The Relicans

Cover image for Pay Equity and Death Stacks: Forestalling The Revolution with Zee Spencer
Mandy Moore
Mandy Moore

Posted on

Pay Equity and Death Stacks: Forestalling The Revolution with Zee Spencer

Co-owner of Cohere, Engineering Executive, and Parallel Entrepreneur, Zee Spencer, talks with Relican’s Host Jonan Scheffler, about working to solve hard problems like solving pay inequity and making sure that companies are compensating people in a way that allows them to live securely socioeconomically and structuring systems where people are psychologically safe and supported emotionally by using the Cynefin model/framework.

Should you find a burning need to share your thoughts or rants about the show, please spray them at devrel@newrelic.com. While you’re going to all the trouble of shipping us some bytes, please consider taking a moment to let us know what you’d like to hear on the show in the future. Despite the all-caps flaming you will receive in response, please know that we are sincerely interested in your feedback; we aim to appease. Follow us on the Twitters: @PolyglotShow.

play pause Polyglot

Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Polyglot, proudly brought to you by New Relic's developer relations team, The Relicans. Polyglot is about software design. It's about looking beyond languages to the patterns and methods that we as developers use to do our best work. You can join us every week to hear from developers who have stories to share about what has worked for them and may have some opinions about how best to write quality software. We may not always agree, but we are certainly going to have fun, and we will always do our best to level up together. You can find the show notes for this episode and all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. Thank you so much for joining us. Enjoy the show.

Welcome back to Polyglot. I am Jonan, and I am joined today by my friend, Zee Spencer. How are you, Zee?

Zee Spencer: I’m doing pretty well. How are you doing?

Jonan: I am pandemic-fine, the expression that you gave me actually right before this call. I borrowed that one. That's a really good one. I got to write some code today. We have electricity and water, altogether a good week.

Zee: 2021 really comes at us fast, doesn’t it? [chuckles]

Jonan: It sure does, my goodness. Where are you located? Were you affected by these winter storms?

Zee: No, I’m in San Francisco. My winter storm warning was, oh, I got a little bit of rain, and it went down to 51.

Jonan: Ooh.

Zee: But don't worry. Come July or August, I’m sure I won't be able to breathe because of forest fires because ain't nobody safe in a collapsing socio-economic system. [chuckles]

Jonan: Yeah. It's kind of everywhere, isn't it? We had a bunch of fires up here in Oregon. I went into the hardware store to buy some filters predicting that this would come through. Every summer, we get some level of smoke. I picked up a couple, but then I went back the next day when it became clear that I was burning about one a day, and they were just gone; everything was gone. And the smoke just got worse and worse. We actually had a fire burning a couple of miles from my house here. I'm just in the burbs, though, and it's like, are you really a threat of wildfire in the burbs? Rare circumstance. Not a fun summer altogether. Things are getting better, though.

Today we are ostensibly here to talk about software-ish things on Polyglot more about, I guess, higher-level discussions around software, the kinds of things that concern our industry, and maybe larger software concepts than just any individual tool or language. I am really glad that you're here on the show, but I do also want you to feel free to take it in whatever direction you want. What have you been up to lately, maybe?

Zee: So my day job is I work with tech companies to shift towards a more collectively organized structure. So two days a week, I work with one client that is a bootstrap SaaS company. And we solve really hard problems like how do we solve pay inequity? How do we actually make sure that we are compensating people in a way that allows them to live securely, like socioeconomically secure? How do we survive in a system that really wants to encourage people to follow practices that are specifically designed for 10x-focused organizations? So organizations that grow aggressively have a different set of needs and wants in order to function. So I do a lot of conversations with people about, oh, what is your mental model? How are you valuing time? How are you valuing your peers? Like, what are the actual revenues of the organization, and what is the budget? How do we come together along with these things? And figure that out. Because if we're happy making our six-figure salaries as engineers and we've got a bunch of people who are making 30 grand a year, eventually, they're going to come for us, right?

Jonan: Right.

