Business ResourcesThe Real Issues Behind Diversity in Tech

Michael Ellison from CodePath.org.
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Ryan Carson
writes on December 10, 2018

We recently attended AfroTech and had the chance to catch up with Michael Ellison from CodePath.org. He works tirelessly to address the problem of diversity in tech and so we asked him:

What are the misconceptions that companies have about diversity?

His answers have really stuck with us and we wanted to share them with you.

‘I saw a Tweet by a CEO of a 300-400 person company. He was patting himself on the back for diversity and said ‘Hey look at our diverse interns and I got them by not going to any of those shitty schools but focusing on the good ones, like Carnegie Mellon…

‘And I thought to myself this is what is wrong with how people are thinking about diversity in tech. Yes it is about bias across both gender and race but the underlying issue is about equity (creating a level playing field) so that people can reach their full potential regardless of what they look like, whether they are in a city or rural community, whether they come from a high-income or low-income background.’

‘What makes you most likely to get into a top school? Being wealthy.

What makes it most likely you’ll get into a top company? Coming from a top school.

If you are a high-achieving, low-income student it’s likely you won’t even go to college.

I’m excited about what you’re doing with apprenticeship programs with TalentPath because this gets to the heart of equity.’

‘For me, equity is the idea that there is a level playing field. You’re not overly hindered in your path to reach your potential. If you’re willing to put in the effort then barriers like income or access to resources won’t prevent you reaching a high level of success.’

‘You may come from a community where the norm is going to college. Or you may come from a community where the norm is becoming a drug dealer. You may come from a community where no-one is educated or if you do go to college you are the first generation to do so. In those situations, it’s really hard to make up for that gap. Our schools don’t do a very good job of closing the gap.’

‘CodePath is a non-profit and we’re trying to transform Computer Science education in colleges. We’re in 23 colleges right now and we’ll be in 50 colleges and universities by Spring 2019.’

‘This is necessary because in the best colleges Intro to Computer Science is a ‘weed-out’ course. Look to your right, look to your left, only one of you is going to make it to the end of the week year.’

‘Combine that with an increase in interest in Computer Science education. Combine that with a nationwide shortage of Computer Science professors and then what’s taught is far from what’s expected by the industry then you have a tech industry with a huge shortage of technical talent.’

‘Then companies will ask, ‘well, did you go to a top school?’

‘If you attended [in their eyes] a weaker Computer Science program, where the professors may have no connection to the industry those companies are not even going to talk to you. Your resume is in a pile of 100,000 and so, regardless of your potential or learning speed you won’t be given an opportunity.’

‘Computer Science education is so broken that there is around a 60% dropout rate. For underrepresented groups that dropout rate jumps to 85-95%

And then tech companies are competing for the 5 or 6 students that have graduated from their preferred top college.’

‘This is simply not viable.’

 

Michael Ellison has founded 14 for-profit companies, three non-profits, and was a founding board member of Women Who Code one of the world’s largest organizations supporting professional female engineers. He was also a founding member of Segment which is one of Y Combinator’s highest-valued companies.

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