriarchy hurts men too. I am not an objective observer of those slights and hurts. I live them! And, in fact, I was living them when I was a 5-year-old boy who was having my subjectivity erased both in the way that many cis survivors of childhood trauma talk about, and in an additional way because not only my abuser, but everybody else in the world, was telling me I was a girl.

My feminism is for me. But Geek Feminism isn't for me, anymore. It does, and should continue to center, feminism that's for women. Those of us who are men need to make our own feminist spaces, not ones that exclude women but ones that can occupy a space that doesn't suck attention and resources away from the more pressing needs (in terms of day-to-day getting-a-paycheck-and-paying-the-rent stuff) of women and non-binary people. Everything in Maslow's hierarchy of needs is important, but as men we need to be brutally honest about where we are in that hierarchy relative to everybody else.

I will still continue to comment on the blog and maybe edit the wiki once in a while, but I've already begun the process of stepping down from my administrative roles and, since I'm also leaving tech, don't plan to be heavily involved in creating content in the future. My name is already under "Former Contributors" on the blog, and shortly I'll be surrendering the wiki banhammer as well. I am excited about the new volunteers -- and re-energized old volunteers -- who are going to be taking these resources into the future. My involvement in Geek Feminism has been the most important force in my life for the past five years. I hope to carry through the friendships that resulted from it into the future, but it's time for me to make space in my life to do a different kind of activism. A friend of mine says that allyship should be seen more in the sense of "allies" in a military context: people who have a shared agenda up to a point, but at some point, have to diverge because the allies' interests no longer fit with each other. It's time for me to fork. Not to go backward, just to take a different path forward. So long, until we converge.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Since I'm changing careers, I figured it's a good time for me to finally have a standard bio so people know who the hell this guy is. I'm doing an experiment, inspired by [personal profile] skud's crowdsourced bio. I opened up a public Etherpad -- something like a Google Doc that anyone can edit without an account -- with one paragraph of my bio, to get you started (you can delete all of this text in favor of something else, and please do):


You can choose to edit anonymously or with your name or anybody else's name attached, it's up to you. I don't know how much IP tracking TitanPad does, but unless any abuse happens, I won't be trying to determine the identities of anonymous editors; I am not Reviewer 2.

TitanPad tracks a history of all changes (like Wikipedia does), so if you delete any text, it won't be lost forever; I'll still be able to view it in the history. Therefore, feel free to delete others' changes in order to improve on them, though it would be nice if there was no wanton deleting for its own sake. The exception is that you can, and should, delete the placeholder text I included.

Please go wild. I especially invite the following people to contribute:

  • my friends from college
  • my friends from before college (all one of them)
  • people who have worked with me before
  • people who have done activism with me before
  • people who I've called out on the Internet before
  • people who've called me out on the Internet before
  • people who only know me through my writing
  • people who are currently drunk and/or high
  • people who fit into more than one of these categories

Also, you can lie if you want! That's cool to do, as are writing things that are true, as are writing things that should be true, as are writing things you wish you could see as true about yourself that are easier for you to project onto me. (Because that's one of the many services I offer.)

Also, you don't have to write complete sentences or even necessarily make any sense. If you want to leave a bullet point in there, that's cool, someone else will make it into part of the text. It's the magic of open source!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Because I'm trying to lean in to my own self-importance, I made a soundtrack for my ragequitting post. I say "self-importance" because these are songs that helped me along in my decision to quit the tech industry, and yet most of them are actually about either the music industry or divorce. Go fig.

You can listen on Spotify, but here's an old-fashioned track listing in case you don't use online music listening services and want to burn these onto a CD for your car.

"He Thinks He'll Keep Her", Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her
Everything is so benign, safest place you'll ever find
At least until you change your mind.”

"This Town Is Wrong", The Nields

"Why don’t you make the rules?”

"Nashville", Indigo Girls

"Now I'm leaving, I've got all these debts to pay
You know we all have our dues, I'll pay 'em some other place"

“Somebody Loved Me”, Reel Big Fish

“What did I do? Was it so wrong?
I used to fit in, now I don't belong”

"All the Right Friends", R.E.M.

