Kim is taking some much needed time off, so enjoy this keynote presentation from the 2017 Nodevember conference.
Since technology now literately touches almost everyone and it is no longer the playground of just a few, it isn’t economically prudent to build products and services that don’t reflect the needs and desires of large portions of the population. So it makes sense that technology communities are now focused on attracting a more inclusive and diverse membership. But how do you turn the focus into a successful plan of action? Community Engineering, which is an approach that can be used once the decision has been made pursue these kinds of community growth initiatives.
Community Engineering – Is the intentional and skillful effort of creating environments which support the sharing of common attitudes, interests, and goals in order to grow a more diverse and inclusive technology community.
Community – a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Engineering – to arrange, manage, or carry through by skillful or artful execution
Kim Crayton: Hello! Hello, everybody! Hello! I mean, come on guys. I got up this morning [audience laughs] and I’m here. It’s a cold day, I had to walk all the way to east hell to register and come back [laughter] and the least you can do is clap. [Laughter] Welcome, good morning.
Audience: Good morning.
Kim: I am—this talk is about community engineering and I’m going to be honest with you. I have spoken about this—about mentorship, inclusion and diversity in tech—for the last year and a half and this is gonna be the most honest talk I give, ’cause it’s the last one of the year. So you’re really gonna get it. [Laughter] So I am Kim Crayton. You can find me on Twitter—I do not do business cards—so you can find me on Twitter. I have a podcast called Community Engineering Report that I will be ending in December because I’ve made a pivot. And you can find me on my website.
I add my credentials here because as a Black female from the South, there’s somebody out there who’s gonna be like, “Why the hell should I be listening to her?” So I put that straight up front. I have a Masters in Training and Development. I am pursuing a Doctor’s of Business Administration specializing in technology entrepreneurship. My doctoral thesis, my doctoral study involves successful strategies for increasing organizational knowledge sharing, and I’m focusing on mentoring in organizations. And I’m also writing a book, how to leverage organizational culture for competitive advantage. So that is why I’m here.
So lemme give you a little back story. As Aaron said, I started last year—my first conference was last year at ScotlandJS. And it started with a talk, “Overcoming the Challenges of Mentoring.” Because as I… I entered tech in 2014 after my father passed away. As an only child that was my greatest fear. And because I didn’t die, I was like, “Crap this, I’m gonna do what I wanna do.” And so I left education—I’m a certified special needs teacher—and so I left education. I was gonna go figure out this tech thing. I sent a text to my family and friends, it said I’m leaving education and I’m going into “tech” and I put it in quotes, because the next sentence was “When I’ve figured it out I’ll let you know.” [Laughter]
I knew I was more than a consumer of tech but I never saw myself as a producer of tech. I was a person who would watch the Apple keynote, not just for the products but to see why they didn’t do this, or why they did this, I was just really interested in things, and when I wanted to build a website, I… [laughs] YouTube. Man, I can follow a WordPress video from start to finish and I have a great product. That’s what my current website is built on, thank you very much.
And so I started speaking at conferences and I was at a Clojure conference and somebody said, “Kim we’re engineers, I think your title should be Community Engineer.” I’m a researcher, I’m an educator, so I was like, “Let me look up these words and see if they resonate with me.” So for me, community is—when I researched it—it was “a feelin’ of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” I was like, “OK, that sounds like me.” Engineering: “to arrange, manage, or carry through by successful or artful execution.” I can do that too. So I was like, “OK that makes sense.”
So for me, community engineering is the intentional and skillful effort of creating environments which support the sharing of common attitudes, interest, and goals in order to grow a more inclusive and diverse technology community. And lemme break that down to you. OK, ’cause I’m an educator, I’ma just break this down to you.
So, the community part is the heart. The H-E-A-R-T. That thing—our mission, our vision, our passion—that thing that makes us get up in the morning, go, “Ah, it’s a Monday morning. I’m happy to go to this place!” [Aside] Yeah, right. [Audience laughs] But it’s that thing. And you have these non-profits. They are mission-driven. We have social responsible businesses, they’re mission-driven.
The problem I’m finding, though, is how do you operationalize mission? How do you measure “nice?” How do you measure “being responsible to our customers?” How do you measure that? Most people can’t, because most people focus on a product or service, which is not a business. A product or service is a product or service. You need to have underlying structures for it to be a business. And this is where I find that we’re having challenges in our communities.
So why we need community engineering, as I define it. Since technology now literally touches almost everyone. It is no longer the playground of just a few. It isn’t economically prudent to build products or services that don’t reflect the needs and desires of large proportions of your population.
So it makes sense that the technology community is now focused on attracting more inclusive and diverse relationships. Memberships. OK, let’s be honest. My podcast, “The Community Engineering Report,” I intentionally as a Black female growing up in the South did not want to talk about inclusion and diversity with white people. Just didn’t wanna have that conversation. My life was hard. And when it came to diversity and inclusion in Atlanta, I was “the only” a lot of the times. My mom sacrificed a lot so that I could be “the only” at the symphony. “The only” at ballet, “the only” in acting classes, “the only” at a lot of things that my peers weren’t experiencing.
