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Cover image for The Unbearable Whiteness of Coding

The Unbearable Whiteness of Coding

bytebodger profile image Adam Nathaniel Davis ・13 min read

With regard to race, software development has a serious "black" problem. No, I'm not going to describe it as a "people-of-color" problem (for reasons I'll explain below). It's very clearly a black problem. And after more than 20 years in this career, I'm frustrated by my own lack of answers on how to fix it.

Some Basic Disclaimers

I'm an American developer, living in America, working for an American company. So I don't pretend that any of my observations are even remotely accurate in other countries/cultures. Your mileage may vary.

If you check my profile pic, you'll quickly realize that I'm "part of the problem". I'm a white, Anglo-Saxon, (raised) Protestant, straight, male. In terms of US class structures, I've "won". Or, as it's sometimes referred to, I hit the "genetic lottery".

So everything I'm writing is from the perspective of those who hold all the advantages. And I in no way pretend to speak for anyone other than myself. These observations are mine - and mine alone.

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A Snapshot of the Problem

This is the racial makeup of the city I live in. It's a mid-size city of about 900k people in the American south. It has a sizable black population - 30%.

I've been working in this city, as a software engineer, for 20 years. I'm currently working in a purely-remote capacity. But for the majority of those 20 years, I've worked at various companies, onsite, going into the office every day. So for the majority of my time here, I've worked mostly with other devs who call this city home.

In my two decades here, I've worked alongside hundreds of developers. Please keep in mind, I'm not lumping in every network and devops engineer I've worked with. Nor am I counting QA or BAs or any other role that's tangential to application development. Looking at programmers only, I've had the good fortune to call a few hundred people my coworkers.


Of the few-hundred programmers that I've worked alongside in the last 20 years, how many of them do you think were black??



Don't worry. I won't try to make you go through some silly guessing exercise. I'll just tell you directly.

The answer is: One



I have worked with one black software engineer, during all my time in this city. Think about that. Two decades of work. A half-dozen employers. Hundreds of past colleagues. And out of all those peers, I've worked alongside one black programmer - in a city with a 30% black population.

Lemme throw in a few more disclaimers here, for clarity. I'm not claiming that I've only worked with one black person during my 20 years in this city. When we broaden the scope to include all the other job titles that typically interact with a dev team, I've worked with many black people. (Nowhere near 30% of my colleagues - but still, "many".) And in some of my gigs, there were a few black devs working on other teams with whom I had little direction interaction.

And as I stated above, these are my personal, anecdotal observations. I'm not claiming that there's only one black developer in my whole city. Nor am I claiming that the percentage I've personally witnessed (less than 1%) can be extrapolated to my entire city or state. I know that there are some dev teams at other companies that have more black devs.

But it's been a long time since anyone's mistaken me for a "junior", and I've had the pleasure of traveling around the country a bit as well. And I know that my experience is not uncommon amongst other dev teams - or amongst other regions.

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Diversity(ish)

It took me a long time to understand that there may actually be any diversity problem in dev. Yes, part of my problem was that I'm a white guy - a pasty, stereotypical white guy with all of the subconscious biases that this country is still battling. But my problem also arose from the fact that I looked around at my own work environments and I saw a whole bunch of... diversity.

I'd look around and think, "Look! We've got a ton of brown people!" (This will probably shock you to the core to learn that nearly all of these "brown" people were Indian.) I've worked alongside Koreans, and Chinese, and Brazilians, and Ukrainians, and Spaniards, and... well, you get the point.

So make no mistake about it. I've worked in some very diverse environments. But when your country is 13% black, and your city is 30% black, and your fellow devs are less-than-1% black, my international colleagues may still represent "diversity" - but it's "diversity" with a big ol' neon asterisk tacked onto it.

It's no secret that American software development has a whole host of diversity issues. Women are vastly underrepresented. People of almost any non-white origin are underrepresented. LGBTQIA-people are underrepresented. (Many of my teams have had the demeanor of a locker room, where white guys boldly make bawdy jokes about gays and women and anyone else in their crosshairs.)

I'm not dismissing any of those other issues. But right here, right now, with all the s*** that's currently going down in this country, I've found myself thinking more-and-more about the issue of black under-representation in software development.

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Evil Empires??

So who's to "blame" for this disparity? An easy answer is to point an accusing finger at the big, bad, evil empires of capitalism. After all, I'm not the one paying those salaries. I'm not the one who's ultimately responsible for who we hire and what backgrounds they encompass. So it must be the corporations, right???

Well... sorta.

To be clear, it's impossible to hire a staff - any staff - without earning at least some degree of responsibility for the makeup of that staff. And countless studies (and lawsuits) have highlighted the insidious degree to which systemic racism infiltrates nearly every vein of American life - including, of course, hiring.

But it's overly-simplistic to say, "Well, companies should just start hiring more black developers." Allow me to explain...

I made the conscious decision some years ago to go back to "just" being a developer. Long story - but suffice it to say that I really wanted to get back into pure coding. But I spent many years in dev management. During that time, it's no exaggeration to say that I've sorted through thousands of resumes, interviewed hundreds of candidates, and extended offers to dozens of programmers. Here's what typically happens if you're in the market for new (American) developers.

We put up a posting for a new dev position. There's nothing about the posting that feels even the slightest bit "prejudiced" or "biased". We've all seen the postings. A few generic paragraphs about the company and the position, followed by an alphabet soup of the technologies we're using and the desired experience level in those technologies.

It's easy to imagine a scenario where such a posting might yield a hundred applicants. (This is especially easy to imagine in our current COVID-stricken economy.) In my experience, lemme tell you what those hundred candidates typically look like.

At least 90 of those candidates will be male. (As I've already stated, I'm not even touching the deep, sticky issues of gender representation in our career field.) Sure, I don't know what everyone's gender is, just by looking at their resume. But you usually know that the "Joes" are men and the "Marys" are women.

About 30 of those candidates will be clearly foreign - with many of those foreigners being Indian. Again, I realize that too many things can be inferred by simply reading names off resumes, but when the candidate is "Sanjay Vishwanathan" I pretty much know that they're Indian, or at least of Indian descent.

