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Why I Became a Community Health Engineer

casseylottman profile image Cassey Lottman ・4 min read

I recently transitioned from a general software engineering position to become a "Community Health Engineer" at Glitch. That job title means I use software engineering to make sure that Glitch stays a safe and welcoming place to create and discover the app of your dreams.

I wasn't initially looking for a community role when I found the job posting, but I discovered it was a perfect fit.

Here's an excerpt from the job posting:

We’re looking for an experienced and community-focused front-end web developer to join our team and help us build the features on Glitch that will help keep it the friendliest community of coders ever!

Our Community Health Engineer will work with the rest of the team to brainstorm, prototype and implement community health features on Glitch, like reporting abuse or displaying safe search results. This role requires both technical skills and the ability to communicate with the Glitch community.

We want someone who will be actively thinking about the effects of our design and features on the community as we grow, and can interact with the community to make sure we’re doing it right.

We’re looking for people with these technical skills:

  • Strong skills in client-side JavaScript, but you’re okay with diving into Node.js
  • An ability to stay up-to-date on modern additions to the language (like ES7 features)
  • Experience in building a11y-compliant interfaces right from the start
  • Proficiency in component-based development (Glitch uses React!)
  • Understanding of and experience in using APIs, both internal and 3rd party
  • CSS savvy, meaning that you know when to use border vs. padding vs. margin, flexbox vs. tables vs. floats, and responsive, fluid design

We’d be particularly delighted to hire someone with:

  • User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) skills – enough to better collaborate with the designers on our team to make sure our health features are inclusive and relevant to our community health goals.
  • Experience and/or interest in speaking at technical conferences – so we can communicate our work to the tech community and be a model for others in a similar space.
  • A passion for online communities and an understanding of the interplay between interfaces and human interactions.

The interpersonal skills will be crucial to your success in this role:

  • Effective, responsive and frequent multi-platform communication to make sure we hear and deliver on the needs of the Glitch community
  • Ability to translate, communicate, and prioritize the needs and desires of the community with the needs and desires of the organization.
  • Enthusiasm for our inclusion goals and an ability to help us measure and promote our progress in working towards them.
  • Willingness to help us create a roadmap for creating and maintaining a best-in-class healthy community as we grow and evolve.

Most importantly, we’re looking for:

  • People who care deeply about empowering everyone to create on the web, and who are thoughtful about how to serve a broad set of audiences with sometimes conflicting community goals.
  • Fluency and familiarity with issues around multiple facets of accessibility and healthy communities.
  • Comfort with creating in collaboration, both with colleagues on our team and with members of the Glitch community. Ability to both handle projects and effectively delegate projects.

As part of the application, I was asked to describe what community means to me, and what kind of roles I've had in communities in the past. My answer was long and heartfelt, touching on topics ranging from what it meant to be a member of the rural community where I grew up, to finding solace in a subreddit focused on a health condition I experienced, to organizing a grassroots movement for safer streets in my neighborhood with people I'd just met.

In the role I held before starting my current job, I had been an active user and community member before being hired as a software engineer. Once on staff, while my insights as a former active user were highly valued, I also wanted to continue engaging with the community as I had done before. That engagement felt important, but it wasn't factored in to my weekly story points or my team's expectations for how I was spending my time. I felt a lot of frustration in that tension - by engaging with the community, I was discovering bugs and pain points, getting a lot of feedback, and learning about how others used the product. I wasn't on the team that was formally charged with managing the community, so I also ran into friction when my ideas for how to engage with users differed from the official moderators' opinions. Sometimes I found harsh negative feedback from the community that I felt should be shared with the wider staff, but when I did, it was interpreted as a personal attack coming straight from me.

While that experience was challenging and often frustrating, it turned out to be valuable in my application to be a Community Health Engineer. It also helped that I've been reading and engaging in discussion for years on topics like inclusion, accessibility, and the culture of the web.

So far, I'm really happy in my role as a Community Health Engineer. I get to spec out new features and write code, and also engage with a passionate, creative community who surprise and delight me every day. I also feel safe fighting for accessibility and proactively pointing out ways our software could be used for harm, because it's literally in my job description.

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