Social Rules

The Hacktory’s main goal is to provide space and instruction for people from all backgrounds and orientations to experiment, play, and create with technology. In our work towards this goal, we create an environment that may be different from other similar programs or organizations that are familiar to you, which include a small set of social rules. These rules are largely copied from Hacker School, an immersive programming retreat in New York, and Double Union, a women-only hacker/maker space in San Francisco. These rules are intended to be lightweight, and to make more explicit certain social norms that are normally implicit. Most of our social rules really boil down to “don’t be a jerk” or “don’t be annoying.” Of course, almost nobody sets out to be a jerk or annoying, so telling people not to be jerks isn’t a very productive strategy. That’s why our social rules are designed to curtail specific behavior we’ve found to be destructive to a supportive, productive, and fun learning environment.

No feigning surprise
The first rule means you shouldn’t act surprised when people say they don’t know something. This applies to both technical things (“What?! I can’t believe you don’t know what the stack is!”) and non-technical things (“You don’t know who RMS is?!”). Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it’s usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that’s not the intention, it’s almost always the effect. As you’ve probably already guessed, this rule is tightly coupled to our belief in the importance of people feeling comfortable saying “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand.”

No well-actually’s
A well-actually happens when someone says something that’s almost – but not entirely – correct, and you say, “well, actually…” and then give a minor correction. This is especially annoying when the correction has no bearing on the actual conversation. This doesn’t mean The Hacktory isn’t about truth-seeking or that we don’t care about being precise. Almost all well-actually’s in our experience are about grandstanding, not truth-seeking. (Thanks to Miguel de Icaza for originally coining the term “well-actually.”)

No back-seat driving
If you overhear people working through a problem, you shouldn’t intermittently lob advice across the room. This can lead to the “too many cooks” problem, but more important, it can be rude and disruptive to half-participate in a conversation. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t help, offer advice, or join conversations. On the contrary, we encourage all those things. Rather, it just means that when you want to help out or work with others, you should fully engage and not just butt in sporadically.

No subtle or overt discrimination
Our last social rule bans sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. This one is different from the rest, because it’s often not a specific, observable phenomenon (“well-actually’s” are easy to spot because they almost always start with the words, “well, actually…”).

In welcoming people of all gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion, we will include a list of behaviors below which could constitute harassment. This list aims to be as specific as possible, but it is not comprehensive.

Harassment may include:

  • Offensive verbal comments
  • Sexual images in public spaces
  • Deliberate intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Following
  • Photography or recording without consent
  • Sustained disruption of talks or other events
  • Inappropriate physical contact
  • Unwelcome sexual attention

Space to be Human
Interacting with people of different orientations or backgrounds can mean stepping on toes from time to time. Our rules aren’t meant to intimidate or prevent anyone from being themselves.

We encourage all participants at The Hacktory to take on the responsibility of maintaining our learning space, and our rules. When someone says something you experience as counter to any of the social rules, you should point it out to them, publicly or privately, and ask them to be more careful in the future. If you are uncomfortable pointing it out, notify an organizer or staff of The Hacktory. People asked to stop harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. People who repeatedly are unable to comply with the social rules may be banned from the space or from future events.

We would like to prevent public debates from happening about whether comment X is sexist or person Y is a know-it-all. Once the initial mention has been made, we ask that all further discussion move off of public channels. If you are a third party, and you don’t see what could be biased about the comment that was made, feel free to talk to Hacktory organizers. Please don’t say, “Comment X wasn’t homophobic!” Similarly, please don’t pile on to someone who made a mistake.

If further discussion of a particular internal or external situation is desired by participants, a good option is to suggest a meetup or discussion group to The Hacktory’s staff or organizers. We welcome opportunities to host groups on a specific date and time in which to have a focused conversation, ideally with a commitment to develop tangible steps to take as a result.

Why have social rules?
The goal isn’t to burden The Hacktory’s participants with a bunch of annoying rules, or to give us a stick to bludgeon people with for “being bad.” Rather, these rules are designed to help all of us build a pleasant, productive, and fearless community.

If someone says, “hey, you just feigned surprise,” or “that’s subtly sexist,” don’t worry. Just apologize, reflect for a second, and move on. It doesn’t mean you’re a “bad” person, or even a “bad” Hacktory participant. As we said above, these rules are meant to be lightweight. We’ve all done these things before.

These rules are replicated from the Recurse Center, formerly known as Hacker School, and from Double Union.