Episode 021: Social Justice Warrioring and Codes of Conduct with Phil Sturgeon


Jessica Kerr | Coraline Ada Ehmke | Sam Livingston-Gray

Guest Starring:

Phil Sturgeon: @philsturgeon |philsturgeon.uk

Show Notes:

00:28 – Welcome to Greater Than Code: The SJW Takeover

00:53 – Origin Story, Superpowers, and Bike Messengering

Build APIs You Won’t Hate


07:59 – Long-form Blogging (aka Rants)

08:50 – Codes of Conduct: Adoption, Enforcing, Conspiracy Theories

The Contributor Covenant

17:40 – What it means to be a “Social Justice Warrior”, Tolerance, and “Being Nice”

Tolerance is not a moral precept

Coraline Ada Ehmke: On Opalgate

27:46 – False Reports vs Genuine Issues; Dogmatic Logic vs Empathy

Susan J. Fowler: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

Phil Sturgeon: Talking About Diversity: Marginalization

39:40 – Transitioning From a Men’s Rights Activist and Being a Good Ally

I Was a Men’s Rights Activist: One man’s journey from misogyny to feminism

Sarah Sharp Tweetstorm  

47:56 – PHP vs Ruby

Aurynn Shaw: Contempt Culture

Greater Than Code Episode 002: Avdi Grimm


Jessica: Turning confusion into something that assuages everyone else’s. Also, failing upwards: When something doesn’t work out, something better will.

Sam: In tech we have tools for doing root cause analysis, and we’re really used to using those to figure out technical issues, but those very same tools can work for social issues as well. Try The 5 Whys on something that isn’t technical.

Coraline: Thinking about how to get past people’s visceral reactions against social justice issues and think about how to create better allies.

Phil: Start bookmarking things that are helpful.

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CORALINE:  The role of Jenn Schiffer today will be played by Phil Sturgeon.

PHIL:  I’m happy to play that role. I am a lizard made entirely of CSS and HTML.

CORALINE:  Hello and welcome to Episode 21 of Greater Than Code: The SJW Takeover. I’m Coraline Ada Ehmke and with me today is Sam Livingston-Gray.

SAM:  Good morning, Coraline and I just have a clarifying question. Are you perhaps suggesting that this is not always been an SJW takeover point. Anyway, with that out of the way, I would like to welcome to the show, Jessica Kerr.

JESSICA:  Thank you, Sam and I get to welcome our guests today. Hello, Phil Sturgeon. Phil used to contribute to the PHP-FIG, the League of Extraordinary Packages, PHP The Right Way, CodeIgniter, FuelPHP, PyroCMS and a bunch of other stuff but he gave it all up to join the circus. Phil, I hear you’re in the Ruby these days.

PHIL:  Yeah. Last couple of years, I’ve been doing a bit of Ruby. The companies I work for just happen to use Ruby and I’ve been doing PHP for 15 years before that. Luckily, they didn’t mind me swapping over and kind of learning how it all work.

CORALINE:  Are you saying that Ruby is a circus, Phil?

PHIL:  [Laughs] Uhmmm…

SAM:  I believe it was Jessica who implied that.

PHIL:  Things over there actually seem a little bit more sane a lot of the time but I don’t get as involved as I used to in PHP. Maybe the nonsense is happening. I just don’t see it.

CORALINE:  We’d like to start off the show with every guest, explaining their background story, how they discovered their superpowers and whether or not they use their superpowers for good or for awesome. Phil, how did you get started in the circus?

PHIL:  I started in the world of programming, in general when I was at school. There was an online magazine that there’s a games review section and there’s a cooking thing and these are all different things that people contributed when we were like 11 or 12 years old. Most of them were done with self-publisher and mostly they were really bad and the games website was so incredibly terrible that I learned how to make websites with Microsoft FrontPage to knock back games review website off. After I’d been doing that for about a year or two and started with HTML which is gross, someone taught me about PHP and I managed to grow the website to be big enough that I had, I think it was Acclaim and Konami, sending me free games review copies so I could review them and that’s awesome.

When you’re 13 or 14 years old and you get sent a copy of Metal Gear Solid six months before it comes out in the shops, you’re a very popular kid for a very short amount of time. Since then, just doing more, learning more. Run my own company for a while. About failed in the recession. I got bigger and better job since then. Failing upwards, as I call it. I’ve been blogging about stuff the whole way and releasing a lot of open source code, teaching people how stuff works, turn in complicated topics into no nonsense like every man speak so people know how the hell these things work with Screencast, that sort of stuff. Now, I’m in New York, using my skills for good by day and then being a bike messenger in the evenings so it’s a good mix.

CORALINE:  Since you’re in New York now though, you really need to tune any accent and start speaking American.

PHIL:  We don’t take [inaudible] around here.

SAM:  Not bad.

PHIL:  I can [inaudible].

CORALINE:  Would you say your superpower then is taking complicated concepts and translating them into simple language?

PHIL:  One of my super powers is getting really confused about how advance topics work and then just spending ages churning through it until I understand it and regurgitating it mama bird style to people that aren’t necessary as computer science-y like myself. The reason I did a whole book about API was that all the content out there about these in APIs was so incredibly complex that I’d like fall asleep from I read it. After I powered my way through that enough and got a good understanding of how things work plus roadwork experience, I was then able to create a book that literally anyone can read and it just makes sense. Well, literally anyone can read as long as they read English or are okay with the translations I have.

I think the other superpower is dodging cars. Although, just like Superman, I’m not entirely invincible. Cider is my kryptonite and occasionally I gets snagged.

JESSICA:  Cider?

PHIL:  Yeah. It’s a British thing. When you’re riding a bike after drinking a whole pint of cider, you’re not quite —

JESSICA:  The alcoholic cider.

PHIL:  Yeah. In the UK, all cider is alcoholics. We don’t mess around.

CORALINE:  I speak fluent UK so I can confirm that.

SAM:  Let me go back and see if I have this correct. You have produced Screencast and books and various other educational things and you’re a programmer by day and you are a bike messenger in New York City at night? Have I got all that correct?

PHIL:  That’s correct.

SAM:  Okay, so if you need me, my impostor syndrome and I will be rocking back and forth over in the corner over there.

PHIL:  Well, I have done these things over the years. These days is more the cycling and less with this Screencast. I’m trying to work on a video series and I’ve been promising people that I’ll get it done for the last year. I think I’ve done like four practice videos. It is really hard to get these stuff done. When you list up all the things I’ve done, some people think it’s kind of impressive but it’s over a lot of time and I’ve done a lot of stuff with the help of a lot of people. Mostly, all open source stuff I’ve released is being a community effort with a lot of other people as well.

JESSICA:  So it’s not just that you’re awesome, you’re also old.

PHIL:  Yeah, I think 28 is pretty old in development years, isn’t it?


CORALINE:  What brought you to being a bike messenger? That’s kind of an odd juxtaposition of careers, isn’t it?

