Why We Changed Our Name and Why We’re Migrating to Slack

tl;dr 

EA Engineers (a community for physical engineers, announced here) is now called High Impact Engineers (HI-Eng) because we think that this name better describes the direction that we are heading. For consistency with the wider community and for professional reasons, we are migrating over to Slack (join here) to the dismay of the organisers and many in the community. We hope that other budding groups will find our reasoning helpful. Please also check out our new website!

Introduction

The name “EA Engineers” was one we adopted very quickly during the set-up of the Discord server. It was the obvious choice and we wanted to attract existing EAs who had an engineering background. However, we believe we have good reason to change the name and will outline why in this post.

We believe that setting up on community on the Discord server worked well to begin with but that Slack will serve us better going forward. We'll detail this reasoning towards the end of the post.

Reasons For Not Including EA In The Name

In recent weeks we have received some feedback on the name “EA Engineers” with respect to our vision for our community, which has provided compelling reasons to change the name.

Some arguments for not including “EA” explicitly in the organisation's name are listed below in what we believe is descending order of strength:

  1. Avoiding a narrow audience. The term “EA” carries a decent amount of baggage and would likely increase the difficulty of outreach to engineers who don’t know about or identify as EAs but are interested in increasing their impact.
  2. To not monopolise funding for engineering-related EA organisations. This is significant consideration from a funder’s point of view as they may be hesitant to fund another organisation that may help to serve engineers in a different way to ours because they are under the impression that we are already fully serving this space.
  3. Quarantining brand damage. Funders may perceive the organisation as a higher risk to fund if its name contains “EA”. If something goes wrong and the organisation receives bad press then this may blow back on the broader EA community.
  4. Project scope. Including “EA” in the name feels appropriate for a community space, however, we will be offering an additional level of service to both our members and the broader EA community and this updates us weakly towards a name change.
  5. Ambiguity in what EA is an acronym for. Is it “Effective Altruism Engineers”, “Effective Altruist Engineers”, or “Effectively Altruistic Engineers”? It’s a small thing but may make it marginally more difficult to explain to non-EAs.

We don’t believe that PISE’s findings will apply to us because a) we don’t need to explain the link between EA and HI-Eng; b) we believe we will grow to be a community that includes EAs and non-EAs, and eventually provide recruitment services and resources similar to High Impact Professionals and High Impact Medicine; c) aligning with HIP and HI-Med will make us more searchable online.

Process of Changing Our Name

It's easy to overthink this sort of decision, so we workshopped a few options, checked their web domain availability, requested feedback on them, and picked the most popular option (which also aligned with our preferred options). 

Reasons for Switching to Slack

Although our Discord community has a fantastic culture (ideas are being shared, people are reaching out to ask for help or advice, and people are engaging willingly), we still think that Slack is a better platform for HI-Eng.

Some arguments for switching to Slack are detailed below again in order of strength:

  1. Other EA communities and professional groups are on Slack. People generally check Slack for their EA news, and having a consistent platform makes cross-posting, messaging and promotions easier to do.
  2. EAs generally have a Slack account, but not necessarily a Discord account. This increases the activation energy to join the Discord, and it is common that people join then forget to check it for weeks (or ever).
  3. You can see people’s real names in Slack. People who commonly use Discord have pseudonyms, which makes it difficult to figure out who is who and reach out to people via LinkedIn or IRL. Displaying real names by default is more appropriate for a professional group.

Conclusion

HI-Eng will be migrating over to Slack - please add yourself using this link here and introduce yourself (please do introduce yourself again if you were already on the Discord!) We’re confident that we won’t lose too many people in the transition, and Slack will be a more suitable platform for us as a professional community but we will keep the fun culture that we collectively cultivated over on Discord. We’ve also set up our shiny new website, and we hope you will join us for the next stage in HI-Eng’s development!

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Have you talked to Helpful Engineering? My secondhand impression is that it's a pretty large group, though substantially less action-oriented than you might have guessed from the name.

We haven't. I wasn't aware of them; looks like there could be scope for collaboration. Thanks for putting them on our radar!

