“I feel like it enabled him to lure people who really do care about the things that he preaches on Twitter into a really toxic work environment.”
Nancy is a full-stack software engineer based in San Antonio, TX. Before turning to code, Nancy was a Special Education teacher at high need schools in Brooklyn for seven years. She’s carried her teacher skills of advocacy and inquiry into every role she’s held since.
Shortly after Anil Dash started as the CEO of Fog Creek, he announced internally that we’d be making salaries transparent and had the website changed to claim we already had. Now, 3.5 years later @glitch has laid off staff members without ever honoring the promise.— nancy (@nancy_hawa) May 22, 2020
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. And welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. My guest today is Nancy Hawa; pronouns are she / her. Nancy, would you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Nancy Hawa: Hi, I’m Nancy Hawa.
Kim: We’re gonna do this a little differently. Maybe some of you already know the name right now, so what we’re just going to do, we’re gonna start as we always do with why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene? And we’re gonna jump right into the contents of this. So why is it important to cause a scene, Nancy?
Nancy: I guess for a little bit of context of like why it became important to me: I worked for Anil Dash at Fog Creek for about a year and a half and left very angrily—of my own accord, I was not fired—but stayed quiet for years afterwards. And then a few months ago saw a Twitter thread of another employee who’d left very angrily, who talked about her experience at Fog Creek as being very traumatic and shared some of the impacts that it had on her sleep and her psychological state, almost as if she were talking about PTSD. And I started at that point feeling really guilty about having made the choice to move on and not share my experience because I feel like it enabled him to lure people who really do care about the things that he preaches on Twitter into a really toxic work environment.
Kim: All right, so, how are you causing a scene?
Nancy: On Twitter, I… [Laughs] a couple of different times now, since then, I’ve tweeted about my experience. This week—or last week, on Friday—was the first time the tweets got any traction. I’m not sure if that’s because Glitch just did a round of layoffs or because of the specific content of the tweets, but for the first time, I’ve gone mildly viral and people seem to be noticing.
Kim: OK, so I want to start this conversation with—’cause I believe in transparency, and I can tell you I’m feelin’ a little guilty here as well, and this is why this show is important to me—because you tagged me in the conversation after Tiffany’s article. You tagged me back in—it was December 26th—about this and because Anil and I had a relationship—I mean, let me be clear, ’cause that, people take that out of context: a professional relationship. Someone who I often went to for insight into—particularly when I was being attacked heavily by Asian men, South Asian men—he’s a person I went to when I was actively challenging Stack Overflow in a—particularly about their survey.
So, I went to him in DMs and asked, “What did I get pulled into?” ‘Cause you tagged me in that tweet, and he gave me a reason. He said that he saw it, he understood it, and it was being worked on. I got distracted and didn’t follow up. And this is where I say why this work is so challenging for a lot of people and why I understand that people think I’m a bitch and I’m OK with this, because I have to figure out how to navigate relationships when the people I’m in relationship with do fucked up things.
Nancy: Yeah. I understand.
Kim: And so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And so, I still don’t know the story. Because now, when I retweeted, I retweet-comment your post, your tweet, your thread on Friday and asked directly what this was, and he has not responded to me. And so, I saw after a few hours of him not responding publicly, I saw that there was a need to have this conversation, because I do not believe in whisper networks. And I want to thank you before we get started for coming on, for bringing this to my attention. And I again, I want to—well, not again. I want to apologize to you for not engaging in a way that I thought I should—in hindsight, I know I should have engaged.
And let me be clear, people, I’m not here to do work for you, ’cause this is another reason why I—I’m very mindful, cause people will tag me all the time as if I work for them, and I’m supposed to do something. And I didn’t know you. So I was, like, I went to the person who I knew in the situation and said, “Hey, what is this, why did I get tagged into this thing?” I got a answer that reassured me at the time. And now with new information, I’m moving forward. So I want to put all that out as full disclosure. This is where I’m coming from. I’m not angry. I’m not upset. I’m doing what Kim always does with this podcast, is bring some light to what the fuck is going on.
So I’m gonna be quiet at this point, and I’m gonna let you tell your story, and I have some notes that I wrote, and I hope we can get into some things that I do definitely want to talk about. But I want you to tell your story before I jump into this. So I’m gonna mute myself, and you tell me what—why you’re here.
Nancy: Ok. I also want to say that I didn’t feel any disappointment or resentment back when I tagged you a while ago. I thought it might be something that you were interested—would be interested in—but I didn’t expect you to take up the mantle of it immediately.
But in terms of telling my story, I’m gonna kind of back up a little bit from before Anil started at Fog Creek—I guess even before I started at Fog Creek. I had been a special education teacher in New York City for seven years, and then decided to go to a bootcamp, the Flatiron School, and Fog Creek was the first job I got out of that bootcamp. The position that I was offered was Support Engineer, which is a mix of coding and engineering work and customer service. And it felt like a little bit of a compromise to me to take that role because it wasn’t purely software engineering. But I was advised by a number of people, like, “You can’t turn down Fog Creek software.” Especially because there’s a path from support engineering to software engineering. But that was what I wanted, was to become a software engineer.
