Increasing Diversity in Tech and Expert Advice for Developers

Episode #034: Dan Appelquist, Director of Web Advocacy at Samsung and Ada Rose Cannon, Developer Advocate at Samsung

Episode Information

This is a special episode of Mobile Matters because we’re going back to the cutting room floor for this episode and sharing content that we couldn’t fit into the original episodes. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we’re talking to Ada Rose Cannon and Dan Appelquist at Samsung about how we need to think about increasing diversity in tech as well as their advice for every developer.


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Stephanie Cox (VP of Marketing and Sales at Lumavate): I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. We've been so blessed to have amazing guests on the show and the ones from the last two episodes have had so much great content to share. I literally couldn't fit it into their episodes and that's why I'm going back to The Cutting Room floor for this week's episode. You're going to hear from Ada Rose Canon, who's the Co-Chair of the W3C Immersive Web Working Group and a developer advocate for Samsung. As well as Dan Appelquist, who is the Director of Advocacy at Samsung and also Co-Chairs the W3C Technical Architecture Group. I'm talking to both of them about how we can increase diversity in tech and hearing their expert advice for developers. Let's get started with hearing Dan’s point of view about how we can increase diversity in tech.

How do we think about improving diversity in tech? And do you think that can also help push more diversity in what's available on the Web and how people think about it? 

Daniel Appelquist (Director of Web Advocacy at Samsung): Absolutely. I mean, a lot of the problems that we have with applications that are not designed very well have to do with the fact that they don't have a diverse enough team behind them. And, that's a problem across the industry. It's a problem that I take very seriously that it's something that we try to encode into all the work that we're doing, actually. And I've been trying to push on a number of fronts on this. So, I'll give you a couple of examples. We have a conference participation guidelines document or statement that we will not participate in conferences, we will not speak for conferences or sponsor comments and events that have, don't meet a certain bar of diversity and inclusion. And that includes things like, Do they have a code of conduct? Are you taking diversity onstage seriously? Is your code of conduct strong enough? Do you have an enforcement policy behind that code of conduct? Do you have a track record? Some of these things are quantifiable, some of them are qualitative. And we're trying to take that same philosophy to web standards, as well. So, W3C, which is this big amorphous group which a lot of people view as very opaque. Ideally, we want to open that opaque box up and we want to get more developers, especially new voices, especially people from underrepresented communities, participating in W3C. And participating in web standards because that's how we're going to make sure that these standards make sense for everybody. So, W3C has a yearly meeting called TPAC that's Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee and they have it in different places around the world every year. This year, it happens to be in Japan. Our team has put for the last meeting and for this meeting coming up, money towards a diversity scholarship so that we can help. And other companies, such as Microsoft have come in and paid money into that fund as well so that we can pay for people to actually come to these things so we can actually pay for travel for people, specifically from underrepresented groups. To come join us, join their peers that are working on some these new web standards and I think that's really important. So, we're getting better in W3C, we're getting better across the industry. I think there's a lot more awareness now but I think there's also some unfortunately some pushback on the part of some people, but I really think, I see a lot of positive energy on this now. All the people that we're working with, partners that we have on ViewSource, for instance, are on message on this topic. In terms of promoting diversity. I found when I started industry networking group in 2005. And we were running Mobile Monday London. We were running monthly evening events where we would have speakers very pretty simple stuff. And guess what? When we had women speakers, we had more women attendees. And that led me on a journey to start thinking about this more and understanding how we can, especially in the events space, how it's important for the inclusion of the entire industry because those kinds of events end up being places where people network, where they build their careers. So, if we're having a problem and I'm not saying tech events are the only fixing things in tech events or adjusting things in tech events are the only way to fix the problem. But it's certainly one lever and it's a lever that we're trying to push on. And as well in the standards community, a similar story. So, those are two areas where we're trying to to put a lot of energy into that. I think it's an important goal.

Stephanie Cox: I completely agree. So how would you think about getting more women in tech?

Ada Rose Cannon (Developer Advocate/Principal Engineer at Samsung): So, this is a big issue and unfortunately, getting women into tech is not something which women can do alone. So, we need support from big companies, from our colleagues, from the support at every level. Because at the moment, there is pressure against you, when you go into tech. You're constantly fighting the system by being a minority in the industry. And this is not just for women, but for people of color, too. Like it's very challenging to enter a space where you are not considered the default. So, part of it comes from, as a community making sure that the conferences we attend represent the industry, as we'd like to see it. So, ensuring that there's good representation of all kinds, at every level of organizing community events. From from the organization team, to the staff managing the event, to the lineup of speakers and the attendees visiting the conference. And often this means doing a lot of work and reaching out to people long before you start planning anything. The same comes with open source projects and standard work. If you want to do an open source project or or do a standard, and you want to have diverse people working to it. Because I know ensuring diversity in our teams is like the right thing to do. And it is, that that should be reason enough. But for a lot of people, that's not enough. But, so to this I say, if you need a business excuse for having diversity in your teams. Like diverse teams give better results. By having developers from from a wide range of backgrounds, you're going to solve problems you didn't even know you had until you released a product. And that it shouldn't be necessary for me to give that as an excuse for people to use. But sometimes you have to justify it with money and the justification is there, it makes business sense. But yeah, it's definitely an uphill battle. Like, it helps that people are talking about it, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. So constantly having to fight to prove that women and other groups underrepresented in tech, have a space in the industry is a tiring thing to do. And if you're lucky enough to be successful like I've fortunately had a very successful career, so a lot of work I do now is to put down ladders wherever I can and to help other people and provide support networks and make stuff better. That's all we can do is make stuff better, wherever we can and try and get our colleagues to do the same. 