"I've been walking alone now for a long, long time
I don't wanna hang out now with the friends who just aren't mine"

"Your Racist Friend", They Might Be Giants (dedicated to B. Eich)

"Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding"

“Accident Waiting to Happen”, Billy Bragg

“And my sins are so unoriginal
I have all the self-loathing of a wolf in sheep's clothing
In this carnival of carnivores, Heaven help me”

"My Favorite Mutiny", The Coup

"I ain't rockin' with you
Your logic does not compute"

"Maggie's Farm", Bob Dylan

"Well, I try my best to be just like I am,
But everybody wants you to be just like them"

"I Ain't Marching Anymore", Phil Ochs

"Call it peace or call it treason, call it love or call it reason,
But I ain't marchin' any more"

"Frankly, Mr. Shankly", The Smiths

"Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I've held
It pays my way and it corrodes my soul
I want to leave
you will not miss me
I want to go down in musical history"

"Solsbury Hill", Peter Gabriel

"I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery"

"L.A. Freeway", Guy Clark

"We've got something to believe in
Don't ya' think it's time we're leavin'"

"Late Night Train", Brooks Williams

"It takes mighty big courage to pack up and go
'Cause even a bad life is still a life that you know"

"Midnight Train to Georgia", Gladys Knight & the Pips

"He said he's goin' back to find
Goin' back to find
Ooh, what's left of his world"

"Rong", Röyksopp

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"H-a-T-R-E-D", Tonio K.

"it's hard to express the resentment i feel
for the years that i've wasted on you"

"No Children", The Mountain Goats

"And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can't find one good thing to say
And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way"

"Independence Day", Bruce Springsteen

"Well, Papa go to bed now, it's getting late
Nothing we can say can change anything now
Because there's just different people coming down here now
And they see things in different ways
And soon everything we've known will just be swept away"

"Glory Bound", Martin Sexton

"I'm taking a chance on the wind
I'm packing all my bags
Taking a mistake I gotta make
Then I'm glory bound"

"Level Up", Vienna Teng (s/o to [personal profile] brainwane via [personal profile] yatima)

"call it any name you need.
call it your 2.0, your rebirth, whatever –
so long as you can feel it all,
so long as all your doors are flung wide.
call it your day #1 in the rest of forever."

Bonus tracks (not on Spotify):

"Come a Long Way", Michelle Shocked

"Now you tow it to the repo man's front door
And you give him these keys, I don't need them no more"

"Silicon Valley Game", Little George Band [difficult to find outside of Bay Area college radio stations and my Gmail archive]

"One day layoffs came
And you sat there looking stunned
You thought that you were so special
You were just another working bum
Playing that Silicon Valley game
Congratulations, you won"

Thanks to [personal profile] bookherd, [personal profile] substitute, [personal profile] etb, [livejournal.com profile] spoothbrush, and Morgan for their suggestions and/or reminders; also thanks to those who made suggestions I didn't end up using!
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

 -- Mario Savio

Love is the only motivating force, and while love can motivate some pretty awful things, it’s nonetheless impossible to do any good without it. I have no love left for my job or career, although I do have it for many of my friends and colleagues in software. And that's because I don't see how my work helps people I care about or even people on whom I don't wish any specific harm. Moreover, what I have to put up with in order to do my work is in danger of keeping me in a state of emotional and moral stagnation forever.

I don’t necessarily need to work on anything that helps people: some people love abstract puzzle-solving, and I'm one of those people. But when I’m at work as a programmer, I don’t spend much time solving abstract puzzles, at least not in comparison to the amount of time I spend doing unpaid emotional labor. Maybe other programmers are different (they spend their time shifting their unpaid emotional labor onto others instead? I don’t know.) I just know that’s how it is for me. Puzzly tinkering was one of my original motivations to work as a programmer, but it’s not a big enough part of the job to continue to be a good motivator.

Not only was I wrong about the degree to which puzzly tinkering would be part of my future life as a software engineer, I also failed to predict how hard it would be for me to keep my head above water in tech’s endless stream of macro- and microaggressions. Rapidly, getting up in the morning and going to work at my computer job became a source of frustration and the mornings became afternoons. I started to need coping mechanisms to cope with my coping mechanism.

I wrote the rest of this essay to wrestle with the question: “Given the many advantages of having a comfortable, high-paying, flexible desk job, are the frustrations I feel really bad enough to justify taking the risky path of searching for something more grounding? In the absence of pure intellectual pleasure and in the absence of the feeling of social benefit, will continuing to work in the software industry help me more than it hurts?” The short answers are “yes” and “no”. Here’s the long answer.