I get to Fog Creek, and I’m like, pretty quickly outspoken about diversity issues. I give a talk to everyone at Fog Creek and Trello—I think in my second month—about some of our recruiting practices to try and get people thinking about how to make recruiting more inclusive. In April, about four months after I started at Fog Creek, I was told that my performance was excellent, and for that reason I got a raise from about $76,000 a year to about $90,000 a year. I never at any point got any negative feedback about my performance in my role.
But there were things that were frustrating, and I was coming as a special education teacher from a work environment that was about 80% women, and everybody had chosen—as their career—to spend their lives thinking about how to communicate well with people, which is not what software engineering is. It is not women who are thinking about how to communicate. I was feeling that pain, and had a couple of specific conversations that were pretty problematic.
One executive at the company asked me if I changed careers to find a husband. Another woman in a conversation about recruiting practices, the person who was at that time responsible for recruiting—who, to be clear, is not the same person who is in charge of that now, I don’t wanna accidentally malign her—acknowledged in kind of this rare moment of reflection that when she sees Indian names on the emails of applicants, her initial response is, “Oh, this is just gonna be spam.” And that that would impact her reading of the resume once she opened it. ‘Cause the conversation was about anonymizing resume reading, and she was like, “Yeah, this would prevent that.”
Another colleague sitting across the table said, “Well, you need to know—because they do spam—you need to know that when you’re looking at the resume.” Which I think is obviously racist and problematic, like we shouldn’t be assuming that all Indian applicants are spammers. Pushed back on that, and then that woman said, “Well, and it’s not just that, it’s also because of 9/11.” And I said, “Well, India had nothing to do with 9/11,” and she said, “You know what I mean.” And I said, “I think I do know what you mean: you’re saying we shouldn’t hire people who are Arab; which is me, I’m Arab.” And she said, “Well, you have to understand why people would be afraid after 9/11.” And pushed it and kept saying that we should not hire Arab people.
Those two people, by the way, the woman who said we should not hire Indian or Arab people because of 9/11, and the man who asked me if I changed careers to find a husband, both still work at Glitch for Anil. And Anil knows about both of those incidents. So, I am now, like, six months into my new career, starting to feel pretty frustrated.
And that October, we find out Anil Dash is gonna be the new CEO of the company. And I was excited about that; like, to have somebody who was thinking about this, because Fog Creek had become very famous as a place for setting the tone of developer culture, because the former CEO had had a blog and become very famous. But part of how they defined developer culture was defining it as something for white men. I think I was—16 years into the history of the company—I was the third woman hired to a technical role. And I believe that at this time, no woman of color had ever been hired to work at the company in any capacity.
But then Anil is gonna start. And I was excited about that. He started in October. It was announced the following December, along with an interview with him where he said that a company can’t be functional without a list of stated values. So that was something that we were publicizing from the time that we were publicizing that Anil had, was a company can’t work without values. But we also had no stated values, and there was no effort to produce any for months, despite a lot of pushback on that.
In January of 2017, shortly after Anil starts, he announces to the company that by June—the end of Q2—we’re gonna have transparent salaries for the first time. And we’re also going to get real equity; because the old equity system—I don’t really know what it is, but my understanding is that it was all kept in a notebook on someone’s desk—so that we were going to get real actual shares of the company, by June.
Sometime in the interim, I’m kind of randomly assigned a one-on-one—you know, chat with your colleague thing. The random assignment I get is Anil. I have a conversation with him where I say, “I don’t know if there’s really a path forward for me at Fog Creek to become a software engineer.” At this point, also I had been promoted to the head of my team. And so because I was promoted to the head of my team, I was spending quite a bit of time on non-engineering work, and that was meaning that I was doing engineering work kind of outside of work hours because I didn’t wanna lose that time. So I was regularly working 70 hours a week to not lose that prospect.
But it was very difficult for me to get feedback or mentorship. These things just weren’t available to me, and the mentorship opportunities that Anil would talk about were mentorship for women and women of color who did not work at Fog Creek—I think because that would have been more impressive marketing. I objected to that and started an internal mentorship program, partly so that I could get a mentor.
But when I told him that, that I didn’t see a path forward for me at Fog Creek and that I was thinking about leaving, he said, “Maybe you could become a product manager.” And I said, “I left a career as a teacher to become a software engineer. And I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t pursue that. You know, maybe someday I could think about becoming a product manager, but that’s not what I want to do right now.” And he responded to that by—me saying and I would regret it for the rest of my life—by saying, “Well, you could be a product manager,” and continued to push me in that direction. So I talked to my then-supervisor, said, “I’ma find a new job. There’s nothing for me here.” And he took care of it, and that’s how I became—got promoted—to be a software engineer at Fog Creek. So I got that promise.
