Code Manifesto: Words to Live By

Adam Roberts

The tech industry has a rather bad reputation. Stories of discrimination, disrespect, sexism and outright mistreatment aren’t exactly hard to come by.

Last year, following an all-night hackathon at TechCrunch Disrupt, a group of Australian programmers showed off Titstare, an app that, well, let people take photos of themselves “staring at tits”. At the same hackathon, another group presented an app that simulated masturbation, to an audience which included 9-year-old children.

More recently, there’s the story of the co-founder of dating app Tinder filing a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment, after a romantic relationship with her co-worker ended, and the atmosphere at the company became increasingly hostile.

This hostile atmosphere, outlined here, included verbal abuse (including being called “a desperate loser” and a “slut”), having her co-founder title taken away because young female founders made the company “seem like a joke”, and eventually, her ouster from the company.

Those are just two notable examples of an unfortunately prevalent culture. They both happen to involve women, but that’s not where the discrimination stops. In an industry ostensibly aimed at helping everyone to reach their potential, it’s clear that when it comes to issues of equality and respect, the tech world has a long way to go.

The Code Manifesto

Kayla Daniels is one person working to try to change this situation. A North Carolina PHP developer, Kayla is behind The Code Manifesto, a list of values she hopes can be a small step in the right direction.

Here they are in full:

  1. Discrimination limits us. This includes discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, nationality and any other arbitrary exclusion of a group of people.
  2. Boundaries honor us. Your comfort levels are not everyone’s comfort levels. Remember that, and if brought to your attention, heed it.
  3. We are our biggest assets. None of us were born masters of our trade. Each of us has been helped along the way. Return that favor, when and where you can.
  4. We are resources for the future. As an extension of #3, share what you know. Make yourself a resource to help those that come after you.
  5. Respect defines us. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Make your discussions, criticisms and debates from a position of respectfulness. Ask yourself, is it true? Is it necessary? Is it constructive? Anything less is untolerated.
  6. Reactions require grace. Angry responses are valid, but abusive language and vindictive actions are toxic. When something happens that offends you, handle it assertively, but be respectful. Escalate reasonably, and try to allow the offender an opportunity to explain themselves, and possibly correct the issue.

If everyone held these values, the industry in which we work would be a better place, Kayla says. “We would grow better as a community, have higher engagement, and turn away fewer people.”

She first showed off the Manifesto in a lightning talk at Laracon US in May, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response.

She developed the Manifesto as a response to the growing frustration she felt with the community after a few years of being a girl in technology.

“For me, it was little things that built up until I had to make a change. Things like endless hours of justifying my ideas, while watching others fly by without resistance.”

Or, just as bad, being treated with “kid gloves”.

“Walking into a room and immediately being thought of as less capable than my male counterparts. Having simple concepts explained to me over and over again, even though I already more than grasped the point. “

There was also the look of awe and disbelief she witnessed when she told people what she did for a living.

“I’ve had people tell me I’m a “unicorn” because I’m a girl in tech. I’ve had people tell me that I don’t belong here.”

Her original draft of the Manifesto was in the form of actions to either avoid or put into practice, but she has moved away from that proscriptive approach in favor of outlining values people can then base their actions on.

The six points can be broadly split into two main themes – respect and equality, and contributing to the community, which are both vital for the industry to continue to thrive.

“The first because without respect we will continue to lose people, or scare them off before they ever get here. The second because I deeply value the knowledge that I’ve gained from my peers. As they say, I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

The Manifesto is open-source, with the text being translated into Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish by the community. The language of some of the values has also been changed to better represent the community, she says.

Get involved

There are a lot of ways you can show your support for the Manifesto.

You can pledge your support on the website, which will then list your name as well as any other information you choose to provide. You can follow @CodeManifesto on Twitter, and you can also contact Kayla with any ideas for additional things the Manifesto can do to help achieve the goal of creating a more equal, more empowering atmosphere.

Live by it

But the most important thing you can do is live by these values, Kayla says.

“I believe that the kind of hatred-driven discrimination we read about in articles is a small subset of our culture. There is another kind of bias that lives inside all of us, or at least most of us. We’ve been conditioned by it, and a lot of times, we mean no harm.”

“It’s important to be conscious of those things, and when they are brought to our attention to correct accordingly. So, supporting the Manifesto also means keeping these values top of mind.”

A manifesto is no good on its own, it needs all of us to live up to the ideals it represents.

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  • Wolf_22

    Pretty good values to live by. I wish they were followed more often.

  • Helen Burgess

    In Australia, we have an industry Training Package for Information Technology and in two qualifications levels across software development, web development, Networking and game development students are required to pass a unit on Copyright, ethics and privacy. The ethics part of the unit is based on the Australian Computer Society’s code of conduct, and I ensure that the web development students also get a look at the Australian Web Industry Association’s WideLines code of conduct.
    I am posting this article link to my students so they can see that this is a more wide spread problem within the tech industry. Most of the employers I know that are members of the ACS or AWIA also employ staff using values as a guide as well.
    Great post.