The booming field of computer science and technology is full of promise and opportunity. Tech jobs with top companies are highly coveted but what is it really like to work in the tech industry? A career in can mean great perks, hard work, and continuous evolution of new skills. It is also a field that could benefit from more social support.
The booming field of computer science and technology is full of promise and opportunity. Tech jobs with top companies are highly coveted but what is it really like to work in the tech industry?
A career in tech can mean great perks, hard work, and continuous evolution of new skills. It is also a field that could benefit from more social support. Prioritizing the humanity of the people who consume and create the internet could make it a safer, more fulfilling place to work and to be.
Host Cory Ames sat down with Dojo 4’s Corey Kohn on the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast as part of our new series on technology. They discussed tech and culture, and how reconnecting with humans and nature is the antidote we need.
In this post, we’ll discuss the modern experience of working in tech, the unique challenges facing women and people of color in a white male-dominated industry, and what we can do to find meaning while working in this field today.
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Cory Ames 0:07
Hey y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always, so grateful to have you here. This episode is a special one had a lot of fun in this conversation, and my guest today, Corey has a slightly exceptional and eclectic background that brought her to the tech industry, she co founded and continues to lead dojo 4 as a place that reinvents assumptions about how we think business should be done. And they advocate for a more enlightened human way of building all kinds of capital. And Cory is also the CO creator of antidote to tech, a lot of what we'll be discussing today, which is a resource for technologists committed to thriving natural environments, in genuine human connection. In this episode, in the complimentary blog posts published at grow ensemble calm, are part of a multi part series that we're doing with their friends at dojo for around this very important initiative in conversation that they're bringing to the tech industry, through antidote to tech. So a link to keep up with the remaining pieces that we'll be publishing around the future of technology, problems and challenges facing the technology, industry. And ultimately, as well, the solutions to those will be in the episode description and as well, easily found at grow on solid calm, so don't forget to check that out. Alright, y'all, without further ado, let's get into this conversation with Corey Cohen from dojo 4. Well, Cory, I appreciate you being here with me on this social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. For folks who are unfamiliar with with you in the work that you do. Would you mind briefly providing us with a little introduction?
Corey Kohn 2:07
Yeah, thank you. I'm super glad to be here. It's the to Korea podcast today. Yes, my name is Corey Kohn. And I lead a small worker owned tech agency in Boulder, Colorado, we build custom software for clients are also we've been a be core for a long time now, definitely over five years, bit longer, maybe seven years, something like that. We focus particularly on software that we think supports social environmental justice, but we're really primarily focused on making meaningful work for the people. We work with our colleagues, software developers and designers. And yeah, that's sort of that that gives you a pretty simple lay of the land for me.
Cory Ames 2:59
Well, there's there's definitely a lot in there that I know we'll dive into in this conversation. But I'd like to start maybe at a place that that could surprise you. But your background was so eclectic, in what I was picking up from some of the biographical details. I'm curious first, what what influenced you think being raised in a Buddhist family has on the work that you do? And is well how you do the work that you do?
Corey Kohn 3:26
Yeah, that's a really good question. I'm not sure I have a really good answer. But it definitely influences my worldview. And thus my work and my relationships, and my network, and all that kind of thing. So I think one way that it influences the way this bit, you know, way I run dojo for and then what we're going to be talking about, in a little while antidote to tech is having a relationship with embodiment, and mindfulness and kind of how we are in the world with each other with ourselves, that kind of thing. And we're based in Boulder, Colorado, which is the home of like Naropa University, kind of like known for, since around the time I was born in the 70s, as being a place where people come to study meditation and that kind of thing. So it's not, people aren't kind of like thrown off by that kind of approach here in Boulder. And I think we're not really front and center about any of that. But it's definitely ingrained in the way we do our work. It's like, for me, and then also, I think, for my colleagues, those of us who have found each other and, you know, have enjoyed working with each other for years and years, is that kindness, for instance, is just like a it's like the foundation of how we do business. And we absolutely must feel like we're in genuinely respectful kind of relationships with our clients, with our co workers, with our competition, even. And all that kind of thing in order to feel like we're doing our best work. And I think, you know, that definitely threads back to some of my Buddhist upbringing around things like compassion and, you know, mindfulness of others and our own environmental states and that kind of thing. And I think then, you know, it also relates, I really pushed this company early on to move towards being a B Corps. And I'd say, you can have any kind of worldview and want to do good in the world with your business. Absolutely. No question. But I think, Buddhism, there's basic acknowledgement of impermanence, which is like, things are changing all the time. And like the good times, you know, one way that you could see that in businesses, the good times don't always last, right. And the bad times don't always last. So I but I, and I really had this feeling like, I really want to focus on acknowledging that, you know, like, money doesn't make you happy, for instance, like that, just to, and that, if we're going to do our best work, we have to do that in an environment of kindness. And that really ties in then to kind of like the the B corps ethos of using business as a force for good. Does that answer your question at all?
Cory Ames 3:41
I think so. I it's funny to me that you say it's not so front and center, maybe at least from perhaps your relationship locally in the community and in Boulder, but just as I was just reading the texts on your site dojo 4, and as well, the initiative will talk about antidote to tech, I noticed myself feel better, like I felt happier just the language that you use, and what I felt that emphasized. And it was certainly something that seemed different to me, just of maybe what my, my immediate or almost instantaneous connotations are, with tech, I suppose, and in the industry as a whole. And I was interested to just as well, I noticed you had a number of degrees from Canadian universities. I don't know. I mean, that's maybe not so important. Or maybe it is, but I given those degrees in that background, I was trying to find where, where this led you into the tech industry, because I couldn't necessarily put that together. But I'd love to hear a little bit more of the origin as to how you got into the industry, and then to dojo for specifically.