Of course, trying to infer someone's skin tone merely by reading the name on their resume is a fool's errand. So I definitely don't try to play that kind of racist parlor game. Instead, I just start looking at the qualifications and, after a little sifting, I hand a pile of resumes to the HR person and ask them to schedule interviews.

When the interviewees arrive, nearly all of them are white, or at least, non-black. Just looking back at the many people who've sat in front of me for face-to-face interviews, I'd estimate that, of the original 100 applicants, 5 (or fewer) of them were actually black.

So think about that for a minute. If 5% (or fewer) of your applicants are black to begin with, it's quite daunting (and possibly unrealistic) to simply look at the hiring managers and say, "Well, you should really be hiring more black developers."

If we assume that those 100 candidates are vying for a single job opening, and we assume each candidate has an equal chance of ultimately being offered a job, that means there's only a 5% chance that the most qualified candidate is indeed black.

Even if we assume that I truly want to hire more black developers, it's not a cut-and-dry proposition. I can't slap "Only Blacks Need Apply" on the job posting. I don't want to fall into a racist trap of trying to infer who's black based on names or other vague data in their resume. And by the time I've whittled the applicants down to a half-dozen-or-so candidates for interviews, it's entirely possible that none of them may be black.

And thus, through no outward malice on my part, we've once again managed to interview, and ultimately hire, yet another non-black employee.

To be clear, if you're working for a megacorp like, say, Google, they have the resources to more proactively seek black candidates. Hell, they could even create training programs specifically geared toward black developers if they so choose. But most "normal" corporations are far smaller, with much more modest budgets. They have a simple problem - an open position - that they're trying to solve. And they can't "fix the world" by funding a new black university expressly for the purpose of hiring more black developers.

This is why it's foolhardy to deny that the issue is truly systemic. Even the most equality-minded hiring managers are still limited to the qualified candidates that actually apply.

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The Myth of the Self-Made Man

Most of the devs I know don't think of this "problem" as being any kind of problem at all. Hell - if I'm being honest with myself, I haven't thought of it as any kind of real "problem" for most of my professional life. Is that because I, and all my colleagues, are horrible racist monsters? Probably not.

You see, many of us dev-types subscribe to the overall ideal of the "self-made man". The thinking is incredibly simple (yet flawed). It goes like this:

  1. I acquired, by myself, much (or all) of the knowledge that's required to do my job.

  2. Nowadays, especially with the steady rise of the internet over the last quarter-century, all the tools you need to learn (and master) any programming language are right there for the taking. In fact, assuming that you have solid internet access, those tools are overwhelmingly free.

  3. When dev candidates are evaluated (and presumably, hired), this can be done based upon a series of tangible factors that have nothing to do with race. (For example, we can "test" a candidate's skills before ever extending an offer.)

  4. I am where I am purely due to my superior knowledge/skills, and my ability to demonstrate those skills to any potential employer.

  5. Therefore, any talk of race (or gender, or... any other factor) only serves to muddy what should be, on its surface, a completely egalitarian exercise.

Unfortunately, this thought process is severely myopic.

I had my first computer when I was 10 years old. Nowadays, many households - especially, white households - feature computers from the time a child is born. Statistics tell us that the percentage of black households with the same luxury is... lower.

Ever since the internet was a "thing", I've always had access to the fastest-possible download speeds. Statistics tell us that the percentage of black households with the same luxury is... lower.

I don't have a computer science degree. In fact, I don't have a bachelors degree of any kind. Every line of code I've ever written was accomplished either through my own desire to learn, or through my ability to leverage those who'd learned before me. The economic ability for blacks to pursue this same path are... limited.

Yet, in the 90s, when my skills were solid but my experience was... lacking, I managed to get my foot in the door with some tremendous "starter" opportunities. I was given generous salaries and fast-tracked for management. Statistics tell us that, for black candidates, the same opportunities are... rarer.

So am I some sort of societal leech? No. Was everything in my career simply handed to me because I have a pale complexion? Of course not. But for me to disavow any potential influence of race in my success would be, at best, borderline-delusional.


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Why Should You Care???

If you've read this far, I'm certain that at least some of you have already pegged me as a hopeless "Social Justice Warrior" (as though that phrase is somehow something to be ashamed of). And even if you're not concerned with the prevailing political terms that we slap on "the right" or "the left", this may all feel rather disconnected from your day-to-day reality.

If you're at all like me (and if you're browsing through Dev.to articles, you're probably more than a little bit like me), your days are probably consumed by fixing a pressing bug, or designing a new feature, or managing the deliverables for your next sprint. If you're at all like me, such questions of race and/or equality can sometimes feel like a true imposition on the "real" work that you're trying to accomplish every day.

But I've reached a point in my life where I realize that these broader issues of society are never truly "someone else's problem". I have the privilege of not having to ponder these issues every day (or even most days). Yet I'm watching, in real-time, as key aspects of my own society continue to disintegrate.

I don't think that I'm "to blame" for the fact that I have a nice job, that commands a generous salary, and I live in a nice house in a coveted part of town. On any given day, I can cash my checks and throw all my energy into solving my employer's problems. Why can't the rest of the world just leave me alone and stop bothering me with these pesky issues of race???

Well... here's why. Because, in my city, 30% of the population is black. In my city, I'm lucky enough to earn a salary that probably puts me in the top 5% of all earners. I don't make "lawyer money" or "doctor money" - but I do alright for myself. And I'm fully aware of that.

But in this same city, almost none of my colleagues - making similar money and enjoying similar professional perqs - are black. In my city, there is 30% of the population that, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to be able to get a foothold into this very-lucrative career field.

When 30% of the population is effectively shut out of these kinds of jobs, what do you think is the result?

You may think that victims such as George Floyd have no bearing on this discussion. You may think that universal issues such as racial equality are completely tangential to your supposedly-meritocratic life as a software engineer. And you'd certainly be entitled to such an opinion. But put this in perspective.

When there's an overall perception of fairness, righteousness, and equality, the tragedy of Floyd's death is... a tragedy. And "tragedies" are generally seen to be rare events - outliers in a world that otherwise strives to make things "right".

