Alex qin?1608847679

Alex Qin

Founder Emergent Works

Alex Qin is the founder of Emergent Works, a nonprofit software company that trains and employs formerly incarcerated coders. She is a reformed software engineer who has been working in the space of prison reentry and criminal justice reform since 2018. She spent most of her career before that writing code and advocating for a more diverse and equitable tech industry. She is also an international public speaker and some of you may have seen her talk about how shaving her head made her a better programmer. And she is a performance and visual artist. Her first solo show, Losing Things, premiered in New York in December 2019.

Description

In this episode, we talk about how to build tech for social justice, with Alex Qin, co-founder and CEO of Emergent Works. Alex talks about the challenges she had to face being a woman in tech, how shaving her head caused people to treat her with more respect and launched her on a path toward social justice, and her company’s first in-house app, Not 911.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about how to build tech for social justice with Alex Qin, Cofounder and CEO of Emergent Work.

[00:00:20] AQ: You know, that kind of epiphany launched me on this new direction of, “This is not okay. This is not the world that I want to be a part of and I’m going to work to change it.”

[00:00:31] SY: Alex talks about the challenges she had to face being a woman in tech, how shaving her head caused people to treat her with more respect and launched her on a path towards social justice and her company’s first in-house app, Not911, after this.

[MUSIC BREAK]

[AD]

[00:00:52] TwilioQuest is a desktop roleplaying game for Mac, Windows, and Linux to teach you real world developer skills. Take up the tools of software development, become an operator, save the cloud. Download and play TwilioQuest for free at twilio.com/quest.

[00:01:09] Simplify your infrastructure and cut your cloud bills in half with Linode’s Linux virtual machines. Develop, deploy, and scale your modern applications faster and easier. Whether you’re developing a personal project or managing larger workloads, you deserve simple, affordable, and accessible cloud computing solutions. Get started on Linode today with $100 in free credit for listeners of CodeNewbie. You can find all the details at linode.com/codenewbie.

[00:01:40] The more you know about web development, the more fun it is. With Pluralsight, you can take your skills and your career to the next level. Start a free account today to access 50 expert-led courses, plus five extra free courses rotating in each week, charged into 2021 with the confidence of someone who has development experts in their corner. Go to pluralsight.com/free to create your free Pluralsight Skills account today.

[00:02:07] Awesome applications need data wherever, whenever, and however users want to consume it. In addition to a fast to deploy application stack, if you missed React with Cassandra Dev Day, a half-day interactive virtual event that happened on December 9th, it’s not too late to learn how to use React with Netlify and Apache Cassandra, the same database that powers Netflix, Spotify, and Apple. Register to view on-demand content at events.datastax.com/reactwithcassandra.

[AD ENDS]

[00:02:42] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:44] AQ: Thank you for having me.

[00:02:46] SY: So earlier this season, we have the privilege of speaking to a formerly incarcerated person who spent 18 years in prison before getting out. And then when he got out, he learned how to code and is now doing really well after struggling to get a job with a felony on his record. And so we wanted to have you on the show because you do a lot at Emergent Works to help formerly incarcerated people find careers in tech. Well, before we get into all of that, I want to hear about how you started your coding journey. Where did it all begin for you?

[00:03:15] AQ: I think technically the first piece of code that I wrote was from my TI-89 calculator.

[00:03:23] SY: Nice!

[00:03:23] AQ: Junior year of high school, perhaps. It was like a program that calculated the factorial of X or something, but really it began in college, freshman year of college. I wanted to be an astronaut. So I enrolled in the engineering program at my school. And one of the requirements for the program was introduction to programming in Python. And after the first class, I was totally hooked.

[00:03:53] SY: Oh, yeah.

[00:03:55] AQ: Yeah. I was like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.” I’d always felt very artistic, but I was not good at artistic pursuits. And it’s not like with coding that I had finally found my art form and I fell in love with it and then decided to change my major to computer science.

