UBM, and a lament for the software industry

I grew up in tech as a UBM fan. Ok, not really a fan, but a “there’s very few voices writing books about ‘how to write code well’, and this person seems to know what they’re doing, so I’m going to listen to him”. I read all his books; attended talks he gave at SCNA, and thought for a while that his way was the right way.

That, of course, was a mistake. Much like anyone else who has ideas, most of UBM’s ideas are bad, a very few are good, and then you turn the light on and realize he’s about 10 seconds away from outright fascism.

If you’ve read his tweets (don’t), he apparently has a particular affection for law and order in the form of “gosh, we apparently don’t have enough of it since there were shooting deaths over the weekend.”

And normally you’d think this would align him with the pro gun-control crowd, but it doesn’t. Instead his answer is to give the police more money, and maybe they’ll find a way to get their clockwork stat of killing 3.2 Americans a day higher.

It’s grotesque, and I normally wouldn’t spend any further typing on UBM, but I bring him up because it’s instructive of the tech bullshit that’s holding our industry back.

I got into tech because I was the first kid on my block with a computer and a LAN. I wasn’t super competitive at sports in the “I want to win” sense, although growing up in America in the 80s meant that your worth as a human being was tied to whether your team won the game. The teams I was on seemed to lose a lot more than we won, and the few times I was on winning teams I could see the Jock’s kids doing it out of some sense of devotion and attention grabbing from their dads.

My dad didn’t really give a crap about sports. He was a reporter. I love him (RIP), but he was an asshole. He liked to find the uncomfortable buttons and push them whether those buttons belonged to politicians or the local school board. It made him a good reporter. He worked for TV, several newspapers, and he was the first reporter on the scene when his eldest son, at the tender age of 7, was hit by a car in the 70s.

That was shockingly hard on him for decades to come, and the alcoholism that ensued doomed his first marriage and almost tore his second marriage apart . Ironically the Congestive Heart Failure put a quick stop to the alcoholism.

What’s that saying about frying pans and fires again? One of the things my dad used to say repeatedly to me was “it’s not the man with the answers, it’s the man with the questions.”

He also liked to say “reporters report the news, journalists make the news.” Ten year old me had no idea what that meant, and 38 year old me has no idea whether he was pro-journalist or not with that statement.

One thing he did focus on was being outside of the story. Never make yourself the story, he would say.

UBM has a volume of work much greater than most of the modern tech space. Having been working in tech longer than I’ve been alive, it’s understandable. He was also one of the agile manifesto signatories, though with the passage of time it too seems to be a relic of another era and another war.

The ire UBM draws seems to be more from his lack of empathy than anything else, and as someone whose father lacked empathy, the signs are all the same.

As of this writing, there are 941 examples of police brutality against protestors that have risen up in response to decades of police abuse and the inhumane treatment of black people and people of color that has culminated in George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. Let us also not forget Breonna Taylor, whom the prosecutors are currently trying to justify her murder by police after the fact by trying to get her boyfriend to sign a plea deal saying she was a part of his “criminal network”.

These cases of brutality are well documented, and if you follow Radley Balko’s work, they are just the latest in the decades’ long undeclared war on the black populace by police.

It’s during this time, when pain is at its greatest, when UBM tweets, “fund the police.” To which he rightfully got scorned. Only an asshole would say “pour more fuel on the fire” when it had consumed lives, neighborhoods, and our country.

This lack of empathy is present in UBMs talks as well; he has had a constant refrain of “we are professionals and professionals do good work.” He also has some shaker woodshop view of software in calling himself a “software craftsman”, which I don’t think you could get any more white or male by referring to the best software developers as “craftsmen”.

It’s interesting to note he holds software developers to a higher standard of professionalism than police, but such is the way of the fascist. The rules apply to thee, but not to the state.

This is our software industry, and our industry is both responsible for some of today’s woes; but we can also contribute to a economic boom that no other industry can match with the amount of time it takes to become a developer.

That’s the power of being in the software industry: You can go from intern to making six figures in less than 5 years, and some are making six figures right out of school.

But there’s one thing missing: We’ve not yet conquered the racial and gender issues that hurt black people, people of color, women, transgender, and non-binary people especially. The issues that keep them from being a part of this economic boom. And as is often the case, the people in power are the cause. Whether inadvertently through a lack of empathy or intentionally, white men get to play the tech game on easy mode while everyone else has to jump through the hoops we’ve put in place. I’ve benefited from it, and I look around at the talent that we have in tech in under-represented minorities and I realize that if there were a level playing field; this industry would be far more diverse than it is now.

I’ve become rather obsessed with Hamilton, the musical. This in of itself is an odd statement, given that I am (at best) neutral on the idea of a central bank, and harbor a bit of disdain for is historical evolution; but Hamilton the musical warmed me to the understanding of Hamilton the man. A man that previously was the scorn of libertarians everywhere; and this musical humanized him.

More so than that, the Musical showed the range and depth of talent that this unique re-telling of history could bring to the table. There’s nothing quite like Hamilton out there, and there’s no way that would have ever seen the light of day with a mostly white cast and white playwright at the helm. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work has enriched our society; and it’s past time for us to give diversity its due. His work is just a recent example; and there are dozens of others.

How many Hamilton’s have been squashed in the software industry due to gatekeeping? How many Lin-Manuel Miranda’s have been pushed away? How much oxygen have white “thought leaders” taken out of the room?

Often, when under represented minorities in tech “make it”, it’s in-spite of this climate, not because of it.

One of the things we can do is to amplify other people’s voices, and to me that’s one of the problems UBM has: He doesn’t amplify other people’s work. As someone who has spent a lifetime in the software industry and become famous, he should. He has a large following, and using it to raise others up would improve the entire industry. My disappointment with UBM starts with the idea that as a leader he has an obligation to improve the industry; but he can’t see the injustice in front of his own nose.

We’ve stopped serving humans with the software we build. We’ve stopped focusing on the humans the software affects in search of basis points of engagement to improve. We have created entire industries to serve at the pleasure of investment returns for venture funds while ignoring the costs associated with serving VCs’ interests. And all the while we’ve done this, we’ve hurt the most vulnerable among us. If you’re Anglo-saxon, there’s good money that you identify as a Christian, and Jesus framed his entire teachings around the idea of lifting up and helping those around you.

The irony abounds, and the startup founders cash another venture capital check.

We are missing out on so much by gatekeeping; even if it is unintentional. We lose nothing by adding diverse voices to our teams and we gain so much by intentionally making our teams more diverse; from our leaders on down. If we are really supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, if software is supposed to revolutionize living, then we have to start with who gets a seat at the table, and if that table is filled with mostly white dudes, we’re never going to reach our potential as an industry or as a force for change.

We need new leaders, diverse leaders who can help evolve our industry past its roots and make it a force for good for all people, and we’re not going to get there by listening to the people who got us here.

I have no answers here, as I have very little experience with this; so I’m going to defer to someone who does.

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