The Mental Health In Tech Survey

Image from page 390 of "Peking : a social survey conducted under auspices of the Princeton University Center in China and the Peking Young Men's Christian Association" (1921)

Yesterday I released the Mental Health in Tech Survey. My intent is to get an idea of how mental health is treated in the tech workplace. With this information, we should be better able to identify areas of need and address them. I’m particularly interested in the workplace, because I believe that making the workplace a safe place to discuss mental health issues will have the most impact on the tech/developer community.

In just the first day we had nearly 700 responses. This is pretty amazing, and I’m really excited about the information we can gather from this.

When things settle down a bit, I will try to make some pretty graphs and draw some conclusions about what tech companies can do to make their workplaces safe to discuss mental health. I’ll probably use much of it in my talks, and will release all data under a CC license.

I would like to strongly encourage everyone to share this survey with your colleagues. Send it to your team lead, your CTO, your CEO, and ask them to share it with everyone. Every response makes a difference. I want everyone’s experiences to be represented.

I am already aware that the survey doesn’t address self-employed folks well, and the questions are US-centric, because health coverage is typically tied to employment in the US. Please don’t let that dissuade you from taking the survey. You will not skew results or otherwise mess things up – I will account for these issues in the analysis.

Please take the survey now, and share it!

Time For A Change

Office workers in the 1970's

Howdy friends!

I am at a point where I’m considering new work opportunities. Here’s what I’d really like to see in a new gig:

  • Must be remote-friendly! I’ve been working remote for 4 years and know what works and what doesn’t.

  • I’m interested in smaller teams and having a real, positive impact in people’s lives. For me, the most satisfying work is that where I feel that I am empowering people, or making their lives a little easier, with the skills that I have. Community work appeals to me, although I am not up for lots of travel. Opportunities to contribute to the open source community are highly appealing.

  • If possible, I’d like to work in PHP. Preferably modern PHP (>=5.3, composer, etc). I do have good skills in JS, and some decent Python experience. (Also HTML, CSS/SASS, SQL, some basic ops/linux skills, blah blah blah). I tend to prefer simple, minimalist solutions, and am wary of over-engineering and trend-driven development.

  • Want a senior dev and/or team lead role. Would like say in tech stack decisions.

  • Limited travel. If travel is necessary, Pacific Northwest preferred

  • I’ve put out lots of code, run open source projects, given many tech talks, and written plenty. Someone should be able to tell if I’m competent from that. I’m leery of, but not entirely opposed to, taking tests to get a job.

  • Must be understanding and supportive of the work I do to raise mental health awareness. That includes speaking at several conferences a year (which I will pay for). Happy to additional rep the org at these conferences too.

  • I will be maintaining some kind of business/emeritus relationship with my friends and partners at Fictive Kin.

More info

How To Be A Great Developer - php[tek] 2014

On Social Justice Movements in Tech

Angel and Devils

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

This is from a series of posts I made on Twitter today. The fact that I’m having an anxiety attack while I type this probably tells you how scared I am about the reaction. While I’ve for the most part kept quiet about this stuff for the last several months, I felt like I should post this. If it rings true for you, great. If not, that’s fine too.

So I’m going to post some things now. They’re probably going to make some people hate me (more). But I feel a need to say it.

I’ve been really conflicted about how much of the social justice in tech stuff has been going.

To be clear, I was an advocate and donor to many causes related to gender diversity in tech. That’s not to brag, just to give background information.

I’ve been concerned about some stuff I’ve been seeing, so I talked some to friends. One was very active in feminism online. She told me lots of things that rang true to me. Maybe they will to you too. If not, that’s cool. So I’m going to quote a few things.

My choice was to drop out of the community and do something less soul killing.

The focus turned on me – I have folks out there on tumblr who, five years later, still call me out by name as being a travesty to feminism.

So consider whether the most vocal among you are dealing with this in a maladaptive way, and if they are, my advice is to not engage them.

There’s no one right path to liberation and anyone who tells you that is selling you something.

I’m not saying they’re all wrong or should be ignored, but I do take all the “my way or the highway” talk with a grain of salt.

I’ve seen this over and over and over and over again.

My folks who have been involved since the BBS days, and even the brick & mortar activist days say that this is just part of the landscape. Liberal movements eat themselves.

So, that’s why I don’t really talk about it anymore, and that’s why I don’t participate in it anymore. Where I feel I can address these issues in my daily life, I will. But I’m done with gender diversity advocacy work in tech for the forseeable future. It is, in its current form, unsustainable for me. More power to those who have the strength and energy I do not.

I believe in the ends. I don’t believe in using bullying language and ignoring empathy to get there. I won’t support organizations or individuals who advocate it.

And that’s that.

Community vs Tribalism: Let's Stop Being Dicks To Each Other

Two women boxing

This post originally appeared on The Pastry Box Project

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my career as a web developer has been participating in various communities. I think you could safely say I have a foot in several, although the one I identify with the most is the PHP Community. It’s the one I know the best, and the one that has blessed me with so much friendship and opportunity.

Communities centered around a particular technology are fabulous ways to learn more about it, improve your skills, and help others do the same. Communities are great at fostering excitement and joy of learning, and I think for many web developers that’s really what keeps us interested in the field.

