With Corey Kohn, Co-founder & CEO of Dojo4
The booming field of computer science and technology is full of promise and opportunity. Tech jobs with top companies are highly coveted, but what is it really like to work in the tech industry?
A career in tech can mean great perks, hard work, and continuous evolution of new skills. It is also a field that could benefit from more social support. Prioritizing the humanity of the people who consume and create the internet could make it a safer, more fulfilling place to work and to be.
Host Cory Ames sat down with Dojo4’s Corey Kohn on the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast as part of our new series on technology. They discussed tech and culture, and how reconnecting with humans and nature is the antidote we need.
In this post, we’ll discuss the modern experience of working in tech, the unique challenges facing women and people of color in a white male-dominated industry, and what we can do to find meaning while working in this field today.
Working in Tech: What’s it Like?
Working in tech involves, not surprisingly, a lot of time behind a computer—writing code and bringing creative innovations to life.
It is a results-oriented field where startups are designed to grow quickly and be sold off. That means long hours and a lack of connection between coders and what they are coding.
The reality of working as a software developer, computer programmer, web designer, or coder revolves around problem-solving, trouble-shooting, collaborating, and constantly learning new skills to support new and existing technologies.
It’s a career path full of growth opportunities and great benefits like paid volunteer time, flexible work hours, and free food that many consider a dream job. The average salary for a tech job is almost $100,000 a year and rising in every major American city.
It’s also a competitive, productivity-driven culture that often leads to physical and mental burnout.
Corey Kohn has seen a growing sense of isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness along with depression and anxiety in the tech world. People who are attracted to writing code tend to have what she calls incredible brain capacity and genius minds. But they’re pouring these skills into building an internet that is not theirs.
The U.S. tech industry is nearly 70% white and only 25%, female. Despite lofty promises, diversity hasn’t improved much since the biggest tech companies started sharing annual diversity reports in 2014.
What is it Like to be BIPOC in Tech?
Black, indigenous, and people of color in the tech industry report experiences of being ignored, under-promoted, and pressured to speak for their entire community and do uncompensated diversity, equity, and inclusion labor.
More than 60% of Black people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) reported experiencing discrimination at work, as do half of women and nearly half of Asian and Latinx STEM workers, according to a 2018 PEW study.
It can be physically and culturally exhausting, dealing with microaggressions and code-switching all day to being harassed for “looking out of place,” as one Black Google employee experienced when a white colleague demanded to see his identification.
Antidotes to tech within the industry will require releasing the productivity imperative.
Leaders can help employees develop their jobs to support their individual happiness. That might look like literally interrupting hours behind the computer, encouraging employees to schedule time to connect with nature and reward them for it as much as they’re rewarded for turning in code.
Managers can plan outdoor meetings, look critically at scheduling policies that might make socializing difficult, and consider strategies to build a more positive work environment.
Anyone can be the catalyst to normalize standing up and looking over the cubicle wall or asking a question in person (or even over the phone) instead of email.
Corey reminds us that connecting with nature and community doesn’t have to be drastic. Open a window. Slow down the walk from your car to the office door. Take a deep breath and look up, notice a tree, stop and smell the flowers for ten seconds.
Don’t wait. Go outside.
The looming transition to post-Covid work models promises rekindled human connection, but, as the New York Times reports, it also means “a return to microaggressions, pressure to conform to white standards of professionalism, and high rates of workplace stress and burnout” for people of color with tech jobs.
Ninety seven percent of Black knowledge workers would rather work remotely than back at the office, according to a recent Slack future forum survey. Half of Black workers surveyed reported a greater sense of belonging and 64% reported an increase in their ability to manage stress working from home.
Head to People of Color in Tech to read more about the Black experience of working in tech from people who are in it.
What is it Like for Women Working in Tech?
Outnumbered in tech, women contend with their own unique set of challenges. Most women in tech report being called too aggressive, having their technical skills ignored, being overlooked on their own expertise, experiencing unwanted sexual advances, and feeling pressure to represent one’s entire demographic.
Women in tech and online are vulnerable to harassment, threats of violence, discrimination, and doxxing (revealing personal or identifying information like phone number, real name, or home address without consent). Women who hold any kind of marginalized identity face even greater risk and higher prevalence of this kind of abuse.
How Technology Affects Everyone
The year 2020 marked a milestone in a trend that’s been happening since the commercial internet entered our lives in the late 1990s. Technology is everywhere—it touches everything and impacts every aspect of our lives.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, tech has mediated literally all of our interactions outside our own households. New technologies like smartphones and video-conferencing made it possible to see loved ones and do our work.
The rise of technology and social media have also been correlated with a rise in mental health problems.
The internet made it possible for Black Lives Matter to become one of the largest movements in American history in the summer of 2020, activating millions of people to stand up for racial justice.
At the same time, implicit bias baked into new technology like AI and facial recognition software puts Black, Indigenous, and people of color at greater risk for false arrest and interactions with law enforcement.
Social media allowed the #MeToo movement to connect women across the world and, finally, mark an actual change in how we handle sexual abuse and harassment. Women also face a higher risk of online abuse—from harassment to physical and sexual threats.
As individual users, tech can connect us with relationships, information, and opportunities anywhere in the world. The internet can expand access to health care and education. It has also deepened divides along political and social lines and can serve as a platform for discrimination and coordinated threats.
Between creators and users, we’ve lost sight of humanity in technology.
A New Vision for the Future of Tech: Antidote to Tech
“We know this in tech startups—money does not make you happy.” – Corey Kohn
Corey Kohn is on a mission with Dojo4 to reimagine what work and success mean in the future of tech. Their newest initiative, Antidote to Tech, aims to spark conversation and create resources for technologists committed to thriving natural environments and genuine human connection.
