Hi everyone. My name is Laura Weidman Powers and I’m the co-founder and Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called CODE2040. When the OSCON team asked me to come speak to you all today, my first reaction was “What’s OSCON?”I come from the world of nonprofit management and youth development, and I’ve only even dipped into the tech sector relatively recently, working on strategy and monetization and eventually product management for a consumer web startup based in Los Angeles that has since gone out of business. I don’t code – although I am trying to learn and if you follow me on Twitter on Wednesdays from 12-1pm you’ll see me struggling through beginner Codecademy classes. I’m learning Python and not only am I not very good at that, but I don’t even get the jokes because I’ve never seen a Monty Python movie.So maybe you can understand why I was confused by my invitation to speak here. But ultimately the OSCON team assured me that they just wanted me to speak about what it is that I do, and so I figured I could do that, and hopefully at least some of you will find it interesting. And in the end I actually think all of you should find it not only interesting but deeply relevant to what you all do and what you all care about, and I hope I can convince you of that.
So I’m going to spend the next few minutes talking to you about race.And specifically diversity. The lack of diversity in the tech sector and in the innovation economy.This is a super awkward topic and most people I think try to avoid talking about race in their day to day lives. I guess the advantage of doing a talk like this is that you guys don’t have to talk back, you can just listen. In fact I can’t even see your faces. So hopefully this will be less awkward than if we were sitting over lunch and you can just kind of sit back and think through what I have to say.At least it will be less awkward for you. I still have to talk about it.But this is kind of exciting for me because for most of my life I’ve hated talking about race.
As a mixed kid growing up on the ultra diverse upper west side of manhattan the concept of race seemed too confusing and almost irrelevant. As I grew up it seemed like every race was represented in the few city blocks around me and so what was the point in trying to figure it all out? At least it seemed that way to ME. To others it seemed constantly relevant.
In fact, people brought it up to me all the time. By the time I hit middle school I had learned to anticipate the question “what are you?” by the uncomfortable expression a person would get on their face before asking it. So race actually factored into a lot of my social interactions, even as a kid.(I’m half black and half white by the way)
So now I’ve made you think about race and showed you a picture of me from middle school – we are squarely in awkward territory. Why am I subjecting you to this? Why did you wake up for this keynote?I actually think that today it’s really critical to talk openly about race. So important that I subject myself to this awkwardness on a daily basis.Why do I think this is so important? Because the US today is in the middle of two major shifts as a country.
The first is the rise of the innovation economy. It’s no surprise to this audience that software is eating the world. In fact, computing jobs are the fastest growing segment of jobs in the US economy.And talent is in demand – over 100,000 computer jobs go unfilled each year. Code.org put together a great visualization of this. There will be 1,000,000 jobs in computing unfilled by 2020 at the rate we’re currently graduating computer science students.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and software development specifically are starting to get a lot more mainstream attention as people realize that these fields are key to our country’s economic viability.OK, that’s shift #1.
The second major shift the US is undergoing is a massive demographic shift.Today 90% of population growth comes from minority groups and the US will be majority-minority in the year 2040. At that point 42% of the population will be Black or Latino.In short, the country is going to look very different over the next 20-25 years. And that means the consumer base will look different - and the workforce will look different. Companies will need to know how to find, attract, hire, and retain diverse talent – including and perhaps especially Black and Latino talent – in order to survive.
OK – so these trends certainly hint at something big. But it starts getting really interesting I think when you take it beyond the abstract and look at how these two trends are going to interact.
Because in a world where the biggest growth in jobs is in the tech sector and the biggest growth in workers is amongst minority groups, we’re not seeing blacks and Latinos engaged in the tech sector at very high rates.And you can see here that this isn’t purely an education issue. Even for those students who earn a degree in computer science, the college to career pipeline is broken. It’s bad nationwide and it’s even a little worse where I’m based in Silicon Valley.Particularly troubling to me are the leadership numbers because it means that those earlier in the pipeline – middle, high school, and college students, those taking their first jobs - aren’t seeing people who look like them succeed in these careers. Research shows that role models are incredibly important to a student’s success, and we’re seeing a pretty shocking lack of role models for Black and Latino students when it comes to those who look like them.
But role modeling aside, even if you use that data to imagine what it might be like at a typical tech conference, perhaps like this one, I think it can paint a pretty stark picture. On average if you’re a black or Latino person at a networking event with around 75 other attendees, there might be one other person of your racial background there. If you tend to gather in smaller groups or maybe you’re at a gathering for founders, you’re probably the only person who looks like you there. It can be lonely and isolating and discouraging – and I think it’s worse when no one talks about it or acknowledges it.
So this is a pretty good summary of the tech industry’s diversity problem.
So I think this is actually a good time to take a little step back. The numbers are bad, those are the facts. But the interesting question is really I think this next one. Do you care? If this precipitous drop off from the portion of the population that Blacks and Latinos comprise – even the portion of computer science grads they comprise – to the portion of tech employees, leaders, and founders they are doesn’t bother you or at least get you thinking about why this might be and whether it matters, then probably you should just tune me out or get another cup of coffee or something.But my hunch is that this is something that this community will care about. I realize I’m an outsider, I’ve never written a line of open source code and I’m not even sure what I’ve done on my lunch breaks counts as code yet, but what I find really intriguing and exciting about the open source community is that it really defines itself as a community, and one that’s based on universal access. And what I’m seeing right now, with this lack of diversity, and particularly this fall off towards the college to career portion of the pipeline, is a clear sign that there isn’t universal access to careers in technology the way we’d like to believe. So if you’re curious or intrigued, or the lack of diversity in tech is something you’ve been wondering about – or maybe you’re horrified and appalled by what I’ve just shared then, Yes. You care. And that is a really big first step towards doing something about this issue.So I want to come back to CODE2040 and what we do. So my co-founder, Tristan Walker, and I saw this issue and like any good entrepreneurs we created a solution – or at least a step towards one.
