Do you think the software industry has diversity problems? I do. Do you think we should be doing more to attract women and minorities to development jobs? I do. Do you think tech companies are trying hard to attract a more diverse workforce? I do — at least in many instances.
Unfortunately, what I think doesn’t really matter. My opinions and viewpoints are from the perspective of a white dude with a job in tech. Chances are, if you’re reading this, your viewpoints are from the perspective of a white (maybe) dude (probably) with a job in tech (quite likely); so what you think probably doesn’t really matter either. We have to try to see the world through the eyes of people who are not white, not male, and — most importantly — don’t work in tech, have never worked in tech, and maybe haven’t yet decided if they want to work in tech.
Here’s what Melinda Gates has to say on the matter:
If I asked you to picture a computer programmer, you’d probably conjure up a pretty specific image. He — yes, he — grew up playing video games in the basement, went to an elite university, and breezed through to a job in Silicon Valley.
That’s a pretty solid negative if you’re not a male gamer from a relatively privileged background and you’re considering tech as a career.
You’re smart, you’re talented, you can choose amongst many career paths, and all you know of the software is the impression given by media stories, blockbuster movies, Internet memes, and — possibly— Melinda Gates. Do you want to scramble over a wall of gamer dude-bros when you could go into law (over half of law students are women) or medicine (nearly half) or some other profession whose practitioners command more respect than self-described “ninjas” who sometimes have to be reminded to wear pants?
So, tech has a perception problem. Worse, tech has a perception problem because a lot of that perception is based on reality. Software is mostly dudes. Big tech companies loudly advertise how they recruit technical wunderkinder exclusively from “top schools.” Job postings still include terms like “ninja” and “rockstar.”
But tech has a second, and more insidious, perception problem, which is primarily self-inflicted: we just can’t stop shouting about how great we are. Look around the Internet; most of the information about tech companies looks something like this:
COMPANY X JUST RAISED MORE MONEY THAN YOU CAN CONCEIVE OF!
SELF-TWEETING ROBOTS THAT WILL SAVE YOUR THUMBS FROM UNDUE STRAIN JUST AROUND THE CORNER!
TECH GIANT EXECS MEET WITH WORLD LEADERS TO DISCUSS SELF-TWEETING ROBOTS!
HUGE TECH IPO! ECONOMY GROWS ELEVENTY PERCENT OVERNIGHT!
Tech dude-bro describes women as “plankton;” some people express shock. BUT…
LOOK AT THIS THING WE MADE! WE ARE LIKE GODS!
If someone told you “Yeah, we’re considering something different, but things are really, really great the way they are,” would you be convinced?
If we want the software industry to grow, to mature (I do; you may as well), then we have to accept that it’s broken. Sure, we build things, but we could build things so much better. There’s a little diversity, and diversity is improving slowly, but it could be so much better. My career is fairly secure, and yours may be as well, but a lot of new developers can’t find work; we could offer a career path for potential software developers that is so much better.
We are the frog, and we have boiled ourselves. The current state of tech has as much in common with tech twenty years ago as modern healthcare has with medicine before the discovery of penicillin. Yet, we still approach problems in much the same way, value and reward the same skills and attributes, and cite articles and research from decades past. You may as well burst into a modern operating room with a bloody bone saw and a bottle of brandy.
Tech is broken. It’s sometimes good for those of us already on the inside, but generally terrible for anyone still on the outside. We love to say that empathy is super important for software developers; let’s try to put that into action. Let’s think about how we can use each success to create an opportunity for someone new to tech. Let’s show some humility when douchebags say or do offensive things, and accept that it’s not just a few bad apples; our industry has grown around that rotten core, and we own that. Let’s try, at every opportunity, to see our actions and our messages through the eyes of someone new to tech, and consider how that paints the industry as a whole. Then maybe we can start to become something the next generation will want to be part of.
Cross-posted from medium.