— This is Part 1 of Load Impact’s Velocity NY Preview Series. Load Impact is chatting with some of the cutting-edge developers and executives who will be speaking at Velocity NY Oct. 12-14.
Bryan Liles of DigitalOcean isn’t looking to solve the diversity and inclusion problem in tech, but he knows he can leave the industry better than he found it.
Bryan’s Velocity keynote, The Darker Side of Tech, will explore the cognitive biases that prevent people from trying new software or new development processes and hiring from a more diverse pool of employees and executives.
“People’s biases are not allowing them to see the problems they are causing,” Bryan said. “It’s not just about diversity — it’s about inclusion.”
The problem of inclusion in tech (and many other industries) is systemic in the United States. It started with hundreds of years of people not getting opportunities based on race, religion and economic standing.
Bryan’s presentation at Velocity will relate operating system bias to racial bias — not something people might expect — but it makes perfect sense after brief examination.
As an example of how bias can hinder technical progress, Bryan will point to the genesis of Linux and how decision-makers’ bias blinded them from something amazing for years. While its beginnings are traced back to 1991, it took nearly two decades for many mainstream companies to understand the power and security of Linux and implement it.
As Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research said in 2010, “Linux has crossed the chasm into mainstream adoption.”
But why did it take so long for people to see the light on Linux, and how will Bryan compare that to inclusion in tech?
“People only know what they know, and we’re missing out on extremely smart people when our biases get in the way,” Bryan said.
So, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about adopting Linux or hiring someone from an “urban” area with a “black” or “ethnic” name. Either way, decision-makers hurt their company by not giving every option and candidate a fair chance to succeed — even if they don’t know they’re doing it.
One of the barriers Bryan has encountered when giving this kind of presentation is it can make people uncomfortable, which is somewhat understandable. However, he knows that’s not a good reason to shy away from talking about it. Bryan’s seen plenty of people shuffle for the door when he’s started to make points about inclusion in previous talks, and that doesn’t help anybody.
“Whenever I’m saying this, I’m not saying that you personally are a racist,” Bryan said. “I’m saying the people who benefit from this aren’t doing enough to make it better.”
One of the promising things we’re seeing is technology has become more available for a wider demographic, and Bryan noted that can help break down some of the barriers people have to entering the tech industry.
Even then, it’s important to consider that schools like Stanford, MIT and Carnegie Mellon are incredibly expensive and still aren’t reasonably available for everyone. So, the deep roots of the problem will take time to remove.
Bryan is adamant that a couple of keynotes and editorials aren’t going to fix the problem, but again, he doesn’t want us to “solve” anything right now.
“All we need to think about is a bunch of little wins,” he said. “If we can make it better for this guy, or this girl, and they can pay it forward, we’ll be better off than we once were, and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
“I just want to leave the things I touched better off than how I found them.”