You Got This!

Oh No - Tech Bro!

The spooky world of brogrammers can be off-putting, alienating, and career hindering. This talk will introduce a toolkit that will help you navigate difficult personalities, offer non-performative ways forward, and you might even survive to tell the tale... Whilst this toolkit was created with marginalised groups in mind, it is not limited to a specific audience - it provides guidance that can apply to a range of positions across the tech industry, including (and importantly!) those with executive power.

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Transcript

Thank you. Hello, everyone. I hope that you've been having a great spooky evening so far. Welcome to my talk. Oh, no, tech bro, the tool kit that you should not need. My name is Elise Beer. I attend ed You Got This a few years ago as a junior developer so happy to be talking here today.

So, what should you expect from this? I've split the tool kit into two. The first half will focus on bigger picture stuff, things like hiring and culture. That will be more actionable. In particular anyone here with executive power or involved in hiring, listen up to that half, but plenty of bits for any juniors not involved in that side of things. Then the second half will be honing in on individuals case-by-case personality and coping strategies and how to defeat them. I've named them the world and character classes.

Though before I go any further, I really want to say that one of my least favourite topics is women in tech. Shortly behind feigning interest in NFTs. I wish that tool kits like this didn't have to exist. Whatever gender you are or job title you have, you can deploy one thing from this talk today which will decrease the likelihood of this same talk next year. So we can dive into the context now.

Meet Elon. He is the ghost. I like the name, and he's not based on anyone in real life. Elon is a tech bro in that he works in tech. He leans hard into stereo typically masculine traits and is often in a position of prestige and may see himself as a leader or as a visionary.

It is no surprise that business cultures like tech and finance that reward young brash hypercompetitive individuals become a paradise for the tech bro. It makes sense that the highest paying roles in the marketplace is where you find people with ego and prestige, and entitlement flogging. In turn, these do become the hardest industries for women to break into, and for women to remain in.

One study actually showed that college-age women tended to steer clear of engineering and computer science degrees because they thought they had to be brilliant, not just hard-working, but brilliant to succeed, a consideration that doesn't seem to deter young men, and certainly not Elon The Ghost here. I'm legislature there are plenty of lovely supportive developers today who do not identify with Elon the Ghost but may be part of this culture, and certainly might benefit from it. Do really try and challenge yourself throughout this, because chipping away at bro culture will benefit everyone involved.

So a stance I completely sympathise with is okay, there's still a lot of work to be done but why should I have to spend my time trying to fix a system I didn't even create. Even worse for many of us, a system that hurts me specifically. This is not my problem. My answer to that it is not just fair. That being said, I hope things are moving in the right direction, and you specifically don't have to to try and fix anything. There are bits of the tool kit that are coping mechanisms and bits that require action and seek change.

At the bottom line, if you're a woman managing to stay in tech despite the problems, this still puts you in a position of change, because tech as I said is one of the hardest industries to remain in as a woman, so it is really, really important that we stick with it.

Others might be thinking lots of people, and importantly, big corporations are talking about diversity these days, which is really true on some level. However, companies love woke-washing, which is cashing on the progressive, but not actually changing. We've seen it during Pride month, and we've seen it about antiseptic campaigns like -- shortly followed by the news that Nike wouldn't give one of their sponsored athletes paid maternity leave.

The same can happen when big tech companies say they're striving for diversity but maintain cultures that favour the hyper masculine traits and it becomes a tech bro party. In my opinion, it is too easy to fake change, and until real change comes, we need to cope, and cause some change too if we have it in us.

What is that noise? Elon is calling me. Elon, you're on the call, and you're worried that disturbing the current order could hinder your dreams of a financially successful company. Well, okay, I understand. But, I have good news. All of the research shows that companies perform better without bro culture. Diverse teams build better products and are more financially successful companies.

Elon, I can now see is nodding, but what is to say he has never seen bro culture, and it is #NotAllDevs. It doesn't mean that Elon is a bad person. He may whole-heartedly believe that bro culture is not rife. 72% of women in tech report working in a company where bro culture is pervasive, just 41% of men. This is an age-old issue that it is really, really hard for people in positions of power or those not negatively affected to recognise problems within the dominant culture. This is not new. So if you don't think you've seen it, be open to the idea that you perhaps find it a little bit harder to spot, and then ask yourself why?

