With qualified People of Color

Kumi Walker tweeted:

What a joke: Behind Silicon Valley's Self-Critical Tone on Diversity, a Lack of Progress http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/new-diversity-reports-show-the-same-old-results/ cc/ @cbracy

And he's right!

There are no excuses for failure to improve the diversity in high tech companies. None!

The platitudes of "we're trying" and "the pipeline sucks, so we're victims" is bullshit. These are companies that "disrupt" and use "social networking" to get the job (and the revenues) done. They should use the same tools to recruit a diverse workforce that they use to generate revenue: data mining and social networking.

A plan for Detroit

My mom grew up in Detroit. She lived near 7 Mile and Gratiot in a house without hot water (depression era). A few years ago, when I was taking my kids to Michigan to meet family, I started looking at my mom's old neighborhood on Google Streetview and the prices on the houses in Zillow... and I got really depressed. I could buy a whole block of houses in my mom's neighborhood with the balance in my checking account.

But then I said, "there has to be a way to fix this!" And I started working on a plan.

Cheap coders

There are a ton of off-shore, cheap coders. Many offshore locations offer coders for around $25/hr. These coders do HTML and CSS and JavaScript. Given the sales and overhead, etc. it's likely that the people doing the actual work are being paid about $10/hr.

So, I asked myself, "is it possible to create a Detroit-based 'body shop' of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript coders and compete with folks from India and China and the Ukraine?" I think the answer is "yes."

Not difficult

Most of the concepts behind HTML and CSS and JavaScript are not hard. These are concepts that middle schoolers and high schoolers teach themselves. No, not everybody has a brain wired for these technologies, but the distribution of smart kids in Detroit is not materially different from the distribution of smart kids in San Francisco, Beijing, or anywhere else. So, if we can find the smart kids, we can teach them the core skills they need.


How do you find the smart kids?

First, there's likely to be some machine learning stuff that Twitter and Facebook can do to data mine for likely candidates. Kids and young adults in Detroit are social networking with the rest of the world. Mine the data for kids who are like the kids from San Francisco and Boston who succeed in tech.

Second, do some feet on the street. Make $1,000 donations to local Detroit public schools and churches and ask the math teachers and preachers for a list of the smart kids... the bright kids... the kids that might be rebels... the kids who are like the kids who grew up to make their marks on Silicon Valley.

Once there's a list of 1,000 or so kids, you have a base from which you can recruit.

The Offer

There are three pieces to an offer you make to the potential candidates: short term, medium term, and long term.

Short Term

The short term offer is something that should make the candidate excited about participating. Basically, offer the candidates a 3 month training program in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They get paid $10/hr. The program is in a city near Detroit, but far enough away that the social influences of the program are stronger than the social influences of the neighborhood. Maybe do the training in Ann Arbor or some other reasonably cool city. Provide child care. Provide health care. Provide meals and lodging. Provide transport back to Detroit on the weekends.

From the training program, we can determine which candidates have the technical and social skills to service clients writing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Also, the training program should teach the primary technical concepts (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), secondary technical concepts (GitHub, Slack/HipChat/Flowdock), and the social concepts/norms reflect the working environments at Twitter and Facebook.

Medium Term

The medium term offer is employment doing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The candidates get paid $15/hr plus get full health care, childcare, and out of the office support.

What is "out of the office support"? There's a whole industry in Detroit designed to prey on low income folks. It's check cashing services. It's corner stores with 50%+ markup over similar items at grocery stores. It's landlords and banks that nail people with fees and other mechanisms to grabs a few extra dollars from them. Out of the office support means:

  • A local bank or credit union that's consumer friendly and never charges fees and issues every employee a debit card
  • A legal revue service for leases and other contracts to make sure the employees get an even deal
  • Recruiting grocery stores and gas stations and coffee shops and other businesses to locate near the office so employees have a fair place to shop
  • An onsite laundromat so folks can do laundry while they're working

Supporting employees has many benefits... but the most important one is to keep their head in the game. If they are focused on doing work rather than getting screwed by their landlord or the logistics (finding time, not getting their clothes stolen, etc.) of doing laundry, etc. means employees that can focus on demonstrating their skills and making clients happy.

Long Term

After a year, the super-star employees will be visible. Maybe some of these super-stars branch off and start their own competing companies (hey, worked for Intel.) But it's also a great "farm team" for Twitter and Facebook and others to find solid talent that can be imported to Silicon Valley and help make Silicon Valley more diverse.

The long term offer to employees is either a great job in Detroit or a great job in Silicon Valley.

Cycle of Success

Creating an environment where the early candidate/employees are successful will breed on itself. The program will be something that high school kids want to get into. The program will create a competitive environment where spin-outs and knock-offs and ecosystems are created. Getting it right for the first two years means a self-sustaining, self-funding mechanism for tech recruiting out of Detroit.

We have seen similar things. Y-Combinator was successful and has bred a whole host of incubators and the like.

This program will cost about $10K per candidate. If 50% of the candidates are succeed at becoming employees and sticking around for 1 year, that's $5K/head for recruiting. If 10% of the employees move to Silicon Valley, then the recruiting cost is about $50K/head for diverse, proven employees at Twitter or Facebook or the like. $50K/head is in line with current recruiting costs.

Can we do something positive about diversity in Silicon Valley?

Yes, yes we can.

The above is just one example. For a $20M investment in Detroit, it's possible to create a pipeline of black men and women for Twitter and Facebook within 2 years.

Can we think about how to discover, recruit, train, and filter other under-represented people from around the country and around the world? Yes.

So, let's start disrupting the traditional mechanisms for tech recruiting.