PHIL:  Yeah, it’s a bit weird. I actually found out about the whole idea of it through a friend of mine. I’ve been cycling for a long time. I do a lot of charity bike rides, a lot of multi-day ride between cities: Boston, New York, that sort of thing. A friend of mine that I met on one of those rides, he was launching Instacart and it was really funny. It was just around the time that the first I was supposed working for went bankrupt and I just didn’t have any money coming in.

He said, “Hey, Phil, you should come on to Instacart. We want to get you help with something.” And I’m started there thinking, “He knows some developer. This is going to be great. He’s going to get me to do some contracting work. I’m going to make a whole pile of money.” And he was like, “You ride bikes, right? Do you want to help us ride bikes and delivering food for the day?”

I felt like going from being a contractor and a developer who makes X reasonable money and now it’s like minimum wage job, kind of sucks but right now I don’t really have much else going on. Visa is really complicated. You’re not really meant to have anything that could be considered another job so when I had this whole two or three months’ worth of time where I wasn’t legally allowed to work but I still had this apartment that I couldn’t get rid of and I was stuck in the country, unable to leave or return, it was a really weird thing so when they said, “Do you want to use bike messengering on the side?” I was like, “Yeah, sounds cool.

Since then, I’ve got very into the sharing economy. Aside from being with my apartment, I was renting out some of my bike on Spinlister. I’ve been started riding for Uber. I normally try to ride like 100 or 150 miles a week and one good way of doing that is to get paid for it. Instead of paying to go to a spin class, I’ll actually ride my bike around New York City and then make $50 in the evening or whatever, just working out and dropping off pesto chicken for people too lazy to get it themselves.

JESSICA:  Awesome.

PHIL:  Probably, not super relevant to your audience but I think it’s fun.

CORALINE:  Do you specialize in delivering pesto chicken?

PHIL:  There’s a lot pesto chicken going around. Also, a lot of fried chicken. A lot of chicken in general and sushi. I know who died delivering somebody cupcakes one time. That was pretty funny. That’s not the way I want to go out.

SAM:  I hope those cupcakes were appreciated.

PHIL:  Me too.

SAM:  And/or bloody.


JESSICA:  Vampire cupcakes.

CORALINE:  Phil, one of the things that I like about the work that you do is you do a lot of long-form blogging.

PHIL:  Yeah, a lot of people like to call them rant. I don’t know if I call them rant. I just like to really outline everything. Because whatever you do a short post, people always misconstrue it and come up with their own. Like if there’s any context missing, people will just add their own context and then moment you go for a walk, they thought you meant. I like to really send my thoughts straight. It’s not always in the best form. It’s not necessary an essay. Some of it is a bit rant-y but I really like the feeling. It’s just kind of getting all the thoughts and stuff out there. Then whenever someone says, “Derp, derp, derp,” I can just kind of link them to the blog post and then they’ll fully understand what I’m trying to say.

JESSICA:  Or they won’t read it because it’s too long and then you’ll be like, “Oh, you didn’t read my posts so you can’t say anything.”

PHIL:  Basically, yeah. Like if you can’t be bothered to read it and you want to continue arguing with me, then I’m happy to block you. That’s fine.

CORALINE:  Phil, in terms of our history, I think I first became aware of you when the PHP community was considering adopting the Contributor Covenant and it was a hotly debated matter for, I think over six months and you did a lot of writing about codes of conduct in general and the Contributor Covenant, in particular. What was that period like?

PHIL:  It was a hot mess. It was really complicated. To basically frame it, there was one contributor, one very well-known contributor, Anthony Ferrera who suggested the code of conduct to be added. He made a RFC on the PHP wiki, which is standards process for suggesting any new features or any new kind of anything. RFC is a request for comments and most of those comments were people screaming into their keyboard which was a bit nuts. He copy and pasted for [inaudible]. I think it was probably Contributor Covenant 1.2 or 1.3 and that was just a suggestion.

He said, “We can use any code of conduct you like. I rather not make our own but this is a fairly good standard one. That’s been used by a lot of people. What do we think about going with this?” They also setup a vague outline of a mediation process like instead of just having a piece of text in there that just says, “We’re going to help,” you actually have to setup a process for how you actually help anything. Then it was all about private mediation and it was a lot of things.

A lot of different people had a lot of different issues with various different parts. Most of these questions were okay. It was things like, “Are there any others we could use? I quite like this one from Drupal. I quite this one from Go.” A lot of different things are happening but there was a lot of really stupid people — not stupid people, there was a lot of stupid things being said by people that were otherwise very well respected in the community that was based around their lack of understanding about how code of conducts work, about how Contributor Covenant works and about what your roles would be in the process.

There’s a lot of people who are just super scared, in general for misunderstanding previous situations. There are a lot of people that just jump to conclusions about how Contributor Covenant works and people just really scared about the SJWs trying to takeover. It was a lot of nonsense that I got involved with, trying to help unpick. It was super difficult. I was, right at the very start, at the whole process. I’d already kind of quit, I was already not really doing anything with PHP anymore. I had already step by my responsibilities. I sold a company that was writing PHP. I was nothing to do with PHP anymore. But I still had a sway, I guess.

I was going to talking about it a little bit but it started off with a completely jovial and just like one of the biggest ‘tossers’ in PHP has got a massive problem with the code of conduct happening. In the UK, ‘tosser’ is just like the word jerk. It doesn’t really mean anything particularly graphic. It’s just whatever kind of word. Of course, immediately at least do some jumping down my throat because they looked at the dictionary for definition which is a little bit more graphic.

Immediately, they’re start in saying, “Phil is actually harassing all these white dudes,” and “Phil is doing this and he wants [inaudible] him and [inaudible] somebody else. I’m like, “I have nothing to do with PHP anymore so even if I did call someone, even if I was saying something terrible, the code of conduct wouldn’t apply to me anyway but I was immediately somewhat invalidated so I have to take the backseat and I just hope everyone else would take it on. But a lot of the PHP community just banded together and start screaming at everybody and losing their minds. By the time I was ready to try and get back involved and suggest to what’s going on, there were already so many arguments that people would just fed up without even trying.

Key person checks the RFC has step down, somebody else step up, they gave up. After getting screamed at, like anyone who even try to help with the code of conduct, their sexuality and then motives and everything would get called into question. People would say things like, “Phil is just doing this to try and get attention from the ladies, if he even like ladies.” All these crazy, ridiculous stuff that I just don’t understand and it never really go anywhere. A third person try to push the RFC and that just scared of how much of a time sink it’s going to be and how it’s going to affect the jobs and careers and things. It’s a really weird scenario.

JESSICA:  That’s the current setting of PHP.

PHIL:  Pretty much.

CORALINE:  I have to point that Ruby didn’t do much better with the attempt at adopting code of conduct either so that kind of thing is rampant.

SAM:  Yeah, we wound up with something that claims to be a code of conduct but basically says everybody be nice with no real definitions of what that means and no real process for mediation or remediation, which is something that you brought up earlier, Phil about how — I’m terrible with names, I’m sorry — but the person who propose this added a bit about having an actual mediation process. That gets to something really interesting about codes of conduct that I’ve been seeing in conversations about them for years, which it’s not enough to just copy-paste a code of conduct and magically, boom! Everybody will come and join your project. You actually have to believe in it and work and enforce it and actually make an effort to create a safer space, if not actually a safe space.

