Bridge Foundry Sponsorship


Since 2009, Bridge Foundry has empowered people with technology through teaching and facilitating access, enlarging the community of people who give back and teach others. The Bridge Foundry mission totally aligns with our values. We try to be good upstanding citizens of our online community: we want to help our community to be inclusive and socially conscious. We do that supporting our do-gooder friends, and we decided to support Bridge Foundry as part of our Giving Back efforts. In this page, you can read more about our collaboration and discover what founders and CEO can do to increase diversity and inclusivity in their software companies.


Life Is Too Short for Bad Software... Or Bad Teams.

The following content was contributed by our friends at Bridge Foundry.


For ten years, Balsamiq has been making good design more inclusive by providing an ideation tool with a low barrier to entry — and teaching human interface design principles along the way. Over almost the same time period, Bridge Foundry has been making the tech industry more diverse by teaching coding in an inclusive learning environment — and modeling respectful work practices along the way.

Both organizations have always recognized that there’s a lot more to software development than writing code. Team practices and culture have a significant impact on software quality and business success. Our very different organizations have some common characteristics that make for a great partnership. We believe in generosity and hold the shared beliefs that small actions lead to big impact and in empowering individuals.

Generosity is good business

As early as 2008, Balsamiq stated that they would strive to “be a company that’s human, respectful, transparent, [and] inclusive” and their mantras include being servant leaders, being good citizens and being generous. At the same time BridgeFoundry was growing out of initial workshops where a culture of abundance created a new approach to learning to code. At those first workshops, Balsamiq supported attendees with free licenses to help them continue learning and designing software. Fast forward to 2017: Balsamiq’s generous sponsorship enabled BridgeFoundry to establish its presence as an independent nonprofit organization (with tax-exempt status in the United States).

Balsamiq CEO, Peldi Guilizzoni describes the reasons for Balsamiq’s software donation program as a moral duty, a rewarding and inspiring experience for the team, and good for business. This parallels how how Bridge Foundry programs work with volunteers and companies.

Sarah Allen, founder and CEO of Bridge Foundry notes that “people usually volunteer to teach because they want to help others, then later they realize how much they learn.” Companies who sponsor workshops and other programs genuinely want to improve the tech industry, and also find that their involvement helps them connect to diverse talent as well as improve their own software engineering culture when their staff gets involved.

It’s all the “small” pieces

“Everything is a core product. That’s right. The software is just a small piece of it. The documentation, so important. The tutorials, so important.” -- Peldi

Balsamiq has a concept they call the Golden Puzzle — whenever someone writes something good about the company publicly, especially when not about its core competencies (product and support), they add them to a collection. These are pieces of the puzzle of what makes Balsamiq a great company.

Bridge Foundry has found that what makes an effective learning environment is more than great teachers and hands-on technical curriculum. A shared meal, supervised play care to give parents a chance to focus, a post-workshop celebration -- these are all pieces of the Bridge Foundry puzzle. The issues blocking more diverse participation in the technology industry are rarely technical.

Empowerment

At the core of both organizations is the idea that by making better tools available to more people, we get better software. Balsamiq’s Wireframes product makes software design accessible to anyone in an organization — individuals can quickly communicate ideas as UI sketches. Bridge Foundry is increasing access to the tech industry not only by making technology more accessible to underrepresented groups, but also by making diverse talent and inclusive approaches more accessible to a broader range of companies. Even a small company can make a big difference through its own outreach programs. Diversity is not only about hiring a diverse team. Bridge Foundry works with CEOs and technical leaders on developing practices which include outreach in all aspects of their programs — how they reach customers, engage in open source and participate in conferences and developer community eventsI


You can read more about our collaboration on our blog: Bridge Foundry: 9 Years of Making the Tech Industry a Nicer Place to Work.


How to Increase Diversity in Small Software Businesses

In this video, Peldi interviews Sarah Allen about inclusivity and diversity in software companies. Sarah Allen is Bridge Foundry's founder. She has been working in the software industry for almost 30 years, often being responsible for recruiting and staffing teams. She is kind of a rock star for us! Peldi asked her opinion about how to increase diversity, why is worth doing, inclusivity beyond recruiting, how to handle possible conflicts and more. We believe that her suggestions are both inspiring and practical for every founder and CEO in our industry (and not only).

Useful Links:

Video Transcription

00:00 Intro and Sarah Allen's Introduction

Peldi:
Alright! Hello everyone, this is Peldi from Balsamiq and today I am joined by my old friend and former boss Sarah Allen and we're gonna be talking about how CEOs of small software companies like me, or hopefully you, can talk about diversity and increase the diversity of their companies.
So let's do a quick little intro. Sarah, tell us a little bit about yourself
Sarah:
My name is Sarah Allen and I've been working in the software industry as for almost 30 years, which is quite a while, and I've been back and forth between often being an individual contributor and being the manager of a team and responsible for recruiting and staffing teams. Early in my career, I was I I bought into the narrative that I was one of a few women and quickly actually learned in the first few years that there's a huge heritage of women in the software industry and in fact, there was a time when it was dominated by women. So then I realized that there was just this unseen mass of women in the field and developed my own techniques for recruiting diverse teams.
In the 90s I defined diversity as gender diversity and then I became aware that we have a bigger problem, at least in San Francisco, where I have spent most of my career in the Bay Area, and I think this is true in most of the United States, in racial diversity and cultural diversity. In general, that we tend to have these pockets of very homogeneous groups and so I've I ran my own software company which I grew to be twenty people mostly developers and it was balanced by gender. We had a mix of races a mix of sexual orientations and I'm kind of more importantly a mix of people who came from different backgrounds, small talk and C++ and Java and we were all learning mobile development so... so that was really fun. So I think we need to think about lots of different axes of diversity.
Peldi:
I remember when you were starting that company and how diversity and having a balanced team was almost your primary goal, it was to give a home to write to try and create this kind of environment to kind of prove to the world that it was possible, it was doable. Remember?
Sarah:
Actually, I think that was definitely a goal, but my primary goal in creating Blazing Cloud was to create a place where I was comfortable working, where I was happy and productive and their demographic attributes weren't a thing and we could all focus on being amazing software developers.

