Kevin and Jon talk to Shawn Wildermuth about his new documentary film, Hello World. Shawn talks about how this film project began as a “love letter to software development,” exploring how amazing this career can be. As he delved into it he became more aware of the lack representation of women and people of color in this profession, and this film details his exploration of that topic through interviews and historical background.
You can pre-order the film now, and watch it on-demand on a lot of streaming platforms starting December 15,2020.
Download / Listen: Herding Code 243: Shawn Wildermuth on his new film, Hello World
Jon: [00:00:09] Hello, and welcome to Herding Code. This episode is being recorded November 20, 2020. And today we’re talking to Shawn Wildermuth about the Hello World film. Shawn, can you introduce yourself and the film?
Shawn: [00:00:22] I’d be more than happy to. I’m Shawn Wildermuth. I’m a technologist and mostly a teacher these days. They don’t let me around code anymore. But I’ve got a blog at wildermuth.com and I made a documentary about software developers called Hello World.
Jon: [00:00:38] So what’s kind of the main focus. Like how do you approach software developers and you know, what, what are you kind of talking about there?
Shawn: [00:00:48] Sure. I started making the film. I’ll tell it in this kind of story. I started making the film because I wanted to sort of do a love letter to software development because it’s been so incredibly useful to me. Like it has saved me from a life of working in a 7-11 night shift. And I just love everything about.
How interesting the job is, and I want to sort of encourage people who didn’t think they could do it, that they could. And so that was sort of the first approach. And in the middle of that the me too movement came through and some other things in our industry were changing with conferences and such, and I realized that.
I hadn’t really worked with almost any women and certainly not women from the United States or Canada that I’ve worked on exclusively with people that looked like me. You know, I look a lot like a, the comic book guy, if you don’t know what I look like from the Simpsons. Right. I fit the, the stereotype really well.
And so I pivoted the movie to be about the lack of women and people of color, especially in the industry. Because it’s it’s, as I say, in the film, it wasn’t that there weren’t enough women or people of color in, in, in In software development. It was that I had never noticed there weren’t enough.
Like, it just didn’t even occur to me to notice. And I like to think of myself as someone who’s, you know, at least should notice those sorts of things. And so in that same time, I was having a dinner with Richard Campbell years and years ago. And he was mentioning about the early women in software development, being the first programmers, which was a story I didn’t know.
And, and that’s part of what we talk about is sort of the history. Of software development and how this sort of went from one thing to another. And then I looked back and it had been five years and I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.
Jon: [00:02:43] it’s a, it’s really fascinating that you’ve kind of created a documentary during a time of some transition. And some of my favorite documentaries that I’ve seen have kind of. Almost, but either through discovery during the filming, or just kind of by happy accident with evolution, you know, with history of evolving have kind of captured things.
I remember there was a documentary I saw called startup.com and it happened during the.com startup time and that startup bust and it followed these founders and, you know, getting huge valuation and going and interviewing. You know, in the white house and then everything. And then they get into huge fights and then the whole thing comes crashing down and the, and the film captured all that.
And it sounds to me like, I mean, and just observing everything that’s gone on, it’s been a lot of change and a lot of awareness has occurred just over this past year and few years. So what does that look like in terms of. You know, things changing as you’re filming. Do you just kind of keep filming more stuff and figure it out in editing?
Or do you kind of, you know, how do you pivot a film?
Shawn: [00:03:57] It’s difficult. We interviewed 50 different people software engineers. We interviewed some people in education and a couple of others and what, what I learned, cause I didn’t, I’ve never made a film before. Right? I mean, I’ve done some little things, but nothing like certainly of this size that you find the story in the editing bay, even though I had an idea originally, it almost always changes and it reminds me of software in a, in a lot of ways, because often what you think you’re building when you start that first sprint, or when you write that first spec often, isn’t what it really looks like because you it’s, it’s this continuous discovery of what is going on.
And that really attracted you know, it attracted me to it because I liked the way that I. Like to build software, which is finding a group of people that all have specific skills that are gonna lend themselves to it. Not thinking that one person is going to be the best at everything and getting over the idea that I could be the best at everything.
You know, for me, it’s been, eye-opening not only in how I spend the rest of my life, but also like, Oh, you know what? That’s a lot less pressure.
Jon: [00:05:07] Hm. Yeah. As you’re talking about that, then it makes me wonder, like with software there’s been a change over the past, you know, I mean over our software development careers to moving to a more agile and, you know, being able to like pivoting is considered just something you do every day. Like you’re constantly redeveloping, you know, like.
Figuring out the next best spin thing based on today’s information, is that is that something that felt similar? Like, are you able to apply those kinds of like agile development sorts of things to film development?
Shawn: [00:05:42] You are in a lot of ways, though it’s a little different. So one of the things I learned early on was that there’s a difference between documentary and let’s say you know, regular films that you might see with a story in them. So when the Avengers was filmed, the Avengers shot about four minutes of film for everyone, one minute on screen.
And because they go in knowing exactly what they’re going to film, like they have a script, they have this, they have this, they’ve got it all planned and documentary isn’t like that. In many cases it’s a hundred to one. A lot of it is this filtering mechanism, or if you take a movie like hoop dreams, which is four hours, which is really a long time for a film they had like 4,000 hours of footage cause they spent 10 years with these kids.
And so it is, it is really, you know, mining that information and digging through and reading transcripts and watching the footage as you’re shooting it. And the, the, the agileness comes from as you’re gaining information from, let’s say an interview or spending the day with somebody or watching an event happen.
Things are really changing. There’s a good example of that. I was interviewing Debra karata who you may or may not know, but
Jon: [00:06:59] Oh, yeah.
Shawn: [00:06:59] does a lot of angular stuff with Pluralsight and I was interviewing
Jon: [00:07:03] when I was first learning to program, one of her books was the, one of the first books I read. And I, it was, it was like mind blowing when I actually met her in person. I was just like, Oh yeah, she’s amazing.
