Chidinma Kalu

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

There’s a divisive movement around the world which has arguable impacted the software development community. How can we remain open-minded and respectful when talking about different programming paradigms or languages?

In this talk, I will be talking about empathy, how we can have divergent views and still have meaningful conversations.

Portrait photo of Chidinma Kalu


CHIDINMA: Thank you all very much. My name is Chidinma. I am Nigerian. It's 

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I am also a frontend developer at New Lab. I love to drink tea. That's a fun fact about me. Another fun fact about me is this is my first time speaking at a conference.

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So, please be kind to me, okay? Okay. So, I'm going to just go straight into my talk. I wanted to  when I was preparing my slides, I thought about how do I talk to people about how we can all get along about the diversity, about everything that happens in our community. So, I decided, okay, let me look at what has happened in the past.

Who remembers the Katie Bowman saga? The woman who  she was part of the team who discovered the black hole. Who remembers? Okay.

Who remembers how much she was bullied on Twitter, on Hacker News, yeah. Who felt very angry? You wanted to find those guys on Reddit. Good. We are all together. Who has ever posted a question on StackOverflow? Good.

I like the communication we're having. Who remembers  who was ever like posted a question and then got very negative feedback. Oh. Yeah.

We're all in the same shoes. My personal story is I posted my first time ever I posted a question on StackOverflow. And I think I  it was about jQuery.

Something about jQuery, and somebody said, can't you read? And said go read the docs. If you can read, go read the docs. After refreshing for over three minutes to get an answer, and somebody said, go read the docs. I'm coming from the docs, right? If I'm coming from the docs and coming to StackOverflow where everyone is to ask questions.

How do you want know feel as a beginner? That was devastating to me. I was trying to remember all the stories when I was coming up with this talk.

Today we're going to have a conversation about why this talk is important. We're going to look at practical examples. We are going to look at a proven solution. We are going to explore ways to apply this solution to our community. We're also going to look another how working on this problem can actually benefit us as individuals and help our community.

Why do we need to have this conversation? We need to have this conversation because we are unique in so many ways. We all come from didn't backgrounds. We have different parents. Even if we're sisters and brothers, I mean, we have different ideologies, right? We need to have this conversation because can be despite our differences, instead of embracing our differences, we are actually making it  allowing it to cause discomfort, disconnect and friction within our community and amongst ourselves.

Okay. Practical examples. I'm going talk about the condescending tone. If you've ever asked a question on Reddit and then somebody down voted your question, right? Or somebody said, this is not right for this thread.

Is it called a thread or a room? Right? Somebody says this is not right on StackOverflow. Have you ever been in code review with your manager or team lead and somebody says, or your team lead says what you did makes no sense, right? Maybe puts you down in a very bad way. How did you feel? Did you feel anger? Did you feel sad?

If you felt anger, just like, okay. Who felt sad about it? Okay. So, the reason I'm talking about the condescending tone is I think we have a problem as engineers. In our community, we have a problem with communicating. I'm not sure everyone wakes up in the morning and says, I want to be condescending.

I don't think people wake up and say, every junior developer in my office has to hear it from me today. I think it's because we don't know how to communicate. And especially when we learn something new, and the beauty of this  when we learn something new, oh, yeah, anyone who wants to talk to me today, has to learn. Let's say you learn about React hoops, for example.

And tell yourself, anyone that asks this question. This is not, this is what we're going to say or to do. A junior developer says something, no, that's not how it's meant to be done. We don't tell them why. We just put them down.

That's not nice. This is a problem in our community, and we need to work on that. Yeah.

Also, one that gets to me the most is the backend versus frontend. If you've ever heard about people say frontend developers do not do a lot of work. Frontend developers are just there. I mean, you can relate to what I'm trying to say here. I have been in situations where people tell me I'm a frontend developer so I'm not doing as much work as the backend developers so I shouldn't get paid as much.

Or I'm just there for decoration or something. Maybe they didn't mean it that way. Maybe I'm trying to be nice to them and they didn't mean it that way, but this is a problem. We are having so much division in our community because we feel some people are doing all the work and some people are doing absolutely nothing.

Developers versus nondevelopers. I actually went around talking to people about this. I spoke to designers. I spoke to people in the grid team, spoke to sales and markets and logistics. And people actually feel that we don't treat them nice.

