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Relief from relieving stress

Backstory

I’ve been at Pinterest just over 4 months and 2 months ago I sent out this email to all the women in my new workplace.

I was torn about whether to write this or not when I first joined Pinterest but today I need to say something because I just had someone be scared to come out of their stall when they saw me  washing my hands. I’m not a fan of scaring people so here’s what I probably should have sent 2 months ago:

Hi!  My name is Lukas and I’m a masculine woman (genderqueer/butch) and I use women‘s washrooms when there is not a unisex or gender-neutral option available.

It’s not easy to use a women‘s washroom when you’re constantly afraid of scaring/confusing/angering someone and so I’m hoping that letting you know about me will help decrease the likelihood of this happening when we happen to run into each other in that space.

That email generated 65 replies – all positive – from women throughout the company.  I was blown away by the kind (and often hilarious) responses from my co-workers regarding an issue that has been a lifelong struggle. It also helped lessen (though not eliminate) much of the stress around using the women’s bathroom, which was the point.

Queer/outsider coping skills vs. Taking risks

At least for this (white, able-bodied, class-jumping) queer, the way to get by as someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms has been to lock down with a group of people where I feel seen.  This has been the case at every paid gig I’ve ever had.  Get foot in the door, find ways to connect with co-workers, create a tight-knit cabal of ‘my people’, and then hang in there.  However I have some kind of restlessness gene and so I’m always trying to push myself to get more out of life than hiding in a particular group. I’m petrified of ‘groupthink’. I crave more experiences, learning, and opportunities to develop increased skills & resources that I can bring back to my communities to lift others.  I’m constantly pushing myself out of the nest every time I start feeling comfortable.  Examples include going back at 30 years of age to do a 4 year degree in Software Development with 19/20 year olds,  moving to San Francisco to work in tech with a majority of young men while leaving behind my Toronto community of queers & artists, and moving away from Mozilla where I had spent 8 years establishing myself as a contributor in many areas of the project to work at Pinterest where I knew just two people.  Those are just recent examples. If I dug further back, I know the pattern would still hold.

Pinterest has a commitment to diversity

Every tech company is chasing its tail right now to prove how committed they are to “Diversity”.  Head of Diversity positions are abounding in the want ads, articles and data every day espouse how each company is going to try and take on this hard problem (hint, it’s not as hard when it’s authentically driven).

Pinterest has made statements and posted goals. They also have done things that show their commitment including Unconscious Bias training for everyone, changing interview methods (laptop instead of whiteboard for coding in interviews), creating measurable standards for what our culture fit interviews should be checking for so that we aren’t unconsciously moving the goal posts or building a homogenous environment.

On top of these ever-improving system-wide changes, in our new building down the street there are going to be gender neutral washrooms.  I noticed this on the plans when we had a launch party and asked the Workplace team about it.  They confirmed, yes, we would.  I was excited and pleased to think that in 2016 I’ll be in that building and able to relax a bit about a thing that so many people do without a second though several times a day, and take for granted.  It’s not something you can understand if you’ve never felt it but the best I can explain it is like you’re getting the side-eye from people you want to feel on the same team with and while you’ve built up the “thick skin” to handle 100 instances of being on edge, the 101th time in a week, it wrecks your day.  That sucks for productivity, for team-building, and it’s one of the millions of paper cuts that can build up into feeling you’re in a ‘toxic’ workplace that doesn’t try to openly and honestly tackle true diversity.  The objective of working on increased diversity in workplaces isn’t only to end up with a pretty-looking set of numbers for large umbrella groups, it’s also to take on tiny things that quietly shift the status quo by making it possible for more people to have less friction in their workday.

Yesterday Pinterest’s Workplace team sent out a note regarding our current building:

The 1st floor women’s restroom has now been converted to a unisex restroom and is now in service ready for use! Thanks for your patience during construction.

They might as well have said: From now on, Lukas will be 150% more productive because  she’ll always be able to comfortably go to the bathroom.

Thank you, Workplace:

brad_thanks_you

p.s. Don’t worry, I’m not so comfortable that I’m ready to leave this nest :)

Tech Job #2

Today marks the end of my third week at my new job (Technical Program Manager – Mobile) @ Pinterest.  It coincides with May Day and a Twitter stream today about #talkpay which was triggered by an article by Lauren Voswinkel over on Model View Culture.  The hashtag comprises of people “outing” their salaries over the years, location, levels of training, job titles, and a variety of other factors.

My participation was as follows:

For people who have also class-jumped or who understand what it’s like to live on social assistance or other low income realities, you will know from the above that it was not easy to leave my first ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  But I did.  I took a leap of faith (and a strong referral) and turned it into my second ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  ALMOST a pattern here…if I could only put aside impostor syndrome for a second and believe that I have transferrable skills and marketable ones to boot.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to document for myself the differences now that I am in a new job and have gotten a bit of distance from the old one.  It’s important, also, to note that I am now able to reflect on my past 6 years as being a job.