PHIL:  It plays in my mind that people don’t understand that. Just having a piece of text doesn’t do anything. People say things like, “Having a code of conduct doesn’t actually help anything. It doesn’t stop anything bad from happening.” I’m like, “Right but–“

SAM:  Yes, exactly.

PHIL:  — Process is for. We understand that. I put a coding style file in my repositories to let people know what coding style I would like. But then I also work it up to Travis so that if the coding style is broken, then like emails, even it fails the pull request saying, “This pull request contains invalid style.” A marked down file on the internet doesn’t do anything. No one thinks it does. We all know that. It’s part one, then you need part two and part three. I’m so confused that anyone thinks that anyone would suggest that a marked down file on the internet is going to change the world.

JESSICA:  It is necessary but not sufficient.

PHIL:  Yeah.

SAM:  Yeah, maybe that’s why people got so upset about it because they thought that if the marked down file was coming then, that meant that they might actually have to change their behavior.

JESSICA:  It’s a slippery slope —

SAM:  Are these people worried that they’re assholes?

JESSICA:  — To actual justice.

PHIL:  Yeah, I heard a really funny quote from a friend of mine who’s had a lot of trouble with code of conduct as well. The cases against code of conduct are so full of slippery slope arguments, they can open a water slide park. It’s ludicrous. I can’t have a single conversation about it without somebody saying, “If we let people say, I don’t like this behavior and it kind of sucks when you call me this name, can you stop?” Then eventually, people would be getting fired for having political beliefs every time. I guess it’s this weird stamp of what if we do this more reasonable thing.

It’s like the arguments for gay marriage where we’re like, “If we let homosexuals get married, then all of a sudden people be marrying horses.” No! The first thing happens, it doesn’t mean the second thing will happen.

CORALINE:  Wait a minute, I once fell in love with a horse, though I don’t appreciate that.

PHIL:  Well, Philip actually means lover of horses so I do understand your concept.


CORALINE:  Some of your blog post analyzing opposition to codes of conduct. You pointed out that part of the problems comes from individuals acting like there’s a conspiracy out to get them.

PHIL:  Yes. A lot of the time, there are people that are posting about certain things on their blog. They might have certain political views. It’s the same blog that they put a lot of their tech content on. These people will post about some technical thing and then the next post after will be something that’s kind of controversial, something a little bit of [inaudible], a little bit lifestyle. Then they’ll get back to posting about tech again. They kind of aid themselves [inaudible] between tech under political views and they think of it as politics. But really, a lot of it is about basic human rights and decencies with each other. The politics line is kind of a tricky thing.

Because these people post about tech one minute and then about something that’s pretty bad like super, super sexist or pretty misogynist or complaining about the crazy feminists, they’re at it again, in quotation marks of course, they will then get shouted at by a lot of people. If you have a tech following and then you start showing that you’re past of the problem in tech, then the tech people that read your blog post will then be like, “This isn’t cool.” The people that generally think there’s a conspiracy out to get them, a lot of it is because they post some outburst stuff and then people disagree with it strongly. Then one person might go too far and maybe report that person to their boss like, “I don’t agree with what this person says. I’m trying to get them fired,” which isn’t really what anyone’s trying to do.

There’s a lot of people who think the entire kind of social justice movement is about trying to get people fired or about trying to get people in trouble. There are people who think the phrase ‘social justice warrior’ means using social media tools to fight against people that don’t like to get them fired. That’s not what it means at all. Social justice warrior, it means like fighting for social justice, which means like fighting for equality. Social justice warrior itself shouldn’t be an insult. It should be a complement.

CORALINE:  I definitely take that as a compliment. I was talking to my daughter once about people using social justice warrior, the pejorative and she said, “Sounds like you’re a superhero,” whereas there’s a lot of —


PHIL:  Right, and that’s kind of a problem. Like two same groups have two different definitions for the same word, that’s pretty hard. That’s where a lot of the stuff stems from like the people who are against feminism don’t understand what feminism is about. They think it’s about taking power away from men to give it to women where really, it’s about making things equal for everybody. It’s just so confusing like men should totally support feminism. Feminism means that I don’t have to be a macho dude. I can just do what I want and I can wear something that is pink or purple without somebody questioning my sexuality. Feminism is awesome and social justice is awesome, like all these things are awesome and people don’t quite get it.

The people that don’t quite get it, unfortunately get shouted at by a lot of people who just kind of tired of having to explain it to these people so without trying to tell them but there’s anyone, that totally understand how it can get frustrating to have to explain it. Like another white dude called Chad from Connecticut who doesn’t quite get what you’re talking about like —

SAM:  Because there is an endless supply of Chad out there.

PHIL:  Millions of Chads. It’s really hard to keep on explaining it to these people, especially when they just pop up and say something dumb and it sounds like something else somebody said and you just give them a very curt response back like, “Feminist are terrible people,” and they run away. It shapes everything terribly. The more you talk against diversity or against any of these things, the more people shout at you and it kind of sends you on this downward spiral into becoming a men’s rights activist. There’s a lot of people in PHP community that are at the tip of sinking into that downward spiral or they’re on their way down into the pit and that’s kind of the problem.

They think there’s a conspiracy out to get them, really, it’s just a lot of people disagreeing with the stuff they’re say and some people take it a bit too far with trying to get people fired or try to shame people, when it’s really not about that.

JESSICA:  There’s a beautiful article the other day that explained this to me. The tolerance is not a moral imperative. It is a peace treaty that says, “We’re all going to be nice to each other and accept each other as we are.” If you violate the peace treaty by being intolerant, then it doesn’t apply to you anymore. We don’t have to be nice to you. We can kick you out.

Also, there’s the idea of proportionate response of if you write something I don’t like on the internet, trying to get you fired would be a disproportionate response. Blocking you on Twitter, would be quite proportionate.

PHIL:  Right.

SAM:  Yeah, we went through a thing in the Portland Ruby community a year or two ago and I’m probably going to get some hate tweets for this again but we did wind up asking somebody to leave the community for some behavior that we were pretty sure was well-beyond the pale. I got called literally, ‘Hitler’ for that. That was a good time. But the meeting after we did that, several people showed up who were like, “I had stopped coming because these things were really not very welcoming to me,” but then I heard that you’d actually taken action on your COC and we got people who hadn’t been there for a year or more.

CORALINE:  I think that’s something that open source, in particular is really bad about and that is when OpalGate fiasco went down — for those who don’t know, OpalGate is the term that is applied to something that happened with the Opal-Ruby-JavaScript transpiler. One of the maintainers was exhibiting very transphobic behavior on Twitter and I made the mistake of getting involved in it and opening an issue in the repository, asking for clarification from the maintainers, basically of trans-people who were welcome to participate in a project.

One of the other maintainers came out and said he didn’t care who someone was or what they believed in as long as they wrote a good code. After clarifying question said, he’d be happy to work with child molesters and white supremacists as long his code was good. I think it’s an important question like we have to have tolerance for other people’s political ideas but when they start to question people’s humanity, is that [inaudible] too far? Then that when consequences should be imposed.

