#talkpay Today | WTR 34

#talkpay Today | WTR 34

Lauren is the founder of May 1st’s #talkpay which is geared to encourage open discussion of pay to help employees have a better idea of what their talents are worth.

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ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: So, Angela, today we’re going to talk to Lauren Voswinkel. She is a developer with Living Social. And she’s also the founder, I guess, of the movement #Talkpay. And so we get into a whole bunch of stuff about, kind of, getting started in programing. What it’s like to be a more experienced programer. And then we dive into a long, awesome conversation about #Talkpay.
ANGELA: Yeah. And it’s really epic. But before we get into that, I want to let you know how you can support. Women’s Tech Radio. You can go to patreon.com/jupitersignal. That supports the entire network, but specifically it also helps Women’s Tech Radio. And you can donate as little as $1.00, $3,00, $5,00 a month. You know, like a coffee or a beer. A bottle of wine is a little more expensive, like maybe $10.00 or $11.00, at least mine is.
PAIGE: Sponsor Angela’s Mountain Dew addiction.
ANGELA: Yes. Actually, there you go, yeah. About $2.00 for a 20oz Mountain Dew. So, if you’d like to support the network, you can go over to Patreon.com/today.
PAIGE: And we get started with this week’s episode by asking Lauren what she’s into and where she is in her career.
LAUREN: What I’m doing today is actually, I am in Portland going to Open Source Bridge, because I gave a talk about performance profiling with gperftools on Tuesday, which went really well. That’s not my normal day-to-day. My normal day-to-day is working remotely out of Pittsburg with the company Living Social as a senior web developer. So, that is afar more my average day.
PAIGE: Both of those days sound pretty awesome to me. What stack do you work in for your web development with Living Social?
LAUREN: So, I primarily work with Ruby on Rails. That’s typically what we’re dealing with. Although, we started recently doing things with Closure. Basically, working on making certain web services that allow you to handle much higher loads than a Rube service would. So basically I’m trying to learn that as we push forward. But primarily, it’s Ruby on Rails and some amount of JavaScript.
PAIGE: This is an interesting question. I have a lot of kind of young ladies that I’m mentoring as they’re getting into their development career and they all want to know should I learn multiple languages? Do I dive in? I usually say, you’re going to have to learn multiple languages over your career. As someone who is kind of doing that sort of shift now, where you’re shifting your mental aspects, how would you encourage a young person or how does it affect your day-to-day to have to be in Rails and then over in Closure and maybe again to Rails?
LAUREN: For me, it’s not that big of a problem. But I would, like, when I’m teaching someone how to get into development and whatnot, I typically want to see them get really good with one particular language first, because of how transferable that knowledge is typically. Like, learning Ruby or Python or what have you will basically get your really, really solidly started on knowing object oriented principals and whatnot, which will allow you to switch over to say Java or C# or PHP or what have you. So, rather than just kind of branching out into a whole bunch of different languages, my advice would be to learn one language really well, because that will help you pick up other languages as time goes on. And then it also gives you a little bit of an appreciation for the differences between different languages. Which is kind of funny, because one of the main things that we teach Girl Develop-It Pittsburgh is web development. And it’s actually really interesting watching how difficult it is for people to get into html and CSS development, specifically because of the multiple language switching back and forth. It’s very easy to get confused by switching from the markup syntax of html over to the CSS. And there’s a lot of confusion between, wait, so I don’t do the curly braces here? These are the angle brackets? So, wait, you mean I have to surround this in quotes? Why don’t I have to do that in CSS? So, those small little differences tend to add up if you don’t have a solid grounding in one of them. So that’s why I kind of recommend people just focus on one at a time. But switching between, after you get comfortable, for me is not that big of a problem even though like most other developers I spend the majority of my time looking up syntaxes and whatnot and the documentation. You never kind of get this — at least it feels like you never get this degree of comfort where you can just know all of the libraries for a particular language and you never have to look anything up. There’s always those moments of, wait what method did I want on this object again? Do I have a zip function for a hash or how does that even work? And so, you’re constantly looking things up. And so, another thing that I try to encourage in people is the fact that there is no shame in looking things up or not knowing something.
PAIGE: Yeah. Exactly. You know, you can be a professional developer. You’re still going to be going to the documentation, because a year from now they’re going to add new things to your language or take old things out. It doesn’t matter. If if you’re in just one language for forever, it’s going to change.