Corey Kohn 7:28
Yeah, well, first of all, I'm glad that you got a good feeling from encountering this business. And that's definitely Yeah, again, I don't know if that's a very overt intention. But it's, it's really important to us, like, it's really important for us to feel good about how we're we are in our lives, and how we are in our interactions and community and to have a good sense of humor about things and that kind of thing. And that actually took us a while to get there, I think. And I'll talk a little bit about how I got involved in the tech industry and in this business. But when I first started in this is like the end of the very beginning of 2010. So I've been a little while now, you know, I had all these ideas about what it is to be in business and what the tech industry does, and I think here in Boulder was like the beginning of tech stars. So for people who know about that it's a accelerator that's, you know, funded a lot of a lot of startups in the tech industry. And so it's just a lot happening. Very moneyed industry. And I had this kind of idea about professionalism, and what that looked like. And somewhere along the way, I realized that the very best possible thing that we could do for our business, was to just actually be ourselves. And I know that sounds like a kind of, it's like a vague thing to say it's a cliche thing to say like, what does that actually mean. But I think for us, what that actually meant is like, we really show what we care about, we don't pretend to be something that we're not, that includes in terms of both our skills, but also the like, you know, we're kind of a, I'd say sometimes like a eccentric bunch. And when I meet a new client, I say, okay, so if there was a spectrum that went from like order to chaos, we'd be like, we're over here, you know, and that way, we can have those conversations right away. And that might either put them at ease, and they say, Oh, God, great, because we're kind of chaotic to or we're kind of, you know, anomalous or eccentric, and then we can kind of laugh about it, and we become friends. And if they say, oh, gosh, that makes me nervous. Or, you know, I really need to like a lot of process. And I like things to be kind of like this, then we know right away, like, they might be doing great work. And we might be doing great work, but like, we're not actually a fit for each other. And so we're not actually going to be able to help each other. So it was like actually a business strategy to say let's actually just Present who we really are, we have like kids and dogs in our office and like, I am never here early morning. And you know, just we're like, real out about who we are. And it wasn't accidental at a certain point, we became really intentional about it. So how did I end up in this kookie business? I would have never guessed in a million years that I would have been in the tech industry, let alone in business like I really had a an aversion to business. And I was studied science and undergrad in AI. I was actually born in in Boulder, but grew up in Canada. And I study biological sciences, and then did not end up doing that ended up working in documentary film in New York, and mostly, like social issue documentaries in New York City. And yeah, I really thought like business was like, Oof, like, Oh, it's like, you know, it's like, very masculine. It's very, like, manipulative, and it's oppressive. And it's creates inequities. And, you know, all these ideas that I had about business, this was also before the, you know, social impact movement. And so I had zero interest, then through a bunch of sort of, like family circumstances, I can't I left New York came to Boulder. And this was during the 2008 2009, economic depression, and especially in the entertainment industry, which is where I was, there was like, no work, right? So I was just wandering the Rocky Mountains, wondering what to do it myself. And
could be worse, because I think at the time, I wished I was like, wandering downtown Manhattan, but I have been here in the Rockies. And yeah, it was just it was through a friend of a friend, he, you know, there's huge tech boom, happening at the same time, that all these other industries were really in a bad place. And, yeah, the story that I always tell is that I was sitting on my, on my friend's porch, having a glass of wine, and their neighbor came home at midnight, you know, something like that, and said, Oh, you know, I know where you're coming fromo late. like, I'm at work, and I'm so we're so busy. We just started this business, building custom technology, and we're so busy. And I have been out of work, you know, for far too many months. And, you know, I had had a glass of wine. And I said, Oh, you should let me run that business for you. And he's a great come in on Monday. And I was like, what, I don't know anything about technology. But I had also studied math, so and I had done a lot of kind of more technological jobs in the film industry. So it wasn't totally foreign to me, but built software was really foreign. And then there I was, and they actually found it to be thoroughly fascinating. Like, I had no idea like, I really, I mean, I also entered into like a very interesting group of people. Yeah, I learned a lot about kind of like the anarchist background of the Internet, and that kind of thing. And I learned a lot about like, what it means, like how creative technology can be that like, you know, people think of it as these just sort of like mathematical lines of code. But like, as someone who had studied math for years, I like I knew how creative math is. And, yeah, I felt really enlivened. And then weirdly, I fell in love with business. And now I feel like so passionate about it, I really feel like it's like one of those linchpins where you can actually make people's lives better, because it's it is one of those places where workplaces can make people's lives miserable, the way we work, what we do with that work, you know, the impact of that work can be so difficult. So then the flip side of that coin, is it can actually do the exact opposite, right? And so I'm really interested in like, turning that and what it means to turn that and switch that not just operationally and actualizing it but really in people's minds, like the same way that my mind was turned. I could turn people's minds and say, Look, you can actually do work that you feel good about, you can actually do business in a way that's trustful. You can actually work with competitors in a collaborative way. You can actually regenerate your local economy and your relationships in the community all through business. And, yeah, clearly I feel really strongly about it.
Cory Ames 14:42
That's surely a common sentiment of a lot of the folks that we have on this podcast is originally an aversion to business and not having imagined themselves, be in business in any sort of degree. find themselves there for one reason or another. And I guess, you know, change their tune at some point for varying reasons. But I'd be curious to know, Cory, was there a particular tipping point for you? Was there a point at which you did start to think about business and being in business differently? Or was it just something that progressed over time? And then you kind of realize, like, Oh, you know, my positions or opinions have changed?
