“Diversity in tech is not about guilt, morality, or the word ‘should,’” said Van Jones, president and co-founder of #YesWeCode. Diverse companies are showing strong evidence of outperforming non-diverse companies, Jones explained. Diversity in tech is about the bottom line.
“At this moment, we have reached a breakthrough level of Bay Area employers committing to the idea of apprenticeships sourcing talent from nontraditional pipelines,” said Jones at the Diversity in Tech Summit at the Oakland Museum October 19. #YesWeCode announced a new Employers’ Council of 30 leading tech companies who have committed to 300 paid positions for non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years.
The Oakland summit brought together leaders from Twitter, Yelp, Lyft, Pinterest, eBay, Square, SolarCity, Pivotal Labs, thoughtbot, NationBuilder, and Good Eggs to address head-on how to get more diversity in the tech economy.
"The reason diversity is a priority for companies and the reason the government is getting involved is there will be a million-worker shortage by 2020,” said Dave Hoover, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, which transforms beginners into full-stack Web developers in 19 weeks. “Finding non-traditional talent sources is a very cost-efficient alternative to outsourcing.”
“Silicon Valley was built on a particular monocrop of genius,” said Jones. “Oakland is the most diverse city in the country. Every kind of human ever born lives in Oakland. 37 languages are spoken in our public schools. There’s an extraordinary amount of genius in this town 38 minutes — without traffic — from an industry built on scaling genius. How do we connect the brilliance of Oakland to these opportunities?”
#YesWeCode facilitates access for companies to nontraditional pipelines such as community college, an online degree, military schooling, or boot camp.
“We aren’t going to use PC terms. We are talking about young poor kids,” Jones told the crowd that included representatives from three mayors’ offices and US Rep. Barbara Lee. ”When we held our national Hackathon, there were engineers from top companies literally with jaws hanging open at how incredibly smart these kids are, trying to solve problems the engineers had never heard of. Like the kid who had an idea for an app for court date reminders. Now when I went to Yale, 80% of my peers were unpoliced drug users. But these kids are from a different world and end up in the system, and that’s a whole untapped world. There is opportunity here.”
“There was a young woman in foster care who said her clothes were all hand me downs from charity,” Jones continued. “‘People laugh at us,’ she said. ‘We do things you wouldn’t want your daughters to do so people don’t laugh at us.’” But she had a great idea: what if we had a way to pick our own clothes from uploaded photographs? Now, the secondhand trade is worth a billion dollars, so here you’ve got a foster kid with a billion-dollar idea in her head.”
“Motivated young people may have circumstances that prevent them from attending 4-year colleges,” said Johnnie Williams, #YesWeCode’s Apprenticeship Director. “The talent is there. It’s all about providing resources.”
Hoover, who ran Groupon’s apprenticeship program, explained how apprenticeship is ideal at this moment because of the way hiring has changed, “There’s a lot of great potential out there, and there’s a new industry saying, ‘potential over credential.’ The great thing about software development is that when bringing someone new on board, you can ask them to code something and look at the product.”
Marcy Tavano, Director of People at Pivotal Labs, echoed that analogy: “When hiring we think of ourselves as the basketball coach considering a new player. Let’s get you on the court so you can show me how you play.”
“Software is a team sport,” said Dan Croak, chief marketing officer of thoughtbot, “The internship that tech companies use has evolved into a more structured mentorship. You come on board as a second pair of hands on a client’s project. But your primary purpose is to learn, so you are encouraged to pause client work and go deep into a topic when you need to. We hire two-thirds of apprentices, and recently there’s been a 10% lift of people of color in the program.”
It’s no longer enough to hire exactly the right narrow candidate, because that role might last, say, 8 months. Companies have learned that when hiring, it’s more cost-effective to think like a skill producer than a skill consumer. “Your business is your talent,” said Hoover. In an age of non-templatized jobs, the ability to transition roles is key, and apprenticeship is the perfect platform for cultivating the full-deck, evolving developer.
Tamika Ross, chief of staff for Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, said, “The word we like to use now is ‘tequity.’ We have a new talent pipeline. The growth can be shared. New cities can connect to a regional economy. And we can set young people up for success.”
“We think a lot more is possible,” said Jones. “It’s like Prince said — the older people in the crowd know who Prince is — you can have more Mark Zuckerbergs and Marissa Mayers if you have different expectations of people.”