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A year at GitHub

I took a job at GitHub a year ago today.

On good days, I help to improve the accessibility of its design system. The hope here is that the work done there eventually makes its way to the site itself.

It still feels surreal to have this job. I still vividly remember learning that git existed and feeling so depressed because I didn’t think I was smart enough to use it. I’m older and more experienced now, and have realized that I’m not smart enough to use it.

I don’t think the imposter syndrome feelings will ever go away. I’ve learned a ton here. A lot of it has been painful, even if I’m ultimately better off for having learned it.

I also tie up a lot of my sense of identity in my work, and with that comes a lot of my sense of self-worth. Combined with some personal issues, community death, and the general state of the world and it hasn’t been the best year for feeling good about myself.

If I could sum up four of my largest learnings, it’s that there are that there gigantic gaps between:

  1. What accessibility practitioners know and what many of the best and brightest in the web industry are aware of,
  2. What accessibility practitioners think they know and what disabled people experience,
  3. Recognition of accessibility as a concern before you even begin to touch on disability justice, and
  4. The understanding needed to make all of this not a high-stakes, highly emotional mess.

This is my first full-time job in accessibility. Before this, I’ve only ever audited in a freelance context, advocated for it externally as a consultant, or in one extremely messy and short-lived stint been brought on as a contractor-to-hire.

To be completely honest, I’m still not entirely convinced an internal advocate has more effective leverage for change than an external one. However, that is a different story for a different day.

This work is damn hard. It demands near-constant perfection across so many domains at a scope, scale, and level of nuance that I couldn’t have ever previously imagined. I think Devon Persing’s survey speaks to this phenomenon as a industry-wide concern, as well. So does Shell Little’s talk.

We’re also building this plane as we fly it—there is no historical precedent for this kind of work at this level.

Many established web industry practices don’t scale for this kind of work. Some are actually counter-productive. You also have to contend with politics, and doing more with less. There is also the notion that the more successful an accessibility team is, the more invisible their work becomes.

The work can also be extremely rewarding.

I left consulting because I wanted to help make more sustainable, permanent change. GitHub represents a space where someone can realistically spend their entire day working in. This translates to opportunity where there previously may have only been barriers.

This is especially important in that a development job represents a powerful opportunity. It is a place where a discriminated population has a chance to earn income, and oftentimes good income. I feel the gravity of this fact every day.

I’m proud of what I’ve helped accomplish, and feel like I could take a year off to write about the messy particulars of how it was accomplished. I also understand that there is a lot more work to be done. If you are reading this and run into an access issue, please let me know and I will do everything in my power to help.

I’m grateful to have so many peers that support this work, and did so much to forge the path that I have the privilege to be allowed to contribute to. I’m also in awe of their daily contributions and accomplishments, and excited for what the future may be.

I’m also fortunate to have three teams’ worth of support to rely on, and even more lucky to have many people outside my organization who get what we do and why it’s so important. It is rare and precious, and should be protected and encouraged.

To Allie: Thank you for taking a chance on me. To Chelsea and Alexis: I appreciate the hell out of both of you. To the Accessibility Engineering and Primer teams: Thank you for your support (and grace). To everyone previously mentioned: You’re the rare combination of smart, talented and kind, and it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Here’s to another year, a more accessible GitHub, and a more accessible internet.