[00:04:14] SY: So what was that like kind of letting go of that dream of space and being an astronaut and then moving over to cyberspace?

[00:04:23] AQ: Oh.

[00:04:25] SY: Just like that? Yeah.

[00:04:26] AQ: That was great. That was very good. I’ve never heard that.

[00:04:29] SY: That was all my producer. I got to give him credit for that one. That was him.

[00:04:32] AQ: You know, I think my dreams of space had a lot less to do with being an astronaut and the stars and more to do with wanting to do something that other people couldn’t do or wanting to be somewhere that was outside of reality or something.

[00:04:51] SY: Interesting. Yeah.

[00:04:51] AQ: And like I’ve always had this kind of intense drive for achieving things. And when I fell in love with programming, one thing that I encountered pretty soon after, like in my CS101 class was that people did not think that I was going to be able to be a programmer.

[00:05:14] SY: Why?

[00:05:15] AQ: Well, because it was 10 years ago, over 10 years ago, and I was one of the very few women in my computer science program. On top of that, I was very feminine looking, just not what one expected to find in a computer science department. And so the message I got from a lot of my peers and computer science professors was just like, “You don’t belong here. You’re not going to succeed.” And this kind of became like my new astronaut of like, “Okay, well, this is this really hard thing that people don’t think that I can do. I’m going to do it.”

[00:05:52] SY: It strengthened your resolve, it sounds like.

[00:05:54] AQ: Yeah. Well, it was like heartbreaking and a challenge at the same time.

[00:06:00] SY: Where did you get that spirit from? Because it’s happened twice now, right? This idea of feeling challenged and kind of feel like you could rise up to the challenge instead of feeling defeated by it. How do you kind of keep your spirit up?

[00:06:14] AQ: I think to be totally honest that it comes from this deep kind of perfectionism and competitive nature that comes from low self-esteem from having difficult childhood relationship with my parents. And so I think since I was very little, the way I found to survive and be okay was to just be the best at stuff and do really well in school and just have these external validation things that kind of filled this cool of not feeling okay as I was on the inside.

[00:06:57] SY: So tell me about the first job you had out of school.

[00:07:01] AQ: My first job out of school, I was a front end engineer at this tech startup and we were part of the Betaworks Accelerator in New York and it was very fun. The team was super small. We were all really young. The founders were 25. And we got to work in this space with all these other really cool startups, like Alex Chung was just starting GIPHY at the time.

[00:07:28] SY: Oh, cool!

[00:07:28] AQ: And he sat across from me.

[00:07:30] SY: Wow!

[00:07:30] AQ: We were separated by just our monitors and Dots was being started in the other room.

[00:07:36] SY: That’s cool.

[00:07:36] AQ: Yeah, it was really cool. It felt like New York Startup Scene. And I remember sitting across from Alex Chung and he’s such a sweetheart. We became dear friends. We are still in touch now. He’s been a big supporter of Emergent Works actually. But I remember thinking like, “GIF search engine, this is not going to go anywhere.” And now it’s this successful, amazing company, which is awesome.

[00:08:02] SY: So you mentioned having kind of a tight-knit team and it sounds like definitely working at a startup at such a young age in the middle of New York City sounds like a fun adventure to go on. What was your experience as just being a woman on the team? Were there many of you and what’s that gender culture like?

[00:08:19] AQ: Yeah. I was the only woman on that engineering team. Yeah, I was the only woman in my surroundings for a while. And it didn’t become challenging until we hired a new VP of engineering who was really hard for me to work with because of his, I think, preconceptions about women in software who didn’t have experience working with women on engineering teams and made it extremely hard for me to feel like safe at work. Even though I had one of the first hires on the team, I started to be treated like I didn’t know what I was doing, even though my code was all over the code base. I started getting pushed on to smaller and smaller projects, like being given grunge work, being treated really like I didn’t matter. I didn’t know what I was doing and it was this really maddening experience of feeling like I was going crazy because, and I think this is a common experience for people from less dominant identities in tech of just like experiencing a lot of microaggressions and not being able to point to like, “Well, this problematic thing happened,” but really feeling like my self-esteem and my self-worth was being chipped away slowly every day. There were some more egregious incidents of sexism that also happened. And in the end, I ended up having to quit because it was just too unsafe.

