Bringing compassion back to technology with April Wensel

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We could all do with a little more compassion in our lives, and April Wensel is making sure that we bring it to our work as well.

April Wensel is the founder of Compassionate Coding helping companies and tech professionals to communicate more and effectively, so that we can be better at what we do, better to each other, and better to ourselves.

Join us as we speak about April's journey through technology, finding purpose with Compassionate Coding, and putting the humanity back into technology.

About April Wensel

April Wensel is an international keynote speaker and the founder of Compassionate Coding, a conscious business that provides communication skills training to technology professionals. Prior to starting Compassionate Coding, she spent a decade as a software engineer and technical leader at various startups in Silicon Valley, building products in such fields as healthcare, gaming, education, and user research. Away from the keyboard, she enjoys gleaning fruit, running ultramarathons, and experimenting with vegan recipes.

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  • [00:01:09] Studying Computer Science at a liberal arts college.
  • [00:02:54] Where April saw her future in computing.
  • [00:03:46] The path to Compassionate Coding.
  • [00:08:54] Teaching emotional intelligence to tech.
  • [00:10:35] Relating to the need to develop emotional intelligence from her own experiences.
  • [00:13:28] When you faced with a culture that has to change.
  • [00:15:41] Reflecting on how April's liberal arts background informs her work now.
  • [00:17:12] April's observations in the course of her work.
  • [00:18:42] The two sides of compassion.
  • [00:19:44] Feedback as a compassionate skill.
  • [00:21:28] April's reflections on her own journey with emotion intelligence.
  • [00:23:03] April's personal journey approaching burnout and the impetus for change towards compassion.
  • [00:25:02] The rate of burnout in these fields and how compassion can help.
  • [00:27:36] The shift towards compassion in other technical fields.
  • [00:30:20] Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
  • [00:31:56] What advice would you like to give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?
Michele Ong

We could all do with a little bit more compassion in our lives, and April Wensel is making sure that we can bring it to our work as well. April Wensel is the founder of Compassionate Coding, helping companies and tech professionals communicate more and effectively so that we can be better at what we do better to each other and better to ourselves.

Join us as we speak about April's journey through technology, finding purpose with compassionate coding, and putting the humanity back into technology.

I'm Michele Ong, and this is STEAM Powered.

Good evening, April.

Thank you so much for joining me today on STEAM Powered. I'm really looking forward to speaking with you about your journey.

April Wensel

Hi, Michele. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Michele Ong

That's fabulous. Okay. So we'll get straight into it with where you began and, you actually did computer science at a liberal arts college, which I think is very cool. We don't do a lot with liberal arts colleges in Australia, so it's pretty awesome.

April Wensel

Thank you for noticing that. Yeah, I think that has affected my journey for sure.

Studying Computer Science at a liberal arts college.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. So what made you decide to do computer science at a liberal arts college?

April Wensel

So I started studying computer science in high school. As I started programming, I guess my sophomore year in high school. So my second year in high school, which is in the states here, like right before going to university, going to college, and I really loved it. Um, you know, I grew up playing video games and it was exciting to actually feel like I could create them and I could create these little worlds.

And so I loved programming as soon as I got exposed to it. And so I did have an interest in studying it in college, but I also was interested in archeology because I guess because I grew up also watching Indiana Jones, and I was like, that seems cool and adventurous. And so interestingly enough, my initial like tentative major was gonna be anthropology with a specialty in archeology.

And then I had a class where one of the assignments was sorting these tiny little shell fragments to determine like the diet of ancient peoples in California. And I was like, this is not so much like Indiana Jones, and so back to computers, it was. So I quickly switched back to what I knew I also liked, which was computer science, so that, so that's why I was at the liberal arts school, 'cause I kind of didn't pick it for its computer science department. But it turned out that Pomona College, where I went, was connected to a very techie heavy school, Harvey Mudd College, which is where I took a lot of my computer science classes, too.

So it ended up working out great as a, as often happens, you know, you, uh, start off on, in one way on your journey, and then you have some zigs and zags, but it makes for a interesting experience.

