diversity

Beyond the Code 2016 recap

I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Beyond the Code conference for the past two years.  This year, the venue moved to a location in Toronto, the last two events had been held in Ottawa.  The conference is organized by Shopify who again managed to have a really great speaker line up this year on a variety of interesting topics.  It was a two track conference so I’ll summarize some of the talks I attended.  

The conference started off with Anna Lambert of Shopify welcoming everyone to the conference.

The first speaker was Atlee Clark, Director of App and Developer relations at Shopify who discussed the wheel of diversity.

The wheel of diversity is a way of mapping the characteristics that you’re born with (age, gender, gender expression, race or ethnicity, national origin, mental/physical ability), along with those that you acquire through life (appearance, education, political belief, religion, income, language and communication skills, work experience, family,  organizational role).  When you look at your team, you can map how diverse it is by colour.  (Of course, some of these characteristics are personal and might not be shared with others).  You can see how diverse the team is by mapping different characteristics with different colours.  If you map your team and it’s mostly the same colour, then you probably will not bring different perspectives together when you work because you all have similar backgrounds and life experiences.  This is especially important when developing products. 

This wheel also applies to hiring too.  You want to have different perspectives when you’re interviewing someone.  Atlee mentioned when she was hiring for a new role, she mapped out the characteristics of the people who would be conducting the hiring interviews and found there was a lot of yellow.

So she switched up the team that would be conducting the interviews to include people with more diverse perspectives.

She finished by stating that this is just a tool, keep it simple, and practice makes it better. 

The next talk was by Erica Joy, who is a build and release engineer at Slack, as well as a diversity advocate.  I have to admit, when I saw she was going to speak at Beyond the Code, I immediately pulled out my credit card and purchased a conference ticket.  She is one of my tech heroes.  Not only did she build the build and release pipeline at Slack from the ground up, she is an amazing writer and advocate for change in the tech industry.   I highly recommend reading everything she has written on Medium, her chapter in Lean Out and all her discussions on twitter.  So fantastic.

Her talk at the conference was “Building a Diverse Corporate Culture: Diversity and Inclusion in Tech”.  She talked about how literally thousands of companies say they value inclusion and diversity.  However, few talk about what they are willing to give up to order to achieve it.  Are you willing to give up your window seat with a great view?   Something else so that others can be paid fairly?  She mentioned that change is never free.  People need both mentorship and sponsorship in in order to progress in their career.

I really liked her discussion around hiring and referrals.  She stated that when you’re hire people you already know you’re probably excluding equally or better qualified that you don’t know.  By default, women of colour are underpaid.

Pay gap for white woman, African American women and Hispanic women compared to a white man in the United States.

Some companies have referral system to give larger referral bonuses to people who are underrepresented in tech, she gave the example of Intel which has this in place.  This is a way to incentivize your referral system so you don’t just hire all your white friends.  

The average white American has 91 white friends and one black friend so it’s not very likely that they will refer non-white people. Not sure what the numbers are like in Canada but I’d guess that they are quite similar.

  
In addition, don’t ask people to work for free, to speak at conferences or do diversity and inclusion work.  Her words were “We can’t pay rent with exposure”.

Spend time talking to diversity and inclusion experts.  There are people that have spent their entire lives conducting research in this area and you can learn from their expertise.  Meritocracy is a myth, we are just lucky to be in the right place in the right time.  She mentioned that her colleague Duretti Hirpa at Slack points out the need for accomplices, not allies. People that will actually speak up for others.  So people feeling pain or facing a difficult work environment don’t have to do all the work of fighting for change. 

In most companies, there aren’t escalation paths for human issues either.  If a person is making sexist or racist remarks, shouldn’t that be a firing offense? 

If people were really working hard on diversity and inclusion, we would see more women and people of colour on boards and in leadership positions.  But we don’t.

She closed with a quote from Beyonce:

“If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow”
💜💜💜

The next talk I attended was by Coraline Ada Ehmke, who is an application engineer at Github.  Her talk was about the “Broken Promise of Open Source”.  Open source has the core principals of the free exchange of ideas, success through collaboration, shared ownership and meritocracy.

However, meritocracy is a myth.  Currently, only 6% of Github users are women.  The environment can be toxic, which drives a lot of people away.  She mentioned that we don’t have numbers for diversity in open source other than women, but Github plans to do a survey soon to try to acquire more data.

