Defining Diversity Down

by on November 18, 2014 at 7:11 am in Economics, Web/Tech | Permalink

Marc Andreessen make some excellent points about diversity in a wide-ranging interview:

The critique of Silicon Valley is also that it isn’t very diverse. At Twitter, for instance, 90 percent of the tech employees are male and more than 50 percent of them are white.

I think these discussions are totally valid. Now, I disagree with many of the specific points.

What’s your take?

Shall we? Let’s launch right into it. I think the critique that Silicon Valley companies are deliberately, systematically discriminatory is incorrect, and there are two reasons to believe that that’s the case. No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then “white”: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.

No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

He is also spot on about online education.

Hat tip: Newmark’s Door.

1 So Much for Subtlety November 18, 2014 at 7:20 am

It is not about diversity. It is about shaking Silicon Valley down for cash.

Jessie Jackson has been doing it for decades. Now the feminists want a slice.

Meh.

2 Just Another MR Commentor November 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

That’s why its more important that Silicon Valley companies be allowed to hire workers at any price point from around the world in order to have more retained cash on hand to fight off liberal attacks.

3 DJF November 18, 2014 at 10:22 am

They can hire any worker at any price point from around the world, its just that they can’t bring them all to Silicon Valley.

4 Mark Thorson November 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm

If you leave them in India, you can pay them Indian wages and save a fortune. Many companies do exactly that. With networks, you can collaborate with people around the world.

If you open the gates to let anybody come in, they will drag Silicon Valley wages down which is exactly what big employers like Apple and Google want. Small entrepreneurial companies are more dependent on talent than cheap labor.

5 T. Shaw November 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

Everybody wants a “piece of the action.”

Gender guerrillas will deploy time-tested tactics of racial racketeers.

6 Art Deco November 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm

They’ve been at it and they’re comparatively deft.

7 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:57 pm

I’ve long been pointing out that Silicon Valley, like Hollywood, has benefited from being more or less immune from having to pay the Diversity Tax that much of the rest of American business has to shoulder.

Not surprisingly, those are two American industries that are world dominant.

8 msgkings November 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

Finance….law…medicine…management….consulting….architecture…accounting…real estate development…

All full of darkies.

9 Ray Lopez November 18, 2014 at 7:30 am

I think Andreessen may have shot down the “white male” prong, but fails on the “woman” prong. Anyway, he’s just looking for publicity, who cares what he thinks.

10 dan1111 November 18, 2014 at 7:40 am

Is there any piece of evidence, anywhere, that suggests women want to be software developers as much as men do?

In any case, the percentage of women computer science graduates in the U.S. is less than 12%. Even if you think that discrimination and gender norms caused that, tech companies can’t just hire unqualified women to correct the imbalance. A non-discriminatory hiring policy should result in a gender split that matches the qualified population, not the whole population.

11 Just Another MR Commentor November 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

Silicon Valley needs access to way more immigrants

12 affenkopf November 18, 2014 at 8:55 am

In Germany it’s about 25%.So at least some part of it definitely seems to be cultural not biological.

13 Doug November 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Comparing “computer science” across countries is precipitous. “Computer science” is a nebulous field that covers everything from highly theoretical mathematics to microprocessor circuit engineering. Even in the United States there’s enormous differences between computer science degrees and other computer based degrees, like “Computer and Information Systems” (the latter usually being much easier). When you go across borders the accreditation standards change, so computer science in country A can mean something very different than computer science in country B.

No offense to Europeans, but my general observation is that computer science curriculum standards are much higher in the US than they are in pretty much any other country. Of the top 10 computer science departments in the world, at least 7 are American. Among the hardest CS courses, like Algorithms, Operating Systems and Compilers, most international universities either don’t require or have much easier courses.

14 European November 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm

This is a gross simplification, finance being the main reason why best computer science departments are located in US. CS study in my country is 4,5 years just for basic degree, first two years being university mathematics and algorithms only.

15 Mike November 18, 2014 at 11:34 pm

I got a degree in IT in Australia at a third tier university (being extremely kind there) and the quality of my degree was high BUT, a huge caveat this, there was a similar degree called “IT & Multimedia”, and that churned out probably 70% of the IT graduates.

The specifics of the electives often dictate the quality of the degree as much as the institution and the degree title.

16 buddyglass November 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

Last I saw it was 18%, down from ~34% at the high point around 1984-1985.

17 dearieme November 18, 2014 at 9:19 am

I can see that geeky software types might find it difficult to cope with having women about the place. But if you had more male employees of rounded personality, the women would probably just marry them, get pregnant, and leave the company anyway.

18 enoriverbend November 18, 2014 at 11:04 am

“I can see that geeky software types might find it difficult to cope with having women about the place”

Your syntax makes it appear as if only men can be geeky. As an IT guy surrounded by hundreds of IT people, I can assure you that is not correct.

19 chuck martel November 18, 2014 at 5:29 pm

There’s a possibility that computer engineering guys are joining the world of the medical professionals, who used to be the guys that women in college wanted to meet, marry and live a life of unfettered luxury. A new way for attractive bimbos to move up the economic ladder while their less compelling sisters get stuck writing code until they’re laid off or retired.

20 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Note that you do not remotely need a CS degree to be a programmer, nor do CS graduates automatically do programming as a primary job function, so while it’s a not-useless proxy [there being few direct educational things one can measure, since there is, thank God, no universal “Computer Programmer Program And Permit” system to measure], it can’t be more than a proxy, and a necessarily incomplete one.

(CS is not a “programming course”, though it certainly includes a fair amount. Just as Physics is not Engineering; the grunt work of programming, even skilled or brilliant programming, simply isn’t the same as the content of a CS degree, though any programmer would benefit from, say, the first two years of a CS program as a good baseline.)

21 Moebius Street November 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Comp Sci person here, class of ’89, so I’ve been around the field for some time.

It’s true that many of the best developers I know don’t have Comp Sci degrees. Anecdotally, there’s a big proportion of other sorts of engineers, especially mechanical; a disproportionate quantity of musicians, and even an historian here and there.

My personal experience is that a top-shelf CompSci education didn’t equip me with 50% of what I needed for my first real job as a software developer, while at the same time 50% of what they taught me is completely not needed.

The problem here is that what software developers do is not a *science* discipline, it’s an engineering discipline. The preparatory work should be done in a field called “software engineering”, and we should be learning a lot more about engineering tools like modeling and documentation, and spending rather less time on mathematics.

22 So Much for Subtlety November 18, 2014 at 7:41 am

No he doesn’t. He is not obviously about it but he deals with the women issue:

No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

He does not come out and say the obvious – that at this level women do not want to, or perhaps cannot, do this work – but he is clearly implying it. It is just Larry Summer’s comment all over again.

As for publicity, yeah, how terrible that he is seeking attention. If only he somehow managed to work his teenage Filipina girlfriends into the conversation?

23 Just Another MR Commentor November 18, 2014 at 8:03 am

I take this comment differently. The draconian immigration policies of this country is directly harming valley firms.

24 Dan Weber November 18, 2014 at 9:09 am

You’re kind of a one-trick pony now, JAMC.

25 HL November 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

thats the point

26 Ricardo November 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

And yet I almost always agree with his/her comments, even though they are supposed to be parody.

27 Brian Donohue November 18, 2014 at 8:11 am

Exactly. Marc who? Let’s get Ray Lopez’ take on this!

