Episode 020: Sexuality in Tech with Jenn Schiffer

Panelists:

Astrid Countee | Jessica Kerr | Coraline Ada Ehmke

Guest Starring:

Jenn Schiffer: @jennschiffer | jennmoney.biz

Show Notes:

00:16 – Welcome to “Neon Abstract Podcast Erotica!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”

01:15 – Origin Story

Bocoup

03:05Art

06:37 – Viewing Source and Learning How to Code

11:02 – Getting a Computer Science Degree

13:56 – Pixel Art, Sexuality in Tech, and Online Presence

@aphyr (Kyle Kingsbury)

Ashley Madison Scandal

26:54 – How do potential employers react to your satire?

28:41 CSS Perverts

36:03 – Vetting Potential Employers and Company Culture; Dealing with Toxic People

Takeaways:

Jessica: Everyone has something that they keep quiet about because they aren’t sure of the consequences.

Coraline: Being privileged enough to have the responsibility to be public and show people that it’s okay that they are who they are.

Astrid: You don’t have to separate your passions.

Jenn: We all need a space to feel uninhibited.

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Transcript:

CORALINE:  Hello and welcome to Episode 20 of ‘Neon Abstract Podcast Erotica’. Today, I’m joined by Jessica Kerr.

JESSICA:  Thank you, Coraline. However, I think this might be the only episode of Neon Abstract Podcast Erotica but it’s Episode 20 of Greater Than Code.

CORALINE:  We’re doing two podcasts simultaneously, Jessica.

JESSICA:  That’s sounds great, Coraline and I’m told to be here with Astrid Countee.

ASTRID:  Thank you, Jessica and I’m thrilled to introduce our guest today, Jenn Schiffer. Jenn is better known at jennmoneydollars. She’s an artist in Jersey City on purpose and a web app engineer. Her visual art has been described as ‘neon abstract pixel erotica’ and her tech satire has been described as ‘your eyes are awful, like you are also awful’. She feels privileged to be able to express herself and works hard to help others do the same. She’s on Twitter at @jennschiffer. Hi Jenn, welcome to the show.

JENN:  Hi, thanks for having me.

ASTRID:  What we’d like to do before we get started is find out a bit about your origin story, so take it away.

CORALINE:  You can talk about the new super powers you have too. This is the correct place —

ASTRID:  That’s very important so make sure you add the super powers.

JENN:  Oh, okay, super powers. I am the first living, breathing lizard made entirely out of CSS and JavaScript. I started out as a lizard in college studying computer science and be interested in building websites so that people on the internet can see drawings I did and things I’ve written. Then I started working as a department administrator and teaching at the university that I went to where I got my masters in computer science. But then it became kind of boring and I decided to enter the industry.

I went to work at the MBA and work with basketball statistics stuff and then left there because I got bored. I joined a consulting company called Bocoup, worked there for a few years and I recently just left. I started a new job but it still a secret so you can just say that my secret job is super lizard, right going back to my roots. Also, I guess as a tech humorist, I write and joke a lot about the industry and the culture and builds web applications that are both serious and also for jokes. That’s kind of what people known me for.

CORALINE:  I think everyone wants to know, Jenn, are you a lizard with one ‘z’ or two ‘z’s’ because that’s an important distinction.

JESSICA:  Or is it a ‘zed’?

JENN:  One ‘z’, one ‘zed’. How about that?

[Laughter]

JENN:  I’m a hybrid.

JESSICA:  That’s sort of half-Canadian lizard.

ASTRID:  Jenn, I would like to go back a little bit because you had mentioned that when you’re going to school for computer science that you were interested in making web apps so that you can put your drawings up there. When did you start drawing?

JENN:  I’ve always been drawing since I was really little, just like cartoons and stuff like that. I never did it really professionally. When I was going to college, I was making band flyers, all of my boyfriends were band and stuff and for my friends. When I was younger, I had friends but I didn’t really go out much so when I started babysitting these neighbor’s kids, they had a computer with the internet and I saw like, “Oh, you can put something online and strangers can see it.” I thought that was weirdly exciting. Then I saw that other people are making web pages that I can see.

I didn’t have a computer in my home until I was a senior in high school. I don’t really have that access. When I babysat, these kids had just showed me the stuff they’re putting out there and it was really exciting. I got really involved in the Wheezer fan space where I was making Wheezer fan pages on Geocities and being involved with the message boards and stuff, which was funny. That sort of what I was doing.

Even today, I find myself going back to those roots and just using my web presence more to share my art, which I had been doing for some time because there was a time period where making art with code. It was something that made people see you as not a serious developer. I see that changing now but there’s a time where that wasn’t the case so I kind of hid that part of me.

CORALINE:  I noticed that on your current website, URL just fell off my head, what is it?

JENN:  JennMoney.biz.

CORALINE:  Yes, you have flaming GIFs. Is that a whole [inaudible] from your Geocities days?

JENN:  Yeah, I just really like that aesthetic. I’m also not a designer. For my own personal stuff, I just do what looks good to me and I’m also in a position where I’m not looking for a desired job so I don’t have to worry about whether my aesthetic matches with who I want to employ me or whatever. I like animated GIFs. I like the old Geocities’ aesthetic. I like old web, pre-standard stuff just because of nostalgia and stuff like that. People seemed to enjoy it also.