Shawn: [00:07:16] She is. And she hadn’t mentioned that her, I think it was her daughter or a friend of her daughters had gone to this college in California Harvey Mudd college, and that they had changed to be graduating from 15% to 50% women in their computer science. And that like changed my perspective of like, Oh, I need to go back and do some research about the education piece of this. And that really changed the whole view because you’re in the middle of, you know, information gathering or mining or whatever you want to think about the way filming does. And you go, Oh, this changes, everything was changed is the way we think about this in an entirely different way.
And that’s, you know, that’s what happens at least happened for me with documentary film. And when I talk to other filmmakers, it’s very much like that, depending on the kind of film they’re trying to make, but being unwilling to move or pivot or adjust. Has that idea has really changed the way we build software has allowed me to make a film because I was already sort of adept at it, but it’s also forced me to in my everyday life not be so entrenched in my views or my ideas or how I expect my relationships to go or whatever the case may be.
It, it. It’s been a really good practice for, for you know, just being able to not be as, as rigid as I’ve spent some of my career being like, what do you mean C sharp? Isn’t the best language? What do you mean that like, whatever it is, you know, that Of course, we can’t do anything outside of Firefox.
I mean FoxPro, there’s the word I was looking for. Everything has to be FoxPro it. Like we have these weird entrenched opinions that sometimes we look back and like, what kind of bullshit was I talking about?
Jon: [00:09:05] Yeah. Yeah. It’s a, it’s amazing how like, awareness, all of a sudden opens your eyes and then you see something that should have been right under your nose. Like it was right under your nose all the time, and you’re just blind to blind to it, you know? Did you observe during the time that during, because this has been years for you to create this, did you observe any change in, you know, in the industry during that time?
Like you mentioned the me too movement, and then of course, you know, more awareness in underrepresented minorities is here. Did you see any hopefully positive change during that time? Yeah.
Shawn: [00:09:42] I did, you know, I went into the film once we made the pivot, worrying that the industry that I love so much had these sort of sexist or racist overtones. And I came out of it really with this idea of that it’s mostly due to unconscious bias and you know, fit. So what I, what I saw is that we were changing the way we.
Talked about software and software teams. One of the ideas in the film that is very important to me is whether you buy into the social justice of, of course, this is the right thing, and this could be generally generally changing for people in certain communities, especially underserved communities, especially underserved communities around the world, not just here in the us but that we can make better software with better integrated teams with better diversity. And I’m not just talking about diversity of race and gender, but also. Just backgrounds and ages. And you know, the idea that a company would release a app to track the period cycle of women and make it all pink. Because obviously there were four guys on the team.
It was like, well, it’s a app for women. It’s gotta be pink, you know? And just having a better exposure, you know, the facial recognition that doesn’t work as well on, on dark complected skin or the fact that the early airbags were never tested with crash test dummies, the size of women. And so they killed a bunch of women before they figured that out.
You know, it’s not, it’s an engineering problem that. If we, again, if we ignore whether the right or wrong of it, you know, some people can argue about, you know, merit based or meritocracies and all that at the end of the day, I think we can make better software when we have these different perspectives to help us figure out how to build better software, you know Scott Hanselman talks about it sort of like an intersectionality of are you building medical software? Do you have people on the team who have had medical problems on dealt with medicine as a user? Are you building software for fireman? Do you have access to someone who knows fireman on the team? Like it’s this idea of, of, you know, it used to be that we would get a spec and they would write an app over two years, or we used to call them programs, but app over two years and then you show it to the customer and it was either right or wrong. And then you’d have to train them to figure out how to make it right for them. And we’ve changed a lot of that, but I still feel like the representation is still hurting the quality of the software we build.
You know, there are places where. In our industry, where there is great representation. You know, it’s not, it’s not you know, a big solution, but I think we need to own the lack of representation when we can like get out in front of the story. If you’re running a conference and 90% of the people who submit papers are men. Talk about that. Say why can’t we get women or people of color to submit, talks to our thing and, and, and talk about it instead of trying to make the numbers look good, which is actually, I feel like happens sometimes. Okay. Well, except all the women in the backfield with men and I don’t, again, that’s not about fairness, that’s hiding the fact that we don’t have enough.
You know, let’s say women’s speakers at conferences. That doesn’t help us because it doesn’t, I think we’re missing part of that. And that’s something that I think is finally getting better, but still think we have a long way to go.
Jon: [00:13:23] Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that, it, it makes a better product and a better team at a better experience for everyone when there is more diversity of background and thought and you know, all the different things, education level, and, you know, just different languages spoken and so many things that we are unconsciously.
I mean, that’s the whole thing. It’s unconscious bias. And I think. You know, going into this, a lot of us had thought, well, okay, we should be nice to different, you know, people that are different than us, but it’s going to put a cost, you know, it’s going to slow us down and it’s going to put a cost and it’s harder to hire and all that.
And really the result, as you’re saying is you end up building better software and being a better team. And you know, like all these, it’s an, it’s a huge net positive. It is something that I’ve worked with on conferences putting together conferences, is it, it does take some work to find speakers, and some of it, I think comes from people not seeing themselves as speakers and not, you know what I mean? And so like for instance, women speakers. It takes some encouraging sometimes for, for a few reasons. One is they don’t see themselves as speakers because they’ve always seen men speaking on stage. And also there’s a little bit of fear that they’re going to be, you know, singled out and, you know, kind of harassed in a way that men just aren’t aware of.
Did you, did you talk to people where, where that was an issue, you know, where people are scared or just don’t want to put up with negativity.
Shawn: [00:14:59] Yeah, we did. We, you know, we reached out to a lot of people that I thought would really have good stories, but there still was a reticence with a lot of them to talk about it on camera. Because they didn’t want to be labeled as that person or being difficult or whatever, but we did find a few people that were pretty honest about just the difficulties, you know, the, they, they talk about the pipeline getting people of color and women into the software industry.
But the other piece of it is the leaky pipeline and that is retaining people once they’re in the industry. And maybe they’re there. Experience and bias or sexual harassment or just, you know, the, one of the people we talked to Donna Malaya, I think is how you pronounce her last name. I’m sure that’s wrong.
But she talked about that there’s a difficulty in. Software for some people because they have a softer voices that they think that if you want to espouse a good idea, the best way to do it is to be excited to tell everybody about it and to be, you know, want to run the meeting and to talk a lot about it.
