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Cover image for [On-Demand Talk] Docs For Equity - Teaching Our Way Out Of Impostor Syndrome
Julia Seidman
Julia Seidman

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[On-Demand Talk] Docs For Equity - Teaching Our Way Out Of Impostor Syndrome

About this talk

What we call "Imposter Syndrome" is often not really that at all - for many people, workplace anxiety and feelings of isolation and exclusion are the result of systemic bias and discrimination. These are problems for the industry and community to address, not individuals. I am suggesting one tool (though many are needed) to help build a more inclusive tech industry. As a former teacher, I apply the principles of Culturally Responsive Teaching to my technical writing, and in this talk, I explain why and how that works.

Takeaways

  1. The tech industry has an enormous diversity and inclusivity problem, but platitudes aren't helping us when the problems are so deep-seated.
  2. People's early experiences in the tech industry often include being told to "Read the docs!", only to find that the docs are implicitly and explicitly biased.
  3. We can do better, and the principles of Culturally Responsive Teaching provide a framework to create docs that better meet the needs of marginalized communities in tech.

Slides

>> Click here to download slides

🌈 Comment below and ask me questions — I might just answer them during my live speaker discussion!


About Julia Seidman

Julia is a believer in the careen, rather than the career. After studying anthropology and writing a senior thesis on the ethics of museum collections of human skeletal remains, she took the job she could get: fundraising for a hospital. From there, she became a financial analyst and employee educator for 401k plans. Then, after getting her Master's in education, she taught high school English and ESL for most of a decade. Now, she is a technical content marketing consultant and developer.


This on-demand talk is part of CodeLand 2021 — a virtual conference brought to you by CodeNewbie & DEV on September 23 & 24, 2021.

Discussion (57)

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Michael Tharrington • Edited on

Hey folks!

If you have any questions for @juliaseid , please ask away!

We're going to gather up all of these questions and answer them during the Speaker Discussion later on today! So we really encourage you to drop any questions about the talk that come to mind. 🙌

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juliaseid profile image
Julia Seidman Author

I'm loving how there are so many intersections between today's presentations! I almost wondered if @clearlythuydoan had read my slides before she made hers - if you were interested in what she said about early career experiences with docs, I think you'll find some empowering suggestions in my talk!

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ellativity profile image
Ella (she/her/elle)

Imposter Syndrome is such a common theme here on CodeNewbie, we can't get enough support and encouragement!

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tsdamas profile image
Thais Damasceno

Exactly! It is a big deal for everyone. I think that is so good to listen those sugestions and different views.

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clearlythuydoan profile image
Thuy Doan • Edited on

I feel like we could talk forever about it.

Earlier, I saw PJ write a tweet saying he "failed" to talk about a certain aspect of imposter syndrome that @juliaseid had mentioned but I pointed out to him that he didn't fail to do anything! You can't possibly talk about every angle of a topic so large during a single 15-min talk. Also there's different POVs. Like how the phrase can be overused. Arguably used incorrectly and as a blanket term for things that aren't related to it - conflated with other things.

The perspective that I brought on Twitter was that the feeling of inferiority one may feel (and possibly dub "imposter syndrome") can also be related to how we view other people.

For example, senior developers and tech celebrities: do you put them on a pedestal? Treat them as all-knowing out of habit? Maybe even out of respect? As "can-do-no-wrong"? As PJ said, we are all learning right? I made that mistake of putting more experienced developers on a pedestal when I was early in my dev career. I would say to my seniors, "Wow you can get a job anywhere not like me." I would almost worship them and think of me less because I was measuring my experience with theirs. But aside from everything said in PJ and Julia's talks, sometimes the difference is just experience and not competency! So let's go forth :)

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clearlythuydoan profile image
Thuy Doan

For real! For the record, I didn't look at your slides until after the day ended today and funnily enough was like, "Hold on, I think we coincidentally used a similar base theme on Canva lmao"

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Julia Seidman Author

Yes! So funny! Different color palettes, same design theme! I wonder what algorithm pointed us both to that template? 😅

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clearlythuydoan profile image
Thuy Doan

I think the algorithm might be plant related. I notice we both had plants in our slides. You had those neat animations. I had flat icons of plants. Might you be a plant enthusiast as well? I also noticed other uncanny similarities. Like you are a technical writer by trade and I also have a writing background in advertising! AND we both value accessibility! Talk about mega overlap among great speakers.

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itsasine profile image
Kayla

The "What's Holding Us Back" slide is perfect 🙌

This single page needs to be sent out to any dev tech that has public docs. It's hard to know how many people who would have used your product/language but couldn't get beyond the docs and moved on to something else.

I get so turned off as an end user if a product says to "just" do a thing that's totally obvious (not...). Even the classic "foobar" examples are a form of injoke that makes it hard to follow if you don't know what foo and bar denote.

