communism is the answer to silicon valley’s diversity problem

A lot has already been said about the “anti-diversity memo” circulating within Google. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure people have already gone through and written point-by-point refutations. That’s important, but it still lets white supremacy keep the initiative in defining the terms of conversation. My favorite take on it so far comes from The Guardian:

Picture a technology hub where more than 17% of high-tech workers – from programmers to security analysts to software and web developers – are African American.

This isn’t some kind of utopian diversity thought experiment. It is the greater Washington DC metropolitan area, home to more than 200,000 high tech jobs, many of them with the federal government or government contractors.

“You’d be hard pressed to have someone out here who thinks that blacks doing computer work is weird,” said William Spriggs, a professor of economics at Howard University. And lest you think that the computing in DC is less advanced than that in Silicon Valley, he adds: “We don’t do Mickey Mouse stuff out here. This is the number one place if you want to do cyber security.”

The DC area is a kind of mirror image to Silicon Valley when it comes to hiring African Americans. Overall, blacks make up 14.4% of the workforce nationwide and 7.4% of high-tech employment. In the DC metro area, which includes parts of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, blacks hold 17.3% of the jobs in 12 computing occupations, according to government employment data.

But cross over to the west coast, and in Silicon Valley African Americans hold just 2.7% of the jobs in the same categories. At premiere employers like Google and Facebook, black representation in technical jobs drops below 2%.

To Spriggs, there is simply no excuse for Silicon Valley’s failure to hire a more diverse workforce. “The thing that always irritates me is that they say, ‘We can’t find them,’” he said. “You run a freaking search engine!”

So how did Silicon Valley end up with fewer than 5,000 black people in highly technical jobs, while DC has more than 35,000?

One obvious difference between northern California and the mid-Atlantic region is the underlying demographics. The DC metro area is approximately 25% black, while Silicon Valley is about 6.5% black.

But companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are known to recruit aggressively across the country – and throughout the world. And the fact that northern California’s workforce is heavily Latino (more than 20%) is not reflected in the area’s tech companies (about 6% Latino).

Spriggs argued that a significant difference is that in DC, the tech industry grew up around the federal government. Affirmative action provisions for federal contracting encouraged African Americans to start businesses in computing or data processing in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first domain name registrar for the internet, for example, was the black-owned company, Network Solutions, which was founded in northern Virginia in 1979.

“Having black-owned companies helped get people in,” Spriggs said. “It’s partly entrepreneurship, partly because the federal government does not discriminate, partly because you have to have [security] clearance, which favors American citizens, and partly because the area is heavily black.”

Schools in the region focused on preparing their students for technology jobs with government contractors as well.

This is better. Just call them on their self-serving elitist bullshit.

As a matter of fact, a government school taught me to type, and they taught me BASIC and Logo in middle school. That was the first time I used email. I remember the son of the base captain trying to compose something and spelling the word “wuss” incorrectly. Quotable quote of the teacher: “If you change config.sys or autoexec.bat, I’ll break your arm.”

My life would be way more fucked up if it wasn’t hard to fire someone out of the federal workforce. Then I went to school on affirmative action money and ultimately ended up working in “cyber security.” The difference between me and other people is that, when I was a child, adults actually explained important shit to me, laying the foundations for later.

The word “diversity” doesn’t appear in this article at Business Insider:

“Resting and vesting” is when an employee, typically an engineer, has an easy workload (if any job responsibilities at all) and hangs out on the company’s payroll collecting full pay and stock. Stock is often the bigger chunk of total compensation for a senior engineer than salary.

Once the engineer was in rest-and-vest mode, this person spent the days attending tech conferences, working on pet coding projects, networking with friends, and planning the next career move.

The engineer later realized that the manager offered “rest and vest” as a way to buy silence about the problems with that project, by giving the person a soft landing, a time to find the next thing. “Everyone knew I had a big mouth and would speak out,” the engineer said. “He figured, ‘Hey, it costs us next to nothing keep this person happy for six months.'”

Business Insider talked to about a half a dozen people with direct knowledge of the rest-and-vest culture. Some were “fat cats” themselves. Some were hiring managers who tried to lure these folks back to the world of productivity. Many acknowledged that resting and vesting was a common, hush-hush practice at their own companies. Internally, these people are often referred to as “coasters.”

Their lives counter the other reality for many in the tech world: long work hours and pressure for workers to pledge unrelenting devotion to their companies and jobs above all else…

Other members of the rest-and-vest set are the coasters, the long-timers who have reached a company’s top engineering ranks and don’t need to work hard to stay there.

They may not be 10x engineers, but they are institutional employees who know how to do just the right amount of work to get a good annual review and collect their next batch of stock grants.

According to all the folks we talked to, Google is known as a place where this type of rester and vester flourishes.

“Most of my friends at Google work four hours a day,” one engineer said. “They are senior engineers and don’t work hard. They know the Google system, know when to kick into gear. They are engineers, so they optimized the performance cycles of their own jobs.”

A Google manager who recently left the company agreed. “There are a lot coasters who reached a certain level and don’t want to work any harder,” she said. “They just do a 9-5 job, won’t work to get promoted, don’t want to get promoted. If their department doesn’t like them, after a year or two they move somewhere else.”

The term “rest and vest” even became a term jokingly associated with Google when “Silicon Valley” did a bit on it. In the hit HBO sitcom, Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti, played by actor Josh Brener, got a promotion at the fictional tech giant Hooli, which is inspired by Google. Bighetti was not assigned to any project and instead joined a group of other unassigned employees squandering their days on the company’s roof.

“I’ve actually had a number of people, including today at Google X … send me pictures of themselves on a roof, kicking back doing nothing, with the hashtag ‘unassigned’ or ‘rest and vest.’ It’s something that really happens, and apparently, somewhat often,” Brener told Business Insider’s Melia Robinson last year.