Michele Ong

And that's a fantastic way of getting a broader base, especially in terms of adding a little bit of the humanities into your science background. And you know, I love that. All for that.

Where April saw her future in computing.

Michele Ong

So where did you think you were gonna take computer science after you graduated?

April Wensel

So when I was really young, like I think in high school and then probably the early part of college, I did wanna make video games. I was like, you know, I like playing them, I wanna make them, it felt like a creative outlet. So yeah, I think that's originally where I wanted to take it.

And then as I got into the industry, and got a little more experience, and maybe a little more maturity, I like to think a little more, I wanted to have maybe more of an impact and do something a little more meaningful. And, 'cause I did end up working in the industry at some video game companies, and then I made a switch to research. I was doing like bioinformatics and then I got involved in education platform and things like that, that felt a little bit more maybe constructive. I mean, not to knock video games, video games are great, but to me it felt, you know, I felt more meaning I guess.

And so I did get into that a bit more as well.

The path to Compassionate Coding.

Michele Ong

That's very, very cool. So coming from all of that experience in all of those areas, how did that lead you to creating Compassionate Coding?

April Wensel

Yeah, so I guess like after I made this pivot to try to have more meaning, I kept seeking it, you know, I job hopped a bunch, you know, I was only really working for other companies close to a decade, and I jumped around a lot. And I guess what I found is that even in the companies and organisations that were doing something meaningful, there still seemed to just in tech in general, be this like lack of the humanity side of things that I had learned in my liberal arts school. So like I felt like there was this lack of awareness of the human side of things.

So we may be trying to build a product to help people, but we were kind of not really fully understanding it and also like willing to, I don't know, it seemed like the companies were sometimes willing to cut corners on like the ethics sides of things, like when there was gray areas. And so all of that to say, I think within these organisations, I'm really not finding what I'm looking for in terms of meaning and a healthy environment where I didn't feel like I was gonna burn out and where I felt like I could be my full self and not necessarily try to fit in and try to be one of the guys. So I was like, you know what, I'm gonna do my own thing. And so I quit my last company after getting a little bit fed up with some of the frustrations of the stuff I've been talking about.

And I was like, you know, let me see if I can help and do something about this. And that's kind of why I started my company to try to bring more compassion into the tech industry on all levels. So how we treat ourselves, how we treat our coworkers, how we think about our customers, and how we think about tech's broader impact on the world.

It's, you know, a grand goal, but I'm trying to do my part to help with that.

Michele Ong

Exactly, and that's such a great objective because it is a space where, you know, they value their rock stars, they value the people who can contribute 10X type kind of levels and it's changing now, but I remember a while ago, before I went freelance, there were a lot of jobs where it said, you need to live and breathe code, there needs to be nothing else that you do in your life in order to be able to be a high performer at our company. And these are the kinds of people that we're looking for. It's like, you need people to be a bit more well-rounded. You need people to have some downtime. You need people to have a bit of diversity in their experiences in order to be better at what they do. Living and breathing and being completely tunnel-visioned into one space doesn't make for a good contributor in any way.

April Wensel

Well said. I totally agree.

Michele Ong

Yeah, so it is one of those things where for some reason we've, we have cultivated this environment where, people are expected to perform above and beyond and to give a lot more, and you know, yes, you should absolutely take initiative and do things, but you also need to understand what your boundaries are and be able to balance yourself, not necessarily work-life balance, because some people do love the work in that way, but it's being able to find balance in yourself so that you do have time to recharge.

So rewinding a bit. What does Compassionate Coding do?

April Wensel

So, when I started off my company, I, I wasn't sure. So when I started in 2016, I wasn't sure exactly like what the, the nitty gritty bits would be. I knew the vision, so I started kind of in the way I did like at startups to a certain extent, like some experimental things, right? So, I started blogging about my ideas. I started sharing them on social media, was getting some traction that way. And my first client came in through social media, so they liked something I'd written about and they're like, you know, we're having some problems at our company, and then I created a custom training on emotional intelligence as it applies to software development.