[00:09:45] SY: I’m sorry to hear that. Yeah. I mean, it’s an example of management, right? And really the fact that who you hire really matters and can set the tone for the entire organization. And they always talk about how the people at the top are kind of responsible for the culture because they do have a huge say in how everyone else experiences that company. And it sounds like that one bad hire really just kind of ruined everything.

[00:10:11] AQ: Yeah, and it is true that the leadership sets the tone. And I think what this makes me think of is this quote by Beverly Daniel Tatum who’s one of my favorite authors. She’s an anti-racist educator. She wrote, “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” And the quote goes something like this. “When you’re on a moving walkway at the airport, you’re being carried in that direction, even though you’re not like walking.” Right? And if you’re trying to go in the opposite direction, you have to start walking really fast in the opposite direction. Right? And she talks about how racism is like this moving walkway that we’re all on. No matter what we’re doing, we’re being carried with it. We’re breathing it in every day. And so in order to be truly anti-racist, we need to walk fast in the opposite direction.

[00:11:04] SY: Interesting. Yeah.

[00:11:05] AQ: And so we can’t just do nothing. We have to like work very hard in the opposite direction. And I feel like that’s really true, I mean, in all environments, but that’s been my experience in the tech world is that unless people are intentionally working to make inclusive, safe environments for everyone happen, then people just get carried unknowingly, unconsciously by their internalized sexism, racism, homophobia, et cetera. And so I used to have a lot of resentment, anger, and fear towards the managers in my early career who had made me feel unsafe. And I have a lot more compassion now seeing that this is, as we all know, a systemic issue and it’s not necessarily, even though like individuals, all, we all have a responsibility to try our best, that this is like a collective issue and not just like one bad dude.

[00:12:02] SY: Yeah, absolutely. How did that affect your work or your code? Do you feel like it was mostly an emotional thing that you had to deal with or did you find it kind of leaking into your work and what you were able to do?

[00:12:15] AQ: Oh, absolutely. It leaked into my work. I mean, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It became like I was not able to do my best work because I was constantly depressed and afraid and afraid that I would be fulfilling people’s expectations of me as like not a good enough programmer. And so I was not nearly as productive as I used to be. Once I got my new manager, I couldn’t be my best self. And that’s why later I joined a team where I wasn’t the only woman for the first time. There was another woman in the engineering team and it was amazing the sense of freedom that I had. I felt like I can just show up to work, write code, and not live in the fear of having to represent my gender while I do this. So it had a huge impact on my ability to do my job and then I wasn’t as productive and then my manager was like, “Well, see, you’re not good.” And it was awful.

[00:13:06] SY: So you did spend some time there until you ultimately quit the time that you did spend there. How did you deal with all the stuff that you were up against?

[00:13:16] AQ: I had a really tough time there, not just at my job, but also outside of my job. I was going to a lot of tech events. I was going to tech conferences and meetups. I was really diving head first into what it meant to be a software engineer. I was super driven and I wanted to connect with people. I thought tech conferences were so cool. I love to learn. So I was trying to really be a part of the community and I just encountered so many disappointing experiences. It was this intense barrage of sexual harassment, the first couple years of my career. And how I dealt with it was, well, I got quite depressed and I almost decided to quit actually. I got kind of hounded by Gamergate people on Twitter for a day.

[00:14:17] SY: Oh, no.

[00:14:18] AQ: And I was just like, “Why am I here? What is happening?”

