How to Turn Cyborg — Final Thoughts

My adventures through Dev Academy’s web development programme

Enspiral Dev Academy is a web development school in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand. Dev Academy’s Marketing Manager Maddy King took it upon herself to brave the programme, and share her #nofilter thoughts on the journey. Check out Week 1 here.

Completing Phase Zero of Dev Academy’s web development course really got me thinking about our relationship with technology. I went to an amazing talk on Decolonising Education by Te Kotahi Research Institute at Waikato University recently, and this talk highlighted that colonisation damages relationships by embedding them all with relations of power. It got me thinking about how technology affects our interpersonal relationships, and how, in doing so, technology conveys power.

Have you ever had a pet, and you train it up to respond to certain commands, and you feel like you’ve got the power and you’re the boss and it’s all great. But then the longer you live with your pet, the more this assumption falls apart. The dog barks and so you walk it. The cat meows and so you feed it. The dog does a trick and you give it a treat. Suddenly it’s much more like the pets are training you.

Me mulling over the state of the world since way back, ft. Rose the dog

I wonder about this with tech. When I was a kid we all used to imagine having robot servants that we would command to do anything. When I think about it now, however, I wonder whether the robots are training us. I have an iPhone, for example, that I use as my alarm in the morning, and the app has trained me to hit the teeny tiny ‘Stop’ button instead of swiping Snooze. I hate the noise of the alarm so my instinct is to swipe to get rid of it, but then it goes off again a few minutes later. Finding that teeny tiny button is a nightmare, but I do it now just to end the noise. Is this terrible UI or a design feature calculated to make me wake up? Either way, the phone has me trained. Think about the extent to which people in offices have to change their workflow when Word or Windows does a big update, or when they first learn to use Mail or Outlook — you have to entirely reconfigure your processes in order to make the system work for you, but really it’s like you’re changing your behaviour to work for the system.

The power that machines are gaining over programming our behaviour is interesting. But really it’s the people building the software — the UX and UI designers, the developers—who are designing the programmes that are forcing these behavioural shifts. Are they the people with the real power?

This highlights something that I find really shocking about development — the absurdity that people from other languages have to learn English in order to learn to code. All major programming languages are written in English, which means that code literally reinforces colonising relationships of power, because this is just another way that it’s easier for people from the first-language-English countries to make more money and have more power and influence over the shape of the future than people from other countries.

I had a look into the existence of programming languages with different linguistic bases, and having recently visited Morocco I was interested to see how many of these were in Arabic. But this makes absolute sense when more people in the world speak Arabic as a first language than people who speak English as a first language. Yet English is the main linguistic basis for technology. It is a very interesting and potentially short-sighted development in the software industry.

If the programmers are the people with the real power over the influence that technology has on our behaviour, and programmers are mostly from the same countries or have the same backgrounds, this is really alarming.

Technology has changed us in other ways. In education, Carol Dweck has a dominant theory about fixed vs growth mindset. The idea is vaguely that some people believe intelligence is fixed, they are good at what they are good at, and aren’t motivated to try new things. Other people have a growth mindset, they believe intelligence is elastic and that it is possible to learn anything. Those with a growth mindset have much better mechanisms for responding to failure, and are therefore more likely to be successful.

In education I’ve noticed a bit of a death of the fixed mindset. My ‘millennial’ generation seem to all adopt the characteristics of the growth mindset, and I believe this is due to technology. We had to google how to download movies while our parents were still reading the manuals of how to set up their TVs. We’ve taught ourselves everything technical, plus most of the things we were supposed to learn at school, using our own exploration and interest.

Me challenging everything since way back, ft. two super cool brothers

Technology has completely changed education, and in many ways we’re only realising the tip of that iceberg at the moment. The response of ‘more devices’ and knocking down classroom walls demonstrates a systemic lack of imagination around the effects and possibilities that technologically empowered generations will bring.

Dev Academy aims to transform the technology industry with education, and is also a perfect example of transforming education with technology. We create a safe environment, have small cohorts so students have tonnes of support if they need it, and teach without hierarchy, so students are as much the teachers as staff. Staff provide expertise, and students have independence and flexibility, and are expected to be self-directed. We teach students how to learn much more than we tell them what to learn, because the content of their programming needs will change throughout their journey in tech.

I think education is the key frontier to making technology more of a positive influence on the world, because with education we can ensure that more of the people that have the power to design technology are good people.

I look at what Dev Academy has done with technology education, inside and outside the confines of the existing system. Then I try to reimagine a future for the entire way we do education. A future of education that is flexible and accommodating of different needs, which both supports and challenges, that grows creativity and encourages risk, that honours our history and imbues the wisdom of empathy, and how to navigate interpersonal challenges with grace, that teaches a rich ethical and theoretical background and then encourages problem solving and bravery, that reimagines colonial relations of power and destroys assessment based notions of success, which builds relationships of love with community, with the elderly, and with nature, and which furnishes learners with the tools to solve their own challenges. Then I have hope.

Technology, like any superhero’s tool, can be used to maintain the status quo of perpetually giving the powerful more power. Or it can be used to challenge the system we live in and build alternatives, without permission and without supervision. If technology does have an unparalleled influence over our behaviour and interactions, we can use that power in a positive way. Technology can and already is allowing us to reimagine education, learning, even what it means to be human. If we ground our technology use in empathy, humility and human relationships, I believe it will be a tool that can be used to achieve great goodness in the challenges that are to come. This is why we need more diverse people in tech, and this is why the way Dev Academy teaches tech, with empathy, interpersonal skills and communication at the forefront, is so important. To change the world.

But first for me: one nine week bootcamp, coming right up.

Begin your journey into technology. Join Dev Academy today. Start the preparation phase through remote learning, before entering the in-class bootcamp in Auckland or Wellington. Graduate only 9 weeks later with the skills to become a junior web developer and craft the future. Apply now.