So like communication skills, introspection, all this kind of things. And gave it at this company, and then I had more clients come in through Twitter, it was the way that I found them. And so, so that's kind of how it started, was doing emotional intelligence training at companies, but custom solutions, so I wasn't just kind of like, giving the same presentation over and over again, which a lot of sort of corporate training programs do. But I took a much more kind of like bespoke approach where I was getting to know the companies and, and their culture a bit more, and then creating custom content for them.

And so that's kind of what it looks like for the most part, the most common way I work with companies. And then I also do just, general public speaking at different events, and I've done some, like one-on-one consulting, as well, and you know, I also have plans to create more online content so to help reach more individuals. So I want to take the, the stuff that I've been teaching at these companies and make it more widely accessible to a larger group of people that can't necessarily bring me into their company, but that still want to get the value, and so that's another piece of the work that I do to reach a, a broader audience as well.

Michele Ong

That's awesome. And yeah, creating these online programs for other people to be able to access at least to make a start on making these sorts of changes internally is such an important thing, especially because, you know, we're now getting startups, every day beginning, and all of these companies are all keen to hustle and 10X themselves.

So it's all the more reason to try and bring it in from the beginning and try and create, that's part of the organisational culture before they get too embedded into whatever it is that they're trying to build.

April Wensel

Absolutely.

Teaching emotional intelligence to tech.

Michele Ong

Yeah. So how do you teach emotional intelligence to tech?

April Wensel

Yeah, no, it's, it's, it's a good question, yeah. I try to use metaphors and that sort of thing that apply to technology to help people kind of understand it. So I'll compare how our emotions affect us like an alert system that's letting us know, like our website went down or something, you know, and so I use kind of things like that to try to connect and then examples from technology.

It's a good question because things like the emotional side of empathy, trying to understand how someone else feels is not necessarily something that you can easily teach or learn. And so what I kind of focus on is more the cognitive empathy, so it's like the perspective taking. Imagining how somebody else might be feeling or what they're thinking, that sort of thing. And I feel like that appeals to the analytical side of developers and people in tech a bit more. They seem to be able to pick that up more. And then as far as like communication, what's interesting about that is that often boils down to a very analytical type of framework that you can use. Like I've drawn from nonviolent communication, the book Difficult Conversations, and some other programs like that that are helpful have informed kind of the way that I go about it.

And then I put my own kind of like tech spin on it because also part of why I started my own company to do this rather than just like, become a, a typical kind of emotional intelligence trainer or something, is that I found that a lot of those programs don't always resonate with the techie people, 'cause they can be, you know, skeptical and, and all these things. And so if I put a little bit more of an edge to it and a little bit of a jokey kind of approach, conversational approach, I find that it gets through a little bit more to the tech people.

Relating to the need to develop emotional intelligence from her own experiences.

April Wensel

I also lean on the fact that I used to be not very good at these skills and, and I'm still learning them of course, as we all are like through our lives, but I used to be both really socially awkward and shy, but also I had this hard defense mechanism or this whole hard defense system set up, I think. Partly being a woman in a male dominated field, I mean that's had to affect me on some level to try to prove myself more. And so I felt like I had to really protect my ego, and so it took me a while to kind of accept that these human skills are really valuable.

And so I think when I share that story with people, they think, oh, it's not just she's naturally good at these things, these things can be learned. And so, I'm always trying to stay up to date on the latest research that you know, showing how we can learn these skills and that they're not just, you know, you're born with it or you're not, 'cause a lot of people wanna say it's a personality thing, or, you know, oh, I'm an introvert so I just am not gonna be good at this. And it's like, it's just, it's not true, right? It's like people--

Michele Ong

It's a skill.

April Wensel

It's a skill. You can practice it, you can build it. And introverts are often really good at this, actually 'cause they're very thoughtful and that kind of thing. So they're actually very emotionally intelligent. So it's not a, you know what I mean? It's not so clear cut. But yeah, a common misconception.

Michele Ong

And so many stereotypes as well because, you keep getting the stereotype still even today that, you know, we like to hide away, we are always very brusque, that we're very technical and very cold and very clinical and there's so much more to our personalities.