JESSICA:  If you want to talk politics, you can talk about how we should allocate our money as a country. You can about degrees of regulation we should have over businesses. You can even talk about trade agreements and maybe immigration policies. But I’m sorry, whether a specific person is a human and worthy of participating in the conversation, that’s not politics. That’s some is more other.

SAM:  It’s not a political speech, it’s a hate speech at that point.

PHIL:  One thing that people are kind of confuse, I think the recent Contributor Covenant 1.4 did a wonderful job with cleaning up any misapprehensions about it, is the people are allowed to talk about whatever they want to talk about on their own public platforms, without a project specific code of conduct getting in the way. Then there might be other ramifications like you saying stuff in public that people don’t like it, in general was could well lead to various ramifications. But they aren’t the ones that are necessarily enforced by a project that you happen to contribute to.

The PHP RFC, I think all of us should contribute in covenant. It basically said there are other rules that may well be imposed by the project and in the later version, it more explicitly said, the PHP RFC did say this will be limited to — I cannot get the exact wording on the top of my head but basically, you have to be representing PHP when that happens. Now, if you go and put a contributor to PHP in your Twitter profile, that gets a little bit tricky. But generally speaking, if you want talking about PHP stuff and you just talking about your views on abortion or whatever, that all fine. It’s when you start bringing that stuff and that tone and being a jackass. If you’re being a jackass in pull requests and linking to PHP RFCs and then being like, “Look at this,” or whatever, being horrible in the context of the project, that’s when the rules would affect you.

They even said you’re allowed to tweet about politics. It’s totally fine and this code of conduct cannot be used against you. One of the wonderful things about the mediation process that was at full PHP unlike many other people try and do is there’s actually a private reporting structure. To avoid OpalGate, all that needs to be done is if an initial issue was an email, then that would have been fine. But of course, it couldn’t be an email because they didn’t have a code of conduct set up to say, “We actually care about this.”

If that project had shown that they care about people being discriminatory, then they would set up an email address. Now, email address would be used and if anybody else popped up and not using the email address, that thing can get locked immediately. The best way to avoid an OpalGate is to have a code of conduct. All the conversations, the Ruby issue that you mentioned earlier and a million different conversations that happened, all of those were an OpalGate by people trying to avoid OpalGate.

It was completely ridiculous and I think everyone should just have a code of conduct to avoid having an argument on the internet. But I do think that they were so worried about creating drama, that they created more drama. All the people that are against code of conducts, they generally, like this one specific person that cause the most problem in the PHP, he has his own which is again being nice and being nice is the first thing that people will say when you start talking about code of conduct. They’ll say, “Why can’t we just have and be nice thing.” They’ll just says that they don’t talk about politics and be polite to each other.

JESSICA:  You have to say what happens when you’re not nice.

PHIL:  Not even that —

CORALINE:  You need to define nice.

PHIL:  — Exactly, Coraline. There’s no definition of nice. Not everyone knows what being nice constitutes and those that do know, don’t necessary care, like a lot of people would be like, “Oh, grow up. Why can’t you take feedback?” And feedback is cool but when you’re being an asshole, that’s not just feedback. People quit projects over how a nice this one guy is. He doesn’t use any rude words but he made 10 people give up on a certain project. Then we try to get rid of him because he was not being nice and he was like, “There’s no rules that say I should leave. There’s no rules about this stuff. I think I’m being nice and they don’t and saying as there’s no rules, you can’t get rid of me.” Right, that’s what a code of conduct would be. You can’t say that we don’t have rules because you stopped us from having rules. Ahh! What’s happening?

SAM:  Right and there’s a fundamental problem, I think with being nice which falls in my mind into that category of looking at intent. Be nice is saying something about who you are. But a code of conduct really should be about what you do.

JESSICA:  Yeah, great point.

CORALINE:  I tried really hard with Contributor Covenant 1.4. You pointed out to kind of corrupt some of these gray areas but you have recently released an open source guide. There’s a page in the open source guide about codes of conduct and why it’s important to adopt them and most importantly, tips on how to enforce them and be fair in that enforcement. One of the pieces of feedback I got was, “What if you do if someone makes a false report?” I think there’s this fear that some people have that a code of conduct is a tool for punishing them and just saying, “The code of conduct says this so I guess, you’re kicked off the project,” not understanding that a project maintainer is a person in charge of setting community standards and enforcing community standards in a fair and even handed way. People think that it’s passing a law that’s not subject to interpretation by a judge, which is kind of ridiculous.

PHIL:  Yeah, that was one of the large problems we had in the PHP attempt. What I see it in various other conversations about code of conducts, the problem is it’s similar to the conspiracy theory thing. Because certain people have had this negative experience with people for getting fired, it’s framed that it’ll be use on any of these sort of stuff in a very negative paranoid way. The problem is they are more concerned about false reports than they are about genuine issues happening.

Whether that’s because they don’t think genuine issues are actually happening or there’s enough of them to feel to be warranted or whether they just don’t care. We can’t tell. But a lot of people are so super concerned about potential misreports that they’d rather just not have any structure for it or whatsoever and that is insulting. It’s ignorant and the trouble is it’s really hard to change somebody’s mind on that stuff because they’ll say, “These things don’t really happen,” and the second you say, “Here they do. Here’s an example.” They’ll just call that person a liar, like the reason Uber conversation. I forget which is truly embarrassing —

JESSICA:  Susan Fowler.

PHIL:  Yes, that’s right. She’s kind of talking about problems happening at Uber and HR failures and of course, everyone’s does immediately calling her a liar — not everyone but Chad. The problem is whenever people come forward and actually tell their stories to the public, people just call them a liar. Again, like they’ve gone from thinking this never happens to okay, occasionally people lie about it happening and nothing has changed so people don’t want to actually expose their stories because they’ll get called liars so you’re in the situation —

CORALINE:  Or worse.

PHIL:  Or worse, yeah, like liars [inaudible]. You’re in a situation where there’s no real evidence to support the fact that these things are our problem so they just think they aren’t our problem and therefore, anyone who’s trying to enforce a code of conduct must just be doing it to get power because they want to takeover projects and get people fired. Some people are confused about and dedicated to that approach but they think that Coraline is coming to take their projects.

The idea that if you put a code of conduct in that, then anything that you disagree with, you can just get someone kicked off the project and takeover. People genuinely think this and it’s really hard to fight.

SAM:  What’s the upside for me as somebody — I’m not even trying to get people to adopt the codes of conduct but me — as a notional person who is initiating this discussion. What really is the upside for me in trying to get somebody fired or trying to takeover their project? Doesn’t that just create way more work for me, in both cases? Why would I want that?

PHIL:  Yeah, I’m desperately trying to give away as many open source projects as I can so I can stop maintaining them. I definitely wouldn’t want to start picking up all of the projects on the internet.

CORALINE:  Well, I’m well-positioned to just takeover the entire open source world. That’s my secret plan for world domination. I want to be in charge of all the open source.

PHIL:  Genius.

CORALINE:  It’s all about my GitHub contribution.