I get a lot of compliments on JennMoney.biz because it reminds people back when they first view source of websites and building their own things. It’s just older people that complimented it. The younger people are just getting through a whole [inaudible] wave of it which seems like new to them but it’s coming back for the rest of us. They’re into that as well. It’s very interesting time for web aesthetic.

JESSICA:  Your website is like retro?

JENN:  Yeah.

ASTRID:  There’s little dancing MC Hammer, which is my favorite part.

JENN:  I’m sure a lot of people going on to that webpage have no idea who that guy is. They probably heard MC Hammer but I always explicitly state that there’s an MC Hammer dancing in my website and they’ll just like, “It was like little man dancing all over the webpage.”

JESSICA:  With poppy pants.

JENN:  Yeah.

CORALINE:  You mentioned viewing source, is that one of the ways that you taught yourself how to build websites in your [inaudible].

JENN:  Yeah, definitely. I remember my first webpage was just a collage of photos of the band Wheezer and I saw other webpage that had cool scrolling marquees. I would like to view the source of the page and copy their code and I would put it into my website and realized that is not working. Then I realized that it has all these tags that say script in it and maybe I need those two, sort of learning JavaScript and how that works and how the fits into the equation of the web and that’s where and how I got into that.

Also, Myspace was a big thing at the time and all of my friends wanted their Myspace pages to look cool like mine so I was viewing the source of websites that we like, like our favorite bands and copying their CSS over onto the Myspace via text box which you will enter all the CSS so I started getting into doing things like that. I would say, that’s for the most part how I learned how to get into building websites.

That’s not really the case anymore as we’re building web applications with JavaScript framework that hide all that stuff. View source is not really a thing that a lot of new developers have access to when they want to learn how to build more sophisticated applications, which is unfortunate. But I’m hoping to see that turnaround. I think there are some browsers that don’t even have a view source but it’s very obvious how to do view the source of the page.

JESSICA:  And now that source is at least 200k of minimized JavaScript scripts.

JENN:  Right. Exactly. A lot of people are building stuff that don’t have source maps that allow you to see that stuff. If you want to actually understand what’s going on a webpage, you have to be really sophisticated with browser dev tools, which are difficult to do. Actually, my new job which is still a secret, my secret lizard super job, we are going to hopefully change that and trying to get back to how we learn how to code and have other people have that sort of access to learning the same way.

CORALINE:  I think it’s important that it’s an accessibility issue in a lot of ways because so many of us have been doing this for a while, did learn by viewing source and the minify of JavaScript prevents that. Now, if you want to do something cool on the web, you have to learn one of 2000 frameworks and wrap your head around. It’s more of a focus on the programming aspect of it and less about the arts and the visual presentation and making things cool. There’s so much friction now.

JESSICA:  We like to think that we’re badass because we started it when HTML was just tables and there was no CSS. Or we started what you wrote C with pointers. But the fact is we had an easier on-ramp because we started when that stuff was simpler so we have it easy by starting there.

JENN:  Yeah, definitely. There’s this huge impact over the years where everyone should learn how to code and my idea is not everyone should learn how to code but everyone should have access to learn how to code, if they want to. You know, there are people who’ve been creating great organizations to make the education more accessible but sometimes, even if there’s this organizations available, there are people who are just themselves with the computer, be it at home or in a library.

Like me when I was a kid, if there were organizations to teach young girls how to code, I don’t have access to those. My parents both worked two jobs, I was always at home, my only access to computer is in school. Even now, the state of education for computers is terrible. I think the national average is about 5% of public schools have computer science education. In New York City alone, it’s 1% so there are people like young ‘lizard Jenn’ who are just looking at a computer somewhere and view sources all that they have. I think it’s according to not hold the ladder up behind us and go back to how we learned and make that available to other people, if that make sense.

CORALINE:  Jenn, you said you went in the school for a computer science degree, what led you to make that decision?

JENN:  I wanted to build spaceships but I couldn’t afford the schooling. Then I got a scholarship where I was able to choose any state university in New Jersey, that’s where I live now and Montclair State’s Computer Science Department chair recruited me. Other departments have recruited me but the Montclair State Department was the only one that had a female department chair and I thought that was super awesome.

I was like this is what I want to get involved with. I wanted to do computer stuff because that seems like the next path down that I can afford, next to building rocket ship. This woman have personally called me and I was like, “Wow, they want me and it’s a woman in-charge,” so that’s what I did. Shout out to Dorothy Deremer.

CORALINE:  How did that impact your approach because it sounds like when you’re coming out, a lot of your approaches were very visual and you were very focused on presenting art to the world and your own creativity to the world? How did that intersects with, I don’t know when I think of computer science degrees, I think they have, “Oh your algorithm, it’s in the ability of your compiler.” Did you see those two things merging back then or it was something that happened after the fact?

