6 terrible things that happened to me in tech - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 20, 2017 12:57 pm

6 terrible things that happened to me in tech

Amelia Longo on why it's so hard to speak up about a tight-knit tech community's failings.

Amelia Longo.

(Photo by Jen Cleary)

This is a guest post by Amelia Longo.
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."
Amelia Longo

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.

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New folks, underrepresented folks, this piece is for you. Here are six terrible things that have happened to me in tech.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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Amelia Longo

Amelia Longo is the director of strategic initiatives at Interactive Mechanics. She has worked in business development, events and community management in the tech and arts and culture sectors for almost a decade. She previously worked with Azavea and with SecondMuse, where she supported Al Jazeera's Media in Context Hackathon and the NASA Space Apps Challenge, as well as with the Annenberg Center, FringeArts, Apiary Magazine, and the Mural Arts Program. She also writes for the stage, volunteers with Mighty Writers and serves on the boards of Camp Sojourner and the La Salle University Art Museum.

  • Maria Cipollone

    Your experiences are in no way silly. I’ve been in tech both in SF/SV and Philadelphia, and it’s apparent in both places. Keep speaking out.

  • Dr. Janice Presser

    The dress code for women in tech is whatever-we-feel-like-wearing. Our experiences are whatever-is-happening-in-our-reality. Not valuing anyone’s extra contributions of time and energy is disrespectful and doesn’t recognize the generally significant (well documented by several big advisory companies) disparity in what women have to do after work vs what men do. Etc. Name it and shame it – not yourself.

    • The dress code issue is tricky. We *say* it’s whatever-we-feel-like-wearing for all genders, but in practice, women tend to dress up more. Individually, I don’t think it makes sense to tell someone to wear a t-shirt and not a dress if that’s what they feel like wearing, but collectively, there’s a pattern. I think there are different unspoken expectations for different genders. And I think we should at least recognize that, and not claim t-shirts are standard, even if they are permitted.

      • Dr. Janice Presser

        As a tech CEO, I wear leggings most of the time in case I have to jump on a flight somewhere. Of course, I fly #American not #United.

      • Mike

        definitely sometimes easier to use the dress-code definitions such as “casual”, “business casual”, etc. gets the point across without singling out specific items

  • Mike

    how much of it can we chalk up to “tech” vs larger society as a whole or just ignorant people? Some things like trans-friendly language many people in society are JUST catching up to, many yet (outside of tech) are even resistant to it. Not wanting “feature-creep”, then later realizing the workaround you implemented was a fix to a valid problem COULD be hindsight being 20/20 and not gender-related. I’ve called out a coworker before for not standing during a standup, forgetting __HE__ had an ankle injury… that’s me being a forgetful unsympathetic asshat, not sexist. I’m not saying tech doesn’t tend to have more gender issues than some more mature industries (see Nerf incident, dress code, etc) but some of the above, are they truly tech-lifestyle specific?

    • Jordan

      How about you just listen to her experience instead of writing a paragraph excusing men in tech?

      • Mike

        I just want to know if it’s let’s blame tech or let’s blame society?

        • relaxing

          whynotboth.gif

          • Mike

            since this tends to be a group that hones in on semantics (see comments about ableist, sexist, etc), the article specifically calls out the tech community and seems to specifically blame the tech community for some things that if you are truly aware are still across most industries and most of society as a whole in some degree

          • Jordan

            So this article should have been about society as a whole instead of one woman’s experience? Got it. I’ll only read encyclopedias and atlases from now on.

    • I agree that there are issues that are not tech-specific, but I think tech glorifies them and compounds them in an attempt to be anti-corporate and “fun.”

      Furthermore, calling out a coworker for not standing during a standup is ableist. Reading any experience a woman shares as gender-specific is sexist.

      • Mike

        “ableist”… why not just call it “unsympathetic asshat”?

      • Mike

        woot woot! I’m batting 1000 today! oh, wait, I’m sure using a baseball reference will come back and bite me in the ass as some sort of implied “ist” sleight 😉 “sportist” mayhaps?

        • It’s not a slight. Saying “asshat” and “forgetful” diminishes your colleague’s specific experience. “Ableist” is just more specific language. I don’t think you can address a problem if you don’t define it. The more you can become aware of others’ experiences, the less likely you are to be able to forget, and the more likely they are to feel comfortable speaking up if you do.

    • Melissa

      Mike, I’m with you completely. And this has nothing to do with “excusing men in tech.” I feel that the 6 terrible things mentioned are not a specific tech epidemic but can be attributed to, well, work jerks. I have experienced work jerks in every job, tech and non tech, all the way back to my first job as a Hallmark cashier. And from my experience (which of course is not representative of everyone), regarding #5, agile startupy tech companies have been more appreciative of taking initiative on creative solutions than the stodgy traditional corporate jobs I’ve had. For #3, I also ask my team to stand for standups, exactly for the reason they exist, to keep the meeting brief and efficient. However if a team member told me they were physically uncomfortable, we would adjust. Similarly, if a team member had a back problem and couldn’t sit for longer meeting and asked to stand, we’d work that out too. Just because standups are common in tech doesn’t make that a tech-related issue.