Flawed Coping Mechanisms

“All of y’all’s gold mines
They wanna deplete you.”
 -- The Coup

Programming thrilled me when I was 14 and needed a world to dive into that I controlled completely. I had had no control over my life up until then. The feeling of control that writing code -- making things out of pure ideas -- gave me was intoxicating in every sense that word has. Twenty years later, I don’t know if I’m wiser, but I don't want that escape valve so much anymore. I can give living in this world, with all of its messiness and blood, a trial period. I can try to dwell with that which I can't control.

I've thought about all of this for a while but this week I met the enemy and realized he was me. It's easy to bemoan brogrammers, it comes naturally to lambast gaters, but -- and by the way, in this paragraph I am addressing only my beloved fellow SADISTIGs (Sweet And Delightfully Introspective Sensitive Tech Industry Guys) -- that's because it's easy to find fault with somebody else for what lies in your own heart. I don't know about you, but I came here because I liked making machines bend to my will; because I wished I could figure out how to do that with people, but until I did, I was dead set on avoiding them. It's a hard thing to admit, but it's true. My past self wasn't a bad little dude, but the demons he ran away from into the twists of the compiler pipeline are dead. All of this personal bullshit makes me fundamentally not different from those concerned with ethics in video game journalism or with bro-ing down and crushing code, just more apologetic about it.

Ah, the persistent myth of the meritocracy. You know what? I want to be judged for more than the code I write.”

-- Coraline Ada Ehmke

I am far from the only emotionally stalled guy who works in tech, which is the point. If it was just that there were a lot of other folks like me in this field, that would be tolerable and maybe even a plus. But the tech industry is wired with structural incentives to stay broken. Broken people work 80-hour weeks because we think we’ll get approval and validation for our technical abilities that way. Broken people burn out trying to prove ourselves as hackers because we don’t believe anyone will ever love us for who we are rather than our merit. Broken people put up with toxic, dangerous co-workers and bosses because we’ve never experienced healthy relationships. Broken people sometimes even defend toxicity not because we want to do harm but because it’s simply what we’re used to. Broken people believe pretty lies like “meritocracy” and “show me the code” because it’s easier than confronting difficult truths; it’s as easy as it is because the tech industry is structured around denial. Why is it so compelling for some people to participate in a world where, ostensibly, they will never be seen as their entire selves and will be judged solely on some putatively objective numerical ranking within a total ordering of all hackers from best to worse? Since “some people” includes “me”, I have to guess that it’s because they’re terrified to be seen as their entire selves, since I know I am.

You Don’t Have to Have Complex PTSD to Work Here, But It Helps

“They say I’m running blind to a love of my own
But I’ll be walking proud
I’m saving what I still own” 

-- Indigo Girls

edited, 2015-04-14: If you don't like this section heading, please read the Clarifications section at the end of this post.

If you want a concrete example of how tech culture discourages us growing and being vulnerable, just read through the list of silencing tactics on the Geek Feminism Wiki. (I think it especially discourages us men from growing and being vulnerable. The culture is a bit less subtle about what it does to women and non-binary people.) I’m going to point out a couple that I’ve felt burnt by on the job:

  •  “You’re too sensitive”. This accusation gets used primarily against women, but sometimes against men who fall short of from commonly accepted masculinity ideals. A culture that considers “too sensitive” an insult is a culture that eats its young. Similarly, it’s popular in tech to decry “drama” when no one is ever sure what the consensus is on this word’s meaning, but as far as I can tell it means other people expressing feelings that you would prefer they stay silent about.
  • The tone argument. is commonly deployed against political and technical disagreement, and its use reflects an underlying assumption in tech culture that emotional conviction makes an argument less valid rather than more.
  •  “Suck it up and deal” is an assertion of dominance that disregards the emotional labor needed to tolerate oppression. It’s also a reflection of the culture of narcissism in tech that values grandstanding and credit-taking over listening and empathizing.

I say that these tactics are particularly injurious to men not because I think we have it worse but because they get employed differently against women and I have less firsthand experience with that. From what I can tell, being a woman in tech means being judged and found wanting no matter what you do, while being a man in tech means (at least the chance of) success at the price of following an extremely restrictive set of rules that are corrosive to emotional well-being for many of us. I know which set of problems I’d choose, and in a way, I did choose. But the choice between bad and worse doesn’t make bad good.

