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Marco Rogers: @polotek
00:16 – Welcome to “Greater Than Code: Like Uber, But For Not Being Shitty” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”
02:04 – Background and Superpower
03:03 – Being Outspoken and Dealing with Pushback on Twitter
04:41 – “Staying in Your Lane”
11:12 – To Engage, or Not to Engage?
16:10 – Mixing Social Justice and a Tech Career
20:49 – Having Conversations Re: Diversity and Inclusion
23:16 – Making Workplaces Inclusive and Changing the Culture
35:56 – Educating Others — But Not on Demand
38:28 – What is the right way to be an ally? Reading Spaces
43:59 – Starting/Organizing Working Groups
45:34 – Advocating for D&I as Leaders
Jessica: Diversity and inclusion is hard because it’s more than just one thing.
Sam: Don’t have conversations or be in them to not just be wrong.
Janelle: Training, teaching, and educating, versus putting together a working group to get things done.
Jamey: It’s okay to be wrong and sincerely apologizing.
Astrid: It’s hard to be who you want to be in a world where people are constantly picking sides.
Marco: How dynamics pay out for people who aren’t fully engaged in the D&I conversation yet.
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JESSICA: Guess what? We have a special sponsor for this episode.
SAM: Yes, this episode is sponsored by O’Reilly Media. The O’Reilly Velocity Conference is the best place to learn about continuous delivery, DevOps, operations, and performance. If you want to build distributed systems and apps that stand up to today’s technological challenges and customer expectations…
JESSICA: Then, you should go to the Velocity Conference. There’s one in New York on October 1st through 4th and there’s some cool people speaking there like Carin Meier and Neha Narula, Ines Sombra and Jess Frazelle. Although there’s one in October 17 to 20 and that one looks even greater because Kiran Bhattaram is speaking there. She’s awesome and Angie Jones and Anne Currie. You should totally go. Also if you go to VelocityConf.com and register with code: PCGTC which is for PC Greater Than Code, then you get to save 25%.
JAMEY: Hi, I’m Jamey Hampton and welcome to ‘Greater Than Code: Like Uber, But For Not Being Shitty.’ I’m here with a bunch of my friends today, including the great Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Thank you Jamey. I am super happy to be here today with Astrid Countee.
ASTRID: Thank you Jessica and I’m really excited to introduce my friend, Janelle Klein.
JANELLE: Thank you, Astrid and I’m here with my amazing co-host, Sam Livingston-Gray.
SAM: I’m having a fanboy moment today. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know our guest already because I retweet him so damn much. Marco Rogers describes himself in his Twitter bio as ‘web developer, movie buff and pretty much the best guy you know.’ Interestingly however, his LinkedIn profile shows his title is director of engineering so you can be sure that we are going to get to the bottom of that. Marco, welcome to the show.
MARCO: Hi, everybody. Thanks for having me.
SAM: Marco, I guess one of the ways that we like to start out is by asking you, what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
MARCO: I think if I have a superpower, it’s probably a little bit of a cheat and it’s really just kind of thinking really fast on my feet. You mentioned my Twitter presence and I have people ask me all the time like, “Do you think through all these amazing tweet storms that you do?” and I’m like, “No, not at all.” It’s really just whatever the last one was. If there’s one that flows from that, then I write it down and if I don’t have any more thoughts, then I guess I’m done. That’s why, I think Twitter works really well for me. It’s something that I try to admit that people because the only thing that I’m trying to do is work through issues out loud so that people can potentially follow along and maybe, we can figure something out together but I don’t think my thoughts are more cogent than anyone else’s. I just have them a lot faster, I think so I can go through more. Truly a volume thing that I’m going for.
SAM: I mentioned that I retweet a lot of your stuff and part of that is because you’re just so outspoken about lots of things but especially, social justice issues. I know you get pushback for that but I’m wondering how much and how do you deal with it.
MARCO: I think that I’m in a very rarified space right at this moment. I’m earlier in that arc, which I would say started. It got kicked off by Ferguson and the whole thing. I talked to him a little during after trailing Martin and his trial and stuff but it was really Ferguson where I was like, “We have to talk about this,” and I found myself doing a lot on Twitter and having people actually respond. But I think there was an arc where what I did a lot was argue with trolls on Twitter and then I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted for my life. Then there was an arc where —
SAM: Imagine that.
MARCO: Yeah, I think there was a period where what I was really trying to do was reconcile, being an outspoken and talking about controversial topics and how that played with my employer. I think I’ve been really fortunate but there’s always a line and I was definitely wary of finding that line. But at this stage, I feel I have found that line with my public presence and with my professional presence. At this stage, I also have managed to avoid a lot of the really most controversial conversations and really stay in my own space and talk about things the way that I want to. I think I’ve managed to strike the right balance like the audience that wants to hear what I have to say. They know how to find me but I don’t go looking for trouble, nearly as much as I used to. I think it’s working out great for me right now.
SAM: Cool. We’ve talked a little bit on the show before about staying in your lane, which I think is a phrase you use fairly regularly. What does it mean to you?
MARCO: I love that phrase. I think I picked it up from Ta-Nehisi Coates, actually. I read Coates a lot, even before he wrote his great book and the article in recreations. He’s a big deal now but I have been following him for a long time. I cribbed the way that I use it from him, which is that there are always a set of things that I think each person can speak to, either from their own personal experience or their background and have a perspective that actually is grounded in reality. There’s a whole set of other things that we have opinions on, where those opinions are not actually informed by very much at all.