SAM:  I feel like a lot of that defensive argument seems it might come from a place of cognitive dissonance. If you start talking about having a code of conduct, then perhaps it means that somebody is saying you have some issues that might have already benefited from having a code of conduct and that means that perhaps, you’re not the wonderful person that you believe yourself to be.

Facing that, this doesn’t even happen, I think at a conscious level. This all happens within a half a second and you see this conversation and you go, “This is an attack on me personally and I must defend against it.” By that time, there’s not even an argument anymore from the rhetorical perspective. There’s just a fight.

PHIL:  Yeah. A lot of this problem is just pointing out that like white dudes aren’t perfect and we really hate that. A lot of the time, these things that you’re doing are causing these problems. You know, men do this, men blame men do on whatever. They take that as an attack on men like if you want to call us, you shouldn’t be attacking men. But if you want a quality, you have to point out like if the scales are unbalanced, you have to actually look and see what’s happening with the scales to work out why they’re in balance so you can then correct it and make things more fair. The problem is if you ever suggest that straight, white dude is at fault, even slightly, then loads of straight, white dudes are going to come at you and start screaming at you about stuff.

I used to be really ignorant. I used to live in a small rural town in the UK and think that attempts to make the women speak in a panel at conferences was certainly a positive affirmation. I still think it was like unfair and sexist to try and jam women into most speakers. Then I realized that’s so far from the case that it’s unreal and that’s why I became so involved in a lot of these conversations because as somebody who’s taken a stance, somebody who has made the 180 degree mental change from someone who was possibly coming towards being a men’s rights activist to like being a normal human being, the kind of understands how these things work and don’t see people are lying for attention, I hope that I could bring other people along on this journey and that’s what all these series of blog post are about.

There’s so many words that are into the series that I put in. I’ve been talking about diversity and everyone is in no way is offended, the conspiracy theories and code of conduct not being so bad things like that. There’s so much work I put into those to try and help bring people along on my journey. Unfortunately, the second I started writing about it, everyone just start calling me a PC bro and SJW and then they just ignored everything I was trying to say.

CORALINE:  In one of your blog post, though you talked about how empathy is at odds with our standard ideal of a programmer. Do you think that that is a factor in some of the stuff that you saw?

PHIL:  Yeah, it’s dogmatic logic versus empathy. A lot of people that are incredibly logic minded just don’t really get humans. We know this is not that confusing. The same people that like to use statistical racism. Those are the things like, “Well, it makes sense that there’s more black people in prison because black people commit more crime so that’s the end of that conversation and that’s that.” That’s ludicrous. It’s a statistical racism just because they don’t understand the situation. They don’t understand that most of those crimes, if a white dude did it, there wouldn’t be the same outcome. They probably wouldn’t go to jail. Like having a tiny bit of drugs for a white dude is fine, then if you’re black, a tiny bit of crack, you have 10 years in jail.

A lot of these different things, the human element to it, lost on them because they look at the rules on paper. They look at the law that says, there cannot be gender discrimination at work and they think, “Great. It is illegal to have gender discrimination at work,” so anyone who’s complaining about gender discrimination is lying and doing it for attention because it’s illegal so it can’t happen. It says it on paper versus an acceptance of what reality is more likely to be.

It’s wrong every time and it’s really hard to reason with those people because they’ve decided that things are this way. If you start on picking at certain element, then the whole thing starts to fall apart. Their entire world view becomes different. I had my entire world view changed and it was bad. I have to think about lost stuff again and think about a lot of things, a lot different times over a couple of years like it was morphing and changing in front of me. But once you start to realize that most minorities who are complaining about things aren’t doing it because they’re lying or lazy or want attention or anything else because they genuinely have problems and once you realized that, everything changes for you. Most people don’t have the time or mental capacity to re-evaluate their entire life.

JESSICA:  That’s so true. I think sometimes those of us who do have time to think about things don’t appreciate that people without leisure time, they don’t have that same luxury.

PHIL:  Yeah, I spend a lot of time doing a 10-hour bike ride and it made me think about a lot of stuff on that ride because nothing else to do.

CORALINE:  I have to ask you, Jessica, is it a luxury or is it a moral imperative?

JESSICA:  I really think that it’s not something everyone has the ability or opportunity to do, to think about things and make choices. Choices are expensive. We figuring out how the world works and changing your model is expensive and if people are working three jobs to put food on the table for their kids and just trying to have four hours of sleep and get up and go to work again and say hello to their kids once a day, no you don’t have time to think through everything. However —

CORALINE:  Those are not the people —

JESSICA:  People don’t have that excuse.

CORALINE:  — Yeah, exactly, Chad doesn’t have that excuse.

JESSICA:  Chad does not.

PHIL:  I’m really sorry for picking on Chad.


SAM:  We’re going to hear from Chad fellow later on this one. Chad comes from a place where he doesn’t have to experience all of those things so it is probably pretty natural for him to assume that his experience applies to everybody else. If that is the case, then sure, maybe it makes sense to think that, well if somebody is complaining about this thing, they must be lying because I don’t see it, therefore it must not exist.

But you’re right, having that realization and doing the work to understand that one’s own experience is not universally applicable, that burden definitely falls on the person who has the ability to shoulder it: i.e. Chad.

PHIL:  Yeah, I did a thing about basically trying to explain marginalization to somebody using a bike [inaudible] for which is incredibly like me. It came to me as there were a charity ride and we’re all cycling along and I have a busted bike. It was the same bike. We all have the same rentals from the same company, everything’s the same about them. But mine was really having some problems and struggling through. I didn’t want to hold anyone up by trying to get it fixed or find a mechanic. I feel it would be okay but it was a non-stop battle.

It was after 40, 50 miles, my legs are really hurting because I couldn’t get out of the middle cranking. It was a real pain and eventually, I had to stop and say, “I’m really struggling here. I really need some help with my bike. Can we stop and find a mechanic.” A couple of people joke about it like, “Oh, Phil, there’s always some excuse. Just put more effort in. Stop complaining about it.”

Yes, we’re all tired and a few people were joking with things like that but then eventually, they said, “Yes, let’s definitely help you out.” If my friends said anything other than, “Yes, of course. We understand your problems. Let’s help you out,” then I wouldn’t leave it. If they genuinely didn’t believe me and they genuinely thought I was lying for attention, why would you see I’m lying? “There’s always some excuse, Phil.” If they didn’t believe me, I would have been so mad. That’s generally what marginalization is that people talk about their issues and that other people just assume they’re lying for attention or for power or for whatever it is. People need to just stop doing that.

JESSICA:  Which means as someone who wants to help, step one is just believe the other person. Really, what does it cost you? Does it cost you your world view? Good!

SAM:  Step zero is listen.

PHIL:  That’s the thing. Listen is important. It’s really how do you want to [inaudible] but you don’t need to believe every word they’re saying. One of the responses with, as I mentioned with Susan was writing about, Uber, there’s a lot people who instantly believe everything she says or just call her a liar. Now, if you instantly believe anything that somebody says on the internet and you don’t know who they are, that’s a bit strange. You shouldn’t necessarily instantly believe every single word with no evidence but definitely calling her a liar is completely ludicrous.

