03:31 - Uncovering Patterns
- Making the Covert Overt
- Reasons for Covertness
13:22 - Taking Care of People as Whole People
- People Are Dynamic – Not Stagnant
- Roles Are Constantly Changing
- Iterating on Practices
- William A. Kahn: Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work
- Financial Compensation
- Metrics and Observability
28:43 - The Tech Industry: Now vs Then (aka we still have A LOT of work to do)
- New Zealand Maori leader ejected from parliament for refusing to wear 'colonial noose'
45:59 - The Messaging Around Diversity and Inclusion
- Doing the Right Thing
51:26 - Changing Mindsets
- Using Privilege to Speak to Power
Rein: Capitalism and White Supremacy are the same thing. The Invention of the White Race.
We have an obligation to not just make it possible for people to exist in the industry, but to also make it healthy.
John: It’s always great to have these conversations as reminders.
Tim: Figure out why something makes you uncomfortable. Look and uncover the pattern underneath that in yourself. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you run away, you’re never going to grow and things are never going to get better.
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JOHN: Hello, everybody. This is Greater Than Code, Episode 225. I’m John Sawers and I’m here with Rein Henrichs.
REIN: And I’m here with our guest, my friend, and Dungeons & Dragons party member, Tim Banks.
Tim Banks has a career spanning over 20 years through various sectors. Tim’s initial journey into tech started as a US Marine in avionics. Upon leaving the Marine Corps, he went on to work as a government contractor. He then went into the private sector, working both in large corporate environments and in small startups. While working in the private sector, he honed his skills in systems administration and operations for large Unix-based datastores.
Today, Tim leverages his years in operations, DevOps, and Site Reliability Engineering to advise and consult with engineering groups in his current role as a Principal Solutions Architect at Equinix Metal. Tim is also a competitive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, having won American National and Pan American Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championships in his division.
TIM: Hi! Good to see everybody in here.
REIN: Yeah, I did that on the first take and I'm very proud of myself.
TIM: I am so, so proud of you. That was amazing.
REIN: Tim, it's time for the question.
REIN: What is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
TIM: So my superpower is using empathy to uncover patterns that people haven't seen in the past and I think that's a superpower because a lot of people can look at something, there's a lot of folks out there that can see a pattern just on the surface like this does that, this does that, this does that. But when you really talk to groups and you talk to people, you can see some common things that aren't necessarily things that are going to have an output or a metric, but you can see how people feel about a thing. And then when you get enough people who feel a certain way about a thing, that's not going to be a coincidence, it's going to be a pattern. So finding those patterns is my superpower.
As far as how I acquired it, it's hard for me to say. The easy way to say is over time, but over time and myself being a person who necessarily wasn't listened to, or seen, or heard trying to explain how things are, why things are the way they are without having metrics. So having been on one side of that equation, I've been able to see people on the other side of it.
REIN: So Tim, you said “to uncover patterns.” Can you say a bit more about the word uncover? Because I feel like that might've been a specific choice that you made to use.
TIM: Yeah. There are typically, as we see with anything else, especially being tech or people that like to take things apart, I'm sure as we all did as kids, there are things that you see on the surface. There are things that you see, this pattern or this thing happening here, but you take the face plate off of something, or you delve down below the API, or you delve down below the operating system and there are so many other things that are happening beneath that.
If you kick over amount of dirt and you see an ant hill, the ants have their own system, how they do things down there that you don't necessarily create, but you're just going to see it and you have to uncover a few things. You have to move things around. You have to look below the surface to see some of these patterns that happen just below the surface that bring the things at the surface to fruition.
REIN: This reminds me a lot of I guess, it's a mantra that I learned from Virginia Satir, which drink if you're playing that game, make hidden things visible, make the covert overt and make the general specific and related to you, me, here, now, and the current situation.
TIM: Yeah. I think that's actually a good – I had not heard of that one before, but I do like that a lot.
REIN: So when you say uncover, that makes me think, make the covert over.
TIM: Yeah, I think so. I like that. It's interesting because people sometimes think that things are covered up to make them hidden and it's not necessarily, they're hidden like someone has hidden them so you can't find them. A lot of times they're hidden in plain view.
You don't find them because you're not looking for them and when you actually start to look for some of these things, some of the underlying causes, you'll be surprised what you find. It's like a lot of us here have done RCAs on things and oftentimes, if you do a good RCA, you're going to go through a few levels and different layers to find what the actual root cause. Like, most of the times the root of something is not at the surface, it's way down. So you actually have to go down and dig to uncover these things, to really find out what's at the base of something.
REIN: So since this is the show where we talk about the social side of things, I want to ask you about these things that are covered that are maybe covered for a reason and maybe that the reason that they're covert is that people are trying to protect themselves and they don't feel safe to make them overt. So do you think about these situations and how do you go about making that safe to talk about?
TIM: So I do think about these situations and there's a couple of reasons why. First, obviously, is in the professional world you can't always call people out immediately for things. Even if you know that there's something that's a lie or something that's not right, there are the political reasons why you have to be tactful or you have to be very deliberate and cautious about how you uncover these things because even if people aren't necessarily intentionally hiding things, or it is their mind that I must hide this as he'll feel safe, people's egos are the number one obstacle, I think to innovation.
Someone has staked out a claim. Someone has a territory. Someone has some domain that they have, that they are a gatekeeper thereof and it is their ego that makes sure that you have to pay homage to them or to that ego in order to get anything done. So figuring out what they're protecting, whether they're protecting their job, whether they're protecting their ego, whether they're protecting levels of influence so that they can rise in their career. You have to figure out what that is, that what that thing is that is important to them so that way you can make sure that it's either protected, or you can make sure that there are more than one person that have access to that thing so you can make your way.
