Soyo Awosika-Olumo on Tech's Impact on Society

Soyo Awosika-Olumo talks about her newsletter, Society x Tech.

Feature graphic: Soyo Awosika-Olumo

This week we’ll get to know Soyo Awosika-Olumo, software engineer at Goldman Sachs and creator of the new Society x Tech newsletter. We talked about the newsletter, how tech affects society, and tech products that promote mindfulness.

As people who work in tech, it’s very important to consider how products we interact with and create affect our society and culture. Keep reading to learn more about Society x Tech.

Keziyah Lewis: Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

Soyo Awosika-Olumo: My name is Soyo Awosika-Olumo and I am a full-stack software engineer working in NYC. I am Nigerian born but grew up in Houston, Texas and went to the University of Pittsburgh where I studied Computer Engineering. Outside of work I am working on finishing a UX Design Course, co-running MacScientists, and running my newsletter Society x Tech.

KL: Let’s talk about your newsletter that just started this week, Society x Tech. What made you want to start it?

SAO: My senior year of college I took a course called Technology and Social Change and I really enjoyed it. The class explored how different types of advancements in technology have changed different industries and what that means for society as a whole. I had played with the idea for going to grad school for something related to that, but I knew I didn’t want to go back to school. I still was very interested in the subject and would always enjoy reading articles and listening to podcasts that talked a lot about how tech is shaping our culture. One day I was just sitting in bed and the idea of starting this newsletter just came to me. I thought that if I found these topics interesting other people may find it interesting too and I wanted to share my thoughts on it as well.

KL: In a **blog post on MacScientists, you wrote about how well intentioned tech solutions can be harmful if they do not take the needs of society into consideration. What are some examples of tech innovations that cause these problems? Why is it important for people who work in tech to care?**

SAO: A big example that initially comes to mind is the Silicon Valley based startup Bodega (now Stockwell) that tried to solve the “problem” of having to go to a corner-store as most do in cities like NYC and SF. While this may not sound like a bad idea, it ignores the fact that convenience stores often serve as communal places for people in a neighborhood and are also owned by immigrants and people of color. This to me is a prime example where people came up with an idea and were able to ship it relatively quickly but didn’t really think of the implications that could potentially arise.

SAO: Working in tech, you have the opportunity to design, develop, or manage products that have the ability to impact millions of people and that is powerful. This power can be used to change lives, reduce risk and improve quality of life but you can’t possibly understand how to do that if you don’t understand how the community in which you’re trying to serve thinks, and what they want. It’s important to build and create things that can leave a positive, long-lasting impact rather than just building something for the sake of building.

Source: Soyo-Awosika Olumo

KL: Do you think that people who work in STEM should have a solid foundation in the humanities and social sciences?

SAO: Definitely! Having a solid foundation in humanities and social sciences in conjunction of STEM only fosters better sustainable solutions that will impact for good.

KL: The first issue of the newsletter is about mindful tech. Do you personally use any tech products for mindfulness, meditation, or mental health?

SAO: I’ve tried using Headspace but I couldn’t really get into it. For me I find it better to do things away from my screens since I stare at screens so much everyday. So I mostly do things like yoga and exercising to really help my mental health.

KL: Some people might think that it’s ironic that tech products that promote mindfulness and mental health even exist. Some people feel the need to disconnect from tech in order to preserve their mental health or practice mindfulness. We often see people doing social media detoxes, for example. What would you say to people who are skeptical about these types of tech products?

SAO: I think their skepticism is valid. You ultimately have to do what’s best for your mental health and there’s definitely not a one size fits all solution. However, there’s no harm in giving it a try and seeing if it works for you when there are a lot of people who benefit from these products.

KL: Do you believe that there should be a tech solution to every problem in society? Or are there some problems that tech should stay away from because a tech solution would cause more harm than good?

SAO: That’s tough to say. Technology has the ability to increase accessibility and improve solutions. At the same time, there is this push to turn everything into a business without fully understanding your users, the market you’re trying to serve or the other disciplines that’s you’re incorporating in your technology such as healthcare, social justice, or finance. If you’re going to incorporate tech into a solution, outline what you hope to solve and look at it from the angle of different demographics to avoid potential harm. If you as a maker can’t do those things, then it’s best that you just don’t do it.

KL: What do you hope readers gain from subscribing to Society X Tech?

SAO: I hope readers gain a new perspective on how technology trends are directly impacting society whether it be good or bad which causes them to think about technology more critically. I also hope makers or aspiring makers when building their products are looking at all sides of the problem they are trying to solve in hopes of making a positive, sustainable impact rather than as a way to just get money quickly.

Copyright 2018 Zeebra Labs, LLC | Stock Photo from WOC In Tech Chat