And a lot of good ideas come from people that don’t have that and that. And so it ends up being the, I think some people are kept out of especially leadership positions because it’s viewed that the only way to be a leader is to be a leader in sort of a standard masculine way that we think about it as being gregarious and loud and, and You know, always proselytizing what they want to do.
And they’re great. They’re great voices in the room. There’s a bumper sticker I’ve had for a long time that says speak your voice, even if your voice cracks. Cause it’s this thing of like everyone has their truth and, and when you get people like me that love the sound of their own voice, I can drowned out the people that have great ideas.
Jon: [00:16:51] Yeah. Yeah. Well, and there’s a balance to that, which you’ve done is you’re using your voice to give other people a platform. Which is, you know, which but, but you’re right. That is, I mean, we’re, we’re on a podcast and we’re all, you know, white men and, and it’s, it’s, you know, it’s always like a, a trade-off.
Did you, so you had previously done a hello world podcast where the two related to the podcast kind of turned into the film a bit.
Shawn: [00:17:21] It did. So the podcast was about how people got started. And I think you were on it, John, if I remember. Right. And we stopped after 80 or 90 episodes of, because we started to get the same stories over and over again. And that gave me this idea of like, Wouldn’t it be great to show the different, those stories that I was finding in the podcast, but you’d be able to tell a larger story about how great it is to be in this industry.
Because one of the things I get a lot from people is, Oh, I couldn’t do that. I was never good at math, or I can’t do that because I’m not smart enough or whatever the case may be. And. I kind of want to burst those balloons as well. That’s one of the other goals of the film that has stuck with it, even with the pivoting is we can solve this if we are more you know, accepting or if we don’t, you know, hammer people with math right away.
I was talking with John Romero of, of doom fame. And he was like, you can learn all the math if you want, but the computers do all that stuff for you. If you just want to have the, you know, the character look into the camera, you just tell it to look into the camera. You don’t have to figure out how to do the, the three dimensional matrix mass to make it work.
You know, that’s where we’re at as an industry. And so bursting some of that like elite ism about what software really is. There’s tons of jobs in software that aren’t. You know, working on AI or working in machine learning or working in 3d engine development or things that would be great for all sorts of people to do.
And, and so I’ve liked, I’d like that sort of democratization of, of software because of that. I want, I want us to lower the, the lower, the barrier of entry a little when I was talking with Harvey Mudd college. One of the things they did was that they changed the entry level computer science course to be Python versus Java.
And this isn’t new versus old, nearly as much as is ceremony versus not ceremony. Right. You can run one line of, of, of Python code and get a result. You can’t do that in Java. And so what it was doing, or at least what they discovered was happening was people who had played with programming in high school or taken the pre high school courses.
They came in ready for that. And then you have these other people who were like, well, they came to college to learn a skill, not to learn more about a skill that I already had. And they felt like they were immediately behind and more apt to change their majors and get out of it. And Maria Klawe who’s the president of Harvey Mudd was talking about, this was a big change when personal computers came into the home.
But because before then you went to college to learn computers. You didn’t have any expectation that you had knowledge before that. Right. And so, and it tended to gravitate more towards boys because computers were capable of computer games and tended to hog those computers. And so this is sort of this societal shift that happened, these great things that happened with computers, but it also has some unintended consequences we think.
Cause it isn’t, it also, isn’t just about bias. It’s about interest. You know, how do you get people interested in what looks like? What we, what we, what the media of our country at least does is tell the story of what a software developer looks like. And it looks like the guy in Jurassic Park that we all identify as a computer guy or Silicon Valley, or Big Bang Theory.
And, and who wants that? Like the only. Early on in big bang theory, the, they played up, this men are smart and there’s the dumb blonde across the hall. And then they tried to sort of solve that by bringing in other characters, but from the outside, especially when you’re growing up, that imprint you with what you think you’re where you’re supposed to do and where you’re not supposed to do, you know?
And there will always be those outliers that are like, I don’t care. I love this. I’m going to do it, but that shouldn’t be the way it is, you know? Most of the women that we interviewed for the film are very self-assured capable and you know, pillars of this community Julie Lerman and, and others but getting people who are just the day-to-day developer that also fit into those situations is just, it’s just baffling that we, I feel like as a society we’ve kept them out just because we didn’t go.
There’s the, you can’t just make D&D character generators with programming. You could make music, or you could make, you know, things that might appeal more, more to women than, than sort of geeky guys in their basement. And you know, I want to burst that. I, I dropped out of high school and college.
Like I should not have been successful in this career at all. I came from a very poor background. I was very lucky to get a computer when I was a kid by cause I got an a go-cart accident and suddenly we had some money from the thing to buy a computer. Like this is not the standard thing, but once I started working, I would show up and I would get the sort of privilege of “You look the part”. Yeah. You know, there used to be this idea about team fitness. Like, are they going to fit in with us? Well, that idea of are they going to fit in with us? You know, the culture of our company tends to mean that, you know, when you see someone that doesn’t look like you are, are they going to get hired?
Right. Even if they seemingly have the same skills, I think it can fall down really quickly. I remember being interviewed a bunch of times and, and was, they were always like, Oh, it looks like you’d really fit in here, which I didn’t realize was, was implicit bias, like this hidden bias in our brain.
And I have bias in my brain. I think we all do. What’s that song from Avenue Q everyone’s a little bit racist. In case you haven’t seen it yet, you should. But the, the trick is not acting on it, right? When my reptilian part of my brain, that there’s a black man walking behind me and I’m like, Oh no, I, I can’t act on that.
Right. When some, when I see a resume and it’s a name that I identify as a certain culture, or is a woman, I can’t take that into account. I have to assume. And sometimes it takes explicit work to get rid of implicit bias us pretending that we’re the least biased person in the room. I don’t think helps.
Jon: [00:24:08] Yeah. Wow. You covered a lot there.
Shawn: [00:24:11] Sorry.