[00:14:22] SY: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:14:23] AQ: I decided like, “Alex, you love this. You fought so hard to be in this world and you’re good. I think you’re good and whatever, even if you’re not. You deserve to be here. And so you’re going to find a way to be here and be okay.” And so I decided to meet other women who were software engineers, because at the time, almost all of my friends in software, they were men. So I was like, “I’m going to meet other women and I’m going to make a support network and find out how they deal.” And so I asked my friends to introduce me to the women at their companies. And I went on a lot of blind coffee dates with women, software engineers. That was a really huge first step for me. I met women that I’m still dear friends with today, and it was very cathartic. Some of those conversations, it was like we were sharing our experiences of sexual discrimination, harassment together for the first time. And this was before all the stories came out a few years ago about Uber and Google, et cetera. It was when there weren’t blog posts all over the internet about diversity in tech. And so it was like, “Wow! It’s not just me.”

[00:15:28] SY: Yeah. That must have been really empowering, just having all those women around you.

[00:15:33] AQ: It was. It was. And I’m so grateful for organizations like Women Who Code for helping to build community around that. One other thing that I did to cope though, which was a little bit more out of left field, was one of the women that I met early on, I was like, “How do you deal?” She was like, “Oh yeah, I get sexually harassed at tech conferences all the time.” And I was like, “How do you deal with that?” And she said, “When I cut my hair short, it stopped happening.”

[00:15:57] SY: Oh, whoa!

[00:15:57] AQ: And I was like, “Okay.” I kind of forgot about that. But then later, I was just reading a lot of feminist and anti-racist literature and super angry at the world. And I decided to shave my head.

[00:16:09] SY: Completely, like bald?

[00:16:11] AQ: Yes. I think there was like a tiny bit of hair left, but yes. So overnight how people acted towards me in the world of software totally changed because I used to be very like hyper-sexualized in software environments. And then now I looked like a bad-ass hacker. And so I didn’t get the same attention. People wouldn’t ask me if I was a booth girl. You know?

[00:16:37] SY: Oh, interesting. Yeah.

[00:16:38] AQ: I stopped getting hit on and people just assumed that I was a programmer who knew what I was talking about. And it was just mind-blowing, the difference, in respect that I got. And I was like, “Well, this is ridiculous. Clearly, there’s a problem here because I am the same person. My programming skills are literally the same, but I’m being treated totally differently.” So that kind of epiphany launched me on this new direction of, “This is not okay. This is not the world that I want to be a part of and I’m going to work to change it.” And so this is when I started teaching and mentoring other people from less dominant identities in tech. So women, people of color, and immigrant, et cetera, so that we could basically get more of us who didn’t look like a traditional programmer into the world of tech and really change the face of technology.

[00:17:31] SY: That is fascinating. Man, who knew? All you have to do is cut your hair. Who would have thought?

[00:17:37] AQ: You know? I will say some people will be like, “But is this the only solution, to shave your head…?”

[00:17:43] SY: Yeah. It’s an unfortunate solution.

[00:17:45] AQ: And I’m like, “No, no, no. That is not the message. The message is that one shouldn’t have to change any aspect of their identity to do something that they love and to feel safe doing it.”

[MUSIC BREAK]

[AD]

[00:18:12] Explore the Mysteries of the Pythonic Temple, the OSS ElePHPant, and The Flame of Open Source all while learning the tools of software development with TwilioQuest. Become an operator, save the cloud. Download and play TwilioQuest for free at twilio.com/quest.

[00:18:29] It’s hard to believe that JavaScript is 25 years old this month. Why not celebrate the occasion by sharpening your JavaScript skills? Pluralsight is making five of its expert-led JavaScript courses free each week in December. So you can learn something new, whether you’re a beginner or advanced. That means you could theoretically take 25 free courses before the start of 2021. If you’re wanting to do a frenzied movie montage thing where you transform your entire life in the time it takes to play a shortened version of Eye of the Tiger, or you could just have a pleasant time learning something new and start next year with Gusto. Go to javascript.com to get access to some really helpful JavaScript resources and start building new skills for free.