Key areas I want to cover at this stage of being only 3 weeks in are recruiting, onboarding,  and culture. Here we go!

Recruiting

Mozilla got me through an internship and I left said internship with a job offer for when I completed my final year so I never did the all-day panel of interviews or any sort of salary negotiations.  I took what I was offered (because it was AMAZING) and I was quite happy about it.   Being ‘recruited’ by Pinterest was a wonderful experience.  I got to come in for the day and interview with 6 different people from various areas I was going to work with (iOS/Android engineers, product managers, and then a ‘culture fit’ interviewer that was just about the happiest person I’ve ever met).   In retrospect I worried they were easy on me because I was a referred candidate.  At some point I should ask them if that’s the case.  On my end I felt like it was all too easy.  I had some conversations, I asked some questions, I learned a ton about what they were doing and how different teams within the org operated, and then I went home with a nice notebook.  It didn’t feel stressful and shouldn’t interviewing for a job be stressful?  I suspect my experience was more laid back because I was coming from a place of already being employed and so I didn’t really need the job but I was curious about it and was being diligent about ensuring it would be a good fit for what I wanted to try next.  It was. I’ve read a few things about salary negotiations now and so for this job switch I tried out the advice. I’m quite pleased that it worked and felt good to do if only to test out the advice I’ve been giving others over the years but have never gotten to try.  The rest of the process was smooth and everyone had excellent communications – just the right amount of checking in and communicating status.  I appreciated that my Permanent Resident status coming in a week late, pushing out my start date, didn’t cause any problems.

Onboarding

Apples to apples – Pinterest is winning big time here.  At Mozilla new hires are introduced at an all-company meeting and then they are off with their team learning the ropes for their jobs.  We had an onboarding portal (I checked it out last year when my team had a new hire) and it contained some videos and wiki pages, a bit of direction for weekly tasks to accomplish.  While I know that it took a lot of work by some amazing people just to get that much set up, Pinterest is really firing on all cylinders when it comes to integrating people into the company.  They do a 3 week process where in the first week  you and your cohort spend 2 full days together being addressed by various company areas of importance to the larger goals and mission – it’s just the right mix of immersion and indoctrination – meanwhile you’re becoming familiar with, in my case, 17 people who will always be familiar faces to you going forward regardless of the diversity of work areas you’ll be in later on.  They also have 101/bootcamp classes over the next week or two to get folks on the engineering side learning all the tools, data, systems that are currently in place so that you’re not so green when you move into the next stage:  fixing some bugs.  Mozilla should really consider doing this sort of bootcamp, get new engineers to fix bugs from various parts of the code base as a way to learn how the whole picture works before going deep in their assigned areas.  Finally, at the end of your first week you are introduced to the whole company as a cohort and you must speak in front of everyone at the Q&A that happens on Friday afternoons.  At that point you and your cohort have bonded and you design and lead the theme for that week’s happy hour – all these little things give you tangible experiences to reminisce about as you go forward and that means a lot when trying to integrate into a 500+ person org.

Culture

Oh this is the big one, isn’t it?  This is the all-important catch-phrase of the knowledge worker class.  What is the culture? Are you a good culture fit? Here’s the thing:  when I first joined Mozilla the “culture” wasn’t a thing that was being discussed and analyzed yet.  I was excited to be part of a movement, a community, an ethos, and a politic of open-ness/transparency and general things do-goodish on the Web.  Culture as it is currently examined came later than my start date.  It came in the form of starting Homozilla, a mailing list for queer employees and their allies because I was starting to feel isolated not knowing if there were many other people at Mozilla who were also queer.  I was happy when I kicked that initiative off and there were all sorts of people that I never would have pegged as being LGTBQ.  It also came up when a handful of paid and unpaid contributors started highlighting awareness of diversity and inclusive behaviour in Mozilla communities.  I did a lot of work on that issue and put a lot of my ‘extra’ time into trying to drive materials and discussions around how Mozilla could be a strong player in encouraging, retaining, and promoting a welcoming culture.  I also put a lot of time and energy into building out opportunities for Mozilla to be a leader in educating and onboarding new contributors in more varied spaces – LGBTQ youth, lower income, PoC, any community that wanted to learn more about how to develop or integrate tech into their activism and community-building initiatives. Sadly, I don’t know how successful I was because without me driving them, those partnerships are not carrying on.