And then June comes and goes; no movement on salary, transparency, or equity whatsoever, and I push on it and they say, “It’s, you know, it’s hard to do this.” And I volunteered on a number of occasions. I said, “If you give me the salaries, I can make them transparent very quickly.” I believe it to be the case that the reason they were hesitant to make salaries transparent is that when they actually looked at the salaries, they realized that they were inequitable. I think one of the sources of inequity may have been—and I am speculating, because I don’t know how much anyone was making, because salaries were never made transparent—but there was a time when Fog Creek was thriving and its employees were very well paid; and Fog Creek had started to fade by the time I started, and I think that those people who started earlier probably had salaries that were way out of whack compared to the people who started later.
But the reason why that’s an equity issue, is that those people also started at a time when Fog Creek didn’t hire women to technical roles. So preserving that higher-paid status for those people, I said was an equity issue. Anil implied that this was the case to me; I have screenshots of Slack DMs with him where I confront him with this and remind him that he implied that that was the case to me. And he does not deny it. At no point did he confirm solidly that that was the case, but he also—and again, I have DMs of this screenshotted—he doesn’t deny that that was the case.
The following September, I got the actual promotion to become a software engineer, and what I found to be a disappointing raise. I had gotten about a 20% raise for exceptional performance earlier, and then a $2,000 raise when I became team lead. And then, a very negligible raise when I was promoted from support engineer to software engineer. And I pinged my supervisor—who was the COO [Chief Operating Officer]—to try and understand and also say, “It is confusing to me that nine months after we were promised salaries were gonna be transparent, I have no idea where this number came from. I have no insight into how this decision was made or what I make relative to any of my peers. But I do believe that if I left Fog Creek, I would make much more money.” And when I did leave Fog Creek, I did get a $20,000 raise from that.
And I pushed it. I pushed him on it, and I pushed Anil on it. Like, “It’s September, you promised this in January. Why don’t we have salary transparency yet?” And the response—and I pushed it hard; I basically told Anil that he was a con artist, like if he’s going to be tweeting about this stuff and claiming that it’s important to him, and we had already, months earlier, updated our website to claim that we had salary transparency, so that in our recruiting we were telling people that we had salary transparency when we didn’t—I told him he was a con artist and there was nothing to back up what he was saying on Twitter, and it was all an act.
So the response at that point was to poll the staff about whether we should have salary transparency and the degree of transparency to have—that they want to have. So options were: publicly available on the website, everybody’s names and salaries; publicly available on the website: positions and salaries; or internally available, everybody’s names and salaries; internally available, everybody’s positions and bands.
So first of all, I don’t think that as a thought leader, making a promise, waiting nine months, and then putting it to a vote of the company, is a stand-up move. I don’t think that’s legitimate. Second of all, the move he chose was the thing, the level of transparency that was unanimously agreed upon, which was salary bands associated with positions. But most of the people in the company were comfortable with more transparency. He just wasn’t willing to be more transparent than anyone in the company was comfortable with. And again, I don’t know if that’s because the lack of transparency was there to obfuscate inequity, because there was no transparency.
So then we get a spreadsheet with titles and years of experience and salary bands associated with them. Some of the salary bands for… you know, and it might say—and I don’t have that spreadsheet, so this isn’t exact what I’m saying—but it might say, like “Software Engineer, 7 to 9 years of experience,” and some of the bands were $40,000 or $50,000 wide. Which indicates that there’s a lot of variability in those, and that variability can hide inequity.
But beyond the fact that the salary bands were so wide that I don’t think they were very meaningful, was the fact that some of them are flatly inaccurate. So, as an example, I had two data points, which was my salary as a Support Engineer and my salary as a Software Engineer. And I made out-of-band on the high end for both of those things. I knew that my salary fell outside the band, and it was higher than the band, but I knew that it was inaccurate.
Another colleague pinged in one of the channel—public channels—when the bands came out, “Am I supposed to figure out what my position is based on my salary?” Because he was also indicating like, “My years of experience here and position don’t line up with my band.” So I don’t know how many people fell outside of their band, but my view is that Anil went from distributing no information about salaries to distributing misinformation about salaries. And if the data’s inaccurate, then it’s not transparency. I feel very strongly about that.
One thing that I will say came from it is that I found out how incredibly underpaid one of my colleagues was, because some of the bands were very clearly written to explain the salary of one specific person. And so, like some of them were extremely wide, and then some of it, like they just described a person: “Support Engineer, no technical experience. This, this, and this” It was really… it was a very weird document. And I was able to negotiate for her because of that; a raise from—if memory serves—$58,000 a year to $72,000 a year. So, well out of band.
So now there’s a fourth data point that’s completely inaccurate. And it’s proof that the claim that Fog Creek made—and Glitch still makes—that they do not negotiate salaries, is untrue. And that’s a case where I negotiated on behalf of a colleague, but I’ve heard from many sources that I believe, that it is absolutely untrue that Fog Creek doesn’t negotiate—and now Glitch, because the company changed names—doesn’t negotiate salaries. And I think that that’s a problem for reasons that I’ll discuss later.
