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Introducing Learn Code from Us

aspittel profile image Ali Spittel ・4 min read

Introducing Learn Code from Us, a site that highlights programming content creators from underrepresented demographics in tech. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on this project and I'm super passionate, incredibly excited, and very nervous about launching it. I wanted to introduce this app first, and then explain more of my developer story, my process for creating the app, and why I'm so excited about it.

74.2% of the respondents from the 2018 Stack Overflow Survey are white, 93.2% are straight, and 92.9% are male. When you're learning something new, trying to break into a new industry, or just listening to someone's insights, it can be really helpful to see resources made by someone like you.

My Story

I know that feeling personally -- I always say that I'm a mostly self-taught software engineer. All of us coders are self-taught, in that we all have to learn something new at some point outside of traditional education. In the same vein, none of us are -- we're actually taught by the tutorials, the documentation, the source code, the blog posts, and all the people that create those awesome resources.

I started coding in a computer science class during my sophomore year of college. Before walking into that classroom, I thought computer science taught you how to format Word documents well and how to use Excel. Instead, I was introduced to the magic of Python -- and I was hooked.

But then it got harder, and I thought coding wasn't for me. I thought coding was an exclusive world for people who had access to computer science classes in high school, who had different interests than me, and who didn't look like me. So I quit coding.

I got an internship during my Junior year that required me to code, and I started self-teaching myself the web development skills that made me fall back in love with programming. I could not count the tens of thousands of resources I've used in the last years, nor give back enough to all of the content creators that brought me to where I am now. All of the resources for 100% free online are invaluable. That being said, a large percent of the most visible content is created by the same groups that dominate tech -- which, while understandable, could be representative of the general population.

Maybe I would have been a more confident programmer, felt like a member of the tech community, or stood up to harassment if early in my career I had seen more people like me represented. I am still in a position of a lot of privilege compared to a lot of other people -- and I know that the things I went through may be much worse for them.

As of this summer, I've worked on the same team as other women for the first time in my career. There are so many encouraging signs of change within the industry, and I can't wait for more.

I'm only telling my story because I know a lot of other people have similar ones -- and I wanted to show on a personal level why representation matters.

And, now, five years later, I'm on the other side of the fence, and I'm creating the content.

Why I built the app

I've recently been thinking about creating a YouTube channel because I like talking about things, so I was researching other videos on similar topics to what I would talk about to see what works and what doesn't. But I noticed something really quickly -- as I was scrolling through page after page of videos and didn't see a single woman. So then I started Googling to try to find women making coding YouTube videos and was still really struggling. So, I asked on Twitter -- I got an excellent response which was awesome, and people asked me to create a blog post about all the women that people recommended.

I decided to do one better, and create an app instead. But I didn't want just to include women, because there are a lot more people out there who are members of other underrepresented genders, sexualities, and ethnicities in tech who would also benefit from seeing more people like them creating technical content.

About the platform

Right now there are profiles of coding content creators that have a quick sentence-long summary of what content they build, along with links to their platforms, and categories for their content. I've included link slots for blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, newsletters, and a generic slot for other types of content for the first iteration. I'm also focused on free content, for now, to make it accessible as possible for the wider public. The site shuffles the order of the content creators each time the page loads so that each person is featured equally. In the future, I want to add filtering based on types of content and the content-type tags.

If there are things that I can do to improve the usefulness of this platform, please reach out to me via Twitter or via an issue on the repo. The platform itself is built with Gatsby.js and uses Airtable as a database. The hosting is through Netlify.

If you create content geared towards programmers (including content that focuses on improving "soft skills" which are incredibly important) and are a member of an underrepresented group in tech, please fill out this form if you are interested in being included on the site. It doesn't ask for any personal information outside of the information that will be featured on the site. All fields are optional. For now, please only submit your own content, though passing this along to your favorite content creator would be awesome! This is and will continue to be a 100% free platform.

The site is located at learncodefrom.us. I would love if you checked it out or shared it with your network.

Discussion

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Jeremy Schuurmans

I know that we all have a right to our opinions, and the right to express those opinions respectfully, but I have to say that some of the sentiments on this thread make me sad. From what I can see, just looking at the people I go to school with, I think tech in America is becoming more diverse now, but I think it's hard to deny that it has until recently been, and in many places still is, dominated by men -- many of whom come from a similar background. I mean, just look at the ratio of men to women on this thread!

