“It’s so gross to view people like that—to see situations and natural facts of life like dying as problems,” Wang said during lunch and beers on the back patio of an Oakland brewery in late March. To research a forthcoming book on the use of tech in end-of-life care, Wang has trained as a “death doula” and will soon start working at a hospice.
This approach to exploring technology, grounded in its personal and political implications, exemplifies a wider vision for fellow tech workers and the industry at large—a desire that it grant more power and agency to those with diverse backgrounds, become more equitable instead of extractive, and aim to reduce structural inequalities rather than seeking to enrich shareholders.
To realize this vision, Wang has launched a collaborative learning project called Collective Action School in which tech workers can begin to confront their own impact on the world. The hope is to promote more labor organizing within the industry and empower workers who may feel intimidated to challenge gigantic corporations.
Wang came to prominence as an editor at Logic magazine, an independent publication created in 2016 amid early Trump-era anxiety and concerns about the growing powers of technology. Dismissing utopian narratives of progress for prescient analysis of tech’s true role in widening inequity and concentrating political power, the founders—who also included Ben Tarnoff, Jim Fingal, Christa Hartsock, and Moira Weigel—vowed to stop having “stupid conversations about important things.” (In January, it was relaunched as “the first Black, Asian, and Queer tech magazine,” with Wang and J. Khadijah Abdurahman as co-editors.)
Collective Action School, initially known as Logic School, is an outgrowth of the magazine. It’s emerged at a time when scandals and layoffs in the tech industry, combined with crypto’s troubles and new concerns about bias in AI, have made Big Tech’s failings all the more visible. In courses offered via Zoom, Wang and other instructors guide roughly two dozen tech workers, coders, and project managers through texts on labor organizing, intersectional feminist theory, and the political and economic implications of Big Tech. Its second cohort has now completed the program
At our lunch, Wang was joined by three former students who helped run that last session: Derrick Carr, a senior software engineer; Emily Chao, a former trust and safety engineer at Twitter; and Yindi Pei, a UX designer. All shared a desire to create something that could lead to more concrete change than existing corporate employee resource groups, which they say often seem constrained and limited. And while Big Tech may obsess over charismatic founders, Collective Action School runs in a collective fashion. “I enjoy operating under the radar,” Wang said.
Wang, who uses the pronoun “they,” moved from China to Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1990, at age four. Drawn to science and technology at a young age, they made friends in early online chat rooms and built rockets and studied oceanography at science camps. They also started questioning social norms early on; their mom tells of getting a call from the middle school principal, explaining that Wang had started a petition for a gender-inclusive class dress code.
Years later, they enrolled at Harvard to study design and landscape architecture—at one point lofting a kite over the skies in Beijing to track pollution levels. A few years after graduating in 2008, Wang moved to the Bay Area. They worked at the nonprofit Meedan Labs, which develops open-source tools for journalists, and the mapping software company Mapbox, a rapidly scaling “rocket ship” where an employee—sometimes Wang—had to be on call, often overnight, to patch any broken code. Unsatisfied, Wang left in 2017 to focus on writing, speaking, and research, earning a PhD in geography at Berkeley.