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: 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!

Cheers,
Tim
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: 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.

Voice

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.

Exit

“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.

Loyalty

“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.

Clarifications

  • 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.

Acknowledgments

“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.

Soundtrack

That's a thing that there is.

Outro

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

Content warning: Discussion of violence against women, gun violence, death and rape threats, workplace harassment, suicide (and threats thereof as an emotional manipulation tactic), online harassment, abuse of the legal system to further sexual harassment and domestic violence, and neo-Nazis.

Italicized quotes are from Stephen Fearing's song "The Bells of Morning", which he wrote in 1989 about the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

It's All Connected

Donatenow

"Tonight I am speechless
My head is filled with pouring rain
As the darkness falls on Montreal
When violence is shrieking
The city streets will run with pain
Until the moon can shed no light at all"




"Gamergate": the word we dare not write on Twitter, for fear of a torrent of harassment. It started with a spurned ex-boyfriend doing his best to try to drag his ex's reputation through the mud. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, because she makes video games, and he -- as well as an army of supporters initially rallied using the 4chan hate site -- weaponized male video game enthusiasts' terror of women encroaching on their turf.

Why this fear of women? The term "witch hunt" is overused, but Gamergate is one of the closest modern-day analogues to a witch hunt. Teenage boys, frustrated in a culture that doesn't have much use for teenagers at all, were so dedicated in their zeal to spread lies and hyperbole that a major corporation, Intel, acted on the fear they spread. (I use "teenage boys" here to refer to a state of mind.) Like a toddler who has figured out something that annoys their parents and keeps doing it, and like the teenage girls of New England in the 17th century who figured out that they could set a deadly chain of events into motion, these boys are drunk on the power they have stumbled into. Their goal? Stopping a woman they believe to have strange powers: the power to pass off what they see as a non-game as a game, through bewitchment of influential men ("bewitchment of" here means "sex with"). I am being literal here. Read more... )

tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
[CW: weight stigma]

Quoted verbatim from a comment I just submitted via the Salesforce intranet (Salesforce is the parent company of Heroku, where I started working a week and a half ago.)
I'm not sure who the right person to contact about this is, but I have some concerns about the content shown on the home page at http://www.getsalesforcebenefits.com/ . For example, right now, there is a panel encouraging viewers to "slim down with the retrofit program". Some employees have -- or are recovering from -- eating disorders, and do not need to see this content, which could be triggering to them. In general, intentional weight loss is not an evidence-based health intervention, and has harmful effects for many people.

The effects of weight stigma on physical health are well-documented and damaging -- I'm happy to provide more information and resources on this topic. http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/why-diets-dont-work/ and http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/the-high-cost-of-weight-stigma/ are both good places to start. I would love to see Salesforce promote the Health at Every Size movement ( http://www.haescommunity.org/ ), an evidence-based, supportive approach to health, as part of its wellness program.

In addition, weight discrimination is illegal in San Francisco: the city's guidelines at http://sf-hrc.org/sites/sf-hrc.org/files/migrated/FileCenter/Documents/LBE_EBO/EBO/Height_and_Weight.pdf state, "Employers must strive to maintain a respectful, non-hostile environment related to weight and height.... Unsolicited comments, advice, or literature recommending weight loss or gain are inappropriate." I think that the content that appears on the Salesforce benefits home page qualifies as "unsolicited advice or literature recommending weight loss", and thus creates a hostile environment for fat employees.

If there is another way I should make this comment, please let me know.

Thanks,
Tim Chevalier

Edit: On July 18, I received the following response to my query:
Hi Ted,

Thanks so much for providing feedback on this communication. I appreciate your concern and candor. We strive to present broad-based wellness programs that help employees find happiness, healthiness and a sense of security. We can certainly take a look at the organization that you suggested. The banner on our benefits homepage has already been taken down based on the rotation schedule.

I'm happy to talk more about our wellness programs (and specifically why we chose to partner with Retrofit) on the phone if you'd like. Thank you again for taking the time to reach out.

