Why We Must Change Our View of Who Belongs in Tech

I probably need to get a few things out of the way first:

I am creative – not artistic by a long shot, but most certainly far more creative than tech.
I love words – the nuance of emotion, the ability to convince, rally or even stir up simply by the choice of words.
I like to think big picture, to visualize the intricate web of interactions, choices, and steps required to get there.
I like people, and I like learning who they really are and what makes them tick.
I like to understand the motives behind a problem, because that’s where the interesting challenge lies.
I am passionate about leaving a positive mark in the world, about using talent to do good, to help others.
I have never seen myself as good at math.
Ask me to add two numbers in my head, and I freeze, my mind goes blank.
Ask me to estimate the bill of all the items in my shopping cart, including tax, and I can give you a fairly close ballpark without blinking.

photo-4This, if you got to know me, is just a tiny part of the fabric that makes up who I am, and it is precisely because I came into the world of tech through the back door, without the usual traits or talents that are suitable for technology-driven careers, that I am so passionate about helping to change who we, as a society, see as belonging to the tech world.

It matters who we, as a society, see as a good match for tech, because it affects not only how we see ourselves and how we talk to our children, but it brings diversity of backgrounds, talents and thinking styles to the problems we are solving via tech. When we make tech accessible – remove the steep learning curve and long list of prerequisites –  through tools that empower those on the edge of tech to dive in and get their hands dirty, to build stuff that matters, we change who is allowed to participate in the dialogue driving the entire industry.

Girls are often like me. They don’t see themselves as good at math, whether it’s true or not. For the women who do enter the world of tech, few reach the top levels of leadership. Far too often, instead of pushing against the system, women exit and find different ways to contribute that aren’t so emotionally draining and where the possibility of moving up the ladder is more attainable.

But it isn’t just girls. Many races and groups are under-represented as well. Because of limited access to tech and tech-oriented classes, children growing up in poverty-stricken areas enter the tech world at a far lower ratio than their peers.

This weekend, I, along with my amazing team at APPCityLife, are spending our weekend trying to change the perception of who is qualified to use tech and who is capable of helping solve problems through tech. It’s one small step, but it’s a powerful step in the right direction. We met several weeks ago with the team at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) tasked organizing this weekend’s Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam, a two-day event to generate ideas and solutions that can best improve the South Bay’s transit experience. I am proud that our company is a sponsor of the event, and that our participation will be in helping individuals who want to get hands-on with their solutions and who want to do so through our mobile platform. Up until now, we’ve used our platform only in-house. But if it is non-developer friendly enough for me, a non-techie, to build apps, then it just seemed like the right thing to do, the best next step for our company, to open our platform to others who might want to see their own ideas come to life, whether they had the right technical training or not.

imageNow I am certainly not proposing that this one platform is the be-all, end-all solution for making tech more accessible to under-represented groups. But I do believe that if each of us who believe that what we’ve created can solve a piece of the puzzle, then by working together, we can create stepping stones for more and more individuals to participate hands-on in the world of tech and help change the solutions that are possible simply through the wider diversity of experience and talent of those sitting at the table.

As I said, I like to think big picture, but I also know it takes one tiny brush stroke at a time to get there. We start painting a new canvas this weekend, and I cannot wait to see the outcome.

 

 

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