03:15 - What Is Bridge Foundry

Peldi:
Awesome! Well, tell me a little bit about Bridge Foundry.
Sarah:
Bridge Foundry started as Rails Bridge in 2009 and we really started to increase diversity in the Ruby community and in the tech community at large and one of the projects of the original Rails Bridge organization was these workshops where Sarah Mei and I decided that for one year we were going to hold a workshop every month to outreach to women, both current programmers and non-programmers and teach Ruby on Rails. So we develop this format that quickly grew to many different technologies and then in 2013, we renamed it Bridge Foundry to honor all of the technologies that were involved. And now, this past summer, thanks to some help from Balsamiq, we created an independent 501 (c) (3) organization which is a US IRS certification which is non-profit and really we are creating an organizational structure to support this grassroots and movements. So, now we have eight Bridges in, still doing Rails and Go, Clojure, Mobile, Scala, Rust, Elixir, and Elm. Each of these bridges focuses on a different technology. We have a way to start a bridge when somebody from that tech community is passionate about creating diversity in that community, wants to start a curriculum.
Peldi:
What kind of impact has it had?
Sarah:
It's pretty phenomenal. We very carefully tracked the impact in the first six months in the San Francisco Ruby Meetup and we went from having 2% women in that Ruby meet up to 18% in six months, which Sarah Mei gave a great talk about it back in 2009. That really became the model of realizing this thing, that felt like boiling the ocean, really wasn't that hard and we developed a set of techniques and now we really want to focus more on sharing those techniques more widely and applying them beyond tech meetups and to the industry at large, because that's what we're seeing those effects. One of the things that I think is most interesting is that our focus initially was skill-development for underserved communities and what we found was we were having a tremendous impact on the companies that hosted the workshops, where people who were expert software developers would come and their framing of the world would change, simply by participating in this one-day workshop. When we started, men, particularly white men or men in general, from the local Ruby community who worked, you know, in the software company, would meet more technical women in one weekend than they'd met in their whole lives. The narrative in 2009 was there are no women and we really shifted that narrative and then the next year in 2010 there was a tremendous narrative about, you know, where we started to see these spotlights.
Peldi:
That's amazing. Now, do you think you were more successful in recruiting women to these events because of the way you framed them or... How how did you make it look so easy? Because what I hear is that everybody says there are no women and I can't find any women... but it's not true.
Sarah:
So well, I think that we served an unmet need right? In 2009 the expectation was that you had to somehow become a software developer before you could get into the software development field and there was also quite a bit of bias towards people who'd stayed in the same job for ten years. If you were a Java developer who worked at a bank and had been doing that for a long time, people questioned: "Could you really learn Ruby?". At that time, Ruby was perceived to be a language that was used by expert software developers, not by novices, and that it had sophisticated constructs that could not be easily learned by novices. We have a lot of new languages where that same narrative is reemerging and so what we did was we just helped with having rails. So, Rails had an easy onboarding and it was a great way to get started in Ruby. We provided evidence. I was surprised. I did not expect that people who were new to software development would be able to really get into the fields simply by these workshops. The workshops are really just an introduction, so what we saw was it was tapping into the community that is very difficult when you're a minority demographic, because of the social network of understanding what the job is and having the connections to people, who can tell you like where the good jobs are and there's so many different kinds of software that you really have to know a lot of people in software development to find the niche that you want to work in.
Peldi:
Right, so the workshops are a bit of an on-ramp, a bit of a first step that is that is often just what's needed but it reduces the big giant barrier to entry, right? It's a step to people who are new, but it also allows people who are super senior to see that... hey look this is there are all these people that want to join or... this is totally doable. It makes them realize that there are steps that can be taken, you don't just have to show up as an expert from zero. Right?
Sarah:
Yeah I think it also illustrates that there is a missing narrative and how men are quote self-taught that they often when you dig into it it's like: "Well um my friend was you know a really good Python developer and inspired me to learn and then I asked him questions" but it's presented as I just taught myself on my own, but usually there's a social network that supports that, that women have less access to.
Peldi:
Even creating, starting to create that network... I thought it was interesting when you were listing all the Bridges how a lot of them are sort of newish languages, more kind of you know... you didn't say JavaScript you didn't say you know C++, because is this a conscious choice on bridge boundaries part so that you guys can influence smaller younger communities earlier well?
Sarah:
I think it is it's reflective of a model. If somebody wanted to create a C++ Bridge we would embrace that, I think that I remember when I was doing C and C++ I never considered that there was a C community right? It wasn't a thing then. With the newer languages, things that have been emerging in the last ten years, you actually have a community of people working typically an open source who are sharing more actively. I think the rise of the web and social networking has facilitated that. But the other thing is when we started I had done a lot of research about the percentage of women in tech and I knew that at the time statistically there were 25 to 30% of people who did software development were women. I think at the time it was like less than five or 10% of developers were Ruby developers, it might have been even 1 or 2 %, I don't know, it was a very small percentage. So I did that math and I thought... well there are more women developers in San Francisco than there are Ruby developers and that statistic made me suddenly realize that we could get to 50 % easy just by expanding the set of people who are interested in Ruby! So, we set a metric where our goal was to train 10 to 20 women a month in Ruby, some of them experienced developers some of them novice developers and then if just 10% of them would stick around, we would triple the number of women who went to this conference where Sarah and I met and dreamed up this idea. So, by having these metrics and not assuming that like it's a great success if 10% of the people you teach are interested and continue and determining your success metrics, understanding that you're gonna have to do a tremendous amount of outreach because there are some people just aren't into it that... it's cool, some people are like "no I really like Java" whatever...