At personal levels, there are things that people cover up because they don't feel safe and doing the work of trying to make them feel safe so you can talk about these things, I think that's the hardest thing that we do in the industry. Solving technical problems is easy compared to solving people problems, or cultural problems, or societal problems because those are the problems that we've had for millennia that we, collection of people in a common industry, are trying to figure out.
Saying to somebody, “Hey, I see these patterns here of work, or absenteeism, or productivity, or whatever it is and I need to know what it is that's going on so that we can fix that,” and make them understand that you are there to help them and there to fix that problem, whatever it may be, that takes some work on the part of the person who's trying to uncover that pattern. It takes vulnerability and it takes confidentiality. It takes empathy. Especially if it's something that you've never dealt with before.
Someone's going to tell you, “Hey, I have this problem,” and you're going to say, “All right, well, I know leadership or I know management or unknown this senior technical professional here, but I don't know the answer to this problem, but I can say that I will help you find it and then we can work together on it.” And a lot of people don't like to say, “I don't know the answer.”
We see a lot of people that are very technically savvy and because they're very technically savvy, they are now considered to be experts in all kinds of domains. Nobody in particular—Elon Musk—but there are people that are looked to be some kind of great genius just because they happen to know how to code something, or architect something. I think when you display the vulnerability of saying, “I don't know.” Or you are upfront about your problems or upfront about your struggles, it makes people feel safer about being upfront about theirs and then you can go through the work of trying to solve those problems.
Well, first of all, identifying if it's a pattern, and then solving the problem that's causing those patterns.
JOHN: I like that you use the metaphor of anthill earlier on in this, because rather than when you describe something as pattern, it's very abstract and feels like an object. But when you talk about an anthill, it's individual entities working together in a system. It's something that exists on its own, made up of other individuals. It's not just some object that we can examine and I think that brings it into thinking about it in a different way and much like the way you've been describing how you talk about these things and how you work with people. Very humanizing and I like that.
TIM: Yeah. I do think there's a lot of us when we're looking at an organization, whether we're looking at a society, or government, or whatever it is, a neighborhood even all of us have the role that we play whether we're aware of it or not. It's a role not necessarily either we're assigned, that we signed up for, or that we just have by nature of and by coincidence of our birth. But we all do something that contributes in some way to the organizations that we're in.
When we look at that as that – okay, that role covers a lot of things. No one is just one thing; no one is just a software developer, or no one is just a cashier at a grocery store, or no one is just an artist. No person is monolithic. No one is defined by their job save except maybe the police and that's not a slam—they're always at work apparently. But there are all these things that we have that yes, as you look at an ant farm, this one ant does all these various things, but they have this contribution to the colony as a whole. And I do think that when we look at it as a pattern, if we look at one individual person and all the things that they do, it is important to see that they are more than just a worker.
We are not ants. We're not that specialized. We have all kinds of things that we contribute to. So like the colony metaphor breaks down there just to understand that all of us have different things that we do outside of just what our role is to make money or to contribute. We all have dreams. We all have hopes. A lot of times, the fact that these dreams or hopes have been unrealized or worse yet, they have been forcefully deferred by the society as a whole affects that role that we have. It affects how we view ourselves. It affects how others view us.
That's what we bring when we sit down at our desk every morning, that collection of all those things rides along with whatever your skills are, that is it's not compartmentalized. As much as people may want to say they can't compartmentalize these things, you can't. You can’t contain it forever. So when these things start to manifest themselves in different ways, we as people—whether we are neighbors, whether we are leaders in government, whether we are coworkers, whether we're management—need to do whatever we can to make sure that these people can become a whole and they can thrive. When people thrive on a personal level, they thrive on a professional level. Maybe not at the job that they're in, maybe not at the company that they're in, but wherever they end up, when they thrive as people, they are going to thrive as professionals.
REIN: I also want to throw in another element of the ant colony metaphor, which is that ant colonies are dynamic. They're constantly changing. Tunnels are caving in, new ones are being constructed; the colony itself changes over time. You were talking about the complexity of a person in a given moment, but their roles within the company are also constantly shifting based on how they interact with other people.
TIM: That's true; how they interact with other people and how the companies need change. I mean, no company is typically monolithic in and of themselves. They always have to be growing, they have to be thriving, and they have to be moving into different segments and as that happens, your roles change within that company.
What's been being kicked around Twitter these past few weeks is people talking about like, “I don't understand why people leave jobs,” and I was like, “Well, yeah, they leave jobs because they want to go do other stuff.” People don't like to stagnate, typically and people who do like to stagnate, most companies don't want to keep them around. So stagnation is not really in human nature. As resistant as we are to change, we are all extremely adaptable. It's built into our damn DNA so we tend to do that well.
I do like the fact that people are dynamic, or if you look at what maybe people had expectations of what 2021 was going to be in 2019, it's clear that a lot of things have changed due to the various circumstances around the world—pandemic, social uprising, Nazis, whatever it is. We've all had to make some big changes and even though it sucked and it has sucked, we're still here.
We are in the new normal because we are adaptable and so are the dynamics of our existence lend ourselves to the fact that our roles are constantly changing. What does it look like when you were a working parent 2 years ago versus what does it look like you're a working parent now? What does it look like if you were a single person with a job 2 years ago versus if you're seeing a person with a job now? So many things have changed and it speaks to the fact that we are adaptable.