28 Ray Lopez November 18, 2014 at 9:41 am

Actually, I know Marc, indirectly, since I know pretty much anybody who is anybody in the US, EU and even Asia. But glad you asked: I’m doing fine with my PH gf–less than half my age. As for programming, I would not work as a programmer as there is not enough money in it. I code for fun (took time out from coding a progress bar for a chess app I’m writing to type this) and I do mockups for business that I hand over to professional programmers, mostly Indians. But the real money (i.e., over $150k a year USD) is in management, rent-seeking (owning Piketty type capital, especially DC real estate), or being a bulls hitter. Maybe doctor (with their own thriving practice), lawyer (partner in large firm) too. But programming? No way. Years of years of apprenticeship, working in a team where you are cubbyholed into making tiny improvements (akin to playing 2nd string in the New England Patriots football team) and you max out in the low six figures. That’s immigrant work.

That’s my take. Anand looks like heading for a draw with Carlsen in the Fide World Chess Championship though Anand is slightly better in the endgame (move 41) and if Carlsen makes an uncharacteristic bad move he could even lose.

29 Dan Weber November 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

> But the real money (i.e., over $150k a year USD)

You can do that in a major city US just by being a Rails developer.

I don’t know if this will last, but the dreaded “ship all the jerbs to India” wave keeps on not happening. Probably because lots of development is an O-ring model of employment, where the cost of a bad hire is incredibly destructive.

30 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 10:57 am

Every try managing a remote group? It’s really hard. We have a long way to go before “ship all the jerbs to India” is a real worry.

RL’s sense of wealth is probably a bit dated.

31 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I’ve seen what Lord Action says in person.

My company has an India group, of personally vetted programmers who Management goes and sees in person for a week a few times a year.

Some of them are as good as anyone in the States; most are not as good, but good enough for what they’re doing.

Overall it’s … a slight savings; not remotely enough or compelling enough to move more core, serious development to India.

(I do want to know who’s actually making $150k a year as a Rails guy. Because that guy is way overpaid, I think.)

32 Michael B Sullivan November 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm

I am a software developer who, among other things, develops on Ruby on Rails. I make (very slightly) north of $150k per year in direct monetary compensation (so, not counting equity). I do that working at small start-ups. If I moved to large public companies, I’d expect at least $180k per year plus equity.

This is all in San Francisco.

33 Doug November 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

“No way. Years of years of apprenticeship, working in a team where you are cubbyholed into making tiny improvements (akin to playing 2nd string in the New England Patriots football team) and you max out in the low six figures. That’s immigrant work.”

The key to being a successful programmer is to make sure that you’re a programmer+X, not just a programmer. That way you’re much less a commodity. As an added bonus you generally work on more interesting stuff, since the monotonous work gets rolled to generic programmers. As an example one very hot programmer+X is the job of “data scientist.” By learning a little bit of machine learning and HPC, you can be half as good a coder and get paid four times as much.

34 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Also, “low six figures” is perfectly decent money, outside of the SF and NY hell-zones.

How much does a plumber “max out” at? How about, well, any sort of normal job that you don’t need amazing luck or connections for, or Just The Right Education for competition for one of a handful of Finance jobs, or you-can’t-get-that-job work at a Top Law Firm?

What the hell kind of value calibration is going on here that this is dismissed casually?

What work isn’t “immigrant work” by this standard? The aforementioned Magic Rockstar Jobs?

35 buddyglass November 18, 2014 at 9:04 am

Out of curiosity, any data on the % female if you look only at the software devs. who weren’t born in the U.S.?

36 datroof jackson November 18, 2014 at 11:40 am

Next thing you know, Andreessen will be making impertinent, self-congratulatory blog comments all over the place.

37 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Women used to be a higher percentage of American computer science majors. One reason for the decline is that H1-B visas allow companies to hire foreign men to replace American women. In particular, hiring lots of Muslim men tends to create a hostile work environment for American women, so the process snowballs.

38 ladderff November 18, 2014 at 7:50 am

He’s wrong about at least one thing: “these discussions are totally valid.”

Once you cede that the game is over. There’s no appeasing these people and we’ll kill ourselves–we are killing ourselves trying. Better to kill them first if that’s what it takes.

(And look at the teenage-girl phrasing that this supposedly mature and talented man unthinkingly employs! America: RIP.)

39 Marian Kechlibar November 18, 2014 at 8:14 am

Once you start worshipping diversity, you will be in its thrall forever. “Diversity” has the awful quality of crowding out all other values. Diversity for the sake of diversity. Celebrate now!

40 Millian November 18, 2014 at 8:55 am

LOL. America in 1855 was poor and unpopulated. White-man-good racism for the loss.

41 Adrian Ratnapala November 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

What you call “teenage-girl phrasing” is part of what we used to call “valley-girl talk”. I think it is just the national language of California. At least for my generation, and Marc Anderson is not much older than me.

42 Go Kings Go November 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Totally.

43 Urso November 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I think you mean “totes.” “Totally” is basically grandpa talk.

44 Lopez Sayz November 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

If diversity is such a competitive advantage, won’t all these silicon valley companies whither away and be replaced by something else, no legislation / regulation required?

45 Millian November 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

The objection is not that it is a competitive advantage. It is that a very influential economic sector hires a tiny number of employees compared to its predecessors in previous generations, and that demographic doesn’t look anything like the rest of the economy, which is why SF kids get bags of money to solve slightly-incomplete markets for morally-trivial transactions like warm cookie delivery.

46 ladderff November 18, 2014 at 9:32 am

Today’s sanctimonious toady award goes to: Millian! Congratulations Millian!

47 Millian November 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

You must really like cookies!

48 dan1111 November 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

How dare you trivialize warm cookies!

49 John Thacker November 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

“More than 50 percent are white” doesn’t seem that unusual in the context of the United States population. (It’s arguably lower than representative, but I can make an allowance for the demographic and being located in California.) I can only assume that the interviewer is really complaining about there being too many Asians.

50 VTProf November 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

Isn’t the natural solution to being “gasping on the beach desperate” for talent to raise salaries? I mean, do labor markets no longer work?

That said, the “oh, we don’t mean THAT kind of diversity” thing is rampant in academia also, and equally anoying.

That said, he failed to engage the gender question.

51 Marian Kechlibar November 18, 2014 at 8:16 am

Is it already completely taboo in the USA to consider the possibility that women are not as interested in hard sciences as men are?

52 Millian November 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

Not at all, it’s just awesome to support big hypotheses when asserting them, rather than to distract attraction by pre-emptively martyr yourself on the cross of Brostianity.

53 Jordan November 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

They are raising salaries. Plus stock-based incentives are massive for start-ups in the Valley right now.

http://www.networkworld.com/article/2169997/data-center/computer-science-major-ranks-no–8-for-salary-potential.html

54 Dan Weber November 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

Yes, salaries are very very good right now. Not specialist-doctor good, but still up there.

55 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

If there’s more demand for talent than there is talent, all the salary raising in the world won’t make the pool bigger now.

It will slowly, of course, by drawing more people to the field, though equally many of them will be un-talented people who will try anything that pays well (and fail at it).

56 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Another way to hire more women is to allow shorter hours, such as 40 per week. Lots of women with children want 9-5 jobs, but not many want 9-9 jobs.

57 The Anti-Gnostic November 18, 2014 at 8:27 am

Transparently stupid. If they’re so beached-whale-desperate for talented diversity, they can just move an operation to any urban city in the US and train some of the one in five unemployed African-Americans to fill their ranks. Or have one of their executives move to any of the modern cities around the globe with e-mail and phone lines and set up an office.

58 mofo. November 18, 2014 at 8:41 am

You cant just magically make someone talented with training. If they could, they could simply hire unemployed where they are, no need to go looking for it.

59 The Anti-Gnostic November 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

Point being, either 1) Andreessen knows this but can’t say it, or 2) companies are not so desperate that they’d actually put together a consortium and invest in training the idle talent.

So Andreessen is either disingenuous or a naive fool.

60 Dude November 18, 2014 at 11:31 am

Those are the only two options?