I'm sure the reasons for this could fill a Sociology paper, but there are surely people out there who believe that a tech career is not for them because of the stereotype that those kinds of jobs are for other people. Ali says straight up that something similar happened to her, and I admire her courage in bringing that up.

Point being, there is no scenario in which showcasing successful developers from underrepresented groups in tech is a negative thing. I have met people who have said to me that they don't think tech is for them because of who they are, and so a project like this has so much potential for good. This matters. I hope it inspires people who normally wouldn't code to explore it. I hope it inspires other people to put together similar apps. I truly believe tech is one of the few arenas in which a person can find acceptance and be successful no matter who they are, but there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.

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Ali Spittel Author

Thank you so much, that's definitely what I'm trying to do, break stereotypes and make coding a more accessible and inclusive place.

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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

What's the definition of "underrepresented group in tech"? Is it "non-white or female"?

I'm asking because the homepage loaded 2 profiles that were white males (one, I assumed though).

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Ali Spittel Author

So I'm really trying to not define it, I did add a field later today asking what underrepresented group participants belong to on the form, but I also don't know how to balance not asking too personal of questions and not being too exclusionary. So for now, I'm hoping that people act in good faith, though I may try and add some sort of quality filter in the future? Not sure. Would actually love input on how to make this as inclusive as possible while still fulfilling its mission.

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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

That's true it could be tricky and to be honest, I don't have any good idea to propose ... Thinking out loud but maybe having in the signing form the gender and ethnicity?
Then if you have (male && caucasian), you could notify that registration is not available to that particular group at the moment.
Then, to avoid dishonesty, maybe show on the profile tile the underrepresented group and the ability to report wrong info (i.e: caucasian guy on the picture but set as a different ethnicity in details). On 3 separate users' reports, account disabled.
Something like that maybe?

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

I don't see why?

Because you're asking for ethnicity?
What other method would you propose to identify the over*represented group then?

How would you make sure the rule is enforced as to not lose the purpose of the app?

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

Well, the application is to represent underrepresented groups ... so you need to remove the over-represented.

Equating "preventing the access to a site" to "killing people" is a really big stretch ... if you don't see why, I think you might have a problem.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

Suit yourself.

btw, I'm white and male and I'm totally fine to be excluded because I'm not that entitled to think I should have access to everything.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu

I don't feel sorry and the contrary of a victim.
I can see that we are overrepresented.

The point of the application is to help with this and I don't need to feel like a victim since I know I'm well represented everywhere else.

If it was the only place to showcase your work/skill etc ... I would be saying something different.

You can change anything in a sentence and it would mean a different thing.
The context is important.

You take it as excluding people while I take it as protecting people that would be lost in the mass of a major group.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

Who said inferior? Aren't you projecting?

Do you know what underrepresented mean?

We won't need promotion.
It's like saying we need more French people in bakeries ... there are already plenty enough. I would not prevent them from trying but I would understand trying other people to try their hand at baking (before you fume, I'm french)

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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kurisutofu profile image
kurisutofu

I see now ... you don't know the meaning of representation.
If people are not doing something, they don't want to be represented and nobody is forcing them.
That application is for people who want to have some exposition but are hidden by the mass.

People like you are giving special right to those people and other people (WHITE, MALES, HETEROSEXUAL) are suffering.

I see, you're one of those who think "why should we help them and not me?" guy ...
The point is that if you're white and male (and heterosexual I guess? not sure about this one), you don't need help, you already have it just by being the same as the mass.
Wait, check the definition of "representiation" before because my words may just be blots of electronic ink to you.

But then, I figured that on your second comment that you're a troll so I know it's pointless ... I have things to do but it was fun :)

Have nice trolly day ;)

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sloan profile image
Sloan

Hi Kamil (@kamilstaszewski ), it doesn't seem that you're making an effort to communicate in a constructive manner. Your comments here are not consistent with our code of conduct, and we're removing your commenting abilities until further notice.

If you'd like to get in touch with us, please send an email to yo@dev.to.

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Eka

+1 let them define what group they represent, and even better if they address it in their website/public profile

IMHO there are many ways a person could represent an underrepresented background beyond what's visible. Say folks who spent a large portion of their lives in orphanage, prison (or other type of institutionalization), on welfare, as refugees, to name but a few -- all of whom could be white(/-passing) men(/-passing).