13:02 - Why Should We Spend an Effort on Having a Diverse Team?

Peldi:
Okay awesome, interesting. All right, so let's get to the classic questions that I get, that I hear other CEOs have, and I have to admit that before and myself. First is this: there is more and more literature about this but I'd like to get your take on why is it even important, why should we spend an effort on having a diverse team .
Sarah:
So, I really feel that where.. in my experiences, when you create an environment where a diverse team can thrive, that is the best software development environment. I really like the research. I did a little looking up reminding myself of the research last night and I really liked some work written by Katherine Phillips who's at the Kellogg School of Managementand she really dug into like what's the cause and effect here right, because it could just be correlated or there's been a lot of business research that more diverse teams lead to better business outcomes, but maybe better businesses can invest more in creating diverse teams. But actually she reports that the mere presence of diversity in a group creates awkwardness and the need to defuse this tension leads to better group problem solving and I think that ties back to my assertion that diverse teams are just more fun. It is more fun if there can be like a little bit of a hiccup now and then like... "what? you said that? oh really?" and there has to be an environment of forgiveness of failure and that needs to be not just like "oh I came up with this idea that that's totally not gonna work" and my bias my background my thought process leading up to this led to it being just not right and I can just put those things out there and be corrected. Correspondingly, if I say something that you feel is exclusionary like if you feel that's alienating, if you feel it's racist if you feel it's sexist that you can just tell me because you know that like I totally did not mean it and my intention is to create a collaborative environment and I'm gonna take that feedback and learn from it and you're not gonna have negative repercussions for having called me out and those are the environments we need to create because that's how we create, how that's how we generate the best ideas and that's how we need to collaborate to create great software.
Sarah:
So the other I also want to mention, like sort of the other aspect of this which has been in the press recently around machine learning a lot which is that we're creating biased algorithms at scale and having a diverse team is a shortcut like it's not a panacea because you can definitely have you know yeah I can have like I have all the skin tones but I still don't have diversity in some way and you certainly don't want to make somebody responsible for speaking for or representing their whole race or gender like, that's just wacky, but it does just bring in more influences. I was recently reading about Joy, I don't know if I'm pronouncing her name right, Buolamwini, weenies talks about the coded gaze about how algorithms can spread bias, how they encode bias and she's created the algorithm Justice League and I wasn't even aware, apparently a lot of black folks are aware that like soap dispensers often don't work with black skin just our skin toes which is just crazy you can imagine like obviously no one on the team is black, right, but they didn't find this in testing like there are so many layers... You know you see these machine learning data sets, which are all white faces, and these lead to just really terrible, terrible outcomes and I'm so disturbed by this pattern that has been happening for like... I saw the first note of it that I found in the press was 2010 and it's now 2019 and we're still seeing these patterns in these common libraries that just create these so-called bugs over and over again but can you really call it a bug if it's been over eight years.
Peldi:
If no one thought about it...
Sarah:
Well, clearly they have, like... these things are bugs have been reported and not because I think there are different layers of it right... there's the knowledge of it, and then there's the action of it.
Peldi:
Awesome awesome. Not to get political, maybe we'll edit this part out, but when you were talking about how having a diverse team makes the conversation better, I am very much thinking about how I admire the French election system where they have two rounds and the first round is purely proportional so there's maybe 20 30 different parties each caring very deeply about their specific you know, ideology or whatever program and so in, the first round you vote with your heart for what you love and what you care about and then only the top two to go to the second round so in the second round you kind of pinch your nose a little bit and then vote for the least worst and then you have a stable majority sort of system like in the US we're not like Italy where they change government every 12 month... two months but at least I like the proportional system because if you're in a group of ten people you will know that you have to sort of being careful what you say, because you don't know what they, you know, who they vote for or whatever, as opposed to the US where it's you're with us or you're against us it's two parties completely divided they hate each other's guts and then at the end that's you become so homogeneous that you can't... it's sort of echo chamber, your quality of conversation and output I think suffers tremendously from that.
Sarah:
We're seeing this polarization right so, you know in the US all over the world and we're seeing it culturally in industry right, not only the tech industry but everywhere and so where there's this perception that we're just two groups you know. Diversity is women/men, or diversity as black people and white people or like immigrants and citizens or you know it... It's not it doesn't create for healthy debate and it doesn't create for this innovation idea so I do think there's a parallel and I think that leaders, CEOs need to watch out for where these things that are just tendencies become encoded in the system and that's what you're talking about is we can create systems that actually encode more for diversity by thinking about how we make decisions, right, and how we hear those minority voices.