Moreover, I don’t think tech toxicity bothers people who are used to being listened to and acknowledged as much as it does people like me. (I wouldn’t know, since I don’t come from one of those places.) But if you had a good early life, you wouldn’t be in tech in the first place. Yes, I'm exaggerating, but I do think there’s a toxic feedback loop between the kinds of trauma that cause many people to flee into the world of things-made-out-of-ideas, and the kinds of trauma that some of us will encounter in that world when we least expect it. For example, if you are a person who has never had your own subjectivity and feelings systematically erased, I imagine you will probably just laugh when someone tells you “you’re too sensitive”. (I wouldn’t know, again, since I’m not like you.) I’m hurt by that accusation because I believed it about myself in the first place; that statement and all manner of other little loops of gaslighting are woven into me like tapeworms. If we can blame ourselves for being too sensitive, we don’t have to confront something that is too difficult for most kids and a lot of adults to confront: that someone who loves you can hurt you. If you know what “triggering” means: it’s triggering. If you don’t know what “triggering” means, then now you know.

Being Right Vs. Doing Right

So many think they're good guys. But they're so invested in a culture that depends on proving they're right they don't see the damage done.” -- Jen Myers

Here are some other tendencies that are both worse in tech than in other fields due to the way in which it attracts lost boys, and get reinforced by tech management in a toxic feedback loop of dysfunction and self-deception:

  • Mansplaining arises from the desire to position oneself as an authority rather than to talk as equals. A related pathology is social pressure to perform having an opinion on everything that’s not important (sometimes called “bikeshedding”: as well as not caring about anything that matters. The latter tendency is what I explored in my first Model View Culture article  under the name “false dismissal”.
  • Relatedly, “well-actually”-ism is a verbal habit of interrupting conversations to make factually true but irrelevant corrections, in a way that prioritizes intellectual self-aggrandizement over shared understanding. Like mansplaining, well-actually-ism is rooted in fear and insecurity and I should know, because I’ve done these things all the time, and I know that’s why.
  • Tech culture elevates heroes and “cowboy coders” who sacrifice everything to get all the work done themselves, gaining individual recognition and jettisoning healthy teamwork as well as their own long-term well-being. The “cowboy coder” -- the sort of guy who complains that code reviews slow down his workflow (which is true, in the same way that brakes slow down a car) is a stereotype, but one that you can observe in more or less any workplace. What’s more, you will observe that cowboy coders (often young, usually male, usually without sources of meaning in their lives outside of work) get praised just for fitting this pattern, regardless of the quality of their work. (My now-former colleague Jacob Kaplan-Moss illustrated this point quite aptly in his “who is Mark Zuckerburg?” slides in his 2015 PyCon keynote.  )
  • Failure to listen, failure to document, and failure to mentor. Toxic individualism -- the attitude that a person is solely responsible for their own success, and if they find your code hard to understand, it’s their fault -- is tightly woven through the fabric of tech. Even in places where people pay lip service to the value of documenting and of training new hires, their behavior belies it -- they fail to document because “there’s not enough time”, fail to mentor because they’d rather just hire senior engineers, and fail to listen because that entails the risk of finding out you’re wrong about something.
  • Invulnerability to criticism. There was a famous Linux kernel bug report about a bug that would reformat your hard drive when you didn’t want it to. The software maintainers responded by saying “you should have known better”. This is a particularly extreme example of a general tendency to accept technical bug reports as attacks on one’s most cherished self, to be defended against to the death. I’m not even talking about cultural bug reports here, which I once wrote about in Model View Culture. If you take criticism of your project as an attack rather than as helpful feedback, what does that say about how you will take criticism of your personal behavior?

I understand the reasons why all of these failures happen, and I’ve lived most of the reasons. I’m a very critical person; I’d like to get better at balancing doing the Right Thing(™) with validating and embracing commonalities. I’m not going to find very many incentives to do that, or role models to look to for how to do it, if I stay in tech.

Nobody sets out on purpose to make any workplace a pit of despair. But in tech, the failures are self-reinforcing because failure often has no material consequences (especially in venture-capital-funded startups) and because the status quo is so profitable -- for the people already on the inside -- that the desire to maintain it exceeds the desire to work better together.

