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Jun 19 2020
Jun 19

Is technology by itself good, bad, or neutral? Does the application of technology as its own process carry any inherent viewpoint or judgment? Are technologists — the engineers, scientists, builders, makers, and creators who build, utilize, and share technology — cognizant of their role in the design and functioning of their own tools? If technology advances internal beliefs in a more efficient, widespread manner, is it important to examine those internal beliefs first? 

These types of questions, as well as questions adjacent to technology — such as around privacy, security,  and surveillance — have been part of an ongoing discussion inside Lullabot. As strategists, designers, and developers, we not only do our work, but we also help our clients reach their own audiences, shape their own business models, and spread their own values into the world.

Where there is great power there is great responsibility.

Spider-Man's "Uncle Ben" and Winston Churchill

Discussions about values, morals, and ethics happen daily in workplaces across the country, with tech-specific examples, including, body cameras and police accountability nationwide, GitHub employees protesting the sale of the software they build to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Salesforce employees protesting over continuing contracts with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Moral Machine, which gathers a human perspective on moral decisions made by machine intelligence (such as self-driving cars), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report on how face-recognition algorithms fare at identifying people from different demographics.

Values are implicit in those of us architecting, producing, and deploying technology, and we have been grappling for the past year with the creation of a living Engineering Values Statement.

During our 2019 team retreat, Matt Westgate mentioned "engineering values" in his presentation, and our Design & Strategy team led a company exercise inferring values from a hypothetical build of a podcast page. From this work, some wanted to clarify and publicly state the type of work that we engage in to help identify what would be a good fit versus what would not be a good fit for our work from a sales perspective, as well as to share this information with clients, staff, and new hires. 

The evolution of our engineering values came out of continued focus and clarification of our core values.  As the retreat drew to a close, some volunteers decided to start meeting on a regular basis to come up with the parameters of the project with the ultimate goal of encapsulating a list of succinct engineering values for circulation.

The idea was to create a reference list to help with various situations, such as:

  • The sales team outlining our default values when we begin an engagement
  • Account managers evaluating values with clients during ongoing engagements
  • Evaluating technology for ourselves or our clients
  • Arising conflicts from engineering problems with ourselves and our clients

The committee's call for volunteers was: 

  • "We’re looking for 4 to 7 members who can attend a 30-minute meeting each week, along with an hour or two of help with whatever tasks we come up with. Of course, client work will ebb and flow, so we don’t expect this to be 100% every week. And while we’ve called this 'engineering values,' that doesn’t mean this group is only for 'engineers.' We’re sure anyone who's interested will have something valuable to contribute."

Our volunteer group organized around a series of Paper docs, and met via Zoom every week for a half hour with the first task of brainstorming questions and ideas for what we'd like to ask ourselves and the team. Through the initial creation of a charter document, the group identified a list of "must-have" deliverables as well as some "nice-to-haves:"

Deliverables

  • A summary of interviews and feedback from the team, with any notable commonalities or conflicts in values.
  • An initial draft of an engineering values document, presented to leadership and the team.
  • A summary of research on what Drupal agencies and the broader industry communicate as their engineering values.
  • A final document based on a round of feedback from the team.

Nice to haves / to be determined

  • Whatever resources, if any, the sales team would like
  • A page on our company website
  • A marketing announcement (e.g., blog post, podcast, etc)

In terms of logistics, a weekly meeting for thirty minutes worked well, as not all participants could attend all meetings. Any action items identified were in manageable increments and all could asynchronously connect through a shared folder that included meeting notes and the actual list of values. The recurring calendar invite was held by one person and periodically circulated to the greater team as new hires joined, with a specific focus on making sure the group represented a cross-section of business roles, backgrounds, and geographical basis. Discussions centered around a shared wiki-style document. The facilitator role was held by different participants as availability and capacity changed over time. The working group also opened a Slack channel to post information as well as align around comments, next steps, and action items.

In terms of process, the group came up with a first round through assessing personal, individual engineering values, and documenting those, discussing in small groups, and aggregating into an initial group-wide list. We sent a Google Form to the entire staff asking, "What are your engineering values?" This triggered a follow-up activity to do a roundtable on whether or not team members consider themselves engineers. We discovered that not everyone (even those who are developers) considered themselves "engineers." Through continuous feedback and sending reminders to participate approximately every six weeks, the group continued to identify who was not in the room and which voices needed to be added to the conversation. 

