I am an internationally known speaker, writer, and developer with over 25 years of experience in software engineering. I was recognized for my work on diversity in open source with a Ruby Hero award in 2016. I'm the creator of the Contributor Covenant, the most popular open source code of conduct in the world with over 40,000 adoptions. I'm a founding panelist on the Greater than Code podcast. I'm also co-authoring a book on practicing empathy in software development, and I write and record music in my home studio. Find me on Twitter at @CoralineAda or on the web at where.coraline.codes.View the profile
About the talk
RailsConf 2019 - Programming Empathy: Emotional State Machines by Coraline Ada Ehmke
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As developers, empathy for our users, our coworkers, and members of our community is an undervalued skill, since expressing emotions is often perceived as a weakness. But responding to the emotions of others is critical to working successfully on a team. This talk will frame emotions as neurological programs, with distinct triggers and multiple terminal states. The goal is to help us understand that when we act as fully realized human beings, and treat others the same way, the quality of our software will improve.
Hi everybody. Because I'm going to forget at the end of the talk. I have some amazing stickers and I love to meet people so I could which stickers I have compassionate could restrictors and I have greater than code stickers. Please come to me and get a sticker and introduce yourself. Content warning on this Hawk contains mentions of suicide and hospitalization and they're all system transfer that can race racist horse. My name is Coraline Ada ehmke. You can find me on Twitter at Coraline Ada. You can read my blog and
find out where I'm speaking and stuff like that my open source projects that we're that Coraline. Codes, which is probably the best vanity URL ever. I'm a principal engineer at Citrix. I'm most well known as the author of The contributor Covenant which is the first and most popular Open Source Code of Conduct in the world with over 100,000 adoptions, including rails Lennox core and the entire open source portfolio is for apple Google Microsoft Intel in Salesforce. I am co-authoring a book with my friend. Naomi Freeman called the compassionate
Kotor which is about the practice of empathy in software development. If I'm successful, you're going to walk out of this talk with new tools to develop your emotional intelligence and inspiration to improve the practice of Embassy in your daily life to begin. Let's define our terms. What is emotional intelligence? A programmer's there certain things. We consider Baseline requirements for technical Excellence. We put a lot of value in problem solving and being logical and rational. We like to think that we approached problems as scientists
experimenting with different solutions until we find just the right one in a tremendous amount of time and energy is gone into improving tools for perfecting or code from better compilers to testing framework pair programming tddc ICD. When we solve the problem, we love to share our success with our peers May tweet about it blog about it. Give it talk about it. We celebrate our problem solving skills our ability to overcome difficult technical challenges with how we measure our success. It impacts our self-image as engineers, and we
reward good problem solvers with raises and promotions in Merritt and maybe even Fame but not every code not every problem relates to code there serious problems of encounter outside of the code base problems with team members with a boss with a loved one problems with how we react to other people or how other people react to US problems with our self-image problems with their self-confidence emotions that we find overwhelming. This is where emotional intelligence comes into play emotional intelligence is about our ability to identify emotions that we are experiencing and
using our understanding of emotions to guide how we act and react. Daddy of quantifying emotional intelligence has a subject of hot debate in academic circles some psychologists think that it's an innate ability what others think that it's an emergency social phenomenon, but discussions are and how it can of can be measured what kind of beside the point emotional intelligence is something we can recognize in ourselves and another people in our daily lives in that keep the disputed. Without an awareness of how emotions affect us and affect other people when they blunder through life leaving
confusion and hurt feelings and I wake but it doesn't have to be that way. The good news is that emotional intelligence is something that we can improve with practice. The bad news is that practice is a lot of work. Interacting with other people can be messy, confusing their thoughts and feelings and motivations that we can't always see their react in ways that sometimes feel irrational to us and we're left in the awkward position to try and understand them. Maybe help them at least not make them feel worse. Give me value problem solving right so when we're
faced with someone experiencing a strong emotion. It's tempting to put on our problem-solving hats and try to fix what's wrong. You're having a bad day. Let me take a look at boggy been wrestling with your boss is being a jerk again. Let me help you fix up your resume. Our hearts might be in the right place, but react to emotions by trying to solve a problem May mean ignoring how the other person is feeling if they're frustrated. Maybe they just need to vent their angry. Maybe they just need to feel validated if they're upset. Maybe they just need someone to listen to them and really hear
them emotions are not a problem to be solved. Twin sister applying logic and rationality putting those on a pedestal about basic emotional intelligence. We run the risk of making a bad situation worse. When we value problem-solving about empathy we can cause real harm the people around us emotions are complicated and they're not something we can solve by a by applying a simple algorithm. So emotional intelligence is about recognizing emotions in ourselves. And another people. It's about opening ourselves up to what other people are
feeling. If we ignore their feelings, we put ourselves at odds with their well-being not some industry. We can't keep forgiving on evolved social skills for technical Merit. We need to do better. We need to learn to approach our work and our relationships with empathy. But empathy is kind of a loaded term. Sometimes we think we're being empathetic. We're really not in our books are compassionate coder. We defined the practice of empathy is a spectrum representing the Dynamics that exist between the South and the other DC circles represent ourselves.