But when inequality abounds - when the doors to good jobs and high wages are shut - the tragedy of Floyd's death is no longer "just" a tragedy. It's a spark - a fuse - that threatens to light a powder keg of righteous indignation.

When the very core of our professional lives are so imbalanced, any other injustice only serves to inflame those who are already struggling under society's yoke. And really - can you blame them???

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A Devilish Puzzle

This is the point where I must admit that this entire post is probably rather - pointless. It's "pointless" because... I don't know what "points" to leave you with. I'm struggling, every day, a lot, about what I can possibly do to improve the situation.

As I noted above, it's not like we can start hanging out signs that say, "This high-paid job is only available to black candidates." And for most of us, in our "daily grind", the racial makeup of our teams is typically an afterthought. But it's not an afterthought to everybody.

I also want to make it clear that I'm not one of those Utopian, Silicon Valley, venture capital, head-in-the-wealthy-sand assholes who thinks that the answer to the world's problems lies in somehow teaching everyone to code. Software development is not for everyone - regardless of your level of melanin.

But I'm genuinely curious - nay, I'm searching - for things that I can do to somehow improve this situation. I've long-since realized that, even on my best days, even when I think I'm oh-so-"woke" (dear god, I hate that term), I'm still, on some level, at least somewhat racist.

Have I subconsciously been weeding out black candidates? I don't think so - but I'm probably unqualified to make that assessment.

Am I somehow perpetuating a system that cradles me and those who look like me? I don't think so - but it's a rare bigot who stands up and says, "Hell yeah, I discriminate!"

Do I still trade in the language of microaggressions? I try not to. But I'm certain that, even to this day, I probably do at times.

I don't have any easy answers. I doubt that there are any easy answers. But I'm trying to listen. I'm trying to think about how I can cease being part of "the problem".

Posted on by:

bytebodger profile

Adam Nathaniel Davis

@bytebodger

React acolyte, jack-of-all-(programming)trades, full-stack developer

Discussion

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I'm reminded of JFK's "affirmative action" Executive Order, where he literally phrases it as, "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated [fairly] during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." As people posing as scientists and engineers (we're generally neither, but that's what it says on our degrees and business cards and we should try to live up to that...), we actually know the form that action needs to take---measurement, analysis, and feedback, things we do every day for debugging and optimization---but usually fail to do so out of some weird metaphysical insistence that beliefs and their effects can't be quantified.

At my last job, they made a big show of overhauling the pipeline system, with a stated intent of making the office more inclusive. Instead, the overhauled system used the same people to recruit and interview from the same universities, but put more money into it to get many more white kids. A lot of those kids were great, don't get me wrong, but you don't change who you're hiring without changing your inputs and/or who conducts the interviews.

They thought I was joking, when I suggested reaching out to high schools in the less-wealthy school districts. The other idea they didn't think was serious was to skip interviews altogether, but pay them for a few hours of remote work to fix bugs on an ongoing internal project, so that we could judge their ability and demeanor (via ticket comments, commit messages, and project chat) without risking someone being turned off by their appearance, voice, or potentially even name.

I realize that none of that looks like solutions, beyond "measure and apply feedback," but maybe something in there will spur an improved idea from someone smarter who has the authority to make an impact. Because I agree, this needed to be fixed decades ago...

 

Are we defining a symptom of a bigger/different problem here?

Most developers and hiring manager i've meet do not look at color/gender when hiring, and when i have seen it, it was usually in the interest of getting more' diversity.

Maybe i am missing part of the picture, but the way i see it, could it be a supply problem?

I mean developers are a hot commodity these days, passing someone up because of aesthetics's is just bad business.

 

It absolutely can be a supply problem, but that's addressed in the post, isn't it?

 

The fact we're calling attention to colors of skin is really the ultimate issue we're facing. This post is not helping. We should be discussing individuals and their capabilities and not attributes of people.
I don't care you're yellow, gray, purple etc. I care about individuals and what they do.

End the group think and end racism, thanks

 

End the group think and end racism, thanks

Please direct your comments to those people who are actively racist (yes - they do exist); rather than those who are pointing out the fallacy of your argument.

We should be discussing individuals and their capabilities and not attributes of people.

Consider the possibility that societal influences will affect the characteristics (and capabilities) of an individual. Then consider that societal influences are (in many countries) stacked largely in favour of their white population.

 

Any time someone pulls out the "I don't see color" or the "I don't care if someone is black, white, or purple" cliches, it's a clear sign that you're wasting your breath if you try to engage with them. In their candy-coated universe, the magical power of their own enlightenment is enough to make any talk of racism absurd.

I know; but sometimes I think it's worth a try...
TBH I'm finding it pretty depressing seeing some of the responses you're getting; so think I'll be stepping away from the toxic responses for now.

But thanks for the article. I thought it was very well put.

 

the irony is that you and yours that believe in this identity politics are actively using discrimination on a daily basis based on people's attributes such as color. This will never end because in your eyes this is what is the make up of groups. It's a never ending cycle to "fix" issues.

The issues stem from societal problems such as education, safety and jobs. The issue is not about a color on someone's skin. You want to fix racism, you want to fix "inequality", fix societal issues like this.

There's no quick fix that your identity politics seems to think to provide, it will only make thinks worse and the sooner people realize this the better off we'll all be.

Judging people by its cover has never been a good idea, why start now

Judging people by its cover has never been a good idea, why start now

As I already said: direct your facile and redundant argument to the racists who already do judge and group people by their colour. This isn't a chicken or egg argument. "Identity politics" wouldn't need to exist if racism didn't exist. End of story.

However I don't disagree that addressing societal inequality across the board is a sensible way forward. I just don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging that these issues dis-proportionally affect Black people. Nor do I think it wrong to try and make reparations for past injustices that continue to have an impact to this day.

they're hardly redundant, it's the irony that exactly your line of thinking is promoting the segregation of people by their attributes. We've seen in the past what that can result in, and it's not pretty.
This ideology is oppressing freedom of speech, curbing speech, demanding that my skin color is relevant and other attributes like my sex. It's a disturbing ideology that I can never agree with.
Solving issues does not begin with labelling people, as said history is full of answers this is clearly the wrong road to travel.

