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How to solve the problem of diversity of technology



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The internship

The summer of 2001, I found myself in the conference suite of a hotel listening to a successful black businessman named Brian Morton share his professional experience. Sitting in a room with approximately 40 students of color, I listened with eager anticipation as I imparted wisdom about the business world in which I would soon embark.

It was my first role model in the corporate world. He was the kind of person he knew he needed to be if he hoped to one day succeed.

I do not remember much of what he said. That was not the most important part anyway.

What I remembered was that, while I was used to TV businessmen portrayed by middle-aged white men, I saw in Brian a young black man in his 20s who wore his hair in a short and neat cut, like me. He looked like someone he would go to church with in exchange for his nice three-piece suit. In fact, around me there was a group of young adults who, like me, wore business clothes. You would have thought we were in a worship service, all dressed in our Sunday uniform.

But we were not at church that sunny summer of Thursday. We were invited by INROADS an internship program for minority youth, at a training summit held at the LAX Marriott. We were there to learn from former interns and other business professionals.

I did not overlook either myself or the other interns that everyone else our age was on the beach, in a theme park or resting at home; enjoying the time before the first year of college. It's not like I can not use a break. I had four years of baccalaureate in the rigorous Academy of Mathematics and Sciences of California. I was on track to fulfill my lifelong dream of attending a four-year university.

I was preparing to take the next step in the path of my life.

I figured I deserved a moment to celebrate the completion of an important milestone. But I also knew that it was even more important to be here, surrounded by people like me, black and brown kids from all over Los Angeles.

Some were where I am from, the hoods of Compton, Watts, South Central, and East Los Angeles. Others came from nicer parts like Hawthorne, Torrance and Baldwin Hills. Some were recently emancipated foster children or first generation college students.

Some had been victims of abuse or children of single parents who worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. Some knew what it was like to be homeless or sleep outside a car. Everyone had a story.

Whatever you have endured, you have come this far. Like me, they were determined to forge a future of opportunities and privileges that few of us had. We were the last generation to support life in the ghetto. And now we were ready to leave our own indelible impression on the world.

The problem of the pipeline

That was in 2001. Today in 2017, I've been in a successful career as a black software engineer for 16 years.

Many people wonder how I did from the hood of Compton to Google, the most desirable employer in the world. They wonder how to make more diverse people like me develop into technological careers. Naturally, I have to thank God for using INROADS to shape a large part of that history. But if you look more closely, there is an important detail that the world of technology, so far, has overlooked.

Silicon Valley is home to some of the smartest, brightest and most innovative minds in the world. Despite attracting top talent from universities across the United States and the world, technology companies are still struggling to meet the growing demand for highly skilled workers. In addition, they also want the benefits of diverse talents to compete better and stay innovative.

It is in this current context that I reflect on that day listening to Brian. I had not realized at that time what my colleagues and I really represent. Maybe he did it. What many of us have achieved since then (becoming leaders, managers and executives) is amazing considering what we had to endure to get here. Surprising, remarkable, and most importantly, repeatable.

We were the answer.

The hood has a lot of smart, passionate and motivated people, ready to show that they too can be the innovators of tomorrow. For reasons that include racism and classism, they just lack the resources and attention that has long been poured into other communities.

The solution

Think about it.

Where I come from, people survive with minimal resources, persevere despite the daunting adversity, bring a lot of different points of view, and work incredibly hard. They have the grain to be successful even if their skills are, for the time being, deficient.

I know many people who are eager to learn to code or work on a start-up. They would be more grateful for the advantages and privileges offered by companies than the wealthier (I know I am).

For better or for worse, I think these are some of the same reasons why companies have sent overseas jobs. However, they have overlooked the incredible talent in their own backyards. Why can not we have a technological boom born in the pans and ghettos of the United States for a long time neglected?

These are places in Silicon Valley like Oakland and East Palo Alto. These are neighborhoods in the east such as Harlem and Detroit. These are the suburbs of Los Angeles like Watts, Lynwood and, of course, Compton. Technology companies could build pipelines in these communities as they have in other parts of the world.

While many in technology suggest that the lack of diversity is due to an oil pipeline problem, I now realize that INROADS [19659018] has been building a strong portfolio of diverse talents for decades. They have come to disadvantaged communities to find the talent that exists in places that technology companies are not willing to look at.

INROADS is not the only one who notices it. Organizations such as Year Up (yearup.org) Hack the Hood (hackthehood.org, Oakland, CA) and [19659007] Teens Exploring Technology (exploringtech.org, Watts, CA) have taken advantage of these communities with great success over the years. They are already doing what many technology companies have tried to do alone for the past four years.

It is time for Silicon Valley to learn from its success. Instead of reinventing the wheel, they should empower and learn from their example.

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