So anyway, that’s the degree of salary transparency we get. Through all of this, I have conflicts with Anil about other things as well. So, for example, product direction was very unclear to me. At some point I asked Anil like, “How much revenue are we bringing in every month from Glitch right now? How much monthly recurring revenue do we have from Glitch right now?” And he said, “$6,500 a month,” which was less than what we had targeted, but not so dramatically less. And then a couple days later, I learned that we had $0 a month of recurring revenue. Like he had just made up a number and answered me with that number. And that’s a pattern, that backed into a corner, Anil just makes something up. He just comes up with a lie.
On another occasion, shortly after this whole salary transparency issue, we got holiday bonuses in the form of gift cards. And people were frustrated that—people were like, “I can’t pay my rent with a gift card. Why are we getting Amex gift cards or Visa gift cards instead of cash for our holiday bonus?” And Head of People and Culture says, “Oh, you can change those in for cash if you’d like. There’s a place on the website. If you google it you’ll be able to find out how to trade a credit card gift card for cash.” But someone else is like, “No, that’s not true. This isn’t possible. It’s illegal because of money laundering.” And then Anil says, “Oh, sorry, the laws about this are changing all the time.” This is another lie; the laws about money laundering and gift cards are not changing all the time, right? He just makes something up.
I hypothesized that the reason why we got gift cards instead of cash is that it made it easier not to declare. Even though gift cards are supposed to be taxable, they didn’t do withholding on the gift card amount, which employers are supposed to do. And the holiday bonus was less than it had been in previous years. And I think they were trying to make up for that by not doing the withholding, which means that functionally what they chose to do is help a very privileged group of people evade their taxes on what was admittedly not a very large holiday bonus.
That January, the company publishes a blog post about salary transparency at Fog Creek. It does not mention the fact that we’ve implemented it with salary bands anywhere. It does not mention that at all. It says, like, “What we discovered is that we were doing everything right and salaries were very equitable, but just nobody knew that.” I don’t… I strongly suspect that that’s not the case. And I understand from people I’ve spoken to who have started and left since I left that Fog Creek continues to negotiate salaries—or Glitch continues to negotiate salaries—despite claiming not to.
And also that one of the ways in which salaries are plugged, and I think that this—I know that this was the case for at least one person when I worked there—is in how many years of experience are counted. So there might be a salary band that says this is the salary range for a developer with 5 to 7 years of experience. But then they decide, they make a decision about how many of your years of experience are Glitch- or Fog Creek-caliber. So if you have 5 years of experience, but they don’t think it’s really at a company that’s of this quality, they might knock it down to 3. And that’s a place where bias is introduced. And I’ve spoken to a number of women who have been, like, truly flabbergasted upon finding out how much the men they make work with at Glitch recently.
Shortly after that, I quit very angrily. I told Anil very directly that it was because of the pattern of lies and dishonesty and the misrepresentation of company culture in our marketing. Oh, another thing that I forgot to mention is that, in this time, in that fall where I was pushing on salary transparency, somebody tweeted—I believe at Fog Creek—asking if there was a diversity report. I think Anil DMed her some numbers. But the agreement from Anil and the Marketing Director was to take our staff photo off of all of our social media, again, to obfuscate the composition of the company, which was at that time very white and still very dominated by men.
So I quit and stayed quiet for a couple years again, until I saw what a terrible experience another woman had had. Also, in the interim, something that affected me was partly her experience that made me feel bad. But it was partly having learned about you and your work at Write, Speak, Code, and hearing you talk about the problems with whisper networks, is part of why I felt bad about staying quiet. So I thank you for that as well. And that’s, that’s pretty much the story.
Nancy: And that’s, that’s pretty much the story. I don’t know if you wanna jump in now.
Kim: OK, thank you. You gave, I love when the first episode—’cause I’m hoping this will be a series, and I’m gonna state right now: if you are out in the audience or know someone who has or had a relationship with Fog Creek or Glitch and want to come on and tell their story, please DM me, because I—we need to know what’s going on.
So there are some things that I wanted to talk about that I have been taking notes on, and I’m just going to read them out, and we can get to them. So first of all, kudos for being Special Ed certified. So was I. So I understand when you’re talking about salary transparency, because in education, we can go to the website, the state website and see everybody’s salary from the superintendents to the para-pros [paraprofessional educators]. So I know why that, when you said that, I was like, “Yeah I know why she’s very specific about that.” We get, you know exactly what someone’s making. All right.
Nancy: And you talk about it, right? I’ve talked about this with other people, like people who don’t have money, talk about money all the time.
Kim: All the time. Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nancy: And it’s OK.
