Saron Yitbarek: ‘I Don’t Belong in Tech’

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When I was at NPR years ago, I did a story on public education in California. I don’t remember the angle, but I remember looking up a stat to use in the script. I used that stat in a few places, and after fact-checking, I realized there was an updated number available. I went back and changed the references to the new number, relieved that I’d caught this mistake before handing over my script to the host. But I missed one. I heard it over the speakers when Michelle Martin, the host, read it out loud during the interview, and my heart stopped. I knew it was my duty to report it, so I went up to my editor and told her. She didn’t say anything, but I could feel her disappointment in me. I melted into a pool of shame.

But here’s the thing. No one will ever remember that number. No one remembers it now, and I’m sure no one noticed it when it happened. But I knew it happened, that it was an easily preventable mistake, and in journalism, being wrong in that way is absolutely unacceptable. So imagine my surprise when I first heard of “fail fast and break things,” one of the famous tech mantras for product creation. Imagine my shock to find out that being wrong is not reprimanded, but, at times, encouraged. Imagine my confusion stepping into a world where people are told to “just try it and see.” I tell myself over and over that this is different, that this is good, that public experimentation is not a holy sin. I’ve managed to convince myself, when I’m not busy quieting a nauseous tummy tormented by public broken attempts and shameful failures. But here, I will admit defeat. Being wrong in software is fundamentally different from being wrong in reporting. Except when it’s not.

When I use your product, I’m trusting you. I believe you when you tell me that clicking that button will create my profile, that I am indeed submitting an email by hitting enter, that I will see my mom’s message when I click on her little, round face. My belief in you is delicate and deep. Do not take my trust for granted. Do not take advantage of me.

We are in a relationship, you and I. Distant and faceless, yes, but a relationship nonetheless. I give and you take and you give and I take, and I believe your words, your lines, your interfaces. It should be precious. It should be handled with care, but the carelessness I see in tech is unsettling. The willful ignorance, the rejection of our relationship, hurts.

It might come big, like playing with my emotions by purposefully filling my feed with sad or happy content, just to see how I respond.

It might come small, like your claim of being the number one this-and-that in your this-and-that field, according to … no one. You are so proud of your accomplishments and so comfortable in your grandeur that you forget to be honest with me.

Sometimes it comes deep, like spending months together trying to solve a problem you promised me you could solve to later find out that you got it all wrong, you made it all up, you have no idea what you’re doing. You brag about this in your interviews and inevitable autobiography. For some strange reason, you wear this ignorance as a badge of honor. You failed fast and broke my heart.

But you will never see it that way. You’re too excited. I feel you whisper make the world a better place as you drift to sleep, so obsessed with changing it that you forget that the world is made up of little people like me.

You are experimenting, trying new things, and for this, you are great and lean. But sometimes, you forget that I’m at the center of your experiments. Sometimes, you forget me.

I take these relationships seriously. So seriously that often I’m immobilized and overwhelmed. And in those moments, you push products I’m too uncomfortable to push and you win. You get there first, making waves while I sit in last place and watch. So I choke down my values and discomfort and attempt a push of my own, amid the internal screams that this is wrong and irresponsible and how dare I. I don’t get very far. My feeble, half-hearted steps cannot compete with your bold, proud strides. So I cower back to my corner with my broken brain and peep at your success through the leaves.

I do not belong. My values are not valued. My thinking is strange and foreign. My world view has no place here. It is not that I am better, it is that I am different, and my difference feels incompatible with yours, dear tech. So I will mark my corner, a small plot of land and stand firmly here, trying to understand you and reconcile these conflicting differences.

Maybe I will change. Maybe you’ll surprise me. Maybe, one day, I’ll belong.


❔ Whois

Saron Yitbarek is the founder of CodeNewbie, the most supportive community of programmers and people learning to code. She’s also the host of the CodeNewbie Podcast, chair of Codeland, a conference for new coders, and co-organizer of Make A Diff.