20:52 - Diversity in Recruiting

Peldi:
So let's take it down to the practical level. For instance, recruiting, right? Referral programs.. right? Fantastic you save a bunch of money because your friend, your employees refer their friends and it's quick and they're pre-vetted right but..they all look the same yet?
Sarah:
Yeah! So, that is that's pretty challenging. The easiest way to address that, which is maybe a lot of the audience listening, would be with is well past this, but if you're an entrepreneur you are you know, there are three people on your team right now that is the moment where you can have the biggest impact because diversifying when you're small is easier. The key thing is to make sure that before you make a hiring decision you have interviewed at least one or two people who don't look like you or what around whatever metric you think is valuable right, talk to somebody who you would if you academically like put up ten attributes that you think don't really have to do with expertise, experience... Yeah, maybe you think, as I used to, that it's harder to become a good software developer if you didn't get a CS degree, so you're you know that you're biased against that but you know you're like... well the prob maybe I believe that it's possible... wait, put that down right like race, gender, you know, sexual orientation all the things and then you know make a list and say like... do I know anyone who would be qualified? Have I heard of anyone who'd be qualified? And, make a list of all those people and make sure you talk to some of them. So, what I find is people are making hiring decisions out of a homogeneous pool and it takes some creativity to just put yourself out there and reach out to somebody you don't know to create a wider pool and I think that you need to play the long game with hiring for that right if you're in. I could talk to a lot of founders who are in the situation over there like "oops just thought about this and I have 12 people who all are the same" and that's a problem and what do I do we all just know other people have just looked like us and went to the same school we started "hey we started right out of college so we were a bunch of people who lived the same college we live in the same area and all about first hires are easy because they're all in our social network and now we don't have a diverse network" because we all come the same place. So, there are so many ways to bring diversity into your culture: you can invite people to come to get talks, you can go give talks together you can sponsor things. There are ways to sponsor that are no money sponsorships, right if you are running a software company you have some kind of wealth right it's IP wealth, it's you know maybe you have some space, maybe you have connections to up to maybe your customers have space. There are things that you have access to, that other people don't, and the more that you are willing to share that with underserved communities in whatever way you can imagine... that's you know that's priceless.
Peldi:
So, one thing about that you told me a long time ago which I thought was I was brilliant was: "if you think about diversity when it's time to hire someone new, it's too late it's almost too late".
Sarah:
Yeah it's very hard, because then you're in the current hiring crunch and you have to decide between spending the more time on outreach versus just hiring somebody because you need them and you need to make software and you know you keep that payroll to meet, and you've got like all sorts of things or you know deadlines or whatever... But, I was in this situation a couple of times and basically, there's a couple of rules I follow. One is writing a great job description and you know vetted by a few people who don't aren't like you in some way and post it publicly. That allows your social network to reach their social network right? If you're just talking to people you know and you're just talking about the opportunity they can't share it, so get it out publicly ASAP first
Peldi:
Make it easy to share...
Sarah:
Exactly and then, when you're going through your recruiting, you do this thing where you know it's like the Rooney rule from football where you find somebody to interview right. I when I was running a very small company and when you know back when I was at MacroMedia I always had the guideline that I wanted to have a difficult decision when I was hiring. My goal was to make it be like "oh I have so many good candidates I can't pick. I might have to go to my... you know when I was at a bigger company I might have to go to find ?? and make a case for two because they're both so awesome". That's the situation you want to be in, and if you are in a situation where you have one stand out candidate, you need to keep looking and you will know like you should be interviewing a bunch of people at once right and you'll know if you've got one person who's over top.
Peldi:
That's counterintuitive and awesome where you think you found the one if it's just one you're not done yet...
Sarah:
Exactly and usually it takes a couple weeks to close so... that's the time where I've to keep looking because the other thing is like that person may take a different job and then you need to have the rest of your candidates so that you're in a strong position you know because like stuff happens. It's competitive.

