Creating an Equitable Tech Ecosystem in Oakland

Almost three years ago, I gave a talk at Personal Democracy Forum that was a more thoughtful version of a rant I had posted a few months before about the tech industry’s civic responsibility. Both the post and the talk hit a nerve. I didn’t expect I was doing anything other than making some personal observations about the place where I had recently moved. But it was clear many others had the same frustrations and were starting to wonder — how is the tech industry deploying its newfound power? Will its growth create opportunities for everyone or are we looking at a new Gilded Age?

Over the next three years, I continued to write and talk about inequality in the tech industry but I had a day job focused on a different hard problem — how to move government service delivery into the 21st century — and couldn’t devote as much attention as I would have liked.

Two things happened in 2015 that changed the equation: 1) Uber bought the building across the street from my home in downtown Oakland; and 2) I left my job. There was no question that now I wanted to devote the time and attention to tech industry inequality I hadn’t been able to before.

I’ll admit, when I saw the news that Uber was soon going to be my neighbor, I was a little concerned. Their plan to move 3,000 employees into downtown Oakland was bound to have an effect on the culture around me. All we have to do is look across the Bay to see how tech companies moving into the heart of a city can have unintended negative consequences. But there’s no denying that Uber moving to town also brings benefits. The challenge facing all of us now is what can we do to make sure those benefits are available to all Oaklanders?

I love Oakland and I love technology and I think they both have potential to create economic opportunities they haven’t created so far. So, in my post-Code for America life I want to figure out how to be part of the solution for Oakland. To that end and supported by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, I’ve taken on a part-time leadership role at the TechEquity Collaborative. Born out of a partnership between the East Bay Broadband Consortium and the Oakland-based startup Clef, TechEquity is a grassroots group of Oaklanders, most of whom work in the tech industry We believe that the tech ecosystem in Oakland can be inclusive, representative and community-oriented. We believe that the economic growth created by tech can and should mean greater opportunity for *everyone*.

Over the next few months we will be formalizing a set of values we think tech companies doing business in Oakland should adhere to. We will be asking them to make concrete commitments to live those values and will hold them to account for meeting those commitments.

The Oakland tech community has already demonstrated its real desire to contribute to Oakland’s growth. Clef has regular dinners that are open to the public. Pandora famously doesn’t have an all-expenses-paid cafeteria, forcing its employees to patronize local businesses. But this is just the start. Creating a formal structure for these commitments will help to ensure that as the tech industry in Oakland grows, long-time residents and those who have been traditionally underserved will not be left behind. And we have the opportunity to create a model that can work for other cities that are facing the same challenges.

If you live in Oakland and work in tech, or if you work at an Oakland-based tech company, please join us. Come be part of the solution.