Zee: I don't want to be the first against the wall. When the revolution comes, I would like to stall the revolution out by making sure everyone has what they need as soon as possible and building these mutually beneficial, enthusiastically consensual workplaces. And so that's what I mostly do. And then sometimes I get to write code still. [chuckles]

Jonan: Nice. This is, I think, the frustration of doing – eventually, in this industry, you write code for long enough, and eventually, someone comes along, and it's like, “Wow, your perspective would be valuable doing this other type of work.” And they almost trick you into it in the beginning, but it is equally fulfilling in many ways. This particular work that you're doing sounds really fulfilling, and I hope that when the revolution comes, you will just stand up and be like, “Yeah, Jonan is all right.”

Zee: [chuckles]

Jonan: “I know he wasn't in the meeting where we fixed everyone's salaries, but he is okay. We will just kill him third or fourth.”

Zee: [chuckles] Yeah, and the queue is actually probably going to be a stack. So we'll just keep adding people to the front of the stack, and then they’ll get popped off. It's like, all right, that's probably safer anyway. [chuckles]

Jonan: We won’t ever get down to the bottom. It’s fine. So we're great. So this discussion is actually really interesting to me because I think about all of the pieces that are involved there. It's not as simple as just saying, “Well, for a given level of experience, we are going to pay everyone the same,” because then you have to actually define how that level of experience fits into value for the company. If you come in at a junior software engineer role or a software engineer role, or a senior software engineer role, what do those mean? You've got to talk about leveling and be real strict in defining what those levels are. Is that the kind of thing that you do with people, or is it a different kind of discussion?

Zee: That's really important. But you can't have that conversation until you have the first order conversation about “Hey, what is your annual spend?” And either if that annual spend is subsidized by investment or whether it's generated via revenue. You have to look at the distribution of cash within the system. So let's say you've got a five-person team and you've raised two-million dollars; how do you compensate this five-person team? Well, if you've got two-million dollars, you need to make sure that lasts six years or four years until you raise your next round. You can't; unless you already have a mechanism for generating significant revenues, you can't just pay everyone 250 grand or 125 grand or whatever.

And so the first kind of conversation is thinking about how much of our annual budget can safely go towards comp. And then how do we distribute that so that people are socioeconomically secure? And then how do we make sure that we are rewarding the people who are showing up with a higher degree of treasure or experience or talent or a network or whatever, that they have enough compensation going their way to feel like they're being valued appropriately? Because you don't want people feeling like, oh, why would I work there? It's not going to pay me what I'm worth. But you also don't want people who are aggressively chasing that I'm going to get the 250, then I'm going to get 400, then I'm going to get 600, especially if you're starting an early-stage organization or a smaller organization that has limited revenue potential.

Jonan: So you're not targeting the blind crowd, for example. The people who trade salary negotiation advice on blind are typically like, “Which FAANG company should I join? At which level? Which manager did you hear is easy to get in with so I can get the highest salary and the highest stock?” And then onto the next one. It's like a race to a million dollars a year. And I get that. I get that you want that security, but that has very little to do with how I choose companies where I work, honestly.

Zee: And I believe that none are free until all are free. So as long as somebody in the organizations at work is worried about housing security or worried about food security, then the work isn't done. And so oftentimes, that gets left behind by people who are chasing that million. So if you've got an $800,000 or $500,000 a year budget for compensation, and someone's like, “The market rate for a senior engineer is 250,” well, you can have one engineer, maybe two, right? [chuckles]

Jonan: Yeah.

Zee: And then you can't have anybody else. But an organization has a bunch of complexity in it. So just like computer programmers have a lot of specialized skills around shifting bits between systems and making sure that the one is in the right spot and the zero is in the right spot, because that's really all we do, there are organizational requirements like, how do I structure this system so that people are psychologically safe and that they're supported emotionally? Not necessarily in a weird way, but in a you're not being ignored and taken for granted as a person in this organization. And you also have customer development. So you have at least three key functions of any organization. And when you've got one side of that that's taking a significant chunk, and you only have 500 grand to play with, where does that other money come from? Or do you ask your engineers to be customer team people as well as organizational operations team people? Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but it's a really hard problem.

