UX vs. DX

I was introduced to Estelle Weyl through my colleague Ali, who suggested Estelle as a speaker for Mozilla’s speaker series. I was intrigued with Estelle’s teaching on the differences between how we as humans perceive the speed and performance of our web browsers (vs. the precise, technical “reality”).

She was of course great, and her final slide also called out another important distinction:

So how fun was it when, a bit over a year later, she invited me to moderate a panel on, yep:


We had Tomomi Imura of Slack on board, and were super fortunate to recruit Sarah Federman (newly) of Atlassian and Jina Anne.

This group was so amazing, they agreed to meet on a holiday before the event to huddle. It was there that the subtitle emerged:

We realize we hadn’t intended it, and while we didn’t want to make the Lakoff mistake, we did think it was cool.

So, whiskey it was.

Oh also, the conversation was as great as these women. Estelle and Timomi had previously posted different ways to tackle this. Estelle defines DX as “the methodologies, processes, and tools (frameworks, libraries, node modules, pre- and post-processors, build tools, other third-party scripts, and APIs) by which developers develop web applications for their user base.”

And, because developers are often users too (think developer tools, and of course, frameworks), Timomi approaches their DX in a way that exhorts developer tool makers to keep the developer experience – as users – in mind.

So as a group, we broke this down further, looking at why some developers may be tempted to not think about the UX (whether those users are developers or not, per above), and instead adopt a “resume-driven development” approach (h/t Estelle again) that favors them showing off knowledge of sexy new frameworks vs. delivering a solid UX.

There are also work culture pressures to deprioritize UX. Ship fast or first or cheap, user-be-whatevered, can be a hard force to combat when it comes from management.

But, as others pointed out, developers can still make the choice to not be overly-reliant on tools or frameworks so they can choose the best route for the end-users. Individual engineers can ask forgiveness vs. permission in adopting a user-centric, front-loaded design approach from the start. Finally, to steal (again) from Estelle:

Taking the time to do it right the first time is “fast to code”. Refactoring is not. If you keep the six areas of concern — user experience, performance, accessibility, internationalization, privacy, and security — at top of mind while developing, your finished product will be usable, fast, accessible, internationalizable, private, and secure, without much effort.

Estelle Weyl

The Inputs are Broken

The first time I got directly involved in a political campaign (in my adult life) was in 2007, and frankly, it was because I was terrified. That someone of this caliber could be one proverbial heartbeat away from the Presidency (which, at the time, was a pretty prestigious thing, but I digress) lit such a tremendous fire under me. I cold-called on the curbs of SF before they were so prohibitively unsanitary to permit such politicking.

I continued to help campaigns at both the federal and local (more on that soon) levels. My most recent round of service culminated this year, along with my fears: in the age of Trump, I immediately connected with SwingLeft‘s very focused and strategic goal of taking back the House.

Thankfully my work paid off: we at last have a shard of accountability back at the Federal level, and one of the first pieces being advanced by the now-Democratic House (strongly and ably led by Nancy Pelosi) is HR1. Also marketed by the Dems as #ForThePeople / #ForThePeopleAct, the legislation’s overall theme is to put the hands of government back into the hands of people vs. those of special interests, through more transparent and representative funding and reduced barriers to voting. It makes my civic heart proud.

But then I got this note….

Wait a minute. I remember this person from a local campaign I’d worked on – he’d been an organizer and I’d co-hosted an event and helped with a few others.

What in the heck is an Assembly Delegate?

Nobody around me seems to know. I’m talking educated people. People who vote. Do you know? Nobody I seem to ask knows.

So I got interested. After all this work I’d done to open up our politics, it seemed odd that other elections were happening that I knew nothing about. I never heard about it from the Democratic Party. No mailers. No vote by mail. And this election was going to happen on a Saturday, during two hours, at a community center which happens to be down the street from me. That was the only option to participate (if you happened to know about it)

Fortunately, a branch of the Democratic party did some work to make this clear. But this wasn’t the “mainstream” Democratic party, if you will. This was made by some indie-rebel types within the party. And I only found this because I knew about the election: as a former campaign volunteer, I guess I’m “an insider.”

That’s me, along with others who had an inside angle into where to go that Saturday

Because I happen to live about 3 blocks from the voting location and had few obligations the day of voting, I was fortunate enough to tough this murky, inaccessible process out. I braved the lines among various special interest groups that were marketed in from corners of the City to “align” the ballots to the slates with access to the most campaign funds. You can imagine how a non-establishment party slate may play out in this scenario (do watch the video).

This didn’t feel democratic to me. After all the work I’d done to elect a Congress to push forward legislation to open up our Democracy, I realized that a Democracy is only as good as its inputs. When the candidates and their agendas are pre-determined by those in power already, the inputs are broken.

I want Nancy’s vision of a Democracy for the People to extend to its inputs

Women Do Tech

Cross-posted from Mozilla

This June, two of my worlds collided beautifully when my employer, Mozilla, announced its sponsorship of a prize for the most privacy-respecting Women Startup Challenge finalist in the EU. On the side, I’d been volunteering with the organizers, Women Who Tech, for three years. So how did this all come together? And why?

When I joined Mozilla in 2011 to help run WebFWD, I was excited to support open source startups and their founders. The role was a great marriage of my experience with venture and startups, along with my desire to support innovation globally. As my role at Mozilla has evolved, my passion to support technologists globally has grown; today in my day job, I get to help our own developers around the world be more productive; and I’m still helping others “outside” Mozilla, as a mentor with WXR Fund and Hackers/Founders.

In 2015 when I met the organizers on a shared dist list, they were (and have since remained) focused on solving one big, persistent problem: less than 2% of all venture funding goes to women-led startups. Note that’s in the U.S.; the EU is a bit better, at 11%, but still far from ideal.

Compelled by the scope (and maddening nature) of the problem (and the tenacity and skill of the Women Who Tech team), I raised my hand. First, I helped recruit some online event panelists, including Julie Wainwright and Rebecca Eisenberg. Later, I helped design the startup challenge and have acted as an online and in-person judge. There I saw firsthand the caliber of the participating teams, which made me further lament the wasted opportunity that the current funding environment poses — not only for women founders, but for all the people they could serve if they only had the funding. Everyone loses.
Judging the first Women Startup EU Challenge in May 2017 @ London City Hall

When a broad mix of humans are behind technology, it leads to better outcomes, both in product and people. And, if you read through Mozilla’s Manifesto, you’ll see that Mozilla cares deeply about not just technology, but how technology impacts humans. While funding is hardly the only disparity between men and women in tech, it is significant, as it determines who will be driving what solutions for our future. For all of these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to see the visions of Mozilla and Women Who Tech come together.