Category Archives: Reflection/thoughts

About the “Anti-Diversity Manifesto”

How many people have read the 10 page internal memo written by ex-Googler James Damore in full? Understood the document in its entirety? Acknowledged (not necessarily accepted) the point J.D was making with a clear mind, without immediately jumping to conclusions? Not forming an opinion merely based on for-profit news sites that titled it the “Anti-diversity manifesto”, who rely on catchy, controversial titles to maintain their relevance? Getting the information from the horse’s mouth? Not many, I’d venture to guess. Yet everybody has something to say, strong, assertive statements and opinions seeking to crucify J.D.

This is not entirely about that memo, but more about how statements such as these have stirred up huge storms, and have been blown way out of proportion through social media. What this post really is about, is simply a last ditch effort at bringing some calm and introspection into a disconcerting trend that’s been occurring the past few years, and does not seem to be going away. If you have not already, please go and read the memo in full. Or read it after reading this post, either way, please give it a thorough read whether or not you agree with the premise being brought forth.

Regardless, here’s a summary of his document anyways:

Page 1: Addressing public response and misunderstanding

Pages 2~3:

  • A simple breakdown of left-wing and right-wing stances on equality and ideological preferences, along with a bit about where Google sits on this spectrum and how this position of catering to political correctness silences any contrarian viewpoints or ideas.

Pages 3~4:

  • An overview of how women differ relative to men, “on average”. Namely an openness towards feelings and aesthetics, stronger interest in people instead of things, higher agreeableness, and higher anxiety. Along with providing these bullet points, J.D acknowledges that the higher agreeableness generally leads to women having a harder time negotiating, asking for raises, etc, but also points out there are also men with similar struggles that are unable to get support. Why? Due to gender-biased programs that focus on this issue.

Pages 5-6:

  • Pointing out that men are largely status driven, and judged on status, so tend to pursue higher paying/higher stress jobs, while women, on average, tend to value work-life balance more relative to men. He then presents a few ideas to empower women in spite of these differences:
  • Allow more cooperative behavior to thrive (generally displayed by women), allowing and truly endorsing part time work (more appealing to women, who generally value work-life balance more).
  • Make tech and leadership less stressful (more welcoming to people who are not so pre-occupied with status as to willingly take on significantly more stress).
  • Encouraging that we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine”, something that J.D clearly sees merit in.

Pages 6-7:

  • I assume these two pages are where the majority of the outrage stems from. But what ideas are brought forth here? J.D suggests that in Google’s effort to have a more equal gender/racial representation to counteract discriminatory biases (conscious or otherwise), they are in many cases, being discriminatory. This includes:
  • Programs, classes specifically for people of a certain gender/racial background, differential treatment for “diverse” candidates.
  • Reconsidering sets of people that are not “diverse enough”.
  • Setting org level targets for increased diverse representation, which again, can encourage discrimination/biases.
  • He posits that these well-intentioned, but discriminatory practices can actually increase racial and gender tensions, which is counter to the very thing Google is trying to prevent by putting these practices in place. He suggests that because of the left leaning ideology prevalent at Google, programs and practices are created that goes so far out to cater to minority groups that we fail to view these issues holistically and work with all “sides” to tackle them. He includes some footnotes that points out many ideological biases both historically, and present, including summary of recent research on the salary gap between genders for equal work.

Pages 8-10:

  • Here J.D mentions that the same compassion for certain groups that we so commonly focus on, the kind that leaves no room for differing opinions and healthy discourse, is complacent to plenty of the violent, shaming incidents we’ve seen so frequently over the past few years. He then goes on to clarify “I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.” and suggests that we should instead:
  • Stop alienating/moralizing differing views.
  • Recognize and confront (Google’s) biases.
  • Open up programs that are limited to certain genders or races, that are in essence, discriminatory and divisive.
  • Stop focusing on microaggressions/other unintentional transgressions (jumping to conclusions, being quick to become enraged and place a label on someone for their ideas)
  • Recognize that while gender/racial equality is important, there are fundamental differences between all of us so that we may actually solve problems
  • Some changes to Unconscious Bias training for promo committees that help measure the effect (overcorrecting, backlash, political bias, etc)

Throughout this memo, the premise has been quite clear, and I believe this is very much relevant to our broader world, not just Google, or the tech industry. While well-intentioned, many attempts to “equalize” differences between groups actually end up also neglecting, discriminating, alienating, and harming other groups who may very much have similar struggles. While acknowledging fundamental differences between genders “on average”, J.D makes an effort to point out and reason about many of these points, and offer suggestions for more inclusive, introspective, holistic improvements.

Isn’t this the whole point of equality; gender, racial, or otherwise? Inclusion, acceptance, understanding, accommodating, etc? Yet from the moment this memo was under the public eye, these are the majority of the headlines: “Women are neurotic, diversity efforts are ‘bad for business’ and 10 other shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto” (CNBC), “Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google” (Gizmodo), “One of the company’s male engineers claims that women are biologically unfit for tech jobs” (CNN), “A Google employee wrote an anti-diversity ‘manifesto’ that’s going viral inside the company” (The Verge).

In fact, an ex-Googler wrote an incredibly heavy-handed piece that not only misrepresents and misquotes (“…essentially, how women and men are intrinsically different and we should stop trying to make it possible for women to be engineers, it’s just not worth it.”) the original memo, it goes so far as to feed fuel to the flames by making blanket statements suggesting every female ever would be so incredibly offended by his memo, and that “a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face”.