Kind regards,
[REDACTED]

(No, I don't know why they addressed me as "Ted" either.) This isn't terribly satisfying, as it doesn't give any indication that the company is going to put effort into complying with San Francisco's anti-weight-discrimination ordinance.
tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (travel)
Since it seems that a lot of people don't know what I'm doing (and writing this post won't change that since even if I link it everywhere, the vagaries of various social media software will make sure most people never see it, lol):

I just finished my first week working at Heroku as an engineer on the HTTP Routing Infrastructure team. While most of the first week was spent shuffling ssh keys hither and yon, from here on I'll be writing some Erlang.

I'm living in the Mission (two blocks from Tartine, Maxfield's, and Bi-Rite) for the rest of July, subletting a room in a friend's place.

Since I have the privilege of being able to work remotely, I'm going to take advantage of that privilege for a while (as nice as the Heroku office is). In August, I'll be moving to someplace with lower rent than San Francisco, but within North America (my job is so inflexible ;-) so I can pay off my $30,000 of student loan debt and $12,000 of combined medical and credit card debt more easily. Given my constraints, there are a lot of places in North America to choose from -- specifically, all of them, except San Francisco. Optimizing for relative proximity to people and places I want to visit, proximity to a city with population 100,000+, culture, and low cost of living, I'll probably be looking for a 2 or 3-bedroom rental house in Reno, NV, where I predict I'll be paying about a quarter of the rent that I would pay for a similar place in the Bay Area. Once my debt is paid off (barring anything unexpected, in 6-9 months), I'll probably move back to the Bay Area, but then, who knows what will happen?

It seems that housing is generally "available now", so rather than trying to find a place to live in advance, I'll probably just get in my car at the end of the month and go try to find someplace to live, then return for my furniture and stuff (currently in storage) and my cats (currently staying with a friend in Napa). I'm aspiring to adopt two more cats, assuming I can find a rental place that will allow four cats (and crossing my fingers that my other cats don't hate them).

I would love to hang out with people in the Bay Area while I'm still here, but since I lent my car to somebody for the month to avoid paying half my rent again for a parking space, preferably someplace transit-accessible. I've also been focusing on first-week-of-work panic and finishing-an-article panic, and thus have made zero plans for that yet.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Dylan Wilbanks makes a really great point in this article about farmers versus laborers, as applied to the tech industry. It's a distinction that's been made before, but for the first time, something really clicked in my mind, something saying that I'm not worse than other people because I don't want to write code in my spare time.

And thinking about it, it occurs to me that the way we (as in young-ish tech workers) are being lied to is that our (collective) bosses demand from us that we behave like farmers -- like, in other words, people who own something -- without actually getting ownership in anything. That we take on all the risks of being owners, without actually owning a thing. That's true whether we're talking about expectations that people do open source work in their free time in order to be deemed worthy of a software job, or whether we're talking about expectations that employees work unpaid overtime to increase profits for people working 40 hours a week at best. When you put effort into a (literal) farm, you're getting something back -- you know it's always going to be yours, and if you do a good job, you're likely to gain economic security. What happens when you put effort into a company that someone else owns? How many businesses succeed? And what about working on an open-source project -- you could view this as contributing towards a collective good, but as Ashe Dryden among others have pointed out, the benefits of open-source work are grossly unevenly distributed.

It reminds me of what Lawrence Lessig wrote about socializing the risks and privatizing the benefits, and I'm sure there's a catchier way to put this, but I thought I should write it down.

And as far as the distinction that the article makes, I'm a laborer, and I doubt I will ever be anything else as long as I stay in the tech industry. (I'm a little uncomfortable using that word to refer to work where I get to be seated in an air-conditioned office all day, but there you go.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

I had some grand plans to write blog posts as part of encouraging folks to donate, but over the weekend I caught a case of the creeping crud, and other stuff happened. Even so, at this point 22 people have donated, which means I just need 8 six five three more people one more person to donate by 23:59 PM Pacific time on December 18 in order to say that I achieved my goal of getting 30 people to donate to the Ada Initiative by my birthday!

