Introducing Tech Workforce Diversity Initiatives to the Tapia Conference

By Ivan F. Gonzalez, Ph.D.

The panel New Diversity Interventions for the Tech Workforce & Entrepreneurs occurred during the 2014 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. The Tapia conference brought together over 550 people: undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and professionals in computing from all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is organized by the Coalition to Diversify Computing sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery, and presented by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology (CMD-IT). For the online discussion by participants, see the Tweet Storify below.

Gaining access to the tech entrepreneurial world

What is startup culture? What does it take to successfully pitch a product to venture capitalists? How do you deliver a complete software solution in twenty weeks? How do you meet tech-savvy partners and investors? Finding answers to those questions is key to success in the tech world; but, the answers are hard to find in the academic environment. The realm of startup accelerators, pitch events, coding bootcamps, and tech summits offers practical opportunities to transform ideas into products under the guidance of industry mentors – those are the spaces where you can find answers. But how do you gain access to this realm of opportunities?

The panel featured initiatives that aim to increase diversity by providing access, mentorship, and professional development in tech and entrepreneurship to underrepresented groups. DiverseScholar Executive Director, Dr. Alberto Roca (panel organizer and moderator) started the conversation by giving his motivation for tech diversity [Roca 2013] and a short introduction to the panel. Then he presented Dr. Juan Gilbert slides (absent due to travel delays), showcasing efforts to promote startups in the African American community.

Collaboration between African American entrepreneurs/scientists

Dr. Juan Gilbert is the Chair of the Human-Centered Computing Division in the School of Computing at Clemson University, and director of the Human-Centered Computing lab. He started the African American Entrepreneurs in Technology Summit (AAEIT) to connect entrepreneurs and content experts with tech-savvy graduate students from his lab. After a selection process, the students implement a proof of concept for the chosen African American entrepreneurs. The graduate students get to learn the requirements for building marketable software solutions, and they may also get in return a share of the company or some other payment if the entrepreneur is successful in acquiring funds from venture capitalists.

Dr. Gilbert is also involved in increasing the enrollment of minorities in computer science programs. Clemson University has the largest group of African American PhD students in computer science in the nation, and they are showcased in Lab Daze — a documentary/reality series featuring the students, faculty, staff and associates of the Human-Centered Computing Lab.

Venture capital funds for diversifying tech

Jennifer Arguello, is the senior tech adviser at the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The Kapor Center has initiatives to increase diversity not only in tech but in tech entrepreneurship. The motivation is clear: the tech workforce lacks diversity compared with the general population in the U.S., but the demographic imbalance in venture capital funds is staggering, less than 2% of venture capitalists are Latino or African-American [Sengupta 2011].

we pursue creative strategies that leverage infotech for positive progressive social change - Arguello

The Kapor Center is a hybrid venture capital firm and charitable foundation. As a venture capital firm it focuses in diversifying tech and promoting tech for social impact; as a foundation it provides educational access for minorities. The venture capital is used to close gaps, and the Kapor Center is always looking to include apps and companies that would democratize an entire sector in their portfolio. Their foundation fellowship provides a ten-week internship at a Silicon Valley portfolio company, with mentorship and professional development. The internship is a way to understand the culture of startups. Fellows get to work with founders who already by default are interested with diversity, otherwise would not be invested on by Kapor Capital.

A Silicon Valley hub for Latino entrepreneurs

Sylvia Flores is the co-founder of Manos Accelerator. Manos is an startup accelerator that provides a three-month program in San Jose California to educate, promote, and inspire Latino entrepreneurs. It accepts applicant entrepreneurs from the U.S. and Latin America; and, it had over seventy applicants for their first accelerator 2013. Their first cohort has five U.S. companies and two from Mexico. Manos accelerator partners with tech mentors in Silicon Valley (over two hundred mentors in their network), collaborates with local universities and tech companies, and works in close partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs.