Jonan: Interesting. It is a hard problem, certainly. And you were drawn towards this work, or it appeared before you, or how did you end up here from the software side? I think I see from here why it's appealing to you because, ultimately, it is a system. It's another quite difficult challenge to solve. It's that same high that I get when I find a bug in my code, and I go back and over and over again. I've now transmuted that into excitement for building a team and helping the team succeed. Did it fall in front of you, or did you seek it out?

Zee: I like to reframe this question as, “where were you radicalized?” [laughter]

Jonan: That's a good way to do it.

Zee: I've been programming since I was like 12. I had QBasic books that I'd get from the library, and I would go in and go typity, typity, ten print, hello, 20 go to 10. And then just hello, hello, hello, hello. That was my first program, and I was very, very excited. What inspired me to do that was because I wanted to make something. I didn't program because I wanted to program. I programmed because I wanted something to exist that didn't exist before. I'm deeply motivated by creativity. And so I learned web development, just mostly web development, I guess at this point. I tried to learn game development, but it doesn't pay very well, and I did have to eat. [laughs] And so I did that for a long time. And then you do the traditional thing where you bounce between senior engineer and engineering manager or senior engineer and engineering manager, and you go back and forth because they both have different aspects of fulfillment.

And at some point, I realized that the universe that I want to create isn't a technical problem. I can't code my way into a universe where everyone has the basic things that they need. I can't program a basic income system. I can't code out a food stamp system, although I did actually work on a food stamp system, but it didn't solve the social problem of people don't want to pay for people to have food because what's in it for me? Which is a really kind of bad mental model, but that's the underlying assumption. So as I learned that, I got more and more frustrated.

And then, I also was working as a very senior engineer at a Fintech company. And I was finally in a position where I could bring in the people I liked, bringing in people who cared about other people. Like, we're building this beautiful, empathetic team, and then JPMorgan Chase moonwalks, and he’s like, “Hey baby, I'm going to screw you over.” They added demands and shifted schedules. The people who I was working with were getting brutalized. And these are people who I invested so much energy and time into building relationships with and bringing on. And it's just awful. And so, at this point, I realized that as a white dude, I have a lot of power in the economic system. I can show up, and I can say things, and people will applaud just because I'm a large, white dude with a beard, right?

Jonan: [chuckles] Yeah.

Zee: And that encouraged me to step out of the programming side and step into the how do I understand the business system and the organizational dynamic system enough that I can go toe to toe with somebody who's really adamant about getting the next round of funding? And be like, “No, if you do this, you are going to hurt the people that you've brought on. You're going to hurt your business. And maybe you'll make a lot of money, but there will be bodies left behind.” And I want to be able to communicate that without being an ass, but I also don't want to be able to ignore it. And so I don't want to say I lucked into it. It wasn't all luck. I did make some decisions. But a lot of it was just circumstances and privilege and having the ability to step back and look at the problem at a bigger scale. And that's how I moved into this spot.

Jonan: Wow. So there are a lot of things that I want to talk about through this last piece. We have the privilege piece, and we definitely owe that some conversations. So let's come back around to that because I want to talk about privilege in tech certainly. But the piece where you were saying, “Well, yeah, you may make a lot of money, but you're going to leave some bodies behind.” I think that I have certainly been called naive for this view, but I think that there is a middle ground.

I work in Developer Relations. I'm primarily focused on creating value for the communities that I support and the people around me and making more developers and making those developers happy and have good lives. And there is also this part where it'd be great if a corporation decided to pay everyone's paychecks while we did that work. And convincing a business that it serves their interests to focus on community growth is a difficult thing. We don't really have a line item in the spreadsheet that is like; there’s the money. That is the thing. I mean, you can do some work in DevRel. There are ways to measure DevRel, and it's difficult, but it's certainly possible. And we converted this many people into customers, sure, but it's less tangible than in some other roles. So what I'm getting at here is talking to business leaders who have a tremendous responsibility. I can't imagine the way that it feels to show up to work in the morning having hired a whole company. You've got 300 people whose day-to-day you are responsible for. If your business goes down, you've got 300 people out looking for work who maybe can't feed their families. That's a lot of responsibility to take on. So, how do you frame things to show people the value here that actually valuing the human beings who work for you and having empathy for their real needs is beneficial to your company from a financial perspective?

