Maya Man: To start off, I know a lot of you talked about obstacles you faced coming into the community, so what are some of the most important things to think about when trying to welcome people into the community, and also on the flip side, what are things that can be intimidating or discouraging or unwelcoming to people new to the community?
Stephanie Migdalia Pi Herrera: I can talk about something that bothers me a lot that people do when you’re learning. My school instituted this rule called “no touching,” and this is very important. What it means is when you’re teaching someone, especially something technological, people who are very advanced tend to have this thing where they take your computer and they’re like, “I’ll just do it for you.” And then you don’t learn. You’re like, “Oh, my problem is fixed but my problem isn’t really fixed because I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.” So no touching is a really important thing not to do to people you’re mentoring.
Epic Jefferson: One of the more important things that happened to me when I was getting started, since I come from an audio background I started doing Max/MSP. And since I’m from Puerto Rico, everyone that knew something about Max was online. This was like 2009, more or less. When I asked questions online, I didn’t get any responses, and this is a very basic question, maybe something to do with an oscillator. But I didn’t get any answer at all online, and obviously that’s super demotivating because I couldn’t get past that first barrier. So first barriers are very important to nurture and get past. At the moment I thought it had to do with Max being proprietary and the knowledge that comes from working with something proprietary is held onto stronger than an open source alternative, which is what happened to me. So when that happened, I was demotivated to work with Max and I learned about PD and when I used PD and ran into the exact same problem (because it’s basically the exact same software) I tried to ask on the mailing list or the forum again, and immediately I got a lot more answers. I solved my problem and I was able to get further. So I think not being jealous of the knowledge that you have is important in nurturing people’s first barriers, helping them through it.
Maya: Going along with that, the open source community faces a lot of challenges with communication that come along with it. What can be do to avoid aggression, and also if there are cases of aggression or microaggression, how should that be handled in that community setting?
Phoenix Perry: Zero tolerance. Just zero, zero tolerance, personally.
Maya: This week with p5 especially, we’re looking to draft a code of conduct and a community statement, so what are some thing you all feel should definitely be included in that statement to address these issues?
Epic: I think it’s a little bit more complicated than just like— I mean, when I hear “zero tolerance” it’s going to be like this person does let’s say a microaggression against another person online, and then so you don’t exclude that person or demotivate them so they leave the community, you basicaly kick someone else out of the community. That’s what it sort of feels like. It’s hard to determine where being defensive begins and where being aggressive begins. It would be an aggression against that person as well, right?
Taeyoon Choi: In a real-life situation, we face more very small misunderstandings as opposed to very intentional aggression, such as for ESL students, there’s a lot of things that they miss, or cultural connotations that are really hard to translate. So it might be interpreted as aggression. What we try to do is respect the differences and be patient with each other. We did work out a code of conduct and soon we realized that we can’t do a zero tolerance policy in a multi-cultural environment. So having a general expectation and trust was more important than having a rigid structure in that manner. It takes a lot of work. It takes a giant amount of energy to build a community, and there needs to be trust and love before there’s a rule or code of conduct. Letting the participants understand each other and then get interested and devoted to each other probably should come before setting up the rules.
Sara Hendren: One proactive thing we do with students at Olin in their first year (we don’t call them freshmen, we call them first-year students) on team collaborative projects is we have them identify and separate the team’s goals from their individual learning goals. What that means then is that the student on a team who is particularly strong in CADing skills already, and then there’s another student whose CADing skills are rather much more in a beginner stage, that student who’s got low CAD skills can say, “My learning goal for the project, in addition to the project team’s shared goals, is to get better at CAD.” Then it becomes incumbent upon the team to also let that person gain more technical skill at a moment where they might actually opt for skills that are complementary to the tech skills instead because they’re good in that area and you get a further separation of technical literacy and so on. We’ve found that to be very useful to say, “Look, everybody’s got to acknowledge that there are individual goals here, too.” It may not be the most efficient way but it’s the way for both the team to get its goals done and for individuals to push themselves, and for people to honor and be patient when they’re around that stuff.