Jon: [00:24:12] No, no, it’s it’s, this is fascinating. It’s interesting. One thing earlier you were speaking about, you know, women and they’re what draws them to programming and seeing themselves as, as programmers. And it’s interesting for me seeing through the perspective of my three daughters and two of them right now, like regularly our programming and all of them. I’ve shown a little bit of like, here’s what it’s like, but it wasn’t interesting to them at all. I mean, not really, you know, but then, but then, but so my youngest got into Jewelbots because of the work Sara Chipps has done. And she has, you know, two things that that she did that are smart is one she understands and spend a lot of time talking to young girls about what was interesting to them and realizing like, okay, software bracelets and do it. But another thing she did that was. Really smart. And I don’t think people notice enough was she created a community. They had a, a forum have a forum and they like are really welcoming and they have Jewelbots ambassadors, and, and it’s just super friendly, you know?
And so people would say like, Hey, I made a thing, check it out. And you know, a bunch of other, like, you know, young girls are like, Hey, that’s awesome. I love it. You know? And it’s like, super, like, you’re part of it. You’re welcomed and accepted and, you know, helping people out. And another thing that’s, that was interesting to me is my oldest now is minoring in computer science in college.
And she, I showed her some computer stuff early on and she never thought it was cool. Like, it was just like that’s for dudes, you know? And then she, she ended up taking a class kind of on a whim. She took a Python class and it was sort of a fun, you know, it was like, Oh, I have to take one, whatever math, science class or whatever it was.
And this fulfilled it. And she was shocked that she liked it. And she was like, this is really fun. And like you said, it was Python. She did, they didn’t throw her into pointer, arithmetic or any crazy stuff like that. It was just like doing some fun stuff with Python in a browser. Like it was all REPL in a browser. So it wasn’t all this, like let’s over nerd you from the beginning, it was like, you know, Hey, it’s, it’s fun and playing kind of fee
Shawn: [00:26:25] it’s really interesting. Cause we we interviewed someone from Georgia tech and she was talking about the Georgia tech requires all graduate all, anyone that goes to this school to take a computer science course and they. And she noticed that a lot of women took it in their fourth year.
And by time they figured out they liked it. It was too late to change their major. Because there’s this expectation that it’s hard or it’s going to be a boring course, or they’re not, you know, all those same things that w we sort of think about, you know, and, and that’s going to be true across the board.
I had to take an economics course that I still, I still use that economics book to to fall asleep at night, you know, two pages of economics and I am out.
Jon: [00:27:11] Yeah.
Shawn: [00:27:14] So I mean, I think changing some of that and some of it is being able to see and model yourself as it in and in other ways You know, making it to where you can realize it’s fun.
It’s not like people that get started with Python need or will stay with Python and do this sort of like, you know script programming you know, once you get them interested, then everything else, you know we’re all gonna learn, you know, 14 languages in our career and decide some are great and some aren’t and, you know One of the things that Maria Klawe at Harvey Mudd said that really concerned me was she said, you know a lot of it happens in high school, the kind of high school preparation that prepare women and people of color to go into, let’s say the top computer science colleges in the country is very different based on economic situations.
You know, lower Alabama is much different from from San Francisco, right? Just the economic situation within a city or with where you’re at in the country can really make a difference in what she said. That really bothered me. He said there’s about a hundred thousand women every year who are qualified to go into an MIT, a Harvey, Mudd, a Stanford or whatever.
And there’s about a hundred people of color. A hundred versus a hundred thousand. So I, you know, I think we conflate diversity with women in the software industry really easily without really thinking about the other aspect, which is where are all the people of color, you know? It, it, it it’s, and I’ve worked with some African-Americans or I guess I should say black now.
But black developers before, and they were great. And again, they bring different perspective and they, they do this, but it. It tends to be that they’re never thought of as the lead. We talked to a couple of people here in Atlanta that were like, I go on a consulting gig and I talk to people and they defer to the white guy because they assume that they’re the lead developer in, in this project.
And that’s frustrating. Like, there’s just this expectation. We do this little test. In the in the film where we show a clip from Jurassic Park and ask people to think about what a developer looks like. And then we tell them, you know, is it, is it the white guy? That’s part of your brain, the Unix system.
And then there’s a pan over to Samuel L. Jackson. Who’s also running computers and he’s a head of the it department in drastic park that no one remembers no one remembers.
Jon: [00:29:54] Yeah. Wow. Well, and then also just the day is saved by the young girl at the end. Right. That happens. I know Linux. This is
Shawn: [00:30:03] Yeah, yeah. But no one remembers that. And so, you know,
Jon: [00:30:08] I seriously had no idea. Samuel Jackson was in that. Wow. It’s been a while.
Shawn: [00:30:13] It has, but you know, there is something important that we need to talk about. You have a daughter in college.
Jon: [00:30:20] Oh my gosh. Yeah. I have three teenagers. Yeah. Yep. Time flies. She actually, she had gotten accepted to Berkeley, decided to start at community college instead just for, for costs to get general ed done. And the timing was right. You know, it was right with COVID and everyone’s taking class from home anyways.
So it ended up working really well for her,
Shawn: [00:30:45] Oh, that’s awesome. And she gets to stay home.
Jon: [00:30:48] yeah, yeah. So
Shawn: [00:30:49] cause you’re in LA, right?
Jon: [00:30:50] I’m in San Diego,
Shawn: [00:30:52] Oh, San Diego.
Jon: [00:30:53] which, you know, it’s part of the LA metropolis, so
Shawn: [00:30:56] We call it the other LA
Jon: [00:30:58] yeah.
Shawn: [00:31:00] or
Kevin: [00:31:00] Excuse me. I, I grew up in San Diego. It is not part of LA. I take offense to that.
Jon: [00:31:07] Yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s yeah. You know, it’s interesting. You were mentioning before Black developers and not, and being invisible or being, you know, not being noticed and also not being respected. And, and, you know, also there’s society, I’ve heard definitely many times where like, there’ll be a man and a woman at a conference.
I hear this all the time at work and people will always talk to the man. And he’ll say, why don’t you talk to my lead and the introduce the woman. And they’ll still want to talk to the man, you know, they assume that leadership role. And yeah. When you were talking about, you know, the black developers and I, I had the opportunity to kind of help behind the scenes at JuneteenthConf this past summer.
