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Some thoughts on Project Include: a valuable diversity resource from a great team

5 min read

Now that's what I call a high-profile launch!  

The first coverage for Project Include's effort to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry was in the New York Times, which helpfully set it in context of the work that Kimberly Bryant and Laura Weidman have been doing with of Black Girls Code and Powers of Code 2040.  Then it got picked up by Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and even The Onion as well as the usual tech press suspects like TechCrunch, Engadget, and The Verge....  

No surprise, really: the media hook of Ellen Pao bouncing back after resigning as Reddit's CEO and losing her high-profile discrimination suit against venture capital firm Kleiner-Perkins is hard to resist.  Fortunately, Project Include's got a fantastic team, outstanding content, and well-thought-out plan going forward -- so the attention is well-deserved.

True diversity means including all underrepresented groups across all aspects of a company and measuring outcomes so everyone has a fair opportunity to succeed — and ultimately building better teams, better companies and better results.

-- About Project Include

The core of the site is seven categories of customizable recommendations: defining culture, implementing culture, employee lifecycle, training, resolving conflicts, measuring progress, and leading as VCs.   The recommendations are primarily focused on CEOs and management of startups early to mid-stage startups, although most of them are very relevant to organizations of any size that are really committed to diversity and inclusion.  The combination of these different areas is an excellent snapshot of today's best practices for building a diverse and inclusive company.

Diversity is tricky and complex, and Project Include's material really respects that.  Each category discusses why they chose this area, how they think about it, concerns (for example, "The wrong metrics can present a misleading view of system health, and optimizing against them can produce distorted outcomes"), specific recommendations, and a list of resources.  The recommendations are excellent, with solid references to support them; and the strength and diversity of the team really shines through here:

  • Engineers bethanye McKinney Blount, Tracy Chou, and Erica Joy Baker have first-hand experience in the trenches and a lot to say about culture.  Chou is also an expert on diversity metrics, and Blount an experienced engineering manager and VP.
  • Freada Kapor Klein and Susan Wu, along with Pao, bring investor perspectives.
  • Readyset's Y-Vonne Hutchison and Atipica's Laura I. Gómez have expertise in recruiting, hiring, and employment policy

Why yes, now that you mention it, the team's strengths do in fact cover all the categories of recommendations.  Talk about an all-star team!

There's so much to like about the Project Include site that a brief summary can't do it justice, but two more things I want to call out are their evidence on a comprehensive approach (as opposed to one-off initiatives that at best address individual symptoms) and the breadth their view of diversity.  As well as race and gender, their case studies page discusses nonbinary people, LGBTQA people, transgender people, disabled people, caregivers, and religious backgrounds --  with scenarios and recommendations of what to do (and what not to do) for each.  This kind of inclusive approach respects the complexities of each dimension of diversity while highlighting the commonalities and synergies between them.

In other words, Project Include's site is already a great resource.  Their next steps are to work with a couple dozen early-to-mid stage startups for six months to refine and measure the effect of their recommendations. They're also talking about building a community, although it's not clear what the format or timeframe is on that.  While they're initially focusing on CEOs and management of startups, along with the VCs who fund them, a lot of the content is potentially useful much more broadly, including for smaller bootstrapping companies, non-profits and open-source projects.  Plus it's all Creative Commons'ed so can be remixed and repackaged for other purposes!

It's funny, a few weeks ago when Tammarrian Rogers and I were working on the proposal for our Open Source Bridge session on Supporting diversity with a new approach to software, several people encouraged us to focus more on the cultural and organizational aspects than on the software engineering side.  I'd usually reply by highlighting the complementary nature of the two, note that I've got a lot of expertise on the software engineering side, and end by saying "of course the cultural and organizational aspects are incredibly important, and you've got to start there, but quite frankly I think there are other people who have a lot more to say on that front than me."   When I'm right, I'm right :)

In the future, we’d like to look back at this period as a turning point. Out of this groundswell of attention and activity, how do we ensure that initiatives succeed and have lasting positive and meaningful impact? ... How do we work together to cause meaningful transformation — in behavior, in expectations, in standards — across all areas of the tech industry?

As Tammarrian I said in A new approach to software, the industry is primed for change.  There's plenty of evidence that diverse teams outperfom, but a lot of companies and investors who want to improve diversity and inclusion don't know where to start.  High-visibility high-quality content like Project Include is providing can make a huge difference, especially if it's coupled with a community of people sharing their experiences, measuring what works, and refining the recommendations.