LAUREN: Yeah, absolutely.
PAIGE: So, you’ve learned multiple languages. You’ve clearly been doing this a while. How did you get into it? Were you kind of the nerdy kid who was always taking things apart? What’s your story?
LAUREN: My story was that I got, my family got a computer when I was fairly young. I want to say like eight or something. And I really, really enjoyed playing video games on the computer. The problem with that was that a lot of the games that I wanted to play required special configurations and whatnot. So, I would invariably start fiddling around in the command line trying to get a dos game to run. ANd it would be like, oh we need more extended more or extended RAM or what have you. And just trying to figure out what that even meant and just fiddling with settings. So much that I would end up breaking the computer and then have to start playing a game of fix the computer before mom and dad get home.
PAIGE: I have definitely participated in that game.
LAUREN: Yeah, so that trial and error, that constant push to want to figure something out is really what pushed me to enjoy working with computers so much. That early on understanding that failure is not a bad thing, per say, is something that I think was key to being able to be comfortable with learning program later in high school to a small degree and then in college after that. Because whenever you’re doing anything with computers you’re going to fail quite a bit and it’s perfectly fine if you do. The cost to make mistakes in programming is typically very small. You just need to change some text and you fix something instead of wasting like canvas or paints or various other materials. So, I often encourage people to fail quickly and get used to that feeling.
PAIGE: I think that’s really interesting that you make the analogy with art, because I actually come from an art background in theater, and our mistakes are much more costly, because there’s materials. There’s a lot more time and a lot more people involved. But there’s this paradigm that Samuel Beckett, the playwright, kind of gave that’s, the quote is “Risk, fail, risk again fail better, fail faster.” It’s something in that nature. And this is a prevailing attitude in the arts. Like go ahead, takes risk, and fail. And that’s okay. And then we don’t bring that over into programming where failure is so much less costly.
LAUREN: Yeah, so there’s kind of an irony to that, because there’s the paradigm in startup culture of move fast break stuff. Which is kind of lampooned in a lot of circles that are in, like people more diversity minded and what have you. So that’s kind of funny, because there is like, that thing of we can just keep moving and break stuff and then a couple down the line just be like wait we just painted ourselves into a corner. And that’s when the mistakes become a little bit more expensive. When you have systems that you are, that people are relying on. And it’s like, okay well now that there’s people relying on this, can we change this? And the answer typically in those situations is no. So, usually taking the time to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes as quickly as possible is by and far the better option. But, again, because of how cheap it is to fail with relation to tech, it’s not that big of a problem.
ANGELA: Well, I would really like to get into this whole movement of your #Talkpay. Can you tell our audience about that?
LAUREN: #Talkpay was something that started at Cascadia Ruby last year. I ended up having discussion with people about how imbalanced the relationship between workers and employers tends to be, particularly with relation to pay and pay negotiation. Mostly because employers tend to have all of these various resources that give them an idea of how much they should be paying for a particular type of talent, whereas individual works don’t have access to that information. And so, I kind of have a more socialist leaning bend, which is still like a dirty word in this country for terrible reasons. But the conversations that I was having with people led me to do a lighting talk. Which is a short form five minute talk about openly sharing salaries. And so I got on stage in front of everybody and like laid out this spill about how in a capitalistic society, basically our goal as individuals to be to make as much money as possible because of the system that we’re put in where that behavior is encouraged. And so because corporations and companies are looking to make as much money as possible, they are actively engaging in an antagonistic relationship with their employees. They want to pay employees as little as possible that still has them feel like they’re being well compensated, so they don’t move on to somewhere else. And so, I kind of told people in a salary negotiation to absolutely avoid talking about past salaries and then if they are staunchly saying no we need to have past salary information in order to be able to give you a number, then my suggestion was to basically lie about it, mostly because of various privacy laws in place, an employer cannot contact a past employer to obtain that information due to the pay structures being potentially company secrets. Which is part of the case law from various labor lawsuits and whatnot. But anyway, I laid out all of this information and then gave details about my career. The fact that I’m based in Pittsburgh working for a DC company. I have ten years of experience. I attend numerous workshops to work on my code quality. I help teach with Girl Develop-It. And I then gave my salary in front of everybody. Which, for the sake of transparency is $120,000. It’s a little bit more than that now. But at the time it was $120,000. And I just said that into this room of technologist. About like 300 of them or so. And then also asked for other people in the audience to do the same. And there was, I want to say there was probably like a good 15 people that immediately wanted to share that information. And it just started this conversation about like why we don’t talk about pay more often. And it basically started a couple of conversations where a woman came up to me and started talking about how she was managing someone, and she was a developer as well, so she was basically like a far more senior developer that was managing the team as well. And she learned that one of her employees that she was managing was making like $20,000 more than her. And how if everybody was sharing this information, that could not be allowed to happen. It would be obvious that people are getting, for lack of a better term, screwed out of literally tens of thousands of dollars of pay. Typically that ends up marginalized to people significantly more women, people of color, etcetera, so on and so forth, because of the social upbringing that we’re brought into that kind of says that people who are in underrepresented groups tend to appear to be push or greedy if they ask for more money. So that discourages women and people of color from asking for more money in a negotiation phase.