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aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel Author

Yeah definitely -- I originally had it so that you don't have to say at all, but I got a little nervous about that after some of the comments here. Totally agree that all those people would be part of underrepresented groups in tech.

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Ben Halpern

Looks great, just made an issue. πŸ™‚

We've been wanting to make user lists on dev.to (similar to Twitter) and would love to have a great feature being that folks could make lists of underrepresented folks. What do you think of this?

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Ali Spittel Author

That would be awesome!

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Andrew (he/him)

I never thought about creating content as "giving back" until now. I more thought of it as just trying to promote a personal brand or bragging or something along those lines. If I needed motivation to create coding tutorials, I think I've found it now. As you said, I don't know where I'd be without all of the free resources I've found online, so I think I'll try to start helping out the youngins.

Thanks!

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Mike Ekkel

If you do end up creating coding tutorials, I'll be right here waiting eagerly to learn :)

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Ali Spittel Author

Awesome, glad to hear it!

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Anna Rankin

This is great, Ali! Thank you for doing this ❀️

One of the main reasons I pursued my first programming-related position was because I saw another woman doing the job and talked to her about it. I love that you're helping make these role models more visible!

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Ali Spittel Author

Thank you so much ❀️

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kurisutofu

I also thought computer science was "doing things with excel and word" (to be fair, It was explained like that to me in an orientation forum) and python made me go into programming :D

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Ali Spittel Author

That's too funny! Love when stories align.

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Adarsh

Great initiative it's gonna help people a lot. Can we also have a mechanism to evaluate content created by others so that down the road we don't end up with bad content.

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Ali Spittel Author

That's a really interesting idea! I would love a quality filter as well, but I also don't want to discourage anyone from submitting. Maybe a testamonials section where people leave praise for content they like?

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Adarsh

Yeah sure that would work too. Testimonials are great infact it has that personal touch as people would essentially describe their experience with a particular content.

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Paul Russo

Just because a niche is predominantly a certain race or gender, doesn't mean those people are not inclusive. I've found that these white men you speak of are generally extremely accommodating and helpful to ANYONE that shows an honest desire to learn.

That said, I understand what you're trying to do, and commend anyone for trying to get as many people into our community as possible.

Code knows no race or gender! There is only good and bad code!

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Dave Ceddia

This is great! Anything that encourages more (and more diverse!) people to "teach what they know" to their fellow devs and devs-in-training is a positive imo πŸ™Œ

I've noticed, as a (white, male) content creator myself that most of my readers/subscribers are also male. I don't think I do anything to cause that, but it happens nonetheless. It's an interesting phenomenon, and not restricted to the developer community I think. I notice the same in the online business world, where it seems the male-run businesses attract a male-weighted crowd, and the female-run businesses attract more women than men. And in those cases, it's not just the face of the business that's different -- everything is different, down to the messaging, the marketing, the website design.

I've thought a bit about why that is, and what I could do to attract a more balanced group of folks. I don't have a lot of good ideas, honestly. And I wonder if, really, it comes down to that we humans like to learn from people like us. I hope this takes off!

It would be awesome to highlight pieces of content created by these folks too. Maybe a weekly email newsletter to showcase the latest work? Syndicating their articles/videos? Some way to make it a combination of "look at all these creators like me" and "look at all this great content, I should definitely bookmark this/sign up".

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DeChamp

I think it is great that you made this. My question for you. Are people who happen to be white, straight and male allowed to be part of this? I think it's important to avoid creating another separation.

I just so happen to be a white, straight male and I've seen a lot of crazy things come to play over the past few years that have made it feel like it's a bad thing that I just so happen to fall under that category.

I started coding at 11, self taught. Never got a break, had to earn my way. Worked on teams full of culture, different sexes, and sexualities.

If this is something created to take the focus and put it on those unnoticed, I strongly support this! I think everyone should get fair treatment.

If this another thing to say "white straight men get everything" then that makes me so sad, because coming to Dev.to, I thought I could finally escape that type of stuff, and just focus on code and meeting like minded people.