It's just putting us in the right environment where we actually feel safe. To be able to communicate because you know, you see all the nerds online and they're playing games, they're doing D&D, they're doing all these things which allow them to act in different ways or they enjoy things like music and photography, and these are things which are actually, you know, they're soft things, but it shows that they can actually relate to other things in different ways and express themselves in different ways. And we can just get them to learn how to express themselves In those ways, in a work environment where you are gonna be a lot more caring and you know, compassionate and all that.

April Wensel

I love that. I really do. I love the examples you gave because one that I always think of too is how on like Reddit and that kind of thing, like the aww category with all the cute animal pictures. I always think, you know what, like no matter how cold or techy, somebody might be like, you show them cute animal pictures, aw, it'll melt their heart.

So like, we have that common ground that pretty much all of us like the cute animal pictures. We, we have a soft center in there somewhere.

Michele Ong

Exactly, and it is just finding a way to get people to understand how to bring that out. And I mean, work environments, they're not always the most conducive to feeling safe in so many ways, but, you feel judged all the time, you have to perform, especially in an environment where you have to show that you're a rock star.

So you can't show any weakness, you can't show vulnerability, and people associate that with being compassionate or listening and you know, being a bit more attuned to what other people need in a corporate environment.

When you faced with a culture that has to change.

Michele Ong

So when you're in these spaces where the companies have developed this culture and it is pretty much ingrained into the way that the DNA of the company works, have you found it challenging to try and break through that to give them a bit more, I guess, of a perspective of how they're treating their staff and each other?

April Wensel

You know, it's a good point. I think, one thing that's really helped is just, uh, Research coming out of universities on these topics. So, the big business schools and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley often like publishes about this sort of thing. And so that's been helpful in making the case to I think the value of this.

So that's part of it. And then as far as getting them to see the problem, I think, a lot of times somebody within the company that is a bit more perceptive about these issues will be the one to initiate it. And so that part happens, you know, without my direct involvement. It's sometimes they'll see a talk of mine at a conference, and then they'll share that, and then people are like, oh, there's something to this, and then that will open the door and then leadership may reach out, and then we'll have a conversation and I sort of approach it kind of like how you're approaching this a little bit, it's like a design interview, or user research interview where you try to understand what's happening.

I'll start to like try to tease out what's going on and I'll be like, oh, interesting. And see all the red flags and all the things. And then I'll just ask these questions and that kind of helps open the door, and then when I share examples of what I might put in a potential training, it's kind of like a very human process and so that ends up being like a lot more-- it makes things organic and that kind of thing. And, and that comes into how I communicate with the leadership.

Michele Ong

Amazing. And yeah, it is a case of, you know, they have to want to change to start with and then you can demonstrate exactly what you do by doing your very human systems analysis of their organisational structure and culture. So with all that you do, because it is about thinking outside the box and thinking in a very humanities way about technology, I mean, this is a leading question, but--

April Wensel

That's fine.

Reflecting on how April's liberal arts background informs her work now.

Michele Ong

Did you feel that your experiences and what they taught you outside of the science in a liberal arts college really helped kind of cement all that for you?

April Wensel

I think so. Yeah. So I'm gonna agree with the way you're leading me in that question. No, I'm just kidding. Totally kidding. No, I, it definitely did and, and it took me a while to really think about that, because I was like, oh, I studied computer science, but it was no, I mean, I had a, you know, I, I took the anthropology, I took the English classes, I love writing, you know, that's something that I've always loved, so I think that that was helpful in terms of I definitely didn't fit in any box, and I still don't, you know, my company even doesn't really fit in a box 'cause it's not the typical EQ training type thing, and it's not a tech consulting thing, although I do often talk about the company's code. So it's very sort of technical in that way.

So I don't really fit in a box and I think no human being really does when you get down to it. Even these nerds we're talking about, right? We can say that 'cause we're in the club too, because I don't mean that in any bad way. But you know, we have diverse interests and we're nerds maybe who like to hike too. We're not all doing one type of activity.

So I think that because I had that background, I think I was able to bring that approach to it. Like, sometimes I wonder if a little bit what I do is like anthropology, but within tech companies, you know, a little bit. I bring some of those skills to what I'm doing, I think.

