Abstractions: Lucky

Saron is a fantastic speaker. Anyone who has seen any of her talks knows that she’s charming, funny, and very engaging. In this talk, she addressed privilege. Early on she spoke about how contributing to open source sounds easy but you actually need numerous things to do so: code, communication, time (which often means money), a computer, and the internet. She threw out some interesting facts about how many people in the world have internet access (less than 1/2) and how many Americans still have no broadband internet (11 million). She spoke about all the ways in which she is privileged where other people may not be. For example, health… examples of this can be if someone is blind, deaf, or even color blind. Someone’s health effects their accessibility to things and often has a significant financial impact. She mentioned student debt and how debt can lead folks to take a job and not a career. She also spoke about luck vs. hard work. One of the most interesting things that she said was that you have to be lucky first in order to work hard later.

In the end of her talk, she gave some examples of what someone can do with their luck. You can expand the problem pool by following people unlike you, volunteering, and amplifying voices, and you can incorporate these things into your product but thinking about accessibility, internet speeds, and conventions.

This talk was good, but to be honest, when I sit in a talk like this, I wonder what “unlucky” people think. I know a lot of people in our community have a lot of luck and privilege. I’ve had some privilege… I went to college and graduated without any debt, I’ve always had access to computers and internet, etc. but I also didn’t have the freedom to take european vacations or unpaid internships and knew, for example, when going into college that if I could work harder and finish in three years, that would be better than finishing in four and needing to pay that extra year of tuition. And there are lots of people out there who, no matter how hard they work, won’t be able to go to college and are working ten times harder than most of us just to get by. There is space in our community and at conferences for people to talk about the privilege they have and what people like them with privilege can do to help others but, in a talk like this, I wonder how many of those folks without luck and without privilege are in our industry and if they feel like there’s a space for them to talk abut what they think could be helpful and how people with privilege could help them. I think about Mike’s ordinary people talk from the day before where he says that we shouldn’t think about how a woman or person of color would design a product for them but we should actually get THEM and hire THEM to design the product. In reflecting on this talk, I think that’s who I want to see a talk like this from, not someone who has privilege telling others with privilege how to use their privilege but someone without it telling others what is and isn’t helpful.

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