More so, if we bring too much of our opinions into that space, we’re going to end up joining out of people who do have that experience and we’re creating noise that covers up signal. When I say stay in my lane, what I mean is that I have opinions on everything all the time and I’ve learned to temper them and recognize that not all of them are valid, not all of them are coming from a place of being informed or having experience or really having anything really cogent to say about it so maybe I should just not say anything because there are people in that space who are going to do it much better than I am.
JANELLE: I was really intrigued by this idea of finding the line and normally, when you find the lines, it’s with crossing over them and then realizing, “Maybe, I shouldn’t have done that.” This is something it seems we all have to go through and figuring out where those boundaries are. I’m just wondering, is there an experience that stands out to you where you felt you were over that line and something you learned from it?
MARCO: Oh, yeah. There’s more than one. Let me reach back and try to pick out some of the more salient ones. It’s directly related to finding my lane. There’s a thing, like I said I think what I’ve gotten good at is being able to have a conversation on Twitter, that has more complexity and nuance, then people are good at right off the bat because Twitter is a very difficult medium to actually pull that off. I think I’ll admit freely that it’s just practice that I think has made me good at it but Twitter is definitely a terrible medium for doing it.
But I think what happens is that practice also gets you in a lot of trouble. What I would do is I would go into conversations and try to participate in a way that was not very helpful and it was really just about me making sure that I was a person who was seen as having these conversations and there was a lot of wrong motivations. Like I said, my early arc I think, taught me a lot about what we’re trying to do here in a lot of social justice movement that we talk about, in a lot of the conversations that we’re having. It’s not just for the sake of conversation. We’re actually trying to figure things out and the people who are closest to that space are actually way more equipped to do that than randoes on the internet, which I am one.
The one that I think sticks out to me the most is when I started to feel like I had the right to speak for other underrepresented groups, just because I felt like I had come to understand some of what their issues were and particularly the LGBTQ community and talking about gay people and trans people and actually trying to speak in a space where their voice is needed to be heard. I was trying to do that thing where I articulate what their issues are. It’s not to say that I was doing a terrible job of it, maybe I was, but that wasn’t really the problem.
The problem was I found myself at odds with people who are gay and were trying to tell me that not only was I kind of getting it wrong but that my input was just not necessary. The conflict there was that the particular person that I think was trying to push me back a little bit, I felt like they had made some really problematic mistakes. I was on that mission to just be like, “I need you to understand where you’ve gone wrong,” and we went through a whole thing and this person did not back down and it was really uncomfortable even for me towards the end. But I was in that space where like, “You couldn’t check me. I was too good for that.”
That’s also a really bad space to be in because you are also not in it to learn or to try to help or to elevate the right kind of signal. You’re just in it to not be wrong. It took me a long time to come around to that conclusion that I have some of those predilections and I really need to resist them. What happened is we had a whole blowout. I had that thing where the people in my Twitter mentions like, “What is happening right now? What are you doing?” and these are people that I respect and I should have listened to their input but I was like, “You kind of get into that internet fight mode,” and it was really not a good look.
I log off and I was like, “I’m done for today,” and I had a really, really long time to think about it. I really slept on it and came back. It came down to one really simple thing. All the other stuff where I thought other people were wrong. It was still in my head but the thing I think I learned from that more than anything else is none of that mattered if I was coming into a conversation where my input was not solicited, where I did not actually have the lived experience to actually represent any stance that mattered. I was using whatever leverage I had to actually push back on the people who should have the voice in the conversation.
I came back and I really apologize to the several people who were involved. I think my takeaway from that was a really big one, which is if there’s a conversation that needs to be had in the LGBTQ community, it’s not going to come from me. I’m not the person who needs to have it. It’s not even up to me to make sure that it happens by coming in and starting trouble. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be because that community works it out for themselves and like, “I’m the problem here,” and I had to really admit that, regardless of what other things people had done that were ‘wrong.’ It’s just not my conversation to have. It’s not my lane. What I ended up doing is just getting really good at apologizing to people too, which is like the whole thing.
SAM: That’s a superpower right there.
MARCO: Yeah, it is. Actually, I should move that one to the top. That’s actually really, really important one is learning how to really apologize to people in a way that is authentic and actually conveys that remorse for being wrong. Being wrong is okay. I think I tweeted about this too.
JAMEY: Another thing that you’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I think is a superpower is this idea of knowing when not to fight with internet trolls. I like what you said about making a conscious decision about that and I think it’s very important. You also mentioned like being in an internet flight mode and I can totally relate to that. That’s a feeling that I’ve experienced. I wonder what your advice would be about learning when it might be okay to engage and when engaging is the wrong thing to do.
MARCO: That’s a really great question. One thing that I feel is really important to do that seems obvious but it’s not, is to really establish what do you mean by internet trolls. We are talking about those people who have no intention of actually having a conversation, who have no intention of actually learning anything and changing their minds and are literally just there to start trouble and to try to get a rise out of people. The trouble is that there is another set of people who have some really bad and misguided ideas who are ignorant, who are actually real humans and the line between those two things is very, very thin.
