Inclusive Engineering At Snap

Introduction

Last week, Snap released our second annual diversity report, which shares our comprehensive workforce data for 2020 and outlines our continued commitment to becoming a more fair, inclusive, and anti-racist company by driving meaningful change within our culture, our products, and the larger tech ecosystem we are part of.

A core part of this work is building products that are fully inclusive of all Snapchatters. No matter where you live, what your background is, what you look like, how you communicate, or your socioeconomic status, you should feel as though Snap products are made for you. To truly disrupt bias and fundamentally transform the industry into one that embodies equity, represents everyone, and attracts and retains talent from every background, we must ensure our empathy based design has a mechanism to ensure all our users are built-in from day one. This is the first step in ensuring we can root out our bias, support our team members, and create the support systems needed to help underrepresented talent enter the tech industry.  

To help drive these efforts across our business, Snap Engineering recently established its first ever Inclusion Engineering Director, Tammarrian Rogers. 

Rogers has had an accomplished 30-year career in tech. Before joining Snap, she worked at General Motors, Apple, and Microsoft. Her journey began after graduating from the Historically Black College Tuskegee University in Alabama before she went on to receive her masters at Stanford University.

While this is not a typical engineering blog post, Snap is a company driven by values and we know stories scale empathy and disrupt stereotypes. So, we had the pleasure of catching up with Tammarrian to discuss her leadership on Snap Eng, the current state of inclusive engineering, and a preview of what’s on the roadmap.

The Purpose of Inclusive Engineering

Snap has approached inclusion from all angles of the business and the product. This role is focused entirely on Engineering and provides a single-threaded focus on inclusiveness in our product development and engineering processes. The role is focused on two primary areas: 

  • Culture: How we work together as we ideate, experiment, build, localize, test, release, monitor, and listen to our community and advertisers, and

  • Product experiences: How we, as engineers, consistently contribute to the development of 

inclusive, equitable product experiences. It is also important that we, in partnership with our Product team, provide a mechanism to encourage inclusive ideation and ensure diverse voices are elevated as part of the creative process.

Our number one priority is to listen. Our organization is rich with innovative ideas for building inclusive product experiences and nurturing an inclusive culture. When this role was created, many people across the organization surfaced ideas ranging from how we can build more inclusive product experiences to how we can continue to improve our culture. At Snap, we define inclusive engineering as the practice of ensuring the products and services we deliver are accessible and made for all people, reflecting how they see themselves and where they are in the world. Right now, we are focused on defining our desired outcomes of several inclusive engineering projects we have underway, including Inclusive Language, Machine Learning Fairness, and diversifying datasets to improve our product experiences.

Another key priority is nurturing an inclusive engineering culture. We’ve run a listening series to understand the experiences of underrepresented team members in Engineering to learn what we’re doing well and where we can improve. We know part of our success in this feat is doubling down on initiatives that are working well, like our internal mobility program, which promotes internal transfers and the exploration of short and long-term projects for team members, and our Tech Mentorship program, which continues to grow year over year. 

With our commitment to create and maintain a high performing inclusive engineering organization we are in the early stages of re-evaluating our current software development life cycles for inclusiveness. Our goal is to ensure we are capitalizing on the skills, talent and perspectives of every team member in our organization in order to systematically generate inclusive product experiences for our diverse, global community.

Equally important is our journey to diversify our engineering organization through our recruiting efforts.  With our extensive growth planned in 2021, we have an incredible opportunity to move the needle. To give candidates a lens into the life of an Engineer at Snap, we are experimenting with how we do interviews, revisiting our sourcing strategy, and sharing the stories of our team members.  

We’ve also made notable progress with our Snap Up program. Snap Up, in partnership with our University Recruiting and IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness) teams, aims to find brilliant minds from groups traditionally excluded from the tech industry and who typically have fewer work experiences or internships than those from advantaged backgrounds. The program allows junior engineers to gain experience through three rotations on various engineering teams, simulating internships in Snap Engineering. 

Overall, we are proud of the progress we’ve made to date and we look forward to our plans for the rest of the year.  We believe we are well poised to see a notable shift in both our culture and the representation of people from underrepresented groups in our organization by the end of the year.