Yeah, it was, it was amazing, you know, it was something that timing, they put this conference together. Right, right. Before Juneteenth, they really pulled it together. One of the sessions I helped. You know, like behind the scenes was was by the two guys that created Blackfacts and it’s so Ken Granderson and Dale Dowdy, and they, I had no idea about this because it wasn’t created for me, it was created for, for, for the black community.
And it really kind of celebrates like you know, the, the black software developer, like, you know, Hey, we’re here. And we basically, I guess some of this goes back to thinking of what Sara Chipps did with creating a community that’s welcoming and inclusive for young girls. This is a community that’s welcoming, supportive, and celebrating black culture for black technology community.
And I think, you know, like, I, I don’t know. I, I think that it, it was exciting for me to even hear that this thing existed and I did you come across like support mechanisms like that, or other kinds of like, you know, internal support cultures that women or underrepresented minorities are like creating to survive, you know,
Shawn: [00:33:11] Yeah. There’s quite a lot, you know, if you can think of organizations like black women code, black girls code there’s a the black coders internationally think, I mean, there’s a bunch of great organizations. Some of it, some of it I think is important to think about as it’s not just culturally sort of surrounded by race, but it’s also a different in, in I think I mentioned this earlier in how much in affluence we have this sort of affluence bias in software and not affluence bias. Like people are only picking other people that have money. It’s that.
There’s an, there is an on-ramp that has some cost to it and our public schools aren’t evenly funded and things like that. And more importantly, we talked to code.org about this thing they’re doing to try to educate or convert teachers in high school to be able to teach the AP computer science curriculum that they’ve developed.
So it’s not even, we’re not even at the point of like, how do we teach and get kids interested because we don’t have the teachers to even produce that interest. And that’s frustrating when you, when you think about it, because one of the, you know, I grew up in abject poverty.
I was born in Manhattan, but I grew up in the Bronx. I’m sorry. In Brooklyn, in the projects in Brooklyn. There’s, there’s the word. I was looking for the projects in Brooklyn. And so we were on welfare when I was born and my mother did some pretty heroic things that get us out of poverty, but we were never, we were never had that much money.
And this career has been life-changing and one of the things they talk about is for non-affluent neighborhoods , this is a generationally changing profession. Like this will, this can bring up the entire families out of poverty. And it’s just knowledge. It’s not about skill. It’s not about having things. It’s just knowledge, especially now with the internet and ubiquity of, of, of lower-cost computers. This, this can change everything. When we talked to the chancellor of UC Davis, he was talking about, we have about. Well, this was before COVID, but we had have about 3 million people unemployed, many in the underserved communities. And we have about 3 million unfilled jobs and computer in, in, in tech. And if we could marry them…
Jon: [00:35:36] Yeah.
Shawn: [00:35:37] Like it it’s baffling. How, you know how obvious it seems. You know, and, and computer software, isn’t the only place where this has happened or the only place where there’s bias like this.
This is just the one I know, right. Because it was, it was my experience going to conferences or going to user groups and seeing women at those events and going, Oh, look, there’s recruiters here. Right. It was me having to face and accept that I was part of the problem. Even as enlightened as I thought or expected myself to be looking back, I was like, Oh, I, I have to take some time to look in the mirror and just, and just face up to it. And that, you know, I think that’s a big reason why the, the pivot happened was I wanted to get other people to look at themselves and maybe they don’t ha they didn’t do any of these things, but. If we can have a chance of sort of having that reckoning of like, you know what, I’m not going to go by a resume just because I see a name that’s clearly not a white guy’s name.
Right. I see that. I see that happen, you know, more often than I than I’d like to admit, you know
Jon: [00:36:56] I’ve read some stories on this that are just like, not surprising, better. Like there’ve been studies where the same resume was submitted with a white man sounding name and then a ethnic minority name and the callback evaluation rate, it was a significantly higher percentage, the exact same resume.
And then another fascinating thing I saw was there was a there was a man and he had a woman assistant. And she would always have problems with, you know, getting replies on emails and getting meetings scheduled and things like that. And he, he just assumed, you know, like, okay, well she’s learning or whatever.
And then something happened where she was on a vacation and he answered her emails and was shocked at the rudeness and the disrespect that just because he was sending emails from. And so he then he you know, they did a test going longer where, you know, they switched emails and, and, you know, and then the one other thing I’ve heard is there have been several women I’ve read that have created a fake coworker that’s a man. And they’ll have the co-worker reply to emails and, and get stuff done. And it’s just like, yeah.
Shawn: [00:38:12] I, you know, I hope at some point that’s not necessary, you know, that’s that, that for me is ultimately the goal. One of the other things that I wanted to mention before, I know we’re running a little late was w. There was a bunch of history that I didn’t know about. And I talked a little bit about the women being the first developers. But the other thing I didn’t realize was how pivotal African-Americans were in the early software movement. Like the, the first 3d engine that was ever developed was developed by the first masters of computer science graduated out of Stanford. Right. We don’t think of the fact that we have CGI in every movie as being really responsible to this person of color, the guy that invented the game cartridge for the original before the Atari, I can’t remember the name of the machine, but that said we should, what games and cartridges that was a man of color as well. the, the third partner in the creation of Hewlett Packard. Was a, a man of color though. He wasn’t Hewlett or Packard. Right. He didn’t get his name in the, in the masthead, but he was the one who found all the money to start the company. Yeah. Yeah. And, and there are dozens and dozens of those stories. And Latinx is we’re in a very similar case with Latinx people as well. Cause it’s when I say people of color, I don’t just mean. American black men and women. I’m also talking about Latinx, you know, I think a lot of times we feel like we have a diverse culture because we have East Asians in development roles. Like we’re fine. We shouldn’t worry about diversity because we have non white people in it.
Well, you ha that’s not the same, you know, there’s one of the reasons I, I think about the number of American woman I’ve worked with because I’ve worked with a lot of Chinese and Indian and Japanese women before, but this realization really started with the idea that I had never worked with an American woman as a developer, never in 30 years. And that’s astounding to me that. That it didn’t even occur to me. Like it wasn’t, like, I knew that like where all the, I just didn’t, it didn’t occur to me that, that, that was the case. And you know, you want to know where they were, where they all went. Because England has a very similar history.
