I know I’m lucky, but I also know that my experience is not uncommon. The fact that I love the work is a subject for another post. Another thing I love about working in tech is the culture. There’s a spirit of fun, a widespread belief that joy fuels creativity, and a dedication to creating arbitrary entertaining activities that make life sparkle just for a moment.

Today, I stopped at the grocery story on the way home to get chicken for soup, since I’ve got this terrible cold. And on top of everything else, I’m confronted with Easter… Long gone are my easter bunny days. I decide that I will get a chocolate bunny and some butterfinger eggs, hoping that perhaps my child who is now a young man might enjoy it or at least feel happy that mom remembered to get him something even though he’s not really into celebrating these kinds of things anymore. Then, I see the sidewalk chalk and I remember yesteryear…

I put the chalk in my basket and I wonder… who do I know with kids who might enjoy this?

Maybe I will send it away in a package to my friend who has a toddler.

I look for yogurt and chicken.

bzzz.

In geek speak, s/home/to work/ means substitute “home” with “to work” and I start to imagine chalk drawings in front of the Federal Office Building at civic center in downtown San Francisco. Would Sasha join me in some scene from Mary Poppins drawing landscapes for the passersby and security guards to admire?

I’m quite confident that my art skills measure up to those of a toddler, but can I rise to the challenge of grown-up art?

bzzz.

This I can do.

I love these people. Nothing in this interaction requires us to all be software makers, but we are. I love that this kind of thing is not uncommon. It’s a thing. A think my mom won’t ever really understand. I remember this guy at Macromedia who decided to work on our web team since they were cool with him taking off one day a week to go surfing. He turned down some big company job where he would have had to work 9-to-5 in button-up shirt. His dad thought he was crazy. I thought that was a perfectly sensible life decision.

Somehow this spirit of fun got confused by some Silicon Valley startup novices who think that somehow ping-pong skills are a pre-requisite for software engineering talent. They miss the point. The point is to figure out what is fun for the people you have and do that stuff. Or just to have fun, not insisting that your version of fun has to be everyone else’s version of fun.

I remember when we all used to learn how to juggle at WWDC and then we would practice juggling while waiting for a 45 minute compile — really, that was a thing. And when I say “we all” it was probably just three of us on a team of 20, but we came from different companies, but we all wrote Mac software and juggling was one of the WWDC activities. But we didn’t make people feel like they didn’t fit in if they didn’t know how to juggle. It was just a silly thing we did, to pass the time, to declare publicly that fun is part of the work.

On Friday, I went to the monthly civic love meetup in San Francisco. It was held in the beautiful Friends of Boeddeker Park facility next to kids playing in the newly renovated park and playground.

I must admit it would not have occurred to me to wonder what happened to the people who used to frequent this park. Someone had remarked at how nice it was to see all of the kids playing in the park. One of the Faithful Fools, a Tenderloin non-profit, said he remembered this place as kind of a living room for adults — the neighborhood is mostly Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartments, and people would come to the park and do the things that other people get to do in their living rooms. He wondered, where is that happening now? Those people have been displaced. Of course this safe, kid-friendly space is wonderful, but it displace a different sort of community center.

Wow, this stuff is complicated.

Sam Dennison, chief financial officer for Faithful Fools, mentioned that he was on KQED’s forum: Are Tenderloin Tech Firms Being Good Neighbors? The representatives from the tech companies seem earnest and a few employees are getting actively involved, but after hearing from homeless activists and a longtime tenderloin resident, I can see how far apart these worlds are.

On the KQED show, Zendesk mentioned that at their current size, they could sustain one employee volunteering once per week, but with 500 employees, that would mean that just 10% volunteer once per year (if I’m doing the math right). It seems like they could give everyone more than one day per year. Nonetheless, I liked how Tiffany Apczynski, director of social responsibility and public affairs for Zendesk, presented their community involvement. It was good to hear about Twitter’s plans too, since I hadn’t heard anything since they first moved in. They are planning to build a $6M center across the street from Twitter where employees can volunteer. I admit that I love Twitter as a service, but have yet to see the positive community impact that I think they could have. Again they face that tough challenge to cross the culture chasm between Twitter engineer and long-time Tenderloin resident.

More links from this fabulous group of people:

  • Faithful Fools Street Retreat a guided process for being part of this city, spending time on the streets
  • Planter Box Project creates a partnership between residents and business owners around growing something beautiful, small havens of life in the midst of our city
  • Hand Up let’s us donate directly to a homeless neighbor in need. Like an Indiegogo or Kickstarter for basic human needs to help someone step up
  • Project Homeless Connect
  • lava mae: Mobile Showers for the Homeless

I talked about my dream of bringing RailsBridge workshops to people who desperately need jobs. I don’t think everyone wants to be a software developer, but I do believe there are quite a few people on the streets who would be brilliant coders. I’d like to find them. MichelleGlauser is way ahead of me on that idea, but it was inspiring to hear about some places that are teaching computer skills:
* The Learning Shelter teaching skills to people in need
* Tenderloin Technology Lab
* Hospitality House

NCWIT Scorecard has great statistics and references. While the report’s title is “Why is gender diversity important in computing?” much of the supporting research references different kinds of diversity. Here’s a high level snapshot:

Diversity

  • Expands the Qualified Employee Pool
    We’re not taking advantage of our diverse population. The industry is failing to attract
    this talent. Indeed, those women already employed in the technology industry are
    leaving at staggering rates, so we’re not retaining either.
  • Improves the Bottom Line
    Technology companies with the highest representation of
    women in their senior management teams showed a higher return on equity than did
    those with fewer or no women in senior management.
  • Enhances Innovation
    A large study spanning 21 different companies showed
    that teams with 50:50 gender membership were more experimental and more efficient.
    Extensive research has found that groups with greater diversity solve complex problems
    better and faster than do homogenous groups. Culturally diverse teams have been shown
    to generate a wider variety of possible strategies when setting a course of action.
  • Promotes Equality
    With technology playing an increasingly crucial role in all of our
    lives, having more people from different backgrounds participate in its creation can help
    break down gender and racial economic inequalities.
  • Reflects the Customers
    Most companies serve a variety of people, so it makes sense then to have a variety of intelligent, skilled people working on services and products.

Read the full report