27:23 - Diversity in the Day-to-Day of the Company

Peldi:
So what is a way to bring diversity, even if it's not about recruiting, into the day-to-day of the company?
Sarah:
So I'd love to have an atmosphere of Tech Talks where you invite people in virtually or in person to share with the team, like other industry leaders who work on technology that's nearby you. I usually keep an eye at conferences that are in my region and if I see a speaker who I think is amazing I'll invite them to speak and they might not have time but creating that connection, showing an interest in somebody based on their technical expertise is an incredible opportunity for any business leader. I mean not just technical of course, it could be other expertise whatever domain you're in and when you're picking people to come to speak to your team really think about: "Am I picking somebody who I just saw on Twitter or am I really looking for the expert here?" And so for a while, when I was kind of becoming aware that that race that diversity was more than gender I realized that I had filled my network with amazing technical women but most of them were white and a few of them were Asian and I realized that like you know 10 years ago I was like okay... yeah yeah there's maybe that one black engineer I know and it was embarrassing, it was you know horrifying to realize like that this was this huge blind spot that I had to say "well like my assumption is that.." you know that and you have to become comfortable talking to about this, which it's like it's just a negative signal right. When you first become aware of what you need to be aware that you are in a dark room, looking for people with a flashlight and you have what you've become aware of is your flashlight is pointed in one place on the floor and you're not moving it around. So, I think the first step is to move it around like to be like... okay so for a while whenever I would send a paper out to my team, or a video I would just do it like a Google search and it's very time-consuming to try to find the race and gender of the person who wrote the paper and it's sort of a weird exercise because it feels kind of awkward, because you don't want to be filtering on that, but at the same time it caused me I would read three or four or five papers before for sending one out. It would cause me to just to look more and then what I would find is the first thing I read maybe it was somebody just like often it would be like a video, right a TED talk ,something and then I would be like oh that person's just parroting this research that now these five other people are parroting and oh this up they you know this third person actually does a better job of it that I was not my first hit or I can actually find the original researcher and like just that extra digging and then you know just sort of accidentally on purpose happen to have a diverse set of speakers amongst the visible attributes.
Peldi:
I've started doing that and I think that that's very actually very simple to do. When you're about to share a link that you found on Twitter see who shared it right and see who the original author is and try to find the original author or try to find someone who can explain it well, who maybe it doesn't look like you all. I really like your idea going a little step back about finding speakers to come to you because I think that serves twofold, one it opens your team's minds to make it normal that it's not just white guys who give the talks, it becomes normal and so I think it is sort of even just that is I think it's a big step to sort of change the frame of mind, but also by sort of networking with these experts it's a step into a community that you might not have easy access to, but it's a community that looks up to them already right so, it's a great way in and you're gonna make a new friend and you know... expand your own horizons and all that.
Sarah:
I also think that it may be I don't know if you can maybe even tell me like, whether like white men are generally aware that there's this like pretty well Pradhan Whisperer Network right there's a lot of women and underrepresented minorities don't necessarily know either, but most of the senior technical women that I know and folks who are from other traditionally marginalized demographics will check up on companies before they accept a job, because especially if you get further in your career you become very painfully aware that if you spend two years reporting to somebody who is biased against you... it doesn't have to be like sexual harassment it doesn't have to actually be anything that you could report to, you know, the Equal Opportunity Commission it's just that they aren't they don't see in you your potential and then you know losing two years in this industry it's a huge setback and so people will check up on you and if they're you want to have the connections in the network you want to have evidence out there that it's that you have you might have you know 10 or 20 white dudes who work for you but that's not a signal that it is a racist organization or a sexist organization but in some cases it is right? One of the things that's really hard I think for these homogeneous teams is, what I found, is that you can have sexist and racists hiding there right. Somebody might treat me really really well and they're gonna treat a black engineer really poorly or a Latino engineer really poorly and I won't see that until that person shows up and then it's a horrible situation to put somebody into, you don't want to invite somebody onto your team and then unbeknownst to you one of your colleagues who seems to be awesome actually has some behaviors that need to be corrected.
Peldi:
So back to how a white man CEO like me can expand the network, right? Other than going to conferences, meeting other speakers you know... I've googled all kinds of "black girls who code" you know all sorts of communities try to find several communities. I admit it I was doing it too late, I was doing it to try and pitch this job opening. That's the wrong time and in fact that I fail most cases. In some cases, I found some Slack groups that said: "Sorry, we're not gonna let you in, this is our space" and I totally respect that right but in some cases, some groups are hard to reach, at least for a newbie. What do you suggest? How can we break the ice? You've mentioned sponsoring things... that's a simple thing to do for instance.
Sarah:
That's one of the things that makes the Bridge work format unique is that we specifically welcome anyone who is who really wants to help and it's going to show up and follow the Code of Conduct and our code of conduct is a little different from others. There's more of these that are broader and setting really high standards of behavior. When Code of Conduct first shot up started showing up in open source communities and conference they were typically not much more than anti-harassment policies, where our Code of Conduct says actually you're supposed to create a safe and respectable working environment, learning environment, and you're here to teach a workshop and so you can't ask anyone on a date. That's like just putting it out there like you have to say these things! So a lot of what we've done is created... some of our teacher training has evolved from at first it was just teaching the curriculum and now it's teaching How do you correct when you see these things in action? So, I think that if you've already got a sizeable team getting people to show up at these where help is needed then interaction with diverse groups where there is some kind of support for well-meaning people who might not realize that something they say is gonna land awkwardly and make somebody feel alienated. Those things are... if you've grown up in a homogeneous group, if you watch the media, you know it's you can't help but be influenced in and say things that are just like so inconsiderate, but you don't know it and you know I'm very thankful for the people who have befriended me early in my awareness of these things who are willing to say look, Sarah, that thing you said... I think that you need to have ideally you but like also folks on your team who will show up and start to realize that there is a change in the interaction that is necessary. You can't just add somebody into your team and have it be all on that.