[AD ENDS]

[00:19:19] SY: So tell me about Emergent Works. How has this organization come to be and what is it?

[00:19:25] AQ: How it came to be is that I read the book, The New Jim Crow, in 2016, written by Michelle Alexander, which you might be familiar with. It’s a book about mass incarceration in the United States, and it makes the case for how mass incarceration is the latest incarnation of slavery and that it was designed and successfully carries out the mission to target and incarcerate disproportionately black people in the United States in order to enact voter suppression, in order to get free essentially slave labor, in order to continue to control the black population in the United States. And when I read this book, I was really not shocked but mind blown by how deep and unjust the system is. And I felt, “Man, the prison system in the US must be the biggest injustice of our time that I can see.” And I was like, “I want to learn more. I want to find a way to contribute to the movement to end mass incarceration.” And I didn’t know how at the time. I was a coder and a teacher. And so I reached out to prisons and I reached out to non-profits that worked with formerly incarcerated people. And I said, “Hey, I’m a coder and a teacher. And can I volunteer?” And one of them, the Fortune Society, which is this prestigious nonprofit that provides prison reentry services, they emailed me back and they said, “Yes, our clients who recently came home from prison, they want to learn to code because it’s 2016 and everyone wants to learn to code.” And so I started volunteering in their computer lab and I had six students. They were all men who are mostly in their 50s and 60s and most of them have been incarcerated for like 20 plus years. And so they were also discovering computers and the internet for the first time. And it was really cool experience, but they only had access to a computer two hours a week in the computer lab. And they were really digging the material. I was teaching them like HTML and CSS and also how to use the internet and how to use a computer. We’re learning digital literacy and coding at the same time. But because they only had access to a computer so infrequently, it was very hard for them to make consistent progress. You know and I’m sure all your listeners know it takes more than two hours a week to kind of get consistency in my coding practice to actually be able to build things on my own. Right? So I figured, I was like, “Oh, man, I work at a tech company and I know we have laptops in our IT closet that the interns use this summer that no one is using. They’re just sitting there and I bet other tech companies have these laptops too.” So this is kind of when Emergent Works was really born and at the time it was called “The Code Cooperative” and I put up codecooperative.org and was like, “Hey, apply to donate laptops to help formerly incarcerated people learn to code.” And that was the first version of Emergent Works was this laptop drive for formerly incarcerated folks to learn to code. And in three weeks, we got like 30 laptops, so gifted them all to the computer lab of the Fortune Society. And I kept teaching there. My students, they learned a ton. They were learning building web apps that solve issues they’d identified in their communities. One of my students for example was building this educational website that taught people about the legacy of Jim Crow within the prison system. But six months later, the computer lab at this nonprofit, they ran out of funding. So they had to close it.

[00:23:11] SY: Oh, no!

[00:23:11] AQ: So I had to like stop teaching there. But at this point, I really cared a lot about my students. I saw how important it was for formerly incarcerated folks to have these skills, to be able to use a computer or the internet, and to be able to build technology. So then started putting on our own three long-term community classes for formerly incarcerated folks taught by myself and other volunteer coders. It’s a really unique community, the Emergent Works community. The reason that we’re all together is code, but what ends up happening is so much more than that.

[00:23:51] SY: So our guest earlier this season, who was formerly incarcerated, said that when he entered prison, there were pagers. And when he came out, everyone had smartphones and it kind of touches to what you were saying about people needing to just learn about the internet and learn about computers after being in prison for over 20 years. And so since there’s this huge spectrum and the age range of formerly incarcerated people that you work with, how do you approach the differences in digital literacy?

[00:24:19] AQ: Yeah, we do indeed. We have students who are super digitally savvy. We have people who learn to code while they were inside prison who come to us and we have people who don’t know how to use a computer on the internet. And we don’t want to have to turn people away because they don’t know enough about technology. That’s the whole reason why we exist. So what we do is we rely on a one-on-one mentorship model so that we’re able to serve all of our students based on their needs and their goals. So Emergent Works just came out with an app called “Not911”, which gives alternatives to calling 911, which I think is a very interesting, very brilliant idea. Can you talk about how you all decided to come out with this app?