Michele Ong

Yeah. Well, it, it is what you're doing because you're looking at the people, you're looking at how they've created their own little society inside the company, and that that really is a sociology and anthropology kind of view of the way organisational structures work.

April's observations in the course of her work.

Michele Ong

So, what has been most surprising to you when you have been running these courses with these companies?

April Wensel

You know, I think something that surprises me is just the openness of people to it. So sometimes before I go in, I'll be warned about a few individuals that might be a little bit reluctant to the training, which to be honest might've been me back in the day. So I, I kind of don't mind it. And I actually like a challenge too, and I don't mind when people like push back and that kind of thing.

I kind of enjoy that too. So, I think what surprises me is that I'll hear about these, you know, little bit troublesome individuals and then I'll get in there and they'll be kind of the more engaged people because, you know, I think that that has been, surprising in a really good way and in a positive way. 'Cause it's not like they just shut down and don't participate, like, I've never had that be the case. If anything, they'll start off of asking more questions and maybe because they wanna try to like, you know--

Michele Ong

Poke holes.

April Wensel

--oppose-- Yes, exactly. But then, you know, they'll be like, oh, interesting. And so I think that that's been like a pleasant surprise and and I enjoy that part actually a lot when somebody was a skeptic, and then they kind of come around and they're like, oh, I can, there's something here. You know, that kind of makes that, that's one of my favorite parts, I think about what I do.

Michele Ong

That's very cool. And yeah, it makes perfect sense because it's all about the art of inquiry, right? So the more they prod, the more they're gonna learn. And it's almost a reverse psychology sort of thing, but working with the way that they think, so that's awesome.

The two sides of compassion.

April Wensel

That's a really good point. Yeah. And I think the other surprising thing-- so, you know, there's this idea and Kristin Neff, who's a researcher that talks about self-compassion, mentions the yin and yang of compassion, where there's like the softer kind of side of compassion, which is what most people think of. But there's also the side of compassion that requires you to speak up and be assertive because you have to stand up for yourself or stand up for what's right, stand up for what you care about.

And so another thing that surprised me actually is many of the companies that are open to bringing in my training have a little bit of the opposite problem that I originally started my company to address, which is that, they're so nice that sometimes they're not compassionate, meaning that they're so worried about stepping on toes, in a metaphorical way, that they don't give feedback directly and they don't engage with difficult issues and that causes suffering as well.

So then that it's more about the more assertive side of compassion. And so that's been another surprising thing is just how many companies and people within companies need coaching on being more assertive.

Feedback as a compassionate skill.

Michele Ong

Yeah, that's very true because feedback is also a skill and it's a difficult skill to learn because you end up worrying about whether you are being compassionate about what you're saying and whether that information's being received in a way that's productive and not overly critical without any actionable kind of points.

April Wensel

Mm-hmm.

Michele Ong

So is that also kind of a part of the training as well? Just getting people to learn how to do that?

April Wensel

Yep. Yep. You guessed it. One of the common activities we do is giving and receiving feedback. And it's an interesting exercise because we do both sides of it. And I think that that helps, like in one exercise, we look at feedback that people have received and then they transform it using a little framework that we have and then they give that feedback to someone else.

So they're giving feedback they had received. And so it sort of gets them into the head of the person who gave them the feedback and people have said that it's kind of eye-opening 'cause they're like, oh, I can kind of see where they were coming from now and why they said this. So it's kind of a dual purpose exercise because then they get empathy for people who have given them feedback too, which is always neat.

Michele Ong

That is very, very neat and it, it makes you think about things with so much more context because often someone says something to you and you just go, I can't see why that's applicable and you know how I can use this and why have you said this to me? And yeah, it is about understanding where they've come from and if you can try and do it yourself, then you can sort of try and put yourself in their shoes and that, yeah, it's a great exercise and so useful in all sorts of aspects of life.

April Wensel

Yeah. Yeah. And I know I, I need practice with that, you know, regularly.

Michele Ong

Actually, I think we all do.

April Wensel

Yes.

April's reflections on her own journey with emotion intelligence.

Michele Ong

So what have you learned about yourself as you've started this entire new enterprise?