So, I was like, I don’t wanna talk about your politics and your morals, especially in this climate that we have. But we need to have—so I was like, “How can I have these conversations in the way that means something to me.” I’m gettin’ a business degree. We’re gonna talk about it from economics and business perspective. Because that’s what this is. Let’s be honest, most business owners… this is about business. And you can get upset about it. You can say, “oh that’s not right.” You can say whatever you want to. But at the bottom line, diversity and inclusion helps your bottom line. Period. Now if that changes your spirit, then that’s a bonus. But once we get in, you ain’t gettin’ us out. [Laughter]
So that’s just the true nature of it. And when people start having—and that’s the reason I wanted to have my podcast. ‘Cause I wanted to have the uncomfortable conversations that we’re having in these small rooms but we’re not having in public. Because everybody’s sensitive. People don’t wanna say this; you say something—if I say someone’s crazy, I don’t mean mental illness, but then someone gets offended by that. People aren’t thinking about intentions behind things, and people are scared to have certain conversations. And we’re not gonna get to the other side of this stuff until we have these complicated, uncomfortable conversations. White guys, get over it: for the first time, you’re not the only experts in the room. And that’s OK! [Audience applauds]
We can learn from you, and you can learn from us. I’m gonna tell ya, you’re playin’ by a totally different damn set of rules than I’ve been playin’ by. So I got me a league of white guys. I don’t need to make this up. When I have questions, I go to my league of white guys, “How would you handle this? Cause the Black female from the South thing ain’t workin’ for me right now.” You guys have the keys, you know where the imaginary doors are, if you come up against something that we consider default, like, “Oh, you can’t do that,” you guys just sidestep it like, “That didn’t even freakin’ exist.” And we sit back like, “What? How dare they!” Screw that, I wanna learn how to do it! [Laughter]
Forget that, I’m following you, because you guys know the rules. And it’s because the systems are built—because you guys have power. It’s not your fault, but you benefit from it. Let’s have honest conversations about that. You benefit from it. I tell every person who wants to have a conversation about this to watch the three part documentary, “The Ascent of Women.” It is on Netflix. She talks about—and this directly addresses the Google Manifesto—she talks about all these beliefs that people have, that women are where we are because of our minds or biology or psychology. She actually shows—I’m a great historian, I’m a researcher—how in cultures where women were equal are or in the dominant role, how those things changed because men wanted power.
So don’t think that we’re here and we’re behind because it’s something we did or something that’s a fault with us. It’s the system, and that’s why when I talk about business, I don’t talk about silos. I want to change the system. Your culture sucks because your system sucks. [Audience cheers and applauds] I hate when people say, “Well, my department is great but every…” NO! So you’re tellin’ me you’re living in Nirvana and the rest of the organization is living bat-shit hell? There’s a problem with that. There’s a systemic issue with that. And businesses are not gonna change these inclusion and diversity numbers in this by bringin’ in women, people of color, people with disabilities. It’s not gonna happen ’cause as soon as we rotate in, the culture sucks, we’re gonna rotate out, and then you use that as an excuse to say, “Well, we tried. They just don’t fit here.” No, they don’t fit in that crap. But they fit in technology.
So, too often these are things that are affectin’ inclusion issues. They know who we are, they know what we do, and they’ll figure it out. OK, some of your egos are way too big. We don’t know who you are. We don’t care who you are. And if you want my attention, you need to come outta your ivory tower and come to me. It is not my responsibility to go to you. This is a big problem we have in tech. People, “Oh, I have these meetups. But no one’s comin’.” How many people do you know—we already see; look at this room: very few women, very few people of color, and damn, very few people of color who are women. That right there is just like it.
And so that tells you we’re not aware of this thing out here. So as an educator, if I wanted to reach you, I can’t sit at my desk and say, “They know where I am. I’m sittin’ right here, name’s on the door.” Man, I would never’ve kept my job. It is my job to engage with the student, to figure out where they are, what they need, make it about them and not about you, because it’s not about you. Because you need us to make you successful.
That’s another thing I want to tell my marginalized and underrepresented members: do not let this industry dictate your value. Do not beg for a job. You figure out what you’re good at and you tell ’em what your value is because they need you. They need your perspective at the table to create products and services that are of value. [Audience applauds]
“They know what we do.” Well hell, if they don’t know who you are, they definitely don’t know what you do. Again, it takes work. Everybody wants the quick fixes, the “What can I do?” Everyone wants to take the microwave approach. This stuff is hard. So that means you’re gonna go up there and they gonna look at you like, “Huh, what does this white dude want? Sheesh.”
And you’re gonna have to buck up, put on a thick skin ’cause this is what we’ve been living with all our lives. [Laughter] If you’re feeling any miscomfort, it’s only [ratcheting sound] much of what we feel every single day we’re walking around in this world. So buck up, you’ll be OK. Put on your big guy draws. [Laughter] And you’ll be fine.
