Don’t be lazy

As I listened back to a recent podcast, just to make sure I hadn’t said anything horrendous while speaking off-the-cuff, I noticed something interesting: three of the four people I referenced in the podcast were women. When thinking of people who I admire or look to for advice, when reaching for readily available examples to illustrate whatever point I was talking about, I came up with women most of the time.

Thing is, this would absolutely not have been the case maybe three years ago. Certainly not over five years ago. So what’s different and what have I changed over the past few years? Well chaps, here’s the magical secret technique that will help you find diverse mentors and authority figures in just one easy step: put some fucking effort in. Don’t be lazy.

Our first Codemania in 2012 had one woman speaker out of 12 total. 2014 had three. Last year we had 7/12 women. We’ll need to run that ratio (or better) for several years to make up for our shitty approach in the early years. We also need to do a much better job of representing Maori and Pacific technologists. I need to put in more effort there for sure.

It’s trivially easy to run a conference full of dudes: you just have ask for people to speak and white dudes will come tumbling out of the woodwork, chests puffed out, legs manspread, ready to bloviate about anything you could require. The same goes for seeking advice & mentorship, or looking for technical leadership: men will be readily available.

It takes effort to look past that wall of dudes and make sure that you’re at least getting representation from the 20-25% of women in the tech workforce. It takes effort to go above and beyond that to ensure that conferences and awards ceremonies are places that women and minorities can see themselves as speakers, leaders, and luminaries. Because that’s one of the first steps: visibility. We forget as white dudes that we can see plenty of ourselves in those positions, so it’s easy to imagine ourselves there. Imagine if you never saw someone who looked like you speaking at a conference.

So yeah, it’s not hard, it just takes some effort, so when I see manels and dudeferences, I feel utterly disappointed in the laziness of the organisers. Stop letting yourself down. Stop letting the dudewave roll over you. Put your head above the dross and take a look around.

  • Follow women and minority technologists on Twitter. Shit I’m not even going to share the lists because you can just Google and find hundreds.
  • Follow the people *they* follow.
  • Run open CFPs and at the very least use a Rooney Rule to make sure your selection is diverse, even if you can’t get over your own biased “meritocracy” hangup.

But most simply: don’t settle. Don’t say “well we tried emailing three women and they were all busy on the day so ¯_(?)_/¯”. Go back and put some more effort in. You wouldn’t finish half of an if-statement and just throw your hands up because “the else clause is too hard”.

I’m comfortable saying all this because I was that guy. I’ve been that lazy dude. Don’t be like me. Please.

Hard Problems

Apparently, we need to allow controversial opinions in order to bring about innovation:

This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics.

I presume this is a deliberately inflammatory opinion in order to make more impact. Elsewhere, the article attempts to be more nuanced, including some factual observation:

More recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic. “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous for the environment, so people working on this must be really unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.

Conflating intelligence augmentation with homophobia as “controversial ideas” is utterly irresponsible. It’s identical to Trump saying “there were bad people on both sides”. Racist and homophobic members of the tech industry will read this as validation of their “controversial” views.

Ideas like intelligence augmentation aren’t controversial. What is controversial is the problems they create: these are hard problems to solve, and we all know tech startups avoid hard problems like the plague. Uber would rather break laws and pay less than minimum wage than genuinely solve the problems we need to solve to implement the gig economy.

The travelling salesman or even P=NP are easy problems by comparison. We can reason about them in isolation and even attempt to code up solutions. But if you want to solve radical life extension, you need to also solve sustainability and inclusivity. The reason people baulk when the tech industry brings up these “radical ideas” is because they know the hard problems are being glossed over.

In his clarification article, Sam points out:

It was literally heretical, not so long ago, to say that it was ok to be gay—the Bible has a different viewpoint. In a society where we don’t allow challenges to the orthodoxy, gay rights would not have happened.

Implying that Uber is akin to Galileo, boldly putting out controversial ideas against the weight of public opinion is a very long bow to draw. Uber are the church, charging forward with blind faith that they are right, leaving problems behind for their lessers (public servants, lower socio-economic groups, government legislators) to clean up.

What if it’s not intelligence augmentation that is heretical? ? What if the heretics are the ones challenging you to think about the impact on race and socio-economics before you launch into your intelligence augmentation startup?

What I meant is simply that we need, as a society, to tolerate controversial ideas. The biggest new scientific ideas, and the most important changes to society, both start as extremely unpopular ideas.

I couldn’t agree more. We should tolerate controversial ideas, for example the idea that tech startups shouldn’t get a free pass to “innovate” at the cost of others.

Orbitsound SB60 Airsound vs M9 Soundbar

A little while back, I was contacted by reps from Orbitsound to ask whether I wanted to check out their SB60 Airsound Base. I’ve been looking for something with a bit more oomph than the plain old TV speakers, so I took them up on the offer.

SB60 Airsound™ Base

If I’m honest, I was pretty unimpressed with the SB60. It added a bit more volume to the TV output, but I found the overall output very muddy, especially when it comes to voices. Not being able to clearly distinguish voices from background noise and music is a fairly fundamental flaw for a device designed to sit under your television.

I’m not sure if it was the particular acoustics of our TV cabinet, or a fundamental flaw with the SB60, but it was bad enough that we found ourselves using the TV sound more often than not.

So, when I returned the SB60 and Orbitsound came back with an offer to also try their M9 Soundbar, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed.

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Samsung Galaxy S6 First Impressions

They’ve done it. After a couple of false starts, Samsung have finally worked out what people want in a phone. Good design, great materials, fast software that gets out of your way, and a kick-ass camera.

The S5 was a hilaribad warmed-over S4, stuffed with crapware and ignoring much of the great work Google has put into Android over the last few years. The S6 in comparison is a fresh start.

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(Re)Building from the ground up

A few years ago the New Zealand Warriors went through a particularly tough patch. I remember watching them recover from that particularly tough patch. I recall the way the team would back each other up after mistakes. After a dropped ball or a missed tackle, several team mates would approach the player, offering advice and consolation. Back-pats, smiles, words of encouragement. With this supportive culture, they reduced their mistakes, improved, and went on to complete one of their greatest seasons.

A year ago the engineering team at Vend went through a rough patch. We didn’t have our shit together. We were a new team trying to operate in the hairball structure of an early start-up, where everyone demands everything and everyone just builds stuff as fast as they possibly can. We struggled to ship at pace.

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