Kris Nóva is a transgender activist and an open-source computer engineer who currently works as a senior principal engineer at Twilio. Here’s what Nóva has to say about her career in the tech industry, her book Hacking Capitalism, and how her nonprofit is helping trans and non-binary individuals in STEM reach their full potential.
What brought you to open source and computer science?
The society we live in convinces transgender people of one thing—they aren’t worth existing. Most of us have families that abandoned us which meant we learnt the rules of the world on our own. For me it was no different. As I struggled with understanding my own existence as a transwoman, my relationship with the workplace and the world I lived in I started exploring avenues that would help me identify.
Computer science had always fascinated me but the workplace was a different story. Luckily, programmers were one kind of people who didn’t care who they were working with as long as the code worked and didn’t break anything. As I worked through my trauma and accepted that the workplace, society, and economy for transgender people aren’t magically going to get any better I freed up substantial amount of my time to outperform many privileged folks around me.
Tell us about your new book, Hacking Capitalism.
Hacking Capitalism is my answer to a lot of the problems I see every day in the tech industry. It is a consolidated gift of information, tactics, and expectations that I was never given as a broken transgender person that started out homeless.
The tech industry has given me tremendous amounts of opportunity, money, and a glimpse into a world I would otherwise never have had access to. However, it all came at the cost of a lot of pain and trauma caused from exploitation and ruthless competition within capitalism.
After the 2020 lockdown and following insurrection, I spent a lot of time alone in Death Valley and the Mojave Desert in California. I quickly realized that after about 10 years of fighting the system I was finally at a point where I had the entire system mapped out and modeled within my head. In 2021, I re-entered the industry and quickly found that my job was joyful again. The industry was no longer able to hurt me, because I was finally prepared. Hacking Capitalism is a collection of those lessons and the subsequent modelling that has given me the gift of hope in tech again.
Do you see the tech industry breaking gender conformity and welcoming non-binary people?
I do believe that the industry in general is at a turning point. The group of empowered decision-makers probably have another 10 years at the most left before they start to retire and die off. This means folks like myself are slowly moving up the ladder in terms of title and influence. With the new wave of leaders, comes a tremendous amount of empathy that never existed before. I would like to imagine that in the future being non-binary in tech will be about as exciting as being a vegetarian or being left-handed is today. In other words, I hope that the new generation of workers moving into positions of power bring a tremendous amount of respect for all walks of life on the gender spectrum.
You’re the founder of a nonprofit, The Privilege Escalation Foundation. How does it aim to promote better advocacy for gender minorities?
The Privilege Escalation was a project that came into existence after deep introspection in isolation. My own struggles with being a transgender person made me realize there’s still a huge gap within the system that does not recognize non-binary existence. Once I had this figured out, all I needed was to counter it so transgender people would feel motivated to outperform their peers. The problems are multifold but we need to start somewhere. Privilege Escalation Foundation starts with healthcare and education.
I have donated over $1,000 to turn my vision into reality. In 2021, we paid out $5,000 in sponsorships to various people. This is just the beginning. I believe that the way humans are built or how they choose to identify themselves shouldn’t hold them back. As a transgender computer scientist, my ongoing work expands toward shaping the policies and practices and advancing them for better inclusion of gender minorities.