In lieu of a longer post, here's a short one that connects two of the topics I mentioned earlier.

I'm male, obviously, so you might think I wouldn't care on a personal level whether or not the open-source community is 2% women (as the best estimates currently place it) or 50%. Sure, I used to be perceived as female, and for obvious reasons, that made it less comfortable for me to study computer science and to participate in open-source projects than it would have been if I'd been recognized as male all along. But, you might think, everything's okay now, right? I might still want the scene to be safer for women out of some abstract moral obligation, but it certainly wouldn't bother me on a personal level to not see any women in the room.

You would be wrong if you thought that, because when I'm at work or at a conference and notice that the people doing work on my level are all men, or almost all men, I wonder why. I wonder what else is going on, what I may not have noticed yet that is happening to drive women away. I wonder what I'm being complicit with without even knowing it. Perhaps more than any of those things, I notice the tone of conversations (both work-related and not) and how, in a strongly male-dominated environment, the tone reflects the lack of gender balance. No, I don't mean that guys at software companies are putting up Playboy calendars and sitting around scratching their crotches all day... not usually, anyhow. I'm referring to more subtle things, like whether a project meeting resembles a group of people cooperating towards a shared goal, or whether it looks more like a contest to see who can display the most knowledge and prove himself the winner. And I'm also referring to whether, during lunches or happy hours, people on a team are capable of talking about anything at all with each other besides just work.

It's not that I think women are intrinsically non-competitive or that they're less likely to be singularly obsessed with work. I do think that given the ways women and men are rewarded and punished for certain behaviors, women in tech are more likely to have interests outside tech and less likely to prioritize displaying how much they know ahead of getting a job done.

I find it depressing and toxic when the only people I work with are men. And I find that to be a distraction from getting my job done. Some people might see it as a distraction when I bring up sexism in my workplace -- for me, it's just something I'm doing in the hopes of creating an environment where I can do my job better, like getting an ergonomic keyboard or sitting near a window. It's not that women's place in tech is just to make guys like me happier, of course. Rather, gender ratios are something that can be measured and that are quite likely to be one proxy for a workplace that's functioning well. A company whose hiring process systematically excludes women is likely to be one whose hiring processes are broken in many other ways as well, and more broadly, that has a culture that's hurting productivity in more ways than just gender imbalance. (Gender imbalance hurts a project or company because it means that people who could contribute more are being pushed out in favor of people who can't contribute as much, just because they're the wrong gender -- and gender is a trait that's irrelevant to performance as a programmer.)

Nothing is going to change without concerted effort, because many men feel they benefit from a professional culture where they don't have to work as hard because they don't have to compete with women. And as I wrote before, one of the groups that's most likely to be remembered as having had an effect is the Ada Initiative.

Thanks again to the people who have donated so far:
  1. [twitter.com profile] Angry_Lawyer
  2. [twitter.com profile] josephcorcoran
  3. [twitter.com profile] ffee_machine
  4. [twitter.com profile] ArdaTisya
  5. [twitter.com profile] nerdonica
  6. [twitter.com profile] chrisleague
  7. [personal profile] cynthia1960
  8. [personal profile] nou
  9. [personal profile] substitute
  10. +n tung (gatoatigrado)
  11. [personal profile] miang
  12. [livejournal.com profile] anemone
  13. Eugene Kirpichov
  14. [twitter.com profile] scouttle
  15. [twitter.com profile] sixty4k
  16. [twitter.com profile] atombeast
  17. Eli Lebow
  18. [twitter.com profile] etrolleybus
  19. [twitter.com profile] aeolianharp
  20. Summer and Carl
  21. [twitter.com profile] acfoltzer
  22. [personal profile] nentuaby
  23. [twitter.com profile] sebfisch
  24. [twitter.com profile] Rohboto
  25. [personal profile] flippac
  26. [twitter.com profile] kowey
  27. [personal profile] gfish
  28. [profile] gwillen
  29. [twitter.com profile] ImreFitos
  30. [personal profile] pseudomonas
  31. [personal profile] yam
  32. [twitter.com profile] PerceptibleBlue
  33. [personal profile] callmesquinky
  34. [livejournal.com profile] rjmccall
  35. [twitter.com profile] musingvirtual
  36. [personal profile] karlht
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Reposting what I posted on Facebook and G+:

Reminder: for my 33rd birthday, I'm trying to raise funds for the Ada Initiative from 30 people. So far, 1213 (awesome) people have donated. (See my previous birthday wish post for the list of people.) I only have a week left till my birthday, so please don't hesitate!

