Empathy is a core engineering value


#1

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#2

A first I was like "oh god, touchy-feely engineering" but then I actually read Bryan Cantrill's text and yeah, I think he's right.


#3

You don't have to be an engineer to recognize that gender as a construct is not structurally sound. wink


#4

But just so you heard it from us: if this were the act of a Joyent employee, we would—to deliberately use a gender-neutral pronoun—fire them.

Are shitty labour practices also a core engineering value?


#5

Good engineers have always had empathy, it goes with the job. Learning how a diesel engine 3 stories high feels in rough weather or the struggles of a cars gearbox that say go easy on me.
Being sacked for calling a boat her or she sounds like blatant capitulation to some notion of what fanatical feminists want. Empathy is about a feeling which does not necessarily need words to communicate. Sacking someone for poor choice of words is an unepathetic over reaction and definitely from the rulebook of totalitarianism. I wouldn't want to work for you.
An engineer


#6

Werner Von Braun used slave labor and got the US to the moon. So no, empathy is not a core value of engineering.

It is a core value of not being a dick, that itself should be sufficient.

These flimsy „see, we are rational about it“ excuses annoy me, as they try to fit anything in the context of making money.


#7

Poor choice of words? Skipping reading the article to save time, are we?

it's not the use of the gendered pronoun that's at issue (that's just sloppy), but rather the insistence that pronouns should in fact be gendered.


#8

Werner Von Braun used slave labor and got the US to the moon. So no, empathy is not a core value of engineering.

I believe that is a poorly designed and executed argument. So just maybe empathy actually is a core value of engineering. Godwin is a thing because it was long ago proven that bringing up Nazi's can pretty much only polarize and weaken conversation. It's bad engineering relative to the open exchange of ideas.

Engineering is not just about getting a thing done, it's about serving people. If you treat people like interchangeable sacks of meat, then it's pretty likely you're not giving much thought to their other actual needs, and your design will be flawed relative to what people actually need. Things like respect, dignity, and kindness. We have all been in badly designed spaces, used poorly conceived machines, and been amazed at the lack of foresight evident in some projects.

The only thing i ever liked about Ayn Rand was that I read most of her work as various examples of engineering gone awry, gone away from what people actually need. The fountainhead, Anthem, etc...

I don't agree with her solutions, but I like the way she posed the problem in such stark and believable terms.


#9

It was not about a poor choice of words, but about not accepting an appropriate change to gender neutral. And I'm not sure I'd want to work for you.
A robopsychologist


#10

Nobody gets sacked for a poor choice of words once in a while.

They get sacked for being sanctimonious dicks when they're asked to keep such preferences to themselves while at work, by their employer.

As it should be.


#11

Yup, that's some serious empathy right there.


#12

It does make sense though, in that empathy is largely the ability and inclination to put yourself in someone else's shoes. A lot of engineering at a high level is figuring out how other people are going to use your product, which means seeing things from other people's perspectives. At a low level, it's about figuring our what's going to go wrong, which is easier to do if you can get your mind out of your own headspace to think of things that aren't immediately and naturally obvious to you.


#13

As far as I can make out, nowhere does Ben 'reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered' that seems to be something invented in the Joyent blog post so they can get angry at it and talk about firing people.

The change was actually rejected for being trivial, which I can understand, it was one word in a comment that didn't affect the execution of the code or enhance the understanding of the function.

That Ben did not appreciate that some people attach greater importance (more it seems that making the code more readable) to the role of gender language could be seen as a lack of empathy, however to label him some kind of sexist douche, and suggest that he should be fired, based on no evidence at all is certainly worse.

Ironically, given what this is all about, the comments would be better to be rewritten without 'he' or 'they' as there is no human involved.


#14

"I personally dislike randomly substituting 'she' for 'he'; my preference is to use the singular they/them ..."

The problem with this is that "they" and "them" are not singular pronouns. English doesn't really HAVE a gender-neutral singular pronoun. (At least we don't randomly - or not so randomly - assign gender to nouns. In French voiture (car) is feminine and autobus (bus) is masculine. Go figure.)

I guess you could argue that usage is making "they" and "them" both singular and plural (context-dependent), but I think what we really need is a newly-invented gender- (or sex-, if you prefer) neutral singular pronoun.

But then I guess we already have one: s/he. Meh. Kinda ugly. Maybe we could promote "it."


#15

Empathy is a core engineering -- or human -- value: Agreed.

Not using gendered pronouns: Lazy, lousy solution. The optimum answer is to shift the conversation from the abstract to the concrete. "In this example [pick a name randomly] needs to do thus-and-such." Follow thru using the name and appropriate pronoun for that individual. Almost as good is to switch to first and second person -- you and/or I -- which are neuter in English; unfortunately many companies consider this undesirable for various reasons (mostly bad ones)

The usual comany-endorsed bad answer is to go into passive voice and avoid mentioning individuals at all. Which all too often produces hard-to-read text..


#16

Or a name that doesn't indicate gender.


#17

Huh. Worrying about this kind of thing is probably why the Western World can't do engineering for toffee these days...

See, there's this nut, and this bolt, and you've got to connect one to the other. But you can't do this until you've been to a seminar to explain to you why your documentation of this process has to be gender-neutral. Or gender-random. Or whatever this week's fad is...

(Note the cunning use of second-person above...)


#18

From TFA:

my preference is to use the singular they/them

Fuck you, Bryan Cantrill; there IS NO singular they/them in English. As much as you might wish that's not the case, it is.

Either accept that writing the bulky "he or she" is the ONLY correct way to use singular pronouns from a gender-neutral position, or decide that a smoother flow is more important than gender politics, and just go with one gender or another. You can't have it both ways.

ETA: Look at the edit in question: https://github.com/joyent/libuv/commit/804d40ee14dc0f82c482dcc8d1c41c14333fcb48

While "he" may just as wrong as using "she," the uses of "them" and "they" that were rejected were 100% grammatically incorrect.

ETA2: Oh, rich irony, Joylent of all companies lecturing the masses on ethics:


#19

Even better is to always use the same name(s). Cryptography and physics use 'Alice and Bob'.


#20

Granted. "Standard metasyntactic variables".