What happens when a senior tech executive is the subject of your #metoo article
(Note: This piece was originally published on Medium on February 8, 2021. Medium removed the piece a few days after it was published, as a violation of their TOS for harassment, after they received a report from a person or persons named in the piece. It still hasn’t been restored, as of 3/26/2021.)
Yesterday, I woke up to an email from four of his friends, whom I’ve known, loved, and trusted almost as long as I’d known loved, and trusted Jesse.
This was their response to the news that their friend had physically, emotionally, and sexually harmed his girlfriend for ten years.
They gave a brief nod to my “anger” (I’m not particularly angry at the moment, and I’m not sure where they read that in my original piece) and my “feedback” (is “my ex boyfriend choked me until I passed out, and was smiling when I woke up” feedback? This is a real-life man who harms women, and is continuing to harm them, not a CSAT survey on a customer support ticket).
After that, they shared the goal of their letter, and my heart physically ached as I read the words.
Because these are men whom I had considered to be Good Men™️. As in, not perfect men, but men who try to show up as best they can for their loved ones. Who love and care for their wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and kids. Who do their best to understand how their actions impact people, regardless of their intentions, and who would be horrified if they accidentally physically or emotionally harmed their girlfriend even once — let alone hundreds of times.
And yet. These four good men chided me for going public.
Not one of them challenged the truth of what I’d said, so it doesn’t seem to be an issue of a “false accusation.” Jesse openly admits to the severe harm he’s done, in fact.
Not one of them asked if there was anything they might be able to do to support me. If they could drop me off a meal, or watch my dog, or even just send a “thinking of you” card or a cute cat gif.
Not one of them so much as said that they were sorry to hear that their childhood friend, and/or co-founder/collaborator had hurt and harmed me so severely that I still bear the scars (physical, emotional, financial, mental, spiritual).
No. These four good men simply want me to remove the names of the companies where Jesse (and the friends) work.
Spotify (formerly Loudr ) MAGFest, Ragazzi Boys’ Chorus, Ragazzi Continuo, Super Smash Opera, and Materia Collective, to name a few.
One of them is the CEO and founder of Materia ( Sebastian Wolff ), but I don’t believe that Spotify, Magfest, Ragazzi Boys’ Chorus, or Ragazzi Continuo have all officially agreed that this action should be taken. However, their silence speaks volumes about how much they don’t care about the behavior of their workers. And Sebastian Wolff’s subsequent emails, coupled with other information that’s surfaced about his unethical and frankly not even particularly clever business practices, says even more.
Nevertheless, this letter is a veiled warning: if I don’t comply and I continue to name Jesse and the companies and communities he’s part of, I’ll need to contend with the four well-liked, successful, charismatic, well-connected, and respected men who wrote and signed this letter. And, of course, Jesse himself.
My silence isn’t on the negotiating table
For better or for worse, I’m not afraid of them, or even the actions they may take against me to try to keep me quiet and contained.
The worst things that can possibly happen to a human being already happened to me, a long time ago, and on a daily basis from ages 0–18 (severe childhood harm). And then ages 19–29 (including severe domestic violence, from Jesse). And age 18 had a fair number of assaults and close-calls, too.
Compared with my dad*, these four “good men” are not even a teensy bit frightening. Because they I grew up much like Gomorrah and Nebula did in Avengers: End Game. (I was the Gomorrah of my family, but I often wonder if I would have been safer as the Nebula. Probably not, because nobody wins in a tragedy like End Game.
In some ways, I’m truly lucky. Because compared with being born and raised by a man like Thanos, and then becoming the girlfriend of a man who seems to have the superpowers of The Purple Man?
There is literally nothing on this earth, in this universe, that could harm me more than I’ve already been harmed. And it was a miracle that I survived it. But because I did, I now have the capacity to survive just about anything — and some (super?)powers of my own that were forged in the radioactive fires of years 0–29 of my life.
I’m human, of course. Just some lady on the internet who likes to write things, pet my dog Muffin, make brunchies on lazy Saturday mornings, predict strangers’ favorite Starbucks orders (tweet me @EvaGantz and see if I can guess yours 🙂 ), and found a few startups of her own in her free time.