JENN:  Well, I think I realized during high school that I was very much a problem solver and I’m a visual learner but I do love numbers and word problems so the theoretical computer science education fed that need whereas I was able to use that theory to build things that fed my visual needs. I got a lot involved in learning the math behind computer graphics and stuff like that.

JESSICA:  The math behind pixels?

JENN:  The math behind pixels, exactly. There’s a separation and there’s a lot of, I guess people who study computer science or people who think of those with computer science think that you need computer science to build web applications or like a separation which I could talk for hours and hours about because I used to write computer science curriculum and also teach web development.

But computer science and much of web development is such an interdisciplinary field that lots of people who come from different backgrounds that can thrive in either of the spaces. Some of the best engineers I know have backgrounds in creative writing and have an art and stuff like that. My background is in computer science and math and statistics and stuff but a lot of people first meet me through my art work so it was the opposite way.

ASTRID:  Let’s talk about your art. Can you tell us more about what pixel art actually is, for people who doesn’t seen it before?

JENN:  Sure. How do I describe pixel art? Well, a pixel is the smallest unit on a display. If you have a crappy TV like I do at home and you look really close to it, like your parents tell you not to when it’s on, you can see little squares that each have a single color and that’s a pixel. Pixel art sort of harkens back to early game console, old TV displays. I would say that it’s a type of abstract art.

My pixel art, in particular which is reflected in the titles of today’s podcast is an erotic pixel art so I draw a lot of nude ladies. I called it ‘pixelbabes’, which are mostly self-portraits or just portraits of women that I know most of them who are in tech. Also, some men in tech who let me draw them. Tech is a very progressive industry. We’re always trying to [inaudible] and stuff like that but when it comes to sexuality, I feel like it is very inhibited so pixel art is abstract enough where I can post on Instagram a pixel of drawing of a nude woman but you can’t post of a photograph of a nude woman. But what is pixel art is really an image zoomed in all the way so it was like a joking take on our inhibitions within the industry, while still being able to post boobs on the internet without getting in trouble.

CORALINE:  I think it’s so interesting with what you said about sexuality being kind of taboo in tech industry. I know a lot of women in tech who have this whole other life, in terms of their sexuality, whether it’s kink or their sexual history or things among those lines that they’re afraid to talk about because it is so taboo and because unfortunately, it also represents a vector for abuse. If you are a visible woman on the internet, you’re subject to abuse and you don’t want to give your harassers any additional fuel by which to attack you.

JENN:  Yeah, also I feel like people who are men in tech have still some sort of [inaudible] on their backs so somebody is trying to oppress them in some sort of way so why give them that fuel. If you think about teachers, women teachers all the time are being fired because of raunchy photos being found of them on the internet and stuff like that and you just think that the tech industry is a lot more progressive than that. But I feel like our sexuality is taken out on us in more silent ways, or even more public by anonymous people and harassers and stuff like that.

I know men in tech who we’re very open with their sexuality, either involved in all of those kink communities and I wish that women can be that open in the industry without fearing their day job being taken away from them or being harassed by other people but that’s just simply not the case today.

JESSICA:  To be fair, it’s not trivial for men either. I really appreciate @aphyr on Twitter for all the gay kink posts that he makes and the photos of his ass which are quite enjoyable to look at. But I really appreciate that openness because you don’t see it with men either.

JENN:  Yeah and Kyle’s a good friend of mine. He’s actually the subject of some of my male erotic art. I’ve talked to him about this too. He can be very open. It’s so funny, he’ll speak in a conference and he’s the smartest engineers ever and he’ll get all these new followers and he’ll [inaudible] all new followers the photo of his ass and it’s so brilliant. It is a performance art in itself. It’s so great but that definitely would have the same effect if I were to speak at a conference and then be like [inaudible] followers of the photo of my tits. It will have the same effect. Also, I don’t work for myself. He works for himself now.

JESSICA:  Yeah, and he’s publicly one of the most brilliant developers in the world and doing amazing innovative work. When you have a million people who would love to hire you, you can take those risk.

JENN:  Yeah, exactly and I just feel like it’s harder for a woman to be in that same position. Kyle gets pushed back also. With every tweet that he posts of a photo of himself, he’ll have somebody just flat-out asked him for supposed less gay stuff. You’ll never know if that person’s going to be somebody that goes to interview with to hire him for a contract job, you know what I mean? It’s a risk that he need to put out there.

I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there. I’m a pretty visible person that is very secure at my job but I still not comfortable opening myself up to that harassment. I feel like people use women sexuality against them a lot more than people who use men sexuality against them. I don’t want my sexuality to be used in a negative way because it’s a very positive, amazing thing in my opinion.

JESSICA:  Yeah, when I meet people at a conference, I don’t want them thinking of me in sexual terms. I want them talking about programming with me.

JENN:  Right, exactly.

CORALINE:  This is a symptom of the problem that in general, we’re not allowed to be our full selves, whether it’s in internet presence or how we present ourselves to the world at a conference or in person when you meet someone. In tech, we’re not allowed to be our full selves and there’s the theme that I always come back to, on this podcast and that is the ideal developer is still held up to be this emotionless robot with no outside life, spending all of their free time coding open source and that’s not a human. Humans are complex and we have layers. We have interests outside of technology and it’s like a fucking taboo that we can’t talk about these things. It’s really depressing that we can bring our full selves to that.

