Saturday, March 31, 2012

One Million Plus (non-black) Apps

Here's a disturbing headline from an article that was published in Information Week, (Eric Zeman,  September 19, 2011)

Android + iOS = 1 Million Apps

The article was published sixth months ago, so the total is probably substantially higher today. The headline disturbs me because I "know" that only a very, very small fraction of this million plus total were the products of black hands. How do I "know" this? Mostly by the ominous lack of "black buzz" -- I don't know anyone who knows anyone who knows a black anyone who's developed five of six mobile applications, an arbitrary cutoff, but good enough to separate "dabblers" from "developers" ... Nor have I read much in the press about app developers who were black ... Nor do I find any links when I google "black developer mobile apps" ...  nor did Soledad O'Brien find any black developers in Silicon Valley. (See "Black in America, the New Promised Land: Silicon Valley", CNN, October 2011)

Freedom to Be Underrepresented
But I didn't get to my three score and ten years without learning two things with absolute certainty a long time ago, but especially in the decades since the Civil Rights Revolution made overt discrimination illegal:
  • First, there is no reason to believe that the proportion of blacks who have inborn aptitude to excel in any significant human activity is lower than the proportion of whites (or Asian Americans) who currently excel in that activity.

  • Second, there is no such thing as a significant human activity that involves "no blacks."
    The correct statement is always, "Blacks are substantially underrepresented in this activity."

    This insight lets me "know" that there are a lot of black developers out there somewhere, scattered about, just not enough to create much of a buzz; but more unfortunately, not sufficiently connected to each other to form a community that perpetuates itself, as does the overwhelmingly white developer community in Silicon Valley.
Beyond Under-representation
The traditional challenge to educators of black students was to provide them with appropriate learning opportunities that would enable them to develop their inborn talents to their full potential. But another challenge must also be given prominence in today's hyper-connected society; that challenge is to help generate viable communities of creative practitioners whose members can draw upon each other's skill sets to accomplish achievements that are orders of magnitude greater than what they could accomplish on their own. The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s was such a creative community, as was Motown in the '60s and '70s, as is the New York Hip Hop scene today. But Black America has yet to produce a creative community focused on high technology.

A High-Tech Incubator for Black Students
Howard University, my long-time employer, offers an array of courses in computer science and information technology, as do many other HBCUs, wherein our students can learn the concepts and procedures that are the foundations of whatever computer skill sets are currently in hottest demand, e.g., developing applications for smart phones, tablets, and other mobile platforms. What it didn't have was a broader community of talented business majors, law school students, communications majors, computer science and information technology majors, and other academic disciplines that could transcend the boundaries of their separate courses and departments, a community whose members could pool their diverse skills and perspectives in order to develop high tech goods and services that they could barely imagine if they working separately.

The lucrative market for mobile apps offers an unprecedented opportunity for all institutions having substantial black enrollments to create such interdisciplinary student communities because the tools required to produce mobile apps are so affordable, i.e., they range in price from cheap to free.

A few weeks ago, Howard University recruited eight students from law, business administration, and computer science to become the founding members of a high tech group (ultimately a community when enough additional students join) called "Howard-Apps-Dev" -- which is short for "The Howard University Applications Development Group." The University has also provided this group with a supportive "incubator" -- a few Macs and PCs reserved for the group's use in two of its computer labs, plus technical support from eight of the University's most astute computer systems experts and managers on its faculty and staff who have joined the group in an advisory capacity.

As stated on the Home Page of its blog (http://howard-apps-dev.blogspot.com),
"This incubator is located at Howard University but will operate as openly as possible in order to encourage black Americans everywhere to become developers of applications for mobile devices and other non-PC/non-Mac workstations ... educational apps, business apps, games, etc"
Howard-Apps-Dev will post all of its non-proprietary files on its public blog site in order to encourage black students everywhere to consider becoming developers of applications for mobile devices, active participants in what is rapidly becoming the largest and potentially most profitable software market in the history of information technology. When Ms. O’Brien’s documentary asked why there were so few black high tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, the best answer seemed to be prejudice. But if the Howard-Apps-Dev group is successful, and if its success inspires the launching of similar groups elsewhere, then five years from now if Ms. O'Brien asked her question again, the best answer might be “Because black high tech entrepreneurs are hanging out at Howard University ... and those that aren't at Howard are at some other HBCU ... or at some other minority serving institution ... or at some other college or university with a substantial black student enrollment ... because black Americans are closing the Digital Divide ... :-)

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