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Tech Inclusion: the Diversity of an Open Mind

Tech Inclusion: the Diversity of an Open Mind

by Jeremiah ShackelfordNovember 4, 2016
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Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was born out of an Exhibition intent on demonstrating that San Francisco had rebuilt itself. So the fact this year’s Tech Inclusion conference was held in the neighboring Innovation Hangar (previously the Exploratorium) is quite appropriate. In a sense, the goal here is to rebuild SF’s crown jewel: Tech. Young and not so young white guys hold a majority stake at present, but in the years to come, it seems to me that the tech sector is going to incur some well-deserved growing pains of a different variety. We’re not talking 4-5x the national GDP growth rate, no, this is something more like 4-5x our current diversity numbers. Why? The hypothesis being: a more diverse and inclusive tech workforce will correlate to better software for more people. I believe this to be true. Not to go all metaphysical, but software is a reflection of us. With a wider variety of faces looking into the mirror for input, the output will resonate far closer to an extension of self, rather than a coded tool fit for utilitarian purposes. Tech needs to feel better. Right now on the whole it still feels cold and like a non-native center of effort in many ways. If we want the coming age of ML, IoT, and orchestrated automation to be a shared progression in productivity, rather than a sterile exercise in efficiency, than we need to get more demographics at the maker’s table. If the web is world wide, then so too should be its creators. This is what the conference reinforced for me. Minorities and underrepresented factions of the population need be more prevalent decision-makers.

This will take work. Sometimes I hear conversations that somewhat infer the problem isn’t one of skillsets, but rather, the status quo simply isn’t willing to relinquish control. This is a falsity. I mean come on, Silicon Valley and Tech is THE performance driven culture. If you can deliver, it does NOT matter what color your skin is, where you were born, or what is or is not between your legs. Typically what these people are actually commenting on comes down to HOW you measure ‘performance’. A better way to frame the solution to the white-male syndicate is in terms of all the opportunity of starting to do things differently! I mean just think about it. That completely cliche ‘outside of the box’ reference will now be spheres and pyramids and all kinds of 3D shapes (#depth). I attend a lot of events and you get to hear a lot of the same soundbites regarding startups and entrepreneurship. Everyone likes to talk about ‘thinking differently’, ‘contrarian viewpoints’, and having a ‘unique lense’. You want to know how to achieve those objectives? This is going to blow your mind, but invest in people that BY DEFINITION think differently, have contrarian viewpoints, and most certainly a contrasting lense and perspective on the world (#shocker). If the status quo is white male, then yea, let’s break the f’ out to far more. That’s actually the exciting part. As a white male I’m not threatened by this idea and movement at all. In this oh-so-fine era of productivity software we’re now embarking on, IT IS TIME TO BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE. And not just from an equality standpoint that would make ol’ Honest Abe proud, but also from the position ‘we need to do this to prevent unrest in human civilization’ (#seriously). Remote access control will very soon take on more meaning than most can imagine. The fact so few will have so much power will already be setting a stage for revolutionary history to repeat itself, the least we can do is ensure that those pushing the buttons and pulling the levers have diverse backgrounds. PLEASE hear my words on this point.

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Oculus Angels

With all this said, white guys aren’t the enemy. I recently commented on twitter that I can’t wait for more AR applications to launch at scale in the post-PokemonGO era, one of which I hope allows us to change our physical appearance. I’m going to be aquamarine with white hair, at least to start. The point being is that we are quickly moving in a new direction with regards to race and understanding in our nation, and soon the world. Sadly, as evidenced by a large subset of Trump’s supporters, that change is not wanted by many in the U.S. But you know what? ƒµçk ’em. This is well overdue in these grand United States of America. We have successfully elected our first black president, and come Tuesday, our first female. Now THAT is something that warrants ‘God Bless America’. If the racists, sexists, even supremacists among us take issue, then we will go around or even thru them if need be, make no mistake. I do not want to go down the negative rabbit-hole of all that is wrong here however, no matter how tempting it is to release all the anger I have towards these pathetic individuals disgracing our magnificent country.

Rather, I would like to take this opportunity to also introduce the diversity of an open mind. We tend to only see our circumstances and what we’re working on as relevant. There is no better example of this than when I meet startups, and even today, there are some that say “we don’t have any competitors”. Are you kidding me?! What they mean, and how you can interpret their seemingly narcissism, is that they are so committed to, invested in, even obsessed with their product/company that all they see is how different they are. All those hours have been spent in creating something new, so the misguided confusion and often unintentional arrogance comes from and out of the immense exertion and sacrifices they have made to launch this fledgling 0->1. [Yes, that’s a Thiel reference, forgive him of his sins as you would like to be forgiven of your own. His recent Republican loyalty stems from no more than seeing the opportunity in the schism and fissures that are currently cracking within the GOP.] This is a difficult realization to act on. By definition to some extent we ARE our circumstances, how then can we be expected to NOT act on what we see as our best interest? That would be an unreasonable request. The reality to keep front and center: you being right is not absolute. There are many ways to be ‘right’ and ‘good’, and if someone’s version/vision is different, do NOT decide you must kill it. The idea that Microsoft is ‘going to crush‘ Slack strikes me as very naive on Redmond’s part. That’s kind of like Google saying ‘we’re going to crush social’. It’s just not who they are. MSFT is a VERY rich company to be sure, with even unlimited resources for all intensive purposes, but the smart money is on @Stewart and his team. IT IS who they are. Might is not right [of passage], not by a long shot. Mighty means being more in-the-know and thus better positioned to take action. Hence, you should be very careful with how you handle what you THINK you know.

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David Drummond and Mary Grove (of Google)

A distinct thanks to Google, specifically Google for Entrepreneurs, for underwriting the conference. And any event that brings both GOOG and Facebook together in the same light is a winner in my book. The star-studded participants didn’t stop there though, it was a regular smorgasbord of web all-stars including: Pinterest, Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb, Github, Slack, Asana, Nutanix, Techstars, Galvanize, Yelp, even a16z, and the up-and-coming City of Portland. It was clear that the mandate to hire a more diverse workforce has been received loud and clear. This is a positive development to be sure. The Tech Inclusion conference grew by an order of magnitude since last year, and with it so to is our appetite for correcting our ills. Nothing is ever perfect, particularly in the beginning, even if you think it is as a function of simplicity. We are entering the non-simple stage of the Internet, and much of the background engineering and infrastructure we all take for granted will probably remain so; but in terms of the front-end web applications that we all choose, and define, and live by, it is time to become better. It is time to shift this exclusive windfall of the last two decades into an inclusive opportunity for all who wish to pursue it.

About The Author
Jeremiah Shackelford
Jeremiah Shackelford
Jeremiah Shackelford, Business & Market Developer