“There’s No Crying in Startups”

"It takes mighty big courage to pack up and go
'Cause even a bad life is still a life that you know.”
 -- Brooks Williams

I have found that the more I try to curb my own antisocial and self-defeating tendencies, the less I succeed in tech. Being sensitive makes you suspect. Approaching technical discussions as collaborative efforts rather than cage matches gets you frozen out. Performance gets assessed on rough approximations to individual “impact”, without regard to how much you helped your colleagues do their jobs. I think that I’m capable of continuing to work in tech, as long as I force myself to be continue to be the person I’m tired of being. No stock options are worth as much to me as the still, small voice inside is; no amount of money and benefits is going to get me to tell that voice to shut up now after 14 years with my hand over its mouth. All the tendencies I’ve criticized in this essay are ones I’ve seen in my own mirror. To be in tech is to be in permanent adolescence or at least to maintain dual personalities, one for work and one for home. The latter is way too much effort and as for the former, who in the world would actually choose that? I wouldn’t, because being a teen can be fun (at 16, at 27, and at 34), but not as fun as having been one.

“Aren’t you being melodramatic here, Tim? Aren’t you applying concepts to tech companies that are really for describing family structures?” I would have thought so too until during my first week at a new job (disclaimer: not my current job), I watched a grown man and father of four literally stomp out of an office at 3:21 PM on a Thursday, not to return until the next day, because the company’s CTO was making him feel unheard during a meeting. At the time I wasn’t sure if he was going to come back on Friday. (He did.) To be clear, neither man in that interaction was behaving particularly laudably, and at the same time both had valid points. A third man, my boss at the time, stepped in to explain to the CTO, “I think when you said [whatever] to [REDACTED], the way it made him feel was…” I remember being pleasantly amazed at hearing that kind of communication from anybody in a corporate conference room, although it was a bit less nice when the CTO literally replied with, “I don’t care about hurt feelings. This is a startup.” I also remember thinking that because this company was small, I was finally getting to see behavior acted out explicitly that usually takes place just below the surface in bigger companies. So no, I don’t think I am being melodramatic. If anything, my former colleague (the most senior back-end engineer at this company) who stomped out of the office was, but I wouldn’t even say that, because I sympathize with the pressure that led him to act the way he did at the breaking point. This was actually a pretty reassuring experience for me because up until then, I’d wondered if I was projecting. That day I realized that I wasn’t, any more than the overhead projector in your average office is in 2015. I actually prefer daily screaming matches to ever-present rage repressed at high pressure (one of which, at least once, made me cry in the bathroom at a previous office), but I would kind of prefer to have neither of those things in my workplace. When I worked at another one of my past employers, I took to watching a lot of episodes of “House, M.D.” because I really needed to see examples of people modelling exemplary professionalism and respect for others’ boundaries… by comparison.

There’s a reason why it’s become a cliché for startups to describe themselves as being like a family: because a lot of us come from families defined by abuse, neglect, multigenerational trauma, addiction, lying, leaving, coming back, leaving again, and conspiracies of silence about it all. We bring all of that into our work “families”. Sometimes we need more than free kombucha on tap in order to cope and heal; when we don’t get it, we take it out on each other because that’s easier than confronting those who have power over us.


I'm gonna K. I. L. L. one of us, baby. Give me time to decide on which.” -- Tonio K.

The person I would like to be is also someone who acknowledges fear and pain and doesn’t always retreat into fury at injustice. I love my fellow tech SJWs, but for me -- and in this paragraph I am calling out no one but myself -- the siren song of righteous anger always lies in wait to take away the small soft things inside and leave me alone on the floor with a rage hangover. There is an infinite amount of injustice in the world and an infinite amount of completely justified anger that can well up from any of us who take the time to think about it. Anger is a very useful strategy for activism; I try my best to never coerce people who are marginalized -- especially by groups I'm in -- into suppressing it. But maybe it's time for me to be a bit more liberal in what I accept and conservative in what I send out, Postel’s-Law-style. For lots of people, alcohol is a useful tool for making social situations a little more manageable; a minority get consumed by it. Maybe anger is a little like that for me. I wouldn't work in a bar if I was recovering from alcoholism, so I'm not going to work in tech while I'm trying to integrate the parts of myself that aren't angry. There are too many temptations.


“I want to leave
You will not miss me.”
 -- The Smiths

So that's why I have to quit tech for somewhere between a little while and forever (inclusive). It's not just that I don't want to, but that, in a very literal sense, I can't. I'm not doing any favors by sticking around when I'm unable to pull my weight. I don't know what's going to be next for me, but it won't be this. If I can find a job doing something involving comforting the afflicted or afflicting the comfortable, or even both, that would be neat.