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Michael

Looks like a great pool of resources for people to check on, I can understand the men in tech bias (being one myself) but I have also found that surveys on sites like SO often depend on the users of that community who want to take it can definitely skew the results. There are probably a lot of straight, white men who post there but there are plenty of others I know who aren't and use the site as well. For me the results are maybe 50-50 in working with women, non-white, non-American people. Though with the state of education and teaching nowadays I totally get where you are coming from. On that, nice job and all sorts of props.

I know a few people who would enjoy such a thing immensely that I keep in touch with mainly through Facebook and will be adding this to the Timeline forthwith. =)

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Robert

"The platform itself is built with Gatsby.js and uses "

Missing something there I think ? :)

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aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel Author

Fixed, thanks!

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Marcell Lipp

Hi,

Based on that I'm a typical software developer: white, straight male. But I would like to support others, the underrepresented ones as well. Do I have any chance to contribute to this project?

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Ali Spittel Author

Yeah! The project is open source, so code contributions or sharing the app could definitely help

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Danny de Vries

Great initiative!

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Alex Pliutau

Submitted myself :)

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Matt Studdert

Great work on this Ali πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

I look forward to seeing the project progress!

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Sagar

Awesome work @Ali Spittel...

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Jason Steinhauser

I really love this idea. My younger daughter is really interested in robots and automation, so exposing her to girl developers would be great. Thanks for creating this resource!

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juankOrtiz

Stepping aside from the "inclusion debate" going on here...

Mind if I ask why Airtable (did a quick search but never heard about that before) and not a SQL or NoSQL database?

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Ali Spittel Author

Yeah, it offers a lot of really nice interactive tools for database management. Instead of setting up a backend to deal with the database, it gives me the API automatically too. It is kind of halfway between Google Sheets and a normal database I would say.

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Cody Sartony

Really helpful article

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bestlool

"74.2% of the respondents from the 2018 Stack Overflow Survey are white, 93.2% are straight, and 92.9% are male."

Why is it relevant?

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rhymes

Because representation is important.

People tend to associate with people who either look like them or have the same interests. If you don't know any women programmer you're not going to hire women programmer. If you don't know any black programmers you're not going to hire black programmers. And so on. So if you don't hire women and minorities everytime a kid opens the door and looks inside the room sees that nobody that looks like them has been invited to the table, hence they surmise that they are not either capable of being like the ones inside the door (hence they don't try) or they are not welcome (hence they don't try). The same happens with the people inside the room already, if they've never seen anyone that's not like them they could start thinking the ones outside have some inherent fault or limitation, hence they go on about their business.

This doesn't even begin to describe the whole issue, but I hope it can give some perspective. We should add sexism, racism, ableism and ageism and some other types of discrimination to the pot at least. Let's also add the fact that there's some research out there talking about the fact that minorities are more subject to imposter syndrome, which if you think about it, makes perfect sense. A lot of people suffer to "imposter syndrome" thinking they are not good enough to do this and that, if you pile a society that has forever told you or your parents you're "less than", then it might worsen the effect.

Obviously this doesn't apply to everyone and everything in the same way at the same time. We're people, we're all different.

I think that if we can understand why having no people that look like you in the halls of goverment is a problem, we can understand why having an industry made by 20 somethings white cisgender males that only design apps to deliver you pizza as fast as possible might be an issue as well.

I'm not implying that nobody is capable of empathy insomuch as being able to relate to a potential customer that has a totally different experience than the provider but still... bias can be unconscious. Even recent AIs are starting to show the same bias their makers might have had. IBM is even launching a tool to help detect bias in AI (!!): bbc.com/news/technology-45561955

So yes, in my opinion it is relevant.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

Maybe people that are not white, heterosexual male don't want to code that often.

And how do you know that? Do you have research on that :) Because as far as I know it's not true. The jump from "everyone but white males isn't interested in software development" (initially most developers were white women by the way) to "everyone but white males deserves to program" is a short one, and right at the center of the issue. If you decide that only white heterosexual males are bestowed by a singular genetic trait that inclines them to pick up software development... well I'm sure you know where you end up with such an argument ;-)

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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rhymes

What do you mean?

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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rhymes

Thanks for ignoring everything I wrote until now.

Anyway, the only thing you can conclude from the Stack Overflow percentages:

74.2% of the respondents from the 2018 Stack Overflow Survey are white

is the following: 74% of the people who took the survey identified themselves as white. That's it.