I can’t help but feel that all the hate and vitriol stemming from this memo, and many other incidents in the past few years, are so incredibly counter-productive and ironic for what we as a society are claiming we value. The second someone presents an idea that deviates even a bit from the hivemind, they are fired, attacked by multiple large media outlets with huge influence and following, receive personal threats, and constantly misquoted, misrepresented, and bashed.

As someone who has worked with many of the top companies in the tech industry, I’ve seen first hand, on multiple occasions, managers that say “women are superior than men”, or made it blatantly clear to their subordinates that they only want to hire women. Is this really what we, as an industry, as a society are about when we talk about equality? Yes, it’s painfully obvious that there are significantly less women in tech as opposed to men. Yes, most women and other minority groups struggle with discrimination, harassment, more than others. Yes, there are also industries, professions, and sub-fields where men are largely underrepresented. Yes, there are areas like sports where different racial backgrounds are significantly more dominant. But is the solution really going so far in the opposite end that any mention of biased, discriminatory attempts to compensate for discrimination should be met with so much aggression? Making it so painfully obvious that yes, your opinion does matter, but only if you agree with “us”? Launching a full-scale attack on someone who did not even say most of the things he’s being crucified for?

And therein lies the problem with all of this. “We” as a society have identified that we are sorely lacking in equality, in fair treatment; that each and everyone of us have biases, conscious or otherwise. “We” want to give a voice to the groups that lack it most. “We” want to feel better about the fact we support a good cause. “We” say we don’t support oppression, that we need to fight for the oppressed. “We” are so concerned with nitpicking every single tiny thing, jumping at every opportunity to label someone else as a racist, a sexist, a bigot, an <insert controversial labels here>, that we push away tons of people. “We” shutdown people’s voices. “We” oppress individuals, and anybody who dares to think differently. People who are misguided, people who may not be the most articulate, people who are misunderstood, females, people of color, all sorts of people. People who have been constantly reassured that they’re safe to express themselves, safe to “speak their mind”.

How can “we” as a society expect to come to a mutual understanding, and work together on being equal, if we’re constantly pointing out and asserting our differences? How can “we” expect to get more people on-board with what we believe in, if we don’t subscribe and hold ourselves accountable to the same standards? If “we” divide, alienate, and push away the same people that we want to listen? Is it still “we” if most everyone is ending up hurt? This past week has hit incredibly close to home, not only this week, all of the past couple years — but this week especially. It’s once again brought something most of us hold strong opinions about, and care deeply about, front and center. And it’s that same thing, that causes all these conflicts. We all want to be heard, yet we do not hear. We all want to speak, yet we do not let others speak. Perhaps it’s about time to put down all the pitchforks and torches, and focus on the stuff that really matters — listening.

Join the discussion on HN:

Giving feedback

Working as a consultant, I’m used to providing suggestions and identifying bottlenecks in businesses. It’s part of the job. I command the rates I do because these clients have seen the results I’ve delivered, understand I very much care about their business, and want them to be as successful as possible.

They have problems or goals for their business and they want me to use my skills and experience to tackle those problems. Since they are paying for my time and trust that I will help make them successful, my opinions and suggestions are taken seriously. They may not always agree with these suggestions, but that’s good because it moves us forward and allows us to further test and analyze these ideas, quantitatively.

However, being used to this kind of process makes things very different in other areas of my life. I regularly visit developer communities online to see what’s going on and seek out interesting questions people have. And after all this time, I’ve found most of the people who go online looking for “suggestions/advice” really aren’t looking for suggestions.

Continue reading

My Amazon interview experience

It all started back when I was still working at SAP. A few colleagues mentioned Amazon was opening up another office in Yaletown. I believe it was in January 2013 or so. I wasn’t very interested at first, but after hearing about it a couple times, I gave it some more thought and decided it wouldn’t hurt. I was going to leave SAP at the end of April, and if Amazon turned out to be a good fit, I just might go there. This was before I interviewed and got offers for Palo Alto, one other company, and the company I worked for from May to July.

There were a few listings on their website, so I applied to a “Web Development Engineer” posting for Vancouver as I felt it was the best match for my skills and experience. I wasn’t actively looking for a job at that point, so I didn’t think much of it and pretty soon, forgot I had even applied. Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by one of Amazon’s recruiters on May 24th 2013 for an interview on the 29th. I seriously considered declining it as I had just moved to my new job for a month, and was certainly not looking to leave (yet).

As many people know, I absolutely hate speaking on the phone. First of all, I’m more of a listener, and when I’m speaking with a stranger for the first time on the phone, that comes across as unenthusiastic or uninterested. Secondly, it forces me to context switch and break my mental train of thought. Whether or not it’s pre-scheduled does not matter; I’m forced to abruptly pause my work and move my attention to something else. As a freelancer, I have the option to cut myself off from virtually any environmental disruptions, and prefer to allocate small time blocks to update or communicate with people/clients. Third and most importantly, it’s synchronous communication. When I have to pick up the phone and speak to someone, not only am I making an expensive context switch, I have to be wary of tone, wording, and other things that cause the other party to misunderstand me. Aside from that, I’m unable to give any issues more in-depth and careful thought, which really defeats the whole purpose of discussing them. But in those recent months I had been looking to make a conscious effort to expose myself to more social/human interaction, so I decided I would give it a try. I had nothing to lose anyways; I was working on stuff I enjoyed and this phone call would have no effect on me other than cause a bit more nervousness.

Phone interview:

I took the morning off (and made it up later) to do the phone interview. When I picked up the phone the interviewer introduced himself as a Web Development Engineer from Seattle. Continue reading