#19 - Our responsibilities as leaders after the murder of George Floyd
Plus: Steps for leaders to take in emergencies; Product support in times of stress; Different one on one conversations;
Many people in our community are in pain this week. There’s another video of another Black man, George Floyd, begging for his life while being murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. Here in Toronto a Black woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, died when what should have been a routine call resulted in a mystifying number of police officers showing up. With only police officers present in her apartment, she went over her high-rise balcony to her death, with her last words being, repeatedly, “Mom, help”. This is all taking place during a pandemic which is disproportionately killing and incapacitating Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour because they have less access to jobs that can be worked from home, and are more likely to be living in overcrowded multi-generational homes.
So with news and social media being dominated by consequences of systemic racism, anti-Black violence in particular, and police violence in reaction to anti-police-brutality protests, a lot of people are feeling despair and anguish.
As managers, we are leaders of communities. Small communities, but nonetheless. We have a responsibility to members of those communities to let them know we support them and are here for them. It doesn’t take much to be small bit of genuine help to someone really struggling. But we have to initiate the conversations. Our team members won’t open up to us about these topics until we’ve demonstrated we can have some kind of adult conversation about racism.
Doing or saying something is scary for many of us from the research world — we are overwhelmingly not Black and mostly white, which is a related conversation we need to have — because we are worried, reasonably, about getting it wrong. And it’s easy to make the excuse that because we don’t have Black team members (which… you know, same) it’s not something we need to address.
But most of us don’t have team members who have gotten sick with COVID-19 either, and we’ve certainly been addressing that. It’s been hard and uncomfortable and we didn’t get it all right the first time around and we did it anyway. You don’t necessarily know who’s hurting in your team and community or why. Not addressing a topic dominating the news and social media now doesn’t project professionalism, it just suggests discomfort or indifference.
I do not have great suggestions about what to say or do. I can offer some articles and collections of resources I’m finding useful:
Anti-Racist Resource Guide - Victoria Alexander
Anti-Racism Resources - Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein
Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources - Anna Stamborski, Nikki Zimmermann, Bailie Gregory
I can also tell you what I’m doing at work. I’ve raised the issue at our all hands meeting using words much like the above, and let people know they can talk to me about it if they need to. Unhelpfully, I sounded a bit awkward, even after practicing, but the next conversation will be easier. I’ve made a point of checking in a little deeper with people during one-on-ones, and doing a lot of listening, I’m listening for feedback even when it’s uncomfortable, and I’ll keep reading those materials, and others, to see what I can do better and how I can support change.
That’s not the best or even a particularly good way to address what’s going on now and what’s been going on for a very long time. It’s the bare minimum, and started too late. The challenge will come when making changes, then advocating for more change to peers and upwards. But it’s a start.
Have you started these conversations with your team? Or even better, had your team already felt comfortable discussing these topics? How has it been going?
Now on to the link roundup.
Three Steps for Leaders to Take in Emergencies - Lara Hogan
For longtime readers, this won’t come as a surprise - it’s similar to advice that’s been given since the start of the pandemic, when people’s time and mental space was occupied by the then-new pandemic and new family care responsibilities.
The overall idea is to make as little hard demands on people’s time and mental energy as possible for things that can be done in other ways
Prioritize one-way communication
Do lightweight check-ins
And to take care of yourself:
Figure out what YOU need each week
Visualizing different one on one conversation types - Neer Sharma on Twitter
This is a good set of visualizations to keep in mind during any two-way conversation, whether it’s your one-on-ones with team members or otherwise. How does the conversation flow? Are one of you interviewing the other, or is there a more balanced interaction?
This - how even in a company with distributed offices, the challenges of moving to fully-distributed teams for a year - sounds a lot like the responses I got a couple of weeks ago about our experiences:
Communications and dynamics have changed, some are more in their element and some are much more quiet and detached
Execution of small tasks is up, planning activities are harder
Mentoring and onboarding is way harder
Managing Your Own Career
Written for new managers, but it’s always worth revisiting the basics. David Boyne gives ten items he wishes he knew earlier, with 3-6 specific tips for each:
Look after yourself
Hold effective meetings
Make time to learn (especially about management)
Keep your hand in the day to day work while you can, but…
Learn to let go
Have the team improve (retrospectives, data, individual growth)
Empower and trust the team
Connect different worlds
The idea here is compelling but I’m not sure I have the discipline to make it stick.
The argument is that notes you keep are more valuable if they’re in a that allows linking between notes like Roam or Zettlr. I could totally see that being true. But would I really make the time to cross link the notes as they’re being written?
Has anyone tried a system like this? Is it really that much better than using Apple Notes or OneNote or Evernote and searching a lot?
How you can help keep blogging alive and thriving - Marko Saric
Social media is around to stay, but with its downsides now clear, earlier web approaches to communications are coming back: blogging and small communities (then web forums, now slack communities).
You might want to have a personal blog or one one for your team or individual projects. I’m moving toward newsletters rather than my blog but I think the basic ideas are the same:
Write often, sharing what you learn and enjoy
Reach out to others doing the same that you like or are relevant
Support useful contributions
5 tips for effective customer support during a crisis - Amanda Cotter
We do a lot of customer support and many of the people we support are going through a lot - now and for the past months. Has your team seen more stressful interactions and seeming over-reaction by users and clients?
This is a set of hints for more traditional customer service roles but I think they apply to handling tickets or emails from researchers during tough times just as well:
Create a library of canned response snippets so your team doesn’t have to react in the heat of the moment as much
Figure out what the researcher really needs (e.g., avoid XY problems)
Make sure everyone is on the same page
Focus on what you can offer, not what you can’t
Internally post happy things that happen
So there’s now a pretty active community of live-coding twitch streamers. Live coding is great for teaching and training; heard of anyone doing things like this in research computing?
Malloc geiger counter - identify malloc/dealloc heavy phases of your code by listening to it.
An argument that functional programming had it wrong by focusing on the wrong abstraction, and that category theory was the way to go.
A DSL for beautiful programmatically generated mathematical diagrams.
So this new language people are talking about, Fortran, finally has an official webpage for the community.
Nice post on bfloat16, the 16 bit float with higher-range and lower-precision than IEEE’s fp16 to meet deep learning’s needs.
Fun and frustrating to watch big data communities learning things about floating point math - like Kahan sums - that the scientific computing community learns early on in their training. Frustrating because so many wheels are being re-discovered and re-invented because of scientific computing’s enthusiastic refusal to engage with these communities. I get the motivation behind “Not Invented Here”, but what’s with the “Invented Here, But You Folks Figure It Out Yourself”?
Deep dive into UEFI and how to write software to control the boot process.
And that’s it for another week.
Take care this weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your research computing team,