PAIGE: There’s also the balance there of if you are somebody who grows up in a minority environment or as a woman, you’re not encouraged to do that. But if you grow up — like I was listening to this story on The TIm Ferriss Podcast with the guy who founded WordPress. And he was like, yeah, you know, I was doing my thing and I was a high school dropout, or maybe just graduated high school. And I was a programer and some guy was mentoring me and he was like, you have to go down to this place and tell them that you want no less than, and it was some ungodly sum, like $200 an hour to do coding. He had no work experience and he was 19. And granted it was about in the boom, but he just went out there and did that, because he was encouraged to do it and it was expected of him as a successful blue collar white male in that area at that time. And I don’t think, like, I’ve had so many discussions with women who are like, well how much should I charge? Even just freelancing. And trying to talk someone into charging more than $20.00 an hour is a painful conversation.
ANGELA: Right. Yeah.
LAUREN: Interestingly enough, I’ve had this conversation a couple times at Open Source Bridge this year, because of the stuff with #Talkpay and how I actively push people to ask for more money. One person that I was encountering was like, oh well I was thinking about asking for this much, because I”m a junior developer, because I only have two years of experience. And I’m like, wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Why do you feel like you’re a junior developer? And she’s just like, I only have two years of experience. I’m like, there are people out there that are getting like senior jobs with two years of experience. So you asking, you basically putting yourself in that box is inherently eliminating what you’re doing. Also, then I went through some of the skills that she has and I was just like those are managerial level skills as far as a senior developer goes. You’re basically taking product requirements and breaking them into bite size tasks that a team could then easily act upon. That is a senior level skill. Do not sell yourself short. But again, women and people of color are basically taught to constantly undersell themselves and that has huge impacts on their pay over the long term. Put on top of that that so many employers base the salary that they offer on your previous salary, it leads to this really terrible multiple, multi-point impact where they’re paid less when they first start working and they continue to sell themselves short, and then also are affected by the fact that they undersold themselves in their first couple of jobs. It’s just-
PAIGE: Yeah, it’s a spiral.
LAUREN: It is this really terrible cycle. Yeah, exactly.
PAIGE: That’s really interesting. I mean, the whole thing of how culture impacts this, how history impacts this, how capitalism at its heart impacts all of this. It’s a really interesting conversation. I really applaud you for getting up and standing up and being willing to say a lot of that. I think this sort of openness is really important. You know, we’re data geeks. Let’s get some data on the table.
LAUREN: Yeah, so that was actually one of the really funny things. I wrote an article for Model You Culture pushing people to share their salaries on May 1st. And there was actually a bit of backlash from Gamer Gate after a while. They were saying, oh this is all a ploy of (unintelligible). And what ended up happening was in the article I said, I don’t care what data we get when we start sharing this information. If we find out that women are making just as much money as men in various fields, that’s fine. But we need more concrete data to be able to make informed decisions about this. We need to have people that are first coming into this field, whether it be through hacker schools or people that are self-teaching. Those people need to have a good understanding of what their skills are worth in order to not undersell themselves. I have heard so many stories of people that graduated hacker school and they’re used to making $11.00 an hour. So when a company drops a salary of $40,000 an hour, yeah, that would be amazing, $40,000 a year, people are just like, oh my God this is so much money and they immediately will take that. Not realizing that even as a junior developer they could be making, depending on the area that they’re living in, 60, 70, $80,000 a year. And so basically that’s another thing that ends up leading to marginalized individuals or under represented individuals to enter into that spiral from the very beginning. LIke, the unrealistic expectation of what their skills can bring, hugely impacts that first salary.