Corey Kohn 15:25
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it's a little bit of both. I, one thing that happened for me was that there was a lot of talk at that, you know, sort of early on 2010 2011. In that area, 2012, around in the tech industry about the bubble, right. And, you know, how much longer is this gonna last? And, as you know, we build custom technology, right. So if startups, if there's no startups, building technology then we have, or you know, people don't need technology built, we don't just do startups, we also work with governments and nonprofits and all that kind of thing. But if people don't need technological products built then like, we're out of business, right? So how we're starting on certain things like how do we innovate? What's our niche? What do we do? And how do we prepare for that, so that we're not blindsided. And the thing that came to me kind of, and I didn't listen to it real strongly at first, because it felt like, maybe it was, you know, now, I think it's funny to call it idealism, because it's really just so realism, you know, but what I heard and didn't really listen to that strongly, was, the only thing that's not a bubble, is the suffering that our world is experiencing, right? Like, that is not going away. People are in pain, they are diminished by their circumstances, the environment is like being plundered, and the earth is ransacked, and we don't know how it's gonna, you know, all the things that drive us around wanting to make positive change. And that was like, I could feel I could feel that voice talking. And I didn't listen at first because I thought, oh, that doesn't have anything to do with me, or that's too idealistic. And then, I don't know if it was one day, or if the voice just became too loud for me, that I said, No, that that's all there is basically, like, and it's an it's not idealism, it's actually commercial practicality, if I want to stay in business, and I want to continue to employ people in this local community, and you know, we also work remotely, so broader than I have to be addressing the problems that are not going to just go away with a bubble burst. And those are the problems, climate change, social inequity, health, all these things that we're dealing with right now. And I put it out there. And you know, from the converted, I wrote a blog post about it, and then it got picked up. And I think, I don't know who reads triple pundit anymore, but it got picked up and people read it. And they're like, I think that what I wrote was the only growth industry is human suffering, which is, that's a little bit of a, I don't think I called it that, you know, someone who writes big headlines wrote that, but so people who are already converted to that way of thinking are like, Yes, exactly. My colleagues and you know, people in the tech industry here in Boulder, were kind of like, Oh, cute, a little bit. I don't know, if they took it super seriously. And I pushed I pushed and then slowly, but surely, people kind of start going like, Oh, that's interesting. Or I think when we finally did the, you know, when it finally turned over for us as a business, was when we actually ran into like a little bit of a perfect storm around for us as a small business where like, one of our clients went bankrupt. And I think we lost one of our key people just for us moving away with his family to go his wife got a job somewhere. And, you know, it was just sort of like the business started to feel shaky. And, you know, people start going, like, oh, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? And that's when my business partner at the time was like, What do you mention this thing about like, B Corp certification? You know, that kind of thing? I was like, Yeah. You know, so it actually was, it came from a place of like, oh, we're like, we can't just float like the money. You know, it's like what I was hanging out in permanents. Like, it's easy to not think about that stuff when the money is just there. And you know, you can always pay people but as soon as that starts to feel a little more ephemeral, I think people start thinking like, oh, what am I doing, like, what's important to me in my life, and what kind of work do I want to be doing in this world?
Cory Ames 19:49
I love that as a place to lean into in a state of what seems like you know, insecurities you described as a perfect storm because you could see As it's just the same exact thing talking, talking about the B Corp certification for one, it doesn't change the B Corp certification. But the way that you look at it in that of that's excessive. And that's not something that we should focus on right now. Because we're in this perfect storm, you know, or the alternative of that of like, no, this is exactly the thing that we should focus on right now, because of the meaning that it has, as opposed to the very, I guess it superficial, it's this weird balance that exists just in business inherently, and then crossing it into this sector of trying to blend business with meaning, which it seems that you've done very well, is that there's like subtle distinctions between what seems like kind of the frivolous pursuit of like money first, and then it doesn't always look different. You know, I guess, I think it could just be a different sense of intention, and like what you're grounded in. So just just to appreciate that, that's where y'all decided to lean into, as opposed to it could have gone a different direction.
Corey Kohn 21:02
I don't think that everyone I work with right away, it was like, Oh, definitely, that makes a lot of sense. Like, I think, what and it myself included, like, Is this like, or am I just, you know, am I barking up the wrong tree or like, but then after a while, you just can't deny it in a way, you know, like, Oh, I'm going to just sort of think clearly money that, you know, it's like, we know this in tech startups, money does not make you happy, like it really is, you know, people are like, I'm just working on a quick exit. And they're so excited. And then like, all around us for years and years, people are just like, selling their companies making tons of money. And sure, there's like a little while, where it's like, oh, and then I traveled the world for a year or I was able to do this cool thing that I was never able to do before. And then there's like the come down, and oh, right like that. That doesn't make a good life. Yeah. So then I after time, I felt I started feeling a lot of response from people like, Oh, you guys have been in business for a long time. And you're like, we're not the most kind of like, successful, we chose at one point, we're like, we don't want to grow anymore. We want to stay small, we have this small office, and we have, we don't we say no to some jobs and that kind of thing. And but people are like, Oh, you're still here. And you're like, I see you sitting out in front of the office with your, you know, having a beer in the afternoon with your clients, and you seem happy. You know, and I'm not saying it's easy all the time. Like we all being in business is always hard. But I'd say we're generally pretty happy, like, you know, and feel good about most of our choices of how we are and I think I'd like to make that accessible to more people because we are small. So one of the things that we're thinking about is like how do we grow this cooperative without losing, you know, what it has to offer people? And then this other piece, which is this antidote tech piece that we're launching. How can we share our experience and and continue to learn from others?