All right, now that Elon is an ally, we can move on to the tool kit itself. Our first point is hire degreeless. Some argue this is lowering the bar. You can still test whether someone is a logical person, a problem-solver with be a good communicator, great self-teacher without a strong coding background. This is not hiring women or under-represented groups for the sake of it. A woman doesn't apply to be dev at a company with the intention to be a diversity hire, wants to solve problems and get on with it like the rest of us. If you're not part of the hiring process, you still can encourage your company to hire less people reliant on nepotism, conformity, and entitlement. Also, you can be mindful with referrals. If you're a developer who is under-represented, refer a friend who is too. If you taught yourself to code through YouTube videos, convince a friend from a completely different background to try it out. Don't pick based on qualifications, pick based on their problem-solving ability and approach.

Since it is Hallowe'en, I would like to mourn the dead careers of people I've seen sucked into the coding cult. None had STEM degrees but all are now brilliant coders. Some had to be told that it was possible and normal to learn late. I've personally killed the cereals of a 32-year-old who previously did public relations, a 24-year-old language graduate who could speak French, Russian, Italian, English, and now speaking JavaScript, a champion female boxer, and 28-year-old woman working in the arts now on her second promotion at a tech start-up.

Speaking of which, start-ups are actually the worst offenders for bro networks, despite getting an rep for being more progressive. We've all seen it, two guys, best friends, create a start-up. They may have genuine sincere intentions to cultivate a mid-sized company with diversity and a brilliant culture. The key word there is eventually. It seemed common sense to hire a few friends. Suddenly 15 white guys on the website page, and the narrative of we don't get any female applicants remains validated all while boys' club can continue happily.

Hiring a skewed demographic of men who may be mirror the go-getters who started the company where they're inadvertently reinforcing the bro culture cycle. We also need to remember who is investing in start-ups? Because 93% of venture capitalists are men, and men tend to back men.

Two quick final notes about hiring. You can literally gender-neutral language tools to edit your job adverts. The jobs are awesome and create skill diversity. Consider blind resumes where name and gender are hidden from those reviewing the CVs.

We've covered hiring and should not stop there. This is all too often where companies do stop. What about the next step which is interviews? Again, for those involved with interviewing decisions, have a woman on the interview panel. Now, a really, really important point on this: if you don't have many women to choose from, and you're bringing in the same ones each time, bear in mind that this takes a disproportionate amount of their time away from them which they could be spending coding like their male counterparts. Don't just praise them for this. We regard and compensate them for this.

Now, if you're a junior, applying to dev jobs, you want to make sure that you're entering a non-toxic, non-sexist workplace which has a facade of respect at the start but has no real progress for under represented employees. Make progress a key part of discussion during interviews, and importantly, have them back it up with proof. You could even ask to people to people in the company which brings me to my next point which is vocal quitting.

So toxic culture costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, so it is worth it for companies to take it seriously and understand where their failings are. A few percentage of women who quit complained they were excluded from the buddy networks that ... if you are quitting a job, be vocal about why.

On the flip side, ask women why they are quitting, and then importantly, believe them. It is really brave to say these things, and to give honest feedback. I really, really get it. But if you get pushback or are made to feel like you've made a fuss, question why. Ask your developer friends how easy are those conversations might be in their organisation because you deserve to be somewhere where they facilitate this kind of culture feedback, and, trust me, the teams will do a lot, lot better.

Finally, in terms of the bigger picture stuff, we've got unconscious bias, training which a workshop is designed to get people aware of their unconscious bias. This does have mixed reviews because forcing people into a room for uncomfortable inward reflection can cause defensiveness and alienation, in turn making them double down on problematic views. I do think it can be really helpful for the vast proportion of well-meaning employees. If you're a journey that hasn't seen this at your company, it is well worth discussing.

