Class Mobility, Mentorship and Getting Started in Tech

An Interview with Lynn Cyrin

by The Editor & Lynn Cyrin on May 19th, 2014

We sat down with Lynn Cyrin to talk about activism, class mobility, and getting started in the tech community. This is an excerpt from the full interview with Lynn, which will be included in Model View Culture’s Quarterly No. 2, shipping to subscribers in June.

A portrait of the author.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your activism and what you do in the tech community.

I’ve been doing STEM stuff my whole life – from architecture, to mechanical engineering, to computer science. I’m also really aggressively leftist. The other thing is that I’m a queer person. I’m all about my sex worker friends, I’m pansexual (and pansexual gets a bad rap because like “how could you be attracted to everything?”), and lots of gay everything. We need more gay branding. So that’s me.

I could just have my one coding job, and just do it and be done with my life, but I don’t see a lot of use in that. So I try to weave leftism and queerness into all of the tech stuff I do. That’s my goal. Tech is something I’m good at – but it just so happens that I’m uniquely positioned to take my presentation of self, my politics and just ram it into different professional venues. People are like “Oh my gosh, wow, how are you all of these things? Queer, black, leftist?” and I’m like “I don’t know.” – but I do it, and it’s impressing people. It’s really cool.

Do you want to talk about some of your projects?

I do a lot of work on class mobility through tech. Me working on projects about class mobility – it feels very weird, yet very apt. I’m really looking to document all the stepping stones that got me to where I am right now, and how I got into tech. I’m trying to document all the stuff that I did. By and large so far it’s just been me getting writing and opinion from all the people who I thought were really cool along the way. I want it to be a mentorship tool thing – I’m probably about to mentor people who are more junior than myself, 16, 17, 18 years old, just getting started in tech and their careers.

I’m trying to find people who are a bit younger in age and experience, and pull them up. In the place I’m at right now, I’m teaching what I was doing like two or three months ago to break into tech out here. It hasn’t even really hit me yet, but I’m still trying to re-teach it.

What was your experience like, moving out here and trying to get your start in the tech industry and community?

I was really floundering, and doing this whole “I’m just going to study, and go to interviews” thing for about two or three months. And that was terrible. I was like, I’m just going to be objectively skilled enough, and people will hire me. I’m just going to get a job – that was my idea.

It wasn’t even that I got interviews, and then people saw me, and then I didn’t get offers. I didn’t even get interviews.

So I realized this wasn’t working. At that point I needed to be more unique – I needed to integrate more aspects of myself into my professional life. So for example, I saw there was a queer youth hackathon, and I thought: “I’ll go to that.” And then I met someone there who introduced me to Double Union, the feminist hacker space in San Francisco, and it all kind of avalanched from there. There was a feminism in tech community and I hadn’t realized? And then from finding out about Double Union, everything just happened.

I used to be an aggressively introverted person who didn’t even have a concept of community. I felt like previous to this point, I could have told you that yeah, there are spot advocacy things going on in tech. But I hadn’t ever realized that there was an underlying community bubble that was producing all this stuff, and that you could be in it. Once I realized that existed, and you just put yourself there, then stuff starts blowing up around you.

I know that there are dozens, hundreds of super marginalized people, that if we just knew that this thing existed, and we could just tap into it then it would help everyone out a lot – the community, the people themselves, and it would rock.