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Exploring the Social Impact of Technology at Monktoberfest 2018

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My biggest takeaway from the conference: our work affects the world around us more so than we think.

Last month, I traveled to the beautiful city of Portland, Maine for Monktoberfest 2018. From the standout lineup of craft beers to the insightful speaking sessions, the event did not disappoint and pushed us all to think critically about the way our work affects the world around us. 

While it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of writing code or shepherding applications through a production cycle, the tech industry isn’t in a bubble. It’s crucial that we understand the scope and implications of our work, so we can build a strong, socially-aware culture that values responsible code. Here are my biggest takeaways from this year’s Monktoberfest.

Understand the way our work impacts the world around us

The common thread from each session was understanding the impact of your work and the implications of the code you create. Although software engineers and developers can be siloed, our projects can have a profound impact well beyond the tech industry.

There were several sessions I attended that touched on this core theme, including talks by Leah McGowen-Hare (Senior Director at Salesforce), Emily Nakashima (Director of Engineer at Honeycomb.io), and Claire Giordano (VP of Marketing at Citus Data). Emily’s session, in particular, walked the audience through how she’s helped redesign the hiring process at Honeycomb.io to onboard new hires who feel empowered to create responsible code. 

The approach behind their recruitment approach is starkly different from most companies. The hiring manager guides candidates through what to expect during the entire interview process (no surprises!) and assigns coding exercises that involve extending or improving existing code. Interview questions are geared towards understanding the way candidates work with teammates and how they achieve a collective goal. All in all, Honeycomb’s approach is anchored in one core philosophy: creating a company culture that’s communicative and values the ideation of responsible code. 

No one is immune from the bad players in tech

Cybersecurity and data privacy is top of mind for those that work with software every day, but what about those that don't? Their information is public and available, but they haven’t taken the steps to develop proactive behavior while online.

A few speaking sessions I attended highlighted this point, touching on the data privacy issues facing older generations. It’s our responsibility as developers and engineers (i.e. experts on data privacy) to help our parents and grandparents protect themselves from cyber attacks or from having their personal information compromised

Plan for the future

If you are not actively planning for failure, you most certainly will fail. The key to dealing with failure is to create a culture that openly talks about failure and looks at it without shouldering blame on specific teams or individuals. You can start by exploring the day-to-day challenges that can lead to bigger roadblocks down the line. 

Preparing for the future was the core focus of Pivotal Senior Director Domain Drewitz’s session. During her talk, she drew a parallel between life events, such as birthday parties and funerals, to point out how we inherently develop and understand the rituals around these life events in order to help us cope and recover. Drawing from her own experiences, she has created a ritual to help get through big problems by memorializing techniques. That way, you’ll always have techniques on hand to navigate through challenges instead of scrambling to fix issues.