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David Kebler
David Kebler

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Doing something about the Unbearable Whiteness of Coding

This post is in response to the post "The Unbearable Whiteness of Coding"

The text below is my comment to that post. I suggest you read that post first. Please leave a comment and follow me (& request follow) if you feel a need to take some action and want to join in with me.

Besides being a coder I've been a college Math instructor. Let me tell you a story. I had lots of foreign students. One was Chinese. He as not a very good student. Unfocused and maybe not much talent. While I was trying help him lift himself up he says, "You know not all Chinese are good at Math". Of course that's true, but take a minute to think about how that meme that Chinese are good at math came to be? It's cultural (i.e. systemic). Give a child the resources and immerse them in a culture where Math is promoted/revered and what happens? I've also been a public school teacher including a stint at the local juvie. I've seen first hand the affect of a poor (or unsupportive) community/school/family on students. Math was the dreaded class. When I'd meet people they would ask me what I do and I'd jokingly reply, "If you put down any sharp objects I'll tell you". That's America's meme when it comes to Math. Math sucks. When it comes to raw math aptitude are Americans (including Blacks and women) deficient. Of course not.

So you going to change that meme overnight? Doubt it. You might be able to apply some immediate band-aides that might result in a more representative staff and well one should as those folks end up being role models that will help fix the systemic problem.

What might we do, those of us who subscribe to DEV and took the time to read this article? As was mentioned in another comment we aren't going to make everyone a coder but what about those people who maybe show some aptitude but don't have the resources and encouragement they need? I think us here can begin to fix that in a realistic, doable, actionable way.

So if you tacitly agree with my observations/comments and like me you want to take some action then I guess all we need is a place to discuss. Not sure if using DEV and this post will work for this purpose so alternatively I could easily spin up a discourse site.

Here are some initial questions that could jump-start such a discussion

  • How to identify those who need resources and encouragement
  • How small to start (just find one person initially?)
  • How to obtain/(pay for) and distribute the needed resources (computers, network connections, iot stuff, etc)
  • How to connect to, support and mentor the individual(s).
  • How to encourage those being mentored to "pay if forward".

Please leave a comment and follow me (& request follow) if you feel a need to take some action and want to join in with me.

Top comments (4)

bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis

Excellent, insightful feedback! And, oh yeah, I especially love it cuz it kinda parallels what I've been pondering/planning in my own mind above-and-beyond anything that was mentioned in the article.

You see, I really wanted to limit the piece to being my perception of a problem. And as you know, it's a big problem and the article was already long. So I didn't want to jump into, "And here's my 42-point plan on how to address this problem."

But I have been thinking about how to do something tangible, rather than just complaining. My thoughts are very much inline with what you've mentioned.

Specifically, I'd like to start a mentoring / coding class that will try to introduce black youth to the idea that coding is "a thing", it's absolutely within their reach (if they're so inclined), and they can even do a lot to teach themselves into the career field, if they're dedicated enough.

Obviously, I wouldn't say, "This is a class for BLACK kids." (All kindsa problems that could stem from that.) But you don't even have to be that explicit. You can offer the classes at certain schools or in certain parts of town. And that would pretty much guarantee that you'd be reaching your target audience.

I also feel strongly about the idea of having real, tangible, in-person classes. As a self-taught coder, it's very tempting for me to say, "Well... all the resources are right there on the web. So there's nothing for me to do. If black folk wanna learn to code, they just go out, on their own, and do it!"

But I don't think the racial divide here has soooo much to do with tangible resources. Nowadays, there are many (relatively) poor kids who have access to a computer and the internet. But I strongly believe that the overwhelming "whiteness" of dev shops is fostered by the fact that many inner-city kids just don't think of coding as an option. They don't even consider it as a potential career field.

I think that someone (or some group) needs to be more proactive about reaching out to all races and income groups and making sure they realize that there's this highly-lucrative field that's waiting for them if they desire. The field has low barriers to entry. They can literally learn at home. But I think that too many people in bad situations don't even realize that these opportunities exist.

dkebler profile image
David Kebler

I'd say the first point of discussion is

"How to identify those who need resources and encouragement."

From my educator experience just finding students with the aptitude isn't enough. There are many shiny technology fruit out there now and coding takes a builder/maker vs a user motivation

I had a friend's son who seemed a good candidate and had some interest and so I helped get him set up a Linux dev machine to get his feet wet with sysops and basic coding. It turns out what he wanted to be was a professional gamer. I think a lot of interest in technology turns out to be a "super user" interest and not a "maker/coder" interest.

So one has to have an aptitude and they have to have a mind-set as well. They'll need the right temperament too.

When I was young <22 there were few games and little productivity software and no internet and real-time hardware was almost all analog (ha). If you wanted a computer to do something you had to code it yourself with maybe only a reference book to help. So I'm at a disadvantage identifying prospective coders in that regard. My nephew who is a late 30s software engineer would probably have better insight how to identify a bona fide candidate. I'm thinking finding those interested in IOT (real time) stuff (e.g. robotics) might be one way as that interest still pretty much demands learning to code.

olgertelfe profile image
olgertelfe • Edited

Problems with racism can be seen everywhere in every area. But it seems to me that when people are fighting for their rights, racism has nothing to do with it. Because regardless of skin color you just want to defend your rights. And all this for one simple reason - because we are all human. And one blood flows in us, we can speak the same language and understand each other. So where is the place for racism?

dkebler profile image
David Kebler • Edited

Maybe contacting this person would be a good idea. Saw her on an amazon add about stem education for minorities