I’m not sayin’ get abused. But people don’t trust. The things that the power structures have done to people of marginalized, underrepresented communities have been atrocious. And you need to understand that when you go into these communities.
Also that “They’ll figure it out.” Again, as an educator, I mean, just… I have a group of 10 people. They are all mildly intellectually disabled—and I’m gonna be honest with you: that’s a politically correct term for me. When I say “mildly intellectually disabled,” people say, “Oh, so can they learn this?” or “Why didn’t they retain that?” “They don’t get it.” But when I say, “They’re mildly retarded,” people like, “Oh.” There’s only—so I need to be more… no one likes the term. But people understand what that mean—for some reason the word “intellectually disabled,” for some people they think, “Oh if I push ’em a little harder.” Well, the only thing you about to do is frustrate yo’self and the student, ’cause they’re not gonna remember tomorrow. You’re gonna be doing the same thing you did yesterday today.
So, I’m here… yeah I can be a bit abrasive. [Laughter] Yeah. I do it on purpose. I really do. Because I figure—when I was in high school, when I taught high school—if I could be as honest as I could be with those young people who were preparin’ themselves for the real world? You are adults. Get over it. And you have you understand, as they did, my intention.
So one of my students—one of the students, she wasn’t my student—she was gonna be the valedictorian of the class—well she was valedictorian. And all the teachers were pattin’ her on the back, “Yayyyy, congratulations.” And she knew, she saw me comin’, she knew this was gonna be an interesting encounter. ‘Cause I said, “That’s great. But you realize you’re the top of the bottom, right? Hahaha. It did not take much for you to compete with these peers. You have not been out in the world.” Because she was in a Title One school. She’d only been around other Black students. And some of the worst Black students. That school system had not prepared her to compete with anybody, other than people who were worse than she was.
So while some people thought that I was being hard, I was bein’ honest. “You have not competed. We need to prepare you to compete with people who are the top of their class in great school districts. Because that’s not who you’ve been competing with.” We need to have these honest conversations.
Other challenges to community growth: not understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion and why both are important. So you could never say you didn’t know; I’m going to define them for you. [Laughs] Diversity is inviting people to the table. You can bring in every nationality you want and sit them at a table. That table is diverse.
Inclusion is listening to the perspectives of those individuals and making decisions based on those perspectives. If those people are just there when there’s a photo op, that’s just diversity and you’re pissing people off. If those people are at the tables when decisions need to be made that affect an organization—because they have a perspective that you don’t have—I do not have a white male perspective. Nor do I want it. So why would I try to put myself in their position? If there’re questions I have to ask about an experience that I don’t know, I’m gonna go to that group of people and say, “Hey, can you enlighten me on what this thing is?” I’m not gonna make assumptions because I have a friend. Yeah, I got one white friend. You know, he answers all my white questions. [Laughter] Any white question I have, I go to this guy. That’s why I have a league of white men, ’cause they have all different perspectives.
Not understanding that the goals of respective communities are different than ones that you—so you’re going to these communities and you want to, “Ohhh. We need to bring more women to this thing. We need to do this.” You have your own itinerary or intentions. They have their own. You’re goin’ to communities where technology—that phone is still a toy. They don’t see it as a tool that we see it as. They don’t see a thing of power to better their lives and the lives around them. They see it as, “Oh I can get a job doin’ this?” Then that’s where you have to meet them. Or, “I don’t even understand what this thing is. Tell me, how can I… how can this… people keep tellin’ me this can employer me? I have no idea how this works.” Meet them where they are. It’s not about your goals. Because once they get that, then your goals are met.
Think about—we’re on a college campus right now—the first week of school, how many credit card people… I mean, they passin’ out credit cards. I know they were when I was there; man, they gave me an American Express and I didn’t have a job. I was like, “What the hell?” But I’m going to spend. There was a mall down the street. [Laughter] Because they know that once you’re a customer, if you’re needing a mortgage or something, you’re gonna think back on, “Hey, they gave me this chance.”
And I’m also gonna speak to people, when we’re talking about mentoring, “Oh, I don’t want to mentor anybody, I can’t mentor anybody. It takes about a year for them to level up. And then by that time, they’re gonna go somewhere else.” Buddy, they’re not leavin’ because you mentored them. They’re leaving because they got the skills and your culture sucks and they’re gettin’ the hell outta there to go somewhere else.
Fix your culture, stop blaming the person who’s comin’ in. That’s what we often do, we look for blame. “It’s their fault that they didn’t fit in.” No, let’s question why several women—it’s like in relationships: when you meet the same female or male over and over again, and you keep havin’ the same experience? At some point it’s not them. And sometimes you have to say, “Maybe I’m the… somethin’ ain’t… I’m doing something here.”
