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James Seconde
James Seconde

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On Meritocracy

I am a product of the PHP community - it's how I got into software development, it's why I have my career, it's why I now do Developer Relations.

There are three factors that made me choose this path. They are all from the same conference, in 2012. Those factors are three specific speakers:

  1. Jenny Wong
  2. Lorna Mitchell
  3. Jessica Rose

You see, the thing is, to my naive eyes at that point in my tech career it didn't strike me as at all different in any way that these three people were not men. What I had failed to acknowledge is the reason why there was such a top line-up at PHPUK 2012. The reason was because it was being curated by people who were levelling up the field by doing research and getting the best people in to speak that represented what the community -should- look like due to the talent out there. Only now, with a lot more experience from networking with communities and developers have I realised that sexism is absolutely rampant in the field I am supposed to call my home. But why hadn't I noticed?

Let's talk about the "CIS-white-man-privilege" card.

To some, using these terms may cause an inevitable groan that conjure up other terms from the other side of the fence such as "Social Justice Warrior". My role here, however, is to convince you (if you've groaned) that this card exists, so I'll back it up with evidence of my experiences.

I wanted to be a developer, so I went to meetups. I went to conferences. I spoke with other developers. I confidently bagged a backend developer role, entering as a junior, in my 30's. I have no CS degree, I had no experience as a software developer at the time. I was enthusiastic, eager to learn. That's all you need right?

When entering into tech this way and getting into Developer Relations, again I was confident. I wanted to do it, I started speaking, I started writing. I convinced a business to let me do these things. I started my own meetup. I did all of these things without being challenged. And the reason why I hadn't been challenged is because I'd got wind that tech was a meritocracy: that "Uncle" Bob Martin had said it was all about the code. Nothing more, nothing less.

It's not though, is it? It's not a meritocracy:

I've not been at a conference as a developer and been mistaken for a recruiter or sales because of my gender.

When building my public brand, I've not had direct messages on Twitter advising me that right now, my best option is to quit tech and raise children at home.

After speaking at events, I've not had unsolicited emails with twenty five bullet points on advice about how to make my talk better.

I've not had to justify my position as being a software developer by being questioned in-depth about a super-abstract computer science concept because I made a passing remark in conversation.

Yes, these are real world cases, so we need to stop pretending this doesn't happen. If you think it doesn't happen, the important line I want you to acknowledge is that the truth is "it doesn't happen to me".

I first started encountering things like this in my first agency environment, where the Christmas party, consisting of about 55 developers -of which only two were not male- decended into (I'm not joking here) an arm-wrestling contest. At that company I also vividly remember an individual in management assessing the looks of a visiting recruiter out loud to no response. The blank response resulted in them exclaiming, "was that sexist? It was probably sexist. Ah, well", and everyone turned their chairs back to their screens.

This isn't the industry I want to work in. I mean, this is behind closed doors - if you want to see it in public, I'd say Zuzana Kunckova announcing the creation of the Larabelles community for non-male Laravel developers was a pretty good example. I'm not going to post the link, but a ton of developers dogpiled in with "why is there a need for this, we're all equal? This is dividing us and is pointless".

It wasn't the right question. The right question should have been, "what has made non-male developers feel like they need to set up a new community with an emphasis on it being a safe environment?" That's the real question, and the ones they were asking answered the question I put forward perfectly.

There is one final example of this to give, and it's important to me because it is the reason I have finally written an article like this.

This article was written for, an initative from whitep4nth3r that was created after a twitch raid that saw her enduring a shocking wave of sexual harrassment. Non-male tech streamers should not have to experience this in these times. This is appalling. My regret when writing this article is that, on seeing this being unbreak being created, I haven't taken as much action as I could have.

One of my objectives with this article is to point out how bad things are, still, in 2021. The other is showing how we can change things.

In my talk of 2019 on elitism in tech, I advocated for steering away from what I described as "gatekeeper hell" by using nudge theory. We all have a small part to play in 'nudging' people away from outdated stereotypes. But does it work?

Yes, it does. We need allies within our ranks to lead by example. The example I always go to is Samantha Geitz's story about her first Laracon experience..

We need more leaders like Matt.

We need more allies.

We all need to do our bit.

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