Cory Ames 23:04
I love that. And we'll touch on antidote here in just a second. But I just can't let go of the audacity of of you having a glass of wine or maybe to at that point, and just take it having the courage to now run this is tech agency. So I'm wondering, how does it feel now to be a decade plus in to running dojo for what? What's that like for you? Especially with the context of, of where it all began?
Corey Kohn 23:33
Yeah, it's very surprising to me still, in a weird way. And that there was years, you know, where, like, I reached a point where, like, really, this is what I want to be doing, like, Am I sure and, and then I just like, couldn't not do it. Right. So there's something deeply compelling to me about it. I think, also, for me, people are really important. I think for a lot of people, that's the case. And we have a really, really good group of people here. You know, I really think of the people I work with as like, some of the most important people in my life. And yeah, just very trusting, loving relationships. And yeah, so that feels really gratifying. I think, okay, I just spent the weekend with some good friends of mine, who I'd known from way back in the years that I was working on documentaries. And that's the direction that they totally went, and they're doing real impact, like one of my friends, a few of them make these documentaries that really impact people, right? And they're sort of laughing at me, like, you're doing this other thing that like, we just don't understand, like, you're using business to like, do good stuff, or like, What is that like? technology? Like, what do you mean, like, things that I do on my phone? You know, it's like, it's so different than, you know what I intended to do. But I do think actually, I think feel really good about it, I feel like, you know, clearly technology, the way we interact with technology, how we build it, how much real estate it takes up in our lives is so it's so potent at this point in history, right? So I actually feel very grateful and fortunate to be, what to me feels like this kind of epicenter of like, potential real change, right? Because it's so much a part of people's lives. And, you know, just the fact that you and I can have this conversation 1000s of miles away from each other, almost seamlessly. Like if we can use that kind of ingenuity to apply to, you know, I think this, that's a really great problem to solve. Right is like how to keep people in good communication. And if we can use that ingenuity, to apply it to all these other things that need that kind of thinking, it just feels so potent. And yeah, so possible.
Cory Ames 26:01
And so I guess we can start speaking to that we've been hinting at it for the first initial period of our chat here. But I'd love for you to introduce us to this initiative that y'all are working on with antidote to tech. And then also, I think, very pertinent is to like, why, why is it now that this has become a focus? You know, 11, 12 or so years in to dojo4?
Corey Kohn 26:27
Yeah, I think it will help it by sort of give them a little bit of the history, which is enmeshed with what you're saying, What's the history of dojo 4. So, you know, we're this small tech agency, we have a ground level office on this kind of tree lined Street. And right from the very beginning, it was a little bit of a community Hangout, you know, people would come by we're in a small town, people know each other, we're ground level, we have these kind of like outdoor seating on this nice Street and developers would come by, and we actually had sort of this open door policy right from the very beginning. Because the first few weeks that we were open, it was actually started as it was before co working was like really a thing. But we're like, oh, we'll just, and it was actually right before I was involved. So people that were like, we'll just have a space where like, developers and designers can work together and we can collaborate. And within like two or three weeks of opening the doors, it was like people were coming through the door, saying, Can I hire a team of people to build me in this thing, so then very quickly became an agency. But because the ethos was there, from the beginning, we just had this open door policy, amazingly, still the case, we just have friends of friends, friends, people, family members come and work out of our office. So it's always been kind of open, we share the space with our community. What that meant was that we often were having we're sort of the center of, or at least a part of conversations, I don't know, for the center, but would feel like sometimes, that, you know, people would sort of gather you have a beer at the end of the day, you know, people come after work, that kind of thing. And one of the conversations that kept on coming up, right, for as long as I was involved in, you know, was sort of this theme was this, so nice to be here, it's so nice to actually sit down with you guys talk about our work, talk about the parts of it that are meaningful from like, you know, get into like the problem solving aspects of building technology, and to like, really just be in connection with my community. And then that led to this kind of, right, like, there's a lot of depression and anxiety in the developer community. And people feel really isolated, they feel really lonely. Yeah, and sort of a little bit of a sense of like,
I don't know, if a little bit actually a lot of a sense of meaninglessness like, okay, it's really fun when I'm talking to my other people I know, in the developer community about like, problem solving, and, you know, using open source to like, build apart things together and collaborate and blah, blah, blah. But like, when I'm at work, I'm like, in a cubicle, or I'm building this thing that I like, don't really care about or like this thing, actually, I think it's like, not that great, but I don't really have any control of it. And then just feeling like, essentially more and more alienated. And for me, as someone who was not a developer, I but you know, sort of intimately involved in the community. The thing that really struck me was that it's a highly intelligent community, right? Like, these are people that are really have a lot of brain capacity, especially for problem solving. Right? Like, it's that kind of brain that then is attracted to writing code, and that this incredible brain capacity and these like genius minds, were being used to build an internet that was like, completely completely meaningless to them, and not fulfilling like they are pouring their, you know, their skills, their intellect into something into these products that like, they essentially didn't really care about and didn't really, oftentimes have a lot of control around. Well I wouldn't really build it that way; Well, you know, marketing says you have to build it