Not understanding the importance of putting resources where your mouth is. I’m gonna talk about this in depth. [Laughs] I am sooo sick of, “Kim, come speak here! Kim, can I have a… can I have?” Well where’s the money? Where’s the money? “Oh, we don’t have a budget for that.” Well then you tell me what you’re communicating to me is that it’s not valuable to you. So you can talk all the crap you want about how important inclusion and diversity is to you, but if you’re not putting resources into it, you are lying. You are not—your values—because we value things we pay money for, just like how many of us—raise your hand if you have a Mac. Any kind of Mac. You work on a Mac computer. Now raise your hand if you have a PC. Yeah, um-hm, yeah.
We value… I value a Mac. I’m sorry, I just, it’s just easy for me. I never want to work on a PC again. If I see a PC, to me that’s like trailer trash. [Laughter] And I don’t care who gets offended by it. [Laughter] I have partaken in the Apple community and I’m a part of the Apple cult. I get it, I understand it, and I’m OK with that. [Laughter]
We have to understand that. We have to put—how much do I pay for… I can go and get a $200 PC. My Mac keeps shuttin’ off because it’s seven years old and I need to get a new one. But I’m gon’ hold on to that Mac til the—I am not getting a freakin’ PC. I’m not! And so we need to understand that because to me that’s value. I paid 2,700 dollars for this thing. It has gotten me through—let’s be honest, cause I know of a lot of people have recycled a whole bunch of PC’s in the time that I had my Mac. So we put money into things that we value.
Not being able to overcome the inherent mistrust. You know, we’re in the South. Black people were treated pretty piss-poorly down here, you know what I’m sayin’? So when you come talkin’ to us, we always got this thing in the back, “Yeah, what the hell do they really want? Let’s read between the lines. What do they want, what are they sayin’?” It’s not personal to you, it’s just the history. And until we face that in the United—this is what I’m gonna say, ’cause I’m not very political. I’m not political at all. But what I am gonna say is, I’m happy that we had this election because it woke up a lot of you white folks. You can never say again that there’s no racism in the United States. Good god, I got sick of hearing that. Because it wasn’t racism against you. You didn’t experience it every day. You didn’t realize Uncle Bob that sits at your Thanksgiving table was a member of the Ku Klux Klan until you saw him at a march on CNN.
This woke people up. But then what? What we’re doin’ now is very reactive. What proactive things can we do? And this is the perspective I come from, because everything right now we’re doing in inclusion and diversity is very reactive. Like the last one. Oh my god, desire to seek simple answers to complex problems.
We did not get here overnight. We’re not gonna get out of this overnight. It is a systemic issue. By changin’ one team in the organization does not make you an inclusive and diverse organization. You need to realize that this is hard work. And at this point, I’m gonna speak specifically. No, hold on, give me a second. This is where I’m gonna get to it because I wanna sp, spl… blah! [laughs] speak specifically—see I’m a ad libber, I don’t… all this stuff is shut down and I can keep goin’. It doesn’t matter to me. [Laughter]
Major barriers to community engineering—and specifically I’m gonna talk about inclusion and diversity—lack of expertise. You cannot get volunteers to do my job. You can try. They’re gonna screw it up. And it’s not gonna be their fault. I have a unique set of skills, and I’m gonna run ’em down to you. I have an undergraduate in Interior Design, so that means I can see abstracts, I can see symmetry, asymmetry. I see, I think in engineering, I like applied sciences. That’s why I’m gettin’ a Doctors of Business Administration—that’s a DBA—as opposed to a PhD—’cause a PhD in management is theory. They’re writing theories. A DBA is someone who takes the theories and applies it to real business problems. I wanna solve business problems, I don’t wanna just think about them.
So I have an undergraduate in Interior Design, a Master’s in Training and Development, which means I know how to write curriculums, workshops. I am an expert on adult learning. I understand adult learning theory. So then, I went into working in after-school programs. So I’m an expert in youth development philosophy. Which is seeing young people as a positive rather than negative no matter where they come from—’cause I was working at the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago at the time. And it is a challenge to see when someone comes out… forget that.
There’s a young boy on my street right now who… he spends more time in jail than outta jail. But as soon as he comes back from jail, he knocks on my door and says, “Hey, Ms. Crayton, I’m back”. And I’m like, “Hey Luis, are we gonna do better?” And I know that the hell he’s not, [laughter] but I’m encouraging, and I sit there and talk to him, because of my youth development training. I see him where he wants to be. I do not hold on to where he is.
So then I said—well, I moved from Chicago, and there is no structured after-school setting. So I got into education. I never wanted to be a teacher, good god I didn’t wanna be in that system. But because… I’m happy I was ’cause I got to see what the problems were. And lemme tell you, I don’t like your kids. [Laughter] I don’t like your kids, and I don’t like you for havin’ these kids. [Laughter] Because what you’ve done is tell these kids that they could do absolutely nothing, know absolutely nothing, and still get rewarded for it. When we know when they go out in the real world, that is not the real world. We are not preparin’ them for the real world. They don’t know coping skills; that’s why their first instinct when they get depressed or they get down, is to think about suicide. They have no continuum because they’ve never experienced stress. They’ve never experienced failure.
