Dear Developer, a series

Hubris isn't helpful

(Adapted from a Twitter thread I wrote )

Dear Developer Foo,

Your "hot take" about performance or accessibility isn't helping, it's hurting the very people that you purportedly are helping and defending. I'm not convinced your goal is to help as you say. Based on the inflammatory hyperbole, it often seems like your goal is to just dunk on someone who is equally as privileged as you in another glass house atop Silicon Valley to gain a few internet points while the harm on the actual people affected by this perpetuates.

You're making your peers hate those people and the very ideas you're trying to evangalise. Does that seem unfair? Well, yes, but welcome to the unfair world of standing up for systemically engrained issues.

And Dear Developer Bar,

Your clapback also isn't helping. You dunking on the core concepts of performance or accessibility just make me think you hate poor people on low-end devices and disabled people. Dismissing the entire take and throwing your own rocks from your own glass houses just adds fuel to a proverbial fire that burns everyone outside of the glass houses.

I get it. The thing you build is being attacked, as is the community you stand for, and it's hard to just stand around and take a verbal beating.

But consider that by responding with things that make fun of old Android devices or what not doesn't actually hurt Developer Foo, who you know has a iPhone 11 Google Pixel 4. You're hurting the people who admire you who live in places and in contexts where that low-end Android is their only option.

Dear Hashtag All Developers,

The problem lies in when we prioritise our own egos over actual causes, centring our relatively privileged selves and how we feel over the people who are most harmed by our action; often people who lose lives because our malpractice. Sometimes we might be Foo or Bar, but many of us have played both victim and villain in cases where we should be stewards for the real victims and villains.

As somebody who has to manage very delicate and difficult conversations on the reg, I think there are some things that these angry white techbros need to learn from people on the frontlines of much more fraught conversations, like those around race, disability, gender identity, orientation, &c.

Centre the real victims 📌

What's gotten lost in these discussions is the stories from people who are negatively impacted by products that are not performant and overbloated.

I will tell you a well-kept secret: Every single major tech company has severe shortcomings when it comes to principles of accessibility, performance, and inclusion (The Real API though). As someone who has worked on many projects for many of these companies, I've had to fight (and sadly often lose) fights to make things more performance or accessible. So, while many of these places tout these things loudly, behind "closed doors," they're not as perfect as they'd like you to believe.

So, when some dude who works at one company is throwing rocks about something he cares about (his argument might even be valid!), the first thing the people and community who he attacks is going to do is go digging through his code and find where it fails too.

I'd like to remind everyone here is that we have an accessibility and performance problem at large. The problem with this method is that we've centred the egos of Developers Foo and Bar (one peacocking and one on the defence), when we should be talking about how this impacts the real lives of people who are actual victims of poorly-conceived and -maintained technology.

People oppressed by the failures of accessibility and performance—disabled people, systemically poor people, those not centred in Western civ—have a right to be mad for how we have failed them. They don’t need to sugar coat what they say to make us feel better. Yet! When these minoritised and underserved people speak truth to power, they get extreme vitriol, hate, and death threats for sharing their lived experiences.

They are told to be nicer about their pain, to find gentler ways to not rattle majoritised fragility. To educate.

That is where we, with our tech privileges, must come in.

As stewards of accessibility and performance, we must be aware of our own privileges and possess the patience to educate each other. We are often also on high-end devices and high-speed internet and let's be honest, not really affected by poor performance. So, to lash out in outrage when we aren't even the ones this affects most, is a little disingenuous.

Don't get me wrong. It is absolutely annoying AF to continue to have to tell people the same five basic principles of accessibility over and over—that really, the majority of accessibility problems could be fixed by changing a few colours and writing alt text. On the performance side, learning the differences between preload and prefetch and being more mindful of when we use what packages when, and doing a bit of code splitting, we can make our sites far more accessible to far more people and deplete fewer environmental resources.

But my dudes, if this annoys you, imagine how annoying it is to constantly be misgendered or to not be able to access your healthcare information when you're dying or that you're child has been stripped away from you using tracking technology.

I'm not saying you don't get to be mad, but in this case, it's not your mad to carry. When you make it about your mad, you're centring your own ego over the valid stories of people who are actually hurt by the technology we all make.

Attacks are less effective than invitations 📌

We all have a responsibility to do more where we have the most systemic privilege. For those of us at these Big Tech companies, that means fighting for these principles within our own products. As I mentioned before, every tech company that all these techbros work for creates some majorly problematic tech. So getting into a Twitter war about who is worse is pretty futile.