Lessons learned

1. Proposing an initiative

The project, like any other project, demanded that the working group align around timelines, success criteria, deliverables and scoping, and getting leadership approval and feedback.

2. Including those not present

Leaning on other groups, such as our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Accessibility groups, helped unblock us throughout the year. Also, inviting others to participate in ways like a one-off interview provided a nice balance of respecting time and getting unique feedback. 

3. Space for different perspectives

Including multiple voices helped form a more comprehensive discussion. Including different perspectives didn't end at the invitation: we followed up. We found we needed to be prepared for surprising disagreements and leaned on the idea that working group leaders should facilitate instead of participate.

4. It’s OK to opt out (or opt in)

Everyone in the working group also had client responsibilities and sometimes project scheduling changed, which meant participation by one or many in the group became difficult or impossible. Other times, a project ended so time was available to participate. We asked participants to commit to blocks of availability at a time (say 2-3 months) so the group could rely on individuals.

5. Delegate!

Sometimes, initiative leaders had to be direct to not allow their own absences to become blockers. We used dice to assign a facilitator out of available participants.

In terms of feedback, the team prepared for a presentation at the 2020 Lullabot Team Retreat, to share the first draft with the greater team.  This list had 13 values on it. By soliciting feedback in the form of comments on the document (comments are visibly tied to a specific username), as well as index cards (snapshots of cards were anonymous), the committee gathered a wide variety of responses. Incorporating retreat feedback, the group continued to narrow down the list to six core engineering values. Along the way the working group continued to ask for feedback from operations, marketing, sales, and other departments. We published the values to an internal blog and released them to a private GitHub repository.

Our team is happy to have phased out the working group and successfully handed over the document, moving to a living document. While we’ve closed the loop on this first phase of the work, we now look forward to discussing these values with the community and engaging around these values with those working in technology who have similar conversations happening within their own organizations.

With many thanks to Andrew Berry, who facilitated the Engineering Values Committee, for his feedback and review.

Members of the Engineering Values Committee included: Andrew Berry, Brian Skowron, Darren Petersen, Hawkeye Tenderwolf, Helena McCabe, James Sansbury, Marcos Cano, Mateu Aguiló Bosch, Matt Oliveira, Matt Robison, and Monica Flores.

Mar 20 2020
Mar 20

Fostering Inclusion in Tech

In the previous article of this series, we talked about how fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in an organization is no easy feat. However, there are steps you can take to help get you on your way. When it comes to the hiring process specifically, it's important to hire in the spirit of openness, transparency, accountability, and have a shared vision of what constitutes success for the new position. By offering a welcoming process for applying, organizations attract excellent candidates who participate and collaborate well with the existing mission, vision, and values. As we continue learning how to do this successfully, we've rounded up some tips that might be useful to your organization.

Evaluate the Job Title

Look at current job-seeking tools like IndeedGlassdoorIdealist, to make sure the current job title, description, and range of responsibilities are appropriate and reasonable for that role. Modifying the title or level of the position to match generally accepted standards (i.e., the difference between "Senior Product Manager" vs. "Product Manager" vs. "Project Manager" vs. "Product Associate") may make the difference in who applies. 

Be Thoughtful with Language

Terms like "rock stars, ninjas, unicorns" do not suffice as descriptive language. Identify the bulleted list of actual skills required, as well as the desired background or experience, and consider the implications of the language. Hiring for a "unicorn" or a "collaborative team player," will receive different responses: the first from unicorns, the second from team players. Matthew Tift, James Sansbury, and Matt Westgate discuss "The Imaginary Band of Rock Stars at Lullabot" on the Hacking Culture podcast.

Cut out jargon to focus on the required skills and listed responsibilities of the job. If these are not yet clear, re-evaluate the role and its job description, and list out how a person will succeed in the role. 

Ruby Sinreich (http://lotusmedia.org), a web developer, technologist, and strategist who has worked in progressive advocacy organizations and online communities for over two decades, suggests the following tools for minimizing bias within the text (from the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group):

Identify and Make Any Assumptions Explicit

List all relevant aspects of the position to attract the correct type of applicants and make the implicit assumptions of who can work in this role transparent.

Sample questions to address in the description:

  • Is travel included or required in this job?
  • Is there a need to lift heavy objects or crawl under desk spaces?
  • Is this a remote job or an on-site job?
  • Is the position salaried, contract, temp-to-hire?

