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Google Used a Black, Deaf Worker to Tout Its Diversity. Now She’s Suing for Discrimination

Google Used a Black, Deaf Worker to Tout Its Diversity. Now She’s Suing for Discrimination

Hall says when she has access to an interpreter, they are rotated throughout the week, forcing her to repeatedly explain some technical concepts. “Google is going the cheap route,” Hall claims, saying her interpreters in university were more literate in tech jargon.

Kathy Kaufman, director of coordinating services at DSPA, says it pays above market rates, dedicates a small pool to each company so the vocabulary becomes familiar, hires tech specialists, and trains those who are not. Kaufman also declined to confirm that Google is a client or comment on its policies.

Google’s Hawkins says that the company is trying to make improvements. Google’s accommodations team is currently seeking employees to join a new working group to smooth over policies and procedures related to disabilities.

Beside Hall’s concerns, Deaf workers over the past two years have complained about Google’s plans—shelved, for now—to switch away from DSPA without providing assurances that a new interpreter provider would be better, according to a former Google employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their job prospects. Blind employees have had the human guides they rely on excluded from internal systems due to confidentiality concerns in recent years, and they have long complained that key internal tools, like a widely used assignment tracker, are incompatible with screen readers, according to a second former employee.

Advocates for disabled workers try to hold out hope but are discouraged. “The premise that everyone deserves a shot at every role rests on the company doing whatever it takes to provide accommodations,” says Stephanie Parker, a former senior strategist at YouTube who helped Hall navigate the Google bureaucracy. “From my experience with Google, there is a pretty glaring lack of commitment to accessibility.”

Not Recorded

Hall has been left to watch as colleagues hired alongside her as content moderators got promoted. More than three years after joining Google, she remains a level 2 employee on its internal ranking, defined as someone who receives significant oversight from a manager, making her ineligible for Google peer support and retention programs. Internal data shows that most L2 employees reach L3 within three years.

Last August, Hall started her own community, the Black Googler Network Deaf Alliance, teaching its members sign language and sharing videos and articles about the Black Deaf community. “This is still a hearing world, and the Deaf and hearing have to come together,” she says.

On the responsible AI team, Hall has been compiling research that would help people at Google working on AI services such as virtual assistants understand how to make them accessible to the Black Deaf community. She personally recruited 20 Black Deaf users to discuss their views on the future of technology for about 90 minutes in exchange for up to $100 each; Google, which reported nearly $74 billion in profit last year, would only pay for 13. The project was further derailed by an unexpected flaw in Google Meet, the company’s video chat service.

Hall’s first interview was with someone who is Deaf and Blind. The 90-minute call, which included two interpreters to help her and the subject converse, went well. But when Hall pulled up the recording to begin putting together her report, it was almost entirely blank. Only when Hall’s interpreter spoke did the video include any visuals. The signing between everyone on the call was missing, preventing her from fully transcribing the interview. It turned out that Google Meet doesn’t record video of people who aren’t vocalizing, even when their microphones are unmuted.

Tech Job Interviews Are Out of Control

Tech Job Interviews Are Out of Control

Bock says the shift is partly due to mass layoffs; employers are more able to flex their muscles in a tighter labor market. But there’s also a broader psychological shift. “After years of tech workers being pampered, of ‘bring your whole selves to work’ and ‘work from anywhere,’ executives are now overcompensating in the other direction,” he says.

The upshot for job-seeking coders is confusion, culture shock, and hours of work done for free. Buzz Andersen, who has held engineering roles at Apple, Square, and Tumblr, recently hit the job market again. He noted on Threads last month, “Tech industry job interviews have, of late, reached a new level of absurdity.”

Coding Olympics

Last year an estimated 260,000 workers were let go across 1,189 tech companies, according to a live-update layoff tracker called Layoffs.fyi. And the layoffs have continued into 2024, forcing a glut of talent into an already competitive market. An estimated 41,000 tech workers have been laid off so far this year.

