The Tech Pledge: first, do no harm

For the majority of my career, more engagement, more stickiness, more data, more manipulation, and more breaking things were unequivocally more better. The last few years have been a collective sobering experience. As with any other advance, when unbounded, there are unintended1 consequences. Our manipulation, data collection, broken practices, and starry-eyed belief in the greater good of technology have slowly but surely caught up with us2.

The consequences are many. They run the gamut from deteriorating mental health through perpetuating socioeconomics to influencing elections. And, the world has woken up to it. As the people who build technology, it’s time we wake up too.

My friends in the Copenhagen tech community have for the last three years hosted Techfestival., a celebration and discussion of the intersection of technology and humans. The first proud product was The Copenhagen Letter, a manifesto on ethical tech.

This year, the community shaped and published The Tech Pledge. A Hippocratic Oath of technologists, it’s a beautiful summary of the human values, we should all hold dear as we do our work. Of the twelve pledges, three resonate extra strongly with me:

… to take responsibility for what I create.

… to only help create things I would want my loved ones to use.

… to never tolerate design for addiction, deception or control.

Let’s move technology into the ethical era, together. Make The Tech Pledge.

  1. Unintended, undesired, ignored – your pick. Move fast and break things. 

  2. Most of these behaviors are not universally bad. An engaging piece of technology, that helps people do their jobs more joyfully is as honorable as anything. 

September 10, 2019 |

Stay in the game

I have referenced this story to a few people over the last month or so. There isn’t any one passage that stands out. It’s just a simultaneously incredibly frightening and heartwarming story about the nature of humans.

August 5, 2019 |

Better by default

Going through some old notes on technology choices, I came across Jason Moiron’s excellent commentary on’s performance gains from their switch to Go from a few years ago:

People have commented that these savings could have been gained from writing critical sections in C or by going over the original code with an eye for performance. Putting the obvious parallelization benefits that Go has over most other languages aside, the point they’re missing here is that you more or less achieve these results by writing normal Go code.

While I still think Go lacks a lot in terms of language features to make productivity a priority, it’s hard to dispute the fact that for a number of cases, Go is better by default. While my notes took Moiron’s point to heart, I still chose Python for the bulk of the backend work of Audacious for now, for that exact reason. There are presently a few services written in Go for critical paths, but for the most part, Go is incredibly unproductive, especially in the context of simple Web service related things, which are, by and large, CRUD with one or two bells or whistles.

June 12, 2019 |

Women in the Room

Zach Holman makes a very solid point in the wake of the most recent wave of realisations that the tech industry is filled with misogynistic shitheads. The “throw women at the problem” approach to fixing the tech industry simply isn’t the right way about it, and it obviously isn’t working. It has to start somewhere else.

Fundamentally, the assholes who ruin it for everyone else need to either go, or change their behavior in major ways and own up to their past mistakes in a genuine manner. I must say, I’m pretty pleased to see a few of the most gnarly examples I’ve had the chance to interact with get theirs in recent time – including a few who have been smelling their own farts hard in public.

However, while this is all well and good, it shouldn’t be the women’s job to make this happen. There are enough “good guys” in this industry, that we should be able to call these people out and solve it within our own “ranks.” Or at least, that’s how it should be – and we should kind of all be embarrassed that this hasn’t been the case. Sure, that gun-wielding founder is mercurial and scary and all, but whatever happened to doing the right thing? The industry as a whole spends so much time talking about “changing the world for the better,” that surely, this must be part of the agenda too.

I mean, the whole industry can’t possibly be this deranged… right?

July 3, 2017 |

A much needed grain of salt

I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” a few years back and being unable to shake the eerie feeling that the whole premise was a bit too much “pseudo” and not enough “science.” The book is by all accounts an interesting and somewhat thought provoking read on some of the factors that make up a select few “successful people.” But, most conclusions were drawn from Fox News-esque summaries of research, and it left one wondering how heavily influenced the entire book was by selection bias.

Now, I know the book was never made out to be a scientific study of any sorts, but it seems like Gladwell’s persuasiveness got the better of a lot of readers, as I’ve kept on hearing the fabled “10,000 hour rule” – Gladwell’s rule, that if you put in 10,000 hours of practice at something, you’ll be come an expert at it – stated as fact ever since the book came out. As it turns out, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. In fact, earlier this year, a book excerpt written by Anders Ericsson – the main author of the study, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Gladwell based his rule on – saw the author explain the extent to which Gladwell is incorrect (spoiler alert: Gladwell took a single average and made it a rule.) Especially the deconstruction of Gladwell’s The Beatles example is eye-opening, if you didn’t already balk at the example in the book. But, for a wider audience, I think the distinction of influential practice is probably the most important part of Ericsson’s rebuttal:

This distinction between deliberate practice aimed at a particular goal and generic practice is crucial because not every type of practice leads to the improved ability that we saw in the music students or the ballet dancers.

In other words, even though someone has been doing something for 10 hours a day for 20 years, it does not make them an expert – it’s their approach to it, that does. This is not at all to say that I think Gladwell’s work should be dismissed altogether. It’s merely to say, that I wish people would stop and think about what they read and are told, rather than just accepting it all at face value. For now though, the “10,000 hour rule” serves as a good indicator of when to walk away from a conversation, or counter with such equally fascinating and scientific facts as the 8 spiders a year consumed during sleep average.

July 17, 2016 |