Today, at OneLogin Connect 2020, I was struck by how many references we heard about the value of the Arts (along with other diversities) in our technical work and in our connections together.
It goes back to my dad, I suppose. He wanted me to go to MIT. Consequently, I chose to go to a small (but wonderful) church-related liberal arts school.
Dad had been influenced heavily by Leo Beranek. In 1964, we performed a summer pilgrimage to Cambridge, MA so he could drink in the acoustical genius of Beranek, and his fellow engineers, Richard Bolt and Robert Newman.
MIT in those days uniquely emphasized the liberal arts for its STEM majors. Dad was impressed that their music program was legitimately prominent and all the heavy tech types were expected to cultivate an interest in the arts.
Let it not be forgotten that in a time gone by, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics were simply a part of the arts stack, not an alien mindscape.
Megan Smith struck the Connect 2020 opening chord. Her keynote address this morning took us deep into the ideas of diversity and inclusion.
In an inspiring race through her years as White House Chief Technical Officer, she told of their experiences working for inclusion in technology. She impressed on us the need to seek outside the typical white, male world of tech.
Reaching to the liberal art of history, I was moved to see how our past was a more gender-diverse place, perhaps, than our present. We were reminded of one of my personal favorites, Admiral Grace Hopper (known in my days at Digital as “Gramma COBOL”).
Admiral Hopper’s diversity was not just as a woman, but essentially as a linguist. She argued for programming tools that used descriptive real-world words. By mixing real spoken language and machine code, she envisioned and developed the first programming language.
With Megan, we thought together of how we’ve actually stepped backwards in gender and racial diversity in technology. Her brush into social sciences reminded us that healthy, diverse teams always produce better results, the product of creative tension.
Moving into the arts, social and fine, Megan spoke of those places in the past where bringing the artists into the knotty questions of physics often yielded surprising solutions that were just out of the grasp of STEM alone.
Tarah Wheeler asked us to think deeply of identity. But illustrating Megan Smith’s point, she used literature to help us recall stories that color our current world.
“I don’t want us to think of technology divorced from our humanity,” was Tarah’s plea.
From the stories of Alexandre Dumas, she asked us to consider the role of bearing the tokens of authority and rights without the establishment of identity.
And in a vivid use of art encapsulating our security world, we were asked to envision the plight posed by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. Here is a creature stripped of his original identity but carrying the tokens of his authentication: His skin, his bones, his face.
Literature drove us to think of what it means when identity is separated from will.
No STEAM consideration would be complete without a Shakespeare reference. Hamlet’s existential cry was echoed today in our panel discussion “To Pay or Not to Pay? That is the Ransomware Question.”
Those who have felt the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune upon discovery of a hack and a ransom demand at least have the comfort that these questions are more timeless than they might seem.
My dad was right. There is no doubt that the A belongs. Art—literature, music, drama, history, psychology, sociology—all help us to illustrate, explain, find out-of-the-box answers in our technology endeavors.
And I am especially grateful to Courtney Harrison’s panel that looked at the sociology and psychology of our current COVID separated and remote world. The good company, quite frankly a place like I’ve found here at OneLogin (and I assure you, that is NOT an empty plug), is a place that applies the arts of the soul to the work of our time.
Our panel forced us to look at the isolation dangers we face. Many thanks to Alexa Slinger bringing up the subject of those trapped in untenable violence by this pandemic, and ways we can recognize their plight.
Bindu Garapaty asked us to look at the individual personality structure. That those of us on the rabidly extroverted side may be suffering a bit or a lot.
Chris Yates encouraged us to use this time to look outside ourselves. The situation is dire. We MUST work to meet the tremendous needs exploded by this pandemic. It’s not just pain, it’s a daily fight for existence.
And finally, Greg Pryor reminded us of a hope-giving theme we find in art: darkness can backdrop the light and bring into vision that which otherwise might not be seen.
Do not forget what may be COVID’s most effective work. A chasm has been built, dramatically deepest for the black and brown among us. The COVID color chasm has claimed a staggering share of our brothers and sisters, snuffing out lives and leaving a wallow of hopelessness.
That chasm is an awful, hideous, despicable, nasty and vicious thing. But maybe, just maybe, because it is so vivid against our gleaming technology sun, it will finally help the deliberately, ignorant, or unaware blind among us see how much—far, far too much—has been there all along.
Maybe, just maybe, if we grab hold with all our might and work together we can stand up to the challenges this tiny microbe has given us.
Maybe, just maybe a worse microbe, a more deadly sin, our national original sin of racism, and its bedfellow of ripping economic elitism and division will be so vivid before us, we will not be able this time to turn the other way.
The arts and diversity shine their light on the magic-seeming world of tech, showing our weakness, and taking us outside the box into a richer world.
Our conference name is Connect. The message I walk away with is that we must Connect to the A.
We must always work to turn STEM into STEAM. By bringing all those other arts fully into our embrace, we’ll find ever-better means to solve and to Connect.
Dad, I didn’t go to MIT, but it turns out that once again, you were right.
If you missed OneLogin Connect 2020 and any of these inspiring speakers you can still see them.