Monday, December 28, 2015

Who works in tech?

A serendipitous discovery while browsing this and that:
This chart breaks down the racial composition of the work force at major tech firms. It's from a thoughtful and heartfelt article by a former Twitter engineer, a Black man, who writes as @Shaft.

This writer loved that African Americans and Latinos make up more than 30% of U.S. monthly active users. He was thrilled that Twitter the company responded with pride to the proliferation of the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Ferguson. He learned that

in 2013, 4.5% of [computer science] graduates from the top 25 schools were African-American, and 6.5% were Hispanic/Latino.

He attempted to encourage his bosses to increase the diversity of qualified new hires, but felt he was met with blank incomprehension. He left Twitter feeling "conflicted."

... Twitter as a platform has empowered underserved and underrepresented people. It has fomented social movements and brought to the forefront of American media and politics issues that impact me personally and professionally.

Twitter’s issues with growth and engagement and the issues with internal diversity are somewhat related. The over-reliance on a limited number of schools and workplaces for talent has caused a type of group think to dominate. Any change would be approved by people who all think alike. There was very little diversity in thought and almost no diversity in action. To quote Mark S. Luckie “Without a variety of voices contributing ideas, the workplace becomes a homogenized environment where potential brilliance may never be achieved. Diversity should rightly be seen as a benefit to growth, not an obstruction to avoid.” For some at Twitter, diversity is an obstruction to avoid. With my departure, Twitter no longer has any managers, directors, or VP’s of color in engineering or product management. ...

It doesn't take much depth of insight to notice that the tech sector fails to mirror the demographics of society at large.
***
For those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area (and probably more other regions than I know), the winners in the tech economy are our new overlords. It's worth knowing who they are -- and who they are not. Keeping it real about this has to be part of progressive efforts to rein in gentrification and the excesses of new wealth.

The "Asian" column in the chart above leaves me with more questions than answers. Nobody is "Asian" except in popular U.S. journalism. People come from different countries -- China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Vietnam, the Philippines and more. They bring different histories, cultures and values.

Which "Asians" populate tech? Do some "Asians" feel as isolated as @Shaft does? Asians look to be getting their share of jobs in tech and then some, but do they feel as constrained as @Shaft? I need to do some asking around ...

7 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

This would have more meaning if we knew how many had degrees in the subjects needed by techie industries. You cannot just hire someone based on gender or ethnicity-- not and stay in business. If blacks are getting the needed degrees but not being hired, that's significant. If they are not, maybe the 'experts' need to look back at high schools to see what it would take to encourage more to study the sciences.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain: Actually, he gives some percentages of African American and Latino graduates who graduate from the same schools as the others.

What's central here, though, is the narrowness of vision among the people who run the tech circus. They think they are changing the world, but actually (as we all are prone to) they are replicating what is familiar to them and wondering why those on the outside looking in think they are limited ...

Rain Trueax said...

Techies are all different. Having been married to one for now 51 years and having a son who now is one, I've known a lot of techies. They are as varied as any group. I used to call my husband a gunslinger engineer (pardon the gun lol) because he was creative and went where he went with his projects. I remember the year they were going to bring lasers into HP and he was on the project. He'd never taken a class in it but he learned what he needed by getting books and reading. To get the first laser, the company making it was going bankrupt, which meant he had to get back to Massachusetts fast to save the laser since the company would not be. We left after our daughter's wedding, drove across the nation in 4 1/2 days and then spent a month in New England while he got the laser working and ready to ship to Oregon. He has a lot of friends who come from other ethnicities, like India, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, etc. He said hen he was at HP, there were a lot of blacks working in procurement, management, statistics, but more business types than engineers. He now works with start up companies and they are all about new ideas and many engineers.

Hattie said...

My husband, Terry, a scientist with technical skills, says the techies think they are the smartest people, but they are wrong; The smartest people, in his estimation, are lawyers. I'm inclined to agree.
A little off topic, perhaps, but the self-glorification of these techies is a little bit much, in my opinion. There is a lot of arrogance in that department along a broad range of races and ethnicity, and, of course, there is the ongoing decided male bias in high tech. I have known only a handful of women in the field, and they are looked down upon as not being the best or the most intelligent, no matter how good their work: you know, not quite the thing, and distracted by families and so on. The amount of playtime male techies allow themselves, by contrast, is said to make them creative and superior.

Rain Trueax said...

My husband might be lucky. He's had quite a few really talented female engineers in his life. Perhaps it depends on the corporation?

janinsanfran said...

Just spent a lovely evening with a techie friend, a very successful microbiologist. We didn't talk about it explicitly, but she did mention she is often the only woman in the room.

I have another woman friend who was one of the original engineers on the Kindle. She eventually found that part of the tech sector intolerably male-oriented. These still are tough environments even for very competent women from what I can see.

Rain Trueax said...

Maybe it depends on the corporation? I know, as friends, several women engineers, who rose up through the ranks to management even. My husband worked with another, who was a friend of his before he retired, who went from a technician to an engineer and then a manager. That corporation though goes out of its way to give women the edge when possible. I am not up on how many women graduate with engineering degrees right now. My daughter-in-law's sister did and she went right to work for the corporation where my son works now. I have not heard of any problems she's had. When my son is on business trips, the photos show women with the guys.

Certainly that corporation isn't likely to have 50% female engineers. But is that what this is about-- giving jobs by quota based on graduates from the universities?

There are certainly complications for women, not the least of which can be sexual harassment. I think the most complicated is having a family and being there for their kids as most mothers want. Then the travel required by those like my son, which is round the world, puts mothers in tough spots more than fathers (although his family often doesn't like it either). Some of that though is based on inherent nature and how women are about their children versus how many men are. There are though exceptions. The sister of my DIL has a stay at home husband who does what many times women have done-- is there for the kids and lets her be there for her career. It does happen but not so often and the other women engineers I have known were often conflicted trying to do it all. That is true of any professional woman, like my daughter who manages her and her husband's veterinary clinic. She's always divided in half trying to fill all the roles. Not easy being a working mom and often little thanked...

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