ASTRID:  What I find so interesting about that is I have yet to meet a person who actually feels comfortable being in their full self. They’re always saying what you just said, Coraline that there’s things that they enjoy that they don’t want to talk about because they’re afraid people won’t take them seriously or they don’t want people to see them in a different way. It affects the questions of why do we care about these stereotypes so much if nobody actually is enjoying the privilege of them because I haven’t met those people either who are that emotionless robot that is projected as what an engineer is.

JESSICA:  That’s a good point. Everybody is keeping quiet about something —

JENN:  Yeah, for sure. I think that personally, I always have this fear of making my peers feel uncomfortable which is a very hard thing to deal with as like when I write satire or if I’m posting surreal tweets on Twitter as I normally do. I like to tweet something and then I’m going to be like, “Oh, my gosh. Is this going to make one of my coworkers uncomfortable? And should I care about that? If they do feel uncomfortable, is that my problem or is it their problem that they need to face?”

Not that I ever posted anything about work and stuff like that but you’ll never know if I post about a date I’m on or something like that. You’ll just never know who is going to think of what and how that can possibly be if somebody see you. It takes a lot of comfort with your peers to be able to open yourself up in any sort of way. Right now, I love the job of [inaudible] all of my best times and the company that I’ve just joined now is really awesome but everyone there is quite new to me.

A large group of them seemed to know about my online presence so I feel comfortable that they know what they’re getting into but I’m not entirely sure what I can or cannot get away with, in terms of my own personality coming through. But then again, they hired me so that’s what they’re getting but it’s like a really weird slippery slope, for lack of a better phrase. I’m kidding… I love that phrase ‘slippery slope’ but —

[Laughter]

CORALINE:  I’m on a Slack community, well, I’m in like 20 Slack communities but one of them specifically for queer people in tech. We have a Selfie channel and I’ve said on Twitter that I think I was a transwoman, celebrating my body is a political act. I really believe that. But we have another channel on that Slack called ‘Selfie [inaudible] Club’ where people post kind of suggestive photos to each other and flirting is allowed and encouraged.

For the longest time, I was terrified to post there because even it was a private Slack community, what if one of the pictures got out and one of it was weaponized against me. Eventually, I got to point where I was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to celebrate my body. I’ll just deal with the consequences.”

JENN:  I was telling this to a guy not too long ago about how women in tech all have backup plans like I’m at home right now working. What if I found that somebody like released my address or sent on their way, I already know what my contingency plan is. People will say like you have to have a fire escape plan right now, women who are visible online should have their ducts escape plan. Who am I going to stay in with? What am I going to do with my [inaudible]? That sort of stuff.

When you’re posting stuff online, whether it’s a public tweet or a suggestive photo, I have my back plan like, “What am I going to do? How do I’m going to explain myself when this gets out? And if lose my job, what can I do? Who’s my support plan?” It’s super exhausting and that’s why I feel like a lot of people hide parts of themselves from that. It’s really interesting. I’ve been sick all week and up until late at night coughing and last night, I was able to watch a Netflix where there’s this 45-minute documentary about Ashley Madison hacking and just [inaudible] all the people whose info got out. It was mostly about the business behind Ashley Madison and stuff like that. I was hoping we would touch more on the people that were affected but didn’t really. It’s just interesting that nobody seems to think like, “What will I do if my information is found that I’m on the site?”

I feel like whenever you joined a website, whenever you posted online, you better have to actively think what consequences can I have for doing this and how will I save myself from those consequences. If you don’t do that, then it just seems like you’re at a loss. Again, it can be very exhausting to do that.

JESSICA:  For background, Ashley Madison was like a site that targeted finding people to hook up with when you were cheating on your spouse?

JENN:  Yeah, it’s an adultery match-up website. I guess in over a course of years, these hackers gathered all their data and started dumping all the information of the customers and the founders themselves. Not only did they release all the customer’s information but also it was noticed that most within on the site were actually [inaudible].

JESSICA:  It’s bad. That was terrible. I think you have a very useful coping mechanism there. I do this too of when I’m afraid of something, I think about in my head, “What do I do if this happens?” And I make up a story about the actions that I would take and then I can go on. It’s no longer a fear, it’s now a risk.

JENN:  Right, exactly. Then speaking about suggestive photos getting out, I was thinking also like let’s say I posted on Slack a suggestive photo in a safe space and somehow it got out, I could probably own it but then down the line, any opportunities that come to me, people can blame it on, “Oh, because of those photos,” like Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian has all these ads and all these business and TV shows and stuff like that but she became famous because of that sex tape kind of thing and there is always one thing that get the right person to notice you. Maybe it did blame on all that work on that one moment were somebody noticed you, it’s just a very interesting thing.

CORALINE:  We have a questioned someone in our community Slack, Sophie who wants to know and this is sort of in line with what we’ve been talking about for the imagery that you produced and more about the satire that you produced. How do you think potential employers reacts to your satire?