In other people at the most extreme end of the opposite of the empathy spectrum is apathy, but even apathy is in the total lack of empathy and sympathy that's held in reserve for an in-group. There's a study of the Chinese University a few years ago for Chinese students were exposed to images of people and painful situations and their empathy response was actually measurable using imaging technology and the study found that the citizens reacted with a stronger empathy reaction the images of Chinese people in painful situation as opposed to white or black people in painful situations.
But when the study was repeated in the United States with trains American students, the empathy response was more balanced between Chinese people and white and black people. So we reserve empathy for in-group and that's kind of the way we're wired and consider conservatives in this country. They see immigrants brown and black people queer people trans people poor people always the other and they only extend empathy for people who look like them white male privilege hedrosexual that's there in group. For the lack of empathy for the other happens in technology communities
that we call inferior manifest his contempt for the people who are not like us and it doesn't matter if it's intentional or not doesn't matter for trying to be hurtful to people in those communities is the impact that matter Apathy the lack of empathy for other people can also happen in software itself. If we try to cater to a user base that our reality doesn't match your actual user population. We in the building features that no one wants permitting features that would better serve some significant portion of our user base considered slack slack has 10 million
daily users and 70% of them are in the free tier, but what it's like do for people on their fries here, they killed screen be acquired and killed screen hero, which was away is a lot of people in open sores paired and mentors in a civil war only unpaid accounts. They killed the IRC Gateway which was a way that allow people with disabilities access slack communities. There's no blocking functionality DSM meeting functionality slap refuses to prioritize the needs of users to rely on the platform for Community organizing open source and peer support. stop at sea
Next on the spectrum is narcissism and narcissism is about putting yourself before other people narcissism to me just as damaging as apathy, but because in both cases you're emphasizing the boundary between yourself and other people and sometimes when we think we're practicing empathy. We're really demonstrating our Compare the situation between white women and black women level on white man and black women and you may want to respond. Yeah, I guess I'm very privileged just a white woman only do
that your censoring your own privilege. You're making it about yourself and you're not really listening to what she's trying to tell you. Twitter the great example of narcissism and software Twitter Teresa's users as a commodity its monetization strategies and advertising base model putting emphasis on user engagement following liking and retweeting and his selfies in the advertising out for them to deliver asked if they hope will be relevant to the given user High engagement content is boosted what's trending in her face and all of this is subject to abuse by pots. There's a high tolerance
for targeted harassment engagement is the only metric That Matters to them and if that means tolerating nazi-soviet, User safety takes a backseat to the company's goals of monetization by any means necessary. Nexum spectrum is co-dependence. The word codependents may strike you as having to do with personal weakness, but that's really not the case co-dependents takes tremendous strength. It's really hard to put someone else's needs before your own. It's a lot harder to forgive someone that I just to hold them accountable when you
selflessly take on the problems of other people when you self-identify as a hero when you overestimate Your Own Strength, when you have a savior complex that can be exhausting and you don't relate well to other people you don't form healthy relationships. You don't build strong team. If you allow other people to equipped your own feelings and needs entirely. Uber is a great example of co-dependents in software Uber puts the needs of its customers before it's only needs its admitted that it probably never going to be profitable working conditions and