Sadly your reply is still lingering in my notifications panel; so I figured I might as well send you a response.

You are an utter hypocrite and the complete embodiment of 'white privilege'. Whilst you complain about threats to your freedom of speech, people are suffering far worse consequences (including death) because of the colour of their skin. You say identity politics is a "disturbing ideology" and I agree it has that potential; because what is racism if not the most negative form of identity politics? Yet you have failed to acknowledge that and instead focus your negativity on a positive movement that is simply asking for equality. You come across as either a racist arguing to protect your privileged position; or at best a deluded idealist totally detached from the realities of everyday life. Sadly the former seems far more likely.

Of course you apply the racist card again, which again proves my point. You think everyone discriminates and you'll make it a point to separate people based on the color of their skin ("white privilege") or whatever else suits your purpose, because its ingrained in your thinking and perception of the world.
You believe you fight against racism, but you apply discrimination to suit whatever agenda you have. How's that for hypocrisy.

Nonsense. White people have established for themselves a very comfortable position in the world - largely based on a history of exploiting people of colour - and they use the power that comes with that privileged position to exclude access to others. I'm not discriminating against white people by making that point (I am also white European by the way); I'm simply acknowledging a historical fact: you and I have both benefited from the wrongs our ancestors committed and the wrongs our governments continue to commit to this day.

The naive idea that in time things will sort themselves out if we educate people etc. is ridiculous. Did the Suffragettes sit idly by and leave it to the men in power to realise they were at fault and fix the system? Did Black South Africans accept their lot and wait for some form of sanity to return to their country? No. They protested; and in doing so - following your twisted logic - 'discriminated' against those who were oppressing them; and rightly so.

Black Americans have been fighting for equality from the time our ancestors dragged them to that country as slaves. The idea that as whites we have nothing to answer for is absurd; and playing the discrimination card in defence of our position is utter hypocrisy.

I expected you would react this way, and you would use the other nonsense argument that this group is responsible for the fate of another group. History is a bit more complicated than that, read a book.

What this is really about is personal responsibility and this thinking of yours takes that away and says the "white man" is evil and needs to be punished. It's absurd in every way.

But you go ahead and punish yourself, I'm not participating in this ridiculous notion.

the other nonsense argument that this group is responsible for the fate of another group

How is it nonsense to acknowledge what white Europeans have done in the past? Of course history is complicated; but that's precisely the point: events from hundreds - even thousands - of years ago still have repercussions today: they influence our customs; behaviour and language. But you seem to be arguing that it's wrong to suggest that we have benefited as a result of actions in the past that any reasonable person today would find morally repugnant?

The point on personal responsibility is totally lost on me. Who said anything about punishment; or white men being evil? No-one is trying to find you personally responsible for the actions of your long-dead countrymen; and I'm certainly not punishing myself. I'm simply acknowledging that I have (indirectly) benefited from my country's dark history and that I am willing to take some action to redress the imbalance that has caused.

...I'm not participating in this ridiculous notion.

Of course not; because it serves you very well to believe you got where you are through merit alone and that your county's history has no bearing on that; which brings us right back to you being the embodiment of white privilege. Congratulations. Enjoy your privileged life...

Mate, read a book. Every skin color under the sun have committed injustices against every other skin color. it is irrelevant, but only relevant in your religion of identity politics.

I can't begin to change your mind because you follow a religious belief that is absurd, good luck.

Another thing, you my find certain groups prosper because of a set of principles they have operated from have resulted in better societies. Captalism and the free markets have created more wealth and prosperity than any other system and for good reason. That you choose to blame the "white man" for its prospertiy only because of exploitation shows how vile your religion is and takes away all the positivity that has been created in western society.

As said, good luck.

 

Back to square one, if we don't invest in kids' exposure to tech, they'll never have a chance to compete on quote-unquote ability.

It's laughable to see people claim that they don't see color.

 

Goes to show how indoctrinated your thinking is, I see people have a color but I don't care about it.
You want to do something to stop the segregation based on attributes? Change your behavior and change your attitude to view people for who they are.
Your way of identity politics is the road to failure, it is with good intention perhaps, but it won't have the effect you desire.

But it's also unrealistic to claim we aren't subject to cultural biases.

We're all subjected to all kinds of biases, but applying discrimination on a daily basis because you need to "fix" a problem has never worked.

As said in my other reply, fix society by tackling its root issues of education, jobs, and safety. It's a long road, but discrimination on people's attributes has never worked.

This is a very charged topic, so I don't expect to change anyone's opinion. Thanks for engaging.

And yeah, to your point, I think there's a lot of evidence for tackling the economics of the problem in order to make some positive changes.

 

"I'm a part of the problem. I'm a white, Anglo-Saxon, (raised) Protestant, straight, male."

Indeed. You are a part of the problem.

It seems that this "labelling" mentality, or the need to fit every human being into the right box (social class), runs very deep in your society.

I am not implying that your country is unique in that aspect.

It's just that your reasoning seems affected (and biased) by these poisonous social constructs which, in my opinion, are at the root of the problem.

These negative social constructs, which are embedded into your culture and formalised through the use of various labels in the english (american) language, are intrinsically racist, homophobic, xenophobic etc.

To create a more "pure" line of argumentation, which would results in more valid abstractions, relevant on a global scale (a prerequisite necessary to arrive at any universal truth), one would need to "elevate" himself above these culture specific labels, mind numbing social constructs and specific circumstances.

The real questions what we need to ask are why racism exists in the first place?

Or, to make the problem even wider and more universal, why is there a consistent appearance of vertical social hierarchies in all historical societies and cultures?

Is this kind of social stratification an unavoidable side effect caused by a combination of factors like;

  • homo sapiens living in a large communities, that span millions and billions of different people (handling the coordination and cooperation of such large communities requires complex systems of ideas / social constructs that act as emulgators which hold the entire structure together; culture, art, music, language, laws, religion etc...)
  • inescapable deficits of human nature like biases, lower drives, animal insticts, intuition
  • the need to control limited resources amongst an ever increasing population within a society (more control equals more power)
  • the "selfish gene" effect which states that every human being acts with an intent to optimise the survival chances of itself and it's offsprings..
  • etc..

