No brogrammers: Practical tips for writing inclusive job ads

A common problem with hiring for tech companies is that job ads often use strong, offputting language that alienates women, people of colour, and other minorities in the tech community. By paying attention to the language we use to describe ourselves, our ideal candidates, and the job responsibilities, we can broaden the net of candidates that might apply and help in some small way to tackle the tech diversity problem.

We’re trying to make our job ads more friendly and focused on human qualities rather than technical qualities. While we can always train someone in a technical skill, we can’t train someone to be a nice person. Or, maybe we can but that’s much, much harder, and it doesn’t sound like anyone would have a good time with that.

Quite a lot has been written about what to do about the problem of poor diversity in tech, but it can be hard to distill that into actionable suggestions. That’s what this post is – an attempt to show examples of what we changed and the thinking behind it.

In this post we’ll be comparing two versions of the job spec for very similar positions. Here’s the one from two years ago, and here’s the most recent version.

We used to say:

Several years of Linux sysadmin experience.

Now we say:

Significant Linux system administration experience.

The reason is that stating an amount of time is offputting to people that haven’t put in that specific amount of time. Years of experience is a proxy for learned skill, but in this case it wasn’t helping us filter candidates better and could only have been offputting to someone without “several years” of experience. “Significant” is still poorly defined (intentionally!) and hopefully less strict.

We used to say:

Your code will be exercised by 125,000 events every second, so performance is pretty important to us! A decent knowledge of common data structures and algorithms is expected.

Now we say:

An eye for performance is important – your contributions will be exercised by more than fifty billion events per day. We always have to think about how something will scale and fail.

The thinking here is that “A decent knowledge of common data structures and algorithms is expected.” is quite specific, and this could be offputting. Instead, we talk about how we have to think about things will scale and fail, which puts more of a focus on learning than already knowing the technical details. We also changed the number of events to a per-day figure – we’re very proud of our growth, but we don’t want the figure to be offputting to a potential candidate.

Where once we said:

We want to see that you know your stuff.

Now we say:

We want to see that you have relevant experience, that you like automating away repetitive work, that you have good attention to detail, an aptitude for learning new skills and that you have empathy for your team-mates and our customers.

We hope this one is obvious. What does “knowing your stuff” mean, anyway? It sounds too close to the rockstar/brogrammer/crushing it nonsense that infests the tech industry. We chose to replace this macho phrase with something better that covers relevant experience, a preference for the kind of work we do, a personality trait, a focus on learning, and empathy for colleagues and customers.

Where we used to put a burden on someone by saying:

You’ll need to help us scale them individually, …

We now say:

We’ll need your help to scale them individually, …

This seems minor, but turning this around makes it clear which direction the responsibility and contribution goes. It’s not that you need to help us, it’s that we need your help. Instead of having a burden dumped on you individually, maybe you can help the team work on this problem?

 

We make a point of saying that we care about the health of our employees:

We want healthy, well rested ops people.

Some early feedback on this blog post pointed out that the word ‘healthy’ here might feel exclusionary to someone with a disability. After some thought, this was changed to ‘relaxed’:

We want relaxed, well rested ops people.

This isn’t quite the same as what we meant by ‘healthy’ because on-call work can damage one’s mental and physical health and we wanted to point out that that we care about this, but ‘relaxed’ and ‘well rested’ convey most of it and are good enough. Suggestions appreciated!

 

Where we previously implied good communication skills:

We have one co-founder living in the US and we use IRC, Workflowy and video chat tools like appear.in to keep in touch.

We now explicitly state it:

Most of the team works out of the Dublin office, but we’re flexible about working from home and one of our co-founders is living in the US, so we’re partially remote and we have to be good at communicating. We use Slack, Google Docs, Trello, Workflowy and video chat tools like appear.in to keep in touch.

The thinking here is that we wanted to mention that we’re flexible about working from home which is better for families, and we explicitly say that we “have to be good at communicating.” We’re not saying that we are good at communicating, just that the business recognises that we have to be, so you can expect supportive and communicative colleagues that won’t make working from home any harder than it has to be.

 

As a small and growing company, we didn’t offer health insurance two years ago but we do now, and we wanted to make sure to point out that it includes family cover:

Health insurance for you and your family.

 

In both job ads, we said:

We’d like to see some of your code, but it’s not essential.

We understand that not everyone will have published code – we recognise that open source male privilege is real, and some people are discouraged from publishing code because of that. Other people may not be able to publish code due to their employer’s privacy requirements, or are just too busy spending time with their family to code the evenings away.

 

Finally, we used to say:

No ninjas, rockstars or brogrammers, please.

This is amusing and captures our opposition to Silicon Valley rockstar/brogrammer culture well, but for a job ad that’s all about inclusiveness it felt a little odd. So we made it better:

No ninjas, rockstars or brogrammers, please; just nice, caring humans.

Of course if you actually practice martial arts, play in a rock band, or enjoy coding *and* going to the gym, you are welcome here. It’s just the “bro culture” and hiring “ninjas and rockstars” trends we’re not keen on. 🙂

There you go, those are some of the thoughts that went into our most recent job ad. We think our old job ad was already pretty good (and many people have told us so!) but we tried to make the latest one more inclusive and to focus more on the individual, learning, family, and support. We tried to remove elements of competition or hard technical requirements, and to keep the job ad buzzword nonsense to a minimum.

So how we are doing? What can we improve for next time? Let us know by tweeting at @HostedGraphite.