low pay prescriber and of course, it's famously hustle culture tortoise developers, especially women true empathy is the practice of seeking out open and honest connections with other people. I've heard people say sometimes they don't have the spoons for empathy. If you're not familiar spoons come from the disability community in the idea. Is that everyone in life and their daily life has a certain number of spoons of energy and people who are not neurotypical or people who live with disabilities for with mental illness have a have a few more
spoons than people who are neurotypical or not or not. Mentally ill. Search for people like us normal things take more energy more spoons, but I don't think that Spoon Theory applies to empathy. Empathy is not a zero-sum game. If you're doing empathy right it's an exchange of energy not a drain and we don't have to hold in reserve for people that we find most deserving that kind of moral calculus least to apathy. Basecamp is a great example of a company that embodies true empathy they're profitable business, but they're also the company that created
Ruby on Rails one of the most powerful and accessible web application framework in the world and they gave it away for free by open sourcing at open source at its best is a great example of empathy you spin the category of self developers turn Compass to users who otherwise might be considered the other it's open source has done correctly. Everyone's needs are met and everyone wins. Emotions can seem like a primal thing what happens when we experience an emotion. I think there are five distinct phases that we go through with any
emotion that we experience. Step one is to trigger. Every emotion is triggered by an event by the waves in ourselves or the external world. Step 2 C's experience we find ourselves and unemotional State they can seem to come out of nowhere. I can be overwhelming going to haunt us for hours or days or weeks that can trigger memory and painful memories of the last time. I experienced that emotion. It steals our attention and it becomes the most important thing on our minds. Capri's reaction and is Kimmy conscious or subconscious? We might have a physical reaction
quickening of a heart hears while your eyes smile and folding and he's reaction scheme to come automatically. Step words to the station. It's the decision between taking action and not taking action often times. We don't even recognize this stat. We may not notice it because we're so overwhelmed. But even if we have a subconscious reaction to an emotion, we can still make a decision about how to process it we can ask ourselves. How do I want to react will I be passive unless it's emotion overtake me, bro. I take an active role in experiencing it.
How can I connect the emotional? I'm feeling with the person who triggered it. We're good. They feeling is this an opportunity for an open and honest Exchange. Finally stopped by the outcome. We love our stuff possibly experiencing emotion and let the decision-making stays constant spy. We might reach an in-state for the emotion lingers unprocessed released for cycle of negative feelings. On the other hand, if we make a conscious decision about what to do with our motion, we're more like little processed it on the healthy way Communicator
where those are people about it and moved on to a positive outcome. Matching your brain as a train station. You're standing on the platform and you have somewhere you want to go a train pulls into the station, but it's not the one you're expecting that train is an emotion. You can ignore it. The emotion knock it on the train or pretend that is not even there. And right in front of you you can get on the train and Lose Yourself forgetting about getting to your destination freaking ride for as long as you need to and get off where you want to be. In her book The Art of
empathy researcher Karla McLaren describes. The motion does neurological programs that require action. Miss metaphor really resonates with me is developer to take the idea stop further. I wanted to see if I could model emotional experiences a state machines with each node reflecting State of Mind like stages of processing an emotion that I talked to Michelle. Was Burt one of the most powerful and sometimes frightening and overwhelming emotions anger.
