Dear Designer

The 2020 Guide for White Men in Tech

How to use centuries of unfair advantage to make the world a more equal place

Mike Monteiro
Jan 30, 2020 · 8 min read
Illustration: Eugenia Mello

elcome back, gentlemen. Last year’s guide to white men in tech was one of the most popular articles on this platform, so I’m excited about this year’s. We assume the popularity was for several reasons: The title had a number in it, it was addressed to white men, it was written by a white man, and it was about tech. That’s a Medium grand slam!

(I’m kidding. There was no guide last year. Roll with it.)

Look, I’m walking a tightrope here, kids. First of all, let’s acknowledge, as white men, the privilege we have in society in general and in tech specifically. Then let’s acknowledge that you get that privilege whether you want it or not. You can be super conscious of your privileged place in the world, you can disavow it, you can attempt to cast it off, you can rail against it. And I encourage you to do all of those things and more.

You can either float along thinking you hit a triple when you really just happened to be born on third base, or you can use that privilege to help others

But at the end of the day, you’re still going to get it. You’re still going to be offered more and better jobs and get paid more for them, the bank won’t call the cops on you if you go to deposit a check, the passport office won’t give you side-eye, and your co-workers won’t confuse you for the building’s custodial staff. Finally, I should acknowledge that I couldn’t say half this shit and still expect to have a regular column here if it weren’t for that privilege.

Privilege is unshakeable. Until the world is fundamentally changed so that all people are viewed as equal — which is our goal — you have two choices: You can either float along thinking you hit a triple when you really just happened to be born on third base, or you can use that privilege to help others who have to work much harder than you to achieve even half your success. As the recipient of unfair advantage, it’s on you to tip the scales back to where justice would have them. This will not make you a hero, but it will bring you closer to being a decent human being. Which is a pretty wonderful thing to be, I’ve heard.

It’s still a great time to be a white man

Your successful white father had it pretty good. Maybe he worked in finance, wore an Armani suit with big shoulders and swank suspenders. Carried a big brick of a mobile phone. A real Gordon Gekko vibe. He’d wheel and deal in the morning, do a little cocaine at lunch, go to some afternoon meetings, then hit the clubs. Sometimes he “worked so late” he stayed in the apartment he kept in the city.

Your successful white grandfather would take the train in from the ’burbs, do some office work, have a two-martini lunch, do a little more work, have his secretary buy his wife an anniversary present as well as a little something for herself, and then head back to the ’burbs where the missus would be waiting with dinner on the table and a glass of scotch. Your successful white great-grandfather might have owned a top hat. Your successful white great-great-grandfather might have owned your co-worker’s great-great-grandfather.

Successful you has to work longer hours, you’re saddled with a lot of student loans, and you’re probably having dinner at work, or maybe picking it up on the way home because your wife has a job, too. So on the surface, it might look like things are on the decline even for the successful white man. On the surface. Until you take a look at society as a whole and see that successful people of other races and genders are going through all of those same things while getting paid a lot less than you are. Plus you can get things like bank loans and VC funding and not get killed by cops during routine traffic stops.

The world may be slowly edging toward justice on a generational level, but the last three years of U.S. leadership is certainly pushing it backward. You’re still living the high life, though. As the saying goes, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Other people aren’t subtracting from what you’re entitled to. They’re entitled to as much as you are.

I know how much you hate to wait as much as you love a microbrew IPA, so here are this year’s bullet points:

Stop being so emotional about everything

Despite your perception that things are now harder for you (they’re not, we just went over that), you are going to need to hold your shit together if you want to be taken seriously. I understand how emotional white men can be because I am one of you. I see you, Todd!

We freak out when everything doesn’t go our way because everything went our way for soooo long.

Sometimes people are wrong on the internet. Sometimes people are wrong at work. Sometimes the cafeteria is out of chicken molé enchiladas by the time you get there. Sometimes the company offsite can’t be at a strip club because Karen made a fuss last time. Sometimes they remake your favorite childhood movies and they put women in them. I realize how traumatizing all of this can be, but my dudes — we freak out about this shit. We freak out when everything doesn’t go our way because everything went our way for soooo long. And honestly, it still goes our way more than is fair. That’s not a feature, that’s a bug.

