Secret and the tyranny of complex opinions
I have been using the app Secret for the past few weeks. I keep coming back because I was raised catholic and am intensely attracted to confession. Being a gentleman of a certain age it also hearkens back to the good old days of the Internet, when no one knew you were a dog.
If you have not used it, Secret is an app that uploads and supposedly anonomizes your contact data and then dumps you into a stream of free flowing Confessions from people you may know. Each secret is tagged a being either from a place because it is popular, from one of your friends, or a friend of a friend. One can also comment on Confessions and heart them. Comments are handled by assigning a random icon to a user for a single secret which allows for a bit of back and forth.
What has been interesting about the whole thing is that since you may know the people you are speaking with things tend to be a little more civil. Conversations that would normally spiral out into Godwin’s law territory are usually reigned back into a place of understanding or at least mutual acceptance.
I don’t want to get into pining for a simpler time on IRC or gasp prodigy, but Secret has served as reminder of how much I have pulled back from sharing on the Internet in the past decade. Even as it has become easier and easier to be on the Internet, to practice what Zückerberg calls frictionless sharing, the less I want to share. I find myself staying away from the social aspects of the Internet because it has become almost impossible to hold a complex opinion and share it. Sharing actual opinions on line is difficult because:
- They are long
- there is no API for them
- If an opinion you have that fits into 140 characters is too banal to be shared.
- it is nicer to do in real life.
However now my adult interaction time has been cut down by children and work and Secret has been a nice outlet to express an opinion and then defend it in a place of respect.
Because of the people who are most likely to use a service like Secret my feed is filled mostly by people talking about technology. People talk about companies that are crushing it, strange places they get recruited, how awful it is to work as an exec assistant, normal stuff, but not really meaty. So when a confession about someone offering a job to an <under-represented minority> programmer came up and since I have been deep in ABR (always be recruiting) for the past year I felt that I needed to respond.
“I just passed on an <under-represented minority> programmer because they could not code.”
What followed was much what one would expect if anyone has ever been in an internet forum. Neo-libertarians techno-metritocrites thought I was being an objective defender of quality, while some argued that “code is culture” and that it is better to hire a mediocre developer than an hotshot jerk (which was not the argument at all but whatevs). In other words it felt like a very polite rehashing of every affirmative action debate that this country has had for the past fifty years.
This candidate I was referring to had experience that was ten years out of date and would have cost a lot of time that we did not have to integrate them into our shop. I kept looking for ways to hire this person because I believe that diversity in opinion and experience makes us better people and makes the work place a better place to be. I simply could not justify the time and expense needed to bring this candidate on board. I have to keep in mind that we are a business first and a culture can only form if people are willing to pay us for our services, so I passed.
I still felt like an asshole.
I felt like an asshole because I believe in the goals of affirmative action, but hate they way it gets implemented. I feel that putting a quota on the number and kind of people that you need to hire undercuts the real work that we need to do in order to root out talent and utilize people to the best of their abilities regardless of their background. So to have some person seemingly crowing about how they were able to ‘get’ an <under-represented minority> programmer made me wish I didn’t think so hard about this stuff or care about it so deeply. I am proud of the culture that we have at Monsoon because it is built by people who are good at their jobs and care deeply about the work they are doing. We are lucky in that it is fairly diverse (depending on how you draw your diversity charts) and is getting more so.
I am a very privileged person in the fact that I am white, cis, male, and educated, and it is my job to find out if the way I am conducting the interview process allows all applicants to showcase their ability to be useful to the company. Which is slightly different then just asking the question of whether or not they can code. There is an idea that a talent for coding is objective and can be teased out during the interview process. I am not sure that it is always the case, but we are trying. At Monsoon, we are constantly iterating on our hiring process in order to avoid both the personal biases that each interviewer will bring to the room, but also the cultural biases that are inherent in any organization. It is hard work but probably the most important work we do.
In retrospect I I could have just said: “Hiring is hard, good job.” but that would not have felt right either.