So I'm optimistic that we will indeed look back on this period as a turning point.  And with so much visibility, the fantastic team, excellent content, and a solid plan going forward, Project Include is indeed well-positioned to have a positive and meaningful impact.

 

Diversity links, May 6

2 min read

A roundup of relatively-recent links on diversity, focused largely but not exclusively on technology ... potentially the first of a series :)

 

"Supporting diversity with a new approach to software": an Open Source Bridge 2016 proposal!

1 min read

I'm submitting a talk to Open Source Bridge - June 21–24, 2016 - Portland, OR

It’s time for a new approach to software, one that embraces differences (not just tolerates them), and sees diversity as a strength. The industry is primed for a change, and there are huge opportunities to do better by valuing emotion, intuition, compassion, purpose, empowerment, sustainability, and social justice.

This highly-interactive session includes discussions of current “best practices” and emerging ideas from projects that have focused heavily on diversity, issues and problems in today’s environment, imagining how things could be different, and figuring out concrete steps to make it happen..

-- the excerpt from Supporting diversity with a new approach to software

I'm pretty excited about the proposal Tammarrian Rogers and I submitted for Open Source Bridge 2016. It's the perfect conference for the topic; as opposed to most tech conferences, attendees already understand the value of diversity and the challenges of the current environment. 

Thanks to all for the feedback!

Update, May 6: the proposal was accepted, and the session will be June 21 at 10 a.m.!

 

Vote for your "Local Warriors": Black Girls CODE, HackTheHood, BAYCAT, Oakland Digital, Hidden Genius Project

3 min read

The Golden State Warriors are teaming up with PG&E are giving away $10,000 to one of five local non-profit organizations in their Local Warriors program.  I've been a big fan of Black Girls CODE and Hack the Hood since their early days, and they continue to do great work.  That said, the other three look excellent as well, and I'm sure that any one of them will make great use of the money.  You find out more about the organizations by clicking on their logos.

You can vote either by tweet using a designated hashtag -- ,  , and so on (you can see the full list on the Local Warriors site) or on Facebook.  I'm not sure how long the voting lasts, but why wait?

It's really great to see support for local organizations, and hopefully there will be more projects like this in the future.   If so, here's a suggestion: look for alternatives to a winner-take-most competition.

Why?  Well, Black Girls CODE is doing valuable work by empowering girls of color by teaching them to code in Ruby on Rails.  So is Hidden Genius Project, by training and mentoring black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.  Although I'm sure this wasn't their intent, at some level the Warriors and PG&E are asking people choose between having people choose between helping girls of color and black male youth.  And there are similar tradeoffs having to choose between other organizations.

One alternative would be to split the payout based on the relative share of votes.  Even better, instead of having the teams compete with each other, they could have set a collaborative goal -- maybe the amount that actually gets awarded is tied to the total number of votes.  

Of course, both of these alternatives would work even better if the pool of money being awarded is bigger so that each organization gets a reasonable amount.  That certainly seems possible: Warriors are worth several billion dollars and owned by local VCs and investors; and for that matter the Warriors players, some of whom are very strong supporters of the local communities, probably could find some money to contribute as well.  And there are several other successful, profitable local professional teams!

Still, better is the enemy of good enough.  Kudos to the Warriors and PG&E for doing something that helps all these projects gets visibility and steers some money to one of them.  So please help get the word out!

 

Open Source Bridge 2016: early-bird tickets and call for proposals #osb16

2 min read

Open Source Bridge is one of my favorite tech conferences, with a great mix of attendees, a strong focus on culture and diversity, and a well-designed venue in downtown Portland. A few years ago, I was actually pretty burnt out on the sausage factor feel and cookie-cutter presentations of so many tech conferences.  OSBridge reminded me how good the experience can be!

 

Last year's excellent sessions included an outstanding software engineering presentation by Denise Paolucci of Dreamwidth (When Your Codebase Is Nearly Old Enough to Vote), the back-to-back combo of Finn Ellis and Jonthan Harker on gender-inclusiveness in data collection (Male/Female/Othered) and Nova Patch on naming (Hello, my name Is _____), Kronda Adair's keynote Put Up or Shut UpAzure Lunatic on community moderation ... and so many more.  The presentation Lynn Cyrin and I did on Building Diverse Social Networks was well-received as well, with some very interesting followon discussions.  There were lots of other fine talks as well -- the session list gives an idea of the range of topics that get covered. 