Me thinks you don’t quite understand why he’s saying they’re starving for talent.

61 Jordan November 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

Coding bootcamps are starting to do most of this work for them, if the gov’t would let them, that is. It will take a while to funnel meaningful talent into the ecosystem though.

62 Zephyrus November 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

Unfortunately, most of those coding bootcamps provide a sub-par education that makes, at best, the top 10% of the class eligible for an intern level position. Colleges aren’t much better, mind you.

We turn to education as the answer only because it’s the only answer we can conceive of, not because it’s a particularly good answer.

63 William Newman November 18, 2014 at 11:35 am

“Coding bootcamps are starting to do most of this work for them”

If you are learning this through the same channels that tell you that it is easy to raise SAT scores, you might want to be skeptical. It is not obvious that being a good programmer is simpler than understanding the math required for the SAT. (The only reason I am being tentative in that claim is that programming can be the blind philosophers’ elephant, meaning significantly different things to some people.) No one seems to have a good procedure, shake-and-bake or otherwise, for raising math SAT scores of ordinary trainees to levels which are common in highly paid SV programmers. If every highly-touted easy-to-measure-objectively SAT training solution is objectively utterly insufficient to bridge the SAT gap despite what you would think from the rhetoric, then just possibly the highly-touted harder-to-measure-objectively shake-and-bake programming solution may not be bridging the programming gap quite as effectively as you might think from the rhetoric.

That said, I’m actually reasonably enthusiastic about many sorts of widespread technical training, programming or otherwise, shake-and-bake or otherwise. (At least as long as they are actual technical training, not some sort of salesman snakeoil or grantsmanship kabuki that has no real result.) There are a lot of technical things that are easy and give you a lot of bang for the buck, in software as in other technical specialties like medicine. (If I’m hurt, I’d *like* to have care from brilliant specialists, sure. And I’d like a pony! But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the upgrade from ignorant well-meaning help to knowledgeable amateur help (Boy Scout training or some such thing), or from the Boy Scout to various kinds of professional first responders, and on upward for several gradations above that. Similarly even pretty simple levels of various handyman skills can be quite valuable, and several steps above that are valuable too.) I am not happy about the tendency of Progressives to assume away the performance differences in top performers in various fields including programming, but I am also unhappy about outsiders, Progressive or otherwise, being scared off from useful easy things by not distinguishing the easy stuff from the hard stuff. There’s lots of easy technical stuff which has good bang for the buck, including various easy programming things, and I think the modern US pretty consistently errs on the side of not enough people learning to do it.

64 Al November 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I agree with: “the modern US pretty consistently errs on the side of not enough people learning to do it.”

It’s not clear to me that software companies are really using their programmers efficiently and sensibly either. Maybe they are, but maybe they could do a much better job of it.

Here’s an anecdote: an extremely bright, industrious, highly qualified programmer I once knew (MS comp-sci from a world-beating, top 1% school) worked at a major, big-time software company (the kind that complains about insufficient H1B visas). They had him write printer drivers. The End.

How often does this sort of thing happen in these software companies? Could it be that skimming the cream off the best universities and institutes so it can work on is just dumb management?

Could it be that the native intelligence of the people they’re trying to hire is the main force keeping people from interviewing in the first place?

65 Doug November 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

The reason Microsoft hires Rhodes Scholars to write printer drivers isn’t for the 99% of the work where its pretty much copy pasting code. It’s for the 1% of the time that the coder might pick the wrong data structure, which gives some Russian hacker a backdoor to kernel space, and Microsoft ends up spending $100 million rushing out a patch.

66 Al November 18, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Thank you for that info. Interesting.

But … I still kinda wonder if that is a reasonable and efficient use of a Rhodes Scholar. And how long is a Rhodes Scholar going to want to do that sort of work, if at all?

If the main solution from Microsoft for the problem of correctly engineering a bit of uninspiring software is to complain about the labor market’s lack of talent, then maybe, just maybe, Microsoft would benefit from reexamining the process they use to program printer drivers.

Can there ever truly be enough programmer applicants who are Rhodes Scholars to do all of that uninspiring programming?

67 Doug November 18, 2014 at 9:39 pm

@Al,

You are right, the problem is Microsoft mismanagement. A well architected system should be able to sufficiently modularize things like printer drivers. Even totally malicious, let alone incompetent code, should at most slightly slow down the system. A few superstars can work on critical components and the monotonous stuff can be farmed out to lower competency developers. But unfortunately that’s not the state Windows, Office, MS SQL server, etc. is in. And short of re-writing from scratch there’s no realistic way of getting there.

Yet there continues to be massive demand for these products, so they’ll continue to be massive demand for Rhodes to write printer drivers.

68 mpowell November 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm

My take on the coding bootcamps is that if you realize sometime after graduating college that you really should have majored in software, this is a chance to get the skills you need as quickly as possible. Redoing college involves a lot of wasted time, money and effort and doesn’t look right on the resume.

Of course, not everybody who tries will make it, but at least it doesn’t leave you with 6 figures of debt like law school.

69 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm

I’m a programmer – with fairly extensive work experience at this point – and I am not sanguine about the effects of “boot camps”.

They might well make it clear to people who are interested that “yes, programming is a thing *you* can do!” – though on the other hand, someone that interested is likely to self-start. It’s not like all the information in the world is not readily available at your fingertips, given a computer and the internet. (And lacking those, you’re screwed even with a bootcamp.) Now more than ever before, someone can self-start both programming and various hardware/engineering skills without anyone having to formally teach them, simply because the information and tools are so widely and cheaply available*.

But that’s about it; they can’t possibly make you a good programmer, even if you already have The Right Stuff, because it just takes too long and too much to get there.

(I completely concur about technical training in general as a damned good idea, and that there’s plenty of room for “more programmers” before diminishing returns sets in.

* Embedded stuff, for instance, used to be something you had to damn near be an EE to self-teach; now with the Arduino and Raspberry Pi and suchlike, you barely need to know basic electronics to at least dabble and become familiar with some problem sets.)

70 Millian November 18, 2014 at 8:52 am

Number one, discriminating against blacks and Hispanics while believing in the superiority of whites and Asians is totally in keeping with modern, Bell Curve racism.

Number two, Economics 101 required. Tech companies don’t want to spend money on salaries or training; they want 20-somethings who will work for a short time for cheap. Their revealed preference to solve the so-called skills shortage is pretty low.

71 Art Deco November 18, 2014 at 9:04 am

I would not wager that tech companies are populated with alt-right cranks. You just do not see such people much in mundane life.

As for ‘Bell Curve racism’, there is not much indication that Jason Richwine or Charles Murray have it in for blacks, whatever their views on psychometrics and human biology. (But many people who are avid consumers of such literature do).

72 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

Number One is patently ridiculous for anyone who’s spent a little time around tech companies. They’re a little leftie, a little libertarian, a little apolitical, depending on where you go. Remember the Mozilla CEO Eich, ousted for what would be considered a pretty mainstream political donation in much of America?

There’s some truth to Number two. It’s hard to disentangle a preference for youth from a preference for currency. It certainly gives you more hours for fewer dollars. A belief that we’ve tapped out the talent in the US is one of the reasons there’s so much support for immigration in tech CEO circles. Presumably if you paid more, you’d keep more young women from “retiring” from the tech community to motherhood or less demanding careers. Tech “competes” with lots of opportunities that aren’t nearly as hard. You’d draw some marginal smart people from science or law or medicine. You’d keep some older people from going on to senior roles in other industries. But clearly, it’s more profitable to import cheap labor from elsewhere. There’s probably a thesis in drawing out the econometrics of all this.

73 Al November 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Yeah, I agree with point #2 as well.

The costs of living in Silicon Valley / San Francisco and working a startup job are way higher than they appear at first glance.