I also don’t think it’s any great loss for tech that I won’t be in it, since I’m neither particularly bad nor particularly good at the work I do; I’m proudest of my minor contributions to tech culture criticism, not any code I’ve ever written. In 14 years including grad school, I doubt I’ve earned the invisible “valued contributor” merit badge anywhere. I’ve job-hopped, quit jobs when I could have stayed and resolved interpersonal conflicts, taken unannounced PTO, checked Facebook and Twitter for literally entire work days at a time. I am neither proud of nor sorry for any of these lapses, because ultimately it’s capitalism’s responsibility to make me produce for it, and within the scope of my career, capitalism failed. I don’t pity the ownership of any of my former employers for not having been able to squeeze more value out of me, because that’s on them. What’s on me is how I spend my time, and I don’t want to spend any more of it pretending I don’t know what I want.

Not everybody can turn their coping mechanism in a career, but I had the chance, and it was an offer I couldn't refuse. After a year or two of being in the tech industry, programming became a less effective coping mechanism and anger became a more compelling one, since the tech industry has so much cause for anger to provide. Over time, the second one replaced the first one almost totally, taking away my original reason to even like programming at all and demoralizing any remaining scraps of work-ethic out of me. It’s sad to have to report that this is true, but it would be sadder to pretend none of it happened.


“And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way."
 -- The Mountain Goats

I tried leaning in, which for me means some combination of “just work harder” and spending a ton of non-work time developing complicated structuring and coping mechanisms to make me feel OK about doing something I fundamentally don’t want to be doing. RescueTime, Todoist, Google Calendar, Trello, weekly schedules, written to-do lists, eugeroics, SSRIs, caffeine, cannabis, fancy drinks, spending too much money in coffee shops, knitting during meetings, big headphones, Twitter, IRC, Slack, post-it notes, text files with lists of questions to ask, animated .gifs, playing 2048 on my phone in the men’s room at work for 30 minutes or longer at a stretch, repeatedly reloading Fucks On Back Order. None of these things are intrinsically bad and many are pretty damn good, but when I invest a lot of my time structuring my work hours with some of them and recovering during my non-work hours with others, all in the service of something I fundamentally don’t want to be doing, I have to start asking why. It’s a lot of effort, largely performed during non-work hours, for a relatively low yield in terms of actual productive work that helped my employer. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s found that leaning in tends to mean leaning into a black hole. The rise of the lifehacking industry, as well as meditation and mindfulness programs for temporarily calming down workers so they can be productive while experiencing abuse, suggest that capitalism does well when it can simultaneously hurt people and sell them palliative care for that hurt.

“Just work harder” always sounds appealing to me too, because in fact I love working, I feel uncomfortable when I’m doing something that I can’t characterize as work, and I can work way harder than is good for me. But that’s only when I feel like there’s a reason to do it: whether the reason is making a software system better in a way that I can see and get tangible feedback on from others, or making other people feel like they’re less alone, or just having clean dishes. When I don’t see the reason why I should work harder, I can’t work at all. So I don’t think leaning in is helping me or helping my employer.

I’m leaning out, because to be a better person than the one I am now, I have no other choice. I'm not saying I'll never come back, but I am saying I'll probably never come back. This is my choice; it doesn’t have to be yours. I’m not taking a moral stance that I would prescribe to others, or in fact, making this decision based on abstractions at all. I don’t aspire to sainthood and I would happily stay in a sweet desk job with flexible hours if it wasn’t destroying me from the inside. The question I tried to answer in this essay is: “destroying me from the inside? Really? Is it doing that?” And I believe the answer is yes.

I don’t know if the alternatives I’m considering are going to be better or not, but I’m at a point where all I can do is find out for myself. I know that every single field of employment has its own unique blend of coffee and bullshit to offer, and choosing a career is a matter of picking which one you don’t mind sipping. I don’t know whether other fields will be worse or better, I just know that tech’s tainted tonic interacts badly with the poison that’s already in me. If what works for you is staying in tech, great! Try to leave it a little better than you found it.