That all said, if you're looking at how we can improve and make better for people, we can't look at the ideal state or the state we were in 2019 or whatever it was. We have to look at how things are now and then we had to look at what we have learned in the past year, year and a half will prepare us for what's yet to come because we know that shit is always going to roll downhill. So we have to figure out what have we learned here and what can we do next?
I think a lot of the things that we still need to embrace is how to take care of our people as a whole people, and not just employees and not just take care of how they can contribute to us. How many commits can they do? How many tests can they write? Or anything like that. We need to take care of their needs as people and when we take care of their needs as people, they are more likely to be able to take care of us, our needs from them as companies and orgs.
REIN: What Russell Ackoff always says when people talk to him about total quality management and all of these things about how to improve the quality of your business, what he always says is, “The quality that matters is quality of work life.” The quality of the lives of the people who are doing the work.
TIM: That is absolutely true. It's absolutely true. Some of the worst cases of burnout that people ever have, some of the worst working environments, it's because they do not treat their people like people. They treat them like any other resource, like print, toner, cartridge, and the people personally as people cannot thrive and people burn out that way. People have a hard time setting and maintaining boundaries around their work life.
Yay, capitalism. That's one of the things that we start from. It's like, if you want to get ahead, you’ve got to work real, real, real, real hard. Well, yes, to some extent, but the higher up you go, let's be honest that “hard work” looks way different. You're working hard on a yacht apparently, or you're working hard on a vacation to Paris apparently, but the people that are actually doing the labor to enrich the people higher up the chain, those basic human needs for rest, relaxation, recovery, they're oftentimes not being met and I think that's a fucking shame.
REIN: Yeah, and if something is particularly incumbent upon leadership to show that by example and to encourage that behavior because I think lower down in the ranks, if they've probably been punished for any sort of thing like that, or they've seen people punished for that kind of thing, they're going to be highly resistant to doing that unless you can prove that it's safe for them to do so.
TIM: Oh, absolutely. I think it's interesting when you talk about what it is for a person lower down in the rung and the common gatekeeping tactic you see is “Well, they've got to pay their dues.” They've got to suffer through this role so that way, they can make it for other people or they can be a better employee going forward. That is so horribly bassackwards.
I mean, you really want to nurture junior folks. You want to nurture people coming into the industry. You want to nurture people who are just starting. You want to mentor them. You want to give them knowledge and guidance. You don't want to push their nose into the grindstone. I don't know what you're trying to accomplish there. That's fine if you're in the Marine Corps. That's fine if you're going into the military service. That's obviously, a consequence of the choice you made to join. But if you're not doing that, you don't need to punish people at the bottom ranks, really
You should be, as a leader, like you said, modeling those behaviors, but you should also be making sure that they can thrive, whatever that looks like. Thriving for a junior person doesn't look like giving them a half hour lunch break and watching them clock in and clock out. It doesn't look like monitoring their bathroom breaks, or some of the stuff that I've seen the junior folks have to do. These people are whole people, they are not servers. They're not computers. They're not billed by the hour like that to perform X number of tasks. They really have to be nurtured and they have to be guided and mentored.
The other thing we have to take into the fact is that not everybody learns the same. People are neurodivergent. So what productivity looks like for some persons, it’s going to look completely different for another person.
For me, the worst thing I had as a senior person was to be expected to sit down and work 4 hours, take a half hour break, and then work another 4 hours straight. I have ADHD and anxiety and that is torturous for me. Now I did it and some people will turn around and say, “Well, I did it. So you can do it. too” like the motherfuckers that talk about student loans. But I would say, “I had to do it and it sucks. So I don't want anyone else to have to go through that.” That's what we should be doing. We should be iterating on our practices as an org, iterating our practices as a society to say that, “Oh, well, just because I had to suffer, that doesn't mean that you should have to as well. We should actually fix that so that you don't have to go through that.”
Typically, in capitalism, that's how they say you're supposed to do. A 2021 Ferrari has more features than the Model T because you add features, and you add features, and you add features. So I don't see why we can't do that for the people that actually build these vehicles, or build anything else for that matter.
REIN: There's a study that whenever this topic comes up, that I refer people to, because I think it's really, really good. It is from Kahn in 1990 and this is interesting because this is the study of the “Engagement of the Human Spirit at Work.” So even the idea that in a capitalist country, you could get a grant to study the engagement of the human spirit at work is amazing to me. But the idea is that there are three psychological conditions that relate to this. What I wanted to do was list them and then get your thoughts.
REIN: Add them, change them, do they resonate with you? The conditions are meaningfulness. Do I find meaning in the work and my job title, my tasks, and so on? The second is psychological safety. And the third is the availability of emotional and psychological resources and this includes things like, am I emotionally drained at the end of the day? Do I wake up looking forward to going to work? Am I being supported by my manager or my supervisor?
TIM: I like all of those. I think those are all really good, but I do think it overlooks the financial aspect and the reason why I say it overlooks the financial aspect is because those things are important for how you feel about your work. But if you are struggling financially, your ability to deal with the normal rigors of work are significantly decreased when you have to then go home and figure out how you're going to make the ends meet. Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Are you going to pay off debt? You're trying to figure out how to take care of your children. You're going to have to figure out how to do all these other things.
Your overall capacity is reduced because you have these other concerns as well. So I think it cannot be overstated, the impact of making sure that people's needs outside of work are met to make sure they can also, you can also take care of the needs inside of work. But going back, I do think those are very, very important aspects of people feeling spiritual engagement at work.