[00:24:59] AQ: So Emergent Works had been operating as a learning community for people impacted by incarceration for a couple years. And in seeing how skilled and passionate and awesome our students were, I realized like, “Man, if they were just given the same opportunities I was given when I was a freshman at NYU and people were just throwing internship opportunities at me, for sure our students would get full-time job offers, if people just gave them a chance.” So we decided to kind of shift our focus from being a learning community that’s about skills training to being an organization that really sets people up to start a career in tech, right? We want to be the bridge between people learning to code and former incarcerated people learning to code and their first job in tech. Prison is this vicious cycle. The main reason that leads people to incarceration is poverty. Sixty-five percent of people who leave prison are unemployed a year after their release. And for those who are able to earn money, the median income is like around $11,000 a year.

[00:26:08] SY: Oh, wow!

[00:26:08] AQ: And so this is what leads to 77% of people being rearrested within three years of their release. The way that we want to break this cycle is by creating pathways from incarceration into high paying tech careers. Our thought is that what people need in order to land their first job is real work experience, relationships with people within the tech industry and the ability to really devote themselves to this craft full time by being paid to do so. So earlier this year, we launched a new part of our organization, Software Development Agency, through which we can employ our students as they build software for clients. So that’s kind of where Emergent Works is going now. We’re a nonprofit software consultancy that trains and employs formerly incarcerated coders to work on client projects and they do so with the support of mentors who are senior software engineers. So for every client project, we have at least one formerly incarcerated apprentice working with a senior engineer who may or may not be formerly incarcerated. And that’s our model. And so far it’s working really beautifully. And when we launched our agency, we want it to be able to attract the kinds of organizations that are mission aligned, that would want to give us work. And so we figured like, “Let’s build something. Let’s build something that really shows the world who we are.” And this was happening around the same time as the George Floyd protests. A lot of our students feel very deeply connected to the movement for black lives. And I asked our team, our engineering team, I said to them, “Build something that you want to see in the world, build something that would contribute to the movement for black lives, to the movement to defend the police, whatever you want to build. We have like a small budget to hire you to build this.” And they brainstormed and they came up with Not911. It’s a really beautiful project built by two software engineers, Ross and Tomas. Tomas was formerly incarcerated and it was really meaningful to him to build this app. So it’s an app that connects users to community-based resources that are alternatives to calling the police. Our claim is that one really shouldn’t need to call the police 99.9% of the time. We believe that police involvement actually harms people more than it helps. And so we want to provide alternatives to calling the police. The app makes it really easy to kind of select what type of emergency you’re in, like do you need homeless assistance? Do you need immigration assistance? Do you need legal assistance? Is there violence happening? And then you’re pointed to one or multiple resources that can help you immediately that have people who have training in dealing with these types of emergencies who can show up and help you who aren’t the police. And so that we might be able to prevent senseless deaths at the hands of the police or senseless violence escalation because of police involvement.

[00:29:25] SY: What do you think it is about that project that got so many people excited about it?

[00:29:32] AQ: Why people are excited about the app is two things. One is that the language around police and prison abolition is becoming more accepted, more commonplace, and that people want to find ways to limit police involvement in communities. I think we are going through a real movement right now and I think a lot of change can happen with the momentum that we’re in. I think people are excited to be a part of this movement and excited to see policies, technologies, et cetera, that move us in the direction of liberation for all beings. I think the app is really resonating with people’s inner values right now. And then two, I think that the fact that it was built by someone who they themselves have been involved with the criminal justice system is very meaningful to people. One of the many problems with technology today is that it’s built by a small homogenous group of people, mostly white men in Silicon Valley, who do not have the lived experiences of all of the people who use technology. I know that those who experience problems are the best equipped to solve them. And so it’s important and exciting when people who have direct experience with an issue have the tools and the skills to build technology solutions. Tomas’s story is really inspiring. The fact that this app is informed by perspectives of people who have been incarcerated, who have had negative experiences with the police is really important.