So let’s stop accusing others of being emotional at work when we’re the ones spending our lunch hour rage-petitioning for the release of the “proper” Star Wars film edit.

Save your energy

Look, we all know that you knew how Mary Anne was going to finish that sentence, but why exhaust yourself by finishing it for her? Let her tire herself out. Make her finish what she started. So let’s keep our pieholes shut while Mary Anne is talking. You know, to save our energy. After all, you have a century to ride this Friday. Oh, and maybe remind the other guys to save their energy, too.

Also, promotions are exhausting. It’s a lot more work, which cuts into your “you” time. So the next time one comes up, why not sit it out? Let Mary Anne try to get it. Sucker. She’ll be doing more work. And even if you end up reporting to her, you’ll most likely still be making more money than she does.

Sabotage is fun!

Listen up, young Chads. Some of you are working at companies that are doing society a disservice. You may even feel bad about it. You’ve been telling your woke friends you’ve been “changing things from the inside” for years. Why not actually start doing it?

But rather than trying to organize your co-workers or collecting signatures for petitions, why not play to your particular white-men strengths? Keep things from running smoothly. Introduce wedges into the cogs of the machine. Stick a potato in the proverbial tailpipe! Not only is sabotage ethical, but it can also be a lot of fun. If your company is doing shady shit, you are in a great position to disrupt the flow of “progress.”

If you’re a worker, be late for meetings. Spill your coffee on the conference phone. Unplug random electrical plugs. Accidentally delete code for problematic projects. At all-hands meetings, ask long-winded questions that have little to do with anything. Address email to the wrong people. Don’t document your work for colleagues who will need to use it or build on it. Take the batteries out of the remote for the presentation screen. Get needlessly emotional when there are no donuts left in the breakroom. Take excessive bathroom breaks and clog the toilet with an entire roll of paper. Do less work than the previous quarter and demand a raise. Take sick days as a deadline looms. Use your unlimited PTO until it becomes a problem, but come back before someone mentions it.

If you’re a manager, call meetings that don’t need to happen. Invite people who don’t need to be there. Don’t guide the meeting at all, let it drift from one topic to another without any resolution. Make sure there’s always a remote caller and struggle with getting them set up. Tell remote callers you’re using Zoom and then wait for them in Hangouts. And make sure it runs long enough so that people are late to their next meeting — that way you get to disrupt two meetings! Promote people who are incompetent and offer them no training. Assign your worst workers to the most problematic problems. Accidentally leak sensitive interoffice memos to members of the press. Lie to your boss about success metrics.

As white men, you can use your positions of privilege to sabotage the workplace and emerge relatively unscathed. You’ll rarely be blamed, and if you’re actually caught red-handed, it’ll be assumed that you’re under a large amount of stress, and you’ll probably be given extra vacation time to recharge or promoted to a position where you can do less damage. If you’re a company founder, you can sabotage at will and get a $1.7 billion payout!

Empathy is for suckers

You’ve probably sat through a couple of empathy workshops at this point. Probably something put together by the UX people and HR together. They’re exhausting. Why should all this shit be on you? Why should you have to learn how to think like other people? Here’s a loophole: You don’t have to think like any of these other groups if you hire them to do the work for you. That’s right! Why wonder how women and minorities might use something? Just let them build the damn thing. They can do all the hard work. They can do all the messy stuff.

You can just sit back, brother. Recline in that nice, expensive office chair. Put your feet up. See if McKinsey’s hiring. And think about the bright future you and the other white guys built for everybody. Heckuva job, Dougie.

If you have a question, email me, and I’ll be happy to answer it. Maybe. If it’s a good question and answering it could help a lot of people, I’ll be more likely to answer it. “Should I quit my job because my boss is a dick?” is not a good question (and you already know the answer anyway).

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Mike Monteiro

Written by

English is my second language. You were my first.

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Mike Monteiro

Written by

English is my second language. You were my first.

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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