Spoon theory is an analogy used to try to explain the lived experience of people with lupus, which may not be obvious to the casual observer but have a major impact on the day-to-day capacity of the individual with the condition. Many communities have adopted this metaphor to discuss limitations inherent in their circumstance. My journey with spoons has been long and winding. Starting with my experience as a neurodiverse person (specifically on the autism spectrum) and winding my way through my recent experiences with lupus, we will consider many types of spoons, their quantities, and the coping skills I use to manage my spoons. Finally we will journey through the contexts I've encountered in tech and look at the support I've received and the work we can do to support those with less spoons.
You are (or want to be) a manager at a tech company. Ideas you present are ignored while the same ideas, when presented by others, are accepted. You deliver on difficult projects time and again, yet deserved promotions and recognition seem to elude you. You build strong teams of talented individuals that other teams want for themselves. Still, you can't get a seat at the decision makers' table. Congratulations! You're managing while black.
Having worked in tech the majority of my adult life, I thought that I would surely retire in that field. It was a high-paying, fast paced world that I felt lucky to be in. Living in a tech hub like Seattle, I fit in perfectly. My friends and I regularly gathered for nerdy discussion over expensive drinks. We pranked each other with obscene photoshop skills. I paid off student loan debts and bought a house.
My world changed when Trayvon Martin was killed. Suddenly, a part of me that had been long-dormant reawakened and put me into direct conflict with the world I was living in. In my attempts to balance being a black woman and mother in this new reality, I started down a path that would pull me out of my tech field and into my current career as a writer.
What does the tech industry have to do with police brutality? This talk will explore the effects that the tech industry has had on gentrification in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in the past several years, as well as the connection between gentrification and the policing of Black communities. As the industry booms and the neighborhood floods with new residents and new money, rent increases have pushed marginalized queer and POC communities out of the neighborhood that was once considered a safe haven. As crime rates increased during the recession, a wave of police activity has swept in to protect the interests of the neighborhood’s newfound wealth. I’ll discuss how police and businesses in Capitol Hill have collaborated to create an increasingly oppressive climate of brutality against people of color, particularly those of African descent.
There has been no shortage of press in recent months on the topic of diversity in tech. While these articles have done a fair job of illuminating specific issues and the problem in general, in most cases they have not provided insight into how we can actually work to solve the problem(s). At Substantial, we started the year by announcing Spectrum, a year-long initiative focused on making it not only a more inclusive workplace, but an advocate for diversity in tech in the community at large. It's been a few months of learnings and increasing awareness, and we're ready to share what we've done so far. It's still very early in the initiative, but there are already some lessons that we can share, useful for both organizations and individuals, both those in decision-making capacity and not. Wanting to solve the problem is the first step, but let's turn those intentions into action.
Every group of people ends up with values that guide their work, whether they mean to or not. Be deliberate in choosing the values that matter to your team, put them into action, and communicate them to the people around you. Our team figured out our core values and we actually use them in making day-to-day decisions. Communicating them helped us launch a website redesign with minimal freakout. I'll share things to consider when figuring out your team's values, and how to use them in practice.
For people who want to work in a tech field such as software development/engineering or devops/operations/system engineering, there can be huge benefits to contributing to open source projects. At the same time, the culture around open source can be opaque and difficult to parse for outsiders, particularly those who are minorities in the broader culture or who feel that they do not match their own mental model of “contributor to open source”. I will talk about some of the advice I’ve been given about contributing to open source and how it matches up to what I’ve seen as a contributor.
Invisible Arcade is a recurring event that celebrates video games in a hybrid expo/concert format. At every event, a small selection of games are curated and performed one at a time on-stage as a set. Every game is also available to play at a demo station throughout the event. This format was designed by Samantha Kalman, a queer game developer who was inspired by the parallels between early 90's pacific northwest punk rock scenes and the current indie game development landscape. Having been a founder of the Seattle Indies developer community, Samantha will tell the story of how Invisible Arcade was conceived and took on a life of its own. Being a non-normative person herself, Samantha has focused on highlighting diversity with Invisible Arcade; in terms of the people on the curation team, the people behind games selected for each event, and the performers who play them on-stage. Creating and organizing these events with a strong undercurrent of diversity and queerness has revealed the importance of celebrating video game culture in physical places that are safe spaces. As a result, a community of people who love games has begun to emerge around the event.
Careers are built on our ability to preform day in and day out, but disabilities and chronic illness often come out of nowhere, throwing a wrench into long term goals and plans. We think there is nothing we can do to prepare, but the truth is few companies, or even medical offices, gives workers all the information available. There are several easy actions you, your family, or your coworkers can take. Did you know that in many cases the disability insurance your company offers can cover your salary almost in full if you have an accident? Or that you can preform simple blood tests years in advance to prepare before you are taken out of the work force completely? Especially for minorities in tech and gaming, there is no reason our representation should be any smaller then it already is. This talk comes from one women only now holding all the information she wishes someone had told her before she spent three years leaving, re-entering, and then leaving the work force again. Listen to this quick presentation to gain the comfort in knowing there are options in the face of the unknowable obstacles of illness or disability.