I’ve only been at Pinterest for 3 weeks but in that time I’ve learned that there is already a queer employees group (yay, I don’t have to create it!), there are already people working on diversity and inclusion at a level that surpasses our fledgling efforts at Mozilla (they have executive-level support and are building out programs and recruiting efforts in measurable ways), and there have been several instances where I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positivity and open-ness to change/build/grow whatever is needed to support employees.  Example:  I emailed the workplace team about our new building’s plans to have non-gendered washrooms on one of the 3 floors – I asked if that would be possible to have on all floors – and the response was quick, warm, and welcoming of the feedback as well as being clear that having non-gendered washrooms was as much a priority (as build-out would permit) as having mother’s rooms and quiet rooms.  Both of those two things being already in existence in the current space because of there being employee need for them.  The takeaway for me?  I can ask for what I need and be heard and supported in (eventually) getting them.  That’s some great culture, in my opinion.  I wasn’t made to feel weird or out of order for asking for something that is probably always going to be an edge case in the workplace and I really appreciated that.

Wrapping Up

It’s been a whirlwind the last three weeks.  I’ve been getting up to speed with what I’ll be doing and I’ve got 30, 60, and 90 day roadmaps.  I’ve had a great time learning about things I’ve never done before – like iOS releases.  People have been super happy to hand off work to me, and I feel like I’m managing the work I’m taking on as well as having lots of energy for what’s to come – when I’ll have the basics down and can work on creating more ways to add value to a lean, fast-moving company doing very interesting things.  So all this to say that I’m grateful for all the years and roles at Mozilla, the people I’ve learned from, the experiences I’ve had and at the same time I have a ton to look forward to in this new space.

Contribution opportunity: Early Feedback Community Release Manager

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to build out your software development skillset with a focused contribution to an open source project? Do you want to work with a small team where you can have a big impact?

We’re once again looking for someone committed to learning the deepest, darkest secrets of release management when shipping a big, open source software project to half a billion users. Our small team of 3 employees already has one contributor who has been a consistent volunteer for Release Management since 2013 and has worked his way from these tasks to taking on coordination and growth strategy for the Extended Support releases. Our commitment to contributors is that we will do our best to keep you engaged and learning, this is not grunt work, it’s deep participation that matters to the organization and to the products we ship.

You’ll need to consistently commit a 1-3 hours a week to helping analyze our Nightly channel (aka mozilla-central or ‘trunk’) and raise issues that need prompt attention. The very fabulous volunteer who takes on this task will get mentoring on tools, process, and build up awareness around risks in shipping software, starting at the earliest stage in development. On our Nightly/trunk channel there can be over 3000 changes in a 6 week development cycle and you’d be the primary person calling out potentially critical issues so they are less likely to cause pain to the user-facing release channels with larger audiences.

A long time back, in a post about developing community IT positions, mrz recalled a post where I stated that to have successful integration of community volunteers with paid staff in an organization there has to be time dedicated to working with that community member that is included in an employees hours so that the experience can be positive for both parties. It can’t just be “off the side of the desk” for the employee because that creates the risk of burnout which can lead to communication irregularities with the volunteer and make them feel unappreciated. For this community release manager position I will dedicate 1-3 hours each week to actively on-board and guide this community Release Manager contributor in order to ensure they get the skills needed while we get the quality improvements in our product.

Here is the “official” call for help, come get in on the excitement with us!

You

  • Are familiar and interested in distributed development tools (version control, bug tracker) typically used in an open source project of size (remember when I said half a billion users? Ya, it’s not a small code base)
  • Want to learn (or already know) how to identify critical issues in a pool of bugs filed against a code base that branches every 6 weeks
  • Have worked in open source, or are extremely enthusiastic about learning how to do things in the open with a very diverse, global community of passionate contributors
  • Can demonstrate facility with public communications (do you blog, tweet, have a presence online with an audience?)
  • Will be part of the team that drives what goes in to final Firefox releases
  • Learn to coordinate across functional teams (security, support, engineering, quality assurance, marketing, localization)
  • Have an opportunity to develop tools & work with us to improve existing release processes and build your portfolio/resume
  • Can commit to at least 6 months (longer is even better) of regular participation – this will benefit you by giving you time to really get hands-on experience and understanding of release cycles

We

  • Mentor and guide your learning in how to ship a massive, open source software project under a brand that’s comparable to major for-profit technology companies (read: we’re competitive but we’re doing it for a mission-driven org)
  • Teach you how to triage bugs and work with engineers to uncover issues and develop your intuition and decision making skills when weighing security/stability concerns with what’s best for our users
  • On-site time with Mozillians: select attendance at team & company work weeks – access to engineers, project managers, and other functional teams – get real world experience in how to work cross-functionally
  • Provide work references about how awesome you are, various swag, and sometimes cupcakes :)

I’ll be posting this around and looking to chat with people either in person (if you’re in the Bay Area) or over video chat. The best part is you can be anywhere in the world – we can figure out how to work a schedule that ensures you get the guidance and mentoring you’re looking for.  Reach out to me in IRC (lsblakk), on Twitter (@lsblakk) or email (lsblakk at mozilla.com).

Look forward to hearing from you! Let’s roll up our sleeves and make Firefox even better for our users!