that way, kind of thing. And for me, it was like very obvious like, Well, of course, you're depressed. Of course, you have anxiety, of course, you don't feel like connected with people, because you're just like, it's about capitalist value extraction, based on, you know, perceived market pressures. And then developers are kind of these cogs. Now, I'm not saying that all developers are stuck in this way. But there's definitely a theme there. And really, like, a huge, like a wave of I hesitate to use the word epidemic, but like, depression and anxiety in that community. So you know, and then we started to, like, have that conversation with people. And it was like, Yes. And people say, you know, like this kind of recognition, like, yes, when you say that, that just is like, it resonates so deeply for me. And yeah, I just feel so lonely. And I didn't know that other people had this feel, right. So then for years, we talked about, like, oh, what should we do? Should we like to have conferences where people can talk about this stuff? Should we just write about it and see if that's helpful, that kind of thing? Meanwhile, we're running a business. So you know, anything extraneous starts to feel like, yeah, yeah, that sounds great. We'll get to it, you know, after this project, or next year, whatever. So I'm still having those conversations. But you know, it's like, not, you know, not pivoting our time and energy entirely, in a way that we may have liked to the kind of exploring this and really supporting our community. Then, during this last year, in 2020, during the pandemic, when it was like, we very Luckily, were able to stay in business, we had, you know, great clients that were also lucky to be able to stay in business. But it was like, a lot quieter as I imagined it was, you know, for a lot of people. And so, I also started to notice that kind of, like, what was important to us, was really, you know, would come to the surface more, yeah, just because of like, the, the general buzz was like a little lower. And this really came up again, this theme of kind of what, what is meaningful to us in our work? How can we support our community to do meaningful work, to feel in community. And the more we talked about it just sort of within our closer, you know, in my colleague group, and, you know, people in our closer community, we realized that, like, there's lots of things we could do about it. But we knew that for us, for instance, for most of us living in Colorado, like the pandemic, had this kind of, yeah, it was very scary, and, you know, just so much suffering. On the other hand, we all had, like, these incredible mountains, you know, I would go out into the mountains every day. And, you know, we live in this very, like, outdoorsy place, right. So there's a lot of just like engagement with nature, which, you know, we will talk about, it's like, very healing, right. And we know this, and even though we were all isolated in our own houses, and mediated by these screens, that we felt like, oh, but at least we have each, you know, we have some sense of community that we had, like really invested, our social capital was really strong, so that when we had to draw on that bank, during the pandemic, the savings were there, our social capital, we had really built it up, right. And for us, it felt like, that was really what has helped us feel like strong, safe, we can do meaningful work, that kind of thing. And so we thought, okay, that's not the way it is for everyone. Maybe they won't, but we know that those two things are true. Being in nature is an antidote to this feeling of kind of alienation around an internet that is not ours like that. We don't, you know, feel, products that we may be making for the internet that we do not feel are edifying at best, and at worst are actually damaging. And being in nature, understanding our place in the natural ecology, and other one is being in genuine human connection with others. And we just know this from our own personal experience. And so we were talking about that, and I think one day someone used this word it like, it's an antidote to these feelings of alienation. And I thought, you know what, maybe we'll do conferences, maybe we'll do whatever. Maybe we'll just continue to have conversations on the porch. But at least we could just put this out there and then just see it. If this resonates for people, allow people to be part of these conversations in a bigger way. We're really committed to this stuff and acknowledging how important it is to engage in these ways to take care of ourselves. And maybe we can like plant a little seed and at least let people know there's other people that are thinking this way. So that's why we started antidote to tech.
Cory Ames 35:23
I mean, I'd say right, right from the beginning these antidotes I think resonate with people inside tech, or just people who use technology in their lives, I surely know that the good value of hike when my anxiety is is high, or my stress is high, it does certainly feel like something that that is almost medicinal, you know, to be outside for those few hours in fresh air Korea view. Are you familiar with the book player piano by Kurt Vonnegut, by chance? No, I love Kurt Vonnegut, but I never read that one. I feel as if this is exactly in in when I first read that initial landing page, the list of commitments and in the antidotes on its text landing page, it connected me to this book, because the premises that we're in this this United States that's been completely optimized for the sake of efficiency, I mean, everything that we've we've created, we've attempted to alleviate any inconvenience from our lives. And so it's this dystopian kind of future of like, we've optimized for what, at what point? You know, because there's inevitably binds between that of like, what is actually meaningful? and what isn't? You know, are these things that we think are inconvenient or convenient? You know, are they not? Then I oftentimes think that about, you know, what sort of tech I'm engaging with, personally, not being someone who builds it myself. But I think the same thing, I'm like, What is the purpose of that? What is the use of that? And then inevitably having friends inside the industry to think about, you know, them in what, what is that they're building, what connection they feel, to those things in particular? So I be interested here, of course, there's those antidotes. And I think you've described a couple of those in practice with the community that it seems y'all build a very locally and as well, you know, just the practice of getting outside. I'm wondering what this looks like, from dojo 4's perspective, as a tech agency, like it very at the top of our episode, you mentioned pursuing meaningful work. And I'd love to hear what what exactly that that looks like for y'all in practice, perhaps?