We must be the ones who have patience to invite each other to do better. It's not fair to ask for patience from people who are systemically at the bottom of every list, who don't have their basic needs met. But from each other? From our glass houses in Silicon Valley? Absolutely.

In particular, when we (royal we inducted here) are both white cis tech bros who are systemically in the best positions to get people to listen to us. Telling a bunch of people off does not work to fix the problem. It gives us a few internet points, makes a few of our insecure fellow tech bros follow us (who arbitrarily hate or like the same frameworks or languages we do), but it doesn't actually make people improve their performance and accessibility.

Instead, it makes them hate performance and accessibility, and thus, the people who are most negatively impacted by it, are caught in the cross-hairs. Why? Because that's how capitalism works. It forces us to hate systemically poor people, disabled people, basically anyone who the system exploits is blamed for their own exploitation. Watch Parasite for a primer on how it all works.

What we need to do is to invite people to do better. Praise people when they do things right. When they don't get things right, invite a conversation and ask questions. Come curious. Come aware of your own messes in your own glass houses. De-escalate flame wars.

Corporations are not people, but the people who work for them are 📌

Often when I see the people who take dunks, they are often the most fragile when others have taken dunks on them. Weird how that works, right? It's almost though none of us likes our work to get attacked by somebody, particularly somebody who works somewhere where Problematic Shit Goes Down.

If you are out here in tech and somehow are standing up for the integrity of your corporation, I want to remind you that your corporation is not your family. Corporations are empty shells used to exploit people. In capitalism, companies are generally going to be maleficent. Why? Because success in capitalism means more money (for an elite few at the top, generally people that hate anything justice-orientated as that means the degradation of their limitless wealth and power). So, if someone attacks a company for its policies, maybe don't get butt-hurt over that. Because that company doesn't have feelings. And it only helps to perpetuate this idea that companies "make decisions." They don't. A few select powerful men named Jeff, Mark, Jack and other Four Letter White Guys do.

Your company also is probably doing some shady shit. We, as white techbros (royal we), are in the best position to stand up for this at our companies and to do something about it. I don't know, unionise, figure it out.

Simultaneously, there is a difference between criticising a product and its shortcomings, and just taking a dig at the people who built it. Again, no one likes when this happens to them. Criticise the facts (but make sure you took time to get the facts straight).

Remove the emotion (which I remind you is not yours) from it. Y'all are so emotional! Try reasoning. Ask more questions. Questions are an equally valid way to hold each other to task.

And consider how much you hated it when someone attacked you last time before you go write a shitty teardown.

De-escalate not inflame 📌

When you do find yourself at the receiving end of accountability, even if it is inflammatory or rude, find a way to de-escalate the situation. Take a step back and see how there might be a valid argument, even if poorly made or ego-driven. If you can't do that, then it means you should just leave the conversation alone and step away.

Besides how social media works is that if you quote-tweet something shitty, you're just giving it more amplification and validating it through engagement, even if you hate to see it.

Be mindful of timing 📌

We are in a state of constant worry and for many people, this is the first time they're dealing with depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Creating more anxiety and stress by being inflammatory is making it worse for everyone. Illuminating more problems without inviting non-facetious solutions is not particularly helpful for anyone's mental state right now.

It's just going to overwhelm us given how many unsolvable problems appear before us every single day.

Stop worshipping industry and subject heroes 📌

I thought long about why this sort of discussion keeps happening over and over in the same sorts of ways, and it's because we keep centring the same people in these niche subject areas. We know what we're getting into; some peoples' brands is to be "That Guy" on the internet, and they're quite successful at it because we all (myself not excluded) feed into their bullshit.

The hero worship in this industry means that we have four dudes (one for each topic focus) who fight about the same 12 things every fortnight. The lockdown schedule got a little confusing, so it was quite for a minute but I see we're back.

Our industry has an infatuation with heroes. People who maybe have done a lot of cool stuff and devoted a lot of their time to providing resources and what not.

But as these heroes continue to fall from grace, I wonder if it's a problem that they become heroes to begin with, particularly when I look at who the heroes are.

Perhaps it is time to find new people to listen to, like our users, and stop giving so much attention to these heroes who aren't even saving the victims that they say they are.

As stewards of performance and accessibility, at the cusp of privilege, we must be the ones to have the conversations tactfully and thoughtfully.

Sun Apr 19 2020 10:28:03 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Dear Developer