Last year, in 2012, we launched a summer fellowship program that brings top performing Black and Latino software developers together for the summer. We set college and grad students up with internships at top tech companies and we do a robust leadership development curriculum with our fellows on evenings and weekends. The goal of the program is to fast track these students to success by giving them the support and networks they need to excel. We have 18 students in the program this summer, and they are amazing. I actually really encourage all of you to visit CODE2040’s website, code2040.org, and read our blog. You can hear directly from our students about why they chose to participate in CODE2040 and what it means to them.And it’s through launching and running the fellows program and interacting with our amazing fellows that my view on the tech industry’s diversity problem has shifted.
It’s actually due to something one of our inaugural CODE2040 fellows said. This is Amy Quispe, one of our first five fellows in the 2012 pilot class, looking lovely and self assured. And me, being awkward again, just for good measure. It’s like I’m actually trying to photobomb a picture that I’m supposed to be in. Anyway.So what Amy said to me last fall really opened my mind to how to think about the future of CODE2040 and the future of our industry. She said, simply: Diversity isn’t the problem here. Diversity is the opportunity.
Thinking about our industry’s lack of diversity - particularly racial diversity - as a problem has made us afraid to talk about it. After all, no one likes to be told they have a problem and no one likes to fixate on their problems.So let’s reframe and see this for what I honestly think it really is. The tech industry has a great opportunity to live up to its potential of universal access.
Our industry is awesome and I want to keep it that way and I want to make it better. We can draw more talent and more innovation into the tech sector – we can maximize our potential - by creating pathways for diverse talent to enter, stay, and succeed.
So I’ll give you a concrete example of what it can look like to work to create universal access. At CODE2040 we’re experimenting with ways that we can support more students in the college to career pipeline. One of the things we’re working on piloting is a toolkit full of resources for tech internship hopefuls. Through our own fellows program application process we realized that lots of talented students simply didn’t know that they needed things like side projects, a github profile, or coding samples in order to get top internships. No one was telling them that doing well in their classes wasn’t enough. No one was turning them on to, for example, the benefits of being in the open source community. So, we decided to tell them by putting together a simple collection of things students should know and do.
That’s what we’re doing – and we’re working on many other things. But this is my fulltime job. I’m guessing it’s not yours. So what can you do?Well we’re working on that too. Dozens if not hundreds of people have asked me this question since we launched CODE2040. And we’re working hard to come up with as many answers as possible.
As a start, If you’re in the Bay Area or – soon – New York, you can get involved with the CODE2040 fellows program directly.If you’re elsewhere, we’re working on a national tour this fall focused on sharing the applicant toolkit resources widely and on coaching students on how to best get that first top quality internship. We’d love your support in reaching as many students as possible whether you want to be a coach yourself or introduce us around in your community – online or off. You can find us in any of these ways.
Mostly though, CODE2040 is just a part of the puzzle. I’d encourage you all to take a cue from our students and do what you do best. Next weekend our fellows are anchoring a 24hr hackathon that will bring together several internship programs to Hack4Diversity. They’ll be taking submissions of projects from local nonprofits and coming up with ideas on their own and for 24hrs they’ll put all their skills towards creating solutions that help diversify the tech sector.They’ve decided that they aren’t happy with the level of diversity they see around them, and they’re going to spend 24hrs figuring out how to make that change. In this process, our fellows are relying on the community they’ve built to support them in their quest to pave the way for access to the sector for students of color coming behind them.I’d encourage you to leverage your own communities, both locally and the open source community, to create your own version of universal access, and to try to think about – and maybe even talk about, awkwardly even – our industry’s diversity opportunity. After all, we’re solutionists at heart I think, and this is a great opportunity to make an impact.
CODE2040 - OSCON Keynote - Laura Weidman Powers
@CODE2040 | @laurawp
TALKING ABOUT RACE
= SUPER AWKWARD
TALKING ABOUT RACE = SUPER AWKWARD
ME IN MIDDLE SCHOOL = SUPER
Computing jobs are the fastest
growing segment of jobs in the
US economy (with some of the
lowest unemployment rates)
Software developers are in
demand (100,000 jobs go unfilled
every year in the US)
Software is eating the world
(today it is a key component of
nearly every industry)
Image courtesy of code.org
THE RISE OF THE INNOVATION ECONOMY
Today 90% of population growth
comes from minority groups.
42% of the population will be
Black or Latino in 2040.
The US will be majority-minority
in the year 2040.
Overall Black Latino
US Population Growth 2010 to 2040
A MASSIVE DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT
Total United States
Silicon Valley Tech
Silicon Valley Tech
BLACKS & LATINOS AS A PERCENT OF…
Data courtesy: US Census Bureau, National Science Fdn, Bureau Labor Statistics, Anita Borg Institute, CB Insights
A summer fellowship program that places high performing Black and Latino/a
software developers in internships with top tech companies and provides
mentorship, leadership training, and network development.
THE CODE2040 FELLOWS PROGRAM
THE TECH INDUSTRY’S
To maximize our potential as an industry
and an economy, we need to ensure Blacks
and Latinos enter the tech workforce at a
greater rate, and stay and succeed there as
engineers, technologists, thought
leaders, and entrepreneurs.
THE CODE2040 APPLICANT TOOLKIT
(find the toolkit online at 2040toolkit.org)