I’m also exactly the wrong lady — or maybe exactly the right one—to send this kind of letter.
Because it’s absolutely true that I’d never take an action that I believe would harm someone else. Even someone who spent a decade harming me.
I will no longer carry the harms that Jesse and others like him have chosen to do to me. I will no longer hold harm inside of me, thinking that’s the safest place for it because then I’ll be the only one affected, and everyone else can stay safe and happy.
Publishing a #metoo piece is a bit like letting customers know about a long-standing known issue with the software.
The bug has been there, there regardless of if the company or customers have been speaking about it, and had been there for years and years, affecting people who try to use the software.
And the company may have felt that quietly rewriting the code in the dead of night to fix the bug itself would be the best option. To ship quick fixes in hopes of resolving the issue without having to tell anyone that there had ever been a mistake.
Unfortunately, much like with code and startups, that’s how you get technical debt. And a customer base who begins to mistrust you and avoid using your product (unless you’re a monopoly like a FAANG company ). And a growing number of people who have been hurt, to whatever degree, by your product, despite every good intention in your heart.
It’s also why we have SEV (site event) reviews, and “blameless post mortems”. To understand what went wrong when a technical issue happens and how to avoid it in future.
We don’t blame the junior software engineer for pushing a faulty line of code; we examine the systems and processes that made it possible for the code to go live and stay live for however long, and to effect however many people. And we make concrete plans to address those issues, and follow up on those plans and issues in future if and when they aren’t resolved.
We prioritize impact over intent, at least when it comes to code, and when the impact is directly tied to the bottom line.
We can and should do the same for the impact of people who work at these tech companies. Because companies aren’t real — they’re just groups of people who’ve joined forces to try to do something cool, make something beautiful, solve a hard problem, help people, save the world, or just hustle a bit of cash to survive capitalism. Usually it’s a mix of all of the above.
We can’t decide that protecting the reputation of a company is more important than truly understanding and addressing harm that’s happening to our communities (our friends, coworkers, bosses, loved ones, spouses).
Because when we do, we prioritize a fictional entity over real, precious human lives. And that’s far too high a cost.
It’s time to take a deep breath, crack open a mountain dew or red bull or la columbe latte, and face the “technical debt” of accountability.
It may not be glamorous, or fun, or sexy, and sometimes others may question why going back and resolving technical debt or doing user research on long-standing issues is important.
But OG techies have learned our lesson by now. We know why technical debt is poison to a company, and how much better off a product and company and team are when tech debt is addressed and we calmly, blamelessly dig into the “why” of whatever server outage logged millions of people out of their Facebook accounts. Or whatever the crisis of the week is.
And the real joy comes when the debt pile grows smaller and smaller, and there are fewer and fewer new emergencies piling up every day.
We can do this. We’ve been training ourselves to be experts in accountability processes for years.
Pick up a copy of Disrupting the Bystander: When #MeToo Happens Among Friends by A.V. Flox.
Settle in for not just a sprint, but a sustainably-paced marathon.
Because all we have to do now is the work itself.
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*My dad is an OG techie, one of the first Excel consultants back in the 90s, with clients like the president of Cornell. And he’s also a well-known scammer and financial abuser, especially of folks who are elderly and/or vulnerable. And especially folks he’s dating.
Fun fact: I was made an “associate” of “Neal Gantz and Associates” at age 7. Unpaid, of course, and doing mid-level data entry and operational tasks. But it seems a tad misleading to say that your “associate” is working on the spreadsheet when said associate is wiggling her loose front tooth as she types.
I’m quite familiar with powerful, successful, charming techies and businessmen. I was born and raised in that world. Not trained to be a techie myself (though that’s what I became), but a techie’s daughter — or, more accurately and grotesquely Trumpian, that techie’s wife.
My dad often said that he’s attracted to me, and that that’s normal, and we as a society should be accepting of that natural fact.
He also seems to date an awful lot of women who are about my age (or only a decade or so older), look similar to me, and have similar careers and interests.
There’s much more I could say about my dad, the tech industry, and domestic harm, but that’s for another time and another article.