There has always been vertical social division, looking on a time and space scale throughout history. And there have always existed the privileged casts in contrast to the unprivileged masses. But, the manifestation of this same fundamental principle was different and unique to every culture .

For example the Indians have the caste system, the Europeans had the aristocrats and the nobles on one side and the unprivileged feudal casts on the other side. Nazy Germany had the concept of an aryan race as the supreme world wide cast, and heavily discriminated against jews, gipsies, people of different colour etc. Etc. I won't go into more examples because they are so numerous we could fill thousands of pages.

The only globally universal social vertical stratification I can think of is misogyny (discr. against women).

So this is not a uniquely american problem.

The BLM movement , and the larger socio-economic differences between "straight white males" and "gay black women", on the other hand, are just a latest in the line, and very american manifestations of the vertical stratification problem that all large societies and civilzations face.

This is not a problem that can be solved by renaming the master branch to main branch on github (Microsoft really plans to do this because of all this BLM "madness"), or by putting up BLM or LGBT+ banners on various websites. This is just virtue signalling by individuals and corporations, and it has no effect in the real world.

The real change comes from educating the minds of children, i.e. investing heavily in the reform of the education system. Pouring a lot of cash into that system to improve the education of all citizens, regardless of a specific label.

And this type of change comes slowly.

For now the best course of action is to put band-aids across different sectors, like defunding your undereducated and overly violent police force. Lowering the prices of admissions to colleges throughout the country, for every citizen. Passing more laws that will bridge the social and economic gap between every US citizen.

But, if I got the right impression of your political system, every social measure which aims to improve the lives of all US citizens equally, like free healthcare (which is mostly privatized in the US and as a result simple procedures cost thousands of dollars), or free education, is met with sword and fire in you congress and declared "socialist" or "comunist".

And people actually believe these pro-capitalist politicians, because the average american is so poorly educated and brainwashed that they don't understand how fundamentally flawed these arguments are. This line of argumentation dates from the end of the 2nd world war, and has been further intensified throughout the cold war. The primary reason for its inception and wider cultural adoption, seems to stem from an irrational fear from the "commie" threat.

The results of living in such a hyper capitalistic state is that the personal debt of the average american citizens is ever increasing. This leads to more anxiety and stress, and ultimately a more unhealthy society. The divisions in you society seem to also be growing because of the increasing gap between your super rich 0.01% and the rest of the population. This could be slowed down and mended by introducing progressive taxing of the rich and super rich, but this brings us back to the "commie threat" and/or socialism/comunist argumentation (straw man in essence).

A good example of a successful state with a very strong, state run, social system (public healthcare, education, pro demographic laws etc.) is Sweden. The only "downside" to their model is that they have little bit higher personal tax. But even after the higher tax is deducted from the gross salary, the average net salary is so high that the majority of people can afford a very comfortable life and don't have to worry about old age, and hospital bills.

So actually there is a lot to consider...

On the bright side, the overall improvements and advancements of the human civilisation in the 20th century have created an unprecedented opportunity to address these issues with much more success.

The increased wealth, improved technology, the advancement of science and medicine, the light speed exchange of information on a global scale etc. are all giving us a fighting opportunity to stop this vicious cycle of oppression against specifically labeled parts of our societies, present from ancient times.

Sorry for the bad english and the numerous gramatical and syntactical errors. English is not my primary language, and I don't have the time to fix all of this.

 

Came here to see what all the fuss was about, but I gotta day my experience mirrors yours. 1 black guy and it was in the Bay Area.

I think it has to do something with the song “white and nerdy” by Weird Al. All I ever aspired to be was a nerd like my dad. If you’re black you’re more likely to aspire to be, what, should I even speculate? An athlete, a musician?

I’d love to know why it isn’t pursued more often, because from what I can see black programmers get fast tracked.

Best thing I could do is mentor black kids with programming.

 

I'm unhappy to confirm that this problem is in no way limited to the US; and that it can be applied to pretty much every field of work that might earn you a good wage. I'm from the UK and from the time I was at Uni in the 90s to the present day I've seen the same pattern here.

There's little that can be done to address this issue at the point of recruitment since by then it's already far too late. Whites have already rigged the system so that access to good education is limited (in the UK property/rent prices are directly correlated to the quality of the local primary schools). Those Black kids who manage to get the grades to go on to Uni then have to meet the prohibitive costs involved. That might mean working part time; which means less time/energy to study. And the list goes on...

Those that make it through all the barriers that are put in front of them are then held up as proof that "meritocracy works". What utter BS. You can guarantee that any Black person (and any woman for that matter) who has 'made it' - has had to work far harder than their white/male colleagues to get where they are.

What can we do? Like so many of these problems (e.g. the climate) as an individual I feel rather helpless. I do what I can: I try and educate myself and others around me and so on; but I'm sure there's more that I could be doing.

 

Unfortunately NOMIS doesn't offer up data for employment by occupation of black people specifically, they only go down to ethnic minority for that data in particular. For the ethnic minority group the only occupation group in which there is under representation is skilled trade occupations. For all others the representation is either about right or higher than the population. This addresses the point about well paid jobs.

Black people are over represented in University education, compared to the population.

As you also seemed to cut it down the sex line. Women are massively over represented in Universities. Additionally they consistently do better than the men in terms of achievement.

However in relation to this industry in particular, the data does show that black people are underrepresented in scientific and technical activities with only 2.2% of all the employees being black people against the 3.4% or so of the population.

In the UK there are a myriad of grants available for university and maintenance fees, including the standard means tested ones.

 

I just think we have to be careful about statistics. I hope current trends mean that we are on the way to a change.

Women are massively over-represented in universities in the UK in 2020 and increasingly are prepared to take up STEM subjects, but in the past, this was a different picture. Hence the number of women with higher experience levels is more limited.

I have had no women apply for a job as a developer in the last 6 months. In my career, I've had < 10% of my developers be female, those I have hired have performed at a good level and I think gender diversity is very beneficial to team structure. The problem here is that we aren't going to close the gender pay gap unless we can get experienced team members that can earn the higher salaries.