Include all non-negotiable aspects of the work up front, and be explicit about what constitutes success. For example, a recent job description for a Tugboat Enterprise Account Executive position provided a coherent, attainable measure of success:

Like anything, we understand it takes a bit of time to ramp up to a new gig. At the end of 6 months, Lullabot will have spent roughly $70,000 in wages for the position, and we'd be looking to come in a little above break-even with this investment. Our minimum expectation is to hit a Monthly Recurring Revenue goal of $20,000 of new business by the end of six months.

Other questions to ask when measuring success include: Am I enjoying the work? Is the market opportunity substantial? Am I having fun? 

Publish the Pay Range

Include a pay range and whether or not the role is salaried, temp-to-hire, short-term contract, or a long-term contract position. When you provide a salary range, studies show that this level of transparency increases job applications by 30%. After all, no one wants to go through a lengthy hiring process only to find out the role isn't a financial fit.

Consider being clear about salary range, requirements, and perhaps, bands inside the role, and you'll come to a quicker agreement with the final candidate who has understood salary expectations from the beginning.

Clearly List Benefits

For many, health, vision, dental, retirement matching, flex-time, parental leave, paid time off, holidays and add-ons like fitness or technology budgets make a job significantly more attractive. At times, it might even be a determining factor. Display listed benefits in the "Work" or "Careers" section, e.g., our annual Events and Education budget is listed publicly on our website, among other benefits we offer.

Encourage People from Marginalized and Underrepresented Groups to Apply

Consider adding language that encourages applicants who identify as being from an underrepresented community to apply. It's important to go beyond the standard "equal opportunity" language and will make your job description appeal far more to diverse groups of people.

Comply with Federal, State, and Local Guidelines

Make sure the organization complies with any guidelines regarding harassment and discrimination. Here is some sample language about how hiring committees might consider candidates (from Green America's hiring statement):

All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without discrimination regarding actual or perceived

  • race, 
  • color, 
  • religion, 
  • national origin, 
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, related medical conditions, breastfeeding, or reproductive health disorders),
  • age (18 years of age or older),
  • marital status (including domestic partnership and parenthood),
  • personal appearance,
  • sexual orientation,
  • gender identity or expression,
  • family responsibilities,
  • genetic information,
  • disability,
  • matriculation, 
  • political affiliation,
  • citizenship status,
  • credit information, or
  • any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local laws.
  • Harassment on the basis of a protected characteristic is included as a form of discrimination and is strictly prohibited.

Focus on the Organization's Culture: Mission, Vision, and Values

Culture is one of the most significant determinants of whether or not the candidate will continue through with the process of applying. How do you attract high-quality teammates? The current organizational mission, vision, and publicly-stated values make a difference. What does the company, team, or project stand for? Say it loud and proud, and make sure the applicant understands organizational values. A blog post, "About" page, or video linked inside the job application will make values clear.

Circulate the Listing to Diverse Audiences

Change up and expand the networks where job listings get circulated. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), remote job boards, or community groups that focused on a specific area, industry, or desired applicant pool, as well as many Slack channels, have job postings. Consider sharing the job post with the following networks first, and then expanding it to general job boards. Some examples include:

Identify Scoring in Advance

Have a sheet that lists out the evaluation system used when evaluating applicants. If possible, include this in the job description to surface candidates who will be able to speak to the desired points and provide transparency in how they will be scored. In parallel, this procedure works when evaluating RFP respondents; for example, here's a sample questionnaire (in the footer is the scoring mechanism) to evaluate a website redesign. 

Same Interviewers, Same Questions

To make a fair assessment, have all interviewers ask the same questions of all the finalists. Use the predetermined points system when interviewers compare notes. Evaluate against the organization's stated responsibilities, and cross-check against mission, vision, and values.

Consider Implementing the Rooney Rule

The National Football League policy requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Consider making an effort to interview at least one woman or other underrepresented minority, for the role, to mimic the NFL's results: at the start of the 2006 season, after instituting the Rooney Rule (definition from the NFL) in 2002, the overall percentage of African-American coaches increased to 22%, up from 6%.

Offer Alternate Ways of Interviewing

If being successful in a particular role requires a whiteboard walkthrough, 20-minute brainstorming exercise, video or written component, teleconference demonstration, or another method, it is appropriate and understandable to ask for this during the interview process. For example, if the role requires teleconferencing, allow for one of the interviews for the finalists to be held on the teleconferencing software needed. However, don't make these the only mechanisms for evaluation. 

