On diversity in technology

I've had the chance to write about diversity in technology over the past month. It was sparked by a 750ish word post on Medium titled, "A black man walks into Silicon Valley and tries to get a job..." 

It was a personal, honestly slightly embarrassing, accounting of what I experienced trying to get a job in technology for four years. But I didn't write that post for me. I wrote that because, now that I have a job I love with a company I adore, I know there are still people out there struggling to overcome those same hurdles every day. That's why it resonated and spread far throughout the internet. If my writing can help just one person - especially if it can open one more hiring manager's eyes or CEO's minds to unconscious bias and privilege - then it was worth it.

That post was later republished on Fusion, thanks to Kevin Roose wanting to amplify my story.

After that, Meredith Bennett-Smith of Quartz asked if I was interested in republishing  that piece or writing more, and I took that chance to get more specific. In my mind, he only way to properly critique and address the issues of diversity in Silicon Valley is by being direct. Pointing out specific issues and suggesting real solutions is better than beating around the bush or choruses of "we have work to do."

Shortly after my post on Medium gained a lot of attention, USA TODAY technology reporter Jessica Guynn connected with me and offered support. She's long reported on the topics and statistics that others are only beginning to see. She extended an offer for USA TODAY to possibly run some of my writing, which led to me publishing "Three ways to begin fixing Silicon Valley's 'pipeline' problem."

I'm continuing to think about how I can best help those who aren't getting a chance. People who love art and technology but aren't being represented in the work they see. And it's great to know Big Cartel is behind me. 

Below is the original post that started it all.

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For a long time, I dreamt to work in Silicon Valley. That dream is dead.

I’d like to tell you a joke. But first, some backstory.

I applied for hundreds of jobs (not an exaggeration) after college, many in the Bay Area. I had a few interviews — I was even flown out twice by one company — but I remained without my first “adult” job for over four years.

Hiring managers didn’t like me because I went to a small private university in Ohio. They said I didn’t have enough experience — despite graduating with Honors from said college, being a member of the National Communication Honor Society, and holding a part-time job and internship for three of my four years in school.

Or, get this — I was also told my experience made me overqualified for the position and they were afraid I’d get bored.

The formula was largely the same. Most I didn’t hear back from at all. With a few, I had an in-person or Skype interview with the team.

Once I got on Skype, one position at a hot tech company changed from full-time to a three-month contract. It was listed on their site as full-time. Oh, and they wouldn’t reimburse any moving costs. One more interesting tidbit: This rejection took place in 2011. Until I found a job last year, I still couldn’t reapply for any new positions. Their hiring system blocked new applications.

Another position suddenly “needed filled immediately,” so they went with someone local. I was told a future position might be available if I planned to relocate. Which I would have if, you know, I had been offered a job. They also wouldn’t reimburse moving costs.

Most of the rest ended the same: silence. Many times I couldn’t even get a courtesy rejection email.

I don’t know that any of this had to do with my race, but twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. (A fitting misquote I recently heard of an Ian Fleming quote.) At best (or worst?), it revealed the number of ways Silicon Valley takes care of those close to home, and keeps those on the outside away.

The culture Silicon Valley has built doesn’t value what I bring to the table — my experience, perspective, and talent. To them I simply don’t fill enough checkboxes. I’m not a culture fit, a friend of a friend, or a Stanford grad that could afford to live in San Francisco while job hunting.

The culture doesn’t value evenings and weekends as a time for family, personal development and health, or hobbies. Late nights are meant for hackathons and beer bashes.

This is how you develop a culture that isn’t diverse. You make it impossible for people who can’t afford to take a tryout across the country.That leaves most job openings only available to people whose parents pay their bills; for people who didn’t have to finance their way through college; for people who don’t have, or intend to have, a significant other or children in the near future.

The good news: my dream to work in Silicon Valley is dead because I’ve found out what it’s like to work for a company that values me.

I found a company that values me that’s based in Salt Lake City. Yeah, a company in Utah is doing more for diversity than many in Silicon Valley — get over your biases of where you believe real change is championed.

One of the ways my company encourages diversity is by providing fair pay and benefits for all; which includes reimbursement for relocation, the opportunity to work remotely, a generous family leave policy, and flexible scheduling for personal needs. We also own up to a lack of diversity in job postings, rather than hide the problem. We’re supporting projects and events that emphasize inclusion in tech. Also, hiring doesn’t rely solely on existing social networks.

To Silicon Valley: What legacy are you leaving for your children? If you really believe design can change the world — what legacy are you leaving for the history books? Do you want to be looked back on as a white boy’s club? As an embarrassing furthering of unfair privilege by the most valuable companies of our time?

Or do you really want to change the world?

So, to finish my joke from before: A black man walks into Silicon Valley and tries to get a job, and he leaves empty handed.

Andy Newman