How the tech industry can be more compassionate with April Wensel
July 16, 2019, 9 p.m.
On this episode Abadesi talks to April Wensel, founder of Compassionate Coding, and one of Aba’s favorite follows on Twitter. She’s a veteran software engineer who has worked in healthcare, entertainment, research and education.
In this episode they discuss...
How to make your interviews more inclusive
“What you can do is discuss problem solving on a technical level, because I think that’s really one of the most important skills as a software engineer. It’s not memorizing syntax or being able to code something up really fast on the spot, instead you turn it into an evolving conversation where you talk about architecture, how to choose frameworks, or working through refactoring problems.”
April recounts her first time hiring a team of engineers and says that it ended up being fifty percent women and people of color without making any special effort to do so. She explains how she approached the hiring process and why typical tech industry interviews, despite being used by some of the biggest companies in tech, exclude too many people from the process and don’t test for the right skills.
Why we need to change the way we think about the tech industry
“We don’t think a lot about the people who are involved in or affected by tech. We’re mostly focused on the hot new technology or whatever. That’s what inspired me to start something to change how we think about technology from the level of software engineers.”
April explains how she came to the realization about the tech industry that spurred her to create Compassionate Coding. She says that too often we don’t think enough about the human side of technology and that we need a new approach.
Why telling someone you’re non-technical is nonsensical, and why she says, "if you can use a fork, you’re technical"
“I was always hearing this term non-technical. When people call themselves non-technical, that’s heartbreaking because they’re limiting their possibilities. It’s like when people say they’re not creative. It’s such a fixed way of looking at the world that’s just not true. Whatever skills they have, they’re technical. Anything where you go really deep is technical.”
She says that in her experience in tech “non-technical” has been used as a codeword for a broad swath of unspoken reasons that someone wouldn’t fit in. She explains why we need a broader definition of technical that doesn’t just mean that someone has coding skills.
The problem of “toxic elitism” in the tech industry
“The culture that uses terms like RTFM implies that ‘I’m not going to help you, and you should be ashamed that you didn’t help yourself first.’ It assumes that this person is lazy and can’t figure things out.”
April talks about some of the toxic attitudes and behaviors that pervade tech, and specifically software engineering. She says that people are too often reticent to help each other and that there is an unwarranted sense of superiority among engineers.
How you can do your part to cultivate a positive culture at your company
“Imagine the fear that we [women and minorities] have been living in forever. Now that we’re having conversations, yes it’s making men and people from the majority groups more mindful, but yes, your words are important and it’s worth being mindful about them. It’s about not being afraid to make a mistake but knowing you will make mistakes and being humble enough to admit that and then to handle it gracefully when someone points out that you made a mistake and commit to doing better.”
Aba and April swap stories of some of the most egregious interactions they’ve had or heard about in the tech industry, and explain how we can all help to make tech more more inclusive.
We’ll be back next week so be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, Overcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Big thanks to Copper for their support. 😸
Companies and Products Mentioned In This Episode
Happy Cow — Find vegan and vegetarian options near you.
Strava — The social network for runners and cyclists.
Tara Brach — Weekly meditation classes.