Corey Kohn 37:35
Yeah, I feel like that that's the pith of it, right? Because it's really easy to save meaningful work. And I. Yeah, I love what you were saying about player piano. Yeah, just that this kind of like, dystopian separation from like, what actually makes us human right, is, it's so poignant. And I think that is actually where we've gotten to in terms of what it means to do meaningful work. So I think there's this idea about meaningful work is something that like, has like a direct product impact, that is directly helpful to another human being, or directly helpful to the environment. And that is definitely I think, that can feel very meaningful. And it's really good that that's happening in the world, right? Like, we're finding ways to make sure, hopefully, better and better make sure that people who don't have enough food are getting enough food, people who need access to clean energy can have access to clean energy, taking dirty energy and making it clean, you know, all these things, that the point of the business is actually these direct impacts, right. But then there's this whole other swath that is also making impact. And now I know I'm sort of equating impact with meaning. And those are not the same things. But I want to draw out that there's, there's, they're like siblings, right? Because I think, in the end, people, they feel good when they're in service. That's something and maybe that's also based on my Buddhist background, like there's a very famous Buddhist philosopher named shantideva. He says, if you want to be miserable, think of yourself. And if you want to be happy, you think of others. And so I think, you know, I definitely draw that. But most people in the world know that this is true, like when you when you see other people that something you've done, makes brings other people joy, it brings you so much more joy than like, getting to eat all the cake yourself, you know, that kind of thing. So in that way, I think impact and meaning go hand in hand because meaning is something that's like it touches you on a personal level. So you Here I'm saying that we had this idea like, we're going to turn Dojo4, and we're going to only work with impact clients. And that's going to make us feel like we're doing meaningful work. So we're only going to work with clients that are addressing hunger, poverty, social justice, climate change, blah, blah. And we realized, like, pretty quickly, actually, that that actually wasn't enough, right? Or not that it wasn't enough, but it wasn't a one to one equation, that then that work was going to feel meaningful to us, like they go hand in hand. But like, actually, maybe it's not a good fit for the other reasons I was saying, like, it's not a good personality fit or like, for us, as technologists, it's like, the work they're doing is super cool. But like the stack they're using, like the technology stack they're using is like black, like, so boring, or so outdated, or whatever. And then we also realize like, yeah, and sometimes like, we just want to, like something that feels meaningful to us might be something that's like, it doesn't have like a huge impact, but it has like a community impact. Like, it's like, we're, you know, creating art in a way that like, feels like it's enriching our community, or, like, I work with people who, you know, are cyclists and they like, love cycling, right. So that's not making a huge, you know, huge impact, but it feels personally meaningful to them. So we've been sort of grappling with this, like, you can't really make a policy about what feels meaningful, because it's personal. And then this other piece that I feel like almost an evangelist stick about, which is that anyone can do meaningful work, and anyone can make impact that way. So I think people think like, Oh, that's nice that you can talk about all this big core stuff and talk about meaningful work and talk about impact. But like, I run, I'm making this up now, like, janitorial service company, how am I going to do that. And the thing that I've learned over all this time, is that you can do it with anything, right? You can run your janitorial service business by men, you know, have been the workers there feel so respected, and so seen and so cared for, you can try to use environmentally sustainable cleaning products, you can build ties in your community that help you give back to that community. You know, you could do this with an insurance company, you could do it with like, basketball,
equipment, manufacturing, I just tried to think of something where people think like, Oh, no, that has nothing to do, you know, like, I can't, like, I can't quit my job and go do like a, you know, bleeding heart, do gutter kind of thing. I want to do meaningful work. But like, I can't do that. And I don't think that's true, I think you can do it with anything in any possible way. So that's also like ties in for us around helping technologists see that, like, you don't necessarily have to, you know, it's like, if your family relies on you, for income, which for most adults now, that's right. You don't necessarily have to quit your job in the place where you work in a cubicle and you don't feel good. It's like you can do and maybe you can even go into nature, but you can open your window, and you can feel the breeze, you can remember that you're part of this world, you can use your sense perceptions to go you know, because that's what works for us in nature. It's like our sense perceptions open, right? Like we go, Oh, look at that big sky and like, feel that breeze and like, smell that, you know, air and I feel my feet on the ground and that kind of thing. And you can do that, whether or not you're in like a national park, or if you're actually in a cubicle, and you just kind of go like, I'm just gonna imagine the window being open, right? And that that actually works, right? So you can find meaning, even if you're trapped in other ways. And you can remember that it's really important to be in connection with other humans. And then that so you don't have to feel like I can, I'm gonna, like my choices are either I'm gonna like, change the world and, you know, break my chains and change the world. Or like, I'm just stuck in this shitty life with no meaning. It's like, you can take your life as it is right now. And make impact in your personal life by finding meaning. Now, those antidotes that we I'm talking about might not be the ones for you. But we know, you know, we've, we've tried a few and we know those to work for us. So that's why we're offering them.
Cory Ames 44:46
They're very all encompassing, to being outside and connecting with others. Those are quite broad prescriptions, which I think is perhaps for the best, but it seems as if I mean, this kind of connects back to the sense of, of mindfulness and attentiveness for me in that, you know, you have this idea of, of meaning, and especially in the kind of communities of business that, you know, we frequent, you imagine that I asked to look a particular way, as opposed to being very attentive and a kind of attuned to what what feels a particular way for you, you know, do you feel that those things are meaningful, and having that kind of presence of mind to always say it's easy to escape and kind of lose track of that sense of awareness. But tying back to every now and again, and reflecting on that point of like, okay, is what I'm doing meaningful? You know, or am I feeling pressure from what I think, you know, meaningful work looks like, you know, if that's quitting my job, and you know, whatever it might be, it's very, it seems very important to have that attentiveness to pay attention to what are expectations versus what's actually true in your own experience?