While those pictures were most likely jokes sent to Brener by fans of the show, several people from Google told us that when very senior engineers wrap up a big project, they may find themselves unassigned for a while, reporting to Google cofounder Larry Page, until they decide what they want to do next, not unlike the Hooli rooftop crowd.

Don’t buy the elitist bullshit they’re selling. Rich people work less, or what’s the point?

Think about the entitlement required to see people sit around getting paid millions of dollars to do nothing, and still think they deserve it for their inherent smartness. They made it through the Google interview, so they’re self-evidently a higher caste of being. Those are the people talking down to minorities about how they’re not good enough.

From the earlier Guardian article:

It’s not the fault of tech companies that the pipeline is overwhelmingly filled with white and Asian people, Silicon Valley’s defenders claim. It’s the fault of the education system. “Minorities are the minority by far in computing programs,” conceded Dr Juan Gilbert, chair of the computer science and engineering department at the University of Florida.

But there’s a problem with that argument: black students are earning computer science degrees at higher rates than they are being hired by Silicon Valley companies. In 2014, they received 9.7% of the bachelor degrees awarded in computer science, according to the National Science Foundation.

“If the pipeline doesn’t lead anywhere, then all that work is for nought,” said Catherine Bracy, co-founder of the TechEquity Collaborative. “The people who come out of those programs need to be able to find jobs in the industry.”

Silicon Valley companies don’t want students with computer science degrees from just anywhere, said Leslie Miley, the director of engineering at Slack. The founders and hiring managers of Silicon Valley companies want students with degrees from the same schools they went to.

“How difficult do you think it would be to go to an engineering meeting and tell all these people who went to Cal, Stanford, and MIT that the person coming from the University of Texas El Paso or a community college can do their job as well as they can?” Miley asked. “You will not be able to convince them of that. They don’t want to believe that they’re not special.”

The preference for an elite resume severely restricts the so-called pipeline – and results in a much less diverse group of candidates for Silicon Valley jobs.

In 2014, Wired analyzed LinkedIn profiles to come up with a list of the top five feeder universities for Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter. The thirteen US universities included the elite private schools Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT, as well as public schools such as UC Berkeley and the University of Washington.

One thing the schools had in common were student bodies with significantly fewer African-American students than the national average for four-year universities of 14%. Stanford had the highest rate of black students, at 7.8%.

Basic network factors also likely contribute to tech’s failure to find the underrepresented minorities in the pipeline.

“Tech is heavily referral-based, not just for jobs, but for funding,” said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a diversity consultant and one of the founding members of Project Include. “For white people, 90% of their networks are white. You have this exponential deepening impact of homogeneity.”

Then sure, some black people self-select out of applying because it’s like this.

People from Stanford think they’re better than other people because they went to Stanford. This is why we can’t have nice things. Their ego is that big, and they have elite training in sophistry.

The whole idea of the racism is to define the problem in a simple-minded way that makes the white people feel superior. If it weren’t for the myth of meritocracy, we would have to call them what they are: fucking leeches on everybody else.

There actually is no good justification for the current uneven distribution of goods. We need anarchism:

Actually, as I’ve written elsewhere (following David Graeber), even contemporary capitalist society, whose utopia is to make everyone an enemy of everyone else (that’s what thoroughgoing privatization would mean), couldn’t function without a substratum of implicit communism. Everything would instantly break down if people stopped giving what they could to those in need, whether money, time, free labor, gifts, advice, ideas, or encouragement. Social life itself is essentially communistic, based on community, generosity, and sympathy. The general systematization of private property is a perversion.

Kropotkin’s arguments suffice to answer the misanthropic refrain of conservatives that “it’s wrong to give something to people who have done nothing to earn it.” But other answers are possible. One might point out that people born into the middle or upper class have done nothing to “earn” their privileged position. The wealthy haven’t earned the inheritance they receive from their parents. White Americans didn’t earn their skin-color or the fact that they weren’t born in, say, a Haitian slum. People who benefit from charisma or physical beauty or intelligence did nothing to earn that; they were born with it. They deserve no credit for it. Somebody who happens to meet the right person at the right time and is launched on a successful career is the beneficiary of luck—as, in short, every “successful” person is, in innumerable ways.

Nor does any of this begin to address all the ways that the wealthy or corporations or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs benefit from state policy designed to give them what they want and to strip the poor of the right to live. Through the agency of the state (e.g., its corporate welfare programs, defense budget, patent and copyright protections, and, to some extent, interest payments on bonds), the population subsidizes the power and wealth of people whose ideology is to shame those who benefit from state programs. According to their own ideology, then, these “libertarians” in the business class ought to have their property confiscated, since, strictly speaking, they have “earned” none or little of it.

In fact, to the degree that our economy has become mainly a rentier economy, owned by parasites on the productive labor of others, it is sheer farce to talk about property-owners’ right to their wealth—which is to say their right to exclude others from ownership. For where would this right come from, if there isn’t even a pretense of their having earned all they own? How rich would Bill Gates be without the “rent” he receives from ridiculously stringent copyright protection for Windows and other Microsoft products? He is merely the lucky beneficiary of government policies that serve to hinder the diffusion of knowledge and wealth.

All this private property-exalting thinking, therefore, has to be cast aside onto the dung-heap of history. Rather than Reverence for Property, we ought to strive for something like the Reverence for Life that Albert Schweitzer wrote about and embodied. That is, we ought to explicitly embrace the moral communism (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”) to which we’re already implicitly committed whenever we act as though guided by the Golden Rule, which is to say whenever we act morally at all. To be moral is, in essence, to act like a communist.