Every time somethin’ happens, some parent comes in and cleans it up. We had students who did nothing for four years of high school. Two weeks left of school, about to graduate; they know they’re not about to graduate. You get parents callin’ the superintendent and now we have to jump through hoops to give them extra credit—when they didn’t do regular credit—to get them to graduate because there are numbers you have to meet. What is that teachin’ somebody? What is that teachin’ a Black male, who has done nothing for four years? And you wanna be concerned—you want to wonder why he has no problem with—hell. “You have that. I want that. I’m gonna take that.”
So let’s not blame this on inner city. This is all of our problems. We’ve all—well I’m not, ’cause I ain’t had no kids. [Laughter] That was an intentional thing; and I was like, “I don’t want that in my house.” [Laughter] So, I went there, and then I’ve been in improv classes. I’ve been in acting classes. I’ve been in singing. And now I’m getting a DBA because I’ve always wanted to know about business, but even with the Internet, I couldn’t find a structured system to learn about business, so I decided to go into business school. Did I have an idea what I was doin’ at the end? No. I just got interested in tech after the fact, and it just went that way. I’m just a natural learner.
So the people you are bringing in to do my job, to help with your inclusion and diversity, do not have my skills. They do not understand how to navigate relationships the way I do. They do not understand how to have complicated conversations wi’ people and still let them walk away with their dignity. They do not understand how to put processes in place to build a business so that every customer experience is the same.
So that’s a problem. And then you have lack of support. Everybody who’s doin’ this on a lower level, if their organizational leaders are not supporting them, are wasting your time. Stop lyin’ to yourself. I would rather you just said, “You know what? We just don’t give a shit about this.” Just be honest. Because what you’re doin’ is burnin’ out people who are workin’ hard, and they’re never gonna get anywhere ’cause you’re never gonna implement anything that they’re telling you to do.
And then a lack of authority. To have this job, you need to be able to have the authority to make change. So we see all these Fortune 500 companies bringin’ in these very bright, smart Black people to be these C-level inclusion and diversity individuals. But do they have the authority to make decisions or do they have to go back to the CEO or a Board of Directors before they make a decision? If I have to do that then I don’t have any power.
And again, I talked about the resources. This takes time resource, takes money resource, it takes energy resource. It takes a lot to do—just to be on this stage right now? To expend all this energy? People don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert. If you don’t catch me right outside of this for the hall track, you won’t see me. Because I need to go decompress. And I’m lookin’ for the first ride back to my hotel. [Laughter] Because this is hard for me. But I know it needs to be done so this is what I do.
OK, so Peter Singh is—the theory that my research is based on is learning organizations. So again, it’s the systemic idea of thinkin’ about changing the system instead of thinking in silos. So we always assume causality to things. So if I trip, everybody looks to see, “Oh did she trip over something?” Right? So then you bring in the people and say, “Oh, is there somethin’ on the stage?” It could be I’m clumsy; it could be I’m inebriated; it could be a whole lot of reasons. But we assume causality based on something that happened before.
So I’m gonna read this to you and then I’m gonna get the specifics about the research—’cause this is a Node conference—some specifics about the research that I did to prepare for the Node Interactive keynote, that if you really want more detail about this, you need to go watch. So more broadly, current reality itself is—for many of us—the enemy. We don’t wanna face what the reality is. We fight against what is, we’re not so much drawn to what we want to create as we are to repel what we have.
So again, what I’m saying is, you don’t like the culture, but you really aren’t drawn to creating something new. So you just don’t like this. But the effort it’s gonna take is just something new; that’s not really what you’re interested in. You just want this to stop. Right here.
By this logic, the deeper the fear, the more we abhor what is. The more motivated we are to change. Things must get bad enough or people will not change in fundamental ways. This is the truth. Think about it in ya life. In the last year, with all this hotel living, I gained too much weight. For me. But it’s easier to eat the food that’s provided for me—first of all, it’s free. Well it’s not free, ’cause I work for it. This is my job. And so, like the hotel we’re at, yeah there’s a pool, I didn’t bring my workout clothes. Hell I knew I wouldn’t bring the workout clothes. [Laughter] But that’s just—you know, it really has to get bad. And I had to tell myself—’cause I want to get it so bad that I can’t physically do what I need to do—I’m having amazing experiences travelin’ the world. Do I not want to be able to experience those things because my body is just not able to do that. So I need to continue to have a conversation with myself.
So again, I want to be in alignment. So for me, it’s about me being honest with myself, and you need to be honest with yourself as well. So let me tell you some of the things that I experienced and then I’m gonna open up for—I’m gonna answer some questions that I always get.
So everybody here probably understands, remembers the whole “Node Twitter” debacle. You know, the Twitter fire—I mean for like two weeks there was just hell on wheels about Node, on Twitter. And I just got accepted to speak at Node Interactive as a keynote and I was like, “Oh hell, what did I walk myself into.” So—because I was lookin’ at some of those comments and they were rough. They were awful. They displayed the worst in human beings.