PAIGE: Yeah. No, totally. We have a — I have heard of a company in Portland that specifically targets the self-taught/boot camp audience and they will sign you into a two-year contract at $35,000.
LAUREN: Oh my god.
PAIGE: Yeah.
LAUREN: That is so predatory and it-
PAIGE: Yeah. And they do have a strong mentorship program where they’re really trying to run that, but it’s still like really guys? I don’t know. So have you recorded any of your pay talks yet?
ANGELA: Or the lightening talk?
LAUREN: The lighting talk was recorded. If I were to dig around I could provide a link, and I will probably email that to you all so that-
PAIGE: That’d be great.
LAUREN: -it can be attached to things. So that talk was recorded. I have not given a talk about — like a long forum talk about this, although I’m going to be giving one in Toronto on July 11th for Toronto AlterConf, which is funny because most of my information is based solely in like American history of labor. And so I get to dig into Canadian labor laws and labor history. It was kind of funny because I started digging into it when the hashtag was really going, like so May 1st or 2nd. But then I kind of wasn’t able to find the information I was looking for immediately and now this is pushing me to like broaden my horizons of what I know on that so that I cannot sound like the self-centered American that only we’re important.
ANGELA: That’ all the countries view us as.
LAUREN: Yeah, exactly.
PAIGE: Which is really interesting, actually. When we were at Linux Fest one of our listeners came up to us and was talking about this exact thing, but he was from Poland. He said, where we are, we don’t have the disparity in the tech field at all. Even at the university level, the classes are fairly split 50/50 and the salary diversity is all but nonexistent from what he was saying. So that might be — the international look at this might be really interesting. I love comparing what we’re doing to other modern cultures, I guess. Why it’s working and why it’s not working.
ANGELA: So, one thing I wanted to ask, we talked just before we started recording about the hashtag and I mentioned that there are a couple of twitter accounts that will anonymously post your information if you direct message them. Do you run either one of those?
LAUREN: No, actually I don’t.
ANGELA: Or any of them, I guess, there might be more than two, but I saw two immediately.
LAUREN: I don’t run any of them. That idea, I believe started because of, kind of a friend of mine. A friend of mine, Stephanie Marreo. who started collecting DMs from people. Particularly people of color and anonymizing it so that there would be less of a backlash against people of color.
ANGELA: Sure. Sure.
LAUREN: And so once she started doing that, I think other people saw that and said, you know what, we can automate this. Amusingly enough, somebody fairly recently, if I remember, used one of these twitter bots to just say butts or something. So that was kind of funny. I knew that the hashtag was going well when someone started using a tool like that to just be snide or snarky or what have you. So that was kind of funny. But no, I do not actually run any of them. So that all came about because of the conversation as a whole.
PAIGE: That’s really cool.
LAUREN: Which I am super happy about.
ANGELA: I wonder if anybody listening to this how and is interested in participating in that #Talkpay, because it’s not just on May 1st, but that will probably be a yearly thing, right? You’ll promote it, like okay it’s May 1st #Talkpay, or is it over?
LAUREN: I definitely want to continue this conversation going for as long as I possibly can.
ANGELA: Right.
LAUREN: There probably will be a push every May 1st.
ANGELA: Great.
LAUREN: To do that, because not a lot of Americans know, but May 1st is International Workers Day, which is why I picked that day in particular. Basically, as a way to kind of bring American workers, in particular, into the fold of a yearly celebration of workers as a class.
ANGELA: If you do use the #Talkpay hashtag, and I’m speaking to the audience, use also the hashtag #heywtr or #wtr so that we know.
PAIGE: Yeah, that’d be great. We’d love to hear. Perhaps we should participate.
ANGELA: Like, I’m all for open and transparency on salary, but at the same time I think I would prefer being anonymous, because I don’t really want to post like to all my family what I make. That’s still uncomfortable. I’d rather people in the industry know more than my family.
PAIGE: It’s an interesting part about American culture. We don’t like talking about money.
PAIGE: Yeah, there’s three things that we don’t like talking about and they’re also the three things we fight about the most; which is money, sex, and family.
