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C'est la Z

Tech Jobs, Diversity, and Equity in the wake of the Amazon/NYC debacle

I was planning on either following up on how I use GitHub classroom or commenting on the recent NY Times opinion piece on the College Board but the follow up, fall out, and polarization from the Amazon NY thing has been stuck in my head so I thought I'd write a bit more about it.

Like my previous post, this isn't really about Amazon but rather about the long game, equity, and diversity and how a lot of people are fooling themselves.

It's interesting that the communities I'm in are fairly polarized - my pure tech world frients are big time upset that the deal fell through while my pure educator friends, particularly the public school ones, are really happy things worked out the way they did.

The big disappointment from the tech side revolves largely around the jobs lost. Lots of tech jobs no longer coming fast and furious. The problem is, who's going to fill them. We've been hearing for years that there's a tech talent problem. Every company at every meetup seems to say "oh, and we're hiring," Google's expanding as are, as far as I can tell, most of the other tech giants in the city. How can both be true? If we need those new jobs now then there must be a glut of tech people clamoring for employment. If indeed talent is hard to find, how will NY be able to fill this new need.

We all know the answer - import them. Companies that can have and will go to the "elite" institutions around the country and try to recruit the talent to NY. At the end of the day the politicians can look and say "behold, I have taken this slum and transformed it into a paradise" and that might technically be true. Problem is that they did it by further marginalizing and displacing those already on the fringes.

It's hard to see. When I was younger - before I was deeply immersed in public education all I saw was the gentrification - look the neighborhood has gotten better. Now I understand the cost. I'm reminded of Hofstadter's GEB where the anteater is friends with Aunt Hillary - an ant colony and in fact was an ant surgeon. He "healed" the colony through strategic amputations. The colony remained healthy but at the cost of the individuals who didn't make the cut.

The only way all these high paying tech jobs are going to come from NY if NY can generate them and the truth is, right now, we can't.

Colleges nation wide are dealing with capacity issues. At least one dropped its CS minor - arguably more valuable than a CS major for may students. Stories abound on how hard it is to attract faculty and in NYC we also have to deal with real estate issues. At Hunter, we can't just plop down a new building for CS even if we did have the money.

This of course is not just a capacity issue but also a diversity and equity one and too many players are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Some tech players are making an honest effort to deal with diversity and equity in a meaningful way, too many aren't. I was recently speaking with a friend at a big tech company. I was pitching him on supporting what I'm building at Hunter. He said he really wanted to help but his companies diversity plan, once you stripped away the shiny paint was poaching from FANG (or is it FAAMG) companies. The other thing I see is recruiting exclusively at "elite" private schools and trying to grab as many "underserved" candidates as possible. A third strategy involves counting everyone on your team for diversity counts even if many of them aren't really tech. Of course the elite colleges play the same game. When you've got an incoming class of let's say 2000 and you've got 10 times that many applicants with 4.0 GPAs and perfect test scores you can shape your class however you want but it's a zero sum game and doesn't provide opportunity for the masses..

If we want to solve these issues we have to deal with K12 and if that's the case it's going to take at least 6 years maybe considerably more before we really see results and that's assuming we fix the college capacity issues.

This brings me to CS for all. I'm a big believer in CS for All and I've dedicated a lot of time and energy on bringing quality CS education to the have nots but CS for All might not be the answer. First, many of us believe that it's not about turning everyone into a software engineer. True, by exposing everyone to CS we'll get a larger pool working towards that end but the intent isn't or at least shouldn't be as a feeder into the tech industry.

A bigger problem is ensuring that we indeed have quality CS for All for all and that's a real concern. Looking over the landscape here's what I'm seeing. Rich, well heeled schools are finding those few really knowledgeable CS teachers and many of the poor schools are getting quick and dirty training on some generic APCS-Principals class. Dedicated hard working teachers who want to do a great job but aren't being given the time and resources to really learn CS and CS pedagogy. Now APCS-P can be a strong class or a weak one but in many cases by going for the quick fix with a scripted class and then saying "we're done" is condemning those kids to sub standard CS. Even if some do take CS1 in college my guess many will be underprepared and many will drop. Even with a good APCS-P, the fact that no one is paying attention to the complete pipeline and the transition from High School to College and through the major will mean that we're going to lose many of the kids along the way.

The answer? Good pre-service programs will help - that's why I'm so bullish on the program we're developing at Hunter. A bad preservice program, however - one that is based on "you take it you teach it" won't prepare our teachers to prepare our kids. Even then, we're not going to really solve the problem until we deal with little things like, oh, you know, poverty.

I might sound pessimistic. Maybe I am but it doesn't change anything. I'm going to do my best to affect positive change in whatever circles I can be they large or small and many others are doing the same.

All those jobs that aren't coming to NY? They'd have been filled before any sensible fix to our NYC Tech pipeline problem yields fruit anyway and would likely have displaced the current fringe population rather than uplift them.

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