The problem is that belief is something could be possible. I think, it’s highly, highly probable that everything she’s written about is true but I can’t say for sure, it is definitely true. You know what I mean?

SAM:  It’s constant with other stories and others like I personally observed. Let’s just go with that.

PHIL:  Yes, the more you listen, the more these stories that you do understand and you do believe, the more it plays into a very realistic picture. I’m 99% confident that happened. But without the evidence, it is hard. It’s a case of don’t assume someone’s lying just because feminists stories are making stuff up. Don’t assume someone is lying but also don’t necessarily see it that it’s completely 100% true every time. There’s going to be trick that you wants to get. Listening is really important. Support is important and just why do you assume people are lying?

JESSICA:  Phil, you mentioned this transition for you, from believing that the stuff didn’t happen and didn’t matter to caring about the world, did that happened like four years ago when you move to New York?

PHIL:  Yeah, before that, I was living in Bristol, two cities in the Southwest where I spent pretty much my entire life. I occasionally go to the [inaudible] conference and meetup but just hanging out with my developer friends was most of the developer-y interactions I had and they were mostly dudes so it’s very easy to fall into a headspace where the reason that most conferences is a panel of dudes is most developers I know are men and most companies I go to are men. Even when I start traveling around the States a bit more, I get to a lot of startups and it would be mostly men. This is a positive feedback loop and there’s various problems that are affecting the gender balance in tech so you wonder about it and you just see a bunch of men and you just think, “There aren’t that many women in tech. I wish I kind of reinforce the loop.”

Then you start thinking, “Women just aren’t interested so anyone who complains about problems that are affecting women, they’re exaggerating the situation or maybe they’re making it out because really, women just are not that interested.” When I came to New York, I completely escaped that whole mindset. There were a lot of women developers here for start so talking to women developers and talking to other women in the work, in these techie startups, listening to them talk about their problems blew my mind.

I believe [inaudible] that my friends. They’ve shown me things that happened. They’ve shown me the emails and screenshots. They’ve heard about as they evolve and the amount of things that were going on was terrible. One example of a friend who was working for a small eight-person startup. As an Asian woman developer, she was getting a lot of Asian and female jokes. She didn’t necessarily enjoy it and she didn’t feel like tackling it herself because that would be seen as aggressive and that would be a problem.

She kind of mentioned it to that one person who’s half of that job is HR. After a bit backwards and forwards, they’re just like, “Well, we don’t actually know how to address this issue but if you like to work somewhere else, then that would be easy than us changing our culture.” That’s pretty much what they said so the more that you hear this stuff from your friends, the more that you’re kind of understand that it happens. Like I said before, some people are scared to talk about it. Some people do talk about it and you don’t necessary know who they are so they get called a liar and you’re like, “Maybe they’re a liar,” because you see other people calling them liars.

JESSICA:  Some people don’t talk about it to you because they don’t trust you.

PHIL:  Exactly.

SAM:  Right, so how do you earn that trust?

JESSICA:  Sarah Sharp had a great Twitterstorm about this. Her canary in a coal mine was if a woman complains about they don’t have t-shirts in her size and you don’t care, you’re not going to hear any of her harassment stories.

PHIL:  Yeah, the thing is once they started posting about code of conduct and about diversity and about women in tech, I’ve done a few blog post over the last couple of years, the more I started to post about this stuff, the more people were [inaudible] and sending me emails and contacting me however they could and they’re like, “I’m so glad you’re talking about this,” and then I start to hear more stories that of course really bolsters my position on the situation.

It’s really hard to be a good ally because a lot of the things in the past where I thought I was being a good ally, I was actually being a jerk and I’m embarrassed about that. There’s a few podcast where there’s two different feminists or two different views on things and I’m like, “That’s anti-feminist,” and I’m saying silly things and I don’t know I’m talking about. It’s really hard to be good ally but once you start showing that you can be a helpful person and you do understand some of the problems, people often then start to hope you further.

I’ve had a lot of free advice and coaching and training from my friends that are suffering these problems, which has really helped. Again, it’s not the sort of stuff like understanding the topic of diversity and equality in the workplace and gender issues for tech and issues of people of color. That’s a lot of stuff to learn. It’s like learning how Git works or learning how certain piece of tech works. It’s much bigger and more important than that but as part of your job, you need to understand diversity and inclusivity and all these various connected topics to be, not only a good developer but a good human being. There’s a lot of people that just think that it’s people making things up. It’s really hard to make it part of the curriculum, being a good developer. I don’t know how we do it but it needs to change somehow.

CORALINE:  I think you made an interesting point about allies too. Allies in a badge that you earn, being an ally is a process and you’re going to fuck it up. Everyone’s going to fuck it up. I have fucked it up. Everyone fucks it up.

SAM:  I have fucked it up many, many times. I’m glad you said that because I wanted to jump in as well and say that allyship is not a thing that you are. Again, it’s a thing that you do and you have to keep doing it. It’s a work and it’s hard and it’s worth it.

JESSICA:  The point that I wanted to get back to about your story was that this happened fairly recently. How old were you when you moved to New York?

PHIL:  Twenty-four.

JESSICA:  Okay, you’re not old at all.

SAM:  No, but to say, below 25, you’re allowed to have a lot of stupid opinions about everything.

PHIL:  Yes, especially —

JESSICA:  I was hoping to make the point that even when you’re in your late 30s and 40s, you too can change but maybe this story doesn’t help.

CORALINE:  Well, that happen to me quite a bit, Jessica because I was a pretty terrible person before my transition and what I see now is very problematic ideas. I wasn’t by any stretch to the imagination, a feminist and it wasn’t until I started paying attention and started practicing empathy that I discovered that there was this whole other world of truths that I had never opened my eyes to before. That started as part of a deliberate process of sort of reinventing myself and that happened when I was 40 so that can definitely happen.

JESSICA:  Oh, yeah. Just Phil’s story doesn’t work as an example.

SAM:  It doesn’t provide us [inaudible] data for that.


CORALINE:  And I’m just a woman to my opinion. It doesn’t matter on that topic.

JESSICA:  Yeah, that was about four years ago for me that I started recognizing that just because I had a good experience in tech, it doesn’t mean every women did.

PHIL:  That’s a lot of problem. There’s a lot different approaches to feminism and I know a lot of developers that will say — I don’t know why specifically developers but — I know a fair few people that will say things like, “Until feminist could agree, then why should we listen to anything they have to say?” That’s obviously ridiculous. I give you ask half the population about anything and they going to have a lot of different ideas. When they say half the population, that’s because woman are feminist. Some women aren’t feminists.

There’s so many different people that have so many different views on so many different things, a lot of people think that feminism is something that is very much not and there are different people who describe themselves as feminists that have different views on how to achieve equality. People need to recognize the fact that a diverse group of people will have a diverse set of opinions and be respectful of them.

I’ll often say if you’re either a feminist or misogynist, there is no overlap. There is no, “I’m just neutral.” You either believe that all gender should have equality or you don’t. In the slide of feminist end of the scale, there’s a million different views. There’s a lot of different definitions of equality: subsistence equality and I forget the name of the other one but it’s about removing the blockers that will allow us at some point become equal versus making that process a bit quicker like give me that job that I should have because you’re always getting jobs to the people.