If you have children, think about the quality of public school your children would be able to attend if you moved to San Francisco on a “senior programmer” salary. If your children are happy at their current school, in say, Boise, Iowa City, somewhere decent in Mass., etc — is it truly appealing to move to the San Francisco school district? (Sorry, but, no, you won’t be able to live in Palo Alto.)

If you actually have a decent career track in your current job, what would you be giving up? You can quite possibly stay in Fort Lauderdale at that boring toothpaste marketing company for the next 20 years and build a life. But if you take a job at a SV/SF area startup, it’s all but guaranteed you will lose it in a few years. Then, you’re out on the streets again, searching for “the next big thing.” And, what if the current tech bubble has burst by then? (You know it will eventually.)

What if you own a home and you really like it? Or, what if you don’t own yet, but really want to in the next couple of years? You’ll be surprised at the kind of home a programmer’s salary can buy in San Francisco. But not pleasantly.

Do you really want to live in a one or two bedroom apartment without a yard of your own — because that’s all you’re going to get. Do you really want roommates forever?

What about the working conditions and quality of life? Will your brogrammer job demand fifty or sixty or eighty hours a week? Will there be all-nighters? Will you have to work in a room at a shared table without privacy? How many years before that gets old?

How many hours will you waste commuting back and forth on 101, 580, 280, etc? How much of your life will you spend standing on a BART platform next to a drunken guitar player and a pile of barf at Sixteenth and Mission?

What about the fact that all the code you write will, almost certainly, be shit-canned the day after tomorrow? Your company is going down the drain. You will leave no programming legacy. You are not making a difference. How does that make you feel? (Plus, you will not be able to tell a hiring manager about something you worked on that’s still out there, in the real world. It’s gone now. Maybe that’s not a good career move.)

What if you’re not a huge fan of the culture and politics of San Francisco? To a great many people the political and cultural values of San Francisco are extremely appealing, a real plus. But to a great many others, they’re merely annoying and tiresome. And the community there does not exactly send out the welcome-wagon to someone who drinks the wrong flavor of kool-aid.

74 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Having spent part of my twenties in Mountain View, this really rang true.

Silicon Valley is to technical people what Manhattan is to non-technical people. It feels like the center. A lot is happening. The pay is pretty good. But the lifestyle kind of sucks. And the culture is nice if you like shopping and galleries, but it sucks if you like soccer and grilling. And if you want to get married, it’s lousy. And if you have kids, it’s extremely lousy.

75 mpowell November 18, 2014 at 3:45 pm

The thing is, salaries in SV can’t go up enough to make it affordable. The problem is just that there are too many damn people for the available housing. Higher salaries will just mean higher costs. It’s says something about the community that this state of affairs has not lead to more software jobs elsewhere. But maybe it already has, I couldn’t really say.

76 al November 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

yes. and the answer from the tech companies is to try to jam more engineers who come from poor, high-density parts of the world into SV and SF. after all, these are the suckers (i mean engineers) to whom SV/SF programmer gigs look appealing. just raise the H1B visa quotas and we’re all set … tech companies have figured out that it’s easier to buy an act of Congress than it is to get the SF County Board of Supervisors to approve another million units of housing.

77 Millian November 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Lefties and libertarians can be racists. Gay-rights activists can be racists. Progressive causes shouldn’t be a get-out for discrimination played to win the support of Team Democrat.

78 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

The thesis just doesn’t make any sense. I’m supposed to believe there’s some conspiracy to keep Blacks, Hispanics, and women out, but the industry is falling all over itself to hire Indians, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans?

Who could keep that straight in their head?

It’s just not the culture.

79 mpowell November 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm

So is it your position that these companies are actually racist against blacks and hispanics? That they get qualified candidates and systematically turn them down because of their race?

80 albatross November 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm

If you believe there is a large pool of black and hispanic programmers and engineers sitting around unable to get work in SV because of discrimination, it seems to me that you have found a pretty good way to get rich. You can fund startups which draw from these underpaid and unemployed black and hispanic programmers extensively, and you’ll have a huge advantage because of the huge untapped talent pool you’re drawing from. This is about a thousand times more likely to lead to more black and hispanic employment in SV than lawsuits or Slate articles, because investors in startup companies want to fund a successful company far more than they want to carry out some evil social goal like keeping black and hispanic programmers and engineers down. As soon as you’re successful with this strategy, you will inspire many immitators, and soon, SV will become much more diverse.

81 dan1111 November 18, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Average developer salary in Silicon Valley is well over $100K. The problem with training is finding talented, motivated people who have an interest in writing software yet haven’t managed to acquire the skills on their own.

82 Art Deco November 18, 2014 at 9:06 am

He’s too apologetic. Another time, another place, we might have the sense as a society to leave businessmen to run their enterprises and not have their discretionary personnel decisions vetted post hoc by lawyers who know nothing about running a company.

83 Salem November 18, 2014 at 9:09 am

And yet we have more internal inequality in San Francisco than we do in Rwanda.

So then move to Rwanda and see how that works out for you. I think you just answered your own question.

Phenomenal.

84 jim nazium November 18, 2014 at 9:43 am

Brilliant.

85 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm

One might almost think that absolute conditions matter a lot more than inequality!

86 Salem November 19, 2014 at 5:46 am

One might almost think that government crusades against inequality affect the absolute conditions!

87 K. November 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

(I work for a Silicon Valley based firm, but in a non-Silicon Valley office. I got there because I have an MSc in computer engineering and was exposed to computers from an early age. I am a white male, but also a first generation son of European immigrants.)

The level of talent required for most Silicon Valley firms is rare. It requires natural talent, a lengthy experience (i.e. exposure to programming since highschool), and a minimum of a 4 year degree in CS, CE, EE – not just any STEM will do. It is impossible to train someone to be a productive programmer the same way you might train a machinist in a trade program (it’s been tried – it can’t be done). Think about how much trouble you have with new technology (go and figure out how the latest social media site is supposed to work), now compound that by several orders of magnitude. This is not to say that you can’t teach someone to program and maybe fill some bottom rung at a low end firm, but the vast majority of the jobs out there require substantially more skill. (to put that into perspective, the top tier firms – Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. – typically hire almost exclusively out of the top 10% of the top schools worldwide)

There are plenty of silicon valley-type firms in urban centres, close to transportation hubs and diverse populations – access isn’t the issue. What is missing is reasonably bright people who were exposed to technology early. So we need intervention at or ideally before highschool, and it needs to be deeply embedded for many years (a 1 day “coding workshop” in grade 8 doesn’t cut it). Really this is part of solving the education problem – which many have struggled to do (Gates Foundation, etc.).

I haven’t touched on diversity here – for my company’s current hiring, for the reasons mentioned above, we are limited to the current undergrad population. I haven’t looked at the specifics lately, but when I graduated about a decade ago, my class was mostly male, and roughly evenly divided between white, south asian and east asian. It was only 10-15% female, and to close approximation 0% black, aboriginal and hispanic. This is despite being in a part of the country where those ethnic groups represent about 25% of the general population. My class was also disproportionately middle and upper-middle class – controlling for that, I’m not sure what the demographic balance should be, but at a minimum it should be about 50% female – yet it isn’t (on that note, plenty of people have theorized lately about the lack of women in tech fields – see i.e. http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding). Most companies will push to hire from under-represented groups, but with those statistics entering the job market, it’s extremely difficult.

88 Dan Weber November 18, 2014 at 11:10 am

This represents the mindset of the many SV companies. It’s not necessarily accurate: you don’t need to be programming at age 7 or have a master’s from MIT or have founded your own company to be a good employee. They go through their hiring fads like everyone else.

89 Cliff November 18, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Yes, completely absurd to suggest that you need exposure to programming before high school. All you need is a smart person who has learned how to program.

