Alex Payne (who goes by al3x online) is a well-known software engineer, author, and investor. Alex was one of Twitter’s first employees, CTO of Simple, and a co-author of “Programming Scala.” Alex is also an Ada Initiative donor and the fourth person to become an Ada Initiative Seed 100 funder in 2011.
We interviewed Alex in August about why he thinks the Ada Initiative is important, his interests in open technology and culture, and why having more women in open tech/culture is vital.
If you agree with Alex’s opinions, will you join him in becoming an Ada Initiative supporter today? We literally can’t do our work without your donations!
Why do you think the Ada Initiative is relevant today?
There have been organizations that have worked on behalf of women in technology for some time. What’s particularly relevant about the Ada Initiative is their focus on women in open technology and culture. The last decade-plus has seen the open approach become increasingly dominant in startups, enterprises, and even non-profits and academia. Getting more people involved in creating an open world is a timely and crucial endeavor.
What are your key open technology and culture communities or projects? What do you enjoy about it?
I have a strong interest in the design and implementation of programming languages. Thankfully, languages have largely become open source projects over the past few years, and now it’s easy to participate in their development, or just observe from afar. I’m particularly interested in the Scala and Clojure communities, in part because they’re both languages with strong but fairly divergent designs and philosophies. Watching them co-evolve is educational, as the debates that inform their future directions tend to be passionate and detailed.
What benefits do you see as a result of having more women in open technology and culture?
The overarching benefit is that open technology and culture are becoming representative of the broader population in a way that more closely mirrors the world that’s benefited by that technology and culture. As producers and consumers of technology and culture reach a kind of demographic parity, I think we’ll see solutions to problems that less diverse groups of producers are more likely to overlook.
What’s the most awesome outcome of a more diverse and equitable community?
Having a balance and plurality of perspectives and opinions. Products, services, and projects of all sorts are richer for being produced by teams that are not homogeneous. As above, I think that a diverse and equitable community will yield solutions to oft-overlooked problems, and that the form of those solutions will embody an attention to detail across multiple facets.
When you need inspiration, or need to inspire others, are there any particular stories from open technology and culture that you tell?
Honestly, the history of open technology is filled with as many cautionary tales as inspiring stories. I sometimes refer to various “flame-outs” or mishandlings of open projects when speaking with people about how to grow developer communities and approach customer service. When you get a diverse and enthusiastic group of people together, friction is an inevitable byproduct. A little healthy conflict is fine as long as it’s handled with grace. Where grace is lacking, communities become exclusionary, biased, and cold. Thankfully, an open world means that we can readily learn from the mistakes of our peers.
Tell us about a woman in open tech and culture that inspires you.
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Amber Case of Geoloqi over the past two years. Amber is a fascinating example of a person with a strong academic background who’s parlayed her big ideas into an actual working product in a relatively short period of time. She’s friendly, inclusive, driven, smart, honest, and generally an absolute inspiration.
In your view, how can allies best support women?
I’ve been lucky enough to work on teams with women since my very first programming internship, and that first job shaped my expectations and standards. A woman was one of the lead engineers on the team. She was treated with the utmost respect for her technical skill, but was otherwise just another team member. To my mind, that’s a healthy approach. Nobody made a fuss about having a talented female programmer on the team; that’s simply how it was, and how it should be in many more organizations.