Kim: Yeah. And so, so these are the notes that I wrote before we started, and then I’m gonna tell you some notes I wrote afterwards. So, the NDAs I have problems with, and I’ve said this before. It’s interesting to me that in a culture, in a industry as tech is—particularly start-ups—they can have absolutely no business model that works, no funding—I mean, no revenue—no plan, no policies for hiring. But everybody always has a NDA and that just makes me… and then they try to hide—and this is just a blanket, this is not Glitch-specific—and yet…
So they don’t have policies for hiring, policies for, you know, style guides, any of that stuff. But they’ll have a NDA and they hide—I don’t even know if they’re intentionally hiding—but what they end up doing is hiding shitty behavior behind it and making it about, as if I’ve had to sign this NDA, had you sign this NDA because of the intellectual property of a product or service. This has nothing to do with a product or service, this is how people are being treated.
And also, I do not—I think it’s very unethical to hold somebody’s severance to make them sign a NDA. I think that I’ve earned severance. If you either just give it to me or you don’t give it to me, it should not be contingent upon signing a NDA. And neither should your employment agreement should be signed, because what they’re doing at the beginning is saying any things, problems that you find, your hands or tied from saying anything about it. I have a problem with that.
Nancy: I could be wrong about this, and I want to say that. But I think that the Glitch employees who are signing NDAs, they’re not just non-disclosure agreements. They’re non-disparagement agreements.
Kim: Yeah, that’s exactly, well, and that’s what I wanna—both are shitty.
Kim: Yeah, non-disclosure are often used as non-disparagement.
Kim: And so I don’t see a difference when it’s not—if I’m talking, if I’ve been working on a project that’s top secret or intellectual property or has to do with my company’s points of innovation, or differentiation, or competitive advantage, that’s one thing. How you treat me as an employee is somethin’ totally different. That that ain’t got shit to do with it. This ethical tech thing: I have real issues with people talking about what ethical tech is, and not behaving ethically.
Years of experience: I really have a hard—I’m so sick of years of experience because that’s something that’s a holdover from when we were in an industrial age. We’re in the information age. If I come from another industry with information that you need to make your product or service more competitive, I don’t need—I have experience in what I came from—I don’t need experience in software or whatever this thing is.
I was working with a client and we were doing job descriptions for COO, which is a Chief Operating Officer. And they kept putting, they putting all this, this fluff stuff. And I was like, “What does it matter what their experience is?” ‘Cause, oh, they were saying, “They have to have known or worked on a SaaS [Software as a Service] product.” And I was like, “Why? That means you’re gonna continue to get shitty, the same kinds of people.” I was like, “I would rather have, if a bartender from a LA—from a Vegas casino… a bartending manager.” Think about how much they have to manage and juggle to make sure there’s enough liquor on hand, to make sure employees schedules are— that’s a person I want as a COO, ’cause they used to doing all kinds of…
So it’s like we really need to change how we’re thinking. We’re not building widgets anymore. This is a knowledge economy. You’re hiring people for their lived experience. Not how many widgets they can make in a hour.
Nancy: I also think it’s partly a way of devaluing the experience of people who are underrepresented.
Kim: Oh most definitely. Because it’s particularly in this space…
Nancy: Those people tend to be career-changers.
Kim: But particularly this space, if you don’t have a number of experience with fingers on the keyboard, it’s not valued. ‘Cause that’s the, you know, the only thing we talk about—and that gets into a whole ‘nother thing about our mistaking technical for technology. And only people who are technical are programmers and everybody else who makes the fucking company work are non-technical. This goes into that, ’cause their input or insight into the company and how the company functions is devalued and—not even devalued, it’s not valued. But what the hell can a programmer get done if you didn’t have all these other systems in place?
I saw—when I was reading the article from Tiffany—the lack of, I wanted to talk about the lack of HR support. This next one goes back to the ethical tech thing. This, I put in quotes, “the good guys in tech” narrative that people wanna have and they don’t know what the hell that means. That was the questions I had before. Coming after, you’ve just said this, I have a question about zero revenue. So where the hell was the money coming from? Was it coming from VC? And that’s what we can talk about. And then I really want to talk about—because I wouldn’t be doing my job if I did not—you are, although you’re Arab, you are white-presenting.
Kim: And I need to make sure that I talk about that and the fact that Anil is a very, obviously, a South Asian man. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I did not talk about what—because some of the things that you shared with me, and I don’t know if you want to talk about that, about these—the things you been hearing about what he’s been saying about you to someone. I wanted to just, you know, I like to push shit out in the open. Can any of this be attributed, can any of what you just said be attributed to: this is a white-presenting woman doing what white women do.
Nancy: OK, I’d like to start by just sharing what I’ve learned that Anil is… or I’ll start first by saying: I identify as a white woman. I… like, there’s a little bit of complication around how I think about my ethnic identity. But while I do think I have experienced some prejudice as someone who is of Arab descent, I think I have benefited 100% from white privilege. So it’s appropriate for me to identify as white for that reason. And I don’t call myself a woman of color, you know, on job applications or anything like that, for that reason.
