You might be doing tech wrong, says new book - Technical.ly Philly

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Oct. 10, 2017 9:36 am

You might be doing tech wrong, says new book

In “Technically Wrong,” Philly UX consultant Sara Wachter-Boettcher challenges tech-sector toxicity.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher's book went live today.

(Courtesy photo)

Offensive face filters, algorithms with built-in bias, sexist apps: not having a diverse team has come at a cost for companies like Snapchat, Facebook and many more.

That is one of many tech-industry-focused takeaways from Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s 2016 book, Design for Real Life (coauthored with Ohio-based designer Eric Mayer). Now Wachter-Boettcher is turning the tables to examine, this time under a solo byline, some examples of exclusive design processes and how they end up impacting non-tech folks.

The book, published by WW Norton, went live today.

“I realized there was a growing appetite for people in the not tech ecosystem to peek behind the curtain,” the author told Technical.ly.

Wachter-Boettcher, a principal at UX consulting firm Rare Union and Philly resident since 2012, can list off a few tech misfires on command: Snapchat’s “Anime” mask that amounted to a caricature of an Asian person, FaceApp’s “hotness” filter that bleached users’ skin and Apple’s health app that claimed to track major all health indicators except for menstrual cycles.

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“As tech becomes central to our lives it has the power to define norms,” said the author.

The book is more diagnosis than solution due its general public focus. “I don’t pretend to tell to tell the tech industry how they can solve everything,” the writer said. “I don’t think you should be a computer scientist to understand things like why an algorithm can be biased. Those kind of things deserve to be in the public conversation more than they’ve been.”

But push the consultant to yield a diagnosis and she’ll call it like it is:

“There are profound problems in tech culture and the entire model of how people are funded,” the author said. “It keeps the same people in charge. You need a more diverse workforce and more value placed on what the consequences of decisions are.”

(Lack of inclusive policies have led to what organizer Briana Morgan calls a pervasive sexual harassment problem in the tech ecosystem, Philly included.)

A launch gathering for the book is happening tonight at HeadHouse Books.

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Roberto Torres

Roberto Torres became Technical.ly Lead Philly Reporter in May 2016. Prior, he was a freelance contributor to Technical.ly and Al Dia News. The native Venezuelan moved to Philadelphia in 2015 after reporting on research at his alma mater, the University of Zulia. Whenever he's not fencing deadlines, he can be found standing in line at Overbrook Pizza in West Philly, running Netflix/Hulu marathons with his wife or reading news from Venezuela.

  • Roberto, based on your article, it almost seems the title should have been “You’re PROBABLY doing tech wrong, says new book.”

    As is, same as with the diversity discussion, it leaves people the luxury of looking at the title and saying, “yeah, not us.”

    Sorry I read it a day late…would have loved to hear more from Sara last night. Thanks for the info.

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