And so I was concerned, particularly for my physical safety. Because again, bein’ a Black female, I do not want to walk into a room of angry white men. Because I’m gon’ say what I gotta say. I just need to make sure there’s some security right there ’cause umm… I ain’t tryin’ to be a martyr for this or anybody else. [Laughter] And also remember, I have yet to get paid, so I’m not takin’ a bullet for you at all. [Laughter]
So, as I did my research—because again, it’s the system—I was like, “I wanna make sure I get the whole picture. I don’t go by what I see on Twitter,” which most of us did, let’s be honest. We see something on Twitter, we retweet things without checking facts. We do a whole buncha otha things. So I started interviewing people and what I found was the people who were making the most disgusting comments weren’t even in the Node community. That stuff just came up in that Twitter feed and they just found some way to insert their vile spew all over the place. But because you didn’t know that, you started responding, which started feeding the trolls. And it just kept goin’ and goin’ and goin’ and goin’.
Also, what I found is the action that was taken that everybody was pissed off about—again we think causality, we think that was what blew up—no, it blew up because of some stuff that NodeJS groups did not take care of two years ago. And that blew up because they didn’t take care of some stuff that happened before. And this is from people I’ve talked to, I’ve talked to people on the leadership team and they admit they did not want to address these things. They did not know how to address these things. So it’s like sweeping stuff under the rug, it just does not go away, the pile just gets bigger. And at some point you’re gonna trip over it.
And so one of the questions I get now is, “So what’s now for Node? What’s now for you?” I’m gonna be honest. I told you I’m gonna be as honest—this is my most honest conversation. After my Node experience, after speaking to members of leadership on the Node team—they’re great individuals—I personally don’t see enough momentum moving forward to say that this community is gonna change anytime soon.
There were several conversations I had when I was there, where I had to tell people, “I can’t answer that question because that’s something I get paid for consulting.” People want to always stop me in the hall—again, the simple answer to the complex issue—and say, “Oh, I’m having this issue in my organization, can you give me an answer?” If anybody gave you an answer without doing any kind of research into your organization, you’re wasting your money. That’s not how this stuff changes. These are systemic problems.
Also, there’s a challenge with the open source community of how do you fund certain things. Until there’s a funding structure that pays for the things that you say you value, then you don’t value it. Everything that I see—I don’t wanna say everything because that’s an absolute—many of the things that I see online—and this is not just NodeJS—this is many other online communities that I’ve seen, that I’ve just been researching, many of the online organizations…. I mean, look at Uber. I don’t know why everybody thought when they brought in a new CEO, things are gonna change. That is the culture of that organization.
So everybody’s surprised when something new happens. They’re gonna keep happening until they’re ready to do the hard work, or they go out of business because the competitor has come in and taken all their market share.
Kim: …or they go out of business because the competitor has come in and taken all their market share. And this is the thing—I’m gonna walk you through a scenario from NodeJS to me. So the question I asked was, “Is there a direct competitor to NodeJS?” And my answer was no. A lot of people were going to another—I forgot the name of the group, but it wasn’t… and even with the fork, it’s not a competitor. People see that that’s gonna be merged back in. So there’s no competitor, to me, from a business person, there’s really no incentive to change. There’s just, “I don’t like where we are.” But there’s no incentive to do the work that needs to happen to change it. So, what happens is, you continue to ask people, newbies, people who are underrepresented and marginalized communities, to come into this codebase, they have awful experiences and they leave.
Which means you’re not getting fresh eyes, you’re not getting new perspectives, you’re not getting any of that stuff. So the codebase becomes stale, because now you only have the same people working on the codebase. With the same people working on the codebase—there are multi-billion dollar companies using NodeJS. So this is where, to me, the argument for, “They need to be payin’ for this,” comes in.
Because when we are [not] effectively able to update the code base, make sure it’s secure, because we don’t have the manpower or the perspective to see that—because if you’re workin’ on the codebase all the day, you don’t have the perspective on the person who’s been working in Machine Learning, or AI who comes in and want to put their piece in there. Or the person who does this, that; they’re not gonna back up a little bit because we need to be concerned about AI and Machine Learning and bias. And prejudice and racism. Because at some point, white guys, you’re gonna be the other, in [inaudible]. Because if these computers can do your job, if you have not figured out a way to differentiate yourself, to be a problem solver, you’re an other as well. Your job is gone to the next computer. The next AI machine learning program.
And so, as I’m speaking to you now, some of you it may be going on deaf ears. Some of you may be like, “I wish you would get off the stage,” ’cause I see some people nodding, and this means somethin’ to them, givin’ them some perspective they never had. I can’t do that with a computer. I can’t do that with a program. So if I have somebody who’s working on machine learning or AI program, who does not have this perspective, once that’s coded into the system, how do you get that out? These are the things we need to be thinking about, Not just for ourselves, but we have global concerns. Our customers are global. We do not want to encode something into programs that inhibit people from Medellín Colombia using our software, people from Taiwan using our software. These are things we need to be very specific and clear about, but you can’t with only one perspective.