April Wensel

Oh, that's really interesting. So that's, yeah. So I do enjoy doing the workshops on emotional intelligence, but I also found that there's like a reason that I gravitated more towards tech and the direct like coding part of tech is that, like coding, I feel like I could do for a long stretch of time and I can get in the zone and be there for a while.

These human issues , it's very rewarding work, but it's also very tiring work because, I, I give my all doing these things and then I have to recharge because, I don't really identify as like a introvert or extrovert, but I'm somewhere in the middle, but I definitely do need some time to recharge after these workshops.

So, I think that that's one thing, like, on one hand they're energising, but I also, they've been tiring. So I think that's one thing I learned about myself is just that, yeah, I do think there's a reason I, I gravitated more towards the STEMM initially and clearly had an interest in liberal arts as we know, but as far as people stuff, like, I think there's a reason that I wasn't like, oh, I'm going to, you know, be a salesperson, for example, like, that's also skills that can be learned. But I think it's something that I wouldn't naturally want to maybe do. So I think that that's one thing I learned about myself that you know, is just interesting information, good to know.

Michele Ong

That is very cool. And yeah, it's one of those things where, things happen in your life and you do certain things, but you're not necessarily sure about, you know, where it's coming from and why you're doing it. So being able to get that perspective. Yeah, really, really helpful, especially going forward and expanding or knowing how you can focus your attentions a bit better. Very awesome.

April's personal journey approaching burnout and the impetus for change towards compassion.

Michele Ong

And you said yourself that these are all things that you yourself weren't very good with when you were younger. What in your head, switched that made you think I need to improve in these areas and you know, what was the impetus for that change in yourself?

April Wensel

Yeah, so it, you know, life happens with these things. It's sort of like this cascade of things that happens. And so one was, I was starting to feel burnout, like after approaching almost a decade in the industry and, and struggling with these things, noticing these things about the industry that that I talked about earlier, just these problems. I think that I got to a point where I was like, I'm not really happy. I did everything right, so to speak. Like I, went to school, got the degree, got these jobs, making money, getting promoted, climbing that ladder, all that. But I still felt really unsatisfied and I was like, something's off. And so I did like a lot of introspection and I read a lot of books. You know, a lot of times people talk about mentors and that thing. I, I never really had a mentor. I've had books as my mentors is how I look at it, because I just read tons of books and there's so much great stuff out there.

So I read Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff and I read other books and I also at that time, learned about veganism and so I started eating vegan partly as part of this compassion thing of like finding that I actually did really care about animals. And I was like, you know, maybe I don't wanna eat them anymore.

And so I went through that sort of transition too. And it, it relates because that led to me going to a workshop about compassion and learning about it more deeply, which informed me starting my company and everything like that. So that was a big part of it too, is just finding out what I really cared about and valued and wanted to do, who I wanted to be in the world, and it involved compassion.

And I was like, all right, this is, this is what I wanna run with. And so I think that that's kind of what triggered it for me was a burnout, self work. And then I was like, all right, like this is, this is stuff that's worth spending time on to get better at, I think.

The rate of burnout in these fields and how compassion can help.

Michele Ong

Yeah, that's such a great sort of journey because so many people like, in this industry, I think statistically they're saying that women last about eight to 10 years in STEMM before they start to either bug out or they reevaluate where they want to take their journey, and often it's tied into having a burnout.

And they go, is this, is this really worth it? Is this really where I want to be? And it's rough that we have to wait to get to that point before we do that kind of reflection.

April Wensel

It is. It is.

Michele Ong

Yeah. So hopefully all of these sorts of learnings and getting people thinking more about these things will help us to kind of see those red flags a bit earlier in ourselves and kind of get us to reevaluate or review a lot sooner than that.

April Wensel

I hope so, and I also hope that more positive changes in the industry too, make it so that women don't necessarily wanna jump ship. Because I think a big part of this is that the cultures that we're creating don't necessarily, as you were talking about earlier, foster this compassion.

