Nadya Primak
I am a game designer, developer, writer, and digital artist. During the day I work on improving the functionality and user experience of websites. At night I am a multi-passionate maker with an endless list of ideas.

How the Tech Industry Discourages Multi-Passionate Folks

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I regretted specializing in a front end development framework because I inadvertently got pigeonholed into working with outdated technology. What I realized I might have been accidentally implying in that post is that the tech industry therefore prefers multi-passionate people. I wanted to correct this implication because it is extremely incorrect, in fact I would argue that it is the opposite.

Technical interviews, especially for developers, are grueling. It is not uncommon to have one or two coding tests, sometimes with multiple developers watching you code live and taking notes while they’re at it. I’ve been assigned cognitive assessments, personality tests, multiple choice questions, timed exams, and everything in between. What sucks the most is that almost all of these tests are designed to assess your left brain– how good you are at algorithmic thinking, or logic puzzles, or your depth of understanding a specific programming language.

I don’t know for sure that any company I interviewed at created a report about me, but I don’t know for sure that they didn’t either.

It’s a real frustration for someone like me, who has a mixture of skills in user experience, web design, and front end development. I often find when I’m looking at jobs that the ones which list this mixture of skills as “desired” are also the companies which are very small and basically just want to have one developer that doesn’t mind “working under pressure” (sidebar: if a job asks you about how comfortable you are under pressure, you should probably run away). Then the jobs which specifically want a “front end developer” couldn’t give a damn that I know my way around Photoshop, or that I have an online portfolio that showcases my game development, or that I have interests outside of technology at all.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought I was the only one who experienced this frustration. There is a ton of gate-keeping in the industry, which you can read about here, here, and here. Not expressing enough passion about coding or not being up with the latest frameworks can easily cost you the job. As a result, people in the tech industry often feel pressured to give up their hobbies and their other interests and spend both their time inside and outside the office brushing up on trends, researching new tools, and making side projects to stay fresh.

The gatekeeping is real. Probably from StackOverflow.

This is a huge turn off for most multi-passionate folks, who tend to get bored doing the same thing each and every day. Certainly when they first discover they are interested in coding they might become very absorbed in it for a few months or even a year or two. But eventually that intense interest tapers off and is replaced with something else. Emilie Wapnick discusses this phenomenon in her fantastic TED talk, which I highly recommend.

It seems counter-intuitive for an industry that receives so much criticism for excluding people and ideas to continuously encourage developers to specialize in more and more specific tools when arguably what the industry needs most right now is people who value the user experience and the well being, privacy, and long term happiness of their customers. That means employees who can put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Hiring people who have have diverse experiences and a wide range of interests would certainly help, whereas hiring people for their single-minded obsession with technology will have the opposite effect, and fuel the delusion that all problems can be solved with more technology.

Stats on diversity in major tech companies. Smaller players tend to have far more alarming stats.

Some might infer from this that I want to do away with all coding tests and make hiring in tech a free for all. No. I am not advocating for an extreme approach, but I think currently the industry skews very far in demanding employees to live, breathe, and eat code that it is not conducive to a collaborative and open minded workforce. Of course it also relates to the bigger problem of toxic work culture which is another can of worms I won’t get into in this post.

Hiring in tech is broken, and by having a single minded focus on the developers technical skills not only dehumanizes people, it also makes multi-passionate folks feel like they need to fit a very specific mold. I believe it is also the reason why so many companies don’t invest in good UX researchers and designers, because those skill-sets bridge different industries and require a more multi-passionate approach. They simply don’t see the value in anything that is not pure code, that doesn’t follow the motto of “move fast and break things”.

That motto has NOT aged well.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to have an outlet to talk about all of my interests. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to write about a multitude of topics instead of trying to force myself into a tiny niche that I would get sick of after a few weeks or a month. The tech industry is changing, albeit not as quickly as I would like, but I hope this post reaches the people who can spread the message that multi-passionate people should be embraced rather than estranged.

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1 Response

  1. August 18, 2019

    […] fields, from science to nature to art. The Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick (I also linked to it in a previous post) described Leonardo da Vinci perfectly. He kept over seven thousand notes in his journals, jotting […]

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