I’ve been to every Lesbians Who Tech summit that has taken place in SF (6 total) at the beautiful Castro Theater and this year was the BEST. I love that this conference is unapologetically Political, that they are committed to modeling a world where 50% of the speakers are women of colour, that they highlight issues that are current and affect more than *just* tech, and that the level of technical acumen in the talks continues to rise year over year.
Also, the conference is just plain FUN. There’s always dancing and video montages and high fives. It’s very collegiate in ways and that’s light and fresh and certainly more engaging than some of the technical conferences I’ve attended where it’s faces in laptops all day long. This year there was a Queer Jeopardy opportunity and I wasted no time in grabbing a spot as a contestant.
When they said they needed 3 players, I worked my way to the front of the stage, which meant going against a stream of 1000 lesbians trying to make a break for the bathrooms! They said to come back in 10 minutes, at 11:40 am, and then I was on stage with 2 other contestants managing to clean up during the first round that day. I was then told to return the next for a second round which ended up being against 2 new players where I continue my winning streak, becoming (as far as I know) the first Queer Jeopardy champ at Lesbians Who Tech. I loved the “Name the drone footage” category – one of them was of a house and I guessed it was Edie Windsor’s but it was Mark Zuckerberg’s which I worried meant someone from LWT flew a drone over his house to capture but a simple Google search turned up the image used:
In the Tech Pavilion, GoDaddy had a photo booth where you could make your own sign to finish the sentence “Make Tech More”. It’s a cute idea and I see that GoDaddy is *trying* but looking at the options they provided, I found myself quickly wishing for other words like “intergenerational”, “accessible”, “authentic”, “socialist”, “anti-capitalist”, or perhaps “socially responsible”. I had to settle for “weird” from their pre-printed options. If someone else does this, I hope they might make a dry erase option for people to write in their own. The best swag was this poofy dog – @buttonspom on Instagram – which got me wondering if Snapchat could make it easier for people to have pet accounts on our platform?? I’ve created an account for Shortstack (@corgishortstack) but I don’t end up posting much to it since switching accounts is not possible in the app (that I know of anyway).
As I mentioned earlier – this conference is unapologetically political and centers the voices of black and brown queer women which meant the excellent work Alicia Garza is doing with the Black Futures Lab got center-stage with a packed house near the end of the day on Friday.
Another talk I enjoyed was “How to Prevent the Robopocalypse” where Cynthia Yeung flipped the script of “robots will take over our jobs” and pointed out how robots & humans will need to work together on certain areas long into the future, and more importantly how universal healthcare, revamped education, and basic income could pair with a welcoming of human/robot society being built. The robopocalyse is a lie, she said, the current systems are already broken and causing harm & risk to humanity. The robots are not the enemy in this scenario, the policies of dropping people from social safety nets, quality education and care, are the real culprits we should be fighting.
My talk went well. I was presenting at 10:30am on Saturday at Badlands with several other amazing speakers. The two folks who went before me both shared some serious knowledge and comfortable public speaking skills about Agile development and then geo motion capture. It was a packed house, impressive for an early, rainy morning. I presented “Ship Fast & Leave No Engineer Behind” which is a slimmed down version of an internal roadshow I’ve been touring to small groups within Engineering to familiarize them with Release; what we do, how we can help them get features ready to launch, and what some best practices and key tools are for being able to make trains on time. I saw a lot of heads nodding in the crowd as I explained our process of moving quickly through development, to stabilization, and then to monitoring releases post-launch. My friend Marcy, who is not a tech worker, was the best barometer of my success – when I was done she said she fully understood what I do now 🙂
Basking in the glow of two days of being immersed with queers who are empowered and vastly knowledgeable about many many things like AI, geo motion capture, Pixar animation lighting, and so much more has left me a little sad to be back to reality, however on the bright side – my laptop is now delightfully bedazzled and provides a daily reminder of the queerest event in tech. I’m super glad that Snap had a strong presence at the conference and that I met several coworkers that I hadn’t before. Looking forward to growing our internal initiatives over the course of the next year with all the awesome women @ Snap that I’ve met in the last month!Continue reading →
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:
p.s. Don’t worry, I’m not so comfortable that I’m ready to leave this nest 🙂Continue reading →
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:
#talkpay is a scary concept. I class-jumped big time about 6 years ago going from ~4K-10K a year to $60K for my first year FTE
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
There’s definitely an inflation to Bay Area salaries so I know I wouldn’t make as much as I do anywhere else. Value is so mercurial.
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
Earning $60K plus benefits first year as a 35 year old new grad, I paid off all my debts in the first year, living like $20K/yr #talkpay
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
Then I got bumped to $75K/yr just for moving from Toronto to SF. That more than covered the rent increase. #talkpay
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
Every year I (Bachelor’s degree) got a raise, my partner who has a PhD and teaches at City College SF hasn’t had one in 10 years #talkpay.
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
After 6 years full time, my base pay was $123K/yr (started at $60K). Most $ anyone in my family has ever made. #talkpay
— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) May 1, 2015
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.Continue reading →