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?

Chandler McWilliams:

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.

Further Reference

Overview page at the Studio for Creative Inquiry’s web site.

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