Inclusive Language and ML Fairness

Let’s dive deeper into the concept of Inclusive Language. One of Snap’s values is Kind which means we are empathetic, courageous, and work to instill trust through honesty and integrity. In principle, Inclusive Language is a project rooted in this value with a goal to elevate awareness and encourage thoughtfulness around the language we use in our day-to-day engineering tools and verbal and written communication. Tactically, we are replacing legacy terms in our codebase and tools that we deem ‘non-inclusive’ based on input from our team members.  

Our approach is to start with a short list of terms we aim to eliminate from all our active sources and that are traditionally found in code. The exercise of building the tools, process and framework to detect, remediate, and programmatically prevent these terms from reentering our work sources will enable us to easily continue this work in the future as we identify more terms we wish to eliminate or replace. 

So far, we have successfully replaced our internal dogfood app from Master to Gold. We have identified four terms (Master, Slave, Whitelist, and Blacklist) that will be replaced with more inclusive terms: Primary, Secondary, Allowlist, and Blocklist. We are currently scoping the detection, remediation, and prevention of these terms across three platforms: Github repos, Atlassian, and GSuite. We have dashboards to track and measure instances of terms in repos and we’ve developed a chrome extension that detects terms in the browser window. Beyond leveraging the Find and Replace function to remediate terms in our simpler platforms like GSuite, Wikis and JIRA tools, we’re exploring options to tackle more complex platforms like Github repo branches.  We’re also exploring options to programmatically prevent new code that contains terms, like using Lint rules.

On the topic of ensuring fairness in Machine Learning (ML) at Snap, our fairness vision is “Guarantee all Snapchatters’ experience with Snap’s products and services is inclusive, accountable, and balanced; regardless of race, color, ethnic origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability status, religion, political opinion, or other protected categories.”  We have several efforts underway to support this vision.  We look forward to our team sharing more details about our work in this space in one of our future blogs.

The Journey Here

Creating an Inclusive Engineering role was a natural progression of the work we’ve already been doing in Snap Engineering:

  • Top-down Dedication and Action 

Our Engineering leadership team has been committed to attracting diverse talent and nurturing an inclusive engineering organization for years.  Nearly four years ago, we established two working groups focused on women and racial and ethnic minorities (specifically BIPOC). These groups consisted of engineers across the team who identified with these communities and brought, and actively implemented, ideas to attract or drive an inclusive culture. It’s worth noting our most senior leaders were consistently actively involved signaling the importance of this work.  Our tech mentorship program, Snap Up, Listening Series, and talent sourcing partnerships were born from these working groups. We have a new working group for Asians in Tech where we are focused on reaching leadership parity.    

  • Inclusive Engineering is Everyone’s Responsibility

We believe it’s important to create a sustainable model for nurturing an inclusive culture that attracts diverse talent. We intentionally avoided creating DEI “checkboxes” for leaders across the organization to ensure each leader was contributing to an inclusive culture. Instead, we embedded and prioritized DEI initiatives into our core engineering work and planning and tracking processes such as our OKR and Snap Strategic Planning (SSP) processes. The Listening Series, regular OKR reviews, and metrics monitoring all contribute to us driving inclusive engineering into the DNA of the organization. 

  • Commitment to “moving the needle”

Driving an inclusive engineering culture requires a laser focus on the impact each initiative is having. It requires a willingness to experiment, transparently abandon a path that’s not proving impactful and course correcting. Having a senior engineering leader in place to help us stay true to our commitments is core to internal accountability and direction.

Our decision to create this role was based on three factors: values, priorities, and experience. Especially over the last year, with the social and political challenges we faced in our society, Snap’s values were put to the test as we listened, responded and proactively took a stand on many issues we face today. We evaluated how well we were aligned in our day-to-day work and where we could do better. Ultimately, our team knows that Inclusive engineering is truly everyone's responsibility. Our leaders are not only aiming to build a truly inclusive, diverse, global company, but to also be relentless in delivering product experiences that are fair, inclusive, and equitable. Engineering plays a key role delivering those experiences.

If you’re interested in staying up to date on Inclusive Language at Snap, please continue to follow our blog eng.snap.com, and follow our LinkedIn Page: Snap Inc. 

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