I think where I was at first was saying like, “I’m trying to figure out if there are real people behind these accounts,” and if there’s a real conversation to be had because we try to tell ourselves that we should be open to having these conversations even with people that we disagree with. But the reality is there’s a point of diminishing returns there. Like I said, I’d ask myself, “What is the point?” Am I trying to change somebody’s mind? That super unlikely over a short, 140-character texts. That is not going to happen. If I’m not changing anybody’s mind, if I’m not learning anything myself, it’s literally a waste of my time.
Once I got on that train of thought, I was like, “What is valuable about this? What is valuable about coming into this space on Twitter?” It’s really for all the people who are potentially listening and potentially getting something out of, maybe the thoughts that we’re trying to put together in this conversation and that has nothing at all to do with trolls and it doesn’t even require arguing with people.
I think there’s the lowest amount of real informational value in that argument and instead, if you look at where I am today, what I do is I mostly stay in my own space, which means a lot less replies to direct people and a lot less of ‘tweeting’ other people so as to start a conversation and instead, I just put these thoughts together myself on my own timeline for everybody who follows me. I get a lot of engagement there. I’ve been using this phrase, ‘kind of go looking for trouble,’ because I think we have this idea that there’s a lot of value in the back and forth. I would just essentially kind of started at it. I think it’s actually quite wrong.
There’s a very little value in the back and forth. Both sides are really entrenched. There’s not a lot of movement on either side and the only thing that it does is teach people how to argue and fight and be really terrible. That’s the only thing that you get out of it and that’s not what I wanted. I just do a lot less of that. I still I have my moments. I still fall into the trap sometimes but I just come around the idea that there’s just not a lot of value there. More so, there’s much more value to be had by talking with the people who are actually wanting to listen and there’s not a lot of conflict there.
JESSICA: That’s interesting, so when someone else says something that you have completely different thoughts about, instead of fighting against them, you just put your own different thoughts about out there, in parallel.
MARCO: Yeah, absolutely. That actually happens quite explicitly. A lot of times, I have a very diverse timeline now and I get all kinds of different thoughts that come across my timeline that make me kind of think about things and either I choose to be on my own space and maybe expand on a lot of thoughts that made me have or even if I want to go and contradicting, even if I want to paint a different picture of things, I still do it in my own timeline, most of the time without trying to bring those people into it directly and have them feel I’m talking directly for them or that they’re being attacked. All of that stuff is really counterproductive, to be honest. But there’s still an opportunity there for me to provide a counterpoint to some of the stuff that people might be hearing.
I found that to land super well with people. I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me is that I get messages all the time and direct messages in other ways, where people are like, “I’ve never talked to you before but I just want to let you know that you’ve changed so much of my perspective,” just being a person that I kind of get to listen to passively and like, “You’re always giving me stuff to think about.” It just really brought home to me that reality, that there are a lot of people who are listening and that you can have influence on them. The people who are fighting the hardest, worth the least amount of your time.
ASTRID: I have a question about how you makes some of the social justice stuff with your tech career because you mentioned in the beginning that you had to find the right balance for you and to make a little bit of time to do that. In talking to a lot of different people, I often hear that they have a particular opinion or maybe they have an experience that they do want to express but they also don’t want to be like an expert on whatever this issue is and not be seen as just a developer or just an engineer. How did you figure out your path on that?
MARCO: I think I’m still struggling with that to be honest. I definitely have these moments. I used to talk a lot more about tech and I still have a lot of opinions about it. I really am struggling because it feels like the things that I’m talking about in social justice and just in the larger world, they are so much more important than the tech conversations. I haven’t found a space where I feel like I can talk about both and give each one the appropriate amount of weight. I think that’s something that I’m still struggling with and I think that if I’m looking at other people that I run in the same circles with, I see a little bit of that too. They’re like, “The only thing I really feel comfortable talking about is the tech stuff,” and like, “I know this other stuff is so much more important but I don’t know how to engage there.”
I think there’s a little bit of that tension in the community today. I’m struggling with it myself so I don’t know if I have really good answers there. If you followed me for a while, you realize that I talk about tech a lot less. It’s still something that’s a very big part of my life. I still have lots and lots of opinions on it and yet, I’ve kind of chosen to backburner that because the other stuff, I think is so present. I think we all kind of go through those phases.
JESSICA: It’s almost like we need a podcast about the things that are more important than the tech.
MARCO: Yeah. I throw this out and I think this is just me being really candid in taking some ownership. I have these people that I know and either I talked to them a lot online or I’ve actually met them in real life. I know that they’re good people and I really care about them and they only talk about tech and I’m like, “I only talk about tech. There’s other things happening. I never hear you actually mention them.” It’s really, really silent but I realized that it was a judgment of mine that I was having a really hard time with. I want to see other people processing the stuff that’s happening in the world to know that they’re affected, that they’re human and they are here with us doing that.
When it makes me feel some kind of way about it, then I’m still trying to figure out. But I’m really kind of careful not to say anything because I know that’s my issue and not their issue. Everybody is dealing with what’s going on in their own ways. Twitter may not be the place that they are comfortable being vulnerable about those things but I think something that’s kind of in my head today is like trying to figure out where everybody stands. I think that’s where we are. If I’m talking to a person, where you stand in the major issues that are happening today, it’s really important for how I’m thinking about our relationship and it’s sometimes difficult for me to pull that out to make that a thing that’s known. I’m struggling with that too, I think.