Corey Kohn 45:58
Yeah, and I think, like you're saying, those things are really broad, but they're actually purposely that broad, because it's almost like, they're in plain, they're like, secrets in plain sight or something like that. And it's like, exactly what you're saying, like, how can I touch in with what makes things feel meaningful? To me, it's like, you have to have something to touch into, right. And so I think that's all we're saying is like, these things are available to all of us all the time, like, we can always sort of feel where we are, in our own, you know, where do we fit in, in our natural world, even if you're like, in a city, you know, it's like, still experiencing the seasons, or, you know, whatever it is. And even if you don't know that many people, or you're just like, you don't know anybody, but you can, like, use it on your, you know, subway ride or something, you can just, like, just feel like this is humanity, right? These are other human beings with a similar experience to me, they also, you know, wake up in the morning, they also feel lonely, they also feel joy. And even that is genuine human connection, even if it's, you know, it's like, maybe you have no one to have a beer with, you just move somewhere, but you can still go, oh, that person in the grocery store is also shopping by themselves. And then you just acknowledge it in your mind. And just those practices, you know, either being with people or, you know, psychologically or socially, being connecting with our natural environment one way or another. That in itself gives us like, that doesn't create the meaningful work. But it gives us the tools that we need in order to either decide to do meaningful work, or turn the work that we're doing into meaningful work somehow ourselves, right,
Cory Ames 47:39
it brings you back to some sense of being grounded, which, which is certainly critical for making decisions of any
Corey Kohn 47:49
Actually, this if people were like this more, it would change the way the internet was built. Right? So that's why one of the reasons it's really important to us is because it's like, we're right now we're in this kind of interesting place where people are starting to realize, like, oh, users of the internet are being screwed, right? Like, we're being used for our data, we're being used for our attention. We're being used for our consumerism, we're being used for all these reasons. And in all these ways, and that's, it's so interesting, and it's so kind of like, tantalizing and scary that you know, but we're like, it's exciting that we're starting to see this and it's out, you know, it's like people have seen the social dilemma. And the work that center for humane technology is doing, like people are starting to go like, right, like big tech doesn't necessarily have my best interests in mind. And that's like looking at this kind of ethical layer of like how we're building the internet. I think another organization is called all tech is human. They're looking at responsible tech. And there's like, I think it's called the algorithmic Justice League. And they do that work as well, really interesting work. But one thing that's not being looked at that much is like the experience of the people who are actually building the internet. So the human producers, so not just the users, but like, how, you know, what about the people that are not the like, big business, but like, just you and me, normal people building the internet. And if they felt more in tune with themselves and their surroundings and their community, it would be much more difficult to build an internet that was so bad for users.
Cory Ames 49:32
You kind of anticipated my my next question, but I'd love to have you expound a bit further on it. If if these antidotes are adopted with greater implementation across the industry, what do you anticipate for the future of technology, the industry and perhaps you know what it is the technology that we use on a day to day basis? What are some of your hopes and aspirations I guess?
Corey Kohn 50:00
Yeah, like the dream? I don't, I don't know exactly. I mean, I think it would be a little bit in line with a campaign manifesto that is definitely in line. And you know, that we admire a lot called the sustainable web Manifesto. And they point out, you know, they get a similar to, to antidote to tech, they're saying, you know, put your name on this, let people know that you care, and that you're committed to these things. And I think their whole thing is like, we can build internet that is clean, that is resilient, that is regenerative, that is open, that is inclusive, you know, all of these things, I think there's actually eight and I maybe only just said, five, but you can look it up sustainable web Manifesto. And I think that's, that's where I would see technology going is in all those directions, a place where, you know, it's like, one of my colleagues was just mentioning to me recently that they had for a long time, they weren't cognizant of the environmental impact of their work, because it's like, as a developer, you're just writing these lines of code, you're not like, you know, it'd be different if you were like, you know, like mining physically in the earth, or, and then like, or like driving a dump truck, and then like, dumping a bunch of trash in the ocean, right? Like, you would see, this is what I'm doing. This is the impact of my work. With the developers, it's not the same. And, you know, it's like, you're like, I read these lines of code, and then maybe you see the product, but you don't necessarily know, you know, like, what are you know, when the scales, what happens, and let's say, you're asked to build something that stores images, okay, images take up a lot of server space. And they're supposed to store images for forever, right? Like, I'm building, you know, this photo app thing, it's going to store images at a high resolution forever. That is an incredible amount of server space. And server space, is has a huge environmental footprint. So I think like Greenpeace, I just saw somewhere that Greenpeace was saying that, they predict that by 2025, that 20% of the world's electricity load will be cloud computing will be services. And that is huge. So you know, unless we've like, completely converted to wind and solar, by then, in the next three years, like, that's a huge environmental impact, you know, and so like, our developers are starting to feel like, oh, oh, god, like, what am I doing? Like, I can't keep doing this. This is like, I'm gonna, you know, I'm contributing to like the demise of our planet. And so what I'm this is all to say that, my wish would be that if we feel more of a connection to where we are in our natural ecology, and to other human beings that we live with on this planet, that you can't not see those things, right, like, stop being able to ignore our inseparability from one and each other and our interdependence on one another. And from there, it's like, you just make different choices. So when you're, you know, product owner, or project manager says, oh, build this, you just go? No, like I can't. And then you say, but I have a brilliant mind. And I've come up with a different solution. Right? And then the company goes, Wow, that's great. Like, why on earth? is this? A little simplistic, but you see where I'm going with this?
Cory Ames 53:36
Right? Yeah. So to me, it seems like a no brainer of things that we'd love to have adopted by folks within the tech industry as well. People just, you know, using technology, there's so many points there of things that were interesting to me of working on the internet for some time. And just being so unaware, grossly unaware to the environmental impact of that, thankfully, it feels like that's really been a more pleasant conversation for me in the last year or two. I'm like, Wow, Cory, you're really missing the boat on that? But I'm wondering, Corey, what if this see, like, imagine people listening to this think like, yeah, of course like that, that that is a vision for the future of technology that I'm bought into, make me feel better, you know, if I'm one of the people who's responsible for building this tech, and ultimately, the end users as well, like, Where do you think the barriers are to getting there their resistances? Like, what are the challenges? Why aren't we there yet? Or why won't we get there fast enough?
