Many of us in tech tend to be introverts. We are passionately engaged with our clients. We feel and experience deeply but you would never know it as we are reticent to speak up, or cause controversy in order to avoid a drop in web traffic, fewer consulting gigs, or trolls from high school taking issue with a mildly progressive meme involving the color pink. When Googlers this week finally started “marching” in support of immigrant colleagues, this made me smile and also remembering fondly an SEO conference from several years ago. The SES event we attended involved a meet and greet icebreaker which involved identifying your firm as to whether it was “white hat” or “black hat”. “White hat” meant you used technical skills that were above board, slightly less aggressive in order to earn higher rankings but none which would trouble the search giants such as Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go or Facebook. “Black hat” meant you were not above being scrappy and slightly nefarious by using keywords hidden in white fonts, misdirected pages, buying followers, or other questionable tech tactics. We were provided real cowboy hats during the event and instructed to both wear them and mingle. Surprisingly, it was a 50/50 color spectrum.
But when you have always leaned “white hat” and have turned down more gigs than you have accepted due to questionable client ethics, there comes a point when you need to actually wear your sheriff’s badge and come clean.
In the early 90’s I both interviewed and processed grants for disaster victims, for women at risk who had been violated and burned with cigarettes in the trafficking industry, human rights activists in foreign jails housed in horrendous conditions, and health professionals who had their hospitals and lifesaving equipment bombed by political factions. Later, as a case manager and small business developer, I went on to help refugees impacted by similar events try to build small family microbusinesses in order to escape tough working conditions from jobs they had to accept once they had been admitted to the US. Many of these tiny businesses made it. Some did not. I was new to understanding the impact of PTSD on many of my clients and looking back wondered if stronger mental health support would have allowed more of these families to thrive. One client had been chased by gangs with knives through the jungles of Togo. He was heartbroken to be separated from his wife. A large man with a broad smile, he came to my office and cried when he was placed in a job with a meat packing plant. Idealistic, but inexperienced, it took me several years to understand that the knives in the meat packing plant were probably not helping him recover from his experience of being hunted in the jungles of Togo.
So…as I saw people unjustly detained and then finally “making it” through the gauntlet at so many airports in these United States this weekend to cheering crowds, I was haunted by the man with the broad smile. He never had a crowd to greet him, just me. And this is how we continue to work. If we can cheer for your success (and the standards are high) then you qualify for a sheriff’s badge with our “white hat” team.
~ Leigh M. Drake, President, Mountain Woods Media, LLC