JANELLE: I think that’s really easy to relate to you. I’m thinking about this meltdown panic attack that I had, just seeing all this craziness and stuff happening around me like during Thanksgiving. Everyone on Facebook was posting about their perfect turkeys, making the perfect recipe and getting everything all perfect and I was like, “How can you sit there and talk about turkeys?” I just want to scream at people like, “How can you not see all the suffering happening around you?” I think I had that similar response of just some things just are more important.
I had to, at the same time, in that moment, come to terms with my own hypocrisy that, “Oh, I’m the one perfecting the turkeys too. I’ve got my own bubble of stuff that I’ve been living in. That’s me too.” I think there’s two sides to it. One is how we cope with stress all of us and I think detachment is one way to do that like just forget about everything going on in the world and focus on your life. You can’t really blame people for that, either. I think tech is kind of the same way like who really cares about unit testing right now? I’m just wondering in terms of you interacting with other people and seeing the people in different spaces like that. How those experiences have changed you?
MARCO: The last several years where the conversations about diversity and inclusion have really grown and kind of taking a center stage, have been really, really important for me personally. I guess for me, I moved to the Bay Area in 2011 and it was a couple years after that, I would say that the conversation really was able to start about diversity and inclusion and for me, it was like, “We can have this conversation now?” I remember being really taken aback like, “Oh, we’re talking about this now? We’re talking about the fact that there are no other black people around ever. Cool. I could talk about that. I just think I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about that.” It was a really, really big change in my life to have people acknowledging something that had just been the way the things were for so long and it wasn’t something that I felt like was appropriate to talk about. But now we could.
We went from being able to talk about it to being able to say that it was important and that’s something to strive for, to being able to actually take action and to see things change and like, “If I look at the way that things change me, it’s really big to me that I frequently walk into rooms full of tech people and I’m not the only black person,” and that was like a story of my life. That was the thing that I would joke with people about when I talk to them about being in tech or going to this conference in doing X, Y and Z. It’s a thing that, I think black people have tried to turn it into something that we laugh about but it’s really something that, I think affects us really deeply where we just have to accept the fact that most people around, if we’re going to move towards where the opportunity is and where the success are, then we’re going to leave more and more people that look like us behind. Today, I have to make that choice less and less.
I’m able to be in rooms where lots of people who look me are able to be in the room and doing the same things. It’s so huge for me personally that representation matters so much and to have people be able to talk to me and look at me like I’m a person who kind of inspired them to reach [inaudible], it just has had a really profound effect on me personally, I think.
JAMEY: I’d to talk a little bit more about inclusivity and workplaces, which I think it’s really interesting topic that we’ve been getting closer and closer to as we’ve been talking because we’re chatting about and not discussing tech and discussing these more important issues. I feel like now we’re wrapping it all up in a way like important issues in tech and I really like that. I like this perspective that you have of walking this long road and watching it as the culture has changed and the scenery has changed.
I know you’ve spoken before making on workplaces inclusive. We had a couple of listener questions about this too actually and what would be really interesting, I think would be to hear some suggestions about how junior devs or people that are earlier in their career, lower in the hierarchy, things that they maybe could do to make workplaces more inclusive. There’s a lot of advice, I think for senior management and what they can do from their level, where they have a lot of influence but do you think there’s anything that we could suggest for younger people to help contribute to that environment?
MARCO: That’s a really good question. I want people to feel like they do have something to contribute there but it’s hard. If I’m really thinking about your question, my initial reaction is that, it actually feels really bad to me to go to them and say, “You have to be the people to carry this forward.” It feels like we’ve done so much work just to get them here and then the first thing we do is give it to them like, “You have to help us because we have no idea what’s happening.”
Even if that’s actually true to some extent, I think it’s really difficult and they already have a difficult job. We’re talking about inexperience people. They already have a really difficult job, which is to come into this space in tech where the stakes are really high, the expectations are really high, there’s a really strong culture of examining what you know and don’t know and impostor syndrome is rampant and they’re trying to make it. They’re trying to get established and to make themselves feel like they’re successful here and not get pushed out.
I find it very hard to say that we’re going to give them another job, which is helping us be more inclusive. All that said, I do want to try to answer your question, which was about what advice can we give them on what can they do. I think my answer is a lot more probably kind of diplomatic than people would to hear. I could be a lot more militant about it but I would be doing them a disservice because it doesn’t work — being militant. It doesn’t work at work. In professional space, it does not work. I could tell you stories about that too. Instead, the advice that I had for people kind of going into these work spaces is to take a stance where you want to find the right venue to talk about these things but then be really open and transparent so that other people can see the conversations that are happening and choose to find ways to learn and get onboard. I’ll try to be more concrete because I think that’s really vague.
The thing that I’m seeing a lot more that I think works well is having diversity and inclusion working groups inside companies. There’s a set of people who are passionate about this and who want to help educate and help make change within the organization and they don’t have to push very hard. Instead what they do is they just create a group as a space for them to talk about it and to figure out what are the ways that they can try to influence the organization. Then that group can start to do things like ask for executive sponsorship, like have someone from the leadership team actually to come in sit in so that they can hear directly and learn. Ask for things like resources like, “Can we make tweaks to how the onboarding works.”
