Information Gatekeepers — Why We Need More Empathy in Tech

Photo by Jarred Ray on Unsplash

I love to learn. I’ve been a life long learner and ever since I quit my job a few weeks ago, I’ve spent a great deal of my “free” time learning. I read one chapter of a book every single day and I’m currently learning many new things. I have goals to get really good the things I already know such as Jira administration, Technical Program Management, and cybersecurity. But, I also have a goal of learning new things such as cloud administration, programming, and technical writing.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or two, the internet is probably one of the best places to learn. Information is out there, mainly free, and available for anyone that wants to take the initiative to learn something. This is great because literally anyone can learn whatever they want as long as they have the motivation and passion to learn.

But today I want to talk about something I experienced recently while trying to improve my technical skills. As the Technical Program Manger that I am, knowing the in’s and out’s of agile principles is key to success. I’ve been trained in agile many times and while I don’t hold any official certifications, I have been a practitioner of agile since 2013. On Facebook, there is a group for scrum masters. A scrum master is a role within the agile framework that help lead a team of software engineers. The scrum master role is an important one when developing software and it’s a role that I have had the pleasure of having throughout my career.

One day, I was scrolling through this Facebook group when I noticed that someone posted a question I could help answer. I answered the question because I had some experience in the area that the question dealt with. Also, I felt that I could offer some information that would help answer the person’s question. Soon after my post, the administrators of the Facebook group jumped in to tell me how wrong my answer was. They went on to correct me and told me that what I was talking about had nothing to do with what they call “true” scrum. While this may be true, it got me thinking about a couple of things.

First, I’m not upset that they corrected me. While my answer didn’t line up with “true” scrum principles, it was still a valid answer. What upset me is the attitude and how they corrected me. They came from a position of power and authority. They belittled not only me, but anyone else that answers or comments with responses that are not lined up with their view of the world. They lack empathy and compassion which is really the point I’m trying to make here. I know that I’m not always going to be right, but the whole point of learning is the process of learning. And let me tell you how discouraging it is to be attacked when you are trying to learn. I went through other posts and noticed a similar pattern. These two white males, controlling the information that is shared on this group. They delete comments and posts if it doesn’t directly line up with their way of thinking. It creates fear and uncertainty, two things you do not want to foster when learning something new.

The worst part is I went back to read their mission statement for the group page. They state that the Facebook group page is a place to come and learn and to improve the community scrum practitioners. I’m not sure how much improvement is being done when you can clearly see the attacks that these gate keepers perform on people just asking questions that they are curious about. I get that there are rules in the Facebook group, and I agree that they should enforce them to avoid abuse to the group, but still there is a right and wrong way to handle these difficult conversations. Publicly shaming someone on the internet that is trying to learn is NOT the way to go about it.

The second thing I was thinking about was about technology leaders in general. Learning technical concepts can be challenging. It’s not simple to learn how to program or how to configure a network switch serving up millions of computer and servers. It isn’t easy to develop an architecture for an application that is going to live for the next ten to twenty years. It takes skills to do all these things and some folks master the concepts while others are still learning. Based on my observations, the folks that sit at the top, the ones that allegedly know the technology the best should be helping those below them. Far too often I see the leaders of technology belittle people because they think they are better. This stuff isn’t easy to learn, but there are people all around the world exploring their curiosity and trying to improve themselves. The people at the top should serve as mentors and help guide the next generation. Think of how differently Star Wars would have gone had Yoda kept all the Jedi information to himself?

I know this post sounds more like a rant than anything else, but I wanted to write in case you are one of those individuals sitting at the top of knowledge stack. What are you doing to help encourage and foster growth in your community? What are you doing when you see someone struggling or doing something that isn’t right? Do you blatantly tell them they are wrong and kick them down? Or do you show compassion and empathy and offer a helping hand? In the world of engineering and technology, there is a shortage of talent. If we want things to change, the people that are privileged enough to know a lot about a particular subject should not judge, but rather teach and mentor individuals that want to improve their lives and contribute to this amazing field. Learning the technology is already hard and enough. We don’t need ego and pride to hinder progress in our community.

I’m an engineer working professionally in San Diego, CA. I’m trying to improve every day and use this space to document. Connect: apetech.me/social

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