Developer Advocate, Labor and Ethics Organizer, and Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)
Liz Fong-Jones has been (and continues to be) a trailblazer in the tech industry, advocating for worker rights and inclusion. She stood up to Google, making an impact on the corporations of Silicon Valley as a whole, and continues to work towards ethical tech and safe workplaces. Her impact, however, is not exclusive to tech. As a queer trans woman of color, she knows that everyone has their own unique story and path to take. From her experience and success in a competitive and exclusive industry to her perseverance in the face of injustice and inequality, she's an inspiration to many.
tell us a little bit about yourself.
I wear a lot of hats -- I'm an advocate for marginalized people, a Site Reliability Engineer who keeps systems appropriately reliable, and a developer advocate who helps make software easy to use. I'm also a queer trans woman of color, an impact investor, and a furry. And, I have the experience of being plural (having more than one consciousness/aspect within our brain).
I also was a labor organizer within Google for 9+ years, with victories such as overturning the Real Names policy on Google+ to my credit. And I was the public face of Site Reliability Engineering for a few years..
for those of us who aren’t familiar with the tech industry, can you share more about what you do and how you got into engineering?
I had the good fortune of being born in a family where getting into tech was normalized and expected, and I was assigned male at birth so my uncles gave me access to a computer and taught me how to program early on. That set of skills came in handy when I had to support myself after my parents disowned me in my teens.
As an executive-level Developer Advocate at Honeycomb.io, I spend my time doing everything from advising on product roadmap to giving talks about my company's field to meeting individual customers to study how they use the product. And I sometimes find time to write code or wrangle systems!
as an organizer, how do you center and uplift the experiences of folx within your communities? What is your theory of change or the practices you lead with?
My theory of change with regard to transgender rights is that it's a three-legged stool of policy advocacy, impact litigation, and individual direct aid that will enable trans people to truly thrive. As such, I work with organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality for policy & data-gathering, the Transgender Law Center and Lambda Legal on impact litigation, and Trans Lifeline for poverty alleviation and direct aid.
What does true solidarity, across communities and working sectors, look like to you and how can it be achieved?
Solidarity requires, first, mutual understanding of needs, and elevating the voices of other marginalized folks instead of speaking for or over them. One of the challenges of modern-day capitalism is that everything is so transactional and it's hard to reach out and find that other human who wants to participate in the movement and give them the support they need. Thus, raising awareness and making connections is the best thing I can do. And then, providing resources to help people who are least able to themselves participate in organizing and taking risks.
With the rise of social media-led efforts, we’re seeing a cultural shift where more and more people are speaking up for their rights and are not willing to compromise their values (e.g. more recently #WayfairWalkout). What do you think this says about the future of tech activism?
I think that tech activism has a bright future, although I wish that the line had come much sooner. "Babies in concentration camps" or "our children have no future because of climate change"... we should have had people mobilizing en masse earlier, but any movement is good movement here. Now we can build on each others' momentum and lead the way towards things like a general strike, which I suspect will be needed soon...
You mentioned in previous interviews that you were burning out on activism (which is so real). How do you take care of yourself?
I've personally chosen to work at a much smaller workplace where I enjoy significantly more influence over the company's working culture and the ethics of its products. This enables me to free up energy to help other people without being personally embroiled in the middle of my own ethical crisis as I was the past 9+ years at Google.
Fan Question: When you work as part of a corporation, white feminism is always going to be the “tasteful feminism” and it’s difficult to push people beyond that. Corporations will continue to be trans/queer/woc exclusive and policy that does get pushed are rarely intersectional. How have you fought or pushed for more intersectional thought in the companies you’ve worked at? Do you think it’s not up to the employee and they are better off looking for companies that aren’t already stuck on the white feminist bandwagon?
It's important for people who are marginalized to band together. It turns out that we actually outnumber the white women and can be heard if we all group up ;) especially if we leverage the cis, straight, able-bodied, etc. white women who are willing to cause a scene and be conspirators rather than passive allies. Divide and conquer is seriously the worst tactic, and not falling for it is super crucial. And holding accountable the white women executives who got there by toughening up and think everyone else can be just like them.
What is the story you want to tell about yourself or about your work to folx who look to you as their role model?
I… don't think my stories really generalize. Survivorship bias is a real thing, so everyone has to navigate their own path. I wouldn't be here if I didn't take the risks I had to to survive, and survived the other end of those risks. So telling other people to follow my path precisely might lead people astray, y'know? Always listen to your own gut rather than following others' advice.
Lastly, what is a fun fact that people need to know about you?
I used to be in charge of 10,000 players in a game called EVE Online. It's taught me a lot about how to be a manager, and how to both be more compassionate towards people, as well as be hard-nosed when I need to defend having the right culture!