38:42 - Internal Policies: Culture and Codification

Peldi:
That would be unfair...for sure speaking of the Code of Conduct, what do you think a CEO like me should do about internal policies? How much is culture, how much needs to be codified?
Sarah:
I think it helps to codify some of your culture, like to think about like you know what are the things that really make this company awesome what are the things that I just expect from everyone and try to write them down because new folks won't necessarily know and if they experience a poor interaction they don't know like "oh maybe this is what I need to expect here" and you won't know it as soon as your team grows like I remember there's been some work on looking at code reviews and this like who gets code reviews and has been talking to open-source about it being a false meritocracy because the truth is like your contribution gets accepted based on the people who already are in the in-crowd right and they think they're being well reasoned mostly I think, it's just that if they know somebody then they're like "oh he was just being careless", if they don't know somebody they're like "oh they're sloppy". And the difference between like that person just isn't done yet and this other person is being sloppy it could be the exact same thing. You might think about things like if you have a code review culture like our expectation is that you respond to a code review in 24 hours or let the person know that they should find somebody else to do a code review and because I've heard tales of women who are like "Yeah I started this job and you know I just thought that it's normal to it take a few weeks to get feedback", because like I'm new and so my contribution is less important than others and they don't realize that is not okay and so they don't speak up right how would you know... and so I think just you know every once in a while just reflect on what are the things that you expect from your colleagues and write them down.
Peldi:
What about more explicit things like quotas? That's a controversial topic, right?
Sarah:
I recently attended Lesbians Who Tech in San Francisco and it was it's was just so fun in a great environment and I felt welcomed as you know I'm married to a man and I have a kid I'm like I feel like I'm like the conservative profile in San Francisco and Lianne Pittsford who started Lesbians Who Tech said that she set a quota, 50% this 25% that, and then did outreach to meet it. I think that's simpler in a way it when you're looking at the audience, but it still can be controversial like oh well you know like I'm kind of sell tickets you know I'm worried about having enough and what I tend to set is is metrics for Am I successfully recruiting? metrics for like what are my goals how would I like this to be and generally I think being aware of what are the demographics in your region like you should know them, and you want your group to reflect the demographics in your region or the demographics of your customers. Or you think about like well actually I think that you could also think that like oh I think that this gender disparity and racial disparity is probably gonna get fixed in the next 10 years, at least I hope it will be, so if I have more representation internally I'm gonna have a competitive edge. Think about it in terms of connecting it to your business and setting yourself like goals for how you're going to get this awesome talent that is out there.
Peldi:
There's a lot of people when they say we gotta fix this diversity issue, they run and do an unconscious bias training and then think they're done. What are some training programs? Are training programs useful? What our demography useful? What to do first and second?
Sarah:
That's a great question. I think self-motivated unconscious bias training is great like I've been through it and I was like "oh interesting I knew most of this research but I learned a couple things" but even I understand is unconscious bias training it's like putting your name at the top of the paper, it's not writing the essay. You just started. You got the piece of paper out yay! ...ready to start the essay! So, Bridge Foundry is developing some training that we have this idea to apply what we've been doing with volunteers to corporate training so anybody's interested in that... reach out! And we're actually planning to do a research project about that, which I'm very excited about, but basically, I would focus on conflict resolution training. How does your team resolve conflicts, and how do you create that space for people to correct each other and how do you do onboarding? If you fix your onboarding process and if you create a self-healing system or anybody who runs into a roadblock is supposed to unblock it for the next person, that is the kind of thing that will over time fix the problems within your company. It's coming back to this systemic bias thing. You need to create like systemic bias towards awesomeness and everyone needs to be a part of that, managers have more responsibility however if everyone isn't involved if everybody doesn't feel empowered to have agency it won't get fixed. I think that centering this work around what's going to make my team thrive? How do I create a learning environment where people can take risks? And do things and we're working as a team is high value. I read about Amy Edmondson's work on psychological safety be based on actually some research Google did about the effectiveness of teams, and she had this hypothesis that about high psychological safety reducing the number of errors and her initial research yielded that there were actually more errors in teams that appeared to be psychologically safer, and luckily she was able to get some more funding and dive back into that, and what she found is there are more errors reported of course that make sense! You've just got to be careful of the metrics you choose right, this is like around the quota so you dirt certainly don't want someone to feel that they were hired because of their demographics and so you want to like figure out what is your awesomeness and be careful about how you select for that, because there are probably some things that are awesome about your culture that are unspoken and it's hard to surface them. But, if you can create a culture where people can report things Freada Kapor Klein who's one of my mentors in this work talk to me about when she worked in the early days of Lotus in the I guess the 80s with Mitch Kapor who founded Lotus and he was a CEO and she ran HR and they had I way that employees could report things that were with anonymously and then they would actually take action on those and report back to the whole company. And, they would work on fixes for these anonymous reports and then announcing them publicly. So, figuring out like what are the systems and you can implement these systems much easier when your company's little and engage your team and brainstorming these things like have a have a brainstorm. I used to think these culture things were like super fluffy and like a waste of time but my Danae Ringelmann founder of IndieGoGo, Danae gave this talk about culture a while ago where she said people think culture is very soft but actually it's very hard. Because culture is also the easiest way to get stuff to happen. I have another technique but I'll come back to it, cause I forgot it.

49:29 - Reporting Problems With the Ceo and Hiring an Hr Company

Peldi:
Okay, let's talk about the worst-case scenario. Your five-person company, ten-person company there's no HR right... and you might be that way for ten years. I'm sure small companies have a way to report problems to the CEO, what happens if the problem is with the CEO?
Sarah:
Yeah so that is tough when I ran Blazing Cloud we had a like a contract HR company and we worked with a small company which I think was very effective because then there was like a person that was we're also responsible for it's nice to have this because they'll onboard the person and make sure all the forms are filled out because in our first year we were not as good as we should have been and then when they leave like there's like laws about how quickly you pay off vacation time and like all sorts of things and so having somebody who's gonna do that work is like hugely I would recommend that! But it's like HR at its all the HR laws right they know that and the employment laws and but then that's somebody who the employee knows and you communicate to them that they are a kennel.
Peldi:
A safe channel that is independent, 'cause it's outside the company, doesn't report to the CEO...
Sarah:
Well, I'm glad you raised that because they do report to the CEO.
Peldi:
'cause HR as a consultant...
Sarah:
HR is really working for the company making sure that the company doesn't break laws. There's another type of program that is hard for small companies but there's a new company called tEQuitable which is starting a kind of hosted Ombudsman program.
Peldi:
Tell us about it.
Sarah:
So this is really a safe space and so it's a way that a somebody can just like a lot of these a lot of things that happen when you think like, oh well maybe this is race or gender bias or some kind of bias or maybe it's just a weird thing that happened and it's very hard to bring it up to HR because that tends to start like this whole investigation thing and it can be time-consuming and then you know and then you're like it creates a lot of anxiety for a person because it gets into that legal space but like getting back to the code of conduct right like we you need this huge space between what is acceptable behavior and what is illegal. There should be an ginenormous space there so that people have room to kind of mess up and get corrected. This Ombudsman program creates a way for an employee to go talk to the person and if there's something really like call the police-illegal they won't keep a confidential and they're very upfront about that but if it's just like.. I want to advise this weird thing happened you know what should I do they will feel that and then typically they'll also track patterns so they're like oh well this particular subgroup keeps having this kind of things and be able to recommend to the organization changes and programs and trainings and different things so I'm really excited about the idea that this could be a hosted program so that you know so that small companies might be able to engage more.
Peldi:
We'll definitely look into that oh by the way we're gonna put all the links for all these wonderful resources down below, like this the Youtubers say...

