Resolutions for the new year

2016 was a big year for me – both personally and professionally. I owe a great deal to a supportive network of friends, family, and professional contacts. It was also due to a lot of luck.

Today is MLK Day 2017, the world is still a really unfair place, and the smart money is betting it’s about to get worse. My goal is to do what I can to counteract this.

Economic Security

Economic security is still out of reach for many people. I see this firsthand when I go to the food bank. To many others though, this is an abstract concept. I’ve heard people I respect tell me to my face, and I paraphrase: “voting to raise the price of eggs in MA won’t cause hardship, because most people already have basic food security.” I have enough experience to know this is laughably untrue, but I held my tongue. Even though I was raised in a low income household, it is not always easy to appreciate how many problems are solved by money, if they stopped being problems long ago, or were never problems in the first place.

I resolve to stop by the food bank more regularly. I’ve learned over several years that the Red Cross in particular does good work, and helps people very efficiently with the resources they have. My individual contributions will probably amount to essentially nothing in the long run, but this is OK.

I resolve to talk more about poverty and be more mindful of poverty. The self-sorting of Americans along socioeconomic and racial lines has been damaging to our ability to even acknowledge the massive difference in lived experiences of people from different socioeconomic classes in this country. It is difficult, a priori, to imagine an order of magnitude difference in income, let alone two or three.

Luck and discrimination in the workforce

An uncomfortably large component of career success is just luck. This includes interviewing. To the untrained eye, it looks like software interviewing (vs say, police officer or teacher) has this veneer of objectivity – there are code challenges and whiteboarding sessions and everything. But this is bullshit, and it starts right at the resume screening process.

We computer scientists actively chase minorities out of our classrooms and workforce. This is partly through inertia (it takes a certain kind of woman to be comfortable in a room with 19 peers who all happen to be male). It is partly through a continuous stream of micro-aggressions, such as assuming south asians are on a visa, or women are probably in QA or UX design. It is partly because of the well-documented subconscious bias that puts extra hurdles and higher standards in their way, whether they are applying to the major, interviewing for jobs, or up for promotion. And it is perpetuated by stereotypical male posturing that makes women feel like they can’t keep up in CS courses, even when they score similarly or better.

I resolve to spend time fixing the supply side. Yesterday I finished volunteering at RailsBridge Boston for the first time. I hope to do it again in the future. Starting today, I will also speak to anyone about getting into computer science, with essentially no preconditions. In the past, I’ve argued that prospective engineers should really make an effort to formally learn computer science, and simultaneously argued that our community should be more respectful and inclusive of other fields and backgrounds. My position today is that we should unambiguously strive to create a bigger tent that welcomes everyone.

I resolve to spend time fixing the demand side. At Privy, we recently published our commitment to candidates – our goal is to make it easier for candidates to be evaluated fairly regardless of their background or skills. I’m still learning how I can personally make more of a difference here. I expect things will take time.

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