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jhermann profile image
Jürgen Hermann

The light grey text on that slide is a a11y nightmare though. 😬

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Julia Seidman Author

Oh, thanks for calling that out! I'm not a front-end dev, so I don't tend to think about those aspects of accessibility. It's a good reminder that it matters in presentations, too!

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juliaseid profile image
Julia Seidman Author

I just checked on the color contrast on this slide, and it's 9.8:1 (#fffcf7, #424242), so definitely a pass from WCAG. I think the apparent lack of contrast is actually a function of font size and reduced screen size or resolution with the format the slides are in here.

A reminder that color contrast is a starting place, not the end-all measure of accessibility, since I agree it is not super readable!

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itsasine profile image
Kayla

True, though there wouldn't have been enough time to update it after the a11y talk right before it ;) haha

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itsasine profile image
Kayla • Edited on

Whoops, just got to the part of the talk where you call out foobar and just haha

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amneet-b

Hi! Reminder that if you have any questions for @juliaseid to drop them here! We'll address these questions in the live speaker discussion. 📣

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Chisomo Chiweza

I think if there's one thing that has been eye-opening for me this conference - it's about how much thoughtful technical writing and documentation can be a super power in building more inclusive communities!

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jhermann profile image
Jürgen Hermann
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Julia Seidman Author

That is a fantastic resource! Thanks so much for sharing!

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chisomochiweza profile image
Chisomo Chiweza

Thank you!

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Julie Zhou

Thank you for this talk! This is such an important topic -- when I started working as a new developer, the lack of access to well-written docs further contributed to my impostor syndrome. It has since made me passionate to write docs that are easier to read and more accessible to all devs.

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Gracie Gregory (she/her)

Hi Julia! Obviously using jargon and escoteric language makes so many people feel like they don't belong in tech. Not only that, but it doesn't make any sense if we actually want to improve our projects and products!

I'm hoping on your panel, you can share your thoughts on why this is so persistant in our field. You described the in-group phenomenon — but I don't even think that this truly benefits the people who think they are benefitting from it.

Thanks! Fantastic talk!

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Julia Seidman Author

Thanks so much! I wish I knew why it is so persistent. I'm not a sociologist, though, and I'm not sure I can really speculate about what keeps it going, beyond just saying that people like to feel like they belong. The challenge is to create that sense of belonging without excluding others.

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Shara Crosslin

It definitely feels like women and POC have this huge pressure to "earn their place at the table". These talks are so important in dismantling this toxic mentality.

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Stephanie Back

Docs can be soooo overwhelming as a new developer. This talk definitely opened my eyes to realize it is common for everyone to feel this way. Also thank you for discussing inclusion. That was a great talk Julia! :)

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ropeeps

Hi, thanks for this. My name is Ro Peeples and I'm an entry-level software developer. My one suggestion is to include stats about trans and non-binary people in tech in your early slides.

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Julia Seidman Author

You're absolutely right that I should have! Representation of trans people in tech is a complicated subject, but we absolutely can do better. I think this article covers some of the complexity pretty well:
zdnet.com/article/transgender-empl...

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quitepeculiar profile image
Doreen Joy Barber (she/her)

Thank you so much for this talk! As someone else who is career changing (also with a BA in Anthropology!), it's so great to hear someone emphasising how we need to "create space for people to be themselves"!

Thanks again!

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Shara Crosslin

I like to think I am a very culturally responsive person, but often worry that I am blinded by biases and privileges that I'm not fully aware of yet. What additional tips or resources can you recommend to tackle this?

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Julia Seidman Author

Wow, that's a great question. That is not my specific area of expertise, and it's something I hesitate to give prescriptions for. The work of confronting our own prejudices can be really difficult, painful work, and I think there are a lot of resources out there to help with it, but I'm not sure I could recommend any with confidence.

What I will say is that I think the more you get in the habit of acknowledging your biases, the easier it gets, and the more empowering it is.

I see the work of identifying my own privilege and bias as some of the most self-actualizing work I can do, because it lets me make choices based on the person I want to be.

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Shara Crosslin

Thank you for that very thoughtful response, Julia. I loved your presentation today!

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Dorothy Rhodes

This is an amazing perspective on writing documentation! I'm wondering if anyone has come across any examples of docs that are written in the inclusive, engaging, and respectful style that Julia describes here. I'd love to see (and use!) technologies that are making an effort in this area.
Thanks for a great talk! :)

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fizzybuzzybeezy profile image
fizzybuzzybeezy

Julia, great talk on inclusivity.

What's the best way to work on analogies when teaching opportunities are few and far between?

Do you think that we're so often asked to ignore "terrible" attitudes of some teachers (ie. "If you can overlook their opinion on X, it's a great primer.") to get to their insight into the topic, that we're unknowingly trained to ignore it in the industry?

Also, demonstrating respect for others is a great reminder! Thank you!

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Julia Seidman Author

Thanks!

I'm not sure I understand the first question - can you clarify?

As for the second question, I think it's an important problem to acknowledge. The idea that a resource could be "best", if only you overlook the abusive garbage along the way, is a pretty poor example of "best".