53:28 - Recruiting: Use Your Unique Awesomeness

Sarah:
I remembered something. In recruiting you to want to figure out what is your absolutely unique awesomeness, what is the thing that you might find somebody who is just super excited about that thing like Balsamiq "life's too short for bad software". I love that catchphrase because it embodies what you're trying to achieve and people could just be so excited about improving interaction design and then you can attract them better than any other company because you do that thing so well and that's what you want to amplify and I think that's one of the most exciting things about the internet like I remember when I was first doing web stuff in the mid-90s and I was just amazed how like any topic and the web is smaller then, but still like it'd be like you know model trains made cheese-like there's a thousand people doing that you would never have known it. I remember a couple of years ago I was working on a little project with my son who was then in high school and I was like we need a placeholder image and he was like how about ferret hats and I was like... ferret hats? and I looked it up on the internet and there were thousands better it happen and it wasn't just like a meme it was like there's stores where you can buy hats for your ferrets and I was like wow I never knew that ferret hats were a thing and he said everything's a thing. mom! So you have to figure out what your thing is your thing that is like of interest to less than 10,000 people less than 1,000 engineers and then find those engineers and though you will be like a magnet to those engineers once they know who you are, and even if they don't want to work for you they're the people who should be in your community, they should be your advisors they should be like so I think that is like the best recruiting technique because then also like you're going after somebody for something they're like crazy nutty about.
Peldi:
They're gonna do the evangelists into their communities.
Sarah:
And if you reach out to something somebody on the topic of their expertise and they're not world famous like they're just you know the most famous ferret hat maker like they'll probably be thrilled for.

56:13 - How a Ceo Should Discuss the Sexual Harassment Theme WithTheir Team?

Peldi:
So what about the recent news the opening of the lid of the sexual harassment in the news. First of all, how should how should we discuss it and then you know it's awkward there's that SNL skit where they try to talk about it and everybody's like "Oh careful" But anyways, you know and that was within friends, what about inside the company? Do you have any tips on how our CEO should discuss this with their team?
Sarah:
This is this is really hard right there's no easy answer to this. That's correct. Silence is probably not a good option, but you also need to be aware that these are also triggered topics right? they if somebody's been personally affected or have a friend or family members been personally affected which is statistically at least I think in the US like 25% of women have been raped like it's really widespread and you know and there's a lot of these you know kind of #metoo actions that are not classified as rape they're just completely inappropriate behavior that you know sets people back in their careers. Be aware right that when you bring these things up they're gonna land differently with people and it's it's very treacherous territory because you might have some individuals who have never been exposed to this and they are newly aware they might think it's not widespread right, and then you have other people who are like yeah like there was another SNL skit when a lot of this broke that was like a music video called Welcome to hell and it's been like this why don't you speak up before and why didn't you listen before...I mean Why didn't you listen before? I mean in some ways it's you know I have to say that I tell myself it is great that we collectively can speak up and it's and without there being the possibility of it not ruining your life and career. But people are taking those risks.
Peldi:
It seems like the the answer is the same as what you said before which is, train your team on having difficult conversations, making that less difficult you know in conflict resolution and listening to everybody's opinion and being mindful that other people might come from a different place or that it might be a very very painful subject for them, you know teach people how to be respectful and not afraid to go deep either when it's needed and, so that helps any conversation but it also makes it for a more welcoming environment for a diverse team.
Sarah:
I would encourage people, if you haven't done anything on this topic, sometime in the next few months or you know this year, find a facilitator who's doesn't work at your company and have a facilitated conversation that's open, that asks the question what if this happened here, what would we do, what would you want to have done how would you want this to be respectfully through your colleagues and ask tough questions like what if you had this experience from a customer? When I was running Blazing Cloud we had a client who one of their employees was like really inappropriate and one of my employees wasn't sure whether she had to accept that behavior from the client and I had I was like... "oh my gosh I can't believe that even crossed your mind", but I had never set out expectations for how our customers treat us and that you know that kind of thing is a bit of a blind spot and people get in these situations where they're like oh I'm not gonna close a sale unless I put up with this behavior and so it's not only you know how I feel about it personally but am I going to risk my company's business and as a CEO as a leaders we just have to say "No I like no businesses. My employees are valuable and I'm setting the standard of behavior we have plenty of customers are going to treat us well and this is an important thing for our integrity" but knowing and it takes some creativity and discussion in order to come up with those things and your folks won't know that of you, they built hope that, right but if there's any ambiguity that silence is reporting and you want to know if this stuff is happening, within your team or in interactions with your when your team has with the rest of the world and they want to be able to lean on that and to whatever extent you can make public statements. Our company expects this our company has these values. It makes it easier for your employees to say that if they're in a situation where they're like "Oh our company does this" right they can just point to that they don't have to escalate it have a discussion with you schedule a meeting and then it's two weeks later and it's much harder to untangle it.