One of the big things that I ended up doing at a previous job was to have D&I as a message be part of our onboarding for every new hire so they would get a message about how diversity and inclusion was important to us and why and how to think about it. That’s actually really important, if you think about all the other ways that companies try to establish culture and how important they think culture is. Putting that message along with all the other culture messages was a really big win.
My goal is to get people to kind of get together in the company, to find a way to be effective and talk about these things out loud but to make it really, really practical like talk about what you want to see happen at the organization and make real requests and not just talk about the issues and expect people to figure out what you need them to do. I hope that that’s a helpful answer and I think that working group, once you establish it is a really good place for new people from different underrepresented backgrounds, when they come into the organization, to find like-minded people to find support and it could be really good.
JAMEY: I think that there can also be problems with bad attitudes that have gotten stuck in an organization. When fresh people come in and have a good attitude about something, I think there can be something very refreshing about a younger person coming in and acting just like, “Of course, we’re going to be understanding the people. Of course,” and I think that that can make people think about things differently. I read a lot of employment advice columns and stuff like that and one of the advice things that I see a lot when people like, “I want to ask my boss for this thing. I think it’s really reasonable,” is just ask them in a way that makes it sound you’re being totally reasonable like, “Of course, I know you want to help me with this so how can you help me?”
I think if you have a lot of fresh people coming in and just treating diversity and inclusion like that, like an obvious thing that we know you want to do but how do you do it, that might maybe take out some of those stuck attitude if possible. Maybe that’s an idealistic way to look at it but that’s kind of how I feel about it.
MARCO: I think that’s a really great way to look at it.
JESSICA: Yeah, especially if the company is growing quickly and you have a lot of new hires, you can change the culture just through quantity.
MARCO: Yes. That’s true. Maybe, I should phrase it more as a question because I want to hear if other people have had an experience where you do manage to get a D&I conversation going, maybe you do even manage to affect the hiring but you bring in a bunch of people and all the people who are talking about it are the new people and it starts to feel like a cultural rift to people, like the people who have been at the company that are like, “I’m going to hire nice people,” and they want to have all these really uncomfortable conversations and they’re really changing all the culture around D&I stuff.
I’ve seen that be a place for a lot of tension to arise, especially in the way that you say which is like they’re taking over. Even if that’s happening, even if you might be starting to win with quantity, those people who have been there, they actually have a lot of institutional power and they can set up a lot of really conflicting conversations. I’ve seen that happened.
ASTRID: I did have an experience a little bit like that. It was not at a technology company but I got invited to this diversity and inclusion training, which like a workshop. Being a newer person at the company, the team I was on was pretty diverse. We didn’t really have discussions about it but it was kind of known that we were trying to get as many different perspectives as possible. But when I went to the training, there are a lot of people who had been at the company for a long time like 20 years and this was the first time they’d had some diversity and inclusion training. It became pretty intense pretty fast because there were some people who were saying for the first time, experiences that they had had every day that were bothering them, which made other people feel like, “I’ve worked next to you for 15 years. Why didn’t you ever say anything? I thought we had a real friendship. Now, I feel like I don’t know who you are because I didn’t know this was even an issue.”
I was just sitting there and like, “Oh, my gosh. What is going on at this company?” because I can tell that a lot of things like what you said Marco, are kind of deep-seated and they’ve been around a long time. I think it’s hard to figure out, how do you scrape that out and start again because they were trying to move in a new direction. They had done a lot of things like make these resource groups for all kinds of different groups of people, different types of populations of people that might work at the company and those groups seem to be functioning.
But I think it kind of had the problem within our little group. There was an LGBT for instance so within that group, then everybody there is fine. But then when you go back to the group that you might work in every day, that hasn’t really changed. You might feel more comfortable individually in certain circumstances but you’re not really feeling comfortable talking about this at work or even expressing situations that may arise and how that might not be the best way to handle it. I think it’s a really big challenge because it’s not easy when I think is a lot of companies ignore it because it’s like how do you get to that person who is senior or who has been there for a long time and may not even know what they’re doing and how what they’re doing is affecting people?
But then also, how do you get to those people who maybe they aren’t actually doing or saying the wrong things but they’re friends with those people and they don’t know how to think about them now because it’s a new set of information that you’re giving them about how to behave and how to think about certain things and they don’t know what that means. If I’m friends with this person but they hold these views and they’ve expressed them before, how do I work with them again?
MARCO: That’s really huge. I really appreciate you sharing that. I think it’s a really big problem. If there’s something that I’ve also kind of had to come around to, it’s the idea that even though a lot of these things are important and need to change, we can’t take it for granted that people are going to get there soon and this shouldn’t be hard for them. We can kind of tend to talk about it. It should be obvious or this is just the right thing and people kind of just realize that. It actually is a journey. It takes a long time and there’s a lot of discomfort that people have to go through.
When you amplify that with working relationships, it’s going to be tough. I think part of what I heard about what you’re getting at is this thing where people who have a working relationship and all of a sudden have presented with all these really tough conversations about diversity and inclusion. It’s their same coworkers who are starting to speak up about these things and admit that they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable. They’ve been made to feel like people are using micro-aggressions against them. They feel like they’ve been held back and there’s going to be reactions to that like, “We haven’t talked about this. You haven’t said anything to me.”
