An All New Monktoberfest, Putting Society First

Trips to Portland are never complete w/o some Speckled Ax coffee to jumpstart the day & the brainIf you’ve spent any time around me in the fall, you know that my favorite conference, by far, is the annual Monktoberfest. Hosted by Redmonk every year in Portland, Maine (aka Real Portland), Monktoberfest operates at the intersection of technology and social. I like to think of it as taking craft technology, craft beer, and mixing it together to find ways to make the world a better place.

This year Stephen O’Grady took it up a notch. The 12 months since the previous Monktoberfest have been, at best, tumultuous. This is not a phenomenon of any single industry or country. It feels like the coming to head of various forces in society that is making people of all walks of life realize that they have had enough.

Seeing, and feeling, this unfold made Stephen create the most important non-technical, tech conference you need to attend.

Principles, Values, and Doing the Right Thing

The conference started with Brian Cantrill. I was excited because the energy Brian gives off during his talks is phenomenal. He grabbed our attention and didn’t let go as he looked at the concepts of principles and values.

Likening principles as those “inalienable rights” found in the Declaration of Independence, Brian said that many companies conflate the two. I see this more in tech than in the rest of the business world but the key is values. What does your organization prioritize as desired behaviors? Values should be reflected in every decision that an organization makes.

After taking down Amazon’s “principles”, Brian eviscerated Uber. As he deconstructed their values, it was quickly obvious why Uber is in the trouble they are in. Their values are not designed to lead to good decisions or a healthy culture.

Four values in particular were called out by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, in their report when Convington investigated Uber’s behaviors earlier this year.

  • Let Builders Build
  • Always Be Hustlin’
  • Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping
  • Principled Confrontation

Brian tore into these values. As he mentioned some of the bad acts by Uber, he would quickly cited a value. Brian saying, “Always be hustlin’,” will be echoing in every attendees brain for quite some time.

Organizations need to look at their principles and values. What do they stand for? People at all levels need to understand what their work is going to be used to do. Are you creating the next Greyball to allow your firm to skirt the attention of regulators? If you’re creating algorithms to control cars, are you putting safety first or are you letting your cars run red lights at crosswalks near schools?

Stepping Up

Sitting on the sidelines is clearly no longer an option. Many talks educated attendees on different challenges in society. We learned the reality and numbers behind Gerrymandering and how innovation impacts the entire job market. There was a great talk by Clara Beyer who funneled her skills into creating websites to help people make a difference and not simply sit on social media complaining.

We also learned that the successful take a few moments to realize they are really making a difference and doing things the right way.

There were a multitude of conversations, inspired by the talks, talking about not only what we can do but how to make a bigger difference. How can we influence more people to sit up, take notice, and do something?

Drawing the Line

It all starts with personal responsibility. Educate and act. You don’t have to start a movement. There are organizations galore out there to help any cause you feel most passionate about. No matter what drives you, do something!

If you don’t have time, give money. Setup a monthly donation of any amount to help. If 1% of the US have $10 a month to a cause, that’s $32 million a month. That is enough to create a movement.

That said, find the time. Getting society to a point where we are no longer dealing with what feels like a weekly, or sometimes daily, crisis is worth spending time to address.

  • Show up to a rally to get counted.
  • No rallies near you? Make 5 phone calls.
  • Defend people when someone acts out of hate. Say something!
  • Bring your skills to the table.

Is the work you do daily meaningful. Are you building the next juicer or finding a way to provide services to those in need? Are you working to fix things or are you just blindly executing tasks that can be used against the greater good?

I’ve studied a lot of history. I’m going to leave the gloomy predictions out of this. TV is handling that just fine. I will say that individually, if you can make a difference in just one person’s life, that is worth doing. Collectively, if we each make a small difference, together we can make a difference in society.

Perhaps each of us can inspire others to act.

That’s what Redmonk and the Monktoberfest speakers did this year. They inspired action. Now let’s see where that leads.

Apple, Privacy, and Doing the Right Thing

Steve Jobs from a South Park episodeHere’s the deal. A Federal court has ordered Apple to comply with the FBI’s request to help break into the encrypted iPhone of one of the dead shooters from the San Bernadino shooting in California back in December. Apple publically refused in a well written letter that defended the importance of privacy and was signed by Tim Cook.

Who’s right?

It wouldn’t take a genius to determine that I might instinctively side with privacy and Tim Cook. I’m a big believer of ethical behavior in the tech world, the importance of firms protecting consumers from their own ignorance, and am proud that Tim Cook is a fellow Auburn grad.

But it isn’t that simple.

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Writings on Sexism and Other Personal Topics

Rodin's 'The Thinker'You may have noticed that I haven’t posted on the issue of Sexism or many non-IT topics of late. That is because I have moved many of those writings to Medium.

