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A month ago someone we knew retired, bought a brand new car, and two days later had a heart attack and passed away suddenly. My own father passed away at a very early age. It was then that I decided for myself that life should be lived and enjoyed now, not later. It also explains some of my life and work choices over the years, between taking months off to travel the world, to working on small remote islands, in the sun and under the water.
Spending all your income on things you enjoy now (or getting bugger all because I chose to live on a tropical island) is not financially viable for the future, but I am not a fan of the FIRE financial movement, prioritising “future me” over “present me”. I would like to enjoy my life while I can, but as with anything, there should be a balance between spending and saving.
Remuneration is one consideration when choosing where to work but you should consider other aspects of the workplace and team, such as organisational culture, work/life balance, or growth opportunities. Ethics is an aspect that should be considered as well.
Caleb Hearth gave a talk called Don’t get distracted. In 2011, with a team of interns at a Department of Defence contractor, Caleb created a Wi-Fi geolocation app to locate hotspots. It could find the location in 3D space of every hotspot near you in seconds. His team made formulas to model signal strength and probable distances. They used machine learning to optimise completion time and accuracy. He was so caught up in the details that it took months to see it would be used to kill people.
Ethan Marcotte wrote about selecting businesses to work with that would not cause him to lose sleep at night. In my talk Algorithms to live by and why should we care, I tell a story of how use of an algorithm went wrong.
On April 9, 2017, United Airlines flight 3411 was preparing to take off from Chicago when flight attendants discovered the plane was overbooked. They tried to get volunteers to give up their seats with promises of travel vouchers and hotel accommodations, but not enough people were willing to get off the flight. So United ended up calling some airport security officers, who boarded the plane and forcibly removed a passenger named Dr. David Dao. The officers ripped Dao out of his seat and carried him down the aisle of the airplane.
How did he ended up being the unlucky passenger? An algorithm that looked at the cost of the ticket, time checking in, was he part of a rewards system, and more. That algorithm decided that Dr. Dao was one of the least valuable customers on the flight at the time. Does this mean it was a bad algorithm? Cathy O’Neil says: “every algorithm reflects the subjective choices of its human designer”.
When asked for advice on finding a place to work, the first question I ask the person is: what do you value?
I get that question so often, that I wrote my values up on my website. Asking and teasing out the “why” questions can be challenging. It requires patience and inner reflection but if done properly, it can be a guiding light throughout your career and life. At Blackmill, we are driven by our purpose and values because life is too short to work in negative environments. As a leader you should work on nurturing a team culture that is healthy and supportive.
So let me ask you again: what do you value? what choices will you make?
We have been busy structuring and refining our Blackmill Leadership Hub. The first cohort starts on the 14th July and we are super excited! A monthly subscription will include:
Applications involve a short questionnaire and a possible chat with us to see if the Blackmill Leadership Hub is right for you. Please email us if you have any questions.
Our popular workshop on Leading Engineering Teams is back! Mark the 22nd-25th of June in your diary, folks. This workshop runs for two hours per day for four consecutive days. Some of the topics include:
Limited tickets are available so head over to our website to secure your spot.
We also set additional future dates for all our workshops and will be running a workshop about hiring in July and about inclusive leadership in August. Check all our workshops at: https://blackmill.co/workshops
Common issues we see tech leaders face - this article took Lachlan, Sarah, and Elle to write and here we are. After decades of working in tech communities while studying and practising leadership, we still don’t have all the answers, but at least we’ve learned to recognise many of the problems.
Dear white male leaders of any tech organization - Alicia Jessip shares her thoughts on how white male leaders should hold the tools and responsibility to drive much needed change. We can no longer be silent. She suggests the leader hold the space for their people, not be afraid to trip over their words, use their words to drive action, and understand their company’s DEI policies. But more importantly, they should tell their teams they see them and ask their teams to tell them what to do.