I think the meaningfulness and the psychological safety to me are the two most important. You can do meaningful work, but if you're getting harassed all the fucking time, it's not a great place. Or you can have a great loving and nurturing environment, but you're just toiling away in dumb anguish and it's like, “Oh, well, I don't know why I'm doing this job. Everyone's super happy and I'll stay here for a while because I really like everybody, but I don't really get any meaning out of what I do.”
So I think I like that list. I would just add a fourth one talking about making sure people are financially compensated to make sure their needs are met plus, plus.
REIN: And actually, the study doesn't consider that and I think you're right that that's a huge oversight. There's a second study that attempts to quantify these relationships to say how much each of these influence engagement and the result is that meaningfulness was the highest correlation, but the way they did this is interesting. They did a quantitative survey and the survey would include different sections with questions on for example, rewarding coworker relations with questions like, “I feel worthwhile when I am around my coworkers.” I think we should be asking questions like that more often. I think that the engagement surveys you get in the modern world are superficial.
TIM: Oh, they absolutely are. They absolutely are. Well, I mean, it goes back to a lot of topics we have in observability. What are your metrics if whatever you measure is what you're going to do?
I learned this lesson working in tech support call centers right out of the Marine Corps where if they're going to reward you for the number of calls or they're going to – the primary metric is the number of calls you took in a day. So people were going to do whatever they can do to take the most number of calls, then to like, “Oh, then we're going to do NPS scores after that.” But they set the NPS score pretty low and saying, “Well, we just need you to answer the calls. They don't have to be that good.” That's what you're going to get.
If you were measuring things like, “Oh, did your manager make you feel good this month?” If you ask that and they answer honestly, maybe they made you feel good once a month or something like that since the last one, but primarily, they made you feel like crap. That's kind of what you need to ask. I do think the interpersonal relationship aspects, they're hard to quantify because it looks different for everybody and even the nature of the questions are different for everybody. What that question looks like to a cis, white, straight male is going to look way different to say, a queer Black woman.
REIN: What if the question is: “I feel a real kinship with my coworkers and I'm like a little, eh about that one?”
TIM: Yeah, that goes back to that we're a family thing and I don't necessarily like that at all because we aren't a family. You can't fire your family or lay your family off.
REIN: But then there were questions like: “I believe that my coworkers appreciate who I am,” and I like that one a lot.
TIM: That's a good one. The appreciates who I am, that speaks to being a whole person and the more that we can be whole people at our jobs, the better off we are going to be. If you have to bite your tongue, if you have to cover your tattoos, if you have to make sure your hair is undyed, or you have to wear clothes that you don't necessarily like because they’re considered “professional” whatever that means. That the more that a person has to distance themselves from who they are as a whole person, probably the less happy they're going to be in that environment. Less safe they're going to feel in that environment.
JOHN: Yeah, I find that there is a gap between the rhetoric about bringing your whole self to work and the practice of building a space where it's safe to do that. Like I myself know some things that can lead us in that direction, but I don't feel like there's a great playbook on building that all out.
TIM: There really isn't and part of the reason is that the tech industry started out, by and large, as an artifact of the US government, US military, which is never not really known for being very welcoming and safe for people outside of a certain demographic.
You talk about what the industry looked like when I got in back in the late 90s, IBM had just stopped requiring people to wear suits to work and they were allowed to wear polo shirts and khakis. That look was what you had. It was the “business casual.” Couldn't have long hair, couldn't have accessed piercings, no visible tattoos; not unlike dress codes or appearance regs that you would see in the military.
So you make everybody look like the stereotypical white guy, essentially, because this is what you have to wear because some old white guy said, “This is what people should look like.” Those things are hard to break because who still has power in those things and it's a self-perpetuating society. People that do not fit that mold do not last in that industry, or the people that do last in industry had to divorce themselves of who they are so much that it becomes hard to break that mold once you get into places of power, because you can very quickly be run out for rocking the boat too much and it was very, very self-standing.
This is the one thing that I think came out of the .com bubble burst after Y2K and the early aughts was that it broke up a lot of these big companies, big old legacy companies and you saw a lot of smaller startups come out. A lot of these smaller startups that came out of it maybe had a different way of thinking because they weren't run by 70-year-old white guys who were defense contractors.
But I do think, when we get into that, if you look at what a person in the tech industry looks like in 2021 versus what they look like in 2001 is dramatically different. I can have my hair long. I can expose my tattoos. I can have a beard. I can say, “I'm a queer, ADHD, Black-Mexican man,” whereas such a thing would be dangerous career-wise and maybe even personally, 20 years ago.
I remember in the industry when the first person that I knew personally came out as being transgender and the harassment that she had to go through was horrifying, but it was considered perfectly normal in 2001. We have come a long way, but that just speaks to what a shitshow it was before. Not that we're doing great now, because we have so much farther to go and we are still here in 2021 seeing all white panels, all white male leadership, diversity being heralded when you bring a white woman onto a board or when you bring a gay white man onto a board. And that ain't it chief. That is not it. We have so much more to do and the hard part about that is convincing people that you can't rest on your laurels. Convincing people that you haven't done enough in the first place. Convincing people that there are still problems.
That goes back to what you're saying about some of these questions, about some of these metrics that we have about people in the workplace. The questions that you have to ask on these to really get an idea of where you are, have to be uncomfortable. They have to be uncomfortable. They have to challenge people's safe spaces and not just a safe spaces of other people who are marginalized, but certainly, the safe space of the people who are overrepresented.