[00:31:23] SY: So tell me a bit more about what this app actually looks and feels like. If I were to open it, what would I see? How does it work?

[00:31:31] AQ: What I like about the app is that rather we had a lot of back and forth at first and I wasn’t that involved in the conversations, but about what was the tone of the app, right? Did we want it to feel angry and bold or did we want it to feel hopeful? There’s a lot of different directions we could have gone in. And I think for the purpose of spreading our message, as widely as possible, we chose to go with an app that was very solutions oriented. Right? We could’ve called it “S911” or whatever. Right?

[00:32:10] SY: That’s true. Yeah.

[00:32:10] AQ: Right. Right. Right. But decided to go with something that felt solutions oriented, something that felt supportive. Not that we’re not angry. Right? So how it feels is you open it. There’s a big question. What do you need help with? And so you have a few options you can pick from: violence, mental health, homelessness, legal support, drugs or poisoning. And so you click into one of the options and then you have different resources available to you. You can call this phone number that’s like 24 access or you can call this other phone number, whatever. So there’s just like big phone buttons that allow you to get in contact immediately with any of the resources that you choose. And so for each category, there’s between two and five phone numbers. We really didn’t want to overwhelm people. And we list the hours where the phone line is available. We have 24 hour options for each category, and it’s just really simple. You open the app, you click what you need help with, and then you click the resource that you want to call, and it puts you in touch with it directly.

[00:33:17] SY: I like this app because it’s really straightforward. It doesn’t sound like it requires a ton of maintenance and upkeep. It sounds like there are no user accounts. So you don’t have to worry about log in, log out, like that sort of thing. It sounds like a really great first project, first project that has substance, that has meaning, that really does have value, that other cities want, other people can find useful, but it feels like a very manageable app as a good first app to kind of get you started in tech.

[00:33:49] AQ: Yeah, definitely. It’s really beautiful. It’s simple. It’s really easy to use. And I think what will make this project really powerful is building this in multiple cities and we’ve had so many people request to build this in Boston, San Francisco, et cetera, et cetera. And hopefully that’s coming soon. I would say it’s almost less as an app and more of a campaign, more of a movement, if that makes sense. More of like what it says is almost as important as its purpose.

[00:34:31] SY: Coming up next, Alex talks about her biggest pieces of advice for anyone who wants to build tech for social justice after this.

[MUSIC BREAK]

[AD]

[00:34:51] Who doesn’t want their React app to make it to the top five? Built for virality with Apache Cassandra and Netlify, battle tested for scaling data and deploying with speed. If you missed the React with Cassandra Dev Day half-day event with Honeycomb’s CTO Charity Majors, Netlify Cofounder and CEO, Matt Biilmann, and Retro Game Builder Ania Kubów showcase what it takes, you can still watch these sessions on demand at events.datastax.com/reactwithcassandra.

[00:35:21] Linode has data centers around the world with the same simple and consistent pricing, regardless of location. Choose the data center nearest to you. You also receive 24/7, 365 human support with no tears or handoffs, regardless of your plan size. You can choose shared and dedicated compute instances or you can use your $100 in credit on S3-compatible Object Storage, manage Kubernetes, and more. If it runs on Linux, it runs on Linode. Visit linode.com/codenewbie and click on the “Create Free Account” button to get started.

[AD ENDS]

[00:36:03] SY: So when it comes to what the rest of us can do to create some social justice in our world and in the tech industry, what is your biggest piece of advice for people who want to help to support either people in their community or maybe people in your organization?