There’s kind of different approaches to equality and different approaches to everything so instead of mocking a diverse set of opinions for not being all exactly the same, people’s needs to except the different people have different views and you can agree with some of them and then disagree with others without that person being stupid or that anti-movement being stupid, you know?

JESSICA:  Yeah, we all see a different piece of the world. Of course, we all have a different model. How about Ruby?

CORALINE:  Yeah, you made a transition from the PHP community to the Ruby community and I’m very, very interested in your perspective. Hearing what those like for you and maybe hearing about not just from a techno perspective but how the PHP and Ruby communities differed. There’s a lot of animosity toward PHP and the Ruby community. A lot of contempt for PHP which I think is very unwarranted and very unprofessional. What sort of things have you seen moving between those two communities?

PHIL:  It’s really interesting. I’ve been using Ruby exclusively for the last four years and on and off since 2010. I was playing around with Rails quite a while ago. We have a different point now with younger developers of don’t necessarily have any experience with PHP. This thing is becoming less and less true but for a long time, most of the Ruby developers used to do PHP. PHP was the first language for all people to go to and they went somewhere else and some people went to Node but a lot of people were going to Ruby because of Rails.

Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t really keep up with what was happening in PHP and it kind of assumed the PHP is still PHP 4 which was pretty bad. PHP 5 and all of them minor releases since then, added a lot of functionality that’s proper [inaudible]. PHP 4 was meant to be PHP 6 so it’s kind of a major version all in itself. Then PHP 7, skipped 6 — don’t ask — PHP 7 is kind of a fundamental rewrite of a lot of aspects of the language, including the lexer, the parser, the tokenizer, a lot of memory management like most of the language apart from the standard library, unfortunately was rewritten in PHP 7.

These days when people talk nonsense about PHP, they’re talking about a false memory of when they were an experienced programmer using a fairly young and not very well-built language that has since changed drastically. For Ruby developer these days to poop on PHP is usually pretty far from the truth.

CORALINE:  That’s what Aurynn Shaw cause contempt culture and it’s very damaging.

PHIL:  Yes. I saw it, I go to conferences and people will be like, “What language do you use?” And if I say Ruby, they’re like, “Okay.” If I say PHP, they’d be like, “Really?” That makes you feel very bad. I don’t mind it personally except to be like, “I was contributing to PHP. I was going to help and make that place better. I was top-level PHP guy,” and they’d be like, “Ehhh…” They’ll still going to make fun. But I just say, “I wrote Golang,” and they’re be like, “You’re clever, cool.”

This is really weird thing where the language you use dictates your intelligence level not market forces or the job you’re at or anything else. It is strange. Contempt culture is pretty damaging in people’s moods and happiness. Again, these developers are thinking, “I don’t have to change languages because people’s think I’m stupid or my career’s going to be in trouble,” and they were like spend a lot of time learning a different language or look for a different job or maybe move house because there’s no people offering a job in a certain area, with a certain language so they will change their entire life just so people on being mean and their boss that might not be conscious to them. That’s the case. That’s all of the subconscious stuff that is being pushed into the back of the head that then informs their decisions. It pretty silly, especially when most of the language are basically the same.

SAM:  For listeners who might be newer to the show, there’s another interesting take on this back in Episode 2 with Avdi Grimm, where about 30 minutes into the show, he talks about his take on PHP as somebody who came to it from Ruby. You might like that.

PHIL:  For sure, I’ll check that out. That sounds good. There’s a lot of things in that Ruby developers will recognize. There’s a build-in web server these days. You just type ‘PHP -s’ and it’s the same as Vim or whatever. There’s an aspect equivalent. There’s webmark port. There’s a VCR port. If you can think of the tool that you like, there is a port of it. In the past, when you use to search for most things in PHP like how do I do this, then you end up on WFREE schools and there was some nonsense from early 2000 and it was terrible and insecure and get you hacked if you did it so a few other developers put together PHP the right way and that shows you a good up-to-date, constantly evolving information on best practices and standards and things like that.

It used to be no code style so we made one, the PHP Fake came up together and made PSR-2. There was no real package management apart from PEAR where people really didn’t like. Now, there’s composer which is based off of Bundler and it’s almost exactly the same and just as good. It kind of sounds like PHP just copy and [inaudible] and in some respects, they are. There’s lots of developers like me that use other languages then kind of send information back or work on these features, put them back into the language and —

SAM:  Because in Ruby it doesn’t copy from anybody else ever.

PHIL:  Exactly. Everyone’s copying from everyone. Developers are sharing ideas like polyglot developers just pass around ideas and information in years of conferences and you start talking to Alexa developers and you realize they’re copying stuff from other languages too. Instead of making fun of each other for the choice or for the language that you’re currently using, you should be sharing information about the struggles that you have, in the ways that they resolve and the tooling that you like and how it helps at certain situations.

Instead of feeling smug about yourself that you obviously made the right choice because other language developers are stupid, you get to be happy that you come up with this really cool idea for a tool that could totally help out in your community, then people would be singing your praises as a hero for raising this amazing thing. It’s a totally different mindset and it’s hard to change for some people. But just don’t be a jerk about languages.

CORALINE:  Technical differences aside, how’s your experience of Ruby community been different from your experience with the PHP community?

PHIL:  I’ve been enjoying taking very much a backseat in the Ruby community. I feel like in a lot of ways, Ruby community isn’t perfect like when I turned up there, I felt like things are pretty much under control. I was thinking about being part of a community such as a programming community, as like living in a neighborhood. If you live in a neighborhood and you starts to know there’s a few problems, you might start joining some local boards or commissions that will help out in certain ways. You might start helping out around the neighborhood to fix those problems.

When I got to Ruby I was like, “Oh, it was pretty cool.” If there are problems, I’m the one that’ve noticed so I’m sure this thought leaders in the community, they’re shouting at each other and DHH occasionally post some interesting stuff and people end up getting very upset.


PHIL:  You know, so I just ignore those stuff and I always do it again or whatever and it’s fine. Whereas in the PHP community, I felt like there was a lot of things that needed to be worked on so I got super involved working on a lot of different things. It was slow and there needs to be PHP the right way for information, PHP Fake for standards bodies, PHP League of Extraordinary Packages for creating some of these gaps that left between frameworks building everything and the diagnostic stuff that exists too. All of these things over time, I got more and more stuff and I got more and more stuff. just going to Ruby and seeing like a really good tool for this and they really get standard for that and seeing it already be there, I was just like, “I can ride my bike now.”


SAM:  So you help PHP grow up as a language. At Ruby, it was already mature when you got there.

PHIL:  Yeah. I guess. I have a bit of a theory on how this works and it’s hard to prove anything but the PHP community is only recently, over the last couple of years, come together to knock down the barriers between different silos. The Ruby community is pretty much just Rails like there’s other tools — the Sinatra — but the bulk of people using Ruby really are using Rails a lot of the time. That was the one framework people would use, therefore if you had to build a gem, it would usually work by itself and with Ruby, there would be bridge packages but Ruby was always the center of people’s minds.