Of course, not all of the tech workers losing their jobs are engineers. Engineers are often still seen as a privileged class within tech companies and the wider economy. Typically they’re the highest-paying class of workers below the C-suite in tech companies. Aline Lerner, who runs a popular interviewing practice platform called Interviewing.io, believes that the total number of engineering layoffs last year was closer to 15,000.

Data from Interviewing.io backs up job seekers’ claims that the bar for technical interviewing has gotten quantifiably higher. Interviewing.io connects people willing to pay $225 or more for interview practice with experienced hiring managers. These managers conduct mock interviews and then provide detailed feedback. Over the past eight years Lerner’s company has recorded thousands of grades from these encounters. Interview subjects are graded not just on their technical interviews, but also behavioral interviews, which focus on problem-solving and communication.

Since 2022, scoring a “thumbs up” on a technical interview has gotten more difficult by an estimated 22 percent, Lerner says. “It’s a very very clear trend,” she says. “And it’s not just interviews at a few Big Tech companies. It’s happening across many tech companies.”


Got a Tip?

Do you work in the tech industry and have experiences with job hunting or work that you’d like to share? Contact Lauren Goode at lauren_goode@wired.com.

On the app Blind, an anonymous gossip app where the truth might be elastic but industry trends often emerge, some tech workers say interviews feel “practically impossible.” One user wrote in early February that the bar for getting hired at one of the Big Tech firms is “two LeetCode medium/hard [tests] within 40 minutes and most of my friends failed,” referring to an oft-used online programming platform.

Another worker complained on Blind that preparing for LeetCode questions requires “hundreds of hours” of preparation: “Why are we expected to do the coding Olympics for every company that wants to interview you?” An engineer who became a manager at Dropbox and is now a director in the telecom industry tells WIRED that in his own past job hunting experience, he felt compelled to collect and write over 100 pages of coding material and potential questions before interviews.

Kara Swisher Is Sick of Tech People, So She Wrote a Book About Them

Kara Swisher Is Sick of Tech People, So She Wrote a Book About Them

In her new memoir, Burn Book, Kara Swisher cites a 2014 profile that dubbed her “Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist.” She might prefer to downplay the first and emphasize the second. Some people would switch that around. But there is no dispute about Swisher’s impact: When it comes to tech punditry, she’s at the top of the heap.

No tech journalist has built a bigger brand for herself. Her three-decade career is a study in hard work and uncommon confidence. She rose from being a reporter at The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal’s internet reporter and then, in her biggest leap, the cofounder of the All Things D Conference and website with her revered mentor, tech reviewer Walt Mossberg. In one of their most famous interviews, she and Mossberg moderated a blissfully convivial joint session with lifetime rivals Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in 2007 that brought many in the audience to tears. Swisher and Mossberg left the Journal in 2013 and started the successful Code conference, with Swisher heading a news site. Her interviews can be tough, the most famous being with Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, when he was so rattled by the way Swisher and Mossberg pressed him on privacy that he literally sweated through his hoodie. In addition to interviewing the entire tech CEO pantheon, Swisher has tossed questions at figures in politics and culture—Hillary Clinton, Kim Kardashian, Maria Ressa, and so on. All the while Swisher has broken plenty of news, fueled by her deep sources. In the past few years, she has mastered the podcast medium with two hits—On With Kara Swisher, an interview show, and Pivot, with business professor Scott Galloway—as well as a coveted stint hosting HBO’s Succession podcast. Swisher also had a short, high-profile run as a New York Times op-ed columnist. She’s played herself on Silicon Valley and The Simpsons. Her current affiliations are with Vox and New York magazine, and she is a permanent panelist on The Chris Wallace Show, a CNN Saturday morning talkfest.

