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How Cascading Style Sheets is akin to gender transition

Learn how Cascading Style Sheets and Dropbox software engineer Jamie Chung are both considered change agents in the tech industry.

Both Cascading Style Sheets and Jamie Chung, a software engineer at Dropbox, are change agents. With Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, developers change webpages by defining aspects, such as font size and element colors. Chung's career path from cardiology to software engineering occurred as they defined their personal ethics. By defining their gender orientation and choice of the self-describing pronouns, they and their, Chung defined a mission to foster change in the tech industry.

"CSS provides the ability to focus on different and individual aspects of a transition," Chung said in a SearchSoftwareQuality interview. "The path to creating my authentic self and right-purposed career has been a similar process." Chung's 2016 Lesbians Who Tech Summit speech, "CSS vs. My Gender: A Study in Transitions," led to their inclusion in our choice of they and their pronouns, rather than he/his and she/her, respectively, which is common in the gender-nonconforming community.

Seeking a right livelihood

Chung started their college studies in cardiology, but seeing that medical field's "lack of humanity" and impersonal approach firsthand led to a move to public health. In the latter field, Chung built healthcare applications related to chronic illness for Northwestern University's medical school. Next, they worked on open source, front-end frameworks, mostly with Zurb Foundation. During Chung's framework development stint, they collaborated with Dropbox software engineers, which led to a position there.

Software engineers who foster change

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CSS and transitions

"CSS is the tablecloth on top of the table that is HTML," Chung said. CSS is a markup language that facilitates the definition of display and presentation components of an HTML document. A style sheet contains several rules made up of selectors, which have specified declarations and ultimately affect how something will look when it is rendered.

"CSS enables the visual display and the visual aspects of how a website looks," Chung said. In CSS is a property called transitions. "What transitions does is [it] enables you to apply on a selected element certain arguments, such as the length, the time of which transition will take place [and] the way in which it will take place. You can specify all, so that any sort of changes that take place in a framework of transition rules that you've applied."

Jamie Chung, software engineer at DropboxJamie Chung

Chung sees these similarities between CSS and their career and gender transition:

  • Both give the ability to focus on different and individual aspects of a transition.
  • Both give the ability to specify the duration of time required and how that time will be distributed.
  • Both give the ability to delay the execution of a certain actions.
  • Both are a bit more nuanced than their Wikipedia articles might imply.

Differences between the two types of transitions include:

  • Gender is not quite as cut-and-dried as changing the background color and height of a header bar.
  • There is no way to determine the amount of time someone's personal transition will take, or what that will look like.
  • Personal transitions are an ongoing process of discovery, reflection and growth.
  • Gender encompasses different parts of identity across multiple realms of being present and validated.

Open source and transparency

Dropbox provides me with a platform to speak about topics not discussed much in the tech industry today.
Jamie Chungsoftware engineer, Dropbox

While Chung sees a metaphor for their transition in Cascading Style Sheets, they found inspiration in working with open source software. "Open source is a movement that fosters community development," Chung said. "A key to open source's success has been transparency, so that we all see the code being written and can add to or comment on it." Chung's commitment to transparency and community led them to volunteerism in tech and diversity education with nonprofits Girl Develop It and Lesbians Who Tech.

Dropbox's supportive culture has enabled that volunteerism. "Dropbox provides me with a platform to be able to speak about diversity and topics that are not discussed much in the tech industry today," Chung said.

Next Steps

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Which software tool or process provides a metaphor for your work or life?
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Interesting slant on the subject. Nice way to explain the true function of the CSS.
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