At the same time, there’s an aspect of communities — tribalism — that introduces several problems.

The first time I was really aware of tribalism was when I got really into video game consoles as a kid. I was enamored with the advent of 16-bit gaming hardware in America, and still remember very well how heated and vitrolic the debates would be between advocates of Sega, Nintendo, and NEC — even before any of those machines launched in the US. Each of the systems had different hardware attributes and different games (cross-platform releases were far less common then), so you really only had access to them if you owned the system. Kids were still the target audience at the time, and parents weren’t going to buy you TWO game systems — that’s ridiculous! So you lobbied hard for what you thought was The True Console. This was, as a preteen, Serious Business.

There was collective experience that went along with owning the same console. You could go to school and talk about games with your friends, or play them together at each other’s houses. If you weren’t part of that group, the experiences weren’t available to you. You were an outsider. God forbid you owned a Sega Master System in 1987. That kid couldn’t sit around a desk with his friends, huddled over the newest issue of Nintendo Power. He’d never play Castlevania. He’d try to tell people the 3D glasses were REAL 3D on the SMS, but nobody cared.

Owning a console meant, for most kids, being an advocate for that console. You had to justify why you (or more likely your parents) made The Right Choice. If someone else made a different choice, then clearly they were K-RAZY because you just KNEW why yours was the best. Their choice called into question your choice, and that shit is just not acceptable.

Perhaps of note, I now own about 30 different game consoles and vintage computers. They’re all fun and the arguments were stupid.

People who study anthropology and such (at least on the sites I found via Google) say that tribalism shows up everywhere throughout the history of man, so it’s likely a genetic human trait and not just a cultural thing. Observationally, I’d say they’re right.

There’s a bunch of anthropology and crap about tribalism as part of human evolution, the idea generally being that tribalism keeps people safe because they’re more likely to stick together and not get eaten by lions. Makes sense.

Tribalism leads us to make choices for less than rational reasons, though. Given a particular set of circumstances, our tendency to be loyal to a group can lead us to make decisions that either

  1. harm the group
  2. harm ourselves, or
  3. miss out on opportunities and advantages offered by alternate approaches.

Douglas Cooke Dobbins writes about this in a way that sounds much smarter than me:

It is a mark of wisdom, due to the above considerations, to be suspicious of ourselves, especially our predisposition to root for the home tribe. Though there is arguably an objective human dignity that attaches to each person, it is also the case (or there is at least good reason to think) that we are animals with a faulty nature — a nature that is not always ordered to truth.

This is really the key to combating the negatives of tribalism: balancing it against the knowledge that each of us are fallible. There is no shame in this, as it’s a defining trait of human beings, and makes it possible for us to always be learning and growing. If we’ve already come up with the Best Way, why bother trying to do better? That’s at least half the fun of being a developer: learning new stuff and better ways.

Simon Critchley writes in the New York Times:

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is as personal an act as lifting a paintbrush or writing a poem, and they are both profoundly human. If the human condition is defined by limitedness, then this is a glorious fact because it is a moral limitedness rooted in a faith in the power of the imagination, our sense of responsibility and our acceptance of our fallibility. We always have to acknowledge that we might be mistaken. When we forget that, then we forget ourselves and the worst can happen.

In that case “the worst” is the Holocaust, but thankfully we’re just dealing with web developers being dicks to each other. DHH is not Hitler. Really.

The important bit here is this: “We always have to acknowledge that we might be mistaken.” That’s an inclusive we, meaning me as an individual, you as an individual, and what we come up with collectively. We make mistakes, and we have limitations. Our brains can only handle so much stuff before we cut corners and simplify to reduce complexity. Thankfully we are aware of this, and can try to compensate for it.

It’s possible for the person who wrote our current favorite framework to be wrong about some things. Maybe many things. Maybe even the whole framework is riddled with flaws we don’t notice in our experience. That’s okay.

And it is also okay just to like something different. As my friend Paddy told me, some people like hot chocolate, and some people like milkshakes. They’re both good. Sometimes certain things are just more appealing to one person than another. With tools, it’s all about how productive you are, so if something makes you more productive because it jives with you, that’s a totally valid reason to choose it — for you.

In general, I try to do the following things to avoid the negatives of tribalism, both on an individual and community level:

  1. Base your tech choices on multiple sources and personal experience
  2. Know that what works for you may not work as well for others
  3. Anticipate that others may have useful techniques you don’t yet know or understand fully
  4. Study different technologies — even “competing” ones.
  5. Invite advocates of other technologies into your community. Understand their motivations. Practice empathy with them.
  6. When sharing your own tools of choice, explain why you use them. Demonstrate how they help you solve your problems. Address where they might not work as well. Help others empathize with you.
  7. If members of your community are behaving in a tribalistic way, it must be addressed. Doing this effectively without escalating the aggression can be very challenging, but it’s extremely important.
  8. Be deeply suspicious of tech advocacy based on moral or aesthetic superiority.

Doing those things helps me keep the awesome stuff that communities give me, while avoiding tribalism. That’s what we industry folks call a “win-win.”

Note: Updated Thursday; February 6, 2014 1:54 PM EST to add point about addressing tribalistic behavior in your community, based on a suggestion by Anne Gibson

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