Postscript to Herokai

I hope I’ve made it clear that while it’s not me, it’s also not you. I had to realize all this stuff sometime, and it’s probably not a coincidence that it happened while I was in the comparatively safe and supportive culture that Heroku has. To Leigh, Jake, Evan, Fred, Tristan, Omar, Jamu, Charles, Mary, Ari, Daed, Courtney, Joy, Liz, Jacob, Meagan, Tef, Matt, Geoff, Greg, and Mark: Thanks for the laughs, lunches, and corgi GIFs. Don’t be a stranger. If I forgot anyone there who I should have included, it’s because a week straight of less than 4 hours of sleep a night has rendered my brain into a chia pod.


  • 2015-04-14: Yes, I actually do have complex PTSD (beginning with experiences at age 5 or younger, so, pretty well before I ever got paid to touch a computer) and today is actually the first day I've ever said that in public. I'm feeling a little raw about that and the way I usually deal with those feelings is jokes, hence the section heading. I also see how it could be seen as trivializing. I feel like there's no point in suffering if you can't make jokes about it later, but I should probably have included this clarification in the first place.


“Code reviews slow you down like brakes slow down a car” is something I saw on Twitter once. I don’t remember who tweeted it. If you know, or if it was you, please tell me!

“Lean Out” is the title of issue 3 of Model View Culture, for which Amelia Greenhall and Shanley Kane deserve credit.

Edited to add: The term "well, actually" was coined by Miguel de Icaza, and I learned about it from the Recurse Center social rules.

Edited to add: While I originally learned about the concept of emotional labor from the writing of Barbara Ehrenreich and Laura Kipnis, I also owe one to Lauren Bacon for her article "Women in Tech and Empathy Work".

Edited to add: I first saw the Mario Savio quote on an office door in Soda Hall at the University of California in 1999. It took me the past sixteen years to understand it.

Edited to add: I owe much to Julie Pagano's article "I think I’m in an emotionally abusive relationship… with the tech community" -- arguably I never would have had any of the thoughts expressed in this piece without reading hers a year and a half ago.

Edited to add: I alluded in this piece to the chorus of Stephen Fearing's song "The Bells of Morning", which was written about the École Polytechnique massacre and which I wrote about previously in reference to Gamergate.

Edited to add: If you happen to live in (or can travel to) Portland, Oregon, and need a therapist, call Cat Pivetti at 503-740-9555. (nb. the initial phone number I put there is incorrect, as is the number on the page linked to, currently.) I don't credit her with me becoming the person who wrote this article, but I do credit her for helping me find what was in me that I put into it, and I think she does that for other people too.

In this piece I’ve drawn on insights from conversations with many different people and from writing by many different people. Nothing I’m saying is new, but I hope that this particular presentation may find itself useful to somebody else. Because there are too many influences to name, for the sake of not privileging any one of them unduly I’m not listing most of them. But know that if you think I made a good point anywhere in this essay, it’s more likely than not to be a point that a woman made me think about. A number of friends and current and former colleagues of mine read and commented on drafts of this essay; for prudence’s sake, I won't enumerate or name them. But if you are one of the people who proofread for me: my gratitude to you symbolizes why I didn’t quit this industry ages ago. I’ll miss y’all.


That's a thing that there is.


Vienna Teng, “Level Up” (s/o to [personal profile] brainwane via [personal profile] yatima for turning me on to this one):

"Call it your day number one in the rest of forever."

tim: Solid black square (black)
[Content note: suicide.]

Two years ago, in April, I lost two friends. Igal was the first one.

Two years ago yesterday, Igal Koshevoy committed suicide. I didn't know Igal well, but I knew him well enough to wish that I'd gotten to know him well enough to know why. What I wrote on the section of my home page that I dearly hope to never have to update again is this:

"I also wish to remember Igal Koshevoy, who died in 2013. I knew Igal as the face behind the Portland Functional Programming Group, which was a minor but important part of what kept me feeling connected to a bigger community when I lived in Portland. He set an example of how to run groups that welcome and include everyone. Igal committed suicide, and I wish that he could have been as kind to himself as he seemed to be to everybody else."

If you haven't heard the Mountain Goats' song "The Coroner's Gambit" [direct MP3 link -- same audio is embedded below, and sorry about the autoplay at first, which I think I fixed now] before, I recommend listening to this someplace where crying is acceptable. Like I said, I don't understand; but I think I understand a little better because of this song.

May we all be a little bit kinder to each other and to ourselves.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

November 2015

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