Having run and participated in development teams around the world I can say that in the US, Vietnam, and Singapore our teams were more equal in terms of ethnicity but never in terms of gender.

Yes, we have to be very careful with statistics. But we still have to use them. We can't just keep using "our" experience. Often they are the best light we have.

Women have had a greater representation in universities than men (in the UK) since 1992. And it has only increased since then to what we have now.

I agree, from my personal experience I see very few women applying. I also agree, the ones I have worked with, and the few that were in my cohort at university are incredibly good. Diversity in a team is always going to be a good thing.

I don't think the lack of women in technology is a problem though. Not only is the student cohort in higher education dominated by women, but the teaching profession is also overwhelmingly dominated by women.

As such I find it hard to believe that there is some sort of pressure pushing women away from STEM, in fact in my personal experience from school it is quite the opposite.

The pool for female candidates is so low because few women are going on to study the degrees or work in the fields that lead to a job as a developer. I think that is happening due to the slight difference in interests between men and women.

I think your point about the pay gap is important though. Here you are coming about it in the right way in relation to experience. The "pay gap" that is normally given takes no account of the jobs that men and women are doing or experience grades. The only thing I think is important about it is in relation to the experience. I imagine children can be a major factor in this, and we need a good way of dealing with it which I don't think we have.

I hear you, here's my additional clarification. I have women in technology, but that's the leader of our implementation team, 2 out of 3 of our UX designers, all but one of our manual QA team, and my HR business partner. These people are really great, but it's a bit like all (portrayed) nurses in the 1960s being women, isn't it? Are you going to think "that's odd" when you're looking back in 20 years? I know I do when I think about the stereotypes from my early career. So IDK, but I rather hope so. I rather hope we won't be able to guess a tech person's function based on their gender.

It's my recollection from the early 90s that STEM was not a common choice for women and that the desire to change that was nascent. I studied in the 80s, there were certainly brilliant female mathematicians then too, but geekiness was frowned upon and decidedly less cool than it is today.

You are right on families etc, it takes a massive social change over many years to fix.

Look around the rest of my business though and there are women leaders all over the place. Heading operations, heading sales, managing directors, head of legal, etc. My company should be proud it has so many female leaders, but we are still lacking balance universally and hence still have a gender pay gap. I think your point is that people may choose these roles and that families are an interruption to a woman's career path. I hear that, and everyone should have a choice about the importance of career and family, but I just think we have to account for this too - better maternity pay that encourages work/life balance, etc. Other things I haven't figured out for sure.

I see what you mean. And that is definitely the case where I work too. If you scope out to wider roles in the company, there are many more women.

But I find it interesting how HR, leaders, UX and nursing are all mentioned in the same paragraph. I also think it would be great if we couldn't take a guess at somebodies job roll, and be correct a good percentage of the time. But I also want people to be completely free in what they chose to do, and partake in what interests them. The thing I find interesting is that it seems all of the mentioned roles would align to the greater interest in people (as opposed to things) that we see in women.

Social change will definitely be needed. I do worry about how much of it is generated by biological factors though. I think rather importantly though we need some economic change. We don't have a good way of placing value on the work involved around children.

Yes, my point is that choices between men and women will be different, and we need a better way of dealing with childbearing/care. I suppose I just think it is important we really identify:

  1. Is there actually a problem.
  2. What is the real root cause? We can't fix it with incorrect or bad solutions that come from a an oversimplified or surface view which I think too often is the case.

I suppose I just think it is important we really identify:

  1. Is there actually a problem.

Why do "we" need to identify this? Is it not enough to listen to the people who are telling us there is a problem? Or do their voices not matter because "we" are the arbiters of truth?

 

Just to be clear, when I point out the disparity between my city's black population (30%) and my personal experience with black developers here (<1%), I'm not trying to harp on any minute differences in percentages. If the city had a 30% black population and 28% of the developers were black, I don't believe there'd really be much of a story. There's no reason why every career field must (or even, should) perfectly match the demographics of the surrounding area.

And, if economic opportunities for blacks in America in general were on par with those of whites, then I also wouldn't care much about the disparity. Because, if everything was generally "equal" - in terms of overall opportunity - then it wouldn't much matter if blacks were underrepresented in one particular field. Such data anomalies can happen without necessarily being driven by systemic racism.

But when the overall landscape for black Americans is tilted against them, and the landscape in this particular career field is so severely tilted against them - it gets my attention. And it weighs on my mind.

Just to be clear. I was mainly just trying to address the comments about the situation in the UK.

When people talk about this in the UK, too often they don't ground what they say in reality, and just make claims.

When it comes to the UK, I wasn't even particularly targeting "developer" as a role. I point out that there is indeed a small underrepresentation in scientific and technological fields.

I was simply trying to address the claims above which, as far as I can tell, are pretty inaccurate and not grounded in reality.

I don't know any of the actual numbers for the representation in America, as I don't live there. I would agree that it seems from what I know there is an economic disparity in America between black Americans and other ethnic demographics.

But it seems to me you hit the nail on the head when you say "Such data anomalies can happen without necessarily being driven by systemic racism". I think there are good indicators of why there is this disparity in America, and if systemic racism is one of them, I think it would represent a very small part.

 

Matthew - you appear to be pulling a few carefully selected statistics out of the bag to imply there isn't a problem with racism in the UK. I really do hope things are improving; but from my perspective the UK has a long way to go. For one thing representation within an industry by no means confirms equality of opportunity. You would also need to demonstrate that all those black people (and women) in 'good jobs' are getting equal pay and have equal opportunity to advance to higher grades.

So as an example of the fallacy you're pushing - and since you mention the university sector - despite the fact women undergraduates are over-represented and "consistently do better than the men in terms of achievement":

Although equal pay legislation has been in place for over 40 years, the gender pay gap in Britain remains the highest in the European Union.

ucu.org.uk/genderpay

Check out HESA for detailed stats on higher education. They don't casually lump "ethnic minorities" together so you can see that - despite being "over represented" in the undergraduate body - Blacks are under-represented in the academic body and especially in senior grades.