[00:36:20] AQ: So how people can support Emergent Works is in a few ways. We’re a nonprofit. So we are starting our client side of our business right now, but it’s still quite small. So the way that we fund ourselves is vastly through donations. So please donate to EmergentWorks.org, if you can. There’s also opportunities to volunteer or just share the word. If anyone is looking for a really fantastic engineering team to build some technology for them, hire us. So those are the ways to support Emergent Works. In terms of making the change that we want to see in the world, in our communities, I would say with change we want to see in the world needs to start with the individual. And so I need to be continuously learning and unlearning my own internalized racism, sexism, et cetera, in order to actually be an advocate for change in the world. So starting with myself, right? Not necessarily pointing fingers at the problems of the world, but looking within, at the violence within me and trying to work on that first. Then I would say start small, for sure, like I did. Just like, “Hey, can I come volunteer at this place?” And leaning on resources that already exist. This is something that I kind of wish I knew before I started. One of my favorite books is Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown, I highly recommend to everyone. One of the big suggestions in the book for people who are working in social justice is to not keep starting new organizations to tackle the same problems, but rather lean on organizations and communities that already exist, join forces to find out what are the words that are already doing this near you and join forces with them. And I think that’s something that we do very well. We’re very closely connected to other nonprofits that do very similar work in creating this kind of like prison to tech pipeline in New York and also across the country now, but that’s something that I wish I had known to do earlier. I would say not being afraid to mess up, I mess up all the time and what matters is not the mistakes I make. And Adrienne Maree Brown says, “Never a failure, always a lesson.” But what matters isn’t whether or not I make mistakes because we all do, but rather it is my capacity to listen to my advisors, the people I serve and the people I work for when I do make mistakes and to try my best to not make the same mistake in the future.

[00:39:14] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Alex, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:39:21] AQ: Hell yeah.

[00:39:22] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:25] AQ: The worst advice I’ve ever received is to suck it up.

[00:39:29] SY: Oh, yeah.

[00:39:30] AQ: Yeah. Early on in my career, I was one woman on an engineering team and over lunch people were making sexist jokes and I was just feeling very upset and kind of like trying to speak up and someone just looked at me and was like, “This is what tech is. You got to suck it up.” Bad advice.

[00:39:52] SY: Yeah. That’s pretty terrible advice. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:57] AQ: The best advice I’ve ever received is the world is as you are. A yoga teacher of mine said this and it’s not really advice. It’s more like a piece of wisdom and what it means is that everything that I experience is filtered through my own brain, right? Like I don’t really experience objective reality. I experience my version of the reality that is happening. I can make reality into hell or I can make reality into something joyful. And when I heard this for the first time, I realized that it’s not the external that I need to change, but rather what’s happening within me because I can turn a bad situation into a good situation by just shifting my perspective and vice versa. The world is as you are. I love that.

[00:40:57] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:41:00] AQ: Well, my first real coding project was, I don’t know if you remember this, but like the early iPhones had this game called “Doodle Jump”. Do you remember this?

[00:41:10] SY: I do not remember that.

[00:41:11] AQ: Okay. It was this little green alien that jumped on these little platforms and it was super addictive. I didn’t even have an iPhone then, but my friends had it and I loved this game. And so I decided to build Doodle Fall, totally plagiarized from Apple. It was like the exact same icon, the exact same skin, everything of the game. But instead of jumping, the character was falling and you have to avoid the platforms. So it was a total rip off of an Apple game. It’s okay. I didn’t make any money off of it or anything.

[00:41:42] SY: That’s fine. Yeah. Yeah. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:41:50] AQ: You are good enough just as you are. You do not have to be exceptional. You do not have to be the best programmer or whatever. You can just be you and not have to reach for success and accomplishments or saving the world or whatever. You do not need to do any of that. You’re good enough just as you are. That’s what I wish I knew when I started.

[00:42:20] SY: That’s beautiful. Well, thank you again so much, Alex, for joining us.

[00:42:24] AQ: So, so grateful to be here with you.

[00:42:33] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!