3 things I learned by giving my staff unlimited leave - Instead of unlimited paid leave, which we all know introduces issues when people don’t feel comfortable taking any leave, consider implementing a minimum regular annual leave and a rebalance leave (which we’ve implemented at Blackmill).
Adding is favoured over subtracting in problem solving - Considering to remove something might have negative social or political consequences. For example suggesting that an academic department be disbanded might not be appreciated by those who work in it. Another example we assume that existing features are there for a reason, and so look for additions rather than removing those features. Sunk-cost fallacy and aversion to waste contribute to additive thinking. One suggestion to counteract this tendency is to explicitly solicit and value proposals that reduce rather than add. In an engineering environment, valuing refactoring, and removing lines of code can help as well.
If management isn’t a promotion, then engineering isn’t a demotion - Humans hate losing status. But there are other ways at looking at management vs engineering work. Managers are there in a support role and we should reframe management in our minds as “Management is not a promotion, it is a change of career”. We can choose different roles at different times in our career paths to give us joy without feeling demoralised.
Emma Jones’ career in talent acquisition, management and strategy spans over 25 years across global markets. Originally from London, Emma has lived and worked in the UK, US and for the last decade, Australia. In 2018, Emma established Project F to help clients find and remove the systemic barriers to achieving sustainably gender-balanced technology teams.
I run a social impact business called Project F that helps companies achieve gender balance in technology teams and leadership. I love that I get to see the real progress that comes with this work and that I get to help remove the lip service from diversity work. The companies we partner with are progressive in their thinking and are as determined as I am to get this work done and that makes me very happy.
It’s frustrating when so many companies still hide behind smoke and mirrors instead of doing the real work required to create long term health through equality. I do hear a lot of companies wanting to improve the gender balance in tech but wanting ‘quick wins’ which usually stops at employer branding and maybe some unconscious bias training. The biggest challenges for me lie in helping people see past the “window dressing” options and committing to invest in systemic work on the right things that remove barriers for women in tech and leadership. Tech is a complex subculture that many people don’t really understand.
Other than gender balance in technology, I’m also passionate about rescue dogs (especially my two), animal welfare and good coffee.
Getting through last year in one piece! It was tough as the pandemic sent companies into a panic and D&I was shelved for a lot of prospects - thankfully it’s come good this year. I’m also super happy with the client and community portals I had built last year, I think they’re fantastic and add so much value to our F Factor members and our clients.
This is hard because I actually think I will keep on making mistakes the rest of my life, just as I’ll keep on learning. I have, however, finally learned that I can’t change everyone’s mind. I used to get into a lot of unnecessary debates/arm wrestles with people who would ask me what I do then proceed to tell me they or their company are “not biased” or they only hire or promote “on merit”, or (a personal favourite) they “don’t see gender”. I no longer feel the need to engage and now I just say politely, “oh really, that’s interesting” and then change the subject.
I wish I could say meditation, yoga and detoxing but I’m more of a wine, pizza and Netflix girl! I do love reformer pilates though, even though I only go a few times a week, I rely on it for the headspace it gives me, as well as toning my bingo wings.
If you care about an issue, do something about it - take action. If you don’t, you are complicit in its existence.
I would like to see more importance placed on equality at home but supported by industry. While society and corporations continue to skew parental responsibility towards women with unequal parental leave entitlements, equality will remain out of reach.
To onbaord a lot more caompanies to Program 50/50. I’m currently working on a model that will make it more accessible to more organisations and I’m excited for what we’re coming up with.
Emma shared with us her favourite thing in the world. If you do not eat meat, feel free to replace the chicken with chickpeas.
I grew up on this - literally every Saturday night my whole life of living at home from the age of eating solids. It’s pretty simple but it’s my comfort food and I could make it blindfold.
Serve rice with lashings of chicken curry and raita, and enjoy!
Thank you for showing an interest to our newsletter and we hope that you enjoyed the read. Feel free to contact us if you have any feedback, a burning question or just a recipe that you would like to share 😊.
Until next time, keep learning!
Everyone at Blackmill