Taeyoon: I think in this technical context there’s a very common tendency to have a situation where there’s something with technical expertise [who] has supremacy or more attention. One way we try to avoid that is to celebrate everyone’s talent by sharing what they’re doing, where they’re from, in a very short presentation in a very celebratory manner. That empowers everyone that they are contributing to the community. So it’s not so much about the code in the end, it’s about who you are and what you want to learn from that. That also comes in with representing the community to be more than just programmers or just a language that we’re trying to build, but the culture that we’re trying to construct together.
Epic: When do you do those celebrations?
Taeyoon: Very first thing, so in the first week. Maybe that’s something that we should do here tomorrow or tonight, sort of get to know each other.
Maya: When you’re building a community of any type and trying to encourage these people from different countries, different backgrounds, all different skill levels, an obstacle that often comes with trying to promote diversity is people feel that they don’t fit the stereotype, or what they perceive as someone who should work in technology. What advice would you give to a student who feels like they don’t belong or feels like they’re not right for the job?
Stephanie: I think for me the way that that happened is I just had to find people who were like me. So the same way that you [Epic] tried to find your community in Puerto Rico, I had to create that community in Seattle and find it. It’s not something that can come from the top down, but it can be facilitated, so the thing that people in the in-group can do is allow for that space and respect that space, and not feel like, “I’m being pushed out” of that group or something. Just respect that we need that space.
Audience 1: Thanks for the really great panel. One thing I often hear—I’m at MIT at the Media Lab, and a lot of people are really excited about broadening participation in engineering and programming, and it’s really wonderful. But often the approach, I feel, is one where the focus is on how the opportunities of technologies can benefit people working in other fields, often art or design fields. I’m wondering what your perspectives are on how the powerful ideas present in art and design can inform engineering or programming fields.
Sara: The province of the humanities, art, and design has historically been about points of view, and about meaning, and about metaphor, and about ambiguity, and what seem to be contradictions that actually cohere together. I think the point of view and the irreducible complexity that is being alive is very much the first language of arts and design, and I think no matter what you can do that’s technically novel is not the answer to why you should do that thing. So I am an artist teaching engineering. Not art for engineers, but teaching engineering, which is always surprising to me, but I’ve found that I have a place there by realizing that being able to solve technical problems yes, can be a liberatory practice but not without a point of view that is the complexity of the arts and design to say, “What should I build and what kind of meaning will it make in the world?” Nothing is made in a vacuum, it has all these cultural registers and to be aware of that rich vocabulary is something that folks in tech need very much, it seems to me.
Johanna Hedva: I was thinking about this panel kind of in parallel to recently watching Halt and Catch Fire, and reading this long article in The New Yorker about a venture capitalist, and then watching the trailer for the new Steve Jobs movie. All of these cultural events around technology and its limitless potential were sort of in the pop culture radar while I was preparing for [inaudible]. And I kept thinking that the kind of bottom-line core story that was being told in all of these three different pop culture references was that starting a business is cool, the coolest thing you can do is to start a business. It’s kind of the story of all these things. Halt and Catch Fire, Steve Jobs, venture capitalism. All of these kinds of things that are attached to technology now, especially in late capitalism hopefully post-capitalism time, I think that Sara’s right. I think the thing that I’m most excited about in terms of technology and engineering is too have a criticality around it and think about what it’s used for and how it can be culture. I mean technology as culture is a central idea to Processing and to P5 and to the Internet and everything. So I guess I don’t work in technology as such for just doing that one field, and I think that the porosity and fluidity of disciplines and fields is the most exciting and best hope we have, I think.
Casey Reas: I feel that learning how to program when you go to a computer science department across the world is very much about monoculture. And I think within our community within the arts, we’re exploring other ways of learning this way thinking, other ways of learning this skill. And we’re sort of opening up an idea that you can learn these powerful ways of thinking and creating kind of a 180-degree different way. I feel really strongly that learning should be largely about ability and about desire and not just fitting into this technology monoculture. In a way it’s oftentimes, people once they get in they can find a place, but it’s that initial rejection that— .
Maya: I know with P5 that’s something that is definitely trying to happen. You should try to really reach out to people of all different kinds, artists and designers and everyone in between and really make technology something that they are also interested in. Thank you so much and we really hope that you can continue this discussion over dinner and tomorrow during the brainstorm and also anytime throughout the week. Thank you to all of our great speakers, both on Google Hangouts and here with us today at the conference. Thank you all for listening.
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