What I learned this weekend is that after the thread of tweets that I posted on Friday went viral, Anil has been proactively reaching out to journalists—I know at least this is true of at least two journalists, and I can’t believe it’s only two—telling them that the problem was that I was disrespectful of my colleagues who were not coders, that I was in particular disrespectful of my colleagues who were Black and brown. And that’s the words of the journalist who spoke to me used, and that the real—and this part I’m a little bit confused about—but the whole real issue for me about salary transparency and lying, it was like such a conflict, was that my Black and brown colleagues were the ones who were opposed to salary transparency, and I was mad at them, is my understanding of what Anil has claimed.
I do think that there is a responsibility for any white person who gets that kind of feedback, that they were disrespectful to Black and brown colleagues, to be reflective and not to be immediately defensive and just say, “No, that’s not true.” There are a couple of different things that are making it hard for me to take that seriously. One is that I never got any feedback about that whatsoever while I worked at Fog Creek. So, if there was an issue, nobody—including Anil—ever said anything about that to me. And I think that that would have been appropriate. I left, I wasn’t asked to leave. I quit because I was upset. And I never had any kind of feedback about that at all.
Another thing that makes it hard for me to take seriously is that it’s wedged in between this claim that I was disrespectful of people who were not coders, which is flatly absurd. That one, I will tell you, is ridiculous. I was very much valued by many of my colleagues who were not coders as someone who went above and beyond to be respectful and make sure they were included, and I was outspokenly an advocate. At my next job, or at the last job I had—and this is not at Fog Creek—but I was one of a number of voices after that company did make salaries transparent and we were revamping, to say that we should not draw any distinction in salaries between our engineers and our non-engineers, because I think that a lot of the reason why market rates for engineers are on the higher end than non-engineers at companies like this, is that engineers are much more likely to be men, and much more likely to be white.
I was a special education teacher for seven years and brought that background in with me. And I—this idea of me not valuing people who aren’t coders, that is untrue. And the idea that the whole thing about salary transparency was really me just being mad at the Black and brown people who were opposed to it, that is also… I’m not sure if the Black and brown people at the company were opposed to it. It’s simply not true. So, the allegation that I was disrespectful of Black and brown people being thrown in with these other two things that I feel really confident are not true, makes it harder for me to take seriously.
And I will also say that the only woman of color to work at Fog Creek during the time that I worked there was a friend of mine who I recruited. I didn’t have conflicts with—I have no respect at all for Anil, and he is Indian—but I’ve never had a negative working relationship with anybody else of color. And I… the journalist who reached out to me and told me that Anil said this, I said, I gave—I reached out to a bunch of my colleagues, including the only woman of color to overlap with me and got their permission to give him their contact information. I’m not in touch with everyone, but I gave him the LinkedIn profiles of every person of color that I overlapped with that Fog Creek—which is not very many, ’cause it was a very white company—and said, “Reach out to them. I don’t think that any of them are gonna say that this is true.”
Nancy: And I told you before we spoke that I think that I did make some mistakes while I was there. And that I wanted to be candid that I was thinking in the way that white women do while I was at Fog Creek, and that was that I was not thinking about protecting the most vulnerable or what were the biggest problems at Fog Creek. What I was thinking about was salary transparency and my salary, because that’s what I cared about.
So I was not taking a step back and saying, there’s not a single Black woman that works here—or has ever worked here—and trying to advocate for processes that would—first of all—make Fog Creek a better environment for Black women, or trans people, or any number of other groups. I was thinking about the problems that were impacting me. But that’s very different from saying that I was disrespectful of my Black and brown colleagues. And if any of them once tells me otherwise, I will be genuinely interested in hearing that and reflective. But coming from Anil when he has been backed into a corner, I think he’s just fabricating it.
Kim: OK, so there are two things that I want to say about that. Please—and this is not just for you; this is for everyone—please understand, just because a Black or brown—particularly a Black woman—or someone has not said anything to you does not mean that you have not done something. It is not in our best interest most times to speak that, because once we say whatever, we’re now the—again, you know, always the hero or victim and never the villain—and so we’re always in a position of being a villain. So just because you didn’t hear it does not mean it did not exist. And yet it’s still important to look at the bigger picture. And I won’t hammer you on that any further for the fact that you did say because it came from Anil, because you two have your own thing going on. And your—a level of your distrust comes from the fact that you do not respect or believe anything he has to say.