90 Ricardo November 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm

But many (most?) such people will have explored programming before high school, on their own. They get wind of it somehow and it sticks. They spend time writing programs just for fun. If they won the lottery, they might quit their jobs so they could spend all day programming. So no, it isn’t required, but it is highly likely.

91 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Yeah.

The people who are drawn to it and also stick with it are likely to be the best ones.

Smart is required, but not sufficient. Learning how at the most basic level won’t remotely make you good, even combined with smart.

(It’s specialized and often quite difficult mental activity; like any other form, merely being smart won’t make you good at that particular activity, nor will “learning how to program” in the base sense of the term. Ask anyone who’s had to deal with a new hire who “knew how to program” but … “didn’t know how to program”.

Those two are minimum requirements, not sufficient ones.

It is an art and craft about as much as science, if not more; someone upstream was denigrating the “apprenticeship” factor, but viewing good programming as having some similiarity to the trades, where one learns by doing and by example and by transmission of group cultural knowledge, seems exactly apt to me – and by no means an insult to the field, which is my own.)

92 Doug November 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Depends on what the programming task is. Wall Street has certainly shown that you can take economics majors and get them to write 100 line VBA routines to price swaptions. You can even take physics PhDs and get them to write 10000 line Matlab modules to rebalance stat arb portfolios. But this is an entirely different beast than some kernel hacker than needs to maintain a 100 million line multithreaded system where uptime is measured in years. Or maintaining an elastic distributed database across 20,000 servers and you need to handle queries that span petabytes of data. It’s like the difference between drawing stick figures and painting the Sistine Chapel, and saying they’re both done by artists.

93 K. November 18, 2014 at 8:13 pm

I don’t mean to imply that programming since before high school is strictly necessary. But it is a common thread amongst most of the people I work with (>70%). And it’s not to imply that you need to be a genius and write a major piece of software at age 6, you just need to tinker and develop a passion and understanding for technology from and early age.

Someone else on this thread made the analogy of painting, anyone can doodle, but it takes practice, interest and talent to paint well – programming is exactly the same thing. Which is not to say that you need to be DaVinci to be paint/program, there are plenty of moderately successful painters that you’ve never heard of. But you’ll likely find at they started early and got lots of practice.

94 William Newman November 18, 2014 at 12:10 pm

“a minimum of a 4 year degree in CS, CE, EE – not just any STEM will do”

That’s ridiculous. Bill Gates, John Carmack, Larry Wall, and late-teenage Linus Torvalds are famous counterexamples; the non-famous counterexamples are legion. I don’t think they are a majority, but they seem to be much more common than 10%.

Those 4y degrees are good indicators, sure, but a number of other things are too. Including quite a few other 4y degrees. “Not just any STEM will do” is true, strictly speaking — I don’t think many people think nursing is a reliable indicator. But the implication that it’s as small a fraction as your 3-element list is wrong. Back when I was an undergrad in the 1980s Oracle was apparently known for hiring top academic performers from Caltech from pretty much every normal Caltech major. Today I’m less directly aware, but a similar spirit seems fairly common. I’m pretty sure a Waterloo or Carnegie Mellon mechanical engineer who has built a robot or two is a strong candidate. Or a Berkeley physics major who has contributed patches to the Linux drivers for the DSPs he used in the lab. I also rather expect that a graduate from a slightly-more-distant program that’s just notoriously demanding — a Harvard math major with good grades, maybe — could find very serious interest even with the kind of minimal programming background that would be typical of a modern accounting major.

And there can be friction with degrees off the short list, sure. I wrote my thesis on Monte Carlo simulations generated and analyzed with a bunch of programs I wrote myself, and I was the sysadmin for our lab’s network of workstations, and despite that, I still had trouble getting software employers (and especially nontechnical headhunters) to look past “chemistry” in my theoretical chemistry Ph. D. But it’s not that hard to find some who will: it’s a manageable minor obstacle compared to the usual obstacle of learning the stuff in the first place.

95 K, November 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

The statistical sample of my LinkedIn contacts, covering a good number of tech companies, shows approximately 10% from non CS, CE or EE. The vast majority of the 10% coming from physics or similar backgrounds and having had substantial software development experience as part of some work they did in their field.

As for the dropouts, I have never met one at any of my employers. Gates, Carmack, etc. are a very small percentage and entirely not representative of the whole. Obviously these people do exist, but they are geniuses who are very rare. More than anything they just represent the mythology of Silicon Valley, rather than the daily reality. (Linus may have done some significant work early on, but most of his notable work happened well after he got an MS in CS)

One group that I will note though is people with community college technician backgrounds, who have worked their way into the engineering side – those I have a seen a significant sample of, but still less than 5% of the total.

96 TallDave November 18, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Bill Gates might not be the best example to support your argument.

Gates was born in Seattle, Washington, in an upper-middle-class family, the son of William H. Gates, Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates. His ancestral origin includes English, German, and Scots-Irish.[18][19] His father was a prominent lawyer, and his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and the United Way. Gates’s maternal grandfather was JW Maxwell, a national bank president. Gates has one elder sister, Kristi (Kristianne), and one younger sister, Libby. He was the fourth of his name in his family, but was known as William Gates III or “Trey” because his father had the “II” suffix.[20] Early on in his life, Gates’s parents had a law career in mind for him.[21] When Gates was young, his family regularly attended a Congregational church.[22][23][24] The family encouraged competition; one visitor reported that “it didn’t matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock … there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing”.[25]

At 13, he enrolled in the Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school.[26] When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School’s rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school’s students.[27] Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. When he reflected back on that moment, he said, “There was just something neat about the machine.”[28] After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students—Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans—for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.[29][30]

At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC’s software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via Teletype, Gates went to CCC’s offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business. The following year, Information Sciences, Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in Cobol, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with “a disproportionate number of interesting girls.”[31] He later stated that “it was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.”[28] At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor.[32] In early 1973, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives.[33]

Gates graduated from Lakeside School in 1973 and was a National Merit Scholar.[34] He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT[35] and enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973.[36] While at Harvard, he met Steve Ballmer, who would later succeed Gates as CEO of Microsoft.[citation needed]

The Poker Room in Currier House at Harvard University, where Gates and Allen formed Microsoft
In his sophomore year, Gates devised an algorithm for pancake sorting as a solution to one of a series of unsolved problems[37] presented in a combinatorics class by Harry Lewis, one of his professors. Gates’s solution held the record as the fastest version for over thirty years;[37][38] its successor is faster by only one percent.[37] His solution was later formalized in a published paper in collaboration with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou.[39]

Gates did not have a definite study plan while a student at Harvard[40] and spent a lot of time using the school’s computers. Gates remained in contact with Paul Allen, and he joined him at Honeywell during the summer of 1974.[41] The following year saw the release of the MITS Altair 8800 based on the Intel 8080 CPU, and Gates and Allen saw this as the opportunity to start their own computer software company.[42] Gates dropped out of Harvard at this time.[43] He had talked this decision over with his parents, who were supportive of him after seeing how much Gates wanted to start a company.[40]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates

97 Chip November 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

To equate diversity with skin color rather than culture, ideology, skills, experience or any other metric that actually matters is completely nuts.

What the hell is wrong with people.

My kids are multi racial, their friends and ours are from all over the world. The girl from Pune is not the same as the boy from Karachi because they’re the same effing color.

Maybe I’ve been away from the US too long. It used to be mostly sane.

98 Cliff November 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm

It’s not sane

99 The Anti-Gnostic November 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Cliff is right. The US is going insane.

Just an anecdote, but I can recall a setting in my experience that was strictly meritocratic and the distribution generally resulted in people from a wide variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, albeit not in the politically correct proportions. When diversity got added to the mix, people got slotted into mono-cultures.

