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Culturally Demystify Technology

Let's bring the people who use the tech product into the product building process

Gretchen Scott

Just in case you don't know this about me, I am very passionate about diversity in tech. In my mind, this is about making tech accessible, open, and inviting to the broadest range of people possible. Having the people who are using tech also be involved in creating it, is critical to ensure that what we build is useful, safe, and inspiring for the widest possible range of people.

I’ve spent huge amounts of energy facilitating tech education and in particular working to ensure there are great spaces for women to learn how to be active participants in technology creation. Alongside Akanksha Malik, I run Women Who Code Melbourne. I've just spent a fabulous weekend as an attendee at 0xcc, and spend a lot of time collaborating with the many amazing community groups in this space. So, imagine my internal shock and total horror when earlier this year I came to realise the obvious:


Yeah, I know right?! It’s glaringly obvious, and yet here I am still processing it.

So, if we believe that having a diverse range of people involved in creating technology is a good thing and that not all people are going to want to code (yep, still working on getting over that one), then what do we do?

Tech has always been a bit of a closed box, there are quite a few gates to get through if you want to give feedback early on in product development (and by early on, I mean before its fait accompli and you’re just getting sign off).

Diversity is Good For Business

Firstly, let’s do a quick recap of why diversity is good for business, just so we’re all on the same page.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found that diversity increases revenue for companies.

“Increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance” was a lead finding by the study, which looked at 1700 companies across 8 countries. Companies with more diverse management teams were shown to have 19% higher revenue, due to innovation.

For tech companies, startups, and any industry where innovation is the key to success, this report shows that diversity isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ metric to slowly head towards, but a key strategic necessity.

If you stop to contemplate this for a while, it makes sense. More diversity means a diversity of approaches, experiences, minds, and ideas - this allows teams to look at problems from a variety of angles and produce a more considered solution. 

Aside from profitability, having diverse teams working together on technology is crucial to ensure we are creating tech for ‘good’ and not ‘evil’. There are countless examples of technology having unintended consequences, but are they really unintended if we did nothing to prevent them? Ignorance is a choice. We cannot foresee every outcome, but there are opportunities to consider as many harmful consequences as possible, and having a diverse team consider the implications of a product is a good first step.

Have a read of "Technically Wrong, Why Digital Products Are Designed to Fail You", by Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

So.... How do we share and include a diverse range of people in tech if they don't want to write code?

This is a tough one, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and would like to propose that perhaps we should be asking the question from a slightly different perspective: 

How can we ensure that everyone in the team can give feedback about the product in a really timely manner?

Tech is full of gate-keeping and roadblocks that stop people from being able to become actively involved in the product development process. As a community, we need to look at ways to reduce these and be able to share the products we’re building as we build it. Just because someone doesn’t know how to run your code on their own computer while working-from-home doesn’t mean they don’t have valid knowledge and feedback to provide. Feedback that could help build a better product and also reduce the amount of developer re-work required.

However, once the code is written, we are all pretty invested in the product. I think we should also pause at the start and really consider what it is we are building, and why. One of my favourite tools in the market to help this process are Ethics Litmus Tests, small cards with provocations to stimulate discussions that really should be had (and that we often don’t have).

My bet is that the organisations who will do the best in the future, are those which are able to deliver better products at a faster rate, this means that they need to have a wide range of people involved in product development with very considered feedback loops established and great devops in place….. But more on devops another day. 

In the meantime, it is up to us as a community to create ways to break down these barriers and bring a broader range of people into the technology world - how do you think we should go about it?

P.S. As a shameless plug, one of my main motivators to work at Linc is because our product helps with this; making tech product development more transparent. We generate preview links of any commit that you can share with any stakeholder with a URL - that means you can share work in progress with all of your stakeholders; Product Managers, Marketing, the CEO, customers..... anyone.

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