On the off chance that you missed it, the Ada Initiative works to make it possible for women to contribute to open-source software and to free culture initiatives (like Wikipedia) of all kinds. In a very short period of time, their work has been critical in encouraging more technical conferences to have meaningful codes of conduct, which can be the difference between women realistically expecting that they will be harassed just for existing at any technical conference they attend, and harassment no longer being the norm. They also organize hands-on sessions to help women strategize about handling impostor syndrome, and help companies that want to hire women but don't know how. Especially if you are privileged enough to work in the tech industry, and if you recognize that part of your good fortune arises not from your own merit but from the unearned advantages that have accrued to you socially (such as male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege, heterosexual privilege, abled privilege, or all of the above), consider giving something back to help more people live the life you live. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you!

I intended to write an interesting TAI-related blog post every day until I reached my goal of 30 people donating, but you know what intentions are worth. Still, if I get to it this weekend, expect to see posts about some of the following:
  1. Technical confidence, overconfidence, and codes of conduct
  2. What I didn't say (at times when I've been told things like "your views are too aggressive" and "you're making people uncomfortable)
  3. Microaggressions at the Mozilla Summit
  4. Having to earn the right to criticize
  5. Why having every professional space be male-dominated hurts me, and why I'm probably not the only man who feels that way
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
If one wishes to promote the life of language, one must promote the life of the community---a discipline many times more trying, difficult, and long than that of linguistics, but having at least the virtue of hopefulness. It escapes the despair always implicit in specializations: the cultivation of discrete parts without respect or responsibility for the whole.

-- Wendell Berry, "Standing By Words"

Programmers, of all people, ought to understand the power of language. The desktop, laptop or mobile computer you are using to read this blog post would be useless without software, which -- uniquely among the various types of things engineers build -- is constructed solely from language. The magical thing about programming, the thing that drew me to it 18 years ago, is that it turns ideas into reality.

Yet a lot of programmers seem to have a selective lack of understanding of how ideas, as expressed through language (particularly gendered language), construct reality. I find that somewhat curious, given how much time programmers can spend arguing over whether a certain programming language should use a semicolon or a comma for a particular language construct.

When the news about the libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute broke last week, I was going to write a blog post about it. It was going to be a lengthy one, as is my style. But because reasons, I kept putting off actually writing that post. I also avoided reading others' posts about it, because I had some specific things in mind to say and I didn't want to confuse myself.

Today, though, I read Bryan Cantrill's post "The Power of a Pronoun". Bryan is the VP of Engineering at Joyent, the company that sponsors libuv. As Bryan points out, Ben Noordhuis -- the libuv contributor who reverted the patch -- was a volunteer, and thus can't be fired. (At least not straightforwardly.) And, in fact, Ben ended up leaving the project voluntarily after all of this went down. But, Bryan says

But while Isaac is a Joyent employee, Ben is not—and if he had been, he wouldn't be as of this morning: to reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered would constitute a fireable offense for me and for Joyent. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous (absurd, perhaps) to fire someone over a pronoun -- but to characterize it that way would be a gross oversimplification: it's not the use of the gendered pronoun that's at issue (that's just sloppy), but rather the insistence that pronouns should in fact be gendered. To me, that insistence can only come from one place: that gender—specifically, masculinity—is inextricably linked to software, and that's not an attitude that Joyent tolerates. This isn't merely a legalistic concern (though that too, certainly), but also a technical one: we believe that empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well.
In this post, Bryan Cantrill shows he understands something that's woven into the fabric of daily life for many of us: the little things matter, and as I've written before, the little offenses lay the groundwork for the big ones. (Thanks to Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell for their insights in the posts that my own blog posts just elaborate on.) Assuming that Bryan's attitude displayed here is consistent and is part of the culture at Joyent, that means Joyent is a company I would be happy to work at someday.