Consider offering multiple ways to answer questions to help the team make the best decision. It's also appropriate to ask for an existing portfolio or demonstration of existing products or tools that are relevant to the job. For example, if you're hiring for a designer, asking for a walkthrough of the three design projects for which the candidate is most proud of, is appropriate. 

For further reading, there's another in-depth review of the hiring process on MoveOn CTO Ann Lewis's blog, "How We Hire Tech Folks." Thanks to James Sansbury, Marc Drummond, and Andrew Berry, for reviewing and providing thoughtful comments and feedback.

Mar 06 2020
Mar 06

Fostering Inclusion in Tech

Working with multifaceted and diverse teams to solve complex issues is a part of everyday life at Lullabot. Therefore, becoming stronger, more empathetic communicators who foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the organization is something we’re striving for continuously. That said, DEI is a tough nut to crack, and we’re a work in progress. Like many organizations, we’re constantly asking ourselves, “How do we better foster a sense of inclusion and allow for different types of people, with varied abilities and skills, to work together to solve problems for the future?”

A group that has the benefit of an inclusive environment will:

  • be more agile and culturally competent, and
  • be able to work with a variety of viewpoints, carefully considered, toward building a more thoughtful, and hopefully better, end product or service.

We're learning how to improve internal communication and hold space for each other as we dive into these types of conversations. This series is a compilation of some tips we’ve collected through our continuing work, and we encourage you to share your own. 

Make a Plan to Foster Inclusion

While we consider ways to build up teammates and their sense of belonging in the job, we also desire each individual’s highest and best level of participation in a shared mission. Our team, as well as other knowledge workers, are becoming increasingly aware of the ability to leverage the extreme potential and power of technology to expand ideas, increase access to opportunities, and level the playing field.

Be Explicit

If an organization does not have a policy publicly stated, proactively, in the marketplace, others may have already crafted a narrative about mission and values without management’s participation. Be explicit about where the company stands. Make clear what’s important to the company, both internally and externally. We share our Mission and Core Values on our website and encourage clients and job applicants to review them, and are continuously finding ways of infusing these into our workflows and culture to ensure our team is living up to these ideas.

Start Now and Build into the Schedule

Who represents, guides, leads, and makes decisions for the company? Take a picture of the board or staff—who’s in the photo? Evaluate who’s who and identify whose voices the organization has chosen to elevate, increase, and honor.

  • Are voices missing? If so, why?
  • What opportunities exist for all staff to increase their skills and advance?
  • What opportunities exist for people traditionally excluded from work?
  • In which ways may new people participate as staff, interns, apprentices, consultants, or vendors? 
  • For any of the above, what’s the tracking mechanism? Free and low-cost tools exist to help you collect, analyze, report on, and share data to help with decision-making.
  • Is there a transparent way to demonstrate how staff may advance, either within their career track or if they'd like to switch to a different path such as management or sales?
  • Whose voice is missing? Who is not in the room? Representation matters.

Incorporate Inclusion as a Guiding Value, and Put It into Practice

While it’s great to have ideas, implementing them is some of the most difficult and demanding work. It’s best to start where you are and incrementally improve.

Consider determining three tasks to implement in the next quarter to increase the types of voices you currently have represented, and evaluate every 8-12 weeks how you’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working, and where you want to invest strategically. The Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group offers weekly accountability, support, and connections on initiatives across the Drupal community. Internally, our newly-formed Inclusion and Equity working group is discussing governance, goals, and how to move forward with our efforts toward greater inclusion.

Respect Autonomy

The best work does not always happen in an assigned cubicle, hot desk, or office. An individual might be better suited to doing focus work in the morning, taking a siesta break, then picking up again after dinner and going to midnight. Some of our teammates need to make day-by-day, non-scheduled arrangements for childcare, eldercare, medical appointments, and other issues, and much unpaid labor falls on stay-at-home workers. When a new team member requests to be on-call for a specific block of time, how does a company make it work? A flexible schedule (learn about my colleague Sean Lange’s routine while working from home) allows our teammates to more equitably participate in the workforce and bring their best ideas to us when they’re ready to do so. 

Respect staff’s autonomy and ability to choose and set their hours, and encourage a culture of high expectations as well as high performance. Clearly define deliverables and the practicalities of team needs (such as deadlines for when certain projects need to launch), but allow the team to determine the best way for them to deliver, rather than forcing people to adhere to an inflexible work arrangement where they clock in and immediately tune out.