Where in the PHP community, which I think is much, much larger. PHP community is huge. They saw it being broken down by the specific framework. There’s Cake, there’s [inaudible], there’s [inaudible] these days is the new and kind of biggest one but there’s lots and lots and lots of different frameworks and people for the longest time would be just building things to work for their framework. It is hard coded and the framework is in the name of the package. It’s really that and it is only recently, like a lot of effort for myself and a lot of other individuals and the PHP-FIG and things like that, the framework are mostly packages. The start has becoming more of a thing and there’s standards that helping to define interfaces that various different frameworks can then latch onto to make sure the code works was in various places and stuff like that have started to bring people together to focus on PHP more than focusing on the specific framework or the specific CMS or a specific whatever.

In a couple of years about that, that’s start happening in 2011, 2012 and that’s really helped PHP grow up because when you have all of your efforts being separated into 10 almost identical communities and everyone is working on the same stuff and they’re all working on style guides, never working on whatever. Caching packages that would only work for their system, there’s so much effort being wasted. Instead of 10 different teams, which might be 20 people working on caching, you could have maybe four or five people making this one package and maintaining this one package that everyone can use and there’s other people can go and build something really cool. Instead of just constantly redeveloping the same way over and over and over again, you can start to build more, new work, greater stuff or ideas that people never even thought to make developing easier for people they’re just getting into it by removing some of the stuff they’d have to code and making a gem for that so —

JESSICA:  That is if they can all get along.

PHIL:  If they can all get along. If you can get along, if you can use some teamwork and you can have a code of conduct to help with people being jerks, then you can do really cool stuff. But if you just want to scream at each other and just code the same stuff over and over again and release the 12,000 PHP routing library because you think you’re so much smarter than everyone else, then coding just sucks.

CORALINE:  I think, that’s what it’s all about. We want to make coding suck less.

SAM:  Yes, please.

CORALINE:  For everybody. This has been a great conversation, Phil. We’ve really enjoyed having you on the show. We end every show with reflections, where we think about the conversations that we’ve had and while there’s some of the most salient points of the conversation and maybe some things that we want to do differently or think about a little bit more as a result of the conversation. Who would like to reflect first?

JESSICA:  Me. Phil, you made a point pretty early in the show. There’s two actually that I think maybe go together. One was that one of your superpowers was in fact being confused by a book and not understanding it. You did what you had to do to understand it and then you brought that to people in a way that they could understand.

PHIL:  Mama bird style.

JESSICA:  Yes, that’s beautiful. When you have the time and put in the effort to turn your confusion into something that as washes everyone else’s. I wonder if this has something to do with another phrase that you used. You said you had a habit of failing upward. I interpret that as when something doesn’t work out, something better will.

PHIL:  Yeah, basically.

JESSICA:  And when you put your energy out there into the community, that totally happens.

PHIL:  Yeah, failing upwards is all about learning from your mistakes and then working hard. Failing upward for me was like I got fired from a cinema for just being a lazy, rubbish employee. Then after getting fired from a cinema, I realized no one would have ever hire me so I started my own company and that went crap in the recession and I got a job at a bigger firm and things like that. Part of that is luck, obviously and part of it is just kind of, “Okay, I did a bad thing here. Let’s try and make this better,” which people should focus on instead of, “Okay, I did a bad thing. Let’s argue with everyone before I did a bad thing.” Then just make sure I can really explain to myself that I did a good thing really. It’s about accepting your failures and trying to be better next time, in all of the time.

JESSICA:  Yeah, it’s not about, “No, past me was okay.” It’s about, “Future me is going to be better.”

PHIL:  Yeah, for sure.

SAM:  That sounds like a perfect time for me to jump in. One of the things, looking back that really struck me about this is that we talked about a bunch of little cases and almost throw away comments that when I unpack them, they seemed we’re talking about people who have a very superficial understanding of the opposing position in whatever argument they’re in and they take that superficial understanding and then it’s just run and scream with that. I commented on this in the chat earlier about how I find it sort of hilariously sad that in tech, we have tools for doing root cause analysis.

The most prominent of which I can think of is the five whys technique. At least, some of us are really used to using those to figure out what’s going on with technical issues but those very same tools can work for social issues as well. If you just take some of the your initial understanding of some problem, like I think you mentioned there just aren’t as many women in tech as there are men, if you ask, “Why is that?” and then why is that, then why is that? You might actually get somewhere. It’s going to be harder for you to maybe have those answers right away because as a technologist, you’re probably more used to thinking about, “I know that there are problems with possibly cache misses or something,” and it’s going to be harder to think about complicated human behavior but it can be done. People do it and there is literature, lots and lots and lots of literature on all of that stuff. You just have to be willing to do a little bit of work. That, I guess sort of a combination of reflection and call to action is to try five whys on something that isn’t technical.

CORALINE:  I think for me, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the conversation and thinking back on maybe things that haven’t thought about for a while. I really like the idea of how empathy is somehow and very often, pitted against pure reason. I think I’m one of those people who gets really frustrated with that sort of dichotomy and I think that frustration probably manifest as me being aggressive or doesn’t really lend itself to having a productive conversation with someone.

I’ve definitely changed my approach to things over the past couple of years based on experiences I’ve had but I need to do a better job of thinking about how to get past people’s visceral reaction to social justice issues and think about how to create better allies because I can’t do it alone. I’m going to give that some more thought. Phil, what do you think of our conversation we had today?

PHIL:  It’s really hard to talk about any of this stuff and I do hope that my thoughts came across as I intended them. I think one thing that I definitely takeaway from this conversation is that I really need to start bookmarking things that I find. You folks have been talking about various different articles that helped understand various different parts. So many times that I’ve been like, “This article is amazing. If more people can read this one article, then that might set them on their path,” especially with these other kind of five things that I went to.

I think it’s really important to kind of bookmark these things and save them and back them up so that you can help show people your path of thinking and your path of reasoning. Also, when I came to talk about something, I mentioned things like lending your privilege. I can’t remember who came up with that phrase so I’m talking about stuff without attribution, which is tough. I love to be the person that just kind of points people to other smart people and others smart things, instead of becoming this like, “Looks like that person got some great ideas,” because I’m just regurgitating things that I’d like to learn and heard and thought but a lot of the time these thoughts come from somebody first. Without being able to kind of channel people in the right directions, it just kind of sounds like I’m hogging stuff. This conversation made me realize that I need to do a much better job of bookmarking my sources and linking to things so that it’s more fair for everyone.

SAM:  Before we end the show, we would like to point out that Greater Than Code is entirely listener supported. If you would like to join our community Slack, you can do so by contributing any amount to us at Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode. At increasing levels of donation, there are a few extra perks but basically we just want you to hang around and chat with us and feel like you are contributing to the show.

Also, as happened a few weeks ago, if you are hanging out in the flak at exactly the right time you might find yourself on the show randomly. With that, it’s been a really wonderful conversation and I feel like I could take another hour or two to just keep enjoying and digesting it but it’s time for us all to go and do work. Thank you very much everyone and listeners, we’ll catch you next week.

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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