Corey Kohn 54:38
Yeah, I think one is knowing that it's possible, right? And feeling like there's enough of a critical mass of people that feel like it's possible. So that's one of the reasons why we're doing what we're doing with the antidote to tech and you know, other things is saying like, Hey, we don't talk to each other, maybe enough or we're not, you know, like out about our feelings about this. Let's Be out about this. And then maybe we'll see like, Oh, we can there's either there already is a critical mass, or we will, you know, contribute to a critical mass. I think that's one thing. I think another one is a little bit what we were talking about before in terms of people feeling like, what's possible in their personal lives. So they think, sure, but like, I can't quit my job, or Yeah, like, people are gonna say, I'm too idealistic. And I just need to actually, like, pay back my college loans, you know, or whatever. And so changing the story with that, like, No, you can make money and do good in the world, right? Like that's, for instance, B corps whole thing, right? Like, nonprofits are such an important part of our economic ecology, but like, our economic ecosystem, but like, that is not the only way to do it. Right? Like, you can, you can be an entrepreneur that, you know, works on climate change and makes a good living, right, like that is completely possible. So changing the story, changing the game that way and giving, you know, sharing with each other best practices around, like, how do you run a business that addresses real problems? And like, how do we use our problem solving skills to address those things that, you know, are real problems, instead of feeling like, I just need to work for another company that's making shopping easier or whatever? Like, that kind of thing? Yeah, and then, I mean, those are the two barriers that really stick out for me. But yeah, I mean, I think that there's this one other piece that like, maybe it keeps that, like I didn't know, it's gonna be such a theme in our conversation, but is, like, really caring for ourselves. So I think that, like, people don't care for themselves very much. You know, it's like, because it's hard. Like, it's really hard, you know, and it's like, oftentimes, it's associated with privilege, like, yeah, that person can like care for themselves, because they have the privilege and the access to the resources, you know, but I think, tending to our tending to our own hearts and minds, and whatever that means, whether that just means like, you know, could just be like, saying a nice thing to yourself, or not giving yourself a hard time, you know, but I think it's like, we say that, and I think there's this whole like, thing about self care. And that's not what I mean, I mean, it's like, on a very fundamental level, just like believing that we are worthy of living a good life, and that we have something very worthwhile to contribute to this world. And just that, like, that little seed is such a barrier. You know, we all contend with that. And I think, you know, especially like we were talking about in the developer community, if you're isolated, and you sit in a cubicle all day, it's really hard to feel that way sometimes. Right? Like, really, really hard. So it's like, it can feel insurmountable. And yeah, I think it's, it's totally possible. And that that little seed can have, you know, if you can, if you can get over the barrier of like, having that little seed, huge, huge change can come from that.
Cory Ames 58:03
I think that is an incredible point for us to wrap up on here. Corey, thank you so much for for taking the time here to share your origin story. And as well here this this very important conversation and initiative that is a antidote to tech. And so I'd love for you to direct folks where where should they best, keep up with antidote to tech dojo4 you in everything y'all are up to?
Corey Kohn 58:29
Yeah, thanks. Great. So we're not we haven't officially launched antidote to tech yet, like in the big universal galaxy of, you know, getting it out there. But towards the end of the summer, but I'm really glad to share it with people early. Especially because we want feedback like this is a this is a collaborative effort. So you can go to antidote to dot tech, not the number two, and that tech and put your name on there, share it with people, you can download the Badger, we're calling it a sigil. And put it on your site like you have done at growing sandwiches, so gratified to see that Thank you, and, and share this and give us feedback. So there's a place to give feedback there share resources, and hopefully, we're already starting, maybe there's going to be like a little bit more of a community element. We're already getting that feedback. So as soon as that happens, if you put your name on there even just have a way for us to get in touch with you which there's a form to fill out and we'll be able to include you in that community aspect as well. If you're interested in dojo four, or dojo4.com. That's the number four in this case. And also, please feel free to reach out to me Actually, personally, my email addresses on the dojo four website and these kinds of conversations are what fuel me personally and it's really important to me to be in touch with people personally. So Please, you know, for anyone that's listening to this, don't bey shy.
Cory Ames 1:00:03
Perfect. We'll have all things dojo for antidote to tech linked up at the show post at gre ensemble.com. Thank you so much, Cory. Thanks, Cory. Okay, that is a wrap another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast in the books. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, your host your Cory Ames. I always really enjoyed knowing that you're you're out there listening to this episode, engaging with the content, perhaps the folks that we featured doing this exceptional work in the world. If you enjoyed the show, and you haven't already, please leave us a review wherever it is that you get your podcasts. And hit the subscribe button if you haven't already that really helps other folks like yourself, discover the show. And lastly, if you have not yet, sign up for the better world weekly newsletter, this is our weekly discussion of building a better world with our global community of changemakers and innovators from all sectors in all walks of life. So go to grow ensembl.com backslash newsletter to get the next Better World weekly in your inbox. Alright y'all, we'll talk next time.
CEO, Co-founder & Founding Co-op Member
Corey Kohn has spiritual roots in Buddhism, family roots in the Rocky Mountains, an educational background in math and biology, and a professional background in documentary filmmaking. When the great recession dried up job opportunities in Corey’s chosen field, she found solace in the Rocky Mountains. She also found her next opportunity: the newly booming local tech industry. Her artistic, mathematical, and humanist nature armed her with surprisingly transferable skills to enter the tech world.
Corey co-founded and continues to lead Dojo4 as a place that reinvents assumptions about how business should be done, advocating for a more enlightened, human way of building all kinds of capital. She is also the co-creator of Antidote to Tech, a resource for technologists committed to supporting thriving natural environments and genuine human connection.