This year's conference is June 21-24.   Half-price early-bird registration is available until April 15 (and there's an even larger discount for students).  

The Call for Proposals just went up, with a deadline of April 13.  There are already some very intruiging ones like Audrey Eschright on Unraveling the Masculinization of Technology and Creating a Third Wave of Free/Open Source Software, Anjuan Simmons on Debugging Diversity, and Denise Paolucci on Hard Problems in Terms of Service Enforcement.  So it looks like another great year.

See you in Portland!

 

 

 

 

Where do you get your news? A question for intersectional feminists

2 min read

Happy New Year!   Hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and a merry and/or happy Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, and/or New Year!  Here's looking forward to a great 2016 ...

One of the things I do at the start of each year is look at where I'm getting my news from.  Google News is useful, but like any algorithmic selection it has its biases.   In particular, I notice that most of the articles it shows me are guys writing about guys.  Which isn't surprising, in a world where most large media companies are run by guys and most employees at those companies are guys and Google's algorithms are implemented by guys (etc. etc. etc.).  Thus does patriarchy reinforce itself!

Crowdsourcing is a potentially an alternative, but the crowdsourced sites I know about like reddit or (in the tech space) Hacker News aren't any better.  When the population is mostly male, and guys are more likely to submit links, guess what happens?

And of course it's not just the bias against women.  Trans people, queers, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities ... the groups that are marginalized in society will tend to be marginalized online as well.  And it's even worse at the intersections.

I'm sure it's possible to do better.   What I'd really like is something that's been designed with an explicit goal of diversity, run by a woman-led organization where the software has been designed and implemented mostly by women and where the majority of the content comes from women and the people involved are intersectional feminists and/or womanists.  There are some examples of this (Geek Feminism's Linkspams, for example) but the ones I know about are topic-specific.  So I'd settle for approaches that have at least some of these properties -- or for that matter, just give me a more diverse set of perspectives!

Any suggestions?

 


Image credit: By Valerie Everett via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

 

Building Diverse Social Networks: a presentation at #osb15 with @LynnCyrin

1 min read

Here's the talk Lynn Cyrin and I gave at Open Source Bridge on Building Diverse Social Networks.   (If you can't see the embed, here's the slides as a PDF or a Google Doc.)

 

Quirell: crowdfunding a social network for marginalized communities!

4 min read

Between FB's

 Quirell logoYeah really.  Lynn Cyrin of queer trans collective CollectQT was already tweeting about the idea of a social network in early September, but Quirell really caught fire later that month when Facebook's real names policy led to drag queens' accounts getting suspended and kicking off "Nymwars 2.0" .   Since then, Quirell has gotten off to a great start, initially with public discussions on Gitlab, then working code, and now a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo.

Opt-in everything, privacy levels, connection approval, and multichannel contact request control? Yeah, we're there

The discussions on Gitlab are really excellent, covering a wide range of functionality and innovative ideas as well as all the key properties of diversity-friendly social networks that Deborah Pierce and I discussed in our Open Source Bridge presentation earlier this year* as well as things we overlooked like governance.  And the screenshots of the early development are exciting too.Oh hey remember when I mentioned @CQT_Quirell displaying pronouns next to display name?

This kind of inclusive approach is hugely attractive to people who identify as queer, trans, gender-variant, asexual, and/or multiple.  If it doesn't resonate with you, imagine that in most online environments you're constantly being told that you don't fit, you're not "normal", and nobody cares about your perspective.  How excited would you be when a project like Quirell starts up?

And these aren't the only groups who will be attracted to a social network with Quirell's attitude and functionality -- see for example the Geek Feminism threads on feminist and womanist social network requirements [1, 2].  Since it's open-source, different groups can host their own sites as well.  Depending on how the project evolves, it could lead to a bunch of social networks all based on Quirell's code.

Of course, it's early days yet.  Right now, Quirell's facing the challenges every social network startup faces.  Building secure software is tough; so is building usable software.  Then there are the business aspects:   If they can bring in enough money to start paying people, they make much faster progress.

