One recent morning, I was driving home from a nearby errand on El Camino Real, crossing from Menlo Park into Palo Alto, when a bus rumbled past me. It was one of those double-long buses and, as usual, there wasn’t a single soul on it. Well, obviously there was the driver, probably paid in the six figures thanks to overtime, but otherwise it was, as is always the case, utterly empty and unused.
On the side of the bus, as there usually was, a large advertisement was affixed. These ads normally encourage the onlooker to drink milk, or sign up for online courses at De Anza College, or go to the Stanford Shopping Center.
However, This was one I had never seen before. There was a stylized photo of a young black woman’s face, and next to that were the giant words: “It isn’t a question of if she will change the world. But when.”
Centered beneath all of this were the words: Black Girls Code.
Now let me rush to the center of the stage and breathlessly make one thing abundantly clear: I have nothing against black girls who code. Or green men who manage networks. Or purple hermaphrodites who are database administrators.
If, for some reason, every single programmer on the entire planet turned out, all this time, to have been black females between the ages of 13 and 25, well, super-dee-dooper, that’s just fine. I honestly only care if the work product is stable, feature-complete, and relatively bug-free.
Having offered that hat-in-hand preamble, now let me also say this: that advertisement really, really bugged me. Because it touches on an issue that means a lot to me, which is my desire for the organic nature of free enterprise and society.
I’m not an idiot. I well recognize that the purpose of the placard on the side of the bus was to encourage young black girls who otherwise would never consider that they could be computer programmers that, yes, they can do it and, who knows, maybe even change the world. That’s great! God bless ’em. And God bless the black woman who runs the organization that paid for the ad (this isn’t a guess; I did a little research).
But it still truly riles me that, for any given avocation, it should be asserted that a specific age, gender, sexual preference, skin color, religion, or any other personal attributes should be the basis for a person doing or not doing something, according to some external entity.
Let’s pick on me for a moment. I’m a middle-aged white guy in relatively decent shape. But allow me to make clear some of the many, many places you will not see me:
- On an NFL football field;
- In an NBA game;
- Serving as a Managing Partner at Goldman Sachs;
- Playing first violin for the New York Philharmonic;
- Appearing as the Sexiest Man Alive on the cover of People
I’m not qualified for any of those. Not even close. And no amount of billboards or advertisements declaring that Doughy Middle Aged Guys Are Sexy is going to get me any nearer to People magazine’s cover, although I appreciate the encouragement.
I’ve lived in and studied the Silicon Valley for a long, long time. Allow me to show you a gaggle of early employees from Google:
Let’s also look at some of the key early folks from Facebook:
What do we notice about these two photos? Well, let’s see:
- Everyone is either white (and I mean really white) or Asian;
- There’s a pretty even split between men and women (which I confess kind of surprised me);
- Everyone’s fairly young, pretty much in their 20s;
- Although it’s not apparent from a mere photograph, you can count on the fact that every single individual is ridiculously smart
Any black girls in there? Nope. Should there be? Well………..not necessarily! Not just because they’re black girls.
I seriously doubt the composition of the two groups above was because there was a huge Black Girls Need Not Apply banner dangling from the hallways of these startups. And, to be quite honest, even if there was – – and I know this is impossible in the modern era, but hear me out – – I think it would be the right of the founder to have such a sign.
Let me be clear, I think the guy would be an unrepentant asshole to have such a sign (or even to think such a thing), but I honestly think it should be his choice.
Because, to my mind, if some company is going to make the dickhead move to specifically exclude someone based on anything except their abilities, well, screw those guys: go work somewhere else (or start your own thing) and make it your mission in life to kick their asses all around the block.
Perhaps you were aware that, for centuries, Jews were expressly forbidden from just about any kind of livelihood except for banking and finance. Yes, it was a terrible thing that a given group of people was foreclosed from pursuing their own fields of interest due to the bigotry of the majority. But, in the end, do you think they kind of made that work out somehow? Do you think they were able to take something negative and turn it into a roaring success?
Let’s go back to me for a moment. I have spent most of my adult life building and running small companies. Before being acquired, the biggest company I ever ran was all of twenty people. These days, my little startup is even smaller than that.
Small though it may be, I still need help in the form of engineering talent. When I seek it out, am I looking for a specific race, gender, religion, dietary preference, or anything else like that? No! I’m looking for someone smart, talented, and experienced who is willing to work hard for a fair price that I can afford.
Earlier this year, I hired my first female engineer that has ever worked for me. Did I reject earlier candidates because they were female? Not at all; indeed, over the years, I don’t think there were more than even one or two candidates at all for any jobs who were female.
Did I hire the aforementioned woman because she was a woman? Do I even have to answer that question at this point?
The only sexist thinking on my part in this respect is that, yeah, I think it’s kinda cool that one of my engineers is a female, simply because it’s kind of out of the ordinary. I would feel the same way if a given engineer was an awesome accordion player. It’s merely an interesting personal trait, and little else.
The fact of the matter is that, the vast majority of the time, the kind of human being who is drawn to hacking out computer code looks an awful lot like this:
Whereas this group of coders seems kinda forced……….
If one of these girls, or all of them, creates the next multi-billion dollar unicorn, that’s just lovely, and it’s all cool in Bible school. I’d just prefer not being pummeled over the head with the declaration that this is inevitable, just because someone says it should be.