You know, they’re, they’re, they’re very different, but very tied together and sort of the same things happened in the same era as the seventies, as world, when all the women went away and got taken over by man and all of that,
Kevin: [00:40:53] One question that I’m, I’m not sure I’m going to express this question well, so forgive me, but you know, one thing that I, as a privileged white dude. You know, sort of worry about is that, you know, me speaking about racism or sexism, like comes from you know, I don’t have the experience. So me talking about it is a little dicey. Like, did you, did you sort of have any concern about that then? Like you’re making this movie, you know, centering these people, which is great. I’m not a criticism, but. Like, you know, that, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re you as a white guy, you know, presenting these people, like has a, I don’t know, it seems like it could have some inherent sort of risk to it.
You know what I’m saying?
Shawn: [00:41:46] Huge. Yeah. That’s a great question. And it’s absolutely true. You know, I’ve had the conversation with my wife more than once is like, this movie might end my career. Like I might mishandle it because part of it is I want to present it. I want to be honest about my experience. You know, so admitting when I’ve been wrong without necessarily going everyone’s awful. Like I, I never wanted to be, and I hopefully, hopefully it isn’t sort of this gotcha journalism, like look at this company or that company. That’s not what it was about. It’s, it’s about trying to get people to look at themselves. But also at the same point at the same place, I never want to have that feeling of white savior.
Like I’ll fix it, you know? What you really need here to fix racism as a white guy. And it it’s a thin edge to to navigate. I think sometimes when I I had talked about to the .NET Rocks guys about two years ago about doing a talk about it. And there was like, it doesn’t feel like we’re the right people to talk about it, but it feels like, because there’s so many.
There’s so many people that look like me in the industry, that if I can get some small percentage of them to start realizing their implicit bias, that we can improve this and that. I can’t pretend to understand or explain the experience of being a woman or a person of color in this industry and what that means and how difficult or, or any of that.
I can’t pretend to have that experience. I can admit and be honest with the experience I’ve had as, as maybe turning away some people that I shouldn’t have when I was sort of in the hiring space or that treating women differently at conferences or, you know, assuming someone had less experience because they were a woman or a person of color or, or didn’t, or didn’t use English as their first language.
Like all of those things I’ve been guilty of. And I think these microaggressions are something that I want to solve. I want to fix for myself. And if I can get a couple of people that watch the movie too, Think about the way the interact with other people a little differently than I’ve succeeded. I’m not going to fix this, this isn’t going to go away tomorrow.
But I think that our industry can be better served. By having more people that are diverse and having the people that are in it, not feel threatened by the fact that, Oh my God, I’m going to lose my job because now they have to have a quota of 20% women on every thing. Well, if you were going to lose your job, just because they were being more inclusive, you’re not very good at your job.
Like the people that are worried about competition. I’m not sure they should be in the business. Like that’s kinda how I feel is like, if you’re concerned that, you know, adding more people or having younger developers come in or having whatever it is, you know, the chips fall where they may is kind of how I feel.
Jon: [00:45:02] if the only reason you have the job, your job is because of implicit bias and you know, like your privilege then. Yeah, exactly.
Kevin: [00:45:12] And that’s especially absurd in this particular industry, which
Jon: [00:45:15] Where there’s so many unfilled jobs too,
Shawn: [00:45:20] Yeah. If you can’t find a job, you know, I worked for a company years ago and I won’t mention them, but there was a guy that worked with me. And this was around 2002 and he had stayed with that company for 15 years, which meant he went through the dotcom bubble without taking a, another high paying job.
And I knew at that point, if you didn’t get hired during the.com bubble, they were literally taking anyone who had edited their MySpace page in HTML and hiring them.
Jon: [00:45:54] Yeah.
Shawn: [00:45:55] That something was wrong. Yeah. So Yeah, I don’t, I don’t have any, I don’t have any patience for people who want to hold onto their jobs or, you know, programmers that put in obfuscate their coach, or they’re the only ones that can understand it or any of the sort of bullshit.
I think many of us have seen over the years with people that were insecure.
Jon: [00:46:16] Did you as part of this, like a lot of this is just letting people tell their story and like choosing the people. Did you. Like have advisors or like, you know, I don’t know, read books or like, you know, do things to kind of educate yourself on, you know, like on any, because there’s there’s background and historical things and there’s whole study of, you know, racial injustice and all these sorts of things.
Shawn: [00:46:44] Yeah, the first year was almost all research. Before I even interviewed anybody because I really wanted to understand the problem. And I did some surveys to try to get people to, you know, anonymously tell me sort of what their experience was and had, you know, one of the questions I had on these early ones that really bothered me, that I got such high response.
I think I got 40% response of people saying that they had witnessed sexual harassment in the workforce. And didn’t do anything about it. Right that they weren’t, that they didn’t maybe do it themselves, but they saw other people do it and they weren’t and they couldn’t go that’s bullshit. you know what I mean?
Because they wanted to fit in and whatever the, you know, they’re, that’s a difficult thing to do, but I think it’s one of those things. So I read tons of studies and a number of books. There’s a great book about the history of software development in. The United States and another one in for the same story about England.
And I think, I, I’m sure I’m going to get this wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s called computer in the boy’s room. I’ll get a link to the correct one, but it’s a really eyeopening talk about the beginning of computers. In the thirties and forties and all the way up to sort of the present day and, and, and what, what the reasons were and how the reasons were.
One of the things that surprised me is like Cosmo magazine had an article in it about how programming was a great job for women because It had high pay and women were really good at it and all this other things. And then literally 10 years later, and we were down to 10% women. it just, it changed so quickly.
When we talked to some people at Georgia tech, one of the things they said was it’s a very Western problem. If you go to Indonesia software programming is considered women’s work. And why is it considered women’s work? It’s inside you sit down. It’s not dangerous. Right? Men’s work is outside dangerous.
Physical work. And so there’s just an assumption in other cultures that this would be normally a woman’s job. And in fact, the first eight programmers that were women, it was from merely thought of as women’s work, because it was seen as not as important as designing the hardware. That it was just rudimentary and such.
And, and I think that because early programming looked like switchboards, it was mostly patch cables that, that lended itself, Oh, you’re just a secretary. You can do programming. Which of course makes the whole irony of 40 years later writing that w all the secretaries should be able to write software one day article I think by Mary Jo Foley I thought it was kind of a funny book end to that because lowering the bar to computer programming.
