(Photo by Jen Cleary)
I had a hard time reading Technical.ly’s recent “6 reasons why joining a tech company was the best decision I ever made” and an even harder time deciding how to respond.
It was hard to figure out what I could write that would actually be useful. It was hard to think about the potential backlash. It was hard to reflect on some of the shitty experiences I’ve had and then to whittle them all down to something publishable.
There’s a lot I love about the Philly tech community, but there’s also a lot I hate. And the more I thought about my frustrations with this recent story, the more I thought about all the private conversations I’ve had, and the more I realized that our biggest issue is that we don’t talk publicly about what we hate.
Nationally, there are big stories. The problems with tech culture, and yes, even solutions, are well-covered, which is why I’m not writing another how-to piece for CEOs. (I don’t know how you could be that unaware of the issues plaguing your industry, but if you can’t spend an hour on Google, then you can pay for my expertise.)
Locally, not so much. I struggle with Technical.ly’s complicity in this. Its mission centers on growing and marketing the tech community, which would naturally limit critical or negative coverage. Still, what value does Technical.ly see in publishing a piece like “6 reasons,” which feels somewhere between tone-deaf sponsored content and reinforcing of a culture of assault?
"I think we have a fear of betraying the tech community by criticizing it."
As individuals, we issue warnings to each other in one-on-one coffees, but outside of that, we continue to talk about the “Philly tech community” as if it is a real thing, one thing, and a good thing. In many cases, it’s because we fear losing our jobs, but I also think there’s something deeper, a fear of betraying the tech community by criticizing it. We don’t want to scare off the pipeline, so we lie about it. (See also: Microsoft’s recent ad blaming women for their lack of representation in STEM careers.)
This not only means we don’t have the opportunity to improve, but that new folks entering the tech scene are totally unprepared, and feel totally alone when they run into these problems. It means it’s easy to gaslight folks who are underrepresented in tech.
New folks, underrepresented folks, this piece is for you. Here are six terrible things that have happened to me in tech.
- A coworker shot me in the ass with a Nerf gun, then explained, “I guess I should have asked you before shooting, but how do you ask someone if you can shoot them?” When I told my supervisors that Nerf guns might contribute to an unwelcoming environment for women (who were sorely underrepresented on their staff), they told me that I couldn’t just say Nerf guns are for boys. Later, a (female) supervisor told me “You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman in tech.”
- After I included trans-friendly language for an event targeted at women, a lead organizer laughed “Come on. Why do we need to define women?” not realizing I was on the call. She had also asked me to approach women’s groups and nonprofits to donate their time leading outreach and event programming.
- I was in an accident that made standing painful at times, which I’d explained to my colleagues. When I sat down in a team meeting once, they said, “This is stand-up, so we’re standing up.”
- After hearing firsthand about a conference organizer’s burnout over months of volunteering, I suggested lead organizers receive a stipend in the future to recognize the value of their labor. Both the current lead and the designated lead for the following year took my suggestion as an attack on their abilities and their grit.
- A supervisor told me client reporting couldn’t be built into a product because “developer time is expensive,” so I made my own system using Excel. When I trained them before I left, they complained that having a work-around was time-consuming and absurd.
- A woman in the audience at a panel of women in tech said she was interested in getting into tech, but wanted to know what the dress code was. They all replied, “T-shirts!” No one on stage was wearing a T-shirt. I later spoke with another woman who said she’d spent considerable time (and a clothing delivery service) trying to figure out how to emulate Philly’s women-in-tech style.
I’ve tried my best to select seemingly disparate examples, because as Sue Decker wrote in her 2015 essay about the Ellen Pao trial, “any individual act seems silly to complain about. … But in aggregate, and with the perspective of hindsight, they are real.”
I had the privilege eventually to walk away from the situations above, some slower than others, and to find people and spaces that will allow me to build something better. I know that’s not always an option, and I’m frustrated not to have a solution. So for now, I am sharing my “silly” experiences in case you have any doubt your own experiences are real.
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