So, I’m gonna go back to my story. So you have a Home Depot, a Walmart, Coke, all these people’re using NodeJS. They don’t understand about the codebase. They have developers, but they’re not working—you know, they might assign somebody, part of their job is to work on the codebase—but that’s not the entirety of the codebase. Once that codebase is insecure, that goes directly into their code base. And now what they need to be concerned about is the security of their customer experiences.
So we need to stop thinking about things just right here, and start looking at the longterm effect of things. If I do something—it’s like the butterfly effect. If I flap my wings now, is it going to cause a tsunami later? These are the questions people are asking themselves, because again we want these quick fixes.
So when I get stopped in the hall and somebody wants to say, “Oh can you answer this question?” or—I had a conversation yesterday, the second conversation—’cause somebody asked me, “What about the interview process? We can’t get women, people of color, past the interview process.” Because the interview process in tech is not set up for how women and people of color process. It’s set up for how men compete. That’s how it’s set up. And then we think about—if you look at Google and Microsoft and they do these hard tests—the majority of these people, these young men straight out of college or in college, so they have the time—months—to study for this test.
If you are a wife, a mother, a father, you’re tryna bring… you don’t have—you already have a full time job—you don’t have the hours it takes to study for one of those tests. You can’t be included in that. They can give you the interview, but you won’t be successful. That’s just like me takin’ one of my mildly intellectual disabled students and tellin’ them to take the SAT and expecting them to pass. There’s nothing wrong with my student. This is just a test that they cannot pass. Now if I have one who’s high functioning and I give them a verbal test, that’s what differentiation is all about. So I was required to give people tests in different ways. Some of them had to watch the computer and have it read to them, some I had to read to them, based on where they were.
You cannot—we can no longer have a blanket interview system. This is a information economy. This is no longer an industrial economy, where you give a person a manual and they learn their jobs.
This is a information economy, and information is nothing until it’s internalized and becomes knowledge. That does not happen in the current interview process. Whiteboarding does not do it. Because if you, a person who is test-phobic, you may know every library, every function, everything, and you may be writing stuff at home. But the fact that you can’t pass this test does not mean you don’t know it or you can’t learn it. We need to stop doin’—how we introduce people in tech is antiquated. We are a information economy. We’re not an industrial economy. Explicit knowledge means very little to us now, it’s tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge—let me define—is that information that can be put in the manual. Your HR handbook. The thing you sign off on.
Tacit knowledge is that knowledge that comes from learned experiences. That’s hard to capture. But it’s the most valuable thing you need for competitive advantage. That’s what organizations are competing on now. That tacit knowledge that they can use for differentiation and innovation. Because that’s what helps them differentiate themselves and become competitive in a global economy. Not the manual, ’cause everybody has the manual.
So I’ma give you an example. Everybody, there’s for and against codes of conducts. A code of conduct by itself is worthless. And I know I’m hurtin’ some people’s feelin’s but oh well, this is what I’m here for. A code of conduct is a list of things that we will not do, we do not accept. That’s reactive. “Be nice” is not measurable. “Be kind” is not measurable. “Be respectful” is not measurable. So what I’m gonna do is tell you—again, flap my wings—and go over here, and tell you how to make a effective code of conduct. That’s the one thing I’ma give you for free today.
So you have your list of what we don’t want. And I’m gonna talk about sexual harassment, because that’s the thing that everybody’s talkin’ about and everybody wants to say, “I didn’t sexually harass anybody,” so let’s talk about that. So we have a no sexual harassment policy. What the hell does that mean? That’s not measurable. So now what we need to do is define terms. So I’m gonna look at this young lady and say, “Hey, in this organization, this is how we define sexual harassment. Do you agree with this term? Yes or no?” All right. [Audience giggles]
So once this person we’ve talked about it, I wanna make sure you understand it. So you can do that in the video: this, as our organization, this is how we define sexual harassment. You don’t have to like it. But this is how we define it, alright? But that’s not enough. Now we have to say, this is how we define sexual harassment for people in power, ’cause it’s a whole ‘nother level of sexual harassment. So this is, as an organization, if you’re in power, this is what sexual harassment looks like and these are the outcomes of it or whatever, and do you agree?
Now it’s only at this point can when someone says, “You sexually harassed me,” or “I want to complain about sexual harassment,” that I now come to the person and says, “OK. This is what we defined as sexual harassment, right?” “Right.” “Your behavior broke this, this and this. You don’t have to agree with it, but this is what you agreed to. And there’s consequences to that.” If you don’t do that, anybody can say, “Well I didn’t know. That’s not how I defined it.”