Like, it's not very friendly to somebody, the one person on the team who wants to be compassionate, they're just gonna be seen as weak and that sort of thing if the whole company is very hardcore competitive, not soft at all. That one person, and that happens to often be a woman, I'm not gonna go into why or whatever, but it often is a woman. And so I do think that that's a big part of some of the exiting of, of women, and, and other people too, with different personality types that aren't really welcomed in the tech environments. And so I think that hopefully as that changes and as we welcome more different types of people into the industry with different backgrounds, hopefully fewer people feel like jumping ship, or that they have to.

Michele Ong

Yeah, exactly. And there definitely are changes being made in industry at the moment. You're seeing a lot of companies who are-- whose mission statements and their ethos are starting to take these things into account and talking about what they're doing and why they're doing it, and who they're doing it for, and creating a more holistic view of the people and their customers.

So, it's such a good change knowing that they're heading this way. And also being more inclusive and encouraging more diversity in all intersections to help create these broader ways of thinking and minimising that kind of mind think that leads us down that very hard, very clinical path.

The shift towards compassion in other technical fields.

Michele Ong

And just made me think of something else. That's also the kind of thing that's also happening in med as well. And so the medical industry is like the different kind of colleges of specialties, they're all looking at this kind of thing as well. Trying to make sure that people are treating each other as colleagues with respect and treating their patients with respect and adding more compassion there.

And then trying to encourage more inclusion and diversity to give people better perspectives because these sorts of professions are also sort of self-selecting in the way that you end up hiring the kind of people you expect to meet that stereotype, even if you're consciously aware of it or not.

And that's happening in all of these fields, especially when you've got some sort of specialisation. So, there's initiatives like Operating With Respect, which is the Australasian College of Surgeons one, where they are encouraging that they're getting people to understand perspectives and when giving advice, understanding that while you may mean well, it may not come across the same way because the patient doesn't have a background or an environment which allows them to use that advice. And it's getting them to understand that everyone's got different context and it's getting them to understand how to either inquire further and to experience so that they can actually be more compassionate in the way that they treat people.

April Wensel

I love that. And I think I love the way you explained it too, because I feel like there's been a resistance in, in some corners of the world to this idea of making things more inclusive or whatever. And I'm thinking like, the way you just put it, who could argue with that?

You know, what is possibly wrong with like, considering somebody else's background and adjusting how we approach it to consider that. I feel like it's just, it sounds like when you put it like that, it's just like, that's so natural. Of course. Like of course we should work on that, right? Like, how could anyone, but yeah.

Michele Ong

Exactly. And yeah, so definitely it, it's great seeing that so many of these initiatives everywhere are starting to take form and get momentum. So yeah, hopefully just as is your wish, it's one of those things that should become automatic and shouldn't have to be a specialised thing that we work on.

So this has been an absolutely amazing conversation. I've totally enjoyed speaking about this because as women in STEMM and speaking to all these other women in STEMM, like these are issues that come up all the time for all of us. And yeah, it's something that we need to keep back of mind and front of mind at all times, just so at least, so we can be kinder to ourselves and to each other, and we can always just, that's always nice.

April Wensel

Agreed.

Michele Ong

Yeah. So wrapping up with some questions that I ask all of my guests.

Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Michele Ong

Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

April Wensel

Okay, so this is a story, but I think when I read it, it was like in a little book. So it, I think this counts. So The Emperor's New Clothes. Okay. I love this one because I feel like a lot of times in companies what I see is there's something that everybody kind of knows, but everyone's afraid to say.

And so in The Emperor's New Clothes, it was like one kid was brave enough to say, Hey, the emperor's not wearing any clothes. And I love this story and I think about it a lot because like I said, part of being compassionate is speaking up for what you believe in, what's important to you. And sometimes that means going against the grain. And so when I started my company, a lot of people laughed at me and a lot of people thought it was silly, and some people on Reddit said it was such a girly name, Compassionate Coding. But like, I needed to point out the problems that I saw with regard to compassion in the industry.

And so I think a lot of times within companies, someone wants to bring me in just so I can be the person that's not involved in the politics and can just say, Hey, this is a problem. We need to fix this. So anyways, that story still resonates very much for me, and I admire anyone who takes on that role of saying, Hey everybody, I know I'm gonna be super unpopular now, but the person in power, like they're not wearing any clothes and we need to, you know, so.