JENN:  Well, I can talk about my former employer, Bocoup and I stated this in conferences and in public before so it’s true. They love my satire. They love the message behind it that she is trying to take tech less seriously and call out the sort of call out culture that we seemed to have still today. I always say that they not only tolerate my voice but they celebrate it. I can say with full confidence that my new super lizard employer feels the same way and they followed my work and know me. I’m confident that they’re all great with that. I feel like if anybody dislikes my satire or they think that it’s bad, they’re ignoring the actual toxicity in the industry and therefore, they’re not somebody that I would want to work for. But I’m very fortunate that a lot of people support me that I can make that decisions stands.

JESSICA:  Right, because we don’t need all the jobs in the world. We don’t need to maximize the number of jobs that we could have. We need to maximize for one job at the moment and that is the best job.

JENN:  yeah, I always get people telling me like, “You could probably work wherever you want to work if you wanted to,” unlike [inaudible] where the case which is not true. Maybe I don’t want to work everywhere. You know what I mean? I have a mission myself and that narrows down a lot of the companies that I would be willing to work for to act to that mission.

JESSICA:  Speaking of sexuality in tech, when are going to talk about CSS Perverts?

JENN:  Yeah, CSS Perverts. The origin of CSS Perverts goes back to the origin of rock star developer or JavaScript ninja. Those phrases that we used in tech that make ourselves stand out, although everybody is using it, therefore no one was standing out. My friend, Nick and I created CSS Perverts as our phrase. I guess, I got a recruiter email once and it was like, “Jenn, we’re looking for a JavaScript ninjas for this job,” and I was like, “Call me when you’re looking for a CSS Pervert.” I think that was the origin. I think they never called me back. It’s tragic.

It became our name for running satire in tech. Both of the recruiter level and development level, any of managerial, I don’t know if they’re just trying to stand out to get all the best developers to work for them but this whole industry seems like a huge pissing contest. “Who has the most ping pong tables?” You only need one table. “Which developers are willing to work for 20 hours straight?” That’s bananas. No one should work that much.

Like, “Our company, we have trucks where you need your haircut.” I don’t want to get my haircut on a truck. That doesn’t sound like a fun time. It’s very surreal and we’re in this bubble where we had all these ridiculous amenities thrown at us. Then also these ridiculous expectations that are supposed to compensate for these amenities. Then I think back to my previous job at Montclair State where I had an office but it didn’t have windows and there’s a coffee maker in the kitchen.

Sometimes, I had to make my own coffee because other professors have finished the pot and being guys, they didn’t know how to refill it afterwards. I felt that the cushy lifestyle that I have now in this industry but at the same time, I feel like the work-life balance isn’t there so it feels less cushy. It’s a very interesting paradox that this industry has created for us. In my new job, I think there’s like five types of water and that’s awesome. Water is good for me and I need that. It’s actually great because I’ve never been more hydrated in my entire life.

[Laughter]

JENN:  But that’s like super great. I super appreciate that. But then when I see these and I’m like, “Oh, are they expecting to be here all the time,” and that’s not the case. I’ve been working from home all week because I’ve been sick and they would rather be not pass my disease onto the rest of them. I just stayed at home. That’s really great but I know that there are some jobs, some offices that really expect you to be there all the time and like, “We have people to do your laundry.” No one needs to do the laundry at work. Maybe I’m old. I just turned 32. I’m not old —

CORALINE:  You’re not old. If you’re old, then I’m in big trouble. With this expectations that you’re talking about of working for 20 hours. When I was younger, when I was coming up in software development, I felt like I had to work extra hard because I do not have a CS degree. I was self-taught. I have mentors that helped me and I read a lot of books. I felt like I had something to prove. I actually, at one job worked for 32 hours straight on a project and it was horrible way to live. This is when my daughter was young so I actually missed that a lot, with my daughter as a result of having this really unsustainable work ethic.

I remember very clearly one May day, we were driving the car, shoes in the back seat and I was talking about May day and I was talking to her about the labor movement and I was like, “You know, a lot of people fought and died for an 8-hour work day and a 40-hour work week,” and she said, “But Mommy, you work a lot more than eight hours a day.” I was like, “Oh, you’re so right. What am I doing?”

JENN:  Yeah. Right now, inside my head it is like, “It’s about that but then you put it that way, it’s about work-life balance is super important,” but then why should you complain because we work in these places that offer all these amenities? Would you take it back? Would I prefer to work in an office that didn’t have all of those things? But then again, is this just in the industry where the expectations has surpassed what people are willing to offer us in order to make up for that lack of work-life balance?

It’s like a huge problem that I see getting better because I see culture at different companies improving. I certainly have been very fortunate where I worked at two companies now that have really excellent culture and really believed in work-life balance because they recognized productivity is higher when you’re not not getting any sleep, which is not a noble concepts — the idea of humans getting sleep and therefore, being productive. Why are you forgetting that? Who are deciding what are these basic human needs? They’re not really basic human needs, like churn out some code. It was just very weird.

