Scott and I have been co-designing and co-working on #DIYPS since November 2013. (Click here to learn more about #DIYPS if you are new to it.)
I don’t work in the tech industry for my day job. (#DIYPS is something I do in my spare time and in no way related to my day job, thoughts are all my own, etc.) The more that I engage with others in the “industry” through #DIYPS work, the more I’m reminded of why I’m glad I don’t do this full time as a career. Being unintentionally but automatically disrespected and discounted creates a hostile environment, and makes it difficult to remain engaged and motivated to do great work.
Here’s why we’re writing this post:
Many conversations (not all, but any is too many) and potential collaborations about the technical development of our project (#DIYPS) have required starting with a leveling of understanding of why I am participating in the conversation.
Sometimes it seems to stem from the misunderstanding that because I am “the patient” (the end user of the system we’re building) and not an engineer in my day job, I don’t/can’t have a very deep understanding of how this works on the back end.
Perhaps it is so “easy” to misunderstand because we don’t often enough see patients who take the opportunity to design and build the tools they need to manage the chronic diseases they live with every day?
Scott’s take: #DIYPS was built jointly by both of us. Dana provides all the data, of course, but she also had dreamed up a concept for a DIYPS-type system months if not years ago before we were able to get John’s uploader code and start making it happen. Once we started actively developing the system, Dana was involved in every single product decision, and made every major decision on how the system should work. I of course contributed a number of ideas about how it could work better, wrote much of the code, and did initial testing of everything I wrote. But Dana did the real-world beta testing, decided what would and wouldn’t work from a usability perspective, prioritized feature development (and even bug fixes), and directed the project in countless other ways. If we end up patenting #DIYPS, her name will be listed first.
And yet, the assumption always seems to be that Dana must not have a complete understanding of the system, and can’t possibly have full ownership of #DIYPS.
Perhaps the reason Dana has to battle at the beginning of any conversations to be taken seriously as an active participant is even simpler: she is female. Even when she mentions coding experience (C++ and FORTRAN 90), and/or I mention her role in creating #DIYPS, the discounting continues. Why is that? It usually takes fairly subtle forms (such as directing all questions about how the system works to me instead of to Dana). It is undoubtedly subconscious in almost all cases, but that makes it all the more insidious, because people don’t seem to correct their misconceptions as quickly when they’re not aware of them.
This experience is not ok.
Dana’s take: All of the above frustrates me greatly, to the point of writing this post because I’m not sure what to do about it beyond calling it out individually when I see it (Scott is also great about pointing it out and looping me back in). It’s a systematic issue*, and something I’ve heard is experienced by other patients or other women working in tech, which heightens my frustrations.
Having these experiences repeatedly burns me out from wanting to innovate further, and to go back to just keeping myself alive. Which is selfish. And I don’t want to just do that. But sometimes it feels like the only option.
Here is why this type of experience is damaging:
Disrespecting, discounting, and excluding someone wastes an excessive amount of time that could be spent talking about moving #DIYPS and projects like Nightscout forward and saving lives now, while #WeAreNotWaiting for the medical device industry and the FDA to catch up.
Discounting others automatically is a disservice to you, can be extremely frustrating to them, and it takes away from everyone’s time. But most importantly, it saps their energy and motivation to make a difference in the world. And in an era where technology is enabling us to do so many amazing things, including actually saving lives with technologies we’re inventing in our spare time, wasting time and demotivating innovative individuals might mean not saving lives we otherwise could.
If you read this far, we would both encourage you to think about your own behavior when you meet with people, including what kinds of questions you’re asking them. (This is a related good read from a male perspective.) If you find yourself asking questions of someone, or making assumptions about their role or capabilities, think about whether you ask the same questions of others that you speak to. Don’t automatically discount or question someone, make assumptions, or treat them differently just because they’re young… or female… or a patient… or old… or don’t appear to be technical… or whatever your initial perceptions may be.
As many recent articles show, this is a problem across the high-tech industry, with many widespread examples, and some truly awful behavior. But those of us who are working with volunteers trying their best to make the world a better place need to hold ourselves to an even higher standard, and work to overcome even the implicit biases that lead us to ignore or discount valuable contributions from some of those who are most eager and able to help.
*If you have any other ideas about how to handle these situations in a way to point out to someone what they’re doing, and also more widely educate the world so we don’t waste as much time and energy on in these situations (or having to write or read more of these types of posts), we’d love to hear them.