Contrast this with my most recent former employer, Mozilla. While there are many individuals at Mozilla I could name who share a commitment to inclusion, I'm sorry to say that the company as a whole lacks any such commitment -- and I mean a commitment that is expressed through actions and not just aspirations. I wrote about one such example at great length. But a more recent one happened after I told one of the other members of the Rust team that I was considering leaving Mozilla.

I asked this person (who will remain nameless, since it isn't my intent here to single out individuals or to invite accusations that I'm starting a witch hunt, rallying a pitchfork-wielding feminist mob, or any of the hyperbolic cliches that people terrified of losing privilege use to shame people like me into silence) if there was anything he thought I should know before making up my mind over whether to accept my offer from another company. We spent some time first talking about issues that were (at least superficially) unrelated to the topic of this post. But then he told me that he thought I should know that other people on the team were "uncomfortable" with my "offputting" views about gender. He said that everybody on the team agreed with my views on feminism, it was just that some of them disagreed with how I expressed them. (This is a common derailing tactic.) I can't know whether he was speaking only for himself or whether several other people on the team truly do agree with him, since he didn't name any of the other people who he was citing to back up this statement. In any case, the sole concrete example that my now-former colleague gave of just what was "off-putting" about my views was that several times, I had asked people on the #rust IRC channel not to use "guys" to refer to the members of the channel collectively (as in, "Hey, guys, I have a question..."), since there are people of various genders who spend time on the IRC channel. He said that he felt this was hurting the community because it made people "uncomfortable".

This, by the way, happened not long after Lindsey Kuper, a long-time Rust contributor, wrote about her experience with harassment on #rust, as well as another woman who is a regular in #rust reported that she had received a sexual advance via private /msg from someone who was, presumably, scrolling through the list of users in #rust and looking for the first female-coded name to target for harassment. And so it was clear to me that when my former colleague said he was worried that asking people to use inclusive language would make them "uncomfortable", he was not speaking out of concern for the comfort of either Lindsey, or the woman who another #rust member hit on via private message, or for any other women who contribute to Rust, or for any women who might want to. Rather, he was speaking out of concern for the comfort of people who have male privilege and are so very sensitive about it that a request to think about how other people feel about the language they use would affect their desire to use a programming language.

On the one hand, Mozilla's stated mission is to "keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the Web". On the other, if we look at actions and not at aspirations, Mozilla's enforcement -- and lack of enforcement -- regarding appropriate professional conduct seems tailor-made for protecting wealth and privilege, for ensuring that even if anyone can contribute to the Web, a privileged few (those who are mostly white, mostly North American and Western European, mostly male, and mostly heterosexual) will retain control over it. I left. I couldn't manage the cognitive dissonance anymore.

In the world of open-source companies, are more of them like Joyent -- asserting empathy as a core value -- or are more of them like Mozilla -- too concerned with privileged programmers' comfort to carry out justice? (Note that if you're too afraid to ask for non-sexist conduct because of who you are afraid you'll alienate, you are implicitly saying that you believe your project cannot survive without the contributions of sexist and willfully ignorant men.) I really don't know the answer. But I do know that empathy won't spread by itself, and that social change takes sustained and diligent effort.

So, for a third time: it's my 33rd birthday in twelve days. If you have more than $1 to spare, you can make it a good one by donating to the Ada Initiative. I already wrote about why I think TAI has had an effect and will continue to have one -- with your support. You can join the ranks of those who have donated so far if you just let me know!

See a more recent post for the list of awesome folks who have donated so far.

