Welcome All the People

On our team, in the user group, and at conferences, we try to build community. In each conversation, we do this by emphasizing ways we are alike.

  •  Who doesn’t like beer?
  •  Monty Python is funny.
  •  Everyone has done Object Oriented programming.
  •  We all went to college.
  •  Each of us can grow a beard.
  •  Video games are awesome.
  •  Everyone can see and hear.
  •  We all grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Each of these shared references draws together most of the developer audience and promotes a feeling of belonging. And each of them further isolates people who don’t fit these assumptions.

I’ve been guilty of this. Writing presentations or posts, I look for domains familiar to my audience, and choose role playing. This emphasizes the programmer == geek stereotype, and the people who don’t know what it means to “level up” feel stupid and out of place.

When a reference appeals to the majority then people who don’t get it feel isolated. No one asks, “What does that mean?” when 80% of the audience reacts with knowing laughter.

Let’s build community on what every one of us shares.

  • We want to learn from each other. 
  • Each of us wants to help build better software.

If you don’t want to learn or build good software then don’t read this blog. From now on, I aim to make only these assumptions about the people on my team, in my user groups, and at each conference.

Dick jokes? Funny, yes. Offensive, no. It isn’t about offensive/not offensive anymore. It’s about welcoming/isolating. When a particular joke applies to 80% of the audience differently than to the other 20%, that joke is isolating. That builds homogeneity. I want everyone to feel welcome, I want diverse ideas and contributions. I’m aiming for inclusion.

These are my action items:

  • Consider my target audience as the attendee mix I hope to see someday. Men and women and transgendered, Asian and African and European, 20s and 40s and 60s. People who like sports, and cooking, and quilting.
  • Give context to my references. The next time I mention the Prime Directive of Programming, I’ll talk about how Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the Prime Directive of “do no harm.”
  • Have hallway and table conversations about a diverse range of topics, that any random person might be able to jump in on. I’ll keep the stuff that freaks some people out for parties and private.

Let’s make each other think. Development communities should be about learning, not warm fuzzies of all being alike, when “all” means “people who resemble me.” I want to be all in, and let all in.

8 thoughts on “Welcome All the People

  1. Curious to hear how this goes for you. Be careful not to overreact to a bizarre incident. Not getting a joke would be less annoying to me than having every reference put in context. If I don't know what the Prime Directive is in Star Trek will it impact my understanding of your talk? If it's just there for colour then let me google it or ignore it.Reducing all humour to a lowest common denominator either in terms of offensivsheds or obscure references is more likely to lead to homogeneity than diversity.If you love Star Trek or Gardening or Jumping out of planes, use that. It's what makes you you and makes your content different. Trust the audience to follow up on the things that the references the care about.By all means avoid obscure references if knowing them is essential to your talk, but the occasional obscure joke ain't a problem.Just my 2c.

  2. If I'm in a meeting or a discussion, I find myself wondering what the people who are silent are thinking. What they think is more likely to challenge the status quo and more likely to move us forward and solve the problem than the opinions of people who like the sound of their own voices. They're the people whose opinion I seek out.I agree with what you say here. Inclusion isn't about political correctness, it's about doing the best job we can.Thanks for saying this.

  3. Agreed: optional references are fine. And sometimes the joke is worth it.Yes, the Prime Directive is relevant to the talk. The problem is when I make an assumption that everyone knows the reference, and I'm 90% right. The other 10% are left out. And it's the same 10% who are left out in many other ways, so it's destructive. In this case it's worth spending the few seconds to explain the reference, especially because it's an important point (SRP is the Prime Directive of programming), and giving it more time can help retention.It's all a matter of weighing the value. Thank you for your comment.

  4. You are setting an impressive goal for yourself, I will keep my thumbs up and I am very interested in the outcome. Still, as somebody here said, the lowest common denominator does not sound like a very good idea. You would have to cut down on your wit a lot. How about telling jokes that only the 10 percent will understand? 😀

  5. Yes! Telling jokes that only 10% understand, or only 50%, is totally fine. It's only the 80+% (and the same 80% all the time) that gets old, and makes the other 20% feel excluded.

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