Helping communities & products thrive by fostering empathy

By Erik Romijn

Talk Abstract

Empathy is a fundamental to our work, but also error-prone. However, communities are an opportunity to learn more about each other. We’ll cover how it can be hard to understand each other, how to improve upon this, and use this make our products and communities happy, inviting and supportive places.

Talk Description

Empathy is a fundamental part of human interaction. When we communicate by email or at conferences, or indirectly, when we create products, events, or do a talk. However, our understanding of other people is full of error, and worse, bias. This can lead us to make communities and products that work poorly for people that are different from ourselves, introduce confusion and misunderstanding, exclude people unintentionally, and sometimes even cause harm.

However, our communities are an opportunity to learn as well. To embrace our diversity, and expand our understanding of other people’s worlds. To gain understanding of other people’s situations, experiences and emotions, which can be dramatically different to ours. And how we can use this to create both products and communities which work great not only for ourselves, but also those that we more easily forget about. As creators in tech we have such tremendous power to create change, but merely our best intentions will not be enough for that.

This talk will explore how and why we sometimes have such difficulty to understand others, and how others can have difficulty to understand us. We’ll talk about why other people’s experiences, emotion and perceptions can be so different. Both for the world as a whole, but also with the speaker’s personal experiences. Finally, we’ll cover specific ways for us to understand others better, and associated pitfalls, to make our communities and products happy, inviting and supportive places.


I am a veteran contributor to Django (the most popular open source Python web framework), but also have the experience of participating in communities which are entirely new to me. I am sensitive to other’s communication style, and an underrepresented group in tech, which has given me personal experience in this area. Many peers have also shared experiences in this area with me. I enjoy helping people in their communication style and tone, and often make efforts to help communities to improve in this area.

This talk has been done at DjangoCon Europe 2017 under a different title. People responded:

  • “I feel safe in this community, and talks like this are one of the main reasons.”
  • “Having a talk about such a difficult topic makes Erik a great role model in general to me!”
  • “Your talk made me feel so much more welcome and safe at this event.”
  • “As usual, Erik is delivering an amazing talk.”
  • “Great speech, really important and meaningful.”
  • “Awesome, awesome talk.”