Thursday, August 17, 2017

Google and “The Memo”.

I’ve worked in tech for a long time. Almost 20 years now. Being a manager in tech is interesting in difficult. When you get to a certain level of complexity, cowboy coders and individual performance starts to take a second priority. Team work and the ability to work as a team becomes the primary way you solve problems at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google scale. As a result, I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand how to get more productivity out of larger teams.

Which is why I find the Google memo that has “rocked” the tech world so interesting. I don’t want to discuss the memo. You can find all sorts of interesting analysis of the memo here, and here, and … oh just google it. I want to discuss the analysis and structure of making arguments, and why I am so disappointed in this world of click bait headlines.

Diversity and Inclusion at Pintrest
One model of reviewing argument, debate and convincing media is with the Toulmin model. The Toulmin model breaks an argument down into its claim, reasoning, evidence, and warrant. These are useful tools for dissecting the argument into meaningful chunks that can be looked at critically, dispassionately, and as objectively as possible. The google memo is 10 pages of something that can be readily broken down this way. It has some sub-arguments, and other interesting tidbits, but at a high-level, the claim is that forced diversity is unsustainable. The reasoning is that forcing diversity implies that everyone can do the same jobs, but not everyone has the same capabilities, and you will eventually exhaust the pool of "diverse" candidates that can perform the job. The evidence goes through a sea of anecdotes, topical scientific research, and interpretations that may or may not reflect the current state of the art in sociology and behavioral science. Visit those other links for that analysis. His warrant is that anything unsustainable is bad or at the very least needs to be accepted as unsustainable. If readers had broken down his argument this way, a valid conversation could be had.

None of the popular articles on this seemed to have viewed it that way. The headlines didn’t approach the memo that way. They focused on phrases like “de-emphasize empathy” and other phrases and keywords designed to make you react. They focused on how difficult it would be for this engineer to be on a team. They cast everything as hostile, but few of the first responses broke down the argument to discuss the argument. They only reacted to what they saw.  I can understand that, it went viral on social media faster than people can read and critically analyze it. Everyone was just tweeting and reacting. Even some scientists weighed in, using biased language and rather condescending statements. 

I disagree with the claim in the memo. I don’t see how the evidence backs up his claim, but I do see where he tried to make a valid argument. If the argument had opened up a discussion instead of creating a maelstrom, I think we could make some real progress on the situation of diversity. But James doesn’t see his own logical fallacies and the world is too busy yelling at him or cheering at him for the conversation to be effective.
Random chart showing how little we help each other online.

There are real issues with diversity, inclusion, and just plain being supportive that need to be addressed. This just doesn't seem to be the conversation to actually get us to address them.