Please don't stick to tech

March 09, 2020

A plant grows in the middle of the desert

I was about 11 years old when I took my first crack at working with web technology. I can still recall the simple pleasure of inserting some markup and create something unique to my little corner of the web. At that point I wasn’t really allowed to “surf” the web but did manage to get a few tips from my brother and some recycled printed out sections from the HTML Goodies website. I’d finally get my hands on a printed version of the 1st edition by Joe Burns from a school library a few years later and it greatly improved my web learning experience.

That is one thing that I’ve always loved about this industry, the willingness of smart and talented people that spend their time creating content to share them to teach others. These same people that are so willing to provide these insights often are requested to leave their personal opinions aside, or to put it another way, “Stick to tech.”

“Stick to Tech”

I recall being very frustrated by Lea Verou feeling the need to tweet her frustrations of how “people like to hear your tech tips but want to shut you up when it comes to other matters.” We all know it to be true, but it is very hard to separate your personal and professional lives, but many people seem to have an expectation of this. This distinction is especially true for those who are underrepresented in their industry and are the target of bias.

When Scott Hanselman had a similar statement told to him he made a very clear and important point that I’d like to re-iterate, “When following someone on Twitter, follow the whole person, their diverse interests, and their life. Not just the topic they’re known for.”

We’re an industry built on tutorials and learning from one another when it comes to designing or programming; so why should these learnings be limited to tech? There are many things that we can learn from one another by encouraging the sharing of diverse viewpoints on a broad range of topics: race, religion, sexual orientation, politics, personal passions or general life? By trying to constrain someone to single topic you are not only limiting the potential for you to grow but also the potential for someone else.

I can’t imagine

Greg with his daughter Rachel in the warm summer

I say all this because these words that are spoken or written can be powerful tools to improve our industry, possibly beyond, and help others that are dealing with the same situations. I learned this most recently in the loss of my thirteen-year-old daughter. In 2014, I saw a tweet by Eric Meyer informing his twitter followers that his little girl, Rebecca, had passed away. All I could muster was “So, so sorry Eric.”

I felt as though I knew Eric and Rebecca even though, at the time, I had never met either of them because Eric chronicled that rough journey and still does to this day on his blog. I remember telling my wife that I can’t imagine living through what Eric and his family were going through.

When my daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2018, my wife and I discussed how to keep the many people inquiring about Rachel and the family informed with as little burden on us as possible. I brought up Eric’s raw honesty and view into the journey and the impact that it had on me and many others and we agreed that we should go the same route.

Through this journey, we’ve received many responses, similar to what I saw Eric receive during his journey and we are very glad that we shared Rachel’s story as it has likewise had a positive impact on others.

Now, with her passing and we begin to figure out how to live life without her I find myself re-reading these lines from Eric’s blog post, ”Half a decade“:

“Being used to this hurts, when I think about it. So I try not to think about it, and that hurts too. Not like a sword through the heart, not like unending fire, more like a dull ache. My aging body is starting to produce more and more of those. I resent it for living years beyond what Rebecca got. Snarl at reality for offering no way to give my years to her.”

Now being on this side of: having her laughing in my room; saying, “Thank you daddy;” apologizing for being up at all hours of the night vomiting; not having the energy to walk downstairs; play with her puppy; or playing a game of connect four I can say with certainty that I truly couldn’t imagine this pain. But I know that I am so incredibly thankful to Eric for sharing his journey with Rebecca with us so that I could have some words of wisdom to use in my struggle neither of us knew I would walk when he wrote those words.

Share un-apologetically

I know this probably comes off as obvious to many of you, but since I continue to see people asking or generous tech folks lamenting being told to ”stick to tech” (this search doesn’t capture the other ways in which people request this) I figured I’d follow my own thinking and share my story.

Much like Eric, we all have our own journeys that we can share, and they are filled with all manner of ups and downs. We never know who will benefit from sharing our stories so share them boldly and un-apologetically as they will have an impact and will help make our industry better.

Please, don’t stick to tech.

Special thanks to Melanie Richards, Lea Verou, Eric Meyer and Scott Hanselman for their review and feedback