This commitment to finding meaning—in business and in daily life—is an outlier among tech companies. Jobs in tech, more than other industries, are entirely quantifiable. Success is measured in productivity and output, and the individuals building the internet are disconnected from their work. And the tech community is beginning to demand better.
Dojo4 is leading by example, staying small on purpose, and maintaining family-friendly offices as open community spaces. They lead with authenticity to build trusting, loving, respectful working relationships.
Antidote to Tech is their nascent industry initiative to develop solutions. It’s an invitation to center kindness and community and prioritize the pursuit of meaningful work.
“Our Antidote to Tech initiative commits us to produce technology with a sense of responsibility, care and awareness of its impact while reminding us to prioritize our well-being — by nurturing strong personal relationships and networks, and restorative activities such as being in nature. Being in nature and connecting with each other, are just two ways that we’ve found effective for imbuing our work with meaning.” – Corey Kohn, Antidote to Tech
There is no one-size-fits-all antidote to isolation. But Corey and her team have found universal power in connecting with something bigger than themselves.
Nature and community—getting outside and being in genuine human connection with others—are excellent places to start.
What can that look like in the real world?
“If we’re going to do our best work, we have to do that in an environment of kindness.” – Corey Kohn
Talk to someone.
Look for the humanity in the people around you and begin prioritizing kindness as much as results.
We can all do meaningful work.
We can all be more mindful about how we interact with technology.
We can all start conversations about our desire to make a better internet and to connect more with other people.
Look for opportunities to connect with co-workers and nature every single day. Go out of your way to make new hires feel comfortable.
Be mindful and attentive to how your work makes you feel. Look past someone else’s definition of success and recognize what rings true for you. Once you find that, do more of it.
The Leaders of the Movement
Dojo4’s partners and peers with the same belief in humanity at the heart of their tech work are already making moves out there in terms of innovation, community building, awareness, and prioritizing the wellbeing of people and planet inside and outside the office. Antidote to Tech offers some excellent resources on their website.
Did you know that facial recognition software struggles with identifying Black faces and misidentifies Black women more than any other group? But it’s still used broadly in law enforcement and health care. Algorithms learn from people and, left unchecked, will only amplify the unconscious biases of its creators and threaten civil rights.
Algorithmic Justice League is raising awareness of the social impact of AI through art and research and working to build AI that is equitable and accountable.
Data 4 Black Lives addresses the harmful history of data-driven oppression and advocates for data that can materially improve the social conditions affecting Black lives.
The Sustainable Web Manifesto addresses the climate impact of tech on a global scale, taking into account the entire technological ecosystem and industry, from production to data centers and consumer use. If the internet was a country, Sustainable Web Manifesto reports, it would be the 7th largest polluter in the world, and it is only expected to increase.
The Green Web Foundation is working to change that trajectory, leading the way toward a future in which the internet will run entirely on renewable energy. The Center for Humane Technology advocates for a web that supports people and dismantling the tech models that profit from addiction, depression, and division.
Dojo4’s Boulder neighbor Techstars is throwing resources into building a sustainable innovation ecosystem with their new Sustainability Accelerator in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, is using tech to capture carbon with every click.
Learn more about how to save energy at home with technology—with tools like programmable thermostats and being aware of devices that suck energy.
Individual Wellbeing and Mental Health
Tech Jobs for Good connects job seekers and employers working on social and environmental issues, while All Tech is Human is building the Responsible Tech pipeline between individuals, universities, and the tech jobs in the interest of building a diverse, multidisciplinary industry aligned with the public interest.
Tall Poppy is a tool to promote individual digital safety and address online harassment, which disproportionately impacts women, LGBTQ+ people, and ethnic and religious minorities doing outstanding work in their fields
Dojo4 and Antidote to Tech: Humanizing the Tech Industry
Dojo4 is a small worker-owned tech agency and certified B Corp based in Boulder, Colorado. They build custom software for clients, particularly software that supports social and environmental justice. Primarily focused on creating meaningful work for people, they have collaborated with Twitter, Green Peace, and local-serving organizations including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Community Foundation of Boulder.
Corey Kohn, Co-founder and CEO of Dojo4
Corey Kohn has spiritual roots in Buddhism, family roots in the Rocky Mountains, an educational background in math and biology, and a professional background in documentary filmmaking. When the great recession dried up job opportunities in Corey’s chosen field, she found solace in the Rocky Mountains. She also found her next opportunity: the newly booming local tech industry. Her artistic, mathematical, and humanist nature armed her with surprisingly transferable skills to enter the tech world.
Corey co-founded and continues to lead Dojo4 as a place that reinvents assumptions about how business should be done, advocating for a more enlightened, human way of building all kinds of capital. She is also the co-creator of Antidote to Tech, a resource for technologists committed to supporting thriving natural environments and genuine human connection.
“Those practices, either being with people, or psychologically or socially connecting with our natural environment in one way or another…[gives] us the tools that we need in order to either decide to do meaningful work or turn the work that we’re doing into meaningful work.” – Corey Kohn
Let’s Build Technology for All
Makers and users have an opportunity to build intentionally healthy relationships with technology. At this unique juncture in history where we are emerging from behind our screens with a fresh perspective on the value of human interaction, let’s prioritize kindness. Remember the healing power of nature. Take the time to see one another. And follow along with Antidote to Tech and their partners to build technology that is truly for all.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Antidote to Tech
- The Social Dilemma
- All Tech is Human
- Center for Humane Technology
- Kapor Center
- People of Color in Tech
Grow Ensemble Contributor
Katie O’Dell is an acquisitions editor with Falcon Guides where she works with authors to publish outdoor recreation guidebooks on everything from hiking with dogs to yoga and van life. She holds a master’s degree in public relations from Quinnipiac University.