I had that problem for a little while in different context when I started talking about how black people have to deal with being in friendships with white people and I have all of my white friends coming to me like, “Have I ever done anything that makes you feel uncomfortable?” and I’m like, “Probably, yes but we don’t have to talk about it all the time.” It’s not a thing where we have to make it a big central part of our relationship but they were having a lot harder time with it. All of a sudden, they have to contend with the fact that I have not been sharing my full self with them as a way for us to be friends. That’s what it is.
When we talk about privilege and being marginalized, it’s really that difference in comfort level, where you can bring your whole self into a situation and feel your whole self is going to be accepted. When you’re on that privilege side, that’s what you do. You’re not holding anything back from people because nothing that you could tell people is going to be a problem. Whereas, there’s a different kind of person, they have to actually be really scrutinous of the things that they are public about that they share with people and they only bring part of themselves into all of your relationships, especially at work.
Then when the people on this privilege side of this dynamic start to really understand that, then they realize the whole conversation that they’ve been having with this person now feels like it was wrong. I even had people feel like they feel that they’ve been deceived like, “I thought we’re friends but we’re not.” Do you know what I mean?
There’s a whole journey that I think people have to go on. I don’t think that it’s something that we can help with to be honest. But I do think we have to, at least acknowledge it and let people know that we have to provide space for people to go through that if we want to preserve those working relationships, if that makes sense.
SAM: As somebody who’s been the white person on that side of the conversation once or twice, I think for me it’s really important that I try to make sure not to fall into the trap of making my friends take care of me through that process.
JAMEY: I’ve had a lot of experiences on that too. I’ve talked about this before because I’ve given people advice like, “If you says something that makes them feeling uncomfortable, just apologize and move on.” Otherwise, you get this weird reverse situation, where I have to comfort people. My friends will call and be like, “I feel so bad. I messed up your pronouns again. I’m such a bad friend. I’m such a bad person,” and I have to be like, “I’m not mad at you for trying but now, I’m comforting you because you mis-gendered me and that’s really tiring.”
MARCO: Yeah, or you have to tell them how to do better and give them an impromptu education class like here’s what you should do, here’s what you should have done.
JAMEY: I like educating people but I like to do it when I feel up to it, not when I’m on demand for it.
MARCO: Yeah, for sure. It’s tough as a community, especially [inaudible] circles, we don’t get to talk as much about how this stuff affects persons or relationships. I’ve been talking a lot about it in the context of politics. There’s a real rift in people’s families, where there’s so much going on right now and there’s such a sharp divide between people but these are your family. These are your close friends. You can’t really stop talking to them. You’re very restricted in a way that you can kind of protect yourself from having to have some interaction with these people and yet, it can be traumatizing. It’s a real issue.
I think we need to talk more about how we can actually start to tackle these things on a personal level because to be honest, I think the wider movement is really, really good and it’s really, really necessary but we have the most leverage with the people who were closest to. The most actual power to help people understand and to educate them and to help bring them along are the people who are close to them and have that power. Yet, it’s the most challenging for the person who has to go into that really charged situation. I think there’s a lot of value to talking more about it but it’s also tough.
ASTRID: I read something that [inaudible] said, “Facebook makes you hate people that you know and Twitter makes you love people that you’ve never met,” and I think that’s what you’re talking about.
MARCO: Yeah, I saw that. That was great. It’s really accurate but [inaudible].
SAM: On that note, if I can flip that earlier question around, for somebody who like me, maybe at the center of the intersection of all the privileges, are there ways that I can help champion people and advocate on their behalf and help educate folks while still staying in my lane? Are there things that you wish somebody might, like me, could have done for you? And I realize that ‘for you’ is sort of loaded.
MARCO: Yeah, I hear you, like what’s the right way to be an ally, I think is the conversation that we’re having in. It’s not something you take for granted. I think allies are also having a really hard time these days, for better or worse. It’s a tough space to be in. The stance that I take today, say we’re picking context and say, we’re talking about how to advance diversity and inclusion at work. I think the right thing to do is to make sure your voice is heard in support of the people who are trying to push initiatives. The thing that happens a lot is if I’m pushing an initiative that has to do with trying to bring more people of color into our hiring funnel. I think a lot of times people choose that moment to say, “That’s not my lane so I shouldn’t say anything.”
But what that does is create a dynamic where it feels like I’m the only person that’s pushing for things or like I’m the person that has to do all the work to make something happen. That’s not a great place to be. My goal when I bring this stuff into a company is for it to be a company-wide value. That doesn’t mean that everybody has to be onboard. There are no company-wide values that every single person agrees with but what I do mean is that I want to know that people across the company are invested in seeing these things happen, because they’ve been set up as a company-wide value.
I think diversity and inclusion is one of those where we fall short because we allow the burden to fall on the underrepresented people like, “Oh, yeah. They’re going to do a thing and I’m just going to stay out of the way and try to not mess it up,” which is a stance that you can take. But honestly, what I think needs to happen is for everybody to show support in a way that makes it easier for it to actually be a company-wide activity.
That can look a number of different ways. If I say I want to put on an event, to bring in underrepresented people and have it hosted at the company, then it’s really great for other people who are not me to say, “That sounds really great. I want to help out with that,” or like, “I’m going encourage some other people to help out with that.” Use whatever privilege you have to get other people engaged. There’s a thing about letting people drive the initiatives and those should be the people who are definitely centered but we still need help. We still need support and there’s more than just the spearhead part that goes with it. Just showing up and showing support and being ready to help is really great. That’s the thing that I think we need the most and it goes back to the conversation we’re having about having a critical mass of people, it really gives these things momentum. I think there are a lot more people who agree but then feel they shouldn’t show up.