Which is where the crowdfunding comes in.  The classic startup approach to this situation is to bring in seed funding and then do a venture round -- like Ello, which raised $450,000 early this year to get to beta and now another $5,500,000 after similarly catalyzed by Nymwars2.0.  But, that approach has downsides as well.  For one thing, investors typically want to see a substantial return on their money, which typically comes form an "exit" (aka an acquisition).  And diversity-focused startups have additional challenges: most VCs are straight cis white guys, who typically have a hard time understanding the priorities for a project like Quirell.

Fortunately, crowdfunding now provides another option -- as Diaspora dramatically showed back in 2010, when they set out to raise $10,000 for an open-source social network using Kickstarter campaign and wound up pulling in $400,000.  Quirell's initial goal is $100,000 but . 

It'll be interesting to see how much coverage this gets from the technology press.**  Facebook's battle with the drag queens got a lot of attention, and so did Ello.  With luck, this will be a natural follow-on story.  We shall see. 

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty darned enthusiastic about Quirell.  Chatting with Lynn a few days ago was like a mind-meld ... after about 20 minutes I said "I vehemently agree with everything you've said so far!"  So expect to hear more about it here as the project continues.  

And, if you're enthusiastic as well, please join me in contributing to Quirell's crowdfunding campaign -- and in helping to get the word out!



* attitude and norms; community guidelines; privacy; pseudonymity; muting, blocking, and reporting; accessibility; optional, flexible self-identification; and user rights. 

** Sandstorm.io's recent successful crowdfunding, with the aid of articles in GigaOM, TechCrunch, WIRED, LWN, and Opensource.com, is a great example of how much this kind of visibility can help

 

“Startup matchmaking” and deploying Node.JS apps: Two vignettes from Seattle Startup Week

4 min read

It's Seattle Startup Week!  So I decided to take advantage of it by going to a couple of events, “Startup Matchmaking” and the Node.JS Meetup.  Quite a contrast …

Monday night's "Startup Matchmaking” was aimed at startups looking for co-founders and business partners — and at co-founders looking for startups (although there weren’t as many of those).  After pizza and networking, it featured an excellent panel discussion with Diane Najm, Gillian Muessig, and Josh Maher.  The panelists, all experienced entrepreneurs and investors, did a great job talking about critical questions.  Do you need a co-founder?  How to split the equity?   What should you look for? 

Then after some Q&A from the audience, people lined up for 15 second mini-pitches to describe who they were and what they were looking for; after which, more networking!  




Who's that guy in the purple shirt?
(Photo by Colin Christianson)


Some of the companies like Seattle Salads, Peach, and Illuminata Glass have revenue and are looking to grow; others are at a much earlier stage.  One of the key points the panelists made is that you should look for a co-founder to complement your skills, so a lot of people followed Gillian’s vivid phrasing and described themselves as “wizards looking for executers.”  Fifteen seconds isn't a lot of time, so I didn't have a chance to go into the TapestryMaker story and life after peak Facebook.  Here’s what I said:

Hi, I’m Jon Pincus with TapestryMaker, that’s @TapestryMaker on Twitter, a social network platform.  We’ve got a prototype and happy users, although I have to admit that right now it looks like it was mostly designed by a developer.  In fact it was — me!  I’m looking for a co-founder or partner with design skills, and also looking for product management, community, and another developer.  If you’re interested, come find me — or, get in touch with @TapestryMaker on Twitter.*

I was quite pleased with the event from a networking perspective -- great conversations with interesting people, and some intriguing possibilities for synergy.  Plus of course a chance to describe and quickly demo TapestryMaker.   Which also went well: my suggestion that “people are tired of Facebook and are looking for a place where they can feel more in control, focused on quality more than quantity” seemed to resonate, and people liked what they saw.  All in all, a good evening!

The Node.JS Meetup on Wednesday night at Moz was also a good evening, just in a much geekier way.  Traffic coming over from the Eastside was horrible so I missed the up-front networking, but fortunately there was still plenty of pizza there as well as some very nice wine.**  The place was packed, probably a couple hundred people there.  Impressive.  Alas, from the diversity perspective, there were only a handful of women -- low even by tech community standards.  Sigh.

Still, the three presentations were crisp and to the point:

  • Brock Whitten's talk on "Moving beyond PaaS"*** was quite timely, distilling key points about what to keep in mind when self-hosting -- one of the next key tasks on my list. I really liked his focus on simple, portable, tools that do the job.  
  • Ryan Roemer of Formidable Labs (great name!) discussed how to Fail ... the right way. design software that can usually recover from failures on its own rather than you getting a text at 3 a.m.  
  • And Ken Perkins of Rackspace discussed an architecture of micro-service apps deployed via Docker containers on CoreOS using etcd as a key-value store.