Stephanie Cox:If you could tell every web developer in the world one thing, what would it be? 

Ada Rose Cannon: If I could tell one thing to every single web developer, it's that basically I wish I could let all web developers realize that they're not just building for their own devices or for the devices of their family and friends. They're building for everyone and the World Wide Web is a worldwide web and when building stuff, they shouldn't focus their Web site to a single market in a single country. They should be building something that works for everyone, everywhere on all kinds of devices from low-end mobile to high-end mobile and high-end desktop computers. The world is not just for them. And the web is not just for them. And by building a web that works well for everyone, they'll be building a web that lasts long into the future. And if the Web lasts as long as their own future, then they'll have some career longevity. 

Stephanie Cox: If you're thinking about someone who comes to you and says, I'm thinking about a career in web development, they're getting ready to go to university. And I think that's the major I want, what would you tell them? What advice would you give them? 

Daniel Appelquist: I would say, think twice about getting a computer science degree. Maybe that. So I mean, I went through my own journey at university was that I thought hey I like computers, I should do computer science, right? And I went to school and started this computer science degree and I hated it. And it may have just been the particular degree program that I was in, but the emphasis on math was just not the thing for me. So, I ended up going for a more multidisciplinary degree, in the end. A cognitive science degree, which combined aspects of AI and object-oriented development and psychology and neuropsych and stuff like that. Some which I haven't really used, but nevertheless I found to be much more enriching and set me up maybe more positively to think about web development. Which is, at its core, a multidisciplinary activity that you really need to think about human factors, just as much as you need to think about algorithms and and core computer science concepts. Also, study ethics! Study decision making and study ethics. Because these are key topics that are very not well understood I think by people that are coming out of degree programs. Because, by the way when we, we're putting our money where our mouth is on some of this stuff. I mentioned diversity and inclusion before, I mentioned ethics just now. These are both things that we put on our job requirements list as skill sets. So having experience and understanding about diversity and inclusion programs or codes of conduct. Having experience or understanding or thoughts about how ethics fit into the technology sphere, those are things that when we hire, we're hiring for those topics. And that also brings to us people who are more attuned to diversity inclusion in the workplace and to add to ethical thinking in tech. And that's exactly what I think what we need more of. 

Stephanie Cox: So far the hardest question I'm gonna ask. What is the one thing you wish every developer in the world knew? 

Daniel Appelquist: That you are not, you are not the only user of your web application. Maybe. I mean, I think that's a little bit watered down but it's to think outside of the bubble of thought that you're in. If you think you're building a great web application and you have all the angles covered and because all you and the other people you know that are in your peer group are satisfied and happy. Well, think about other communities and how it impacts other communities. Think about how the assumptions that you make maybe about how information should be shared or how public things should be. Or whether or not something is a particularly sensitive piece of information. Think about how those might play in other communities and especially in marginalized communities. I guess the example that comes to mind is something like, when the developers had put together Mastodon, they put in the feature about content warnings. Where you can, Mastodon being an open source version of Twitter, really very simplistically speaking. But when you're making a mess on message, you can add a content warning and that is something that other more mainstream applications don't have. But just the idea that you can, just that nudge to encourage people to add a content warning, so that if they are writing about something violent, if they're writing about something that could be triggering. If you don't think about those communities, if you don't think about people that could be triggered, if you don't think about how some people don't want to see hate speech, even from people that are saying I really don't like this hate speech. Then you're missing a trick. 

Stephanie Cox: It's interesting that you say that because one of the things I tell people all the time is, you are not your target audience. I think we forget that.

Daniel Appelquist: I'm glad that resonated, then. 

Stephanie Cox:  Because I think it applies to developers. I think it applies to marketers. Anyone that is really developing or communicating something to end users, because a lot of times, we think and we have these ideas of what we think would be best and we're not always our target audience. So, I always try and think about like my mom. How my mom would react to it, how would someone in Africa react to it, could they use it? Those types of things. I think it's just really important to have a more holistic view when we do that. 

Stephanie Cox: I’m Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders’ best practices and all things mobile.

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