      #6 confuses me. First, I’ve spoken on panels, and I dress differently than I dress for work, so that seems like an odd point. But one of the things that I love about working in tech is the fact that there is more flexiblity for being oneself. I wear t-shirts and flannels pretty much every day. That is my style. My coworker wears dresses every single day. That’s hers. No one thinks either is weird. We aren’t “emulating” anything. I’m personally grateful that I don’t have to wear the stuffy beige business-casual pleated khaki corporate “uniform” of boring-ass jobs past. Instead of having to fit into a reserved, rigid, robo-professional mold, I could be a loud, social, playful dork. Or I could be an anti-social, headphones-on-constantly, workaholic. Or a number of other personas! My jobs in tech have allowed for much greater personal expression, and any urge to “emulate” is a personal issue.

      My opinion is that there are two things that would help in most (but maybe predominantly tech) working environments. One is speaking up and being vocal about what works for you. (e.g. “I was in an accident and standing is difficult for me.”) And two is for everyone to stop making assumptions about others. (e.g. “She works in tech, therefore she must be cool with getting hit with a Nerf dart.”) I would find it hilarious if someone hit me with a Nerf dart, and I’m pretty vocal about that type of stuff at work, so I hope my friends (yes, my coworkers are my friends) feel comfortable messing with me. However, understanding that NOTHING is black and white, and you can’t treat everyone like some sort of startup stereotype is necessary in pretty much every single life situation.

      I’m not saying that tech culture is great or that there aren’t issues with working in tech or being a woman in tech, etc. I have plenty of my own qualms. And I applaud this sharing of personal experiences in an effort to encourage others to feel validated about their own. But I also don’t agree that this post is a good warning to new or underrepresented people in tech.

  • Andrew B.

    What exactly makes Nerf guns unwelcoming to women?

  • Brian Castello

    Am very familiar with the…. I am forced to use software with no reporting, then asked to report out of it….. A critical shortcoming in the “olden” days of tech… Using Excel or all of the Microsoft Office suite is a good workaround and if you make full use of the Visual Basic for Applications can be designed to get around a lot of reporting headaches for minimal man-hours with the clients (or your co-workers) not even knowing its not a seamless part of the system. As to the rest, the assumption that tech means unintelligible high tech, no documentation, permanent unlimited Pepsi, casual Friday, fun and games and happy hours and butt slapping; all I can say is be respectful and focus on the results. The Nerf gun culture is not always team building.

  • Adelaide Braddock

    Hey, Amelia!

    Thank you for your article. Your personal experiences ring true for a lot of people in many industries, and I speak for my whole team when I say we can’t agree with you more. Which is why StratIS and our sister company, BuLogics have done so much to counter the culture you describe.

    Jim Calder’s description of what makes our work environment stand out to him was, in many ways, just as personal as your experiences. Calder, like many of the people we work with (myself included), comes from a professional background that is a far cry from what we experience in this office. So it’s natural that some of us might find humor in things that others who have come up through the tech and start-up industries will often view as irritating, counter-productive and even offensive.

    That said, you are correct. It is a fine line we walk between standing out as an enjoyable place to work, and being irritating, counter-productive and offensive. Which is why, as women-led companies, our goal at StratIS and BuLogics has always been to do everything we can to run counter to the “industry standard”:

    • Actively focus on diversity when hiring.
    • Having mostly women in leadership and decision-making roles.
    • Maintaining a culture of openness and inclusivity.
    • Ensuring a healthy work/life balance.

    Because it is never easy to convey a thorough point in “250 words or less”, Calder’s examples are merely a slim sample size of how we’ve accomplished these goals. Also, since seeing is believing, we would love for you to come our office to check us out and see if you agree.

    • None of what I wrote commented on your company specifically or your company overall. I truly applaud your accomplishments and your goals, but they are irrelevant to this conversation. I don’t believe that any number of good behaviors excuses bad behavior, and I believe that we all must continue to do the hard work of reassessing our behavior in order to improve.

      Am I correct in my understanding that your comment here is condoning shooting a coworker without consent, and that you have no desire to reevaluate this stance?

      • Adelaide Braddock

        I would argue here that the opening line of your article actually does comment directly on our company specifically, which could lead readers to believe the rest of your article was a comment on our company overall. I understand if that was not your intent, however, it was the basis for my desire to defend StratIS as a place where the experiences you described do not happen.

        While neither I nor any of my coworkers condone getting shot at work without consenting to participate in a Nerf battle (we actually have an official company policy about it), please note that this is just one of many issues examined in your piece, and it was never part of Calder’s opinion on why StratIS a great place to work. His point is we work hard, we play hard. We organize these kinds of activities and those who want to play can, and those who don’t are left alone without judgment.

        Given the incredible of work we have put in as a team to be the kind of company most technologists would dream of working with, it would be unfair to directly or indirectly lump us in with the kinds of organizations that many of us have nightmares about.

        The invitation still stands. ^_^

        • I am aware that I wrote about a variety of issues. I mentioned the shooting specifically in my earlier comment because of your concern about your company’s perception — it was the only issue I mentioned that has a direct connection to Calder’s article.

          I’m having a hard time reading “The other day I was filling up at the coffee bar and took a random nerf bullet to the face,” as a consensual organized activity or not part of Calder’s opinion. If you and he are continuing to stand by this, I’d love to read a more nuanced response piece that explains your policies and this incident, and gives you the space for more context.

          Regardless, the perception that it is only certain “nightmare” organizations that can make mistakes is what perpetuates the inability to make real change. I think my company does great work as well, but I want to know when we misstep, so that we have the opportunity to apologize and adjust where necessary.

  • Spanky Smith

    First of all thanks for sharing your experience with us, I am also working in same field that you are working right now. Technology is growing advance day by day and we have to work with flow. Some of mine good friend told me about the premioinc.com and seriously I like it very much what they are doing in their field.You can also read about them from here https://premioinc.com/

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