Zee: The good news is I don't have to solve that problem. So the Harvard Business Review and a bunch of other really big name entities have demonstrated that when you are inside of a -- I don't know if you've heard of the Cynefin model.

Jonan: I haven't, but I am taking notes, the Cynefin model. We'll link to it.

Zee: Okay. So the Cynefin model basically states that there are five functional zones of existence, so to speak. You'll have a simple zone of existence. You'll have a complicated zone of existence. You’ll have a complex zone of existence. You'll have a…I lost the fourth one zone of existence. And then you have the chaotic zone of existence. When you apply the Cynefin model as a sense-making strategy for solving problems, you see that, oh, most problems in software companies or in technology companies or in emerging companies like startups or anything like that are not simple. They might appear simple, but once you dig into them, they are not. And so if you want to approach and solve chaotic, complex, or complicated problems like the three core zones, which are not necessarily the core zones but the three zones where there is money to be made -- Because if it's a simple problem, someone's going to solve it, automate it, and move on. If it's a complex problem, you might be able to automate it, but you'll probably have to pick apart...

When you're inside of the chaotic zone, you need to have a culture where people are able to be engaged with the work effectively, and so this idea of psychological safety becomes really key. And psychological safety isn't just oh, I don't feel stressed. Psychological safety is, oh, I am supported in my work. I have the agency to step up and point things out and not get smacked down. I can be present, and I'm not present in the oh, I'm going to share my horrible story, and this horrible thing happened or blah, blah, blah; it’s I can be present, I can show up. I don't have to worry. So if you are operating in the highest revenue potential area, the chaotic/complex/complicated zones, you need to focus on psychological safety. And psychological safety comes in no small part from socioeconomic security.

And that kind of research and modeling has already been figured out by people who are smarter than me and better at math. And generally, what we wind up talking more about is hey, in this instance, what are the things that are preventing the people at the organization from being psychologically safe? And two, what are the things in the organization that are preventing people from collaborating and working together to solve problems? Because if you're siloed intellectually, oh, we are all engineers, we solve engineering problems; then you are missing all of the metacognition that occurs when you're working across domains. And that's also stuff that generally executives either get it or they won't, and no amount of convincing will actually convince them. If they get it great, if they don't, I'll see you in 10 years when you're looking for a job because your startup went under [chuckles] is something that I can say as a person of privilege. I don't know if that answered your question; I apologize.

Jonan: No, it did, actually. The psychological safety piece, in particular, I think to make that a little more concrete, I think we've all been a part of that brainstorming meeting with the manager who in the last brainstorm meeting was like, “Nah, that's not a great idea. No, I don't like that one.” They set up a brainstorm as an idea buffet for themselves to consume the bits that they want and shut the others out. But what that does is it sets up a situation where I don't feel safe speaking up. And even to get to that meeting, I need to feel safe in my day-to-day so that I can focus on the work at hand, and I need to feel supported. I need to have the safety of that group behind me before I can really start to solve any complex problems. And in a particularly chaotic environment, that becomes more important if I am correctly understanding your point there.

Zee: Yeah.

Jonan: So then there's this piece of privilege. And unusual as it might be, I hope it's more common than I think, but to have a couple of white guys on a podcast talking about privilege is quite a thing. But let's just touch on it a little bit here because I think that there is, first of all, 101 level here. There are a lot of people who believe that “I've worked for what I have and therefore privilege doesn't apply to me.” I'm going to basically ignore that level for now because you're wrong. You are where you are in part because of who you are. So if someone is unfamiliar with this concept of privilege, what would you give them on the 201 level and give them something to think about and how it has affected their careers and how they can pay that privilege forward or, I guess, leverage that to do good in the world?