Remembering

Dec. 6th, 2013 03:16 pm
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
In lieu of a longer post towards my birthday wish for donations to the Ada Initiative, I'll quote Leigh Honeywell on the 24th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre:
While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.
Every active refusal to use language that includes women; every rape apologist who continues to be a respected leader in the open-source community; every time that men terrorize a company into firing a woman for protesting sexist conduct makes it harder for women to feel safe working in technology, in a way that is more complicated but no less real than the way in which a man with a gun did so in 1989 in Montreal. Every one of these instances is about men defending their turf and protecting the high status of their field from women whose presence might make it less comfortable and lucrative for gender-normative men with traditional attitudes about gender roles.

If you want to help make technology a safer industry to work in for everyone who isn't a white heterosexual abled cis man, then please consider making a donation to the Ada Initiative and letting me know that you did so!
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (computers)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

For the second year in a row, I'm fundraising for the Ada Initiative (TAI) for my birthday. I'll be 0x21 years old on December 18 (that's 33 in base ten, but who's counting?) If you would like to celebrate with me, please make a donation and let me know. Since I'm turning 33, I suggest a donation of $33 if you can afford it -- but seriously, any amount matters, even $1.

My post from last year about why I support TAI still applies. The events of the past year have just strengthened that conviction. From the harassment and firing of Adria Richards for daring to be a Black woman in tech who spoke up against inappropriate behavior at a software conference, to last month's appalling dispute about whether or not software documentation should marginalize women, to the news that open-source community leader Michael Schwern committed domestic violence, to some stuff in my own life that I'm not quite ready to write about yet, it's been clear that there's a lot more work that remains to make it safe for women to work in the tech industry, especially intersectionally marginalized women.

The Ada Initiative is one of the few groups that exists solely to work on that problem, and they have been very effective at it so far. TAI "specifically welcomes trans women and genderqueer women" and "[strives] to be an intersectional social justice organization" (quoting directly from the About Us page).

As with last year, I'm asking that people donate directly to TAI, using their donation form, and then let me know. My goal for this year is for 30 people to donate (why 30? Last year, my goal was 20, but 27 people actually donated, so I think I can improve on that this year). If you don't let me know, I won't be able to know if I reached my goal, and I'll be sad. You can let me know by commenting on this post, tweeting at me or commenting on my Facebook wall, or -- if you prefer to be private -- emailing me (catamorphism at gmail.com) or sending me a private message on any of the services I use. Also, I will assume it's okay to thank you in a public post by the name or pseudonym that I know you by unless you tell me otherwise. You don't have to tell me the amount that you donated.

If you've donated to the Ada Initiative this year already, great! If you can, please donate a little more for my sake :-)

As with last year, I am going to try to post something on my blog every day until I reach my goal of 30 donors, even if it's a link to a post written by someone else or an older post of mine. I'll have the first installment -- my thoughts on the aforementioned libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute -- up either tonight or tomorrow!

To make things more fun, I'm issuing a challenge: write a blog post (doesn't have to be long) about anything related to diversity and inclusion in open-source, software more generally, computer science academia, or free culture (e.g. Wikipedia), broadly construed. Then, comment here with a link to it, before 00:01 Pacific time on December 18. I happen to have an extra Ada's Angel T-shirt that I will send to the person who writes the best post (in my opinion). Another option is to add a page to the Geek Feminism Wiki or improve an existing one -- in that case, leave a link to your edit. The T-shirt is black, size XL straight-cut, with the Ada's Angel design on the back and a smaller design at the hip.

Thanks!
ETA: Thanks to those who have donated so far -- see a more recent post for the current list.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Content warning: discussion of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and victim-blaming in linked-to articles.

I'm about to submit I just submitted a pull request to add my name to the Tech Event Attendance Pledge. Specifically:

  1. I will not attend any tech events where Joe O'Brien (also known as @objo) is in attendance.
  2. I will not attend any tech events without a clear code of conduct and/or anti-harassment policy.

For me, the first item is likely to be a moot point, since I'm not a Rubyist (although I play one on TVpodcasts). Even so, I think it's important for me to explicitly say that a space that's unsafe for women is a space that's unsafe for me. And a space that accepts harassers, abusers, or rapists who have not been held accountable or shown remorse for their actions -- whether we're talking about Joe O'Brien, Michael Schwern, or Thomas Dubuisson, just to pick a few out of many examples -- is an unsafe space.