Despite the title, Burn Book is less a scorched-earth exposé than a primer for Swisher newbies and those who want to know the tech world from an insider perspective. On her podcasts she loves to riff on the big trouble she’s courting by revealing the skeletons in tech’s closet, but for her regular listeners there’s little in Burn Book that they won’t have already heard. (She explains that the title is a play on her Mean Girls reputation, a reference to the book of rumors written by the movie’s high school bullies, and that the cover shot of her face with her trademark Ray-Bans, a raging inferno reflected in the lenses, is kind of a joke.) In the memoir, Swisher slashes her way through the tech world like John Wick with a word processor, vanquishing vain CEOs and clueless legacy media bosses and emerging without a scratch. Those humbled bros include Elon Musk, a former pal who’s now a nemesis. But unlike Musk, who Swisher says recently declared her an “asshole,” most of the tech world still, well, likes and fears her. Other journalists dream of interviewing the likes of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. At one stop on Swisher’s book tour, Altman is slated to interview her.

During my afternoon with Swisher at her house in a tony neighborhood in northwest Washington, DC, she took frequent breaks for fond exchanges with three of her four children, her wife Amanda Katz (an editor for The Washington Post), and her ex-wife, Megan Smith, a former US chief technology officer, who dropped in. Our conversation, though, was feisty, as we talked about her storied career, why she abandoned the conference business and The New York Times, and how she answers to the charge that she’s mean.

Steven Levy: What prompted you to write a memoir?

Kara Swisher: I didn’t want to. Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, bugged me for years to write something. I was much more interested in the blogs or the podcasts or whatever. I never really liked writing my books. The process was so slow. And I’d had enough of these [tech] people. I don’t like most of them anymore. I didn’t want to reflect on them. I’m sick of them. They’re sick of me. And Walt Mossberg was supposed to write his memoir, right?

Forget Growth. Optimize for Resilience

Forget Growth. Optimize for Resilience

Fleming believed that growth has natural limits. Things grow to maturity—kids into adults, saplings into trees, startups into full-fledged companies—but growth beyond that point is, in his words, a “pathology” and an “affliction.” The bigger and more productive an economy gets, he argued, the more resources it needs to burn to maintain its own infrastructure. It becomes less and less efficient at keeping any one person clothed, fed, and sheltered. He called this the “intensification paradox”: The harder everyone works to make the GDP line point up, the harder everyone has to work to make the GDP line point up. Inevitably, Fleming believed, growth will turn to degrowth, intensification to deintensification. These are things to prepare for, plan for, and the way to do that is with the missing metric: resilience.

Fleming offers several definitions of resilience, the briefest of which is “the ability of a system to cope with shock.” He describes two kinds: preventive resilience, which helps you maintain an existing state in spite of shocks, and recovery-elastic resilience, which helps you adapt quickly to a new post-shock state. Growth won’t help you with resilience, Fleming argues. Only community will. He’s big on the “informal economy”—think Craigslist and Buy Nothing, not Amazon. People helping people.

So I began to imagine, in my hypocritical heart, an analytics platform that would measure resilience in those terms. As growth shot too high, notifications would fire off to your phone: Slow down! Stop selling! Instead of revenue, it would measure relationships formed, barters fulfilled, products loaned and reused. It would reflect all sorts of non-transactional activities that make a company resilient: Is the sales team doing enough yoga? Are the office dogs getting enough pets? In the analytics meeting, we would ask questions like “Is the product cheap enough for everyone?” I even tried to sketch out a resilience funnel, where the juice that drips down is people checking in on their neighbors. It was an interesting exercise, but what I ended up imagining was basically HR software for Burning Man, which, well, I’m not sure that’s the world I want to live in either. If you come up with a good resilience funnel, let me know. Such a product would perform very badly in the marketplace (assuming you could even measure that).

The fundamental problem is that the stuff that creates resilience won’t ever show up in the analytics. Let’s say you were building a chat app. If people chat more using your app, that’s good, right? That’s community! But the really good number, from a resilience perspective, is how often they put down the app and meet up in person to hash things out. Because that will lead to someone coming by the house with lasagna when someone else has Covid, or someone giving someone’s kid an old acoustic guitar from the attic in exchange for, I don’t know, a beehive. Whole Earth stuff. You know how it works.