Zee: I think the biggest light bulb moment for me with privilege was it's not necessarily like, oh, look at where I am. Yay, I got here. It's more about looking at what I am insulated from. So we live in interesting times and those interesting times are not particularly good for a lot of people. In the last literally 12 months, hundreds of thousands of people have died disproportionally from non-white neighborhoods. If you look at the death toll, if you're a white person, you were insulated significantly more from COVID-19 than if you're not a white person. And so this insulation from harm caused by socioeconomic and systemic structures is a really key part of what privilege is. And so as a relatively senior software engineer working in a tech company in an economy where the programmers of the world are the highest value job position that you can have, showing up and acknowledging that where I'm at is a relatively safe space even though it might not always feel good and even though I might have to have uncomfortable conversations about how race and gender dynamics within the broader organization and broader society fucked things up. Just being able to be comfortable and safe in that is an opportunity for you to step in and not speak over or speak for people, but by taking the heat and taking the flack and being like, “Hey, it's really fucked up that we have some people who work here who are struggling to make rent on a studio apartment because we pay them 45 grand a year.” And the cost of living according to MIT, which we love MIT, we hire from them all the time, says you need to be making 65k to have a living wage in this particular city. And so that's the kind of thing that I think is key about leveraging privilege is noticing the real pain and being willing to accept that you're probably insulated from consequences because if you're a white dude, you probably are especially if you can type with your T-Rex arms.

Jonan: Yeah, if you can type the codes, then you are presented with more opportunities to stand up and say the things that maybe people couldn't say and speaking for themselves because they are less shielded from the impacts of those actions. So working in tech and making these changes, I think, has pretty significantly shaped you as a human being, just to put it mildly. But I suspect that you are motivated to do this for your own personal reasons in addition to what I would I guess are altruistic ones, right? You are here to make the world better. But personally, for you, why is that? What is it that you are looking for, for yourself, if you were trying to find a selfish thing here?

Zee: I just want to live a peaceful life. [chuckles] I want to work three or four days a week. I want to have enough money that I can spend a bit on going out to eat. I want to be able to throw house parties. I want to have friends who are safe. I want to be in a position where I'm not afraid that if I lose my job, I will be homeless, and I'll be hungry. And so, so much of that lack is caused by a system that encourages overconsumption and encourages you got to get yours, or you will die. That is the American economic system. And maybe this is not selfish enough, but I just don't want to live with that crushing existential dread anymore, please. [laughs] It would be nice to be happy once in a while.

Jonan: Yeah. I think it's really hard for a lot of Americans to imagine a world where they don't have to worry that they're not going to have a home and they don't have to worry that they're not going to have healthcare, and they don't have to worry that their kids won't get an education that those things are just given. You live in a modern society, and that's what you get. And then what? What are you going to spend your days doing if you are not driven by fear to make more money to protect yourself from a world where you could be put out of business as a family by another business going out of business? You could get kicked out the door of your company, and most Americans wouldn't make it six months if they weren't able to find another job. And that imbalance drives a lot of what we do as a society. I think that it causes a lot of the other unpleasantness, all of the complaints that we have around the American workweek, for example, which is, now that we're at home, I've noticed maybe 10 or 12 hours a day, no lunches because we can just make Zoom calls whenever we want. How's that been for you? Have you felt that change? You work for yourself now. So, have you been able to manage that well during the pandemic?

Zee: One of the advantages of being a serial burnout is you learn to have better boundaries, and you learn to recognize when you just can't even. And so I take a two-hour lunch every day from 12:00 to 2:00. In that time, I normally go for a run, do some yoga, read a book. And I also work short days. I do like 8:00 to 12:00 or 10:00 to 12:00, and then I do 2:00 to 4:00 or 2:00 to 6:00. That's my schedule. And I literally just block the time on my calendar, and then Google does the work for me. Like, it sets my boundaries. [chuckles] But clients have needs, people have needs, and I'm lucky to be in a position and privileged to be in a position where my no is respected because a lot of people’s no just isn't because there's important stuff to do. And that important stuff will pull you in no matter what you say or do because of the constant threat of, well, if you don't, guess what? See you later, buddy.