I'm not a zealot or a purist - I don't think we need to throw out every tool or resource created by someone who turns out to be a jerk. There are some that we can afford to do without, where there are good alternatives - and there are some, like JavaScript, that are pretty much impossible to avoid.

The key, to me, is that we have open conversations about where we see harmful behaviors. Hero worship isn't called for, nor is demonization. But openly acknowledging problems lets us make better choices about the tradeoffs we want to make.

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fizzybuzzybeezy

I like your perspective and will work to incorporate it in my own approaches to creating documentation, training, and instructions.

My first question was about finding good example ideas for documentation (in cases where having an example helps) without a wide viewership of the work. Upon going through your slides again, however, I see that the answer may lie in identifying my own biases and thinking about how to make examples from real world and more shared experiences, in a respectful manner. After all that, practice and getting feedback helps, I'd imagine. Did I get that right?

Thank you Julia!

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juliaseid profile image
Julia Seidman Author

Ah, gotcha! Yeah, I think if I were going to set a goal for a longer version of this talk, it would be to provide more concrete examples of what's working well. Two challenges with that - first, it can be hard to find exemplary work that stands up to being blurbed, and second, I'm reluctant to name names. There's no one right approach, except for people to work actively to be more inclusive. What that's going to mean differs from person to person and audience to audience, and I'd rather talk about approaches than products for that reason.

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Tiffany (she/ela)

Hi, Julia! I can't count how many talented people who belong to marginalized groups I have met with impostor syndrome. It makes me so sad and angry that almost every place and position that we try to occupy helps building impostor syndrome. Thanks for this talk.

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Julia Seidman Author

Absolutely! I think, though, that it's really important to disambiguate "impostor syndrome" from experiences of bias and discrimination. If someone from a marginalized group is feeling undermined or unsupported, there's a decent likelihood that they actually ARE being undermined or don't have the full support of their co-workers. If they did, we'd see much better retention over the long term. That's not impostor syndrome - that's discrimination.

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Nad

I will definitely be going back to rewatch this talk.

As a student I often felt confused by documentation and always thought that it was due to a lack of knowledge and understanding on my part. It was really frustrating and discouraging. But now, as a junior dev I work closely with senior devs and I sometimes see them frustrated and confused by docs and it's finally made me realize that sometimes the docs are just bad. It has nothing to do with my level of knowledge and understanding. And that has been encouraging.

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Debra-Kaye Elliott

I'm so going to re-watch this. Thanks Julia!

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Lukas Monico

Hi @juliaseid what advice do you have for other queer developers navigating the hetreo-normative tech company workplace?

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Julia Seidman Author • Edited on

Whoops, I thought I had replied to this before!

This is a link to the article about Employee Resource Groups that I mentioned during the panel: protocol.com/workplace/employee-re...

Basically, I think my advice is to find community, but find it outside your workplace. There are a lot of great organizations in the tech community (like Code Newbie or Virtual Coffee) that offer support and community.

In general, I've found it's much easier to be open about my identity and my family in this industry than in finance or public education, where I came from, but that's not at all the same as saying we're doing a good job. I also have the privilege of "passing" very easily - my queer family looks very hetero-normative - and that means I've always had the choice of whether to be open about it. I thus don't feel all that comfortable speaking for LGBTQ folks as a whole.

Still, I do think there are more opportunities to find support for queer folks in tech than you might expect, especially if you reach outside your workplace. And, as this article alludes to, relying on a company-sanctioned, company-supported group has some serious potential drawbacks.

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Lukas Monico

Thanks for sending a link to the article and for replying! I worked for a large aerospace company in Iowa, and there were ERGs for different communities including one for LGBTQ folks. I'm always curious about people's experiences in the workplace, so I'm glad you elaborated on this!

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noviicee profile image
Novice

Docs are really underrated. This topic is amazing. Looking forward to the session!
:)

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Tiffany U

Thanks for this talk, Julia! I appreciate the reminder that the main purpose is to help others with our docs, not build up our antihero image!

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Raedy Ping PhD

YES NO JARGONNNNNNNN!!

I write like I am talking to you, because that is the best way I learn -- I think it is part of why Stack is so useful, it is a conversation

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Shara Crosslin

Do you feel like inclusive language and behavior has significantly improved in docs and workplaces since you've started?

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Julia Seidman Author

A link to the Harvard Business Review article I reference: hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women...

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Richard Dewey Hammers

Hey Julia Seidman! Im about to finish my bootcamp with Flatiron and getting ready to get into my first tech job

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callumreid

Wow this was such an eye opener for me. Thank you for this talk!

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Novice

That was an incredible talk. Thanks Julia :D

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Tiffany (she/ela)

Thank you so much Julia! Very powerful!

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Jeremy Friesen

Thank you Julia for bringing your advocacy for documentation as a means of inclusion and equity.

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Sarah Rivera

Thank you, great talk!

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Christian New

That was really useful advice! Thanks @juliaseid