Month: September 2019

Writing 03: Diversity, Codes of Conduct

Today, there is a push for greater diversity across society, whether in regards to race, gender, sexuality, or other marginalized groups. This is happening at all levels of society, be it in the media we consume or the industries we work in. So it should come as no surprise that our community is receiving this push as well. Some people question the validity of this push, but it is obvious that a welcoming atmosphere, diversity, and inclusivity in the computing and technology community is important, and it is good that the current lack thereof is starting to be addressed. This is a moral imperative, make no mistake.

I believe the most important steps to achieving a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community in computing and technology is to simply bring those diverse people into the community. The distance felt by those who feel isolated in the community is mitigated if they can see someone like them in the computer science. As several of my classmates shared this week, when you are a minority trying to make your way into a field, you definitely have been supported by those minorities who came before you. Once you add a few members who have been marginalized into the community, they will passionately fight so that in the future people will not have to overcome the same discrimination they faced.

Another extremely important part to creating an inclusive community in the computing and technology community is to work to eliminate stereotypes. Ideas like girls being less equipped to code due to being “more emotional” or the idea that any minority in a workplace was selected to fill a diversity quota, not due to their merit and ability, are harmful and contribute to the lack of diversity in computer science. It is important to work to eliminate this ignorance, but I am less optimistic about the computer science community being able to successfully tackle this issue. The problem is that these ideas are more deeply ingrained in culture, so you cannot fix this entirely within the community. Not to say there is nothing that can be done, just that this is a broader cultural issue that must be addressed outside the community for permanent change.

Switching gears a bit, there seems to be a bit of a growing idea that speaking in a “PC” manner in the tech community is censorship, that it violates free speech. They look at James Damore as a martyr of some sort. First, I would note that many of the people referring to it as censorship ignore that there were no legal repercussions for Damore (in fact he is in the midst of a lawsuit against Google). James was allowed to say what he wanted, just as Google was allowed to fire him for violating their Code of Conduct. Damore chose to circulate this memo internally at Google. If he had chosen a different avenue to share his same ideas, like a public forum,  I do not think he would have been fired, since these actions would then be taking place outside the workplace. Either way, he did share them on an internal mailing list, and Google rightfully fired him for it.

Writing02: Employment

My experience with the hiring process in the Computer Science industry has been hit-or-miss. My first two years of college, I failed to obtain any internship over the summer. After not getting anything after my first year of school I was not really worried, as I had been told it was rare for first years to get internships. Applying to internships sophomore year felt a lot better, as I now had actual programming knowledge and could market myself. Plus, many companies interviewed me or gave me coding challenges, so I knew that I was advancing through the process and learning about how they filtered for candidates. But despite moving farther in the process, I still received no offers. And after not getting an internship sophomore year, I started sweating a bit.

Luckily, this past year I got an internship offer for the summer. I found this opportunity at the Winter Career Fair, speaking to two previous Notre Dame alumni that were there to represent MoreSteam. I spoke with them, gave them a resume, and planned on applying Friday evening. To my surprise, they invited me to schedule a first round email Friday morning before I even applied. I had a single non-technical interview, and they sent me an offer soon afterwards which I accepted.

I had a wonderful internship, the people were great and the work was satisfying. But while I enjoyed the result of my search, examining the process it seems very disjointed. Sophomore year and junior year, I applied to a huge number of companies, and it was only junior year that I received a few offers. And beyond that, only one of the companies that made me an offer tested my technical skill in any way. So looking at how hiring is done within the industry, it seems strange because every company has its own criteria.

Looking broadly across the field, general trends emerge. Just as with most other industries, the hiring process hugely relies on networking. This already stacks the game in favor of those with the means to attend these events and to be seen as a desirable candidate. Due to the bias that comes with relying on networking, the hiring process cannot be seen as truly ethical, though this is a problem that most will encounter regardless of what career they pursue. Despite this reliance on networking, there are some technical tests that often happen during the hiring process, “coding challenges”. These often have little relevance to what you would actually work on, but the idea is that it will show your skill at programming and preparedness for the interview. Though the industry is rife with these ineffective practices, technical companies still seem to be hiring everyone they need to. So I would say that while the hiring process is not the most efficient, it seems to be effective. And really, as we read earlier this week, there is no perfect process to hire anybody, so these inefficient ways will never be completely rectified. My hope is that the industry will shift towards a process that is less biased towards those with money and connections.

Writing 01: Identity

When asked what my identity is, I often have to pause and think. Which identity are we talking about? Are we referring to the identity created by social factors? Then I am a cis-gendered straight white male. Are we referring to the identity that sounds like a personality? In that case I am loud, friendly family man from a small-town. But this dichotomy is deceptive because everyone has multiple identities and everyone has one identity. An important concept when it comes to topics of identity is that of intersectionality. One’s identity does not come from looking at all of their identities in isolation, but rather looking at how each identity (male, white, straight, etc.) combines and intersects to define a person. So while I am a man, I am also a white man (and so on and so forth), and each of these definitions carries with it a bit more meaning.

Identity is a strange mix of what you are born with and personal choice. By this I mean that certain aspects of your identity, such as your ethnicity, are not up to your decision. But other parts of your identity, such as your profession, are determined by your own personal choices. Most of the big social markers that we think about, like sexuality, are those that we are given. Which makes it all the more unfair considering the world at large places great value on these traits. But remember, you are also defined by the identity you choose for yourself. While you people will always see and define you by factors beyond your control, people will also see and define you by your own chosen identifiers. Your personal identity intersects with your social identity.

Looking at my own social identity it is easy to see that I have the most privileged combination of all major factors, save for class. This greatly impacts both how I see the world and how the world sees me. All my life I have been shielded from prejudice and steeped in privilege; the world has been exceptionally forgiving of my errors. When I made a mistake, it was taken as a misstep on a path to high achievement, as opposed to an indication of some greater failing. Due to how kindly the world has treated me, I definitely see the world in a softer light. But because I can see that this kindness was also born out of my privilege, I know that I must turn a critical eye to the world. I must call out injustice and inequality in the world, and I must use the power that I possess due to my privilege to help rectify these wrongs. I have seen what a good life is like and I am optimistic that one day this will not be a privileged life, it will be the standard. But if you take one look around the world, you know that we are centuries away from this dream. One day, however, I believe it will be a reality.