It goes back to talking about, “Hey, do you realize that you have gotten where you are largely by privilege?” or that you've been able to fail up, or that doors have been opened to you that haven't been opened to others, or bars have been lowered for you that weren't as lower for others, or even at the bar wasn't lower, the bar was not raised for you like it was for others? People don't like to hear that. People get very upset when you challenge the notion that maybe they haven't had to work as hard as other people have to get where they have. If you tell somebody, “Well, you got here because you had a fair amount of pillars to help you along the way.” People don't like to hear that.
Now I will very much, I've said in the past I may be Black and I may be queer but I'm still a man so I have some privilege that goes along with that that women and non-binary folks have not been able to enjoy. I typically don't have to go to a conference and worry about whether I'm going to be sexually assaulted. God help the person that tries at least with me. But that is a worry and a concern that people have to have going to a conference that's supposed to help their career and that's a big detractor. That is a big obstacle that people don't realize that they have and then worse.
I mean, heaven forbid, we even talked about motherfuckers that actually do the harassing there that are still allowed to enjoy their place in the industry, that are still allowed to hold positions of power, positions of influence where they can continue to do this. Not even just keep their jobs, but they keep being by to back these places and they can continue to perpetuate that kind of harassment and making the industry hostile to brilliant people.
But it's funny that I will say that here I am on a podcast and every podcast I've ever been on with the exception of one – well, no, all the podcasts I've ever been on hosted by all white people. Every last one. Some have had white women in them, but it's all white people. So when we talk about these subjects, it still comes from a certain perspective that white folks aren't going to have, or that men aren't going to have. It's good that we're talking about it, but we need to do something about it. We need to have more of these voices routinely, not just in our panels at tech conferences, but in our normal, everyday consumption and I think that's important.
We talk about what do these things look like? What are the patterns we're seeing? If you look at a tech company, especially in Silicon Valley, tech companies look like the neighborhoods. It's not very diverse. People refer their friends, people refer their coworkers, or they have these things about what was that Google employee letter? “We only want people with Bachelor's from Stanford or Ph.Ds. from these places and no one else gets accepted.” Those places are already quite exclusionary in and of itself. They list no HBCUs on that piece of paper, because they don't value HBCUs. They don't value schools that allow people of lower economic or lower in the socioeconomic strata to attend. It's literally self-perpetuating, that kind of gatekeeping.
These people who pass through these gates erect those exact same ones and only the people that fit that mold are going to go through it and you never fix the problem. We do not do enough to break those gates down. We don't do enough to model that kind of behavior that we should be expecting. It's good that we're talking about it, but we need to be more about doing it.
REIN: Yeah, and our whole panel for this show is majority not white dude, but it might not surprise you that the people who most often have the spoons and the privilege to take time out of their workday to do this podcast are the white dudes.
TIM: Yeah. But I think when we talk about going forward, it's one thing to see a pattern and I think people who, if they're looking, they can see what it is, but what do you do? Do you just throw up your hands, go, “We tried, it's hard to do, so we're not going to do”? “Ah, all right, we gave it a shot. We asked some folks, but they can’t do it.” Or what do you do?
I've seen a couple of folks, to call out the good behavior when I see it, I know Ashley McNamara when she had said that she was going to step aside from doing conferences, she was like, “Don't talk to me about conferences. Go talk to underrepresented minorities about these roles. Don't talk to me. I'm not going to take it.” I've seen folks that will say, “I'm not going to speak at this thing if it's an all white panel or if it's all male panel.” “If you're not paying your speakers, especially of color, to come, I'm not going to do these things.” That's how we see it in action.
Holding the people that build the platform accountable to make sure that everyone has access to it. I think the thing that the pandemic has taught me that I've seen, for the most part, is a lot of these conferences have become free or very, very low in price because there were virtual, a lot more people showed up. People that couldn't necessarily go before and sometimes, it was harder even for them like you mentioned before Rein, just to get off of work and now they can kind of manage to do it in between because they don't actually have to leave.
So when we get to a point where we can have in-person conferences again, I think it behooves the organizer of these conferences that if they're really serious about doing something about being more inclusive about breaking these patterns, not to have them in Silicon Valley, in the most expensive real estate on earth. Have them someplace less expensive to lower the cost for people, if they charge it at all.
If anything, you cannot tell me that AWS cannot put the cost of an entire – AWS, Microsoft, all these panels’ sponsors cannot put the cost such that you don't have to charge people for a standard price of admission. You can't tell me that they can't sponsor it to the level where you can pay your speakers, especially women, underrepresented minorities, people of color, like that to come in and appear and talk about these things. Especially if it's a topic on which they have to do the emotional labor for.
That's what I want to see us do to break some of the patterns that we're seeing, to make things better for everyone else, and then once some start doing that, that is going to be it. Once you start modeling that behavior, you're going to see other conferences do the same, where these big trillion-dollar companies that are sponsoring these orgs or sponsoring these conferences can actually put some money into it so that more people can come.
I don't really have a good understanding yet as of why that hasn't happened and I'm sure folks who organize conferences will probably have plethora of reasons. But I feel like the time has come to do these kinds of things and if it means we have fewer conferences, okay. Move them more virtual, it's fine.
REIN: Yeah. I have liked that some conferences are starting to do two tier tickets where if the company's paying, you pay the higher price and if you're just an individual or whatever, then you're paying a much lower price, and then usually, there's also some sort of scholarship program again, to try and bring people in.