It May of 2014. I've been married for 18 years. I figured out 20 years earlier that I was trans but at the start of my career and it's a start of a new family. I didn't think that I could transition successfully Show in 2014. My daughter was 17 years old weight at Mother's Day for addition that we would go to this fancy outdoor mall and buy gift for my wife for Mother's Day and it was something for my daughter and I did together for as long as she been alive. So after my transition when Mother's Day came along I talk to my daughter about what she wanted to
do. She had to Mom's now and it brought tears to my eyes when she said I want to celebrate both of you. So I said we will make our normal trip to the mall. We would get Lisa my ex some presents and she should do the same with my wife to find something nice for me. That night when I was getting ready for bed. My wife storms into the bedroom. No, no, no. No. No, you are not taking this away from me to you've taken enough for me. She lost out of anger. She didn't respect where I was in my life. She didn't respect
me as a woman. She didn't respect me as her mother mom for a daughter. Anger happens when a boundary or self-image is challenged. We find ourselves overwhelmed with anger. Our subconscious reactions to lash out if I had reacted in kind to my ex-wife I would have let her narcissism Eclipse my own sense of well-being. When you lash out at least a resentment resentment in ourselves and other people. Conscious reaction to anger is to acknowledge it. Sometimes acknowledging your anger can lead to a restoration that wouldn't be possible otherwise, but in my case this wasn't possible. The boundary
that she across couldn't be repaired. She wasn't willing to acknowledge my own feelings my own identity. So I took action to restore my self-image. I was my daughter's mom to let my wife couldn't accept it. It was time to leave. Guilt Bill Watterson in the complete Calvin and Hobbes wrote there's no problems. So awful that you can't add some guilt and make it even worse. 1994 I was living in Austin Texas Diner every night and I had a circle of friends and weed all handed the diner and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee
together. my friend Trey was a filmmaker and my friend Chris was a writer and we had this great idea that we would start a company together. We would call it the devil's workshop and I would run the web design business and society and the devil will find work for Idle Hands to do Idle Hands are the devil's workshop get it. Chris had a roommate. It was a friend of his from his college days, maybe Mark and Mark with basically sponging off of Chris and all of us even have a job. You didn't have a place to live if you don't have money for food
and we all took care of them and he promised us that he would make it up to us because it's 25 he would get access to his trust fund and he'd never have to work a day in his life again. April 4th 1994. I had a great idea. I called my friends cry on the phone and I said Trey it finally happened. He got access to his trust fund and he's going to invest in the devil's workshop and Trey got so excited. He started listing off all the equipment. He was going to buy he had this whole business plan worked out and he was really enthusiastic and just
overwhelmed by this positive news and I felt like the biggest assholes in the world when I say April Fools, He broke out in the tears. He hung up the phone and we never talked again. I've never played in April Fool's joke since then because apparently have a problem distinguishing between cruelty and humor. Guilt is triggered when someone is hurt as I realized what I did cause for pain for Trey and I became overwhelmed by guilt and shame. But I have narcissistic reaction.
I made it about how I was feeling. I didn't see a way that I can repair the hurt the undo what I've done. Turn it up living with that girls. We both ended up hurting and our friendship is over. Sympathetic reaction to Kilt history of knowledge the wrong that was done and work on balance in your feelings of guilt with the other person's feelings being hurt. What if I had immediately acknowledged would I have done instead of doing nothing? But I've had a chance to restore the bond of trust between us maybe maybe not but I could have tried and
maybe I wouldn't still feel guilty 25 years later. Lovecraft wrote that the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. I had a very difficult childhood. My father was an alcoholic and abusive. My mother was a drug addict and abusive when I was 4 or 5 years old my dad work nights and unbeknownst anyone else. My mother was going out on dates with other men cheating on him leaving me at home leaving me at home alone all night. I was
a Restless sleeper. And when I roll that are bad and it didn't wake me up and I rolled under the bed and that finally woke me up and I had no idea where I was it was pitch-black. I couldn't see my hands in front of my face. I try to sit up and I bang my head on something wouldn't I thought I was in a coffin. I thought I'd either been buried alive or that I was dead. And this is what my life is going to be like from that moment on I banged on the bottom of the bad, but I thought it was the coffin live. I cried I shouted for my mom, but there is no one home. No one to come and tell