Nancy: Yeah, I can tell you that when I was a teacher, I worked with Black women—and I can be specific about the story if you want—but I made a poster inviting all of our colleagues to a happy hour and was called out that the poster was racist, part of the wording of the poster was racist. And got immediately, for a moment defensive, but then listened, took the poster down, apologized. And I know that that’s not great. But I think that that’s how I would react to the kind of…
Kim: OK, so just so…
Nancy: And I know that doesn’t it mean that it wouldn’t happen; I’m just trying to say that I’m open to that feedback now, if anyone wanted to share it with me, but again, not from Anil. Like, he’s…
Kim: And also I wanna to say, just be mindful to say that no one should feel obligated to share that feedback with you, because again, that is emotional labor on their part. And so this is how whiteness fucks stuff up, is because it just tramples through everything and it expects other people to point things out. I need you to start seeing things for yourself and which I can say—you know, I don’t give white women much credit—but the fact that you’re now saying that you see things, are looking through the lens of prioritizing the most vulnerable, is a huge first step. So, I commend you for that.
Where did the money come from? I need to understand, because if salaries, if people were making, you know, upwards of $90,000 plus for employees and you were bringing in—I mean, you said $65 hundred—I was like, “Wait a minute, you mean thousand?” but you said $65 hundred, and then you said zero. So where was the money?
Nancy: So when I started at Fog Creek, the main product that Fog Creek was selling was FogBugz.
Kim: ‘Cause Fog Creek came out of Stack Overflow, right?
Nancy: The other way. Fog Creek existed first and then…
Kim: Oh, Stack Overflow came out of Fog Creek?
Nancy: …Trello as well. I think one of the founders of Stack Overflow would object also to that characterization of it having spun out of… but it was co-founded by one of the co-founders of Fog Creek, and there’s always been a relationship. But there was a product called FogBugz, which is a project management tool, that had been quite successful at a time and had had waning sales for many years by the time I started. I never worked on the Glitch product—I was on the FogBugz team, but that product was still bringing in millions of dollars a year.
And they ended up selling that product. The profits of that product were what was funding Glitch. They changed the name of it and relaunched it—in my opinion, that entire effort was silly and ill-conceived—and ended up selling it for, I understand, about twice the annual profit. Which is not much; not the annual revenue, but the annual profit, which wasn’t enough to continue funding Glitch for very long, so they took VC.
Kim: So VC has been a recent move? But you’ve been gone since that?
Nancy: Yeah, I’ve been—I haven’t worked there since they were funded by VC. And I didn’t work there when they sold FogBugz.
Kim: OK, talk to me about this “good guys in tech,” and the “ethical tech” narrative that you challenge with Glitch and definitely you challenge with Anil.
Nancy: Yeah, so one thing I do want to say about Anil, or about Glitch, is that it’s much more diverse now than it was before Anil got there. My perspective on that is that it’s because Anil’s got this platform that allows him to attract a diverse set of candidates into a toxic work environment. And I’m also not sure that it’s inclusive, but it’s genuinely diverse, not just in the they hired many white women way. But Anil is kind of famous as an Internet personality; that’s his main accomplishment is getting famous on the Internet, as far as I can tell. He’s never run a really—to my knowledge—a company that was very successful. And it’s, like the ethical tech thing is his whole shtick, but there’s not really much to back it up. And no willingness to make those kinds of choices unless it’s a marketing gimmick.
So they introduced something called Climate Leave while I was there, because there was an employee who was affected by a hurricane, so they said, “We’re gonna have climate leave if you’re affected by a hurricane. You can take some time off.” But they let that employee who was there before Climate Leave take some time off; like you can be compassionate without something called “Climate Leave.” But that was kind of—the climate part was a little bit of a provocative term because it was about climate change, and we got some press around it, and it was something that they could do quickly that was basically meaningless because you already have the ability to say like, “Yeah, it’s OK. Your house was destroyed by a hurricane. You had to evacuate. You can take some time off.”
So his whole thing is about finding these little ways to be able to tweet about how they’re the good guys in tech that don’t take any actual effort. Making salaries transparent is not an easy thing; if you take a company that hasn’t had transparent salaries for a long time and you make them transparent, you’re gonna have some difficult conversations. And I had this experience at my last employer after they made salaries fully transparent. But Anil doesn’t want to have those difficult conversations; he wants just enough for a tweet.
Kim: OK, so, I really want to talk about this. I’m glad you brought that up. And this is the problem that I see so much with the “compassionate coding,” the “ethical tech,” the, you know, “we’re the good guys,” is it requires difficult conversations. Humans are difficult on a daily basis. And when you’re talking about their livelihoods, that’s a hugely difficult conversation; or if you’re talking about realizing that you’ve hired somebody and they’re in the wrong role and they need to go, those are difficult conversations; but those are the ethical conversations to have. Those are the conversations that align with being the good guy. “Hey, we made a mistake here. We don’t want to”—in the chance of hiring the wrong person—”We made a mistake here. We don’t want to leave you hanging. We’re gonna take care of you for certain, but this you do not fit this company or this—and it’s not about culture fit—this role does not work. We decided we didn’t need this role, we realized after you being here that you’re not right for this role,” whatever.