Michele Ong

Yeah. Also, Compassionate Coding. Compassion is a girly thing? Like, no, compassion is not girly. Compassion is-- does not discriminate for gender. Like this is, this is not a thing.

April Wensel

I know, I know that's Reddit for you. You know, thanks Reddit. But yeah.

Michele Ong

Oh gosh. Yeah. Wow. That's telling more on them than anyone else.

April Wensel

That's so funny.

What advice would you like to give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?

Michele Ong

Yeah. And lastly, what advice would you give someone who, yeah, who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?

April Wensel

Ooh. I like that. I especially like that second part because a lot of times the way I'll answer this sort of question is to say ignore advice that doesn't resonate with your internal value system. Because I really do believe that we all, like beneath all the conditioning and all that sort of thing or whatever, I really do believe we have this inner wisdom inside of us when we're really quiet and like can tune a lot of that out.

Whatever shapes that, I don't know. But I do know that when I've tuned out the noise and really gotten quiet, that's when I've found the answers to a lot of the questions that I'm asking myself and looking for. So I think listening to that internal voice would probably be the best advice.

And then, so that also kind of answers the second one, which is to ignore the stuff that doesn't resonate. Because you know, an example, when I was starting my company, I was actually part of some groups and some groups for like women in tech and it was a very supportive group in the sense of, you know, we, we'd share stories and that kind of thing.

But I started talking about this company I wanted to build and they said, oh, you're not gonna make any money doing that. You know, and it's not, they weren't trying to be mean, they were trying to look out for me, right? They were trying to think, oh, I don't want you to go down this path. It's not gonna work because you're gonna end up being hurt.

So they were trying to be compassionate, but I knew that I had to ignore that advice. So sometimes people will push their limiting beliefs onto you and they can be very well-meaning. They can say, oh, you need to be realistic. You need to da-da-da. But it will often get in the way of you bringing your unique gifts to the world. And so to that I can just say like anything that makes you feel like you have to shrink yourself and and not shine your light, that's the advice that you need to ignore. And just keep at it and find somebody-- if first it's just you supporting yourself, fine, but like my mom, I was grateful 'cause my mom has always believed in me, even when no one else understood what I was doing, she was very supportive. So I'm grateful to that. And so when you can find that at least one person who can help, and then it, it can uh, help you on your path on those hard days and keep you going.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And yeah, it's such good advice because often when people tell you things and try to be helpful, it's not out of malice. They're not doing it because they're trying to hurt you. It's either, again, from their context, from their own experiences, or they don't want you to get hurt. They don't want you to be disappointed, and it's a way of trying to protect you.

But yeah, you just have to figure out what resonates and again, like thinking about how you can also protect yourself when you're doing these things because you know the advice is still valid. It's just not necessarily the way that you execute it.

April Wensel

Well said.

Michele Ong

Ah, very good advice. Such good advice. Yeah. So this has been absolutely wonderful.

If people would like to know more about you and Compassionate Coding, where can they go?

April Wensel

So I have a website, compassionatecoding.com, with a mailing list that people can sign up for. And I have a Twitter, so it's just @AprilWensel and my company's Twitter is @CompassionCode, and those are the main ways to get in touch with me. I'm also on LinkedIn, I don't use it quite as much, but I'm on there too, so yeah.

Michele Ong

That's amazing. I'll put those links in the show notes.

April Wensel

Wonderful.

Michele Ong

Yeah. So thank you so much, April. It's been absolutely wonderful speaking with you about this amazing work that you do.

April Wensel

Thank you so much, Michele, likewise. Thank you.

Michele Ong

Yeah, and we can all do with a bit more compassion.

April Wensel

I think so.

Michele Ong

Okay. Well thank you again and I hope you have an incredible rest your evening.

April Wensel

Thank you and have wonderful day.

Michele Ong

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let me know. Subscribe to this show, leave us a rating and share this with your geeky or geek-curious friends. You can also support STEAM Powered on Patreon under steampoweredshow the link for which also be in the show notes. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.

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