It's easy to cherry-pick statistics to argue that things are all fine; but to make a proper assessment you have to look across the board. What about those statistics you don't want to be included in? If we're to accept your argument then we would find that the prison population is also properly representative of the overall demographic; that application of 'stop and search' is not unfairly targeted against people of a specific race; life expectancy is equal and on and on... When you can demonstrate that there's no significant statistical deviation based on race across the board I'll accept your argument (to a point); but the UK is most definitely a long way from achieving this.

  1. You mention carefully selected statistics to make a point and then affirm a point with statistics from university staff only. As opposed to the statistics that cover job roles. There will always be variances within the individual industries, and at the low scale numbers we are talking about, the difference isn't actually that great. But hey, maybe your right, maybe specifically the higher education sector has a racism problem? Although I doubt it with the ideological leaning in the education sector.

  2. I agree it would be nice to know if ethnic minorities, once in the job, have equal pay and opportunities for advancement. As per the office for national statistics once education and occupation are taken into account, the pay gap between ethnic minorities and white British narrows. If this is a problem it is the Bangladeshi ethnic group we need to look at!

  3. Have we built a system that is only systematically racist towards black people and no other ethnic group that is not white British or white other? Because the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are doing much better in terms of earnings than the white British group. Additionally to your point, as per your link to the higher education staff statistics, ethnic minorities are overrepresented.

  4. As I have pointed out in another reply and in relation to your comment about bad statistics. The pay gap is the worst. It doesn't take role/sector, experience or part-time/fulltime into account what so ever. I think there are issues that affect women in the workplace, that we need to find some good economic way of dealing with. These issues aren't related to sexism. As pointed out in the other comment, women make different choices to men, at the more extreme pay variances, when it comes to jobs.

  5. The prison population is representative of the right demographic. Using the overall population demographic isn't correct, as the prison population isn't created by census, is it? The prison population is generated from the criminal population.

  6. "Stop and search" is definitely disproportionately used. But the use of this as a sign of systemic racism seems off. It doesn't seem to account for why the police might carry out a "stop and search", referring back to the criminal demographics. Now, I fully accept that there may be some sort of bias built into this. Are there more criminals reported because of the higher "stop and search"? Or is there a higher "stop and search" because of the increased criminal population? A question I think should definitely be looked into. However, because of this complete uncertainty, it cannot be used to support the idea of systemic racism. And I would choose to air on the side of the large majority of the police forces in the UK not being racist myself.

  7. There are a number of reasons why the life expectancy between population are lower. Between the black ethnic group and the white, there are some factors to it that are genetic. Not exactly a systemic racism problem. What about the significantly higher life expectancies for Indian, Pakistani and Chinese ethnic groups in the UK? I agree, there definitely could be some economic factors behind this. I, however, don't think they are tied to systemic racism.

  8. I would want any systemic form of racism or sexism to identified and removed, as it isn't good for anybody! There are certainly instances of racism and sexism on all fronts. For it to be systemic it would have to affect the group as a whole.

  9. I want to take the entire range of data into consideration to get the whole picture. Hence my point that we can't rely on a vocal section of people giving their experiences or views. Please give me something in terms of data that shows systemic racism/sexism that isn't calculated blindly or considered without relevant context so that I can change my model and start trying to work against it in whatever way I can.

  10. Finally, it is you making the rather strong claim about systemic racism causing significant inequality between groups within the UK that has been engineered and perpetrated by white people. The burden should be on you to give the evidence that this is the case. I just presented some figures that tried to capture the pertinent data categories based on the claims made.

1... But hey, maybe your right, maybe specifically the higher education sector has a racism problem? Although I doubt it with the ideological leaning in the education sector.

Strange. You say statistics are important. The statistics demonstrate that there is inequality in the HE sector; but you casually brush that aside based on a personal preconception.

2... If this is a problem it is the Bangladeshi ethnic group we need to look at!

"If this is a problem"? So living in a society that unfairly distributes wealth based on the colour of your skin isn't a problem?

4... These issues aren't related to sexism.

The experiences of female colleagues (I worked in the HE sector) and friends tells me otherwise. The experiences publicly reported by many women working in HE tell me otherwise. I have seen nothing to suggest it is different in other work sectors.

And let's be clear: statistics demonstrating inequality are just a symptom of a more significant problem. You can try and argue away the pay gap based on 'reasonable' factors; but you can't argue away the sexism (and on-topic racism) people experience on a daily basis.

5... The prison population is representative of the right demographic. Using the overall population demographic isn't correct, as the prison population isn't created by census, is it? The prison population is generated from the criminal population.

So by implication you're saying that Black people are over-represented in the criminal population? I'm curious to know why you think that might be the case.

  1. Statistics are important. I already addressed it. At the very low percentages we are talking about, the difference in the number of black people within (specifically academic) HE roles is not very significant. The numbers for job roles as a whole don't show a lack of representation. Picking out one very small specific sector (not even HE, specifically academic roles within HE) is a silly thing to do to try and prove the point. Especially considering the comparative sample size for that subsection is small. What if I use only the nursing sector to tell you that there is systemic sexism against men?

  2. You clearly didn't look at the data or it's analysis. Wealth is not distributed based on the colour of your skin. When factors that would affect income like education and occupation are taken into account there isn't a significant difference. And you seem to perpetuate this idea that this is a systemically racist society engineering and run by white people, for the benefit of white people. So what about the Chinese and Indians?

  3. We are specifically talking about systemic racism/sexism. As I have pointed out, the statistics don't demonstrate any inequality. The pay gap you are talking about is a ridiculous statistic. When factors that will affect pay that isn't sex are factored out, there is no significant difference. You think ALL economists wouldn't be creating a much bigger issue about this if it was legitimate and half the population where getting paid less. You seem to be using the existence of people who are sexist or racist as an argument for systemic racism/sexism.

  4. Yes, black people are overrepresented in the criminal population. When you ask why do I think that might be the case, do you mean why I think they are overrepresented, or what I think the reasons for it might be? They are overrepresented across all stages of the criminal justice system from arrest to prison populations. There could be a myriad of reasons for that, but fatherlessness is one.

All of these issues become massively more likely if you grow up in a family without a father across the ethnicities. Despite the apparent systemic racism driven by white people, the Chinese demographic are doing exceedingly well, they also have the lowest single-parent rate.

