What it's like to be black and work in tech

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This, this, this. Structural racism is the problem.


These observations are so coloured by how the speakers perceive the race, gender and attitude of the listener, that I’m not sure a white dude’s opinion is really worth much at all, at least compared with the observations of women and PoC.

I used to work at a tech company in Palo Alto where the VP of engineering was a Jamaican man. The way white people in that town treated him was unsubtle. It’s not structure that makes people cross the street to avoid someone. I get that structure is a huge problem, but I don’t think we should let individuals off the hook so much - all these tech blokes have chosen to have only white friends, for example. That these structures have created monoracial, monocultural environments is not exactly accidental either. Even if the people who set up the structures weren’t consciously seeking to exclude people of colour, they haven’t really jumped up to dismantle the structures when the problems have been pointed out. These structures persist because white people don’t seem to have a problem with them, on the whole.


Well written and informative article… thanks, Rob!

And unfortunately they usually have no idea what life is like outside the pale-skinned coastal technobubble, and their well-meaning efforts to make meaningful change come off as arrogant and ham-handed. They project their culture onto other places in ways that make no sense to people outside of Cali, and then blame the people who they’ve offended for taking offense.


I agree, but I don’t think describing and understanding how structures reinforce race has to necessarily let white people off the hook. The everyday interactions that work to dehumanize PoC and women matter, too and should be brought to light, but structural racism needs to be understood so we can indeed change that structure.

…have you been reading my unpublished autobiography… Again?

Well meaning doesn’t mean positive change, but for years I have taken what I think are affirmative steps.

  • talk about math to everyone, and cast it in a positive light (I may have converted my God Son)
  • talk about making and building, and express how happy it makes me and could make them
  • engage, engage, engage

For the love of FSM I wish I would buckle down and learn Spanish. But I am a knucklehead. At least I can roll my R’s.


I think being positive (as you have been here) rather than negative (as I was in my own post) makes more difference in the long run than anything else.

“Here’s a thing I’m doing that accomplishes something we all want, you are more than welcome to come help us and we’ll be happy to have you” works so much better than “You have to stop doing this bad thing or being this bad color/gender/religion etc.”

Unfortunately I’m a curmudgeon and negativity comes more easily to me :frowning: but
I’m working on it!


It’s horrifying, but not surprising.

Discrimination based on sex is much more normalized - in really unsettling ways - than discrimination based on race. It’s really weird. It’s benign for a public school to separate classes by gender, or for a store to have boys’ and girls’ aisles, or for a schoolteacher to reinforce gender binaries (and subtle hierarchies) by addressing their class as “boys and girls,” but you’d NEVER (overtly, intentionally,de jure) separate school classes by race, categorize toy store aisles for “white/black/other” kids, or greet a class of students with “Hello white children and black children!”

And, of course, ‘movements’ like GamerGate can maintain some veneer of authenticity/respectability (or did for a while) despite being transparently misogynist, while an overtly racist web group like StormFront or whatever is pretty universally recognized as awful.


But you are our curmudgeon.

You can never leave.
You can never leave.


Well, in the U.S., NEVER…after the mid 20th century…in some parts of the country…kinda…


Where does the idea that tech is made entirely of white people come from? Asian Americans make up a huge percentage of people in tech - at least in Silicon Valley - and they are quite diverse.

The author seems to imply People of Color does not include Asians, that Asians aren’t themselves aren’t a diverse group and that somehow “culture fit” allows for white people and a diverse group of Asian Americans, but not Black people and Latinos.


As long as model minorities keep their mouths shut and work that extra percentage harder they will be temporarily granted a guest pass to the white club, until someone decides they have stepped over the line and the guest pass suddenly is no longer offered.

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First, the term “model minorities” was coined at a time when there was significant discrimination against Asians even though it was about East Asians (largely Japanese Americans). A few years later, several Asian Civil Rights groups started in the Bay Area to combat that discrimination.

Second, has there ever been an instance in US history where someone was “temporarily granted a guest pass to the white club”, as you put it and then had it revoked? Because as far as I can tell, that has never actually happened.

Third, are you actually implying that all it takes is working a percentage harder to be granted this mythical pass? Because while I find it disturbing the author discounts everyone from Indian Americans to Filipino Americans as not being people of color and not increasing diversity in tech, I find it equally disturbing that anyone would believe the reason they’re succeeding where Black or Latino Americans haven’t is simply because they’ve shut up and just worked harder.

I’ve hired hundreds of people in Silicon Valley over the past two decades and tried desperately to ensure diversity because I can’t stand the groupthink that monoculture can bring, but in my experience the diversity in tech mirrors pretty heavily the available talent pool. It isn’t (just?) that there are a ton of Black people who are applying to jobs in tech and not getting hired. There just aren’t applying or at least, they weren’t applying to companies I was hiring at.


I think it is becoming percieved as non threatening and productive asset that the majority can enjoy. Model minority means mostly that white people think you get the same privilege as they do and we had better not get one damn bit more or the racial favoritism/quota assumption card comes out. There are times where light skin Asians, Arabls, Jews, and other lighter skinned (especially passing) minorities as well as very well connected of the ‘dark’ minorities do get invited to the country club, sometimes as the one-black-friend. A guest pass will often fool the person granted this favor and many will do their part to keep the pseudo privelage, perhaps never realizing how fragile it is, how they may even be the ‘beard’ for racism. By clubhouse and guest pass I mean the arbitrary inclusion that Jews have received in recent years, also Asians, it works reasonably well in some urban settings but especially in rural it is a dangerous game to be in the dating pool outside your own group, there you see the hidden racism come out.

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(I’m outta likes)

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Sad but true statement.

I’m sitting here, enunciating japh-rdrdrdrdrdr-oaig japh-rdrdrdrdrdr-oaig japh-rdrdrdrdrdr-oaig rdrdrdrdrepeatedly, like an imbecile.

And more on topic, I work with a lot of Asian people, many native Asian and not Americans. The author didn’t mention any of them… why?

And I’ll repeat myself AGAIN, because it always bears repeating. The gender breakdown of the finest programmers and analysts I know are 60% females to 40% males. Women have the edge. I don’t know why. It’s a little more than anecdote. It’s a fact that I’ve seen over and over in my 30 year career in IT, research and analytics, corroborated by colleagues when we get together and talk about it.



Hehe, I’m incorrigible, aren’t I. Easiest pronunciation is ‘Juh-Froyg’.

My current startup is almost all southern Indian. Previous was 90% Taiwanese. Previous was 90% Czech, and previous to that was a split between Russians from specifically Moscow and Ukrainians.

I have worked with exactly one person who identified as latino, and four black men. And one of those black men doesn’t really count cause he was the CEO of Symantec (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Thompson) when I was there. Zero native Americans/first nations that ever publicly identified as such.

I know that statistically there must have been more, but I think the larger point of, “there are groups who are profoundly under represented” is valid. Which is really the limit to the insight I possess onthe subject.