The second item is more likely to affect my day-to-day activities, but fortunately, the two conferences I'm most likely to attend in the future already have anti-harassment policies. Open Source Bridge's code of conduct is a model for all other events of its kind. And ICFP (along with all other SIGPLAN conferences) has an anti-harassment policy. At this point, there's no reason for any conference organizers to not have already done the work of establishing an anti-harassment policy (and it's not much work, since the Citizen Code of Conduct is available and Creative-Commons-licensed to permit derivative works; it's the basis for Open Source Bridge's code of conduct), so there's no reason for me to speak at or attend a conference that doesn't have one.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Crossposted to geekfeminism.org.

The Empowermentors Collective is, in their own words, "a skillshare, activism, and discussion network for intersectionally marginalized people of color in the free culture and free software movement." Also from their Web site: "We see radical potential in free culture and free software (often marketed as 'open source software') to work against ableism, racism, cissexism, heterosexism, sexism, and classism."

I think this collective is a great idea, and while it's not something that is open to me, I'll do my best to spread the word about it. But one place I can't spread the word is on any mailing list, forum, or syndicated blog post associated with my company. Since I work for an open-source company, Mozilla, that might employ people who are eligible for and interested in Empowermentors, that's too bad.

Why is that? The Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines say: "Some Mozillians may identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla. When this is the case: (a) support for exclusionary practices must not be carried into Mozilla activities. (b) support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities should not be expressed in Mozilla spaces." Empowermentors is exclusionary: it excludes white people, like myself. I support their right to create a safe space so that people who are oppressed can have one place that won't be dominated by people in an oppressor class who may (even in a well-intentioned way) engage in derailing and silencing. So I can't mention the group in a work mailing list email, or a post on Yammer (if I used Yammer), or in a post on my blog that is tagged so as to be syndicated to Planet Mozilla.

This illustrates a problem with codes of conduct that don't explicitly acknowledge social power dynamics and call out the difference between a group that has a history of being oppressive doing things that reinforce the system of oppression in which it operates, and a historically oppressed group engaging in self-defense. Compare Mozilla's Community Participation Guidelines with the code of conduct for the Open Source Bridge conference: "Communities mirror the societies in which they exist and positive action is essential to counteract the many forms of inequality and abuses of power that exist in society." With this one sentence, the organizers of Open Source Bridge communicated that the purpose of the entire code of conduct is to protect people who are abused, not to protect abusers.

Exclusionary groups that are for oppressed people are a positive force, because they give oppressed people time and space to talk about their oppression and/or just live their lives without explaining -- or worse, justifying -- their experiences all the time. For example, programming study groups that are for self-identified women only are a great thing, because it's easier for women to learn when they don't have to worry that if they say something silly or admit they don't know something, the men in the room will hold it against their entire gender. As another example, when I was in college, I didn't understand why the Black students' organization had to exclude white students from participating. Now I understand that white people dominate almost every space, and having an organization where Black students at an overwhelmingly-white college can talk amongst themselves doesn't hurt white students and helps Black students succeed.

But the Mozilla guidelines lump together these socially beneficial groups with white supremacist organizations or the Boy Scouts of America (which excludes queer men from serving as troop leaders). That's a problem. As the Open Source Bridge code of conduct shows, it's an easy problem to solve, as long as the priority of the people writing the code of conduct is to promote justice rather than to suppress tension.
tim: protest sign: "Down With This Sort of Thing" (politics)
I read a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson that someone retweeted in which he says: "Advice to Students: When choosing a career, consider jobs where the idea of a vacation from it repulses you."

I like snorkeling. My job doesn't involve snorkeling. Does that mean I should quit my job and find one that requires snorkeling? I don't think so, because there aren't too many jobs that involve both snorkeling and computer programming, and I like programming too. Maybe there's some marine biology job somewhere that would require me to do both. Well, what about riding my bike? I still wouldn't be able to do that as part of my job. I like many things, and am unlikely to find a job that involves all of them. On the extremely rare occasion that I'm allowed to take a vacation that doesn't involve having surgery, I do things that I like to do that I can't do at work.