Twitter / Web: bloggytoons.com

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22 Comments

  1. I relate to this deeply. I tell people all the time ” I have always wanted to be smart ” and we laugh a bit. But inside its something so much more. A longing to know and a confidence in the knowledge, two very conflicting places in the heart. I started reading a book on Quantum Physics when I was 13, it filled my mind with the limitless possibilities of a vast universe surrounding me and the heavy weight of knowing how great and fickle our existence is. I have always been more conscious of my failures exponentially than my successes. I discount my positive contribution to my sphere or ecosystem as you choose to see it. My greatest offering is my love and compassion. My passion in life is to know the feelings of others. My single greatest sadness is how little trust and compassion exists. Thank you for a moving article. Sorry if I seem a little off topic, I guess what I meant to say is, Tech delivered all this conflicting information or data into my logical equation arriving at a sum which is equal to what intended to be my pursuit of final outcome of living right.

  2. One world, many angles.

  3. This is a fascinating point of view of the tech industry. I am not sure which way is indeed correct. I have been a for as long as I can remember so to be so careful of my mistakes is not something I can understand.

  4. Wonderful publication this is lovely🐱

  5. I appreciate your honesty about making mistakes and being frustrated with the coldness of tech and its ever expanding humanity as a 2nd thought ethos. One could call me a digital minimalist. Quite frankly I just use what makes sense and actually enriches my life & discard the rest. This is certainly the case w/ media, politics, other folks opinions, etc. For example I only listen to the news a couple times a week. It turns out if something really wacky is going on “out there” – because really if the issue or controversy doesn’t effect me in my home than it’s extraneous at best – my loved ones will tell me. So it makes little sense to overwhelm myself with constant news. It’s the same with tech stuff. I don’t need my shoes to sense FOR ME if they are too tight. I already have God given built in “sensors”…it’s called discomfort. I adjust my shoes accordingly and don’t need a chip, beep, or signal to tell me something I clearly already know in far less time. Keep questioning, thinking, and believing in your innate human sense Saron. Thank you for posting!

  6. “fail fast and break things,” are words to live be. This is the process used to learn almost everything we know. To, walk, talk, go to the moon . . .

  7. housewiveschoice January 11, 2017 at 9:00 am

    impressive tho’ a trifle Luddite!

  8. This is very beautifully written, well done!

  9. That mentality explains why a professor from the field kept running programs that didn’t work and felt no compunction. At the time we were all confused, as confused as you were, coming from various disciplines that rely on things not only being correct, but things working for us!

  10. Very excellent compilation.

  11. Beautiful write-up. True issues raised

  12. Thank you Saron for saying what many of us are thinking and feeling about tech. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and have always felt that hardware and software should just work. I know it can’t always, but we can try harder to get to that state. I do think we can do more than just sit and wait, I believe we can start making a difference by changing how developers think, putting them more in touch with the end user for example, and all of us in tech should understand that what’s cool to us isn’t necessarily useful to the consumers of tech. Who cares about cool if the software doesn’t work right?

  13. Wow. This models my feelings very well. Being a newbie in the coding world, myself, I often feel like I will never be good enough. Really great post.

  14. I really like this 🙂

  15. Interesting thought. It reminds be reading a few years back on one of the factors that led to the Challenger explosion was the fact that although they had been previous warning signs on problems with the joints,

    NASA didn’t feel a need to correct the matter as it had always worked in the past, thus having no incentive to solve the issue.

    It’s a heavy price to learn a lesson, though.

  16. I never thought this topic can be written through this angel.. amazingly written 🙂

  17. This is an amazing read on being afraid of mistakes and failure. The world of tech is a new horizon that often gives the chance for one to try and try again if one is not initially successful. Coming from NPR, where everything must be perfect, to the tech world, must have been a difficult transition. You did a beautiful job with explaining this transition and relating it to relationship problems.

  18. The Tech industry needs fresh perspectives like this to remind us all that software gets used in wildly unexpected ways.

  19. I applaud your gusto and really can use your advice. I appreciate you constantly challenging yourself! It’s not a sin if things go wrong, it’s what we learn from it 😄

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