SIGAVDI #94: Belgian Coffee Edition

Hello friends,

It finally got cold here in St. Louis, albeit still with a sad paucity of snow. We got a dusting the other day.

I’m on the last day of a quarantine with my partner; she got a surprise positive COVID test the other day in prep for some travel. Neither of us is sick at all, so our vaccines and boosters probably did their job. But we’re being careful anyway.

Fortunately, the bison at Lone Elk Park, where we made a field trip to get out of the house, are not at risk of COVID. They abide.

Let’s do some bullets, shall we?

What’s Good

  • Anyone who cares about science and also about people has to struggle with teasing apart problematic scientists from their undeniably important research. But the more we understand the way science sets the very boundaries of the questions we ask, the more we realize how repugnant views tinge the work itself in subtle ways. Case in point: the very ways we think about statistics in validating scientific outcomes were developed by eugenicists in pursuit of their need to justify racism.
  • There are many, many articles written by concerned technologists trying to explain why cryptocurrencies and “web3” are a libertarian fever dream, wrapped in a lie, slathered with scam sauce and dusted with grift. This is a particularly comprehensive one of them. (Here is another)
  • Hillel Wayne: The Outside View. One of the best heuristics for quickly identifying charlatanry, and one we should be less embarrassed to employ.
  • Cory Doctorow: Turns out we got the Luddites wrong, all this time. Never thought I’d say this, but I guess I’m a Luddite.

What’s New

It’s full steam ahead over at Graceful.Dev, the successor to RubyTapas and Here’s a few highlights since the last SIGAVDI:

  • During the early pandemic lockdowns I quietly started writing a weird recursive book about project automation, and it’s now in alpha as a course-of-a-book on Graceful.Dev: A Course About Project Automation. (If you were one of the pre-buyers of my “Rake Field Manual” project, this is the new incarnation. I’ll be sending out freebie codes for anyone who pre-purchased that book.)
  • In partnership with Honeycomb, Jessica Kerr is building a new Introduction to Observability course at Graceful.Dev! This one is free with registration, and if you jump in now your feedback can help guide the course’s evolution.
  • I’ve been mostly focusing on site features, content organization, and kicking off some new courses like the ones above. But if you missed my one-off RubyTapas-era videos, I made a new one about laziness and greed in regular expressions.
  • I can’t begin to summarize all the improvements I’ve made to Graceful.Dev over the past month-and-change, but that’s why the site has its own blog. One thing I’m particularly proud of: all the “lost” discussion threads from the old Discourse-hosted forums are now resurrected on the site as either comments or forum posts!

In non-Graceful.Dev news, my series of blog posts on running a “banana stand business” has continued, with entries on The Pond Scum, and Your Autoresponder.

What’s in my head

I teased last time that I’d tell the story of my calamitous attempt to get a “real job”. I still don’t feel ready to unearth that tale. But maybe I can dig around the edges a little.

Once upon a time, when I saw a colleague take a job at an organization I knew to be ethically questionable, I’d scratch my head. Now I just start a mental countdown. Soon enough, they’ll be out with a plastered-on NDA smile and a carefully rehearsed line about an “exciting new chapter”.

Why do good people fall for bad organizations? Specifically, good senior people in tech, who have plenty of options?

I’ve often heard (and given) this bit of advice for interviewing: “Remember, you’re interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you.”

My experience with interviewing last year taught me that this advice is correct, but it’s not sufficient. Sure, yes, you’re interviewing the company. But it costs them nothing to give you the “right” answers. And it’s much easier for the people already there to believe those answers than to contemplate what it might mean if they didn’t.

It’s not enough to ask “hard questions”. If you have the privilege of options, and you really want to know what kind of organization you’re talking to, you have to take a step beyond questions.

You have to make yourself a tiny bit inconvenient.

I made myself inconvenient. Not wildly so. In my case all I did was ask for the things I’d been promised to be put into writing. That was it, but it was enough. I had gone off-script. I was no longer playing along with the tacit agreement: we all want the same thing here.

It wasn’t until I made myself inconvenient that I found out where I really stood.

Tech employment is a game where we all agree to be fooled into feeling powerful because we’re in-demand. Flexible hours! “Infinite” PTO! Shiny new hardware! Free lunch! Leave your coffee cups wherever!

In return for this safe, bright, illusion of power, we also agree to be systematically stripped of any true institutional leverage we might have had. It’s a cage, but it’s a nice cage, that you can easily pretend isn’t there. Until you’re inconvenient.

Front-loading the inconvenience to the interview point can save a lot of time, from this perspective. At the cost of sacrificing some comfortable illusions.

It’s not so much about whether you get the inconvenient thing (unless it’s a dealbreaker for you, in which case, it is). It’s about understanding where the power lies.

Does the hiring manager tell you “yes, that should be totally doable”, then get countermanded?

Do you get offered handshake promises with no paper trail?

Do they counter-offer you more money instead? More money is cheap, in tech.

Do they interview you for your values, then balk at a specific ask that’s based on those values?

Do they tell you “sorry, but we have a standard procedure and we can’t make exceptions”? If so, you can forget “changing the org for the better” from within. Even if that’s what they said they were hiring you to do.

Do they simply ghost you? If so, I’m so sorry, but you were just a butt in a seat to them, no matter how “excited” they were to have “your unique skillset”. Probably better you found out this way.

The thing about inconvenience is that people like me can try it on like a loud Hawaiian shirt.

You know who else is “inconvenient” for the organization? People with disabilities, who may need accommodations in how the work is done in order to fully participate. People of color, who may have trouble focusing on work sometimes because another of their own was gunned down by police today. Mentally ill folks who don’t know when they will next wake up unable to get out of bed. Caregivers with schedule commitments that conflict with “core hours”.

And, of course, folks who just can’t seem to fold up their moral spines when they notice their shining giant aspirational best-of-the-best tech employer is breaking the law.

Too much of the burden of being inconvenient falls on the folks with the least safety to bear it. I’m done with merely asking “tough questions”. I aim to be inconvenient.

That’s enough for now. Stay warm (or cool, depending on hemisphere), stay safe, keep your socks dry, and make yourself inconvenient. And, oh yeah, if you like this newsletter, maybe drop me a buck a month. You’ll get an invite to Jessitron and my Discord server, “Tensegrity” where you can chatter with us!