As we've discussed, I'm tentatively excited about HIE's plans, I think changing your name was a good idea, and I think this new name is good.

But I wanted to push back on / hopefully clarify one part of the reasoning (partly because I think I was a/the source for that bit of the reasoning, so maybe I didn't express it clearly when we chatted):

To not monopolise funding for engineering-related EA organisations. This is significant consideration from a funder’s point of view as they may be hesitant to fund another organisation that may help to serve engineers in a different way to ours because they are under the impression that we are already fully serving this space.

I would instead phrase this more like:

To not monopolise the space of engineering-related EA organisations

  • People in/around the EA community often put a lot of emphasis on neglectedness and cooperation. 
  • This basically makes sense, but has the unfortunate consequence that often people are too quick to dismiss an area/idea as "covered" simply because one person/group is working on it or appears to be working on it. 
    • This can lead to missed opportunities, given that the existing project may later fold, may not be highly effective, may only cover part of the space, may have limited capacity, or may take one specific approach to it even though experimentation and multiple approaches would be valuable. 
  • This problem is probably exacerbated when a project/org is called something like "EA [x]".
    • Because that may increase the chance that other people understandably but incorrect assume that that project/org is sufficiently covering the intersection of EA and [x]. 
    • And because then people may worry that that org/project is trying to stake a claim to the whole space, or would feel insulted / confused if another org stepped in to the space.
    • This seems like an argument in favor of names like 80,000 Hours and GiveWell rather than "EA Career Advice" or "Global Health & Development Charity Evaluators".
  • (Another, unrelated way to mitigate this problem is to explicitly and repeatedly (a) mention that you think other projects in the same space could still be valuable, and (b) explain what your org/project expects to do and what people might guess you'd do that you don't expect to do.)

...ok, that phrasing definitely seems too long for the post, but I guess I wanted to unpack the reasoning more fully while I was at it.

So a key thing I'm highlighting here is that I'm not really worried about funders overly assuming orgs called "EA [x]" will sufficiently cover everything at the intersection of EA and [x] and hence not fund other projects; rather, I'm worried that various potential entrepreneurs-or-similar will think that or will worry about what the existing org will think about them starting a new thing. 

I think where funders come in is that they may be less likely to fund an org that is itself going to be called "EA [x]", because that name probably somewhat increases the extent to which this org may crowd out other projects.

(Btw, I can't "take credit" for spotting this consideration; I've seen/heard it discussed by others, and am essentially just a messenger.)

Thanks for the elaboration, Michael. Pleased to hear you like the new name - your feedback was significant in the decision  to debate a name change, so thank you for providing it.  Your phrasing generally describes the broader discussion we had on this argument for the name change during our deliberations - it's a good reference for others who are considering this argument.

We had an interesting point come out of our deliberation on this topic of "apparent monopolisation": we want to address a lack of community for physical engineers in EA so, in a way, we want to monopolise the space so as to collect as many engineers as possible in one place to maximise network effects. This initially updated us relatively strongly towards keeping "EA" in the name.  However,  a counterpoint is that having a name that is sufficiently recognisable to EAs - "High Impact [x]", for example - hopefully derives a decent portion of the monopolisation benefit, while reducing the risk of "apparent monopolisation". Therefore, we concluded that the "maximise network effects by monopolisation through using EA in the title" point only weakly updated us towards keeping "EA" in the name. 

We would be very excited to see more organisations doing things for physical engineers in the future. We've been bouncing around quite a few ideas as we've been developing a strategy for the org, most of which will be out of our scope. So we would be interested in discussing ideas with anyone who is interested in starting an org in this space!

(I'll note that we discussed this in some detail and that the use of 'we' and 'us' in this comment may not accurately reflect the views each team member but hopefully I've captured our average view relatively accurately)

That pretty accurately describes my thoughts on this :)

Makes sense and glad to see more EA centralization around Slack.

I might just suggest clarifying in this post that HIE is a community of physical engineers, as the website states.

Updated to reflect that, thanks!