I'm poly, which means that when I have relationships, I prefer them to be based on informed consent rather than rigid rules that originate in cis men's need to control everybody else's bodies. That's not necessarily right for everyone, I'm just talking about me. One of the great things about being poly is that I don't have to find a single person who can fulfill all of my needs. I don't expect to be able to do that. So why would I expect one job to fulfill all of my needs?

A worker who doesn't want to take a vacation is a manager's dream come true (and in the Bay Area, it's said that companies like Netflix that have unlimited paid time off actually exert intense informal pressure on workers not to use any of it). Such a worker can potentially make management very happy. I've never heard of a CEO who never took vacations. The people I know who measure their job satisfaction by the number of hours they work are usually software engineers -- people who labor so that other people, generally not working 90-hour weeks, may profit. (It's true that in a startup, people may work long hours in the hope of profiting themselves, but this certainly isn't the norm.)

The US provides workers with the least amount of vacation time in the world. For middle-class Western Europeans, a job with three weeks of paid vacation time -- considered generous in the US -- would be shocking. Does that mean that Europeans who are scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love their work less than American scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love theirs?

Neil deGrasse Tyson might love his job enough to never take a vacation, but I don't love my job less than he loves his just because I sometimes want to do things that aren't in my job description. Different people are different; liking more things doesn't make a person less virtuous than somebody who likes one thing to the exclusion of all others. Just as we create unrealistic expectations by enforcing lifelong monogamy to the exclusion of all other ways to structure relationships, and teaching young people that they can undoubtedly expect to find just one person who can give them everything they need, we also create unrealistic expectations by teaching the young that they can expect to find one job that they love so much they never want to do anything else.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I stayed at the office until about 11 PM trying to git bisect this performance regression (that it's possible that only I am experiencing; perhaps the space-time continuum around me and my MacBook is just flawed; 20 seconds for parsing libcore instead of 8 seconds seems like a big deal, though, and that applies to other phases as well), got results that didn't make sense, started over, and left without finishing (each bisecting step takes 5 to 15 minutes, depending whether it's rebuilding LLVM). If I were cleverer, I'd have figured out how to write a script to automate it.

In any case, as I so often do, I left feeling like I was the worst programmer ever *and* hadn't even succeeded in doing anything that was just for me today. I'm way behind schedule on rustpkg, what I'm ostensibly supposed to be working on; I started bisecting performance stuff because that was blocking me on rustpkg, and I started doing other stuff in the background like bug triaging since I needed *something* to do while waiting for compiles, but still, there's something I'm supposed to be doing and I hadn't gotten very far on it.

But before I left, I read the news that the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River -- over which I would otherwise have been driving tomorrow night (I'm driving down to Seattle so I can catch a plane to San José so I can look for apartments on Saturday and Sunday, then fly back up to Seattle and drive back to Vancouver on Sunday for my last week) -- collapsed, because a truck driver ran into part of the bridge, which caused the bridge to collapse.

I started thinking about how it would feel to be that truck driver. If I make a mistake at my job, usually I just feel bad about it, or in the worst case, a few people get annoyed with me. This person made a mistake at their job and caused a bridge to collapse. All by themself! (Probably some of the blame goes to the civil engineers who designed the bridge, but even so, lots of other people managed to drive over the bridge and not make it collapse.)

When I get frustrated with my work, lately I've been thinking, "well, if all else fails, I could become a truck driver." I like driving and I'm happier when I'm in motion. There are lots of things that appeal to me about it, actually.

But the fact remains that as a programmer, no matter what I do, I know I'm not going to make a mistake that will immediately destroy a bridge.

So I think I'll keep my day job for now.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've got a new blog post up at geekfeminism.org about structureless organizations and whether or not they are good for people experiencing marginalization in the tech industry. You can also read my past posts on geekfeminism.org.

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

June 2015

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