Practically speaking, workforce trends for remote work are increasing: 26 million employed persons worked at home on an average day in 2018 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), and there are increasing numbers of positions that offer telework, telecommuting, and work-from-home options. Generation Z, which is predicted to become 36% of the global workforce in 2020, is comfortable with technology to make conferences, meetings, and training sessions seamless regardless of location.  

We’re a 100% distributed company, where all workers are remote, and there is no centralized office. As everyone works across multiple time zones, we’ve continually experimented with practices that foster community and connection. Read more about being a distributed company. Based on client desires and existing systems, we use Zoom, Uberconference, Google Meet, Webex, and Slack, among others, for conferences.

Support Mental Health and Wellness

The bulk of staff time is spent in the workplace or doing work-related activities. Burnout, stress, depression, anxiety, and mental health disorders directly impact teammates, colleagues, and clients. The American Institute of Stress survey shows 40% of workers reporting that their job is “very or extremely stressful” and 80% of workers report feeling stress on the job (with almost half saying they “need help in learning how to manage stress”). Lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Over the last year, we have made mental health a priority: learn more about Supporting Mental Health at Lullabot. Three best practices to support reducing stress and increasing mental health at the workplace include:

1) Avoid overscheduling your team: offer flexible work arrangements. For example, we work a 30-hour billable week and have 10 additional hours for contributing back to the company and community.

2) Create an open and relaxed work environment with access to management and ongoing feedback loops. For example, we use the Know Your Team tool (podcast) to organize constructive one-on-ones. Other activities, including scheduled coffee talks for drop-in support and advice, a weekly team call, small group calls on Fridays, a town hall with leadership every month, multiple Slack channels for conversations ranging from #being-human to #cats to #parenting, and a back-end “Daily Report” for internal news and reports.

3) Increase education. For example, offer access to mental health and general health and wellness topics, and provide training and development opportunities. With continuing education and professional skill-building, teams have documentable ways to increase productivity and overall experience.

Mental health awareness means implementing actions small and large across the organization that include:

  • Scheduling breaks in long meetings.
  • Obtaining psychotherapy, counseling, grief support, and similar add-ons to the health package.
  • Scheduling monthly or quarterly gatherings to discuss or practice mental health wellness.
  • Offering paid time off.

Invest in Personal and Professional Development, Training, and Education

“What happens if we train them, and they leave? What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

While salary and benefits remain the base of any job, investment in an employee’s unique talents also pays off. Consider investing in professional development, training, certification, and other educational hours through an annual allocation or a pooled budget for staff-directed or individually-planned training. As part of our benefits package, we each receive an education and event budget annually. This may take the form of an education budget used for conferences, seminars, training, and continuing education. Determine a process for staff to propose options and receive feedback or vetting, perhaps as part of their employee review process, as they build up a multi-year plan to improve their abilities. 

Required To-Do List, Start Here

Make software, website, and digital products accessible

In web development, making digital properties as accessible as possible is required and best practice (check the a11y project). Technical Account Manager at Lullabot, Helena McCabe’s presentations give excellent tips on how to enable accessibility. By starting with an emphasis on accessibility for the digital property, additional issues around inclusion, culture, the role of technology, and overall trends in society may begin to surface. Our white paper on How Accessibility Protects your Business and your Bottom Line offers examples on how to make your products accessible and why it matters.

Practice transparency

Think of transparency as a way to build the team’s muscles, and to start working with fortitude, grace, and strength when grappling with heavier and more complex issues. For example, we practice open-book management (OBM), a financial practice that allows all employees to understand the current revenue, expenditures, and KPIs of the company (learn more at CEO Matt Westgate’s 2019 Lullabot Team Retreat post). By creating the flexibility and capacity to have tough discussions, everyone may use a shared language and understanding of the company’s direction.

Promote a sense of psychological safety

The open-source movement continues to build on information freely shared, vetted, and evaluated across multiple use cases. The belief in sharing knowledge is in the DNA of companies like ours. In our case, Drupal is the community and platform on which many of the staff have built their careers.

Psychological safety is the bedrock for knowledge-sharing: it’s "a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo—all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized or punished in some way." (Timothy R Clark, 2019). And, it’s something to which Lullabot aspires: here’s a link to Matt Westgate’s lightning talk on psychological safety and DevOps.

With accessibility, transparency, and safety in mind, we'll share more tips to begin or advance discussions around: hiring inclusively, engaging with staff, focusing on culture, and easier fixes. As we continue to work on this internally, we offer these ideas in the spirit of sharing and continuous improvement. Do you have ideas? Please drop a comment. We'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

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