And on this note of unconscious bias, we come back to the fact that maybe Elon isn't even a bad ghost after all. Maybe he has been way too deep in bro culture and never needed to value his views. He had enough other ghosts alongside him, bonded over their similarities and probably excelled, right? Or to give the illusion that his way, his method, and his belief system, even, is the best way of doing the job, because, again, age-old issue here: the culture is upheld by Elon being blinded to the fact there is a whole line of people who look different to him and act very different to him working harder than him to generate the same opportunities that he had.

Okay. We are going to move on to the second half of the tool kit. If I lost anyone in that first half, now is your time to come back in. So come back if you want to focus on the personalities and chime back in.

So despite there being some genuine baddies around, a lot of difficult behaviour is actually just because someone is uneducated and insecure, rather than, excuse the pun, mean-spirited. The best thing that we can do is understand why people behave the way they do and figure out their mortal weakness. Sometimes contacting your manager should not be the first thing you do when someone is being tricky, so try these might anywhere navigation combat skills first. Our first monster.

First up, we have the solo dictator. Now, they rejected any idea that doesn't come from them and don't see the benefits of collaboration, or they don't think it's worth doing. Okay, so this character may have developed that approach due to bad experiences with collaboration in the past. A really common back story for people like this is that there was a time when they didn't have control over a project and unjust criticism fell on them which has led them wanting to force their way and take control. The solution here is to create good new experiences of collaboration, show them that collaboration doesn't need to be scary, and help build respect. Help them trust that working with you is safe and try not to see them as the enemy, despite me literally presenting them here as the enemy.

Next we have the blamer. They rarely acknowledge or apologise for their own mistakes and are quick to blame people for theirs. They may even stretch the truth to convince others that their version of events is accurate. Really bad ones may use the fact that you're a junior as a tool to throw you under the bus for their own mistakes. The solution here is the mantra: process not people. It means when something goes wrong, the entire team should really be talking about it with a focus of the processes that went wrong. When the blamer begins to blame redirecting their attention from blame towards facts that are verifiable.

Also, to lead by example, learn how to be effective, owning up to your own mistakes in the right way. Don't over apologise, don't over explain. Try to remove as much emotion from it as possible and remember that mistakes are part of the job. You are still a good developer if you make a mistake, especially if you identify why and communicate this to wider team. Even better if it highlight, for example, that some documentation was perhaps outdated. Finally, if you do mess up, remember to take a deep breath and chill. It is really not the end of the world if you break something.

Okay, we now have the passive aggressor. These ones are really tricky because they can be hard to spot to management but they can do real damage one to one. They may act friendly and fine and even do things to sabotage the work or performance of others. It is hard to prove passive aggression because the words may seem positive or neutral but you feel they're doing something negative.

Firstly avoid reciprocating the passive aggressiveness. I've achieved this here by pointing the flames at the passive aggressor's face and neck. Honestly, again, lead by example and confront problems out in the open, and remember to use tact and good timing with this. Secondly, express interest in their true feelings, and let them feel heard. Often people being passive aggressive are jut not comfortable with being direct. Okay, we are now going to move on to the final boss who could even be your actual boss, come to think of it.

The narcissists have a pattern of entitlement, need for admiration, lack of empathy, and expecting unearned high praise regardless of their actual effort for accomplishment. They may be disliked due to this, but also due to some of the things that we discussed earlier around tech bro culture and how it maintains itself, this person could be really administrator by many co-workers, incredibly charismatic and their confidence mistaken for talent which can be really, really frustrating. Now, remember, this bit of advice is for day-to-day coping with these characters, rather than actions to change the system.

So this is going to be a little bit controversial, if you're having trouble with one of these among per cent, consider using flattery if it gets the job done. I know it's a really weird attack move, but you can reframe tasks that you want them to do as beneficial to them or in need of their big, big brain. They will only want to do things that help themselves not others. To hype up the boring documentation task and make out it is for genius's grasp only. Praise, praise, praise. When they do it, and publicly. It is painful, but it does work.

That brings me to the end of my tech bro tool kit. I hope you found it helpful in some way. This was my first-ever talk. Thank you for being such a lovely audience. If you don't get your question answered, I've got a Twitter I made a couple of weeks ago just for this. Feel free to contact me on there. Thank you very much.