me that everything was okay. And I stayed that way until morning came and sunlight started coming in under the bed and I realized where I was. fear fear is triggered when a novel situation arises when I found myself in a dark and constricted space. I was terrified. And my fear called coffee to freeze. Beer can trigger the fight or flight or freeze Instinct. It's natural. My parents and I stayed in the panic mode for hours. What if I calmly acknowledge my fear instead? What if I had said I'm afraid now, but maybe things are not what they seem. Want me to take
for me to make a conscious reaction to fear we can reorient ourselves. Maybe I could have found the will to explore the space. I was in a little more and realized sooner that I wasn't dead and buried. 19th century clergyman in FACS Spurgeon Road, our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow is the only empties today of its strength. On September 16th of last year in a surprise move the Linux kernel adopted contributor Covenant. There's a huge backlash from the community and anti
COC people win the full full force in their attacks and the abuse and harassment started in Earnest on December 6th. Somebody's anti-secrecy people. Hijacked the Lennox. Org domain and publisher docs on me including my social security number he has about my name change my dad name my home address in my phone number. Anxiety is triggered when some unexpected change occurs and anxiety can be overwhelming. I certainly felt overwhelmed. Does it make sure things it in
fear? I felt Paralyzed by anxiety in the moment. It was hard hard to think of what to do and it would have been easy to not take any action at all. If I've done nothing, I would have remained terrified and anxious for who-knows-how-long and this will put the anger and hatred of the doctors ahead of my own feelings. They would have won. Instead I reach out to friends who help me put together a plan. I organized. I active I'd be felt my home security. I changed all my passwords I enable two-factor authentication like I've been meaning to do for a long time and
I froze my credit reports and so far it remains safe. I'm not nearly as anxious about as I was back. Then I still have to be careful. I can't talk about where I'm going to be or where I am when I'm in public, but I'm safe. Are taking action I transformed my anxiety in to Defiance because I'm a badass. I believe it's Daniel Ash in his time at 11 with Love and Rockets ball of confusion. That's what the world is today. Hey, hey. In March of this year a very confusing situation happened a feature that I deployed. One of our systems was misbehaving in production and it was an emergency situation the
entire team came together to try to solve the problem. Confusion is triggered by an unexpected change in this case something that worked before it stopped working. a confusion with palpable In the moment, it would have been very easy to feel overwhelmed. If I allowed myself to become overwhelmed, I'll be unable to act. I will be very anxious with this leave me being reprimanded with a team with confidence in me weird affect my promotion. Would it get me fired? Instead. I took a moment to clear my head. I went
outside and have a cigarette and thought about the problem when I came back inside as you are a couple of diagrams what I thought might be happening in this means space for collaboration with other people and collaboration and active empathy. I shared the diagram for the affected teams, which sparked a great conversation and got a lot of ideas flowing and was in 30 minutes. We had ice it a problem and how to fix ready to go. sadness Longfellow said something like everyone has their Secret Sorrows which the world knows not. At the beginning of
2016. I got my dream job. I was invited onto the community and safety team as a senior engineer at GitHub. I will be working on the entire Rossman and Community Management feature. It went really well and I have quite a lot of great features that make people see her and get up paper for My Views close to other attack factors. In July that year of the next year. I got my first performance review my manager and I have been talking about a promotion for a while and I had very good feelings about the work that I've been doing. My review was terrible. I manager
said I'd locked empathy in my communications. She pointed out a conflict that had Arisen between me and one of the data scientists put in Burton Mi put a transphobic question on the open-source developer survey. I'm bipolar I have PTSD and anxiety. My daughter has OCD and anxiety disorder. We have a lot of psych meds in my house and after that bad review I took a lot of them. When I started feeling physical effects of the overdose, I panicked and called my psychiatrist asking her what I should do and she told me to
immediately go to the hospital. I was there for a few hours. I talked to a couple of doctors I call myself down, but they still wanted to commit me. So I was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for 10 days. Never to wash 10 days of my life. When I came out my therapist told me I should go back to work and try and restore normal life as much as possible. When I went back to work. I was immediately put on a performance plan. I was fired for lack of integrity. Guidance is triggered when something
doesn't meet her expectations. My Ahmed expectation was not being recognized for doing a good job. Nystagmus is overwhelming. I couldn't look over the fact that I thought I was doing a good job and my manager thought I was doing a terrible job holding on to that expectation was an unkindness against myself. I allowed my managers feelings to Eclipse my my own sense of self-identity. Depression 7 immediately and with it a suicide attempt and hospitalization. What if I said myself my manager is wrong.