ANGELA: Yeah. Can’t live without any of those.
LAUREN: So, what’s interesting is I kind of am still a little ambivalent about the anonymous contributions, because one of the things, one of the reasons why I started hashtag was basically to encourage people to attach their name to a number. And the reason why I wanted people to attach their name to a number is because there are already various services that Glass Door and whatnot that give ranges of salaries that people can look at if they want, but what i found ends up happening is that people from underrepresented groups who see those salary ranges find it very difficult to justify being in the higher end of those salary ranges.
PAIGE: Especially in things where it’s so huge a salary range.
PAIGE: I mean like the developer salary can start at like 50, 60 and ends up at 250.
LAUREN: Yeah, exactly. And so a lot of people have difficulties like putting themselves towards the higher end of that. And so what attaching names to these numbers actually does is they allow you to look at people and say what does this person know or do that is worth so much more than what I would value myself at. That ability to look at that is absolutely critical in being able to give someone a realistic perspective of what they should be making. Because it’s easy to say, oh I don’t know deserve $120,000 a year, because I don’t have X, Y, and Z. But when you realize that you coworker is making that much and they maybe have a year more of experience than you, or maybe they actually have less experience than you and you can look at their work and whatnot, you have something to concretely compare it to. That makes it a little bit easier to just say, you know what, I am worth that much money.
PAIGE: I totally agree. Before we go, is there anything else you wanted to throw out that the audience should follow you on or things you might be interested in that we should take a look at?
LAUREN: I dont’ know of anything in particular, but if anybody is — as a hobby I like to, as I say, play with fire doing fire ploy and fire breathing and whatnot, which is always entertaining. I don’t know of any videos of me doing it, but those are always really interesting to watch people play around with, just if you’re bored.
ANGELA: I actually, I have an online friend that does that. I know somebody.
PAIGE: Fire ploy is very awesome. That’s very cool that you do that.
LAUREN: It’s a great feeling. I’m not going to lie, but definitely don’t just try to go out and do that by yourself. There are communities for that that will teach you how to do it safely without setting yourself on fire, and definitely look around for that before trying.
PAIGE: How many times have you set yourself on fire?
LAUREN: Let’s see, I want to say about like three or four. Fortunately no accidents with fire breathing, which is probably like the most dangerous thing.
PAIGE: That is good, yeah.
LAUREN: But I have caught my hair on fire occasionally. I’ve caught my pants on fire.
PAIGE: The pants seems to be the most common one.
LAUREN: Yeah, no. That one is really, really easy to have happen. Because if you don’t have your plains just right when doing ploy, they will just brush past you, particularly in the very beginning of a set when the fuel is still very, very fresh and easily transferable.
PAIGE: I used to play fire lookout for a friend. Always have a friend at least.
LAUREN: Fire safety with a blanket ready, a fire retardant blanket ready at the — ready to go. If you don’t have that then you shouldn’t be spinning.
PAIGE: Right, awesome.
LAUREN: Yeah, so other than that no, just nothing really. I just am mostly just a giant socialist when it comes to pay transparency and worker’s rights and what have you. I also update people quite a bit on the goings on in the trans community and the LGBT community as a whole.
PAIGE: Very cool.
LAUREN: But that’s pretty much me.
PAIGE: Well, we shall have to keep an eye on hash pay or #Talkpay.
ANGELA: #Talkpay.
PAIGE: There it is. I’m not a Twitterer.
ANGELA: Twitterer.
PAIGE: i dont know if that’s a word, but I do stalk people on Twitter, but that’s about it. So thank you for so much for joining us Lauren. We shall have to get together and talk chat more again.
LAUREN: All right. Absolutely. Take care. Thanks for having me.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Remember, you can find the full transcription in the show notes. Go onto jupiterbroadcasting.com, click on Women’s Tech Radio, and just scroll down and all the transcription is right there.
PAIGE: Yeah. You can also find us on iTunes. If you’ve got a moment, please leave us a review. Let us know how you like the show or what we could do better. If you’d like to leave more direct feedback you can contact us at wtr@jupiterbroadcasting.com or find us on the contact form at jupiterbroadcasting.com. You’ll also find the RSS feed available there. And if you’d like to follow us on Twitter, we are @heywtr. Thanks so much.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter | Transcription@cotterville.net

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