6 min read

🌿 The Spore

Welcome to The Spore, our re-launching and re-branding of the Organizational Mycology newsletter.

Brought to you by the team at Organizational Mycology

Welcome to The Spore, the Organizational Mycology newsletter. Expect to hear from us about every two weeks. We're going to do pop-up Oblique Thinking Hours as ideas come up. So if you're interested in those, drop us a line at [email protected] and we'll add you to that special announcement list for those interested in the Oblique Thinking Hour.

🤔Musings and thoughts

🍄👓 Mushroom Glasses

Cutting off the base of the porcini (Photo: Beth Duckles)

A few months ago I (this is Beth) went out mushroom hunting for the first time, a friend had an extra ticket for a well loved local foraging class and I got to tag along. I'm proud to report that I managed to find three gorgeous porchini mushrooms (spoiler alert: They were DELICIOUS).

One of the things that our foraging teacher talked about was that as you get more involved in mycology, you will start to see where mushrooms want to live and you'll develop a kind of sixth sense about where they are and when you might find them. It reminded me of another mycologist I chatted with who once mentioned driving on the road and seeing a copse of trees and having what she called "mushroom glasses" that meant she knew there would be a certain kind of mushroom there.

I love the idea of mushroom glasses because it's something that I have experienced when teaching ethnographic work. I have an exercise where I ask a room full of folks to spend five minutes observing the room. The more boring the setting, the better. I ask folks to write down whatever they see, hear, touch, taste, whatever is interesting to them, whatever draws their attention.

While this may seem like the world's most irritating exercise, the thing is that everyone tends to look at the things that they're most interested in. Architects will describe the room's design. People who work for shoe companies will describe the shoes people in the room are wearing. An audiophile will describe the sounds they hear. Someone who adores birds will explain the bird songs outside. People who like color will talk about the color palette of the room. As a dorky social scientist, I am likely to describe body language or talk about how/where people are sitting. If you've attended our visual empathy Oblique Thinking Hours, you've seen this at work with our Visual Empathy exercise.

My sense is that we all have our own version of mushroom glasses. They are the things we learn over time to look for, the things that fascinate us, that draw our attention over and over again. They're the thing that we're most interested in and because we've looked for so long for the metaphorical mushrooms, that we know where they're seen. We just kind of get where the mushrooms are. When you know what kinds of lenses you've developed in your life, it can sometimes feel to you like "no big deal" but to other people it's a vantage point they've not spent time with.

When you think about people who have skills that seem extraordinary, I would suggest it is a form of mushroom glasses. We revere writers for describing the social condition, when it's what has fascinated them for decades. We exalt artists who see differently because they have spent their life continually looking at light, or shadows, or texture. We extol mathematicians who can stick with the puzzle long enough to unlock progress because the puzzle feels interesting to them. We appreciate actors who embody the emotions they see because they've spent years watching and learning. Observational skills are key.

💡Something we found interesting

A recent pre-print paper caught our eye: Foundational Competencies and Responsibilities of a Research Software Engineer (PDF). The paper synthesizes the foundational competencies of Research Software Engineers (RSEs) and describes the structures and types of organizations that can support RSEs as they develop skills in various areas.

There is an interesting thread around openly sharing of code and repositories, and making intentional choices about working more openly in collaborative software development. There are excellent ideas about peer support, mentoring and DEI and how these efforts help to define the discipline overall. They include a couple of skills matrices that cover many of the expected skills RSEs should have as they move through their careers.

There are some great pieces of insight and advice around where institutional support could better support RSEs, many of which could be of interest to academic OSPOs (Open Source Program Offices). Overall, the paper has some really great structures and ideas that could be applied in any discipline / area that is thinking about workforce development, institutional support, and peer support models that can further the discipline toward its goals.

We're excited to see and hear how organizations uses these kinds of structures to help grow a new sub-discipline and professionalize the work of research software engineering.

🍂Dan on Aspen Institute panel this week

Yesterday, Dan was on a virtual panel at The Aspen Institute discussing AI & the Future of Work. The audience was a mix of participants and alumni from the Institute’s Tech Policy Hub, Henry Crown Fellowship, and Rodel Fellowship programs as well as some invited guests from the tech sector. Dan had a great conversation with Professor Lindsey Cameron, who studies algorithmic management in gig work, and Athena Karp, CEO and founder of HiredScore.

The panel discussed topics ranging from “what is AI, anyway?” to its impact on management and workers in the domains the panelists are most familiar with. Dan of course drew on his research studying the organizational and labor impacts of AI-enabled robotics in warehousing, but also had interesting opportunities to bring up insights from his work in healthcare and open source software.

His favorite takeaway from the event was how it challenged him to rethink (and possibly de-think?) “skill” when considering the future of work: Co-panelists and audience members had really thought-provoking takes on how we talk about skill and the shortcomings of existing approaches to upskilling, re-skilling, and preparing workers for the jobs of the future. In short, lots of things matter besides skill development—power, collective action, mentorship, social belonging, job requirements, hiring approaches, technological change, and so much more—yet lots of our worries and hopes for the future are centered around skill. 

In some ways, it's not an entirely new way of thinking for the OM team. We all believe that organizational and social structures—and being intentional about their design—are as critical to the future of work as skill, but we often fall back on skill development as the key mechanism of ensuring a bright future for organizations and workers. What it's really about, though, is finding ways for workers to have the support and resources needed to take their careers in any direction they choose, with skill development being just one small part of the bigger goal to promote thriving in the workplace. Maybe this way of thinking can also help us all move beyond the yucky, yucky term "unskilled labor." All workers have skill, they're just not always supported in demonstrating and building it.

⚡️Short updates

We recently released an Astropy Report based on a survey of the Astropy community. Stay tuned for a forthcoming DEI report we're developing for that community as well.

We're still looking for feedback and participation in the Scientific OSS Landscape diagram. Thank you for those of you who have contributed organizations you think should be included! Feel free to share any other thoughts you have with us on the topic, we'd love to hear from you.

Over five years ago now, Jonah made a map of Applied Data Science Skills for Research. In light of Dan's Aspen Institute panel, we think it may be time to revisit this and see how the "skills" fit in to a broader context of academic data science. Looking over it, the basic topics are mostly unchanged. AI/ML are in a hype-cycle at the moment, but the fundamental practices and skills are not so different. Perhaps machine-assisted programming is something to consider in the academic context. Talk about a can of worms to open up🥫🪱...🤔.

Oblique Thinking Hour

We've put the oblique thinking hour on hold as our consulting work has ramped up, but we're always open to holding sessions for individual teams. We'll be sure to let you know when we hold another free and open OTH! Find out more about OTH and our other offerings on our Services page.

Contact us at [email protected]