ASTRID:  Well, often it’s an unfair kind of trade because it’s not like the work you’re doing isn’t really intensive and maybe you need a ping pong break or a water break. Why should you have to give it up because you don’t want to work 12 to 15 hours straight? It feels like there’s an equal equation there. Even this is not exactly necessarily all true, it just kind of reminds me of the first time I watched Mad Men and I was like, “What? Is this how people work?” Because they were drinking at nine in the morning, they had couches that they were going to sleep on and then it’s the 50s and 60s so when they leave work, there’s no way to contact them because the only way you can call them is at home and they don’t go straight homes.

They were able to have a wait time that it feels like you don’t have been [inaudible] just because you’re not at work, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get pinged or someone is not going to call you or you’re not expected to be available because there’s not like a 24-hour waiting period for you to respond to an email like, “Oh, I emailed you.” Or somebody calls you, “Did you get my email?” No, it’s seven o’clock. I’m eating but it’s kind of expected now for you to work all the time. I think it’s unfair to kind of make people feel like, “They gave me free water so I should be here.”

CORALINE:  That’s the sort of thing that’s optimized for 25-year olds with no family obligations too, right?

ASTRID:  Yeah, but that also assumes that the 25-year olds has no friends and no family that they want to see either.

JESSICA:  [inaudible].

ASTRID:  Yeah, it’s a little unfair to say, “You don’t have immediate family that has to see you so therefore, you should be good with working all day and all night.”

JENN:  Yeah and that’s definitely something that I’ve had said to me in one of my first jobs. I was complaining about having this daily and no one else did and they’re like, “Well, you are young and you’re single and we have kids.” It’s like I can pop out a baby if I wanted to. Don’t [inaudible] the good time.

ASTRID:  It’s a bad way when you don’t having a child is your version of getting work-life balance. That’s not a good way to do it.

CORALINE:  I’m interested, Jenn since she does went through a job search process to arrive at your super lizard company, how did you figure out what kind of culture they had before you agreed to join.

JENN:  The company that I joined, I’ve known about for a while and I’ve had long conversations with the CEO and talked to other people that were in there. I was very fortunate that they wanted me to work for them. I was sort of approached. Also, a lot of companies, their CEO or their employees write blogs so I read a lot to get an understanding of the culture of the company and the people that are running it. I did a lot of reading and research.

As I said before, what I looked for a job, if I’m talking to somebody about a project, I really want to work with somebody who has the same mission as I do and my mission is again, learning to code and being a part of this industry accessible to anybody who wants in on it and trying to make it a more inclusive and happy place to be a part of. When I was learning how to code, I was really having a fun time. I really enjoyed it and I feel like that sometimes gets lost on us when we start to work. I watched Nick learn how to code like a fun experience and stay upon experience that new people coming in to the industry and hopefully pushing off the tops of people at the same time.

Doing that sort of research and talking to people is really the best thing that one can do in order to find a space that they feel safe working in and leaving their other really great job. My last job was really awesome. I just needed to do something different. I don’t like to do consulting anymore but it was a huge, tough decision for me to make. I probably [inaudible] a whole Saturday about changing jobs.

CORALINE:  I want to go back to something you just said. Are you implying that there are toxic people in the community and is that for real?

JENN:  Take a seat — Toxic people in the community, yes, they’re there and they’re out in the open. They’re not even hiding.

JESSICA:  They’re rock stars. They’re ninjas.

JENN:  They’re rock stars and ninjas, exactly.

CORALINE:  Should we forgive them for their transgressions because they’re rock stars and ninjas. I mean, they’re productive, right? And that’s the most important thing?

JESSICA:  If they’re not generative.

JENN:  And they created a lot of the technologies that we use so therefore, they’re forgiven. It’s really interesting. You see, this is like the music industry where there are these performance artists that are actually horrible human beings but then they make music and like, “Oh, this music is actually great.” Let’s use R Kelly for example. Not particularly a good human being. Some will call him a sexual predator. He’s made music that sounds really great and it’s very nostalgic. Every time I’m in karaoke parties, someone puts in Ignition Remix and it makes those people feel good.

Then you think of, let’s say — God, hopefully, this isn’t going to get me in trouble — Linus Torvalds. Some say he’s a toxic person but he gets away with it because he made Linux. Does Linux made people feel good the way that Ignition Remix feels good? Can you compare software and music and the separation if the engineer and what they built and the artist and the art that they created? I don’t think that we made that separation like we do with software and they’re completely different things. It’s just something interesting that I feel not a lot of people talk about enough.

I go to museums a lot. I’m an artist and I like to look at art and if it’s a modern art museum and there’s a Picasso exhibit, usually it’s where the people turn the corner and see Picasso, they finally see something that they recognized and like, “Oh, Picasso.” But like, “Is it really that Picasso is not a good person?” Or like Frank Sinatra, was like not a good person but everybody loves that song New York here in New York.

I feel like we sort of idolized software developers the same way that we do on these musicians and we have this idea, this cults of personality like celebrity in software development and to think that it’s warranted, like are these people famous? I don’t think so. Just like the other day, Eric S Raymond —

CORALINE:  Oh, one of my favorite people.