Gabriel Fayant from Assembly of Seven Generation‘s talk was entitled “Walking in Both Worlds, traditional ways of being and the world of technology”.  I found this quite interesting, she talked about traditional ceremonies and how they promote the idea of living in the moment, and thus looking at your phone during a drum ceremony isn’t living the full experience.  A question from the audience from someone who worked in the engineering faculty at the University of Toronto was how we can work with indigenous communities to share our knowledge of the technology and make youth both producers of tech, not just consumers. 

If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/beyoncekno596349.html

f everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/beyoncekno596349.html

The next talk was by Sandi Metz, entitled “Madame Santi tells your future”.  This was a totally fascinating look at the history of printing text from scrolls all the way to computers.

She gave the same talk at another conference earlier so you watch it here.  It described the progression of printing technology from 7000 years ago until today.  Each new technology disrupted the previous one, and it was difficult for those who worked on the previous technology to make the jump to work on the new one. 

So according to Sandi, what is your future?

  • What you are working on now probably won’t be relevant in 10 years
  • You will all die
  • All the people you love will die
  • Your body will start to fail you
  • Life is short
  • Tell people that you love them
  • Guard your health
  • Spend time with your kids
  • Get some exercise (she loves to bike)
  • We are bigger than tech
  • Community and schools need help
  • She gave the example of Habitat for Humanity where she volunteers
  • These organizations also need help to write code, they might not have the knowledge or time to do it right

The last talk I attended was by Sabrina Geremia of Google Canada.  She talked about the factors that encourage a girl to consider computer science (encouragement, career perception, self-perception and academic exposure.)

I found that this talk was interesting but it focused a bit too much on the pipeline argument – that the major problem is that girls are not enrolling in CS courses.  If you look at all the problems with environment, culture, lack of pay equity and opportunities for promotion due to bias, maybe choosing a career where there is more diversity is a better choice.  For instance, law, accounting and medicine have much better numbers for these issues, despite there still being an imbalance.

At the end of the day, there was a panel to discuss diversity issues:

Moderator: Ariti Sharma, Shopify, Panelists: Mohammed Asaduallah, Format, Katie Krepps, Capital One Canada, Lateesha Thomas, Dev Bootcamp, Ramya Raghavan, Google, Kara Melton, TWG, Gladstone Grant, Microsoft Canada

Some of my notes from the panel

  • Be intentional about seeking out talent
  • Fix culture to be more diverse
  • Recruit from bootcamps. Better diversity today.  Don’t wait for universities to change the ratios.
  • Environment impacts retention
  • Conduct and engagement survey to see if underrepresented groups feel that their voices are being heard.
  • There is a need for sponsorship, not just mentoring.  Define a role that doesn’t exist at the company.  A sponsor can make that role happen by advocating for it at higher levels
  • Mentors do better if matched with demographics.  They will realize the challenges that you will face in the industry better than a white man who has never directly experienced sexism or racism.
  • Sponsors tend to be men due to the demographics of our industry
  • At Microsoft, when you reach a certain level your are expected to mentor an unrepresented person
  • Look at compensation and representation across diverse groups
  • Attrition is normal, it varies by region, especially acute in San Francisco.
  • Women leave companies at 2x the rate of men due to culture
  • You shouldn’t stay at a place if you are burnt out, take care of yourself.

Compared to the previous two iterations of this conference, it seemed that this time it focused a lot more on solutions to have more diversity and inclusion in your company. The previous two conferences I attended seemed to focus more on technical talks by diverse speakers.

As a side note, there were a lot of Shopify folks in attendance because they ran the conference.  They sent a bus of people from their head office in Ottawa to attend it.  I was really struck at how diverse some of the teams were.  I met group of women who described themselves as a team of “five badass women developers” 💯 As someone who has been the only woman on her team for most of her career, this was beautiful to see and gave me hope for the future of our industry.   I’ve visited the Ottawa Shopify office several times (Mr. Releng works there) and I know that the representation of of their office doesn’t match the demographics of the Beyond the Code attendees which tended to be more women and people of colour.  But still, it is refreshing to see a company making a real effort to make their culture inclusive.  I’ve read that it is easier to make your culture inclusive from the start, rather than trying to make difficult culture changes years later when your teams are all homogeneous. So kudos to them for setting an example for other companies.

Thank you Shopify for organizing this conference, I learned a lot and I look forward to the next one!

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