Still, you made a strong claim about systemic racism and sexism in the UK and your proof is a useless pay statistic and your personal experiences.

This is getting very dull. TBH what I don't understand is: what do people like you have to lose by accepting that there is a problem? Throughout my adult life I have seen evidence of racism and sexism in UK society. I could do a straw poll of my friends and colleagues distributed around the country and I suspect I'd get very similar responses. There have been official reports acknowledging that there is a problem. The people directly affected by racism and sexism have been vocal about it. There are people on the streets protesting about it... And here you are trying to say there isn't a problem. Why?

Needless to say; there are plenty of people writing about this topic who are better informed - and better able to make cogent arguments - than me. Consider the possibility that a problem exists and educate yourself.

Over and out.

 

Well, one thing we can do is reinstate grants for university fees. Well, we can't, but we can push for governments who understand it's a good idea.

 

What worked for us in the UK (specifically South Wales, which is very "white") was have a black recruiter internally. This guy was a rock star at recruiting anyone, one of the best recruiters I've ever worked with, and yep, he attracted the best black talent. Sadly his family life moved him away and we haven't replaced him. The last few weeks have me thinking about just how the latest few hires have all gone back to being white. I need a diverse team not only for social justice but also for the benefit of the other team members and the products we build.

I think having a black recruiter made us feel like a safe place to apply even though our tech team is only around 50 people.

To agree with @ben 's point there is a massive social disparity and only recently a growing feeling that technology is a suitable and possible career for BAME communities. This reduces an already small market to near non-existence in the areas we recruit.

 

Trigger warning: (well-meaning non-hostile) criticism incoming. I have some background in philosophy (just a few years academically, more of personal interest) and countless of years participating in skeptics forums. This is to say, I am by nature exploratory thinker and am more suspicious of silent agreement than vocal disagreement.

A brief of issues relevant to this topic I fundamentally disagree with

  • speaking of US race relations as if they carry over to other countries.
  • ascribing collective responsibility (group guilt, group praise) instead of personal one. Eg ascribing collective guilt to groups instead of persons or policies actually responsible (or persons responsible for those policies). This should be painfully obvious from 9/11- muslims as a religious group should not and can not take responsibility for the tragedy carried out by extremists. Yet, here we are with race relations with the exact same logic.
  • disparity means discrimination
  • forcing quotas in professions to achieve some preplanned number. 99% of times, whatever you're trying to fixed ain't fixed by that. Sometimes it doesn't even need fixing.

Specifically about your points:

From your own post, this (at least as far as you mention specific reasons for the disparity) boils down to economic welfare and security, which grants earlier access to trade tools. This is by definition not race related, it may just happen to be that one race is economically worse off in one particular country while it might be the opposite in another. Maybe the post should be then titled the economic disparity of black Americans? Because this has zero to do with coding as a trade, this is not unique to coding.

Your post however seems to insinuate global coding community or coding as a profession is somehow at fault - at least insofar as they should actively seek a solution and maybe feel bad for the distribution of people in their profession based on skin color. In addition, as you say, where you come from is based on a anecdotal, limited experience. By limited experience I mean statistically speaking - you can never personally experience enough to grasp the state of global coding community as a whole. That needs other methodologies: polls, surveys etc. A lot of us are silent, because we prefer to not elevate certain political issues over others. Each of us may experience different turmoil and persecution in our respective countries.

On top of that, your experience is region-specific, that is to say, purely Americacentric. I assure you, there are plenty of poor white Estonians that did not have the same resources as I did to get into computers and eventually coding. We have Russian Estonians, who might have linguistic disadvantage in getting a job. Again, this stuff is very country specific.

the overall ideal of the "self-made man"

This characterization may be more or less correct, though I doubt many devs think they have acquired much (or all) the knowledge without any help from teachers, peers etc; or that their employment is purely because of their skill and not at least partly because of networking, social circle and pure luck.

But the real point is that the following "therefore" is such a non-sequitor, that this appears to be a strawman of your average dev's worldview, and indeed a rather myopic one.

Things not eliminating the possibility of racial discrimination somewhere in the hiring process:

  • Universal access to resources.
  • Having learned all coding yourself
  • Blind pre-screening
  • Being completely self-sufficient with superior skills and whatnot

I speculate, if this is based on any real world anecdotal conversations, they may be expecting you to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate actual discrimination in the HR. Perhaps your average dev is not really interested when the discussion evolves into the issues of race based economic disparity and how to solve it. To be fair, that is quite far from issues of coding.

Most of the devs I know don't think of this "problem" as being any kind of problem at all.

Let's give them some benefit of doubt. Maybe at least some of them have thought about it more thoroughly:

The problem

First, we need to identify the problem. The problem you have identified is disparity in numerical representation of a social group in a given trade. You need to explain why this is a problem to being with, as this is not actually apparent: I can give you plenty of examples of jobs where massive numerical disparity relating to social groups exists and society is fine with it. The thing is, disparity in and of itself does not necessitate discrimination.

The problem is not whiteness of coding. I'm sorry, but this is the definition of race-baiting. People's color of skin should never be the problem! .

The problem ought to be racial discrimination. So, we need to identify first where it happens, and then how it happens. Numerical disparity doesn't necessarily mean there's any discrimination going on within your company, or even within or profession.

 

100% this!

Thanks for taking the time to elaborate 👍

 

speaking of US race relations as if they carry over to other countries

Adam specifically addressed this early on in his post.

forcing quotas in professions to achieve some preplanned number. 99% of times, whatever you're trying to fixed ain't fixed by that. Sometimes it doesn't even need fixing.

You're right, of course, but what I think's being discussed is the disparity between the ratio of groups in the population and the ratio of groups in tech (specifically programming). That's a big difference, and while it's not absolute, it's a red flag that something does need to be fixed - or at least scrutinised.

 

Such a great response. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

 

It means jack shit for your field how big the slice of black people is o the total population of your city. What means something is how many percent of the people graduating are black. THAT is a number you can compare to an extent. Anything beyond this is just simply not a problem or fault of your or your field.

Hiring people just because they're black or female is idiotic. No one profits from that.