Jonan: I feel like my no is less respected looking at my calendar where I have like three overlapping meetings that I've been invited to. They just ignore all the boxes on the calendar, in my case, it seems. I think that a lot of people overadjusted towards this remote work. I mean, so many people are new to it. We, as an industry, we’re not by and large remote companies. We had more than a lot of people. And now you've got bankers trying to figure out how to do this thing, and everyone is on there. It’s part of why the Zoom stock is through the roof. But we're not doing it very well. I think there are a lot of lessons learned with remote work. How much of your career have you spent doing this? Have you done remote work often in the past?

Zee: Let's see. I think the last office gig I had was three years ago, and that was the first office gig I had for three years before that. So I'm remote for about 6 to 10 years. It's like a remote-first kind of approach.

Jonan: What kind of advice would you have for people around that? We're pretty far removed [chuckles] from where we started this conversation. But I'm really curious to know because I have my own thoughts and feelings about what makes a good remote work culture but especially with respect to preserving psychological safety and space to breathe. You're right that not every one of us is going to have the opportunity to live the way that you are. What would you say?

Zee: As a person, modeling is important because, as human beings, the way we learn and experience the world is a reflection of the people around us. So there's a quote I believe it is Angela Davis that says, “We are the heroes that we are looking for.” And the most important thing we can do in regards to having a healthy, psychological, safe work environment is to think about consent and think about how are we demonstrating respect for the consent of other people? So that we can see other people starting to respect our consent or our lack of consent. And that I think is the responsibility of the people who have more power within an organization. If we're the manager and we're like, “You need to respect my consent to say no to our subordinates or our peers,” then we're just kind of assholes at that point. [laughs] But if we're the manager and we're like, “Hey, I want to make sure that I'm not overreaching here. And I know that your calendar is really busy. Are you sure that a 4:00 o'clock call today is good even though it might take us till 5:30? And I know you've been on since 8:00,” at least making it really explicit is really important to demonstrate that you see the reality that people are living with and that you understand and respect it and that you're willing to accommodate their needs instead of asking them to accommodate our own. I don't know if that was useful.

Jonan: That was very useful, actually. I think it speaks to me directly right where I am here. I'm building this team of people who are preparing for a world where we're going to have to be on the road. We have a team of 10 DevRels here. We might have a day where we're trying to have a meeting, and someone's in London, and someone's in Tokyo, and someone is in Moscow. And how are we going to manage that? Well, my solution was to build this results-only work environment where we are focused on the output of our efforts rather than the butts in seats mentality that I so despise. And yet, because we operate in a company that still has schedules and people who are used to these times zones and many of them around the world are now going to offices, there's this conflict. And so I end up being in a position where I'm working extra hours, maybe, but more often just weird hours. And as a manager, then I'm not setting a great example when I send that email at 11:00 p.m. or 1:00 a.m. But that's because I just got to spend the evening with my family, and I took some time and stepped away, and I had a slow day during the day. Maybe I went and took a nap. I want that flexibility of schedule, and demonstrating to my team that I want them to have that too is difficult because what they see is the Slack conversation in the afternoon and then the email late at night. And they assume that I just worked a 16 or 18-hour day. So it does speak well to where I am right now. And I think I have some strategies to deal with that, but that's kind of a hard problem to solve, really.

Zee: Moving away from the cult of immediacy is really important. Slack is not named appropriately. It is not adding slack to the system. It is adding tension to the system because it's like, oh, now I can see a timestamp of the exact moment when you interacted with somebody else. What if instead of Slack sending the messages as you send them, as you wrote them out, it queued them up and then emptied the buffer, and it was like, oh, this is your morning news. And like, okay, cool, I'm caught up now. And you're working in an asynchronous, less immediate system. But that takes number one; it takes being willing to embrace technologies that aren't about going fast. And moving fast and breaking things is a fundamental part of the Silicon Valley dysfunction that has been exported to most technology organizations across the world at this point. And it also requires accepting a lack of control, and that is a thing that management theory for the last two centuries is all about exerting control and finding a focal point that you can just apply leverage so that you can take this particular point or take this particular strategic objective within the organization. It's a lot of unwinding of these very intense norms essentially and structures.