So even a secretary could do it, which is, you know, has its own biases in it. but it it’s fascinating how this stuff has changed and how we, you know, traded in. In how to figure out how to, what, what is a good program or look like. And I think we’re still battling with that. Like we can teach skills, but how do you find those people that are good at those material tasks that isn’t about writing code?
I mean, in a lot of ways, this is the same barrier that we have in hiring. How do you find people that will be good at programming and having them, you know, Reordering linked list on a whiteboard, isn’t it. Right. I think we all know that asking them how to you know, how would you count the number of, of, of manhole covers in the world?
Like that doesn’t really work either. Right?
Jon: [00:50:30] Yeah.
Shawn: [00:50:31] And part of this is us still trying to figure that out.
Jon: [00:50:36] They’re questions that we ask, because they’re easy to ask. Like, I experienced this with tests that my kids take or assignments my kids take. It’s like, Oh, the teacher is asking this question or having you do this project because it’s easy to grade and we do the same sort of thing. Right. You know, like it’s, it’s easy for us to grade a reorder a link list, but it has no value like.
You never write that code yourself, you know?
Shawn: [00:51:03] No. And even if you did. You know, you would be able to look up the 34 examples to pick one. That was a good model of it. Like it just, it doesn’t represent what we do.
Jon: [00:51:15] Yeah. You know, part of what you were talking about and, you know, trying to like, as, as we think of kind of like, as, as we wrap this up, I’m thinking about like, what are the solutions and things we can take forward? One thing that I’ve experienced is the whole value of positive role models and , you know, there’s, definitely giving people a platform when possible.
And, and, but I think also there’s an important thing of just allyship and I, until you, like, until I’ve done more of this, I had not at all realized some of the things you mentioned before about how the, the difficulty that people experience. Basically every woman that I have worked with that speaks at conferences that you know, is, does, you know, video programs and all that.
They all experience. Harassment that is stunning. Like it’s just terrible and you just wouldn’t, you don’t know it until you work directly with them. They’re not going around talking about it. Most of them, but every single one, like there’s not a single, you know, anytime, anytime it comes up, they all.
And so it’s frustrating, but then, like the only thing I can think of on there is just allyship and supporting them and. Helping, you know, swat the crazies away is, is there, is there a more, you know, what are like, and we’ve covered a little of this, but what are some positive things that people, you know, you start with education and empathy, and then what else can we do going
Shawn: [00:52:48] think w for me, and again, this is a pretty personal movie because I can only know what I can and what I’m willing and able to do. And for me, the biggest thing I can do around sexual harassment is to be not just an advocate like, Oh, that sucks. That that happened to you. But like when you see it go, that’s fucked up, Bob, right?
Because that’s, that’s what it takes. We can’t be afraid of upsetting upsetting people we work with because it is, you know, we’re actually in a career where we could change if we need to. Right. If we get fired because Bob’s pissed off at us and happens to be our boss, I’m kind of okay with that because ultimately letting other humans be belittled is isn’t anything I want on my conscience.
Jon: [00:53:35] Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I feel like you know, it’s, it’s hard to understand. Cause there are people be people that you would think, you know, are generally like you respect professionally and then you see them pushing back. And I think some of it is that they interpret, you know, any kind of social justice, warrior stance as attacking them.
And, you know what I mean? I’m putting a bunch of guilt on them and I, I feel like some of that is not it’s, it’s, it’s coming from a different place, but it’s hard to describe, you know what I mean? How do, how do you talk to somebody that’s like, Oh, you’re just being a social justice warrior and virtue signaling and that sort of thing, you know?
Shawn: [00:54:22] it’s a hard conversation. I’ve had it a few times, honestly. And. The way I approach it is, you know, there’s there’s benefits here beyond the beyond maybe what my notion of right or wrong is. I want these people in these jobs because it lifts, you know lifts everybody up. It helps me learn every day.
Cause that’s my job as a software developer is to learn every day. Like there’s something new to learn. And if that learning is how someone else experiences the world or how someone’s culture could impact the way we write software or whatever that is, I have to take that into account. And so it just feels like a cop-out.
Frankly, when I hear that, like, Oh, you’re just trying to save the world. Well, okay. I’ll take that on. You know what I mean? Like I want to leave the world a better place than, than I found it. And, you know it’s just one of those things that, that I’m willing to take on because it’s not, again, it’s not just about trying to be social justice warrior, you know, though, honestly, I’ve been called that more than once, but it’s also feels like, something that will better our community. And I want that I really, really want that, you know, when I go to a conference in the after hours hanging out in the bar and it’s 10 white guys talking about how to optimize memory. I’m going to my room cause I’m bored. Right? But having people from a whole slew of different backgrounds and experiences that interests me way more than any other conversation we’re having. You know, and everyone has those, but because we have this common language, we fall into it. And I that’s why this, a lot of this feels implicit. Sure, there is explicit sexism and racism in every industry and should be fought against and we should fight it. But I think the bigger problem for our industry right now is not realizing that there’s a problem. Like thinking everything’s fine. Our companies making money. I’m happy. My wife’s family, I just bought a boat. Like, yeah, but it could be a lot better. Like it, you could be really happy in your job. Not just happy because you bought a boat.
Jon: [00:56:50] As you’re saying that I’m realizing a take on this too, is it’s not about. It’s instead of making it all about me. Oh, when I hear you, you’re when I see this film or when people are talking about this, you’re attacking me, take yourself out of it for a second. This is about somebody else and you should care about them.
Just listen to their story. Understand what they’re going through. Take yourself out of the equation for a little bit. You know what I mean? And then what do you, where do you go from there? You know, it’s like, Oh, this sucks. You know, these people, this person is, is intelligent. Could totally do this job. Could, you know, like it would benefit their entire family. They would benefit my team. Why not? You know, like, why not help them? Why not give them this opportunity?
Shawn: [00:57:38] Yeah. I’m I’m, I’m totally on board with that. Cause it I’m gonna use a really bad analogy and feel free to cut it. But sometimes in the software industry, it feels like racism in the North of our country. So I live in Atlanta, part of the South. We turned to blue by 1200 votes and I’ll take
Jon: [00:57:58] one.
