Say you work at a small startup or a big tech company and you’re frantically racing to build the first version of a new emerging tech library. You want to democratize your tech and you care about the community. But you can barely keep your head above water. How would you find the bandwidth to take on community-oriented coding UX or creating a continuum of skill? Where would you even start?
Or perhaps, as many popular tech libraries first began, your project is something you work on after hours as a labor of love. If you eventually succeed, you’ll probably have a small army of Open Source volunteers helping you out. But for now, you don’t have the resources to take on community-oriented coding UX.
If we are going to truly democratize emerging tech, we need to bring about a cultural change in the tech industry so techniques for smoothing the learning curve are as common for emerging tech development as UX is for designing websites. Getting there will require institutional support. The following are some ideas about what that support might entail.
Large Tech Companies
For Google, Microsoft, and other large tech companies, there are two keys to making community-oriented coding UX and other techniques for smoothing the learning curve an inherent part of the process:
- Resources. For any emerging tech project that is creating languages, libraries, frameworks, etc., the company should ensure they have the resources they need to fully embrace community-oriented coding UX and create a continuum of skills – e.g., UX staff who work on the project and/or a liaison with a community group that’s providing the UX work.
- Rewards. Companies should ensure staff are rewarded for making community-oriented coding UX a priority.
While we certainly wouldn’t expect all venture capitalist funds to embrace techniques for smoothing the learning curve, if a significant number of them began expecting that their emerging tech startups would use this approach, they could radically transform the tech community.
- Fund UX Services for Small Fry. Foundations could provide grants to community groups to provide free coding UX services. These services could be targeted at unpaid labors of love, very early startups, and other individuals or organizations that have a significant audience for their open source coding tool but don’t have institutional support. Foundations might also facilitate the creation of a pool of these resources that’s funded by foundations, big tech companies, and other actors.
- Shape Software Project Grants. In some cases, foundations directly fund software projects – e.g., Jupyter/IPython notebook, which has become a major development environment for data science and machine learning. They could begin to require that grantees follow a community-oriented coding UX approach and, if relevant, a strategy for fostering the creation of a continuum of skills.
- Leverage Nonprofit Software Purchases. Many nonprofits purchase software using foundation grants. If foundations banded together, they could have a significant impact on the ecosystem of tools used by their grantees.
Colleges and Universities
- Shape Student Startup Culture. For colleges and universities whose computer science departments teach their students how to create startups, if they encouraged community-oriented coding UX and other strategies for smoothing the learning curve, it could substantially speed up the adoption of these techniques.
- Leverage University Resources. Colleges and universities are especially well situated to have an impact, because not only do they train many of the students who will create startups and go to work at tech companies, but they also create research on UX techniques and coding UX. Many colleges have agriculture extension services as well as researchers and centers who have extensive experience collaborating with the community. If they leverage all of these resources, they can provide a much richer experience for their students, who will go on to help shape tech industry culture.