Shame on all of us. We don't treat them nice. We do not think that they play an important role in the company.

And that is really bad. We need to work on this. Everyone in the company is working hard to make the company profitable. We shouldn't make them feel that we are smarter than them.

We shouldn't make them feel that we are the most hardworking or we are doing the most important job. I mean, if we finish working on the product and there is nobody to sell the product, there are no sales people or marketing people, do you think the world will see what we've done?

No. Okay. As a tech community, we must treat documentation  I saw this Tweet and I have to put it. As a tech community we must tweet documentation and infrastructure work with as much respect as engineering. We have to actually work on this.

Yeah. I'll just give you a minute to read. Read it quickly.

Okay. This one we can all read to it. And I was guilty of this a few months ago. I used to be a React developer.

And I got hired to be a Vue JS developer. But guess what? I was always  I always had the bias against Vue JS developers. I always said Vue was trash, right? I mean, why would you use Vue when you can use React? Why would you use Vue when you can use Angular? But I'm here to tell you today that this framework shouldn't be so.

We shouldn't have these words. They're all tools, right? We are supposed to use these tools to actually work on something, to create product. The fact that we've had one bad experience does not mean that we should spread our biases. And if you ask me why I had a bias against Vue, I don't know.

Maybe somebody told me Vue was trash and I said, okay. Everyone, Vue is trash.

And I did not even put  and that is if question actually set ourselves, why do we hate Angular? Why do we hate Vue? Why do we hate jQuery? Sometimes we don't have a concrete answer. Someone told us our or mentors talked on Twitter and we said, okay. If you're smarter than me and say Vue is trash, then maybe Vue is trash, right? I think this is a problem and we should  it's discouraging beginners from actually spreading their wings. Discouraging beginners from being with open minded because we are just being biased.

How can we make this better? Empathy. I'm sure we've heard about empathy so many times. This is not new, and I will not waste our time. But empathy in the simplest forms is trying to put yourself in other people's shoes.

It's trying to understand why people are acting the way they are acting. It's trying to  when somebody flares up, trying to understand why is this person doing this? That's what empathy is.

Not just your colleagues, people in different communities. People from didn't demographics. So, I'm sure if I ask everyone here, yeah, we show empathy. That's why I put the more in the brackets. Because we all show empathy here.

So, how can we show more empathy towards one another? It starts with a question. How would I feel if I was on the receiving end? So, let's say you're going through StackOverflow and you see a question and you want to answer the question. Before you press send, why don't you ask yourself, if I was a beginner or if I asked this question, how would I feel if I got this answer I'm about to send? Right? That's the question we should ask each other before  or ask ourselves, rather, before we do anything. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who you're about to reply. It may seem like a random answer, but would you like it if you got that kind of answer from people? I'm sure it's no.

Why show empathy? I'm sure we already know with seeing talks about why you should know empathy. But I would just use a few of them. You should show empathy because you are going to be treated better. You're going to treat other people with care. You should also show empathy because you understand the needs of your colleagues and you also understand the needs of your end users.

You should show empathy because when you show empathy, actually understand what people say when you're not speaking. Understand my body language and I'm not comfortable and this is not something I want to hear. And you understand how to deal with conflict better.

Also, I understand we did not start this problem. I mean, I feel when we came into tech we were answered in very rude ways. But, I mean, we have the solution. We can actually take a stand and say we do not  we shouldn't speak to other people this way.

Right? So, how do we  how do we actually come together to make this better? I mean, imagine a community where there are more mentors and very few bullies. Maybe we should just tune into our inner minds, right? And try to imagine a community where there are more mentors, less bullies.

Where you can ask questions on StackOverflow or Reddit or anywhere and not get rude answers. Imagine a community where everyone from every demographic is welcome. Imagine a community where there are no gatekeepers, no one is trying to bring you down. Imagine if we are focused on trying to bring each other up and not trying to bring open other down.

So, in closing I would encourage you to see something, say something. I would encourage you to pause. I would encourage you to listen. I would encourage you to change your point of view. I would also encourage you to apologize when due.

I would also encourage you to speak up for others. Because it's not enough that we understand how to empathize. But when you see somebody actually bringing other people down, say something about it. I would encourage you to share what you know.

And trust me, our community will be better for it. Thank you.

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