Alex Qin on Leveraging Technology to Create Positive Social Change

| Podcast with Alex Qin Follow 0 Followers by Shane Hastie Follow 25 Followers on Jul 10, 2017 | NOTICE: The next QCon is in San Francisco Nov 5 - 9, 2018. Save an extra $100 with INFOQSF18!

This is the Engineering Culture Podcast, from the people behind and the QCon conferences.

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Alex Qin following on from her QCon London talk “Shaving My Head Made Me A Better Programmer”.

Key Takeaways

  • Casual discrimination and unconscious bias is rife in society, and very prevalent in tech
  • The need to have many more people in the field who don’t fit the preconceived mould of a programmer
  • The complexity of the overall system means we need to tackle discrimination at many levels in many different aspects
  • One person can make a difference
  • Call things out when you see things that are wrong – speak up, show up and shield those who can’t shield themselves

0:25 Introductions

1:15 Why Alex got involved in working for social change

1:40 Addressing social injustices through using programming skills

2:10 Alex’s story of casual discrimination and harassment and being treated as an incompetent programmer because she is an attractive woman

3:32 After shaving her head she was suddenly accepted as competent by people around her

4:10 The need to tackle the issue and do something about the discrimination – teaching people who don’t fit the status-quo programming skills

4:25 Aiming to have many more people in the field who don’t fit the preconcieved mould of a programmer

4:55 Historically software and computer science was inclusive and not discriminatory

5:25 The massive drop off of women in computing in the 1980’s coinciding with the adoption of personal computers as “boy’s toys”

6:16 The messages from the media and environment which result in unconscious biases

6:57 Unlearning biases starts with recognising that you have them

7:35 The complexity of the overall system means we need to tackle discrimination at many levels in many different aspects

8:05 Start small – start at the local community

8:15 Practical advice for people in tech companies

8:35 Find why you care about this issue – look for compelling reasons that matter to you

8:50 Diverse teams make more money for their organisations and are more innovative

9:30 Products built by homogenous teams can have severe blind-spots (examples from Apple and Google)

10:15 The lack of diversity in tech is a symptom of the type of discrimination that exists in the larger world

10:30 Gather data – what are the diversity metrics in your team/organisation.  Use this data to focus your efforts

11:20 Everyone’s diversity numbers are embarrassing

12:05 Consider the vast gaps in talent that you’re missing out on because of low diversity

12:10 Explore the hiring process and see where the unintentional bias comes into the process

12:40 In tech we pride ourselves on being data driven – use the data to make a difference

13:00 Avoiding tokenism

13:15 Tokenism stops being an issue when we reach critical mass

13:50 Being authentic and aware in the effort to avoid discrimination should prevent tokenism

14:10 The first issue to address in the hiring process is to admit that bias exists

14:40 Example of Skillshare using a set rubric to evaluate candidates and training for interviewing

15:20 Eat before you interview someone – you are more prone to give in to your biases when you’re tired and hungry

15:50 Constantly and consciously explore the interviewing process, identify the biases in the approach and work to overcome them

16:25 Discussing The Code Cooperative – an adult education initiative teaching recently released prisoners to write code

17:22 The people who are best equipped to solve problems are the ones who experience them

18:05 Addressing problems in the criminal justice system by building products which target the problems encountered by the students

18:15 Explaining the approach taken to teaching at The Code Cooperative

19:15 Describing some of the student’s projects and how they linked their projects to real issues they faced in the justice system

20:00 Tech companies donated laptops which gave the students the ability to practice and learn

20:45 Most technologists care about leveraging their skills to make a difference in the world

21:20 One person can make a difference

22:00 Advice for listeners who want to do something to make a difference – start in your sphere of influence

22:40 Call things out when you see things that are wrong – speak up, show up and shield those who can’t shield themselves


About QCon

QCon is a practitioner-driven conference designed for technical team leads, architects, and project managers who influence software innovation in their teams. QCon takes place 7 times per year in London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Beijing & Shanghai. QCon San Francisco is at its 12th Edition and will take place Nov 5-9, 2018. 140+ expert practitioner speakers, 1300+ attendees and 18 tracks will cover topics driving the evolution of software development today. Visit to get more details.

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