Saturday, August 01, 2015

Myopic Visions of Diversity In Tech

Last update: Sunday 8/2/15
This note casts my vote against the recent widespread misuse of the terms "technology" and its abbreviation "tech".  Yes, a rose is a rose is a rose ... but not if what we're looking at is just one petal on the rose. 

First, the online edition of Webster's Dictionary provides two definitions of "technology
  • "the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems"
  • "a machine, piece of equipment, method, etc., that is created by technology"
Neither definition makes any reference to information technology. Indeed, Wikipedia identifies 48 different kinds of technologies, the last ten of which, in reverse alphabetical order are: waste treatment technology, vehicle technology, travel technology, transport, telecommunications, television technology, sports technology, space technology, sound technology, and scientific equipment. 

I admit to having only the vaguest understanding of what most of these terms mean, but I am confident that none of these technologies are subsets of information technology.
  • Bottom Line #1 ... Information technology is just one petal on the rose of all technologies.
Second, the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies ten "Computer and Information Technology" categories -- Computer and Information Research Scientists, Computer Network Architects, Computer Programmers, Computer Support Specialists, Computer Systems Analysts, Database Administrators, Information Security Analysts, Network and Computer Systems Administrators, Software Developers, and Web Developers. 

Only two of these IT professions develop software as their primary activity -- computer programmers and software developers
  • Bottom Line #2 ... Software development is just one petal on the rose of all information technologies.
Diversity In Tech -- Silicon Valley (SV) vs. the Rest of the U.S.
While it's understandable that Silicon Valley's elite would abbreviate "information technology" to "technology" and "tech" in casual conversation, it's unlikely that the managers and tech staffs of SV's hardware giants (Intel and AMD, HP and Apple) would equate "technology" and "tech" with "software" given that their R&D and the technologies for their manufacturing processes are far more dependent on physics and chemistry than they are on software design. It seems more likely that this abuse of language has been perpetrated by SV's software giants and by the news media.

But so what? Why quibble about the meaning of terms when most of the speakers and listeners know what's really being talked about? The problem is that SV's software management and the news media have also equated "diversity in tech" in Silicon Valley with "diversity in tech" in the entire U.S. of A. ... and that equation is false. 

A recent study by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) found that Black and Hispanic employment rose to 12 percent of total tech employment in the U.S. in 2014, up from 9 percent in 2009. This is roughly twice the combined employment levels for these groups that were reported by Google, Facebook, and most of the other SV software giants in 2014. Here's a quote from the Wall Street Journal's concise summary of the PPI report:
  • "Partly due to the low base they were starting at, the number of black college graduates in tech jobs grew by 58% during that time, with large increases among computer programmers, software developers, database administrators, and network and computer systems analysts. Hispanic employment in tech jobs rose by 103%."
    “It turns out that tech is not just a small elitist sector that offers few jobs and hires only white and Asian supernerds,” wrote the authors."
    " 'Tech jobs are growing faster and are more diverse than people think,' said Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute and an author of the paper"
Which leads to two more conclusions:
  • Bottom Line #3 ... Diversity in Silicon Valley is just one petal on the rose of diversity in all components of information technology in the entire U.S.
  • Bottom Line #4 ... Diverse employment opportunities in information technology are increasing much faster outside of Silicon Valley than within Silicon Valley; but diversity has not reached parity with the proportion of minorities in the population anywhere.
Way back in the early 1960s, when IBM hired me and a few other talented Black college graduates (and dropouts), then trained us to become programmers, systems administrators, and tech support -- before the March on Washington, before the Civil Rights legislation of the mid-1960s, shortly after the "Big Bang" that created information technology, and long before there were any "pipelines" -- IBM showed extraordinary commitment and immense corporate courage. Now flash forward fifty years to the dismal diversity reports issued by Google, Facebook, and the other cowardly giants of Silicon Valley. Watch them squirm as they try to hide their inexcusable lack of diversity behind tiny "pipeline" fig leaves. What's that old-fashioned epithet that's on the tip of my tongue??? Oh yes. Obscene. 

Closing thoughts
I continue to be frustrated by the feeble affirmative action efforts of some of our most outspoken "allies" in the upper echelons of the Caucasian majority who have done do so little for us, but have taken so much credit and expected so much gratitude in return. I keep asking myself: Fifty years after the Civil Rights Revolution, are we really better off because of their help? Might we have gotten further in those five decades on our own? Who helped Jewish-Americans? Who helped Irish-Americans? And more recently, who helped Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Indo-Americans, and Japanese-Americans? 

In my youth, my software skills enabled me to obtain gainful employment; but in my old age I am no longer thinking about employment; I am thinking about the power to create employment. I have lived long enough to know that power is never conferred or shared; power must always be taken. Back in the 1930s, Willie Sutton said that he robbed banks because that's where the money was. In recent decades, software + business skills transformed some of Silicon Valley's other hyphenated-Americans into instant billionaires, thereby propelling them into the highest ranks of America's power elites. That's why I think Black-America's most gifted and talented must become software entrepreneurs in today's computer driven economy, because that's where the power is.
  • Bottom Line #5 ... Double, triple, quadruple the pressure to diversify Silicon Valley ... by any peaceful means necessary.
Lately the stock market has shown increased sensitivity to the ability (or failure) of social media to increase their user bases. On the other hand, Pew surveys have repeatedly shown that Black Americans are heavy users of social media and other online services. So the time is ripe for cyber variations of Dr. King's historic bus boycott, strategies that would contribute or withhold support for SV corporations that aggressively increased their diversity vs. those that didn't.