1:02:24 - How to Write a Code of Conduct

Peldi:
Now you mentioned that it's a great way to come up with these sort of statements, code of conducts, policies is to do it with the team. What if we want to make it easy for people? We could hire a facilitator right or a lot of people you know it's like writing terms of service, a lot of people just copy/paste from someone is really good at it.
Sarah:
Facilitator is very important if you're going if you're a white man, like you are and you're going to talk about sexual harassment it does happen you know across genders but I think also you're in the power position so if you're the CEO it is best that you not facilitate that particular conversation and it's also best that you don't ask the woman on your staff to precipitance that's why that particular like how would we handle sexual harassment like I think should be facilitated. The culture the policy stuff we did this when I was working at 18F Sasha Magee and I came up with this we were trying to come up with our values, like a statement of our values it was very it was like every six months would be like okay we gotta like state our values we feel like we have shared values but we don't have like a good press statement of it. We tried a bunch of different things and what we landed on that worked really well was for people to like what you know sort of a sticky note brainstorm where each person would come up with what are the behaviors that I feel are reflective of our values, and then aggregate them into groups and pull the values out of those behaviors like what that allowed us to do it actually came out of like, our amazing content strategists we're going to wordsmith the values and then we could think... "they were like but what do you really mean by transparency?" and then we're like I know we all voted on that and we all think transparency is good. Then, here's like 17 attributes that are what we mean by transparency then they can create like great content around that and then everybody knows what it means.
Peldi:
It is also easier to think about it, rather than these abstract concepts...
Sarah:
Those are typically also in the like what do you want to do more of? I think that that's a that's a really fun exercise then I think you can just you can do with your own team and then you also learn things right and the input you value and great information sharing.
Peldi:
Excellent. Is there something you wish I would have asked you that I didn't? I have huge blind spots so 😊
Sarah:
I think that one thing that... I want to talk a little bit more about open source because I was mentioning before how open source can be really challenging in terms of the power dynamics. It can also be a great opportunity to interact with community and so if you let your engineers do open source in their day job, then they have an opportunity to engage with colleagues across the industry who are interested in that area of technology, they also have something they can talk about at conferences and you can have a Code of Conduct in your open source repository that they can show people what you want to do there and I think it's another way of doing outreach, it's another way you know you're giving back and you can do it in a small way we'd like a little JavaScript library or like different things and even in the littlest things are sometimes the most powerful because they can be used across lots of different types of organizations and you're sort of leaning into the tech. I think that we need to somehow try to reclaim open-source maybe reclaim is the wrong verb maybe it just claim it to be a place where we could have safe spaces that are creative and collaborative and diverse and interesting and where people can expect to be treated well. I think that that's something that is it takes a little creativity to you know to figure out what are the right things where this is okay. Then the other thing that I do is I always have a policy that engineers when it when I was running Blazing Cloud and we didn't have much money I would say that if you if you speak at a conference peak at a conference then I will pay your ticket and that was like a big thing but then then later I would let people go to one conference a year as long as they did a trip report but getting your folks out there in the community I think is the biggest thing you can do for recruiting in general.

1:08:03 - Ways to expand your network... to recap:

Peldi:
So ways to expand your network... to recap:

  • reach out to speakers
  • go speak
  • make your staff speakers
  • contribute to open source
  • sponsor communities and events
  • volunteer for events where they need help

Am I forgetting anything?
Sarah:

  • create policies
  • create systemic equity instead of systemic bias

Peldi:

  • look for different sources before sharing links
  • have workshops internally to discuss these things this is super actionable... this is exactly what I was hoping Sarah!

Sarah:

  • and diversify people you follow on Twitter if you're a Twitter flavor, and then after a while, it becomes like a normal thing that you just have diverse voices and then you and then it becomes weird than other people don't and it's really exciting when you tip when you turn the corner.

Peldi:
I like that on YouTube I subscribe to a lot of YouTubers and most of the science YouTubers that I subscribe are women and once in a while I come across this guy I was like oh yeah no it's the other way around.
Sarah:
So the other thing you can do is you can be intentional about the faces that are out there talking about your work. A company like Balsamiq could have you know could have a specific like we're looking for X right like there's Summer of Code right which it which specifically has like we will pay you to do open source and you know and some of them are specifically targeted at women or specific demographics. You could do some kind of a contest right which has a prize and then you know or there's lots of different frameworks for it but if you're doing something that sort of that's a scholarship or a give back or something then you can target it in a particular demographic and then you have the opportunity to highlight amazing talent that you wouldn't have discovered because they come to you. So, you can think about that and also sometimes if you're put it you know if you get to the point where you're putting on a conference right having diversity scholarships I think is a really great thing.
Peldi:
One thing that I do is when I get invited to speak at a conference I look at the other speakers and if they all look like me I say no unless there're changes.
Sarah:
Oh I think that's great, like also you know getting to know all these other speakers fine, like you should always there say um there's a movement called I think it's The #One4One game I'll have to look up the name of it but basically you challenge yourself to find somebody who has your same skills and has a different trait right if you're an able-bodied somebody who has disability, if you're a woman well maybe you find somebody less represented right, if your white person you find a black person or a Latino or in a Muslim or whatever and then so you develop a set of these people who are you but from a different demographic and then if there's no if that demographic isn't represented then you're like here's a set of both who I think you should invite and that's a service community, like just amplifying voices who you think are amazing and because the biases exist in the world they're not being known and if you're ever interviewed by the media be careful because many reporters will only ask the men questions or only ask like whoever they perceived to be dominant based on their own inherent biases, and I've just seen lots of articles about a tech team where only the men are quoted and sometimes I'll actually know the team and I'll know that the men are and made less contribution sometimes they're the leader, sometimes they're not, but the point is that imbalance in media coverage also sort of exacerbates this problem.
Peldi:
Interesting! All right, Sarah, I think it has been over an hour, that's plenty for today. We have about six months of homework to do, just based on this hour but I wanted to thank you very much and I'm sure this was helpful and I will try to give people a way to reach you or follow you know somehow learn from you, again in the description.
Sarah:
Well thank you for being open and interested in asking these questions and this is it's really great to talk to somebody who is willing to admit that there's a lot to learn here, cuz there it is I mean I still learn stuff every day.
Peldi:
It's interesting that we've had this call planned for a year maybe and then all this stuff blew up and now all of a sudden it's the news, but I've been meaning to learn about the stuff for a long time. All right, bye everybody!