All of this somewhat guilty running around led me back to the simplest answer: I can’t measure resilience. I mean, sure, I could wing a bunch of vague, abstract stats and make pronouncements. God knows I’ve done a lot of that before. But there’s no metric, really, that can capture it. Which means I have to talk to strangers, politely, about problems they’re trying to solve.

I hate this conclusion. I want to push out content and see lines move and make no more small talk. I want my freaking charts. That’s why I like tech. Benchmarks, CPU speeds, hard drive sizes, bandwidth, users, point releases, revenue. I love when the number goes up. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world where it doesn’t. Or rather it used to be.


This article appears in the November 2023 issue. Subscribe now.

Men Overran a Job Fair for Women in Tech

Men Overran a Job Fair for Women in Tech

It was meant to be a week for women in tech—but this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration was swamped by men who gate-crashed the event in search of lucrative tech jobs.

The annual conference and career fair aimed at women and non-binary tech workers, which takes its name from a pioneering computer scientist, took place last week in Orlando, Florida. The event bills itself as the largest gathering of women in tech worldwide, and has sought to unite women in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. Sponsors include Apple, Amazon, and Bloomberg, and it’s a major networking opportunity for aspiring tech workers. In-person admission costs between $649 and around $1,300.

This year, droves of men showed up with résumés in hand. AnitaB.org, the nonprofit that runs the conference, said there was “an increase in participation of self-identifying males” at this year’s event. The nonprofit says it believes allyship from men is important, and noted it cannot ban men from attending due to federal nondiscrimination protections in the US.

Organizers expressed frustration. Past iterations of the conference have “always felt safe and loving and embracing,” said Bo Young Lee, president of advisory at AnitaB.org, in a LinkedIn post. “And this year, I must admit, I didn’t feel this way.”

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Cullen White, AnitaB.org’s chief impact officer, said in a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, that some registrants had lied about their gender identity when signing up, and men were now taking up space and time with recruiters that should go to women. “All of those are limited resources to which you have no right,” White said. AnitaB.org did not respond to a request for comment.

Tech jobs, once a fairly safe and lucrative bet, have become more elusive. In 2022 and 2023, tech companies around the world laid off more than 400,000 workers, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that tracks job losses across the industry. Tens of thousands of those cuts have come from huge employers like Meta and Amazon, and some firms have instituted hiring freezes. The layoffs have been particularly brutal for immigrant workers, who have been left scrambling for sponsorship in the US after losing work.

The controversy at the Grace Hopper Celebration shows the fallout of those job losses, as women and non-binary people still struggle to find equal footing in an industry dominated by men. Women made up just a third of those working in STEM jobs as of 2021, according to the US National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

As job cuts bite, all prospective tech workers have become more desperate for opportunities. During the conference, videos posted to TikTok showed a sea of men waiting in line to enter the conference or speak with recruiters in the expo hall. Men and women are seen running into the expo as a staffer yells for them to slow down.

Avni Barman, the founder of female-talent focused media platform Gen She, says she immediately noticed “tons” more men and a more chaotic scene this time compared to previous years.

Barman was at the conference to host a meet-up. During and after the conference, she heard from a number of women who were sad and frustrated after. “This is a conference for women and non-binary people,” Barman says.

Nelly Azar, a student at The Ohio State University studying computer science and engineering, attended the conference and saw long lines of people waiting to speak to employers. That was entirely different from 2022, they say, when they attended and saw few men.

Azar says they could talk to only two of the companies they were interested in because others were inundated with applicants. Long lines zigzagged outside the entrance to the event’s expo hall. The frustration was palpable. This year’s conference shows “not only how fragile our spaces are, but why we need them more than ever,” Azar says. “Now is one of the most important times to advocate for gender equity.”