You can’t hold them accountable. Current code of conducts as they are cannot hold anybody accountable. That’s why they have so much backlash. Because there are no teeth in it. That’s being reactive. Let’s do the proactive thing. Let’s educate people. Because now, people know what creepy is. But other people creepy is fine. [Audience laughs] So you need to be able to say, “Ok this is what creepy is. And creepy is not fine here.” [Audience laughs]
But that only comes because you have inclusion and diversity. That only comes if you have people at the table who are different perspectives, people at the table creating this code of conduct might say, “This might be a question right here. This might be somethin’ we have a problem with. Let’s define this and confirm it.”
Another question I get often is, [in mock tearful voice] “Why are they so mean? They don’t listen to me. They mansplain.” [In normal voice] Again—well, I haven’t said this—I have a motto in my life: do I wanna be right or do I wanna be happy? So the reason I’m making a pivot is because currently working in inclusion and diversity is not making me right or happy. So I’m just not happy. So that’s why I want to focus on business, and I’ll talk about that in just a second.
So, if I want to be happy, I’m not gonna assume that every man is being an asshole. They just don’t know. This is how they talk to each other. So, [chuckles] a man who tries to mansplain me… I want to educate them for the wider female audience. So this is gonna be a painful lesson for him, but he’ll be OK. Because I’m gonna say it because I have done a lot of my own spiritual work; one of my favorite books is the Four Agreements. And one of ’em is, “be intentional with your words, don’t take anything personal.” Those are two.
So I’ve worked on this and that’s the only reason I can really do this work. And so I’m gonna explain to him that, “Excuse me. I’m very intentional about what I say. There’s nothing you need to read into what I say, or take out of it exactly, except exactly what I said. Now if you want more clarification on that, that’s a conversation we can have. But what I said is what I meant. And unless there is further conversation, we need to move on.”
And most men are just like, “Wow I didn’t think of it that way.” I’ve been called aggressive so many freakin’ times. I’m not aggressive. It’s just when I say “no,” that’s what I mean. That’s a issue that women have. We said no, it’s, “Oh, it’s because we’re on our periods.” Or “we’re just PMSing,” or “we’re cranky,” or “she’s just not great with people.” No, dammit, I meant no. I’m not doin’ it. [Laughter] I’m not doin’ it. I used to do that at school all the time. My manager, my principal, they knew me. They asked me to do somethin’, I said, “No, don’t ask me again.” [Laughter] Because what I was doin’ was way more than what I needed to do. So I’m not gonna do that thing.
And that’s how some of the sexual harassment stuff gets me. People don’t understand those boundaries. “No.” And move on. So I’m not aggressive, I’m assertive. [Audience member sneezes] Bless you. [Audience giggles] I’m assertive. And I’ve had to be assertive. I was an only child, Black girl in the South, “the only” all the time. If I allow the environment around me, I would have been turned inside out. I can remember at some point saying, “Man, I wish I was white.” I didn’t understand what that meant because I was a child, but I just knew even at that level that there was a different game being played.
And so I’ve developed, the person that I am very intentional about what I say. And that is how women and people of color are gonna succeed in this. You come with a unique perspective that needs to be respected. You don’t need to apologize for who you are. You don’t needta apologize for your experience, but your experience needs to be told so that other people can understand the different perspectives. That’s why I encourage people of underrepresented and marginalized communities, this is the best place to be, is on this stage. You guys are lookin’ at me. [Audience chuckles]
As an introvert, I don’t even have to do that—I hate small talk. [Audience chuckles] I hate first dates. So I don’t even have to do that. You guys know me, you can come up to me and we can start a conversation right in the middle. I love it! But we need to get more people from different perspectives on this stage tellin’ their stories so that people understand what is out here, what their customers look like, what the communities look like. And that again, white men, you’re not the only experts in the room for the first—well, you never have been the only experts in the room, we just didn’t say anything. [Audience chuckles] We just not shuttin’ up now. [Audience chuckles]
But it’s good because it makes you better people. It makes your experiences better. It makes all of our experiences better. And we need to stop thinking about the short term. It did not take us overnight to get where we are. It was decisions that were consciously or unconsciously made. There is this—the physics—the something abhors a vacuum. What is the first word? The nature? Nature abhors a vacuum. That’s a law of physics. If you’re not intentional about your community and your values at the beginning, something that you don’t want is gonna take its place.
So while you’re iterating your products and services, it’s time to iterate your organizational culture. If you’re doing two week sprints, then every two weeks, you need to be goin’ to your customers, goin’ to your internal, external stakeholders, and asking them, “How are doing? What does this look like?” We say we value customer experience, OK, that’s not measurable; what do you mean by customer experience? We wanna make sure that we lower our return rates. So in that two week sprint, you’re reachin’ out to customers and askin’ ’em, “How can we lower—how we make this a better experience for you that you don’t return our products and services?”
And you learn from that. Because they take that information, you internalize it and it becomes knowledge. It’s worthless if it’s just information. That’s over-inundated with data. Data means nothing until somebody interprets it and disseminates it.
So with that, I’m gonna say, “Thank you.” [Audience applauds].