See, I told you it was geeky :)  Useful, too!  

Reflecting on the two events as I drove home, I came back to what the Startup Dating panelists said about the value of having co-founder -- and the different hats you wear when you don't have them.  On Monday night I was the the TapestryMaker visionary and recruiter; Wednesday, I was the technical wizard focusing on execution.  I enjoy both aspects; and one of the things I like about the Seattle-area startup community is that there are plenty of opportunities for both.

 


*  If you’re wondering why I repeated this … Diane Najm had chided a couple of the people who went before me about not mentioning their Twitter profile (“you gotta be out there on social media!”), so I was being overly conscious of not making that same mistake

** Including Sharecropper's Red, yum!

*** "Platform as a Service", like Heroku, Nodejitsu, or Modulus

 

Using Known to connect #ello and Twitter

4 min read

In Life after "peak Facebook", I mentioned that an advantage of the Indieweb approach is that it's easy to incorporate new silos like ello.  There's still a little manual work required; ello doesn't have an API to automate posting.  But if you don't mind cut-and-pasting, it's easy enough.  This post gives a couple of examples, and then briefly discusses my posting flow.

First of all, the landscape:

  • The Indieweb-enabled TapestryMaker blog (running Known) is at stream.tapestrymaker.net
  • The TapestryMaker Twitter profile is @TapestryMaker
  • On ello, I'm currently posting as jdp23 (instead of having a separate TapestryMaker account)
When I configured the TapestryMaker blog, I connected it to Twitter and Facebook.*  So whenever I post, I get the option to "syndicate" it to those other sites.  I also use brid.gy, a Google AppEngine-hosted application written by Ryan Barrett, to handle copying posts back from Twitter and Facebook.

Examples

Now on to the first example.  On ello, I saw a post by @womenwhotech I wanted to respond to.  So I created my response on the blog, and cut-and-paste it over to ello.  Known automatically syndicated it  to Twitter, where @womenwhotech replied; and brid.gy copied the reply back to the blog.  
 
The Indieweb blog is doing a couple of things for me here:
  • it's an archive of all my posts: to ello, to Twitter, replies to other Indieweb blog posts, and so on.
  • by syndicating to Twitter, it's sending it out to a broader audience and notifying @womenwhotech 
And here's a slightly more complex example.  Ben posted on his Known blog, and copied it to ello.  I saw it on ello, and drafted a reply there (so I could write it in context), posted the reply first on the TapestryMaker blog, and copied it to back to ello.  As well as syndicating it to Twitter, Known also sent a webmention to Ben so the comment showed up on his blog as well.  How cool is that?

Posting flow

Known lets you create posts, status messages,* bookmarks, photos, music, and other types of content.  It's easy to do; just click on the icon, type what you want to say, and hit Publish.

Then again some of us are old-school and more deliberate before posting in public (especially if it's going to Twitter).  

So here's my flow for making posts.

  1. Write a draft.  Like I said, I'm old-school :)   Known's visual editor is okay, but sometimes it's easier to create it in a more robust environment and just cut-and-paste the HTML; I also have a separate private Known site that I use for drafts so that I can see how they look before I share them with the world.  
  2. When it's ready I post it on the TapestryMaker blog, and rely on Known to syndicate it and send out webmentions.   If it's a reply to a post on ello, I include the ello link in the "reply to a site" field.
  3. Then I cut-and-paste to copy it to ello, potentially summarizing it in the process.  This sometimes involves editing the raw HTML or Markdown.***  
  4. If it's a new post (as opposed to a reply), I then go back and edit the blog entry to include the link to ello. 

There's enough manual work here that there are lots of opportunities to make mistakes, and I certainly have from time to time.  Still, at leat for me, the value outweighs the effort.  And it'll get easier over time!


* I could also have set up Soundcloud, Flickr, FourSquare, and LinkedIn; others options coming soon

** status messages are Twitter-like; you get a window, make it easy to put in the in-reply-to links; posts let you write a "headline", both for display onthe blog and on Twitter, and give you a wysiwig editor.

*** raw HTML and Markdown?  You kids are so lucky today!  I remember when all we had wa PDP-11 assembler and Lisp!