100 Clover November 18, 2014 at 5:15 pm

No one equates it with skin color, they equate it with race. Two different things.

101 Chip November 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm

What race are Hispanics?

102 Clover November 18, 2014 at 10:09 pm

It depends. “Hispanic” is not a race.

103 paulie November 18, 2014 at 9:31 am

Let’s pick the low hanging fruit first. Why is there not a single woman in the NFL? It is pure sexism to say women just don’t like football. The NBA is less than 20% white compared to 70% of the general population. Clearly there is a need for affirmative action. Think of all American sport could achieve if we utilized the full human potential of the people. It is time to stop excluding people based on race and gender.

104 jim nazium November 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

* Gasp * Surely you don’t mean that men and women are different?

105 li zhi November 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm

What makes you think that there is no (self-indentified) woman on any team in the NFL? They’re probably not going to publicize the fact, and the average NFL career is, what?, 2-3 years?

106 sch November 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

Untouched on is the discrimination against older tech workers in silicon valley, especially software oriented firms. Highly accomplished workers above the age of 40 or
so have a hard time finding jobs in these companies. There was an article in NR on this earlier this year: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117088/silicons-valleys-brutal-ageism
The female thing is IMO largely cultural.

107 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm

If they’re leaving value on the table by not hiring workers over 40 (and I agree they might be!), plainly the solution is to start hiring those guys somewhere else and taking advantage of that by paying them a little less.

Less money, for equal skill and superior experience is compelling.

(Of course, the counter-argument, not automatically invalid, is that people with old experience in programming are likely to:

a) have habits that were fine or good 20 years ago but are counterproductive today.
b) not know The Latest Hotness that New Startups Obviously Need To Compete*.
c) be stuck in their ways and bad at adapting anymore.

I don’t know that any of that is necessarily true, but none are implausible.

* This seems to be a commonly held belief; not the “not knowing” so much as “we must use the very latest thing”; I think it’s less true than commonly believed, especially considering that The New Hotness is sometimes Tomorrow’s Dead End.)

108 Engineer November 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm

If they’re leaving value on the table by not hiring workers over 40 (and I agree they might be!), plainly the solution is to start hiring those guys somewhere else and taking advantage of that by paying them a little less

This does in fact happen in some places.

However the management of the companies that are growing quickly and are the most flush with cash tend to have the notion that they require a cohesive team that will work together around the clock with insane enthusiasm for their latest social media app or whatever it is.

Guys (or gals) who have been there done that, or who have experience and strong opinions of their own, or who want to see their families don’t fit into the paradigm. And scrum makes it worse.

109 albatross November 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Most 45 year old guys don’t want to work 70 hour weeks. Many would like to see their wives and kids once in awhile.

110 Anthony November 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Of course, the obvious solution is to hire recently divorced men who don’t get to see their kids except on weekends, keep them working 10pm Monday through Thursday, and let them out early on Friday.

But then you’ve got marital-status discrimination on top of sex discrimination.

111 Anthony November 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm

People over 40 are more likely to have spouses and kids, and to not be willing to work 100-hour-week death marches, nor to work for minimum wage plus stock options. In an environment where being first to market has enormous advantages, that sort of dedication actually has a significant value. However, Silicon Valley firms, being no less subject to fad than anyone else, are likely to overestimate how much they really need that sort of dedication, versus how much less they would need if they had decent internal management.

112 Jer November 18, 2014 at 9:40 am

The problem is that diversity issues and discrimination concerns have always been rooted in perception. Information on the process has been left out. The general ‘make-up’ of the population is held as the standard for which each profession, workplace, living community, and learning community must aspire irrespective of any meritocratic attributes. Easy answer: make the process completely transparent. Make sure the roles and responsibilities of each position are completely clear and that a richly diverse group of applicants meeting those conditions was thoroughly considered with the best fit made on further transparent criteria. Simple. That being said, there is a movement (of which I am sympathetic) that the best not be hired for a position but a ‘good enough’ individual (based on clear and coherent criteria) who also fits other diversity (in an attempt to get a similar age, ethnicity, gender, and disability mix similar to society at large) criteria — or simply have a complete random lottery from all ‘good enough’ applicants (I would probably speculate that there should be a minimum office size for these conditions). I often wonder how successful a workplaces assessment of ‘best fit’ is versus a random selection from the ‘good enough’ list – assuming clear criteria. I would bet that workplaces seldom get the best fit out of their applicant selection.

113 CC November 18, 2014 at 9:41 am

Right, but I think VT’s point was that “we’re having trouble finding enough talent” is about the same thing as saying “we’re not paying enough”.

114 Princess Stargirl November 18, 2014 at 9:59 am

“More than 50% White” – Is this some kind of joke criticism? At Least 60% of the “Us population is White, and this is taking out all the Hispanics who self identify as white. If you just poll people yo get over 70%.

115 MM November 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

Seriously? You’re all just going to go with the idea that women just aren’t as suited to or interested in tech jobs and not the idea that the tech industry and tech culture have and continue to systematically make it a less-than-welcoming place for women?

Desperate for talent? You reap what you sow.

On the ethnic diversity, though…meh. Fair points.

116 mofo. November 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

As someone who works in the tech sector, im going to go ahead and say “yes, and yes”. Ive not seen much evidence that the tech culture is especially “a less-than-welcoming place for women” and the women i have worked with couldnt care less about a “welcoming place”.

117 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 10:50 am

I’ve wondered whether tech recruiting tests like guess-the-dress-code and various other measures of “fit” might hurt women. Both are more a startup problem than a tech problem, per se.

118 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm

I often wonder if I just live in a special world, different from these other people who see Women Hounded Out Of Computer Stuff.

(But then, I grew up with Women In Computer Stuff – my mom was a programmer, from before I was born to the day she retired.

The very idea that computer-related jobs are “not for women” is nigh-unthinkable to me, except as a thought-exercise in incomprehensible bigotry.)

119 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:29 pm

The peak year for women majoring in computer science was in the early 1980s.

120 Mike November 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm

How does that correlate with raw numbers? 10% of 100 is less than 5% of 1,000,000. As CS moved from theoretical to practical, and it changed from DISCUSSING ideas to IMPLEMENTING ideas – i.e. from talking and collaborating to sitting alone at a desk with a screen – is it not possible that this changed the people interested in this area as a career?

121 Steve Sailer November 19, 2014 at 1:20 am

There have been a lot of people employed programming computers since the 1960s.

122 Lord Action November 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

Mike has an interesting point. The composition of the industry has changed.(*) But the absolute number of CS grads is not terribly different. There is a long-term rise, but the mid-80s was a peak and today is a bit of a trough. There are probably more women working in the industry today, but not a huge amount more.

See the chart right under the “Third Surge” header:
http://www.geekwire.com/2014/analysis-examining-computer-science-education-explosion/

(*) For example, I always had the impression that web development employed a lot of women.

123 derek November 18, 2014 at 10:45 am

I’m in a different industry, but I have yet to have a woman ask me for a job. I get men all the time, but in 20+ years never a woman. I even offered to train my daughter, but she turned me down.

Must be the shirts I wear or something.

124 William Newman November 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I started an open source software project (SBCL). (Or in one important sense, various people at CMU and elsewhere started the project; I forked my project from the CMU CL codebase.) I don’t remember many contributions to the SBCL project from people with obviously female names. (The cautious phrasing is because I never met any of the contributors, and about some of them I know almost nothing except their code and some text correspondence.) I doubt it’s because I publicly use the word “fork” in the technical sense of https://help.github.com/articles/fork-a-repo/ . (Using “fork” that way was one of two components (prongs?) of a firing offense in one of the earlier rounds of feminists fighting to control the aggressively intolerant hostility of the software industry, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5398681 .)