I’ll share something I think is a little bit more concrete, which I think was really eye-opening for me. We had a working group at a previous job — D&I working group — and there were people who would always express that they appreciate what was happening but they never showed up to the working group meetings and they actually volunteered to help with any of the initiatives. There was a white woman and I went up to her and I feel I had a good enough relationship with her that I could just ask so I asked like, “Why don’t you show up to the meetings? Is there a problem? I’d really like to hear if you feel there’s something that’s keeping you from feeling welcome.”
I was expecting to hear a number of other things but what she said to me was actually surprising, which she said, “No, I’m totally onboard. I totally like it but I feel like as a straight white woman, I have almost the entirety of the privilege that we’re talking about with one exception so I just feel like I should stay out of it because I don’t want to take up space where I feel like I have a ton of privilege already.” She was seeing the group as a place where you come to get resources, rather than one where you come to help and execute and actually make things happen and shows support. I think there’s definitely a conversation to have about what people think the purpose of these D&I initiatives are and who should be involved. We definitely need people to be involved. There’s just like, we can have to talk about the right way to do that.
SAM: That’s interesting. That’s another line that I have a hard time walking is trying to read a space and figure out whether it’s a space for mutual support, where if I go in and I’m deluding whatever’s happening there versus a place where I can show up and help.
MARCO: Yeah. We had those conversations in the working group. I think it’s really important to establish the goals and the mission and governance and stuff. It’s going to feel like work. It should feel like work if you’re doing it right but I think we try to find the balance. Sometimes it is about being able to have these conversations in a space where people are like-minded but it’s also about action like it should definitely be results-oriented, which is something that I think people struggle with sometimes. They want to spend more time on the talking because they feel they have a lot to learn and that’s totally fine. You should do it but it also has to be results-oriented, I think.
JAMEY: If someone want to do get involved in something like that or even start their own working group like that, do you have any advice on a good place to start?
MARCO: Meaning like what should the group do? Is that what you’re asking?
JAMEY: Yeah, like what’s a good thing to focus on in the beginning and if you have any advice on how to organize?
MARCO: It really only takes just having a meeting. I think the way that you socialize, it matters. I think you can connect with people individually who you know to be like-minded and you shop that idea around with them. Then you go to people that you think are allies or that you can, at least trust to have the conversation with. You go to people in leadership and you have that conversation with them to know that they are not going to be obstructive. If that conversation doesn’t go well, it may be a challenge to start a group. But if they’re onboard and they’re supportive, then you can ask about the right way to broadcast so you can tell people like, “This is happening. It’s totally optional but show up. We’re going to have our first meeting and talk about what we want to do.”
I think the first couple of meetings are just going to be about getting to know why people showed up and what their expectations are and then you can go from there. You’re going to have a plethora of people show up for different reasons. That’s okay but start to establish what you think the group is about and what you want to see happen. The primary thing, I think to ask and to go around the room is what do you want to see happen at the company around D&I and that should help drive a lot of things.
SAM: We mentioned at the top of the show that transition that you’ve gone through from web developer to director of engineering. I’m wondering, as you’ve gone through that journey, how has that informed your approach to how you advocate for a D&I.
MARCO: It’s a big shift. I believe that managers and leaders at the organization have the most leverage. They have the most institutional power to make these things happen, to make them acceptable and to really drive action. I think when I became a manager, a lot of my impetus for doing that was so that I could see the things happen that I cared about the most. It’s not because I really wanted to be a manager. It’s not because I felt it was a great promotion or whatever. It actually felt terrifying to me and also, I was really sad that I didn’t get to program as much.
It was really kind of bittersweet transition but when I was thinking about it, all these things that I care a lot about like there’s a moment I think where, if you care a lot about something, you may have to decide that you should do it. If there’s a problem and you want to see it get better, that might mean it’s your job. I had to really take responsibility for that and then figure out how to use that leverage as a manager. The thing that changed to your point directly is that I went from advocating for things to putting myself in a position to say yes. That is what you can do that is fundamentally different as a manager is that you actually control resources and that you can be the person to say yes.
When we’re talking about companies, a lot of times it is individual contributors who want to see things happen and they are talking to leadership. They’re talking to the company. I think it’s great if you can get the executive level people involved. It’s great to have that buy in at the executive level but they’re not going to do things. They have a whole job of running a company. They’re really busy. They’re not going to actually show up to make things happen. There’s going to say, “Yes. This is awesome. Do [inaudible] and I will support it.”
I think as a manager on my team, in my department or however wide I felt I can stretch my influence, like I show up and just try to say yes to things so that they can move forward and that’s my direct contribution to making these things happen. The upside of being a manager is that people don’t tell you not to do things. As I see, you can have all these initiatives and you can try to carry them forward and someone is going to be like, “I’m not sure it’s the right time,” or they can give you some push back and you learn to recognize that institutional push back.
As managers, we all have that problem like I can do things and I can have other people do things like I’m telling them, I’m pushing them forward or whatever. I’m sponsoring them. I’m the person who’s kind of advocating for this. It’s much harder for people to shut me down. It’s just a big part of when I tell people how to make D&I work at their company. If you’re management layer, that middle management layer, above IC but below the executive team, if they’re not engaged, it’s going to actually be really difficult to make things happen. I do my part there by showing up at that layer and saying yes to things.
