With the increasing number of programs focused exclusively on bringing more people from different professional and social backgrounds into technology, such as three-week bootcamps and diversity hiring efforts, somehow using technology and working in technology is misconstrued as a fundamental right — after all it’s where the money is lately.
It isn’t. Like everything, it needs to be earned.
If it matters, as a gay immigrant of colour who is a hardcore self-taught programmer coding since the age of 12 and working in technology for years, I want to be supportive of these programs, however I think they often miss the point and end up misrepresenting the very people they are trying to ‘represent’. Our millennial generation assumes everything is within reach because they have a college degree or a bootcamp certificate, and especially more so if they qualify as a minority, woman or other special status because of such programs.
Did any of these people who are hooked onto their smartphones while walking haphazardly on the street (guilty here) ever bother to lookup the basics behind the device? How do a microchip or a TCP packet look like? Or the great man who designed these?
It may be more politically correct in these times to say “person” but let’s be honest, the vast majority of technology and infrastructure that we now take for granted without the slightest form of appreciation — roads, bridges, buildings, sewers, and the internet, was built by a cis, straight and probably-white man. Whether it was privilege, skill, hard work or all of it does not matter at the end. It does me no service to admit this other than inviting backlash — I might be ‘male’ for now but am from a very different ‘demographic’ like I said. But to overlook this would be just as misleading as undermining the legitimate achievements made by women, LGBTQ people, or minorities in any field and sends out the wrong message.
My problem with diversity efforts of today is mainly it gives birth to the lingering question:
“Did you get hired because of the diversity program at our company?”
How do you answer this question? Can you ever escape from it?
For example, if you’re an African-American woman who has legitimately worked her way up in a software engineering career despite the challenges, knows how to code well, and yet at the back of their heads, the thought lurks in the heads of your professional peers.
Such an idea is further reinforced by emails I have received from companies’ diversity departments, despite their best intentions:
While I’m sure nobody likes to be discriminated against with regards to hiring, receiving an email from a company’s “diversity department” feels like earning brownie points for your physical traits rather than technological achievements alone. There is no way to confirm or deny this but at the very least, it leaves you in doubt — I for one wasn’t too thrilled.
Anneke Jong in her article Why We Need to Rethink “Women in Tech” presents an excellent point regarding a recent trend that can be observed.
HuffPo’s “18 Female Founders In Tech To Watch” and Fast Company’s “30 Most Influential Women in Technology” drew attention to talented and powerful women who are taking the tech industry by storm. But if you look closely at the lists, an interesting fact emerges: Only about a third of the women on either list can code. Conversely, nearly all of the top men in tech have software engineering backgrounds. … Imagine your disappointment if only a third of the “Top Women in Music” were musicians.
What message are these lists supposed to convey other than diluting the meaning of what it means to be a ‘technologist’?
If one further looks at technology articles on any mainstream publication, most of the pieces concerning code, “how to build stuff” and objective guides detailing how to get the job done are almost exclusively written by men, whereas those concerning the social aspects and impacts of technology — including this one, are written by authors from mixed backgrounds. This is no coincidence yet we want to stay blind to observations like these or dismiss them as confirmation bias.
Begging the question
This is exactly where diversity efforts fail and contradict themselves. On one hand, we want the best coders, engineers, technologists from different backgrounds who can bring ‘diverse’ perspectives. Yet, the question begs, if you need the best coders and engineers, you hire the best coders and engineers regardless of their physical traits and without discriminating against or towards anyone. But the wording of diversity programs and emails will have you believe otherwise and even breeds a sense of ‘entitlement’ among our generation.
All of a sudden, a marketing person with absolutely no technological background or instinct thinks they can be a hardcore ‘technologist’ by pursuing a three-week bootcamp. And this very well leads to low quality buggy apps with critical security vulnerabilities.
So all my millennial peers: prove yourselves first.
Yes, you may have had your challenges like a lot of us but if you want to earn respect from your peers, be legitimately interested in technology; its nitty-gritty and get skilled. A three-week bootcamp or diversity efforts may help but you’re better off writing a solid piece of code and build the next slick app — something that can be objectively evaluated rather than your experiences.
The motive behind this piece is not to undermine anyone’s struggles but to outright state: it is better to prove your worth via concrete efforts and hard-work despite having the challenges others didn’t, rather than playing the minority or oppression card which is often dismissed by the ‘privileged’ majority anyway. While the intention behind diversity hiring programs such as “Women and LGBTQ in STEM” is a positive one, I sometimes wonder if we were better off without them.
I like to demonstrate my skill and solely be judged on my skill as opposed to being lumped with ‘diversity hires’. At least, that’s one honour I’m not settling for.