During the first three weeks of the accelerator, industry experts come to work with the resident entrepreneurs at Manos to see if their idea is going to work on the market place. Is the market ready for your idea? If the answer is no, you either pivot it or you leave the program. After those first weeks of improving the startup’s foundation, the program focuses in pitch coaching and tours of Silicon Valley organizations, followed by intense and repeated practice for Demo Day. The first cohort had twenty three Silicon Valley mentors, five guest speakers, five social events, Kick Off and Demo Day events at Google, and a Shark-Tank-like activity with Hollywood celebrities.

Developer bootcamps: employment ready in twenty weeks

Gregorio Rojas is the co-founder and lead trainer at Sabio Developer Bootcamp for women and underrepresented groups. Sabio bootcamps teach people how to program and how to build software products. They serve individuals lacking a computer science education or with no academic background at all. The Sabio founders believe that, when learning to build software, the right person with the right training can become an entry level developer quickly.

Your past should not dictate your future. And the future [working] in software development is great - Rojas

Sabio invites entrepreneurs and non-profits to pitch their tech needs to the Sabio fellows. The students going through the training program pick one project and go through the whole software development life-cycle in a team-based environment with the help of Sabio mentors. The goal is to deliver the product after twenty weeks. A member of the community that normally could not afford to build the solution will have it built for free; and, the software solution can have a positive community impact. The fellows leave the bootcamp as a full-stack developer, i.e. somebody that can program a website front-end but also code the underlying back-end database.

Entrepreneurship and diversity at Google

Stuart Feldman is Google’s vice president of engineering and acted as a panel discussant. Dr. Feldman brought up some hidden points that were important during the discussion: entrepreneurship involves adaptability, flexibility, people that know how to code, people that know engineering, and people prepared to pivot. Google was once a startup; but, strangely enough, they still like to think they are one. Google has corporate, large-scale commitments to the entrepreneur-tech-innovation community. Why? Because it is a great population to hire from, because it is a great place for the staff to be in, and because it is a useful learning environment. Having startups or founder experience in your resume is a plus for getting hired at Google.

Teams benefit enormously working together from diverse backgrounds - Feldman

In the tech industry, there is an enormous need to improve diversity, not only at the global level (after all Google hires Brazilians in Brazil) but also at the local level, too. Google is committed to diversity. They hire a lot of people and have a uniform bar around the world for how good people had to be to get hired so the quality of the candidates is always excellent. Because of Google’s affirmative action process, if minority candidates come close but don’t quite make it through the hiring process, they get revisited just to make sure it wasn’t a procedural error. A certain fraction of those candidates get re-considered. At the same time, Google contributes to different diversity opportunities like the Manos accelerator program and organizations like CMD-IT where Dr. Feldman is a board member.

References

A.I. Roca (2013) A #MinorityImmersion Solution to Disrupt #TechDisparities. DiverseScholar 4:4

S. Sengupta (2011) If You’re a Venture Capitalist, You’re Most Likely a White Man, New York Times, November 22

Speakers of the Tech Workforce & Entrepreneurs panel (left to right) Alberto I. Roca, Jennifer Arguello, Sylvia Flores, Gregorio Rojas, and Stu Feldman.

Ivan Fernando Gonzalez is a Colombian-Peruvian freelance science writer in Richland, Washington. His writings, community projects, and pictures can be found at www.IvanFGonzalez.com. This article was copy edited by Diana Crow. Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Photo credit: I.F. Gonzalez

The citation for this article is:
I.F. Gonzalez (2014) Introducing Tech Workforce Diversity Initiatives to the Tapia Conference. DiverseScholar 5:1

Editor’s note: This is the first half of a two-part recap of a panel on the New Diversity Interventions for the Tech Workforce & Entrepreneurs session that took place during 2014 Tapia conference. Part two can be found here.


Editor’s note: DiverseScholar is now publishing original written works. Submit article ideas by contacting us at . This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons License

Published 30-Jun-2014