Incidentally, the entry barriers to starting open source software projects are trivial, and even the barriers to starting some kinds of complex high-powered projects are trivial. (Fork an old complex high-powered project, duh. It’s as easy as falling off a log into the deep end.) So whether or not I discouraged contributors to the project, I completely lack any power to stop women from doing their own projects as I did. So if we see lopsided outcomes there (and I don’t know how to summarize it in a single formal statistic, but informally yeah, we sure do see lopsided outcomes there), it looks like a safe bet that the big differences between male and female programmers are driven by at least one large factor other than the (unwittingly unprofessional firing offense lack of) welcomingness of male programmers who’ve already succeeded.

125 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:47 pm

What percentage of the top open source programmers working just for the love of programming are women? Pretty low, right?

My wife was a COBOL programmer for awhile for Cook County after I almost died of cancer in the 1990s. It was a pretty good job, but it was just a job to earn money. I doubt if the idea of programming for free has ever once occurred to her.

126 Michael B Sullivan November 18, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I work in Silicon Valley as a software engineer, and have for my entire career (getting close to 20 years at this point).

It is undeniably the case that SV, and computer engineering in particular, is something of a boy’s club. It’s overwhelmingly male, and sometimes has a frat-house atmosphere.

But I think that you have the arrow of causation mostly reversed. It’s a boy’s club because there are mostly boys, it’s not a that there are mostly boys because it’s a boy’s club. Definitely any one woman who comes into the SV is going to have a harder time than an otherwise equivalent man. But if another 15% of the workforce went over to being female, you’d see much of that boy’s club attitude dissipate. Not instantly, and not without friction. But whatever the blame is for women not being engineers (and I personally don’t think that it’s in large part biological), I don’t think that it’s principally the fault of brogrammers.

127 Engineer November 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

> I work in Silicon Valley as a software engineer, and have for my entire career (getting close to 20 years at this point).

What percentage of the R&D dept at your company is younger than you are?

At my most recent job (before HQ shut down our development site), I was 8 years older than the next youngest guy (who was a VP).

128 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:32 pm

I worked a lot with programmers in the 1980s and 1990s in the corporate world in Chicago. A very large percentage were women, and there was little in the way of a frathouse atmosphere.

In general, feminism won a gigantic victory very quickly between 1969-1975. The business world loved hiring women. After awhile though, women and men started to diverge again because they have different interests and different needs.

129 derek November 18, 2014 at 10:43 am

Yawn. Since so many of the workers are from elsewhere, why not move the whole thing elsewhere?

130 CaptObvi November 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

Illegal under US law to for a company to leave.

131 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Which law does that break, exactly, to move your entire development team off-shore?

(I think it’s a bad idea, but which law does it break?)

132 derek November 18, 2014 at 7:13 pm

You mean that it would be illegal for Apple, for instance, when forming a development team for a new feature or product to set that team up in another country?

I doubt it. But if there are legal and social pressure to hire other than the best and most productive team to fit some notion that hysterical twits came up with this week, why would they put themselves in a position to be distracted by that nonsense?

133 Dude November 18, 2014 at 11:43 am

I think that’s actually his point. The tech world wants more immigration to the USA of foreign tech superstars. People like Marc stay on message that they are dying for talent, which is a PR effort to convince politicians more than it is a strategy of a particular firm.

People still respond to incentives, even in silicon valley.

134 tom November 18, 2014 at 11:05 am

I started college in the pre-engineering track in the late ’80s, when tech was becoming a big employer in my town. My school was circa 5% black, but there weren’t any in my classes. There were plenty of Asians. My school was a bit more than 50% women, but there were about one out of 200 women in my classes. Which come to think of it is why I switched to liberal arts.

135 Joe November 18, 2014 at 11:18 am

Maybe Silicon Valley firms would have enough talent if the these firms did not engage in that non-compete ring.

136 Albigensian November 18, 2014 at 11:33 am

It’s hard to imagine that the activists pushing this don’t want and expect hard Title-IX style quotas.

It’s also hard to think of anything that would damage productivity in the technical sector quite as much as implementing them.

Nor is there any evidence that successful tech companies don’t recruit talent wherever they can find it.

Maybe we could leave the Golden Goose alone to do what it does, at least so long as it keeps producing all those golden eggs?

137 John Mansfield November 18, 2014 at 11:55 am

I’m trying to imagine what the Silicon Valley application of Title IX would look like. Equivalent to closing wrestling programs and upgrading cheerleading to a sport would be more Facebook and fewer video games.

Which makes me think we would get by just fine with a less productive Silicon Valley that put out half as many video games and amazing social media tools. For such a bunch of superlative geniuses, they sure spend a lot of effort on inconsequential work.

138 Brian November 19, 2014 at 11:05 pm

“Title-IX style quotas.

It’s also hard to think of anything that would damage productivity in the technical sector quite as much as implementing them.”

Well, there’s software patents. The patent bar’s agenda already in motion — exponentially rising software patent litigation — could do a lot worse to Silicon Valley than just Title IX.

139 meyerkev November 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm

9 people

All guys, 7 whites, 2 Asians.

3 midwesterners (2 Michiganders, 1 Missourian)
2 Greeks.
2 Indians from India including one of the founders (I suspect that they were ex-H1B’s)
1 New Yorker
1 Californian

140 Bill November 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm

The best incentive is money to get more tech employees, but that is probably not something Marc wants to hear.

Ask yourself: why do we have many women doctors.

Doctors make a lot of money. Particularly the specialties.

141 Bill November 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm

This is also the group that suppressed tech wages by agreeing among themselves not to poach each others employees.

142 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Agreed, this doesn’t make me particularly sympathetic to their whining for more visas.

143 carlospln November 18, 2014 at 9:50 pm
144 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

“Ask yourself: why do we have many women doctors.”

Because mid-career doctors can work part-time? Many specialties are essentially stateless, so you go on shift and work, and go off shift and someone else does the work. It’s a lot harder to do that in a creative discipline like engineering. It would be awesome if you could do it.

145 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Also, and I offer this purely speculatively, it’s a well-paying job that needs more conscientiousness and empathy than IQ. It plays to stereotypical female strengths.

146 Bill November 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm

You’ve never seen an empathetic programmer?

147 Lord Action November 18, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I think it’s a less important skill for a programmer than for a medical doctor. If I was particularly empathic and I wanted to make the most of that, I wouldn’t think “compiler developer.” I might think “pediatrician.”

148 derek November 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Because half of the customers are women.

149 Cooper November 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm

As someone who works in Silicon Valley I can tell you that we would love to hire more diverse candidates. The problem is that there aren’t many qualified candidates and the applicant pool tends to skew heavily male and heavily White/Asian.

If you want a more diverse Silicon Valley, you’re going to need a more diverse graduating class from CalTech, Stanford and MIT.

150 Charlie November 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm

How about looking a little farther afield than only three (very expensive) California schools? Seems to indicate a narrow, and fairly lazy, way to find talent.

151 A Definite Beta Guy November 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Now you’re just talking crazy

152 Al November 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Good point. The execs at these companies pretty much insist that their hiring model is absolute: we have to have ready-made, prepackaged, 10X productive, genius programmers below the age of twenty five. There can be no other hiring option.

But maybe this is just a myth. Maybe there are yet-to-be-discovered ways of managing a company that don’t require this kind of hiring.

Some day, a creative, innovative, world-beating, category-defining software startup will be managed so intelligently that it succeeds with readily-available human resources. And when that happens, we’ll be surprised at the company’s structure, because it won’t look anything like today’s brogrammer hutches.

153 Cooper November 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm

If Google’s recruiting process were bad for business, business would be bad at Google. Given that business at Google seems to be going well, I think we can reasonably conclude that the HR department in Google is doing a good job.