ASTRID: This is the time of the show when we have reflections and we talk about something that stuck out in our conversation.
JESSICA: Way back at the beginning of this show, Marco said that a while ago, he felt he had the right to speak for other underrepresented groups but then, he decided he didn’t. He can only speak for himself and this illustrates why diversity and inclusion is so hard because it’s not one thing. You can’t just like be more accommodating to not white men. You have to be more accommodating to women. You have to be more accommodating to black people and you have to care about LGBT and that’s not just one group. Diversity is inherently about a lot of people and that is one thing that makes it so hard so I really like the part about, if you start a group about this, start by listening to people, to lots of people.
SAM: One thing that stuck out for me again towards the beginning of the show, Marco, you were talking about your transition and how you found your lane and you said a couple of things that really stuck out for me, which were making sure I was seen as a person who was having these conversations. Then you talked about being just in it to not be wrong. Both of those are traps that I fall into all the damn time so I’m really glad to have those named and have a little bit more of a specific label on it than just plain defensiveness, which is the category that I feel that those fall into, at least for me so thank you very much.
JANELLE: One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about with this sort of results-oriented approach is this difference between training and teaching and educating about things, versus putting together a working group to actually get things done and supporting that working group to actually get things done. I want to thank you for that.
I think in general, we need to shift the way we think about education and putting all of these type of things that we do into actionable results-oriented things like thinking about what type of company we want to have, what type of world we want to live in, what type of community we want to live in and what they’re going to take to get there and how can we start putting working groups in place to actually get us wherever it is we want to be and then support those groups.
JAMEY: One thing that I really took away from this is the idea that it’s okay to be wrong and that brought up earlier in the context of you can admit you’re wrong and that’s okay. But I think there’s even a flip side of it, where I’ve been in situations where I’m so afraid that I’m going to be wrong that I don’t want to do or say anything and it’s just paralyzing like, I’m going to post something and someone’s not going to like it. People don’t have to everything I post and if someone doesn’t like it and they say something that makes me change my mind about it, I’m also allowed to change my mind about it. That’s why I think what both Marco and Sam said about sincerely apologizing being a superpower is really true and I’m going to think more about that in practice and then maybe I won’t live in such fear of being wrong.
MARCO: Just as an aside, it does take practice, like giving sincere apologies actually feels terrible for a while and then actually it feels great so. I definitely recommend practicing.
ASTRID: I think what I got out of our conversation is how hard it is to be who you want to be or be the person that you think you are in a world where it feels like people are constantly taking sides. You want to speak up, you want to have something to say, you want to support the right people, you don’t want to just be on the sidelines but then sometimes, maybe being on the sidelines is the right place until you understand what’s really going on and that’s hard.
I think there’s a lot of conversation about authenticity and how great it is to just be yourself all over the place and everywhere and not enough recognition of how hard that is to be yourself everywhere and it comes with consequences. Maybe, it shouldn’t. Maybe, we should be accepting people but I think that’s kind of why everybody is up in arms because that’s not the truth of how you live in the world. I think what I get out of that is just because you’re struggling to deal with that, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong because it is hard and that everybody doesn’t have it figured it out but you.
MARCO: Yeah, that’s great. I love it. Thanks so much for having me. I really, really enjoyed this conversation. It’s really great to dig into some of these things with a smaller group of people, where we can really expand on some of these ideas. It’s also super helpful for me to hear other people’s thoughts come together and reflection to my own so I really appreciate the opportunity. I just wanted to say thanks.
In terms of reflections, the thing that I think is sitting with me that I’m definitely going to take with me is the reminder in what we talked about and how these dynamics play out for people who aren’t fully engaged with the D&I conversation yet. I can be really strident in a lot of ways and challenging people to get better at this and to really learn about it and to do better but I also try to balance that with a certain level of empathy. This is actually a really hard journey to go on for everybody. I’ve been on it myself in different ways. I have a lot of axes of privilege for myself and I think that it’s really easy to lose that empathy for the people who are experiencing things changing really rapidly around them.
Whether their anxiety comes from the right place is worth talking about but that doesn’t make it not real. It doesn’t make it not valid that they have a journey to go on and it can be jarring and difficult for them. I think it’s just a good reminder because we also have to deal with the consequences if we don’t acknowledge the importance of that. That’s why it’s hard. That’s why we’re on opposite sides because we have made things very difficult in a way that is difficult. It’s harder for people to kind of come along so that’s just a recipe for conflict.
I think it’s something that I’m thinking about a lot because there’s a set of things that are important to me that I’m not going to back down from and that I’m not willing to compromise on but at the same time, I’m really worried about the conflict, both in the wider space and just in the tech community. I don’t want my life to be kind of fighting with people on the other side like I mentioned before. We have to find a way to find that space. We have to find a way to allow people to go on that journey in a way that it doesn’t cause them to kind of dig in their heels and entrench.
We still have to be human with each other and that’s really the goal of it to me is for us to all be learning how to be better humans. I mean, it’s everybody, not just us. I feel I have some more thinking to do about whether I’m really living that today but I really appreciate it and it got me thinking.
SAM: All right. Well, thank you very much, Marco for coming on the show. We had a really wonderful time and thanks listeners. We’ll be back soon.
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