But I think you're right. Especially if it's the much more company focused things like AWS re:Invent or whatever, why is there a cost to attend that? Even for the tickets, but on top of that, there's all the travel, there's taking time off work, there's childcare; there's so many other attendance costs to going to a conference at a place that even if the tickets were free, there's still a huge barrier there.
TIM: You could even go as far as say some of these venue choices. You go to a place like D.C., or New York City, or someplace that have HBCUs, those HBCUs have [inaudible] and conference centers. You don't have to go to some Richie rich hotel. Why don’t you give Howard some money to use their facilities? Why don't you do it in the [inaudible] area? Why don't you give Home by the Sea Hampton University some money? Or Atlanta?
Any of these places where you have – or some of these are just lower income schools that serve underprivileged communities, give them the money to host these conferences. Not some hotel. Have it catered by minority-owned businesses, have something, do some things to get more people in. Like, have scholarships for HBCUs CS students where if you're a student—junior, senior—looking for internships where they're like, “Hey man, you know what, come to this conference, we’re not going to charge you and we're actually going to give you a stipend for travel.” That's doing something and it is almost the peak of intellectual dishonesty for people to try and act like the money isn't there because it's there. We've seen time and time again, all these earnings calls coming out, all these market caps going up and up and up and up. The money is there; just people don't want to open up them purse strings, I guess.
REIN: Before the moment passes, I do want to point out that you call this podcast out for not doing enough to schedule things so that all of the panel can attend. I gratefully appreciate the rebuke and we're going to go work on that.
TIM: I appreciate that and I appreciate you for giving me a space that I feel safe to say that. That matters. Like, if you want to do something, give people space to talk about it and don't get butthurt when they say something.
REIN: So when you were talking about white person dress codes and the need to assimilate into that, I was reminded of this thing that actually just was published by CNN about a Maori representative in New Zealand’s parliament who was objected for refusing to wear a tie.
TIM: I think he called it a colonizer's noose?
REIN: He did and when they changed the rule and he was allowed back in, I am still thinking about what he said, which is, “The noose has been taken off our necks and we are now able to sing our songs.”
TIM: It's true and it's a big deal because I know for me as, especially as a young Black male, it is imperative for our survival to not be threatening and I'm not overstating that. It is imperative for our survival to not be deemed as threatening. If you go into a workplace and you don't have a comfortable appearance whether your hair's cut close, you can't have dreadlocks, you don't want to have anything that's let's say, too Black. You have to look a certain way. Your car has to look a certain way. You can't listen to certain music. Can't talk a certain way. Those are the guardrails which I had to perform under and I say perform early on when I was early in the industry, because that's what was expected.
You would see when the few Black people in an org would get together and the white folks weren't around, we would relax and it looks a whole lot different. If you're a fly on that wall, you would look and sound a lot different because we could be who we were and the problem happened was that you would see, you'd have to go out there and you'd be like oh, man. “Hey, Tim you have a blah, blah. You don't really sound Black.” Hm, okay.
REIN: You’re so articulate.
TIM: Oh yeah, that's a good one. “You're so articulate,” “You know a lot of words,” and that kind of stuff. The problem with that is that in order to do that, in order to assimilate into that culture to make a living, you have to do that and then we have to go back to our communities and hear about it. Hear about selling out, hear about – and it's one thing to get a job. People like to see people succeed, but what they don't like people have to do is change who they are in order to succeed. But that's what was expected of us to fit into this predominantly white culture. White people didn't have to change. Not really.
I can't recall how many dudes I saw walking around with mullets. Even to this day, you see guys walking around with khakis, the polo shirt tucked into the belt, the mullet, the wraparound sunglasses. That has been unchanged since like 1985. But Black people now are starting to be able to be our whole selves, but how many didn't last in the industry because they couldn't? There's a lot and that was just for being Black. Heaven forbid, people who are gay, people who are trans, people who were immigrants first generation, or immigrants that really had a hard time. It's not great. We have not done, this “progressive tech industry” has not done a lot. Did not do a lot early to be welcoming or to do anything, really towards inclusion. It had to be done kicking and screaming by people who have kicked down the doors and I think, honestly, we really need to be.
I am grateful that you are kicking down the doors for me and I've done my best to kick down doors for people behind me, who've come after me. But we need to keep doing that and I don't think we acknowledge really, how bad it was because it's uncomfortable. Especially the folks who are still in the industry that were part of that. You catch a lot of these high-tech level CEOs, C-levels SVPs who say they've been in the industry 20 plus years. They were complicit.
No one was talking about that. They want to talk about what they're doing now, but no one wants to come up front and be like, “Yeah, I actually participated in this. This is the things that I was doing back then.” Or “I didn't speak up for whoever, whoever.” I guarantee you, if people had an honest disclosure of all that, you're going to see that. It talks about what US history looks like if we don't whitewash it. If we're really honest about it. We can prevent making the same mistakes, hopefully because we don't have this narrative that we were great all the time.
Companies are the same way, managers are the same way, people who are long in the tooth of this industry are the same way and I think it's important that we talk about that especially when we talk about even now. You take salespeople, that is a good foray into tech for people that don't have a technical background, especially people of color and women and they still have to look like they're fucking bankers to sell a SaaS to people who are wearing hoodies and boardshorts to work. That doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make a damn bit of sense.
REIN: Can I share a hot take with you, Tim?
TIM: The hottest of takes, please give me lava.
REIN: I'm getting really frustrated with the messaging around diversity and inclusion that works and the fact that we have to use it, which is look how good this is for the business and I have a huge amount of respect for the people who do that work, sell that message. A lot of the people I've talked to who are doing this are Black women and they know how to get it done better than I do, but it must be grading to not be able to just say, “Look, we do this because it's right. We do it because it's just.”
