Welcome to tech! It’s not always an easy field to be in, but there are always fun challenges and I’ve enjoyed doing the work involved at nearly every step in my career. Since you’re new here and I’ve been around for over 20 years, I want to share some of the skills and habits I wish I knew when I started.

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This post combines three things I love: teaching dogs cool tricks, helping people grow, and figuring out how to do it best. I want to show you how easily I work with both dogs and humans, where the skills overlap and how they differ, so you too can teach fun tricks and help your fellow humans get better.

Why assess understanding?

Assessing understanding is the key to improvement. If you know what you don’t know you can hone in on fixing that gap. Here’s the tricky part, though: understanding is fluid; without practice, our skills and knowledge atrophy. Thus, assessing understanding is a continuous process.

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2020 has brought many life-changing events and here we sit with another one. George Floyd dying at the hands of police has sent us into a civil rights moment that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I have hope that attitudes are changing among white people that may lead to the dismantling of structural racism. #BlackLivesMatter is mainstream and white people are speaking out in numbers I haven’t seen, but there’s still work to be done.

The intent of my post is to talk about the role I’ve found for myself and give ideas for other white people to continue the work we must do to eliminate systematic racism.

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I don’t care who or what you’re working with, if they’re sentient, they all want to:

  • be right
  • feel smart
  • be praised
  • feel accepted or loved or cared for (or all three)

When they don’t know what to do or get it wrong, they want to:

  • be taught how to be right
  • know they’re still accepted
  • understand how to make amends if they messed something up


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Leadership is the ability to help a group of people advance from the place they are today as much as they are willing and able to grow.

The first thing you need to know about my approach to leadership is a little context.

Here are some crucial bits to apply to what I’m about to tell you:

  1. I have been working in technology in many ways, but mostly as a software engineer or software engineering manager for over 20 years
  2. I have a degree in education. I wanted to be a teacher since middle school after watching, and being inspired by, great teachers
  3. Despite having a degree in elementary education, I decided not to teach because of how curriculum and evaluation was carried out at a mass scale in US public education
  4. I was in college studying elementary education when No Child Left Behind, a test-focused education platform, was unveiled. I fought against its existence
  5. My ethos is personal development. I care, first and foremost, about growth. Of myself and of those around me. I like to make people better

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Implicit bias is the bias you didn’t know you have. It’s:

  • the engineer you thought didn’t have social skills
  • the woman you thought was a designer
  • the man of color walking toward you at dusk who you deem a threat
  • the kid who looked so young you treated them like they didn’t understand what was going on around them

It’s this stereotyping that humans used to judge danger in far less certain times. It was, and can still be, a useful tool to assess situations quickly. In times where there is no danger, thought, implicit bias can cause trouble for you and those around you.

We all have biases like this. No matter how hard you try, they will always be in your head. The only way to fight is to understand your own biases and assumptions and work to counteract them.

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