JENN:  Yeah, in the Python dev mailing list like, “I’m back. I sort of faded away after that whole being famous nonsense,” and I think I tweeted that I laughed out loud and coughed at the same time and got a nosebleed, which is completely true because I was sick. But I just say, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Not only just the presumptuousness of knowing the whole list and be like, “I’m back,” but then from being famous nonsense and I’m like, “Being famous, that’s what you’re calling, like all of that, you’re being famous?” I can’t even with some of these people.

But I feel like the Python community now is a lot different in terms of their analysts have a code of conduct and people are more aware of what the proper way to behave is and also people are aware of his past and his delusions grandeur about things that —

ASTRID:  What was the story there?

JENN:  He has just a lot of bad ideas. There’s a whole list of things but I think generally, the last thing was he sort of coming out and saying that women in tech groups were trying to seduce men to call out fake rape accusation about game developers. I think he was saying that people are trying to do that to Linus Torvalds out. It’s just this boring, like you’re irrelevant, stay irrelevant but people do their jobs and write code and try to build these really great Python community nobody needs kind of thing.

CORALINE:  He has this [inaudible] against code of conduct. He already [inaudible] piece about me on why hackers must eject the social justice warriors. He also has a great quote talking about the fact that, from his opinion, why people commit more crimes because they have lower IQ’s than my people. He’s literally the worst human being. I’m actually, Jenn giving a talk at OSCON this year which I’m super nervous about called ‘The Broken Promise of Open Source,’ where I’m calling out these so-called leaders and pointing out that the cult of personality runs counter to open source values and why the fuck do we keep on doing this? Why do we keep elevating people and forgiving people?

It reminds me this phrase that I learn in Latin, which I think is insidious. I don’t remember the Latin words but it translates to ‘love the art, hate the artist’ and I think that is the worst thing we can do. That’s the worse.

JESSICA:  Because I’m going to use Linux and I’m going to use Emacs but I never want to work with Linus or ESR. If I never want to work with the person, then that kills the collaboration of open source.

JENN:  Yeah, unfortunately, Python has strived without ESR involves. I’m not so much involves with the Linux community but I hear about all that sort of drama all the time. I just feel like it’s very important to open source to make sure that there is a large inclusive thriving communities so that it can drive out the need to interact with these toxic people. If someone creates a project and they’re a bad person and the project built up this huge community then the community will out voice that person. I feel like that how the system should be. No benevolent dictator, that kind of thing which exist in a lot of projects to avoid that interaction.

There’s also so many projects now where I feel like if I don’t like somebody, then I can leave the project or I can talk to somebody about it. I feel like codes and conduct have really made that visible and great. I got to say that if somebody who is seen as people have called me famous and I always correct them, like I’m popular in my weird niche of way. I am definitely a part of this whole cult of personality thing. There are people who want to meet me at conferences. I get invited to speak in conferences all the time. I never have to do a CFP for a conference before and I’ve spoken out to 30 different places and people who want me to work for them, I know that 90% of it is just because of my personality online.

Maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit like I do build a lot of open source stuff but people like me for my mission and my attitude about things. I feel like it’s an attitude that a lot more people who need to have in their workplace and jobs. I feel like I’m on the other end of things where I didn’t build something that everybody is using and therefore I get away with everything. I’m getting way with things because I’m on the right side of the culture. I just want to make more people who are on that right side of culture visible in the industry so they can have the opportunities that I have —

JESSICA:  Because there are plenty of nice people who can build great software and there are plenty of good people making good music.

JENN:  Right, exactly.

CORALINE:  I just want to point out, I tweeted this morning that you’re going to be a guest on the show and I asked if anyone have any questions. I’m already receiving for asking tweets on your behalf so great culture we have here.

JESSICA:  Congratulations.

ASTRID:  Maybe the part of the problem is we need to be more demarketizing and less like warring tribes because it kind of sounds almost like when we’re talking about the ninja, the rock star, these idea that you can be a person who’s larger than life and because of that, then people follow you. That is not the same of what you’re saying, Coraline about open source. It’s not the same concept of everybody come together and collaborate because that means that there’s these leaders that you can follow then you can decide, if you agree or don’t agree with them. But what they did is more important than whether or not you agree with them.

Maybe what we should be doing is more so, everybody collaborates. It doesn’t matter how big your name is or how many people know who you are because you’re just a collaborator like everybody else and make that more of a democracy. That would take away, I think a little bit from this, I get to be a war leader because that’s almost the culture that’s developed where once you have enough power, then you feel like you are entitled to say and do what you want.

CORALINE:  That’s exactly is and open source was a reaction against hierarchies because a hierarchical organization is necessarily a risk averse and any risk that’s taken that fails, falls down on a single person. Open source was organized more like a network and a network can take risk because the impact isn’t felt by a single person and the consequences aren’t felt by a single person but the network absorbs whatever happened and can respond to it in a really productive way. With these cults of personality, we have hierarchies again that are so counter to the founding philosophy of open source and no one seems to see that.