From "a lot of people who took SO survey are white" to "non whites are not interested in programming" there's a chasm.

If you conclude anything else, without data, you're either really bad at basic statistics or you're trying to use those numbers to justify a world view that suits you, like when you said this:

Maybe people that are not white, heterosexual male don't want to code that often.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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rhymes

I'm sorry Kamil, I shouldn't have pushed and replied rudely.

I hope you don't believe your maybes, anyone has as much right to be in tech as the next person. That's all I'm saying, there's no chosen segment, it's just where most of the power now resides.

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Ali Spittel Author

A lot of people when they're starting out aren't super involved in the industry don't know of a lot of people like themselves, and it can be really encouraging to see other people like you succeeding in the industry you want to break into, especially when that industry has had a lot of issues with inclusivity. The Stack Overflow survey is the best proxy I have for demographic data on the industry, while it's not at all perfect, its a pretty big study.

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bestlool

Are white male that different that you cannot interact with them like with people your race/gender? I don't understand that argument. Nonetheless, it is always a great idea to make group like that. Good luck!

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Ali Spittel Author

I interact with a ton of white men on a daily basis as someone in the tech industry and have learned lots from them! I just also want to see people from other backgrounds more equally represented as well.

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maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci

Some extra support for diversity being a large factor in learning an education: there was also a NYTimes articles that looked at research related to diversity and education. A quote from the second paragraph:

"...according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students."

Further down the writer looks at the likely reasons behind this

Students tend to be inspired by role models they can relate to. Same-race teachers might be able to present new material in a more culturally relevant way. Also, teachers sometimes treat students differently based on their own backgrounds and stereotypes. Social scientists call this implicit bias, when stereotypes influence people’s thinking, often unconsciously.

All this is really just some extra evidence for the argument you've already made fairly well in the article haha. But for anyone else unconvinced or uncertain, I recommend educating yourself with an open-mind and looking at different information and news outlets. This article was fast to find and references lots of good info.

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Ali Spittel Author

Thank you so much!!! Going to definitely add this in and share it. Awesome article.

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Max Antonucci

You're very welcome! You did a great job with the learncodefrom.us/ site as well, I'm looking forward to seeing it grow. Are you focusing mainly on newer voices or also well-established ones too? Because there's lots of female developers I follow I'd recommend for it - Laura Kalbag, Sara Soueidan, Rachel Andrews, and Lea Verou to name a few. Jen Simmons is an especially intelligent figure whose done many talks related to CSS, and often writes/tweets about the obstacles facing women in tech.

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aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel Author

Thank you so much. Definitely looking for more established voices as well, my plan was to see what organically happens today and tomorrow, and then reach out to those bigger more established people later this week to see if they want to be included!

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Max Antonucci

If I could make a suggestion, Tearyne (pronounced like Karen with a T) is a black female dev from Texas that's been starting to establish her own voice and has spoken about diversity and web development, and a really good online-friend of mine from a front-end development slack channel. Definitely reach out to her about being included, I think she'd make a great addition. See her twitter here -> twitter.com/TearyneG

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aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel Author

Awesome! Will do, thanks!

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buinauskas profile image
Evaldas

Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.

If that's reality then it's quite sad that someone's knowledge might be less valuable or even rejected to someone just due to looks...

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bestlool profile image
bestlool

Completely agree.

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maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci

Feeling more receptive to info from people similar to us is just an aspect of imperfect human nature. Accepting and working with it is more productive than fruitlessly saying about how things "should" be.

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buinauskas profile image
Evaldas

I'm not saying how things should be. I just personally find it sad that things are that way.

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maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci

Did you read the rest of that paragraph?

"When you're learning something new, trying to break into a new industry, or just listening to someone's insights, it can be really helpful to see resources made by someone like you."

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bestlool

Yes i did.

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Renan Lourençoni Nobile

I work in an environment where a lot (if not the majority) of the people are women. So either I'm working in an extremely exclusive workspace, or the survey is "biased". What I mean is that the survey shows that SO users are white straigh men, but that doesn't mean the whole tech community follows the same statistic.

Actually, here on dev.to we have a great diverse and plural space, always striving to fight all kinds of prejudice.

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bestlool

That is correct.