TIM: It's because the people that they have to placate in order to get this signed off on. Who are they? They are, by and large, white men and to try and give a message to them of doing it just because. People who are a hundred millionaires, billionaires sometimes, if you don't tell them it's going to be good for their bottom line, they're not going to do it. For the most part.
Then there are some folks that I'm sure that wouldn't, but in the most part, you're talking about raging capitalists that will be glad to cut off. That would be the same people that didn't offer health insurance to their employees because they didn't have to. The same ones that give them shitty healthcare, but the executives get really, really nice healthcare.
The stratification of the value that you hold to the companies is very apparent in the benefits package, pays, and other kinds of things they offer them. To expect them to do it for altruistic reasons is the peak of naivety. So yes, the people that can get those people to sign off on a diversity and inclusion program are fucking miracle workers.
REIN: Yeah, and to be clear, I'm not mad at them for choosing that messaging. I have a huge amount of respect for their ability to be pragmatic and use the messaging that gets the job done. I mad that that's what they have to do because of how the system is. Because of how racism is.
TIM: I wished we could live in a society where we can say, “This is the right thing to do so we're going to do it.” I've talked about this before, where you look at that AWS Leadership Principle of leaders are right. There's no impetus on doing the right thing. You can say, “Oh, I was right about this.” Well good, congrats on your fucking jeopardy win. But do you do the right thing?
Doing the right thing is an ethical question. Do you do the right thing? Not for the business, right thing for the business. There's no parenthetical after that, there's no qualifying clause. If you are ethical, you will do the right thing and if that right thing isn't necessarily good for the business, okay. That's fine. All right. There's more money to be made and if your business cannot withstand you doing the right thing, then you're probably a shitty business in the first place.
REIN: It’s not a means, it’s an end.
REIN: Okay. Well, there's my hot take for the episode.
TIM: That was like medium hot. That was like jalapeno hot.
JOHN: It's something we've all noticed, that language always comes up the moment you start talking about DE&I.
TIM: What I think for me, the hurtful part is when I watch these things especially as you see these things like what you're seeing at Google because of fucking course, Google is that when people really start to move the needle, when people start to make a real impact, the powers that be get uncomfortable and then they start to let people go and they replace them with someone that they are more comfortable with. They don't realize that the discomfort that they feel is what's supposed to happen and you can make it very, very simple for them.
If you were to talk about this as a digital transformation, as we say, it's like, “Oh, well, we're going to go from this monolithic gigantic system that we’re running on to microservices, cloud-based API, stuff like that,” and people say, “Well, these old school database administrators are very uncomfortable with it and they tell them.” It’s like, “Hey, well this is how it is now. You're going to have to deal with it, or you're going to probably have to find a different way to get the industry, because this is the way it's going and it's better for everyone involved.” They explain all these benefits and they tell people that discomfort is part of this journey. You're going to have to learn to swim in new waters and things are going to be different, but they're going to be better overall once you get on the other side of that, but they can't apply that to them fucking selves when it comes to about diversity and inclusion and I don't get it.
JOHN: I mean, that's the privilege that they haven't had to be practiced at being uncomfortable in those situations, or even if it's a little bit of technical discomfort versus the much more impactful discomfort that comes when you start actually talking about race.
TIM: Yeah, there's a level of introspection that they haven't had to do and they are seemingly unwilling to do. That's the part that's most frustrating; the people that have the least to lose in this are the most unwilling to change.
REIN: Oh, do you think it's worthwhile if what we're talking about here is a change in mindset? It's a change in what these people strive for, what they want and I think that that change is incompatible with let’s call it, white supremacy and capitalism. So do you think that it's worthwhile to try to pursue that, or do you think we have to continue doing these pragmatic things?
TIM: Well, first of all, I would say that white supremacy and capitalism are redundant, but I would say that we cannot change the minds of the people in power with anything other than pragmatic reasoning because if we could, they would have already. There has been more than enough reason, appeals to emotion, consequence, societal collapse, all these other things that we've seen, especially these past 18 months or so.
A reasonable person would say like, “You know what,” or all the people who are reasonable about this and who are ethical about this have already changed their minds. At this point, anybody who doesn't see the need for it, the self-evident need for it without for the justification for business reasons, but the self-evident need for it will not be convinced. So you have to appeal to pragmatic reasons until they leave the industry.
REIN: This is a Kuhnian paradigm shift: the people with the old views have to die or otherwise go away and be replaced.
TIM: Essentially, that's it and so that's why it's so important for us to nurture the junior folks coming into the industry and the people who are mid-career to make sure that people who understand this, to make sure that the people who are underrepresented, and to make sure your LGBTQ, your people of color, any manner of folks that are not properly represented or that have been heretofore unsafe in this industry, stay in the industry by any means necessary. To make sure that the industry can change in the long run.
It is incrementalism and as unpopular as it is in some circles to say, “Oh, we can't just change everything right now because we're inspired to do so.” I'm sorry, you don't steer a ship that quickly. This is a large thing we have to change. The industry is a lot of people and it's a lot of money. So you're going to have to change it a bit at a time and the only way to bring that change about is to bring and keep people in the industry that can affect that change.
REIN: And for those of us who are more securely in the industry, whether it's because we're white dudes or we have experience, whatever it is, we have an obligation to do what it takes to keep them around you.