JENN:  Because everybody wants to be famous and that means that you need [inaudible] to notice. Everyone who defends Linus is like, “Maybe Linus will notice me defending him and make me his henchman.” This is complete thing that does not exist. You know what I mean? I get it too I have people who will defend me when I don’t need defending and I’m like, “What are you trying to do? I noticed you. Does that make you happy?” I don’t know… It’s just a very weird thing to notice. It’s a sociological problem. There are probably plenty of people working on their PhD, studying on these kind of thing —

JESSICA:  I hope so, I bet somebody is doing the research.

JENN:  Yeah but in the meantime, how do you combat that? I feel like I’m trying to combat it by using my popularity to amplify other voices and also try to do good in some way in the community and not just making about what my bad ideas are. I’m sure I’ve plenty of bad ideas.

JESSICA:  With what Astrid’s said, it’s like we don’t need a bunch of famous leaders or more famous leaders. We need a large number of popular people who are strengthening the network.

JENN:  We need mentors, people who are also advocates. Mentors and advocates because there’s a lot of people in the community that we need to be advocated for. We need diversity and open source projects and not —

JESSICA:  And it takes calling them individually and inviting them personally.

JENN:  That’s a lot of work but if you get to the point where a lot of people know who you are, they amplify you. It’s time to do the work. I think that it is like if you push somebody up the ladder, they have to turn around and grab you and pick you up behind them and not just leave all these people behind.

JESSICA:  Yeah.

CORALINE:  I think we reach the portion of the show where we want to do reflections. For new listeners, reflections is when we look back on a conversation that we’ve had with our fascinating guest and definitely true in this episode, Jenn is wonderful and highlight things that really resonated with us and maybe things that we want to do is resolve the conversation. Jessica, do you want to go first?

JESSICA:  I love to. I love the discussion about tech considering itself progressive and it is, compared to a lot of careers. But it’s actually we’re quite inhibited and that led us to everybody has something that they keep quiet about because they’re not sure of the consequences. Some of us, like Kyle and Jenn and me have the privilege of not really being worried about being unable to find a jobs soon. When we do express more of ourselves, when Jenn makes her retro website that some people are going to scoff at, and when she writes satire and makes erotic pixel art, pushes those boundaries.

When I talk about being polyamorous on Twitter when Coraline is proud of who she is, all of these are using our privilege — our privilege of being unlikely to be unable to find a job. When we do that in public, it’s just these standards. It sets an example. It makes it a little bit easier for other people to put more of themselves out there. Jenn and Coraline, thank you for doing that.

CORALINE:  I had similar reactions. I think those of us with the privilege of not being worried about how the things we say in public will necessarily impact our ability to find a good job. It does give us a responsibility to be public about these things, to show people that it’s okay. But I think we also have to recognize that not everyone has that privilege. Especially people who are early in their careers, they do you have to be careful because their options are necessary limited by their limited experience. Hopefully, we can open the way, do some dialogue about these things and hopefully we can start breaking down some taboos.

ASTRID:  My reflection actually comes from something you’ve mentioned earlier in our conversation, Jenn which you were talking about your origin story and I thought it was really profound that you see yourself know as a computer scientist but you also see yourself as an artist and you don’t seem to have this need to separate them or feel like you have to explain them. I think that’s very important because so many people feel like tech may not be for them because they’re not a certain type of person. Even some of our previous guests who have had artistic endeavors, have also talked about how do they felt that they had to pick one or the other and I think it’s great that you never did.

JENN:  I think my reflection on this conversation is I guess the thing that I learned as we’re speaking was how much a struggle with trying to be myself when realizing that a lot of people think that I’m very comfortable with being myself, especially when it comes to sexuality. But I am a lot more comfortable today than I was six months ago and was six months before that. I see that, as Coraline said the more that we talked about these stuff, the more we start breaking down those taboos and maybe there will be a point where we all can really, truly, comfortably be ourselves.

It’s not until we can be ourselves that we will do and make the best work that we can do so it’s really in everybody’s favor: our peers, our employers, the staff to provide a space where we are in inhibited. I’m not saying like walking around naked everywhere. Again, I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable but I want to take away the fear of saying something about myself or expressing something about myself that can inhibit me anymore. That’s something that I really like discussing. I wasn’t expecting us to discuss and I think that being all women today is really been a huge factor and I appreciated that.

JESSICA:  That worked out.

CORALINE:  This has been an amazing conversation and Jenn, I want to thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show. As a sort of behind the scenes [inaudible], we organize the show into 10 to 15 minutes segments and we plan in advance to the things that we want to talk about. We did not follow the script at all today and I am so happy about that because I think the conversation we have is very real and very important. I really hope our listeners appreciate it.

Speaking of listeners, Greater Than Code is 100% listener-funded. If you want to support our show, if you want us to have more conversation like this and more amazing guest like Jenn, please go to Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode, pledging at any level gets you access to our Patreon-only Slack community where you have the opportunity to continue the conversation with guest, suggest a new guest and find a really welcoming and safe community to talk about some of these hard issues in tech beyond the way the JavaScript framework. Thank you all very much and this has been a great episode and I look forward to next week so I hope you did too. Thanks everybody.

This episode was brought to you by the panelists and Patrons of >Code. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode. Managed and produced by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

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