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Better Behavior in Tech? Danielle Leong asks for respectable conduct

[Collage Source Image: Pixabay]

Danielle Leong, Engineering Manager of Community & Safety at GitHub, recently spoke at Hack Reactor’s Telegraph Track speaker series. Her presentation focused on consensual software and building consent into tech as a part of the product workflow.

H/R: What brought you to learn coding in a coding bootcamp?

Danielle: I started in marketing prior to teaching myself how to be a front-end engineer. I was working at Twilio, where I was for three and a half years. Being a self taught engineer, I felt I needed to catch up with everyone. I didn’t have the same vocabulary and vernacular as those with a CS degree. I felt my education needed a little bit more. After I left Twilio, I joined Coding Dojo for a month-long accelerated program. I built Feerless while I was there. Feerless is a crowdsourced app that provides crowd-sourced content warnings for people with PTSD while watching Netflix.

H/R: What did you choose to do after bootcamp? What are you doing now?

Danielle: After that, I maintained Feerless. I saw a job posting for GitHub for the Community & Safety team. I applied and got the job after interviewing at other places.

I’m the engineering manager for the same team. As a manager, it’s my job to make sure engineers on my team are happy and challenged in different ways, technically and interpersonally. I make sure there are process in place to support them.

As an engineer, one’s day to day is you get a ticket or you get a feature, you fix that, you test it, you deploy it, you repeat. The last thing you want to do is sit in meetings you don’t need to be in or be involved in discussions about hiring or performance and processes. It’s my job to make sure my engineers can focus on what they do best. I handle the people and process problems and work with product managers and product designers to make sure everything runs smoothly on the team.

H/R: What are some challenges that your team addresses?

 Photo: James Tensuan, The Chronicle

Photo: James Tensuan, The Chronicle

Danielle: We deal with privacy in community; not security. Security is a different field. Some concerns we deal with are making sure people on GitHub can have productive conversations. But since GitHub is text based, there’s a lot of opportunity for misunderstandings. It’s easy to argue and not see the human on the other side. We foster a sense of community. Sometimes you have to have community guidelines of expected behaviors. For example, don’t call people names. Or what you do if someone breaks the rules or doesn’t know the rules? We want to make sure people are able to rehabilitate if they’ve done something wrong, or retract people if they decided to be a disruptive user. We make tools to both enforce good behavior and discourage disruptive behavior.

H/R: What advice do you have for underrepresented folks?

Danielle: Support one another. Keep track of your job reqs. Support one another throughout the process. Its an alienating and isolating process to interview for a tech position. Tech interviews seem like they’re designed to make candidates feel bad. It can be demoralizing to get faced with hard technical problem and know you didn’t do your best in a short period of time. You tend to get a lot of rejections.

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I kept a Trello board of my entire interview process when I was in between jobs. I failed 50 times. I received 50 rejections over 4 months.

Know that failure is expected in this. And keep each other’s spirits up. The stronger you are together, the easier it gets.

H/R: One of the themes of your presentation focuses on consent.

I’d like to plug the consensual software twitter that I keep up. @consentsoftware There are a lot of interesting conversations happening around consent and software. The Facebook senate hearing involving Mark Zuckerberg is a big one. People are finally paying attention to consent. Consent matters in terms of privacy. For people starting their careers and learning about how to build features and software, make sure you build consent into everything you do. Ask yourself: how could this hurt somebody? Am I getting explicit consent from everyone involved? Is there some way this could be used to harm someone or leak their private data? I think we’ll see a large change in the next few years in the industry. I’m hoping for an ethics board. Coming from a sociology background, I feel ethics is very important. Tech has not been held accountable for that yet.

As bootcamp grads, you have a lot more experience in other fields than someone with a CS degree. That means you can use that info to inform the decisions you make while building features in tech. Use that knowledge. Use consent. And build something this industry needs.


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