I was hoping that these musings would be more discoverable there. I also want to keep the Word a little more focused. So far the posts haven’t been discovered as much as I like. I am going to continue the experiment knowing that it may just be a matter of time.

While you can always find the posts in the link over in the sidebar, I am going to highlight a couple of my more recent posts here. Take a few moments and go read them if you haven’t already.

  • What is Wrong With You?: Why aren’t more men stepping up and at taking a stand against sexism, or any ‘isms’? This basically a rant about men standing on the sidelines. Vowing to do more BEGINS by standing-up and being counted among those who care.
  • Right or Wrong, We Need to Make This Personal: Reaching a critical mass of men who care about sexism is going to require forging an emotional connection. In this article I trace my own journey and how it became personal for me.
  • My Family Legacy, Centuries of Racism and Oppression?: During the protests in Ferguson, I watched people slowly build a new sad chapter in our nation’s history. It caused me to reflect a lot on the history of my family and how it has likely been on the wrong side of history many times.

These are important topics to me. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t share the personal stories that are located within them.

Our society is a reflection of all of us. I’d like to think we are better than the society we live in today. To make that true, we need to step up, make a difference…

And be counted.

Ethics, Facebook, and Medium

Ghostbusters ExperimentI recently published an article on Medium on The Tech World’s Ethical Crisis. I wanted to try Medium out as a possible option for my broader topics, allowing the Word to stay a touch more focused on the industry and truly random acts of writing. It seems to have worked fairly well so it is something I will repeat.

I do want to take a moment to share why I wrote the article (which you should read before reading further). I have been reading about Facebook’s study and I saw a lot of mixed reactions. While some people were aghast, others wondered why it was a big deal at all.

That is the issue at stake here, ignorance. When unethical behavior is not recognized as such, we need to take a step back and evaluate what we hold dear in our society. When conducting human research, informed consent is such an important requirement that there are laws to enforce it. If research has a chance to cause potential harm, people need to be given a chance to say no.

I don’t believe Facebook was trying to be evil. They were ignorant of the ethics involved in what they were doing. That ignorance is a problem. They must have considered it a potential problem as they added research to the Terms of Service a few months later.

Ignorance is not an excuse and we need to start thinking about teaching people more about ethics. It has been suggested that the Venture Capitalists (VCs) should make sure that the firms they fund have training in ethics.

They should throw in a little training about sexual harassment and discrimination while you are at it.

We are all responsible for the ethics of the world in which we live. We need to take time to educate ourselves and others. We needs to talk about this at events. It needs to be part of everything we do.

Because ignorance is not an excuse for risking harm to others.

Giving Back to the Community

New Picture (5)I wrote last fall about the ethical need for organizations to give back to the community to help those whom they disrupt. After all, if I create something that eliminates 20% of the accountants in the world, then taking some of the profit to help the community reabsorb the accountants back into society is the right thing to do.

I have always believed that one should always give back to the Community as a whole. I was a Boy Scout leader before I had kids to pass on what I had learned in Scouting. I was part of a service fraternity in college that had real, not token, requirements about participating in and leading service projects.

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Sacrificing Today for a World Tomorrow

Last week I was at the Monktoberfest event after Cheryl McKinnon, and others, insisted that I HAD to attend. Any conference that focuses on developers, community, craft beer, and social was already appealing. When you factor in the large numbers of recommendations, I had to attend.

Monktoberfest soared above my expectations.

It was really a three events into one, and kudos to RedMonk and Steve O’Grady for putting the event together. It was a place to meet and converse with smart people in and adjacent to the Open Source ecosystem, to try some great new beers, and to hear about how technology can, and should, change the world.

One such talk, given by Alex Payne, brought up an extremely interesting topic that spurred a lot of discussions. [Note: Reconsidering Startups is now available for watching.] He questions the setup of the Silicon Valley “startup” ecosystem and how it seems that it was more of a model of disruption to help capitalists and not the world.

This raised the question, what is our ethical responsibility as “innovators”?

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Snowden, the NSA, and Ethics

Before I get any deeper, I am not here to discuss whether or not Edward Snowden should have released the classified material. That is a debate for another day and another forum.

I am going to say that Snowden violated some of the core ethical principals of the Information Technology as a whole. It wasn’t the releasing of the PRISM slides that angers me. It is the fact that a Systems Administrator should not have been aware of the presentation in the first place.

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), with whom I’ve been a member longer than AIIM, has a published Code of Ethics. It is long and covers all sorts of situations in which members may find themselves. Section 1.8, Honor Confidentiality, applies to Snowden:

The principle of honesty extends to issues of confidentiality of information whenever one has made an explicit promise to honor confidentiality or, implicitly, when private information not directly related to the performance of one’s duties becomes available.

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