TIM: You absolutely do and you also have an obligation to continue to push on the folks that don't see the value in keeping them around. Very openly. You have to use your privilege. You have to use your privilege to speak to power. You don't have to take anyone else's voices. You don't have to pick up someone else to sign a waiver on his own, certainly, but you have to keep them from being silenced and that is the important thing that we need to do. If you are a straight white male in this industry and you have seen the necessity of the industry being more inclusive, diverse, and to have a good sense of belonging, then what you have to do is you have to check your peers when people speak.
REIN: And not just keep them around, but make it possible for them to thrive.
TIM: Absolutely, absolutely. They have to have strong roots in the industry. They have to feel like they're safe here, that they can grow here, and that they belong here and then when they do that, that's when they can affect change.
JOHN: Yeah. That is how you keep them around, either that, or you don't want to them to have to rely on just complete bloody mindedness to have the perseverance to go through all of the pain to stay in the industry. You want it to be them thriving in the industry. Like you said, they can be the tomorrow's leaders that can start that real change.
TIM: The last thing I want to do is also say, I want to make sure that when we talk about doing that thriving, that again, we're talking about not just taking care of them in the workplace, but taking care of them as whole people. I will beat this drum every time I can get on, we cannot let, we cannot let women leave this industry. We cannot do it. We're losing too many women because they have to make the choice right now in 2021, in this pandemic, as to whether or not they have to be mothers or whether they have to be career professionals and it’s bullshit. It is bullshit and it goes two ways with that: we're not supporting mothers and we're not supporting our fathers. We can support our fathers, then they can play a more active role in raising their children and Mom doesn't have to take care of everything.
Now obviously, work can't influence whether a father is a piece of shit father or not and there are a lot of them out there, I'm going to be honest about it, that won't change a diaper, that won't clean the house, shit like that. We can't do that, but we'll at least avail them the opportunity and not have them use work as an excuse.
So we have to change the way we do business to make sure that working mothers can be whole people so they don't have to choose between raising their children and doing work. If we don't protect these women, and the reason I say that is because it is the women of color that are the most susceptible to having to make this choice, because they have fewer resources outside of that, typically.
So we need to protect people. We need to protect these people so that they can stay in the industry and we need to do that now. Because we are bleeding off too many women as it is like way, way too much. And that goes beyond whether or not we're actually treating them as they should be treated like equals, like the brilliant engineers they are in the conference rooms. So that's a whole other problem. We need to tackle that too, but we need to at least keep them from saying, “Hey, I’ve got to leave the industry because I got to take care of my kids.” We should be fixing that and we should be fixing that yesterday.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s part of bringing your whole self to work is the other selves that you're taking care of. Like, if you can't have that baby on your lap for the meeting, then you're not going be on the meeting and then it's snowballed from there.
TIM: Absolutely. Absolutely. When we start coming back, whatever that looks like post-pandemic, think about what they did in World War II and beyond to keep women in working. They had daycares, like the companies had daycares. But why fuck can't we do that now? We have so much money. You mean to tell me Amazon can’t have a daycare at the facilities You mean to tell me that Microsoft can have a daycare facilities? You mean to tell me that fucking WeWork can't have WeWork fucking daycare that companies pay for? Like, there's no reason for it. People just don't want it and it comes down to greed and it’s bullshit.
REIN: So maybe now is a good time for us to do reflections. I usually have two things, I guess, that's my pattern now. One is I wanted to point out that Tim said that capitalism and white supremacy are the same thing and I didn't want that one to go under the radar either. If you're a white person who doesn't know what Tim is talking about, I can recommend a book called The Invention of the White Race. Maybe Tim has some of his own recommendations.
My reflection is that we have an obligation not just to make it possible for people to exist in the industry, but if we're dragging them through the barbed wire that is this toxic garbage industry, we're hurting them, too and so, our obligation is to make it healthy.
JOHN: Yeah, I think that's really just been reinforcing a lot of my own thoughts on things like, I don't know if this is a reflection other than just it's always great to have these kinds of conversations as reminders. These are thoughts that happen, but sometimes they happen in the background or you're not quite sure to connect them to action and continuing to have these conversations to continually remind me what the priorities are and what the other perspectives are is incredibly useful to me. So Tim, if nothing else, I appreciate you spending the time talking with us, talking to me in specific about your perspective on this. So thank you.
TIM: I want to take a moment again, to acknowledge and thank you all for giving me a space and a platform. I know it's difficult sometimes to hear criticism especially if you're doing what you think is right for someone to say, “Hey, well, you can do better.” It's hard, but I think it's important for us also acknowledge that growth is uncomfortable. Improvement is uncomfortable.
One of the things that I learned in jujitsu, if it has taught me anything and it's something that I've reinforced in my life, is that adversity makes you thrive in some ways. Not adversity for adversity’s sake, but when you exercise harder, you get stronger. If you run faster, run harder to get faster. If you spend more time being crushed under a 300-pound man, you get better at jujitsu.
In this context, the more time you spend listening to some of these things, the voice of the people that have been marginalized and it makes you uncomfortable, figure out why it makes you uncomfortable and don't figure out how to disqualify the person talking. Think about why you're uncomfortable, look and uncover the pattern underneath that in yourself and in your world and how you interact with it, and then once you find that pattern, fix the problem. Once you do that, you can then help others do it. But you have to at first be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to do, if there's maybe sound a little cliche, but it's true. If you just run away from that feeling, you're never going to grow, you're never going to improve, and things are never going to get better.
JOHN: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Tim.
TIM: I appreciate it, John. Thank you all for inviting me. I’m honored and humbled.Support Greater Than Code