Jonan: I agree with you about Slack. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I actually quite like having this Slack-based workflow. But it does leave a desire for asynchronous flow some of the time, and the rest of the time, there's this urgency. You feel like you've got to respond to that little red number as soon as it pops up. I think that this was something that DHH of Basecamp brought up the other day that they created this chat culture around their work and then several years later looked back and said, “Oh gosh, what have we done? Like, this was a terrible plan.” This idea where things are queued up, I feel like there's a startup here. This could be your next project when you finish up with all of the work you're doing now. I very much look forward to a day where we are getting a better hang of remote work and understanding the complexities of those things and how they impact the mental health and the psychological safety of the entire company so that we can just get to a place where we're able to do good work. That's really what it's about. I don't think there are many people who go to work looking to be unfulfilled.

We have reached nearly the end of our show here. And I am curious if you have any advice for people who maybe are starting out in their careers today and they have rather a long road to end up where you are. What tips would you have for them? If I've just gotten out of school and just gotten my first job in software, what would you advise me to focus on?

Zee: In the words, I believe, of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Protect your neck.” So there are going to be a lot of people who are telling you you're doing it wrong, and you aren't doing programming right because you didn't learn this particular thing. Or you're not doing whatever ethical belief system that you might have right because you're not doing it in the way that they're telling you you have to. And the most important thing when you're operating from a perspective of limited power is to play the game that you're good at. Don't worry about playing the game that other people are good at; play the game you're good at. Yes, you do need to learn how to work with the systems that are around you but don't let some asshole on Twitter tell you, “Oh, you're working at Facebook? You're such a sellout,” because Facebook pays you money and you need to live. You need to survive. And so there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, and there is no ethical production under capitalism. Protect your neck, survive. Make sure that as you are working your way forward that you are making sure that you're looking out for the people around you. And that is how we win.

Jonan: Yeah, that is how we win. That's really good advice. I'll take that advice myself. I think that the one comment I have about the Twitter piece, though, the jerks on Twitter, I think later on in your career, you start to realize that they really are the ones who have the least value to add in a workplace, the ones who are pretty regularly putting down the others around them, or trying to include them as pieces in their own game, rather than letting them have their own game. That's something you get a little more tired of as the years pass. Well, thank you very much, Zee, for coming on the show today, and I really appreciate it. I want to give you an opportunity to come back on the show in maybe a year or so and tell us about all of these adventures if you would be interested.

Zee: I'm always happy to shoot the shit about co-ops and worker ownership and developing a culture of inclusivity at your organization. I'm not an expert. I am a level two in this particular realm, but my hope is that the more engineers recognize the power we have and the more we let go of the fear that threat-based economic systems rely on, the better world our grandkids will have and our great-grandkids. The digital era is going to unlock so much economic potential, and we're wasting so much. I want to see a better world, and I know that we're going to get there. It's just going to take decades. So yeah, I'm always happy to come back and talk about that shit.

Jonan: Well, I'm going to be happy to have you. Where can people find you on the internet if they wanted to talk to you about these things?

Zee: So you can find me on Twitter as @zspencer: Z-S-P-E-N-C-ER. I also am pretty active on Mastodon, which is like a Twitter alternative, @zee@wandering.shop Z-E-E @wandering.shop. My absolutely favorite communication medium at the moment is email [chuckles] because I can write longer-form thoughtful things. And so, if you want to send me an email, go to zee@zeespencer.com, and I will probably respond within a week, maybe two depending on how my life is at the moment.

Jonan: Thank you again. I hope you have a wonderful day, Zee.

Zee: Thank you, Jonan.

Jonan: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. You'll also find news there of FutureStack, our upcoming conference here at New Relic. We would love to have you join us. We'll see you next week. Take care.

Discussion (0)