Feel free to try launching a tech company without top talent. People do it every day around here…and they mostly fail.

154 Art Deco November 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm

There are 31,000 students enrolled at those three schools, out of a higher education census of more than 10 million. Somehow I suspect you can find ‘top talent’ from a larger ambo than that.

155 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:42 pm

“If Google’s recruiting process were bad for business, business would be bad at Google.”

Well said.

Google pays enormous attention to metrics. What’s more likely: that Google could make even more money by following the conventional wisdom about diversity, or that the conventional wisdom is fallacious propaganda?

156 Sigivald November 18, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I imagine those were just the obvious “prestige” examples.

(And also a good, if lazy, filter when everyone can say “Hey, I’m a great programmer!” on a resume.)

157 Cooper November 18, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Sigivald – exactly my point

Silicon Valley’s top engineers are a representative sample of the top computer science graduates of the past 30 years. Given that female participation in computer science has actually been FALLING of late, I don’t expect women to make huge gains in the tech sector over the next decade.

In the mid 1980s, women earned nearly 35% of computer science degrees. In the 1990s it averaged around 28%. Now women earn less than 1 in 5 computer science degrees. This is an ominous trend for those who care about gender diversity.

The data suggest that gender inequality in tech is going to worsen as the talent pipeline dries up.

158 Clover November 18, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Because it’s about IQ. Andreessen knows this, he just refuses to say it.

159 gamma November 22, 2014 at 6:21 pm

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), while undoubtedly very expensive, is in Cambridge, not California. Quite a bit further afield physically.

Yes, I quibble about details, a virtue in programmers. (I am not one.)

160 Engineer November 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Wonder when people are going to start to talk about age-diversity in tech ….

161 Urstoff November 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

This is only a talking point because we see STEM jobs as high-status. You don’t see hand-wringing over the lack of men in elementary education or childcare.

162 John Mansfield November 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Or the lack of women in mining, roofing, or logging.

163 Tom November 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

No. 2, our companies are desperate for talent. Desperate. Our companies are dying for talent. They’re like lying on the beach gasping because they can’t get enough talented people in for these jobs. The motivation to go find talent wherever it is is unbelievably high.

Except when the talent is old (shudder). Let’s never mention this again.

164 ChrisA November 19, 2014 at 5:34 am

The trouble with older people is that either they are proven geniuses, in which case they are too expensive for a new start up, or that they are proven not-geniuses, in which case why hire them?

165 Semi Guy November 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Reading the whole article, it sounds like Marc Andreessen is setting himself up to be the next Charles Koch venture capitalist spouting off the wonders of the Libertarian ideal that happens to coincide with their vested interests. Is he getting CATO money as well? Who is going to put out the message that the Libertarian ideal has no method of handling externalities and the commons that are becoming more important?

If he argues for better regulations, fine. But if he calls himself a Libertarian, he is cutting himself out of rational debate. The tag is becoming toxic.

166 The Devil's Dictionary November 18, 2014 at 3:37 pm

If I invest in a tech venture, I’m going to hire the best brains. I don’t care about diversity at all. To hell with political corectness, I want to maximise the return on equity.

167 D November 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm

The data on Silicon Valley’s hiring practices greatly undermine the claim that diversity, as it’s often implicitly defined (i.e., lots of hispanics, blacks and women), is a strength and groups comprised of this type of diversity will outperform those without it.

The Silicon Valley employee base has been the brightest, most innovative, hypercompetitive, darwinian, productive and effcient in the world. Thus the implication might be that the academic assumption about diversity is falsified, or at least highly questionable, based on a very large, decades long natural expiriment in California.

168 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Right.

The reason everybody goes around shouting slogans about the power of diversity to each other is because they obviously aren’t true.

169 Mesa November 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm

How about the fact that 100% of the people they hire actually show an interest in, or experience with, technology or programming. There’s the real exclusionary bias.

170 TallDave November 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I have noticed the NBA is entirely male and the league is disproportionately black, with remarkably few Chinese or Indian.players given that they are around 1/3 of the world population.

Clearly Donald Sterling was only the tip of the iceberg.

171 Steve Sailer November 18, 2014 at 10:40 pm

I worked for a smart black senior programmer in Chicago from 1986-1988 at a market research company. He had a nice life in the corporate world and didn’t feel the need to go bash his head against the wall trying to get rich in Silicon Valley. There is a huge amount of opportunity in the Fortune 500 space for smart blacks and Mexicans, so why should we insist they risk a lot by moving to Silicon Valley?

172 wwebd November 18, 2014 at 11:42 pm

I recently spent some time in a public library looking at the kind of books I would never buy. Anyway, I read a few prefaces by Harold Bloom to essay collections on various authors – and he talked about one writer who never really lost his childhood wonder with the world and compared that writer to a bunch of other writers, just as good, but who had to work a lot harder to recover a sense of wonder, at the risk – if they failed to recover that wonder – of being boring on their chosen subjects. A risk the 1st writer apparently did not run. I forget which writers were which – and Maybe Harold Bloom would have forgotten, too – but I wonder, when comparing rich tech guys to the kind of poets Bloom writes about, how different they really can be amongst themselves.

173 Matt November 19, 2014 at 3:53 am

Silicon Valley these days, compared to when I was growing up, seems to spend a lot more time making vainglorious pronouncements about how they’re a highly selected elite, or how they offer a superior cultural and lifestyle model, or should be in charge of making decisions, or generally justifying themselves through promoting Valleyist ideology, or how they’re actually well rounded individuals if you think about it (rather than sort of autistic and success obsessed) it’s just everyone else who is deficient.

At the same time, they seem to do less and less actual work, and more graphic design and media.

A bit like Peter Thiel’s inadvertant admission that tech companies are leading to fewer high value individuals – although of course, he posited that this means that something is wrong with anyone else, rather than that his startup Silcon Valley model is an ideal that is a bit of a con and fails to match reality.

Compare that to history, when Silicon Valley was relatively more useful to its size and less of a self conscious subculture and less of a self consciously financialized culture.

I think a lot of the diversity dialogue with Sil Valley may orient around a change in Silicon Valley towards being more oriented towards salesmanship, presentation, lifestyle competition and media and towards an increased appeal to grasping / greed motivated and streetwise personality types. More towards people oriented (not necessarily bad) and status oriented (not necessarily bad) types. Certain people will want in, after a while.

174 Engineer November 19, 2014 at 8:19 am

> At the same time, they seem to do less and less actual work, and more graphic design and media.

Relatedly, companies like Uber and WhatsApp aren’t about cutting-edge tech like Google, Microsoft, and Apple were supposedly, but rather about capturing the users of emerging cultural trends and business models.

175 bb November 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

Ultimate blame:

Lack of brown and female due to households, worldwide in fact, not buying their kids computers as the ultimate toy.

Kids, especially those who grew up in the 80’s to 90’s had a PC to horse around with if they were male.

176 Jason Smith November 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I see that African countries are left off his roll-call.

“To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions.”

In systematic discrimination, there’s a pattern of who’s kept out, not who’s allowed in. Sure, it may be “diverse” in the sense of various white ethnicities or religions, but that definition of diversity is not orthogonal to “discriminatory”. So in that sense, diversity does not disprove discrimination.

177 li zhi November 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

“talent” = code word for willing and able to work 70 hrs/wk.
Rather than talking about annual salary, lets get real and talk about compensation PER HOUR. 140,000 dollars isn’t so great if its for 74 hrs x 52 wks a year.
If its true (IDK, is it?) that most code must be written by teams due to the complexity and size, then permanent part-timers with plenty of experience would seem to make obvious candidates. Of course, then you’d need competent managers able to understand the team dynamics…
There is a lot of framing and selection bias here, a lot.

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