You can't deepfake diversity, and that's a good thing

Fresh thinking and new approaches can only come from varied cohorts of people

Opinion "My other car is a Porsche" was never the most convincing of claims you could make while out drinking on a Friday night, but it's as real as the Pope's Catholicism compared to the speaker list for the DevTernity developer conference. There, the otherwise pure male roster was de-bro-ed by "Anna Boyko, purportedly a staff engineer at Coinbase and Ethereum core contributor."

Boyko, however, does not appear to exist. The organizer claims otherwise, but the conf, due for December 7, has been cancelled.

It is gloriously bizarre to fake a dev for a public event, but exponentially weird to attempt this with one who supposedly works in blockchain. In the same way that the blockchain depends on proof of work to guarantee its integrity, the developer community looks for proof of work to check those claiming membership. Without your footprints in discussion groups, Git repos, project histories, social media, and even LinkedIn, you don't exist. The whole internet is a reputational blockchain, highly resistant to even the best AI fakery. Pulling a halfhearted magic codemaiden out of your hat will fail to convince anyone of anything except your extreme gormlessness. That doesn't scrub off. 

Conversely, had DevTernity used the creation of a gender-appropriate avatar to make the point that the real thing is so thin on the ground, they may have had a point. It's hard to get that right, but there is a world full of activist organizations to talk to about getting it right, and they'd bite your arm off for the chance.

The sin is not fakery by itself. Every representational work of art in print, on canvas or carved out of stone contains deepfakes of real beings. The sin is to deceive, to pretend that your conference doesn't have an all-male speaker lineup. 

That deception goes deep in the fight against diversity and, boys and girls, that fight is heating up. The divided politics of today are fueled by cultural warriors blaming everything that's bad on diversity, even in the most technical of fields.

In aviation, there's an alarming increase in poor decisions among pilots and air traffic control leading to near-misses and other incidents. This is most plausibly due to lack of staff, especially the most experienced, due to sector contraction during COVID causing early retirement and career changes. The industry's back, but the people are not. The increase in errors is certainly not – as some comedians happy to tickle the gorge of conservative folks would have it – because a push for more diversity is somehow relaxing standards for minorities. Suggest that to a check pilot, the people actually ensuring qualification role for commercial pilots, and they'll get pretty angry for good reason.

In some sectors suffering from shortages, a push for diversity actually relieves the pressure on the numbers, welcoming in excellent individuals who weren't getting a look-in for whatever reason. Dell in the Netherlands, for example, addressed both the issues of scarcity in the labor market and found a way to bring in a more diverse group, including women and younger people, when they opened technical roles to those who were not available for a five-day workweek due to other obligations and preferences.

Diversity isn't some fluffy game of wokeball played by mythical elites out of some ill-defined hatred of Real People. Diversity is a law of nature. The reason any organism reproduces is to mix things up, to create a species full of variation to defy disease and better adapt to external changes. If you're against diversity, you're against that. Improvement by natural selection is derived from including diversity and decreased by any reduction of it.

Think back to when you were first learning about technology, first realizing what you could do with it and how it works. Each discovery of a new idea was exciting, a neat algorithm that made short work of a tricky task, a new processor architecture that turned the way you thought about things on its head, the first time your executable got faster and smaller because you'd suddenly understood that weird code structure concept. New ideas come from new perspectives.

Now remember that first time you released your bug-free app to real users only for it to come back with a hundred tickets you didn't know to design or test for. This is the same thing in reverse, and using your customer base as some sort of conceptual fuzz test doesn't count. Diverse ideas come from diverse cohort of people, at every stage.

The bad news is diversity doesn't come for free. The cry "we can't hire them if they're not there" is no excuse. Why aren't they there? Try asking. Engineering in general and tech in particular does accept some diversity better than others. If you're not on the spectrum, you'll know someone who is. Neurodiverse people can be exceptionally perceptive and supportive of other forms of diversity, but if you don't have a working culture where such discussions are safe and encouraged – if you don't listen – you're ignoring a hugely valuable resource you've already paid for. That's not just inside companies, that's across the lot – most emphatically, in open source, which should be doing a lot better because it has maximal freedom.

Diversity is not optional. It's how to prosper in a changing world. It's matching the work you do and the things you make to the biggest market they can reach. It doesn't come for free, you can't tick-box it in, you have to treat it as you do any other aspect of your organizational and working life – with intelligence, curiosity, investment and long-term strategy.

Unless you're a standup in a bad hat who wants to be laughed at, just don't try and fake it. ®

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