Shawn: [00:57:59] worth of credit.
Yeah, me and my wife. thank you. But I prefer racism in the South. And that’s kind of a weird, stupid thing to say. But when I lived in Boston and when I’ve, I’ve lived in the North, before it took me six months to find out somewhere there was a racist, whereas down here they’ve got the flag and they’ve got the bumper sticker and, you know, I can just avoid them. not that I finally get invited to your home and you tell a joke that. Clearly is not a joke. And I certainly don’t think it’s funny to find out that I have to get you out of my life now. Right. And so I think that happened some in software that we want to put up this front of being we want everyone in, but then when it comes down to it, sometimes we, we have those biases that we don’t want to face.
We don’t, we each have sure that shadow in our personality that. Is sometimes hard to, to look at. And I think it’s better for everyone eventually, if we sort of confront that, it’s just like just like the arrogance in our industry almost entirely. I think arrogance within some developers in our industry is masking them being afraid to be found out and imposter syndrome. Like it, it’s a common way to cover that once we acknowledge that and go it’s okay, you don’t have to know everything. Relax. And I think that same thing can happen with this of like, yeah, your first instinct wasn’t to hire this person because they didn’t have the first name you expected, but look at their resume, you know? Thankfully in this country is different than Europe, Europe, almost all CVS or resumes have their picture on it. And I’m just, just it’s. So it’s so uncomfortable when I see a European CV. I’m like, is this cool? You sure?
Jon: [00:59:50] yeah, yeah. Hmm. Okay. So as we wrap up, we have focused on obviously the most important part, which is the subject matter of the film, but I want to just briefly talk about like, okay, so the film itself, so it’s, it’s available on streaming platforms and, and like it’s being released December 15th, does that right?
Shawn: [01:00:12] It is, we just started pre-orders on iTunes in North America. You can go to will a hello world, film.com and see that link. And then on the 15th, that’ll be releasing on 18 other platforms. I think it’s 18. It might be 15. So you you’ll be able to get it in pay-per-view or purchase it on Amazon iTunes, Vudu Xbox, Google Play Store, et cetera. And a bunch of cable providers. And then we’ll probably expand that internationally within the next three months, we’re working with a partner right now that is going to get it on some stores in Europe and in Australia in some parts of South America working on translating those things right now.
Yeah. And so it’ll be expanding out to different markets as we go, but we’re starting with North America because that’s what my distributor told me to do.
Jon: [01:01:03] Okay. Well, one one final thing just as we’re talking about, that is the whole kind of getting in streaming platforms, especially during this time of COVID. When the industry has gone through some big change, the whole film industry has had to go through big change. What was that all like?
Shawn: [01:01:20] Crazy. You know, I sometimes I’m like, you know, I can see what’s wrong with our industry, but trying to get into film. It’s, it’s weird. It’s been a very big learning process, but luckily I got picked up by gravitas ventures who does a lot of documentary distribution. And so they sort of handheld me through a lot of the process.
And that was. I finished the film December 31st, last year. And so the process of finding a distributor and getting it out there. Is is way longer process. Like every time I thought, Oh, wow, we’re finished filming. We’re almost done with the film. And then it took another year to cut the film. And that was like, Oh, finally, the film is done.
And they were like, it’s not now you have to figure out how to get it out to people. So it’s all been incredible learning. I’m actually about to start a YouTube series on my. YouTube channel about how I made the film and just sort of share a bunch of this information I’ve had because you know, none of it’s proprietary to me.
But I feel like there’s a lot that, that I’ve learned and right now is sort of a magic place in documentary it’s, it’s, it’s very available to a ton of people. You can shoot a documentary on a iPhone and that’s good enough to get it out there because it’s much more about content than. Then sort of the technical ness of it.
So I’m, I’m hoping to share everything from the pre-production all the way through the distribution, everything I’ve learned in budgeting and hiring people and finding building a team instead of trying to do it all yourself. And you know, this all started because I got bored and I wanted to learn something new and I accidentally made a film.
Jon: [01:03:10] That’s a problem computer people seem to have all the time. It was like, Oh, let me check this out. And yeah.
Shawn: [01:03:15] And then suddenly you have a startup
Jon: [01:03:20] Wow, this is fascinating. Well, I’m the area that I was sad I didn’t have time to ask about was all this, how do you make a film and all that? So I’m glad you’re creating that YouTube series. That’ll, that’ll be interesting to follow and there’s a lot more than fits into just one podcast anyways, there. I’m sure.
Shawn: [01:03:37] Yeah, that’d be great. I if you go to wildermuth.com, that’s where I’ll be announcing the web series. Once I get a couple episodes in the can in case people want to know,
Jon: [01:03:45] Okay. Great. So HelloWorldFilm.com. People can go and pre-order now, and then it’s available on tons of streaming platforms and cable on demand. Congratulations for that. So that, that is really, really cool. I am. And the trailer is amazing. I can’t wait to see the actual film. So, and then I guess one last question is audience. I mean, we’re, we’re software developers, but it seems like this is something that has broader application. Who, who is this film for?
Shawn: [01:04:15] It is for a general audience. It’s it’s justice. It’s just as much for people that don’t know anything about software as it is for people in the industry. I think people in industry will be interested in sort of seeing their part of it. But a lot of the film is encouraging people who aren’t in it to give it a shot.
And the goal of the movie was that you could take a software developer and their mother, and they both get something out of the film and the trouble with that was during the interviews, getting us technical people, not to throw around acronyms. So that was one of the more difficult pieces.
Jon: [01:04:50] Nice. Nice. Great. Well, this is amazing. I can talk about this all day. But I can’t wait to see the film and congratulations again for that.
Shawn: [01:04:58] Thank you so much, Jon.
Jon: [01:05:00] Awesome. All right, go ahead. And Kevin, you can say, yeah well,
Kevin: [01:05:12] Very much so.
Shawn: [01:05:15] I appreciate that.
Jon: [01:05:17] All right. Well, that’s all the time we have today on Herding Code. Join us next time. I wonder if it will be before 2021. Find out on the next episode of Herding Code.