What if I get a firm to myself that I was in fact doing a good job, but that there were irreconcilable differences between me and my manager. Maybe that would have made me feel more grounded. I could have started looking for a job right away. I could have saved myself the humiliation of being fired. happiness The poet Shelley wrote. I have drunk people of joy and showcased no other wine tonight. As I mentioned earlier when I was in my early twenties, I realized that I was trying to send her and I waited almost 20 years to transition.
On February 28th, 2014. I took all my boy clothing and put it in in plastic trash bags and I drove to Goodwill and dump it all off and the following day, March 1st. 2014 Coraline was born Happiness is triggered by novel Trends in this case my full-time transition. And the happiness again felt overwhelming. Are unconscious reaction to happiness might be that we want to keep it to ourselves and I certainly could have kept my happiness to myself. I could have disappeared into my
new life. That would have been a terrible outcome, but I could do better and I did. We can make a conscious conscious decision to express and share our happiness. I was happy and content with the big decisions. I've made a new Direction. I had in my life. I was exuberant. I shared my medicine with everyone. I tweeted my entire day. I wrote and gave a talk about my experiences and many different conferences. I put it on YouTube. Expressing my happiness open me up to emotional connections with other people who faced a similar challenge. And every time I give
that talk which is on YouTube, you can look it up. He doesn't work here anymore. Every single time. I hear that talk someone afterward would email me or send me a DM stingrays inspired them to start their transitions. That was a lot, but you take a breath. like to end on some reflections where you want the fall on the empathy Spectrum in the opposite of developer makes a pathetic software. We're giving in narcissism will spend all our time solving first world problems for white cisgender heterosexual males in San Francisco. We sacrifice ourselves to co-dependents
will work ourselves to death for people who don't deserve it. Or we can practice empathy and make true connections with our code our work our peers and our users. We can sometimes be afraid of emotions were afraid of what they'll do to us were afraid of the consequences were afraid of what the emotions will say about ourselves that will impact our own sense of self and identity were afraid of how other people might react with I'll think of us if you were afraid that experiencing a strong emotion will make us crash. Prakriti false dichotomy between
emotionality and rationality pre physician. I didn't allow myself to experience emotions at all. I wold them off because I thought that emotions for a week and feminine and I wanted to surprise my femininity after I started transition. I give myself through spraying I give myself permission through strength emotions fully and at first it was overwhelming I bring something at all these different signals and there's a competition between emotionality and rationality and it took time to balance those feelings. The range of human emotions on and actually be
unimaginably vast and I only scratched the surface of a few of them here, but I believe the five-step model that I proposed the entire universe that feelings week knowledge to trigger the emotion. We make a decision as to the outcome that we want to work toward if we allow the Primitive brain to make a decision for us that can make a good situation bad or bad situation even worse applying or emotional intelligence means that every emotion. We feel can teach us something about ourselves or the people in our lives. Learning to experience emotions viscerally when making conscious
decisions about what we do with them is difficult work, but doing this, right what's his full in Locker in our potential recognizing emotions in a healthy way we supposed to recognize emotions and other people and have some strengthen the skill. We create stronger emotional bonds with the people around us. We start to reveal. I don't understand our true selves. My wish for you each and every one of you is that you leave his paw conspired to work on your own emotional intelligence give yourself permission to experience emotions fully and become happier and more whole human beings as a
result. It's a process it takes time and energy that can be difficult when wiring ourselves out to improve emotional intelligence might be the ultimate hack Embassy might be the best program that we ever right. Thank you.
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