We always like to get in the codebase—and this is why we always try to keep extrapolating out humans. Because if we can only talk to computers, which are, you know, in this industry, “Oh, they’re unbiased. They’re just, you know, computers are just perfect. They never make mistakes.” It’s going through the difficult conversations that help us minimize the risk of bias in our products and services. It’s going through those ethical conversations—or those difficult conversations—that proves when that person realized, and when you’ve had that conversation about, “Hey, this role isn’t needed anymore, but we want to make sure you’re taken care of. Let me tap into my network,” whatever that is.
Those are the ethical ways you handle difficult conversations, because we have difficult conversations every day. We’re human. And people running from that is a huge problem, because now you’re not having a difficult conversation, so you can’t have transparency and honesty because there’s a big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Or, even worse, the person who’s impacted has no idea that the people are talking about them, their position, all that behind their backs. And so there’s this cloak of secrecy, and people can feel that, that’s energy you can actually pick up on.
And I don’t get the working—because I’m looking at, I was re-reading Tiffany’s blog post today—there’s nothing ethical about working hours that cause you to have physical manifestations of illnesses. I don’t care if it’s startup, there’s nothing—and this is why I have an issue with VC money and… But this is a different thing. OK, so what it sounds like to me is this is another situation where someone had an idea and was able to get funding off an idea without having to prove a business model first.
Nancy: Yeah, and Glitch has never been—I mean now Anil, like, I saw him tweet that the problem is like, you know, it’s a difficult time, economically. Like, they’ve kinda slid these layoffs…
Kim: Everybody’s used the pandemic as an excuse for a business model that wasn’t working.
Nancy: Yeah. And their revenue’s gone up during the pandemic because they had none before. And now they have, you know, maybe a couple hundred, a couple thousand dollars a month.
Kim: But that doesn’t pay for these salaries that I’m looking at. That’s what I’m like… so your—I mean, I don’t care how it’s funded—your growth or your perceived growth is being funded by previous money, not money coming in.
Nancy: Yeah, yeah. They have not been funded by money coming in. In my experience with Anil, one of the frustrating things for me about Anil that had nothing to do really with diversity or inclusion, was that there was this pattern that he’d have an idea, execute the idea, and then no matter what, it was a success. Even in a situation—like I said—that we re-branded FogBugz to Manuscript, and there was this whole marketing launch, we got—the goal was more people looking at it from the top of the funnel—and we did get a lot more clicks and more trials. But we also saw that they were converting so much less that in absolute terms, conversion was down. So not just that the conversion percentage went down with all of these new clicks, but that number of conversions went down. But it was still a “success.”
Kim: This is why I have a problem with the fact that tech relies heavily on quantitative data and not qualitative data. They don’t use a mixed method, because more clicks leading to not revenue is not the point, but if you use that data point that looks like a success, but what is that data point? So that’s not—that click, that one data point, has a lived experience, a story that needs to be told behind it. So we need to be using mixed methods. In particular, we need to lean more heavily on qualitative data than we do quantitative data. But then that would mean people have to deal with humans. And you know what? We don’t like to deal with humans in tech. We just like to just, you know, make everything about machines.
Is there anything you would like to add as we close out? Thank you for taking—thank you for just being honest. You could have—it would not have been in your best interest—but you could have been defensive when I asked you about the white passing questions. So I thank you for that. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anything you’d just like to say about this situation as it unfolds? Because I heard—I had several people DMing me over the weekend about the whisper networks, and people are talking. And I need the whisper networks to stop. Oh, my word, I need the whisper networks to stop. I need people to speak out. So again, this is an invitation. If you have anything to say about Glitch, or any, any organization that’s causing harm, please, please do not rely on your whisper networks. I’m here to listen.
But what would you like to say in closing?
Nancy: There’s one more thing that I saw from Anil on Twitter that I’d like to respond to. He—I think it was a little bit of a subtweet—I think he was framing what I tweeted as being insulting to the people who work for him.
Kim: Let me, I want to make sure. The tweet you’re talking about that you made on Friday?
Nancy: On Friday.
Kim: There was… he tweeted something after that?
Kim: I just wanna—because you tweeted back in December—I just want to make sure we’re in the same timeframe.
Nancy: No, this is something he tweeted on Friday. And it’s also something that he said to these journalists was that I was being offensive to the people who work for him and insulting their work. And I do want to be clear that I’m not trying to say that this talented and again, genuinely diverse group of people who went to work for Anil is at fault. You know, there might be some individual players, and some people’s experiences, but I’m not trying—I feel the culpable party in the failure of Glitch, and also in the failure of Glitch to live up to its ethical standards is Anil, and I do think it’s important to hold leadership accountable. And I would like to apologize because, you know, I now—in large part because of you—understand the harm of whisper networks, and I was for years one of the people who told the people I knew about my experience at Fog Creek but didn’t speak about it publicly. So thank you for helping bring these things to light.
Kim: Well, thank you so much, Nancy for taking the time to come on the show and tell this story, because again, nothing changes until we cause a scene and call this out. So have a wonderful day.
Nancy: Have a wonderful day. Thank you.
Kim: Thank you.