Encouraging diverse voices with Developer Circles
After growing up in a sheltered community in Texas, Hali Hoyt relocated to Austin to begin a career in social justice work, a move that would be life-changing. The city’s vibrant and welcoming art community was a sanctuary for Hali, who discovered access to a newfound freedom of personal expression. Here, the pressure to oscillate between public and private personas subsided—and Hali came out as genderqueer (they/them).
In the art and tech communities of Austin, Hali says, “I found myself and my voice,” and, together with creative friends, they founded the Fully Free Art Collective, a space that supports identities and narratives typically invisible in mainstream America.
Tech as a medium for change
Hali has worked with several grassroots organizations, but it was their experience with a Silicon Valley company that revealed the vast resources available in tech and opportunities to leverage technology for social good. With the momentum of Spark AR, Hali felt that the tech landscape had the potential to be a powerful medium for their passions: art and social justice work.
Hali wanted to bring tech into the art sector and nurture an environment for people from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances to come together, learn from each other, and feel like they were being listened to. They wanted to ensure that everyone had a seat at the table and a place to tell their stories.
Using tech to push artistic boundaries
Hali never identified as a developer until some of Facebook’s technologies came into view. “I really liked what Facebook was doing with Spark AR, where artists could express themselves using a platform that encourages sharing. The technology has an inclusive quality to it, just like street art! It’s ripe for budding developers to experiment and express themselves the way they want to. It’s accessible and democratic,” said Hali. “The accessibility, dismantled structure, and out-of-the-box creativity present within the Spark AR platform mirrors the power, creativity, and activist expression found in street art,” explains Hali.
Although the tech industry is not known for its diversity, Hali felt Developer Circles was a community that belied structural stigmas, allowing people to forge trusting relationships: “a place where challenging somebody’s idea or perspective isn’t a negative—it’s a chance to learn and ask questions based on your innate curiosity.” At the intersection of tech, art, and social justice, Hali hoped to pave a path for others, saying, “when I showed up at DevC events, as my full self, as a genderqueer artist, I was hoping to make it easier and more normalized for others to do the same.” Hali, an alum of the Boston Circle, had been deliberate about building a community that was inclusive of developers who don’t necessarily fit the stereotype. “As a lead, I tried to be thoughtful about ways to stimulate a more inclusive environment where people could not only be themselves, but also help to dismantle traditional systems of oppression by sharing their experiences and perspectives in their AR work.”
Furthermore, Hali intentionally recruited four co-leads with different backgrounds, skills, and strengths. Together, the leadership team strategically engaged a variety of communities to collaboratively skill share and build on the Spark AR platform at no cost to the community.
Facilitating innovation and authenticity
Hali enjoyed the time they invested to foster an environment that actively welcomes an array of new ideas, perspectives, and experiences. Their work allowed them to challenge biases and build up a community of creators that encouraged and supported each other in generating new projects and sharing authentic stories.
Developer Circles Boston has emerged as a highly engaged forum in which every workshop or design jam results in the creation of meaningful projects and portfolio-building material by members of the community.