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Where are all the black coders? 

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The number of African-Americans employed by technology companies is woefully low — not a single tech company in Silicon Valley has more than seven-percent of African Americans in their total workforce as of 2014, the total averages around two-percent. It's easy to get lost in the numbers and data, but for me, the most intriguing question is why?

One of the factors that makes recruiting African-Americans to the tech industry is that they are not introduced to computer literacy early enough in their education. It has nothing to do with intellectual aptitude and has much more to do with culture. Black people use technology just as much anyone else, but how and what they use can reveal much. For instance, black and Latino households access the net by cellphone much more than desktop or laptop computers. In light of those numbers, some are saying that cell phones are closing the digital divide. A counter point could be that blacks and Latinos may be more cellphone-dependent when it comes to Internet access because they may not own desktops or laptops. It’s not far-fetched to say that users accessing the Internet via mobile devices aren't running any engineering or database application analysis software on those devices.

To become proficient at anything it takes practice, however, the interest and desire has to be there as well. Computer sciences, like any other discipline, requires a lot of time and effort, and there’s no shortcut to put someone in front of the line without them learning to master at least a baseline skill set. Underrepresented students are trying, but there are more hurdles.

Statistics show evidence of a higher average of black people majoring in computer science than the average number represented in the workforce.

Even though nine-percent of African-Americans receive computer science degrees, they only represent one-percent of the total workforce in companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Google. USA Today reported the top universities graduate twice the amount of minority students that companies hire.

Many African Americans take support jobs in those companies such as administrative and logistic positions, and black students are usually not in the network where companies typically recruit — UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, UCLAS and MIT. Meanwhile the large number of blacks and Hispanics that graduate from other elite computer science departments like Howard and Hampton.

Successful students, I'm talking about those that majored in computer science and moved on to successful careers in Silicon Valley, have coding since they were in elementary school. They were students who were exposed to technology early, and maintained interest throughout high school.

Computer technology was their sports, their girlfriends, and video games. Coding and hacking was very prominent on their list of things they really liked to do. By the time they graduated from high school they have 8 to 10 years experience working extensively with computers, compared to many African American students who are not introduced to it until they attend college.

Howard University, with one of the best computer science programs among historically black colleges and universities, rarely has students that started coding before college.

Part of the solutions is teaching computer literacy as soon as students go to school — I’m talking pre-school. Touchscreen technology has opened the world of computer science to children at one- or two-years-old, we need to take advantage of that. By learning the history of technology at an early age, students will get a deeper understanding of technology and may be able to think more creatively after learning the nature of technology and this could convert them from consumers to creators. Teachers and parents need to press politicians to support funding technology resources so all students can decide at an early whether or not a career in computer science is for them.

There are people out there who could have been excellent musicians, writers or engineers — the only reason they're not is because they lacked the opportunity and resources to explore their potential in those things. With our world’s continued reliance on computers, we can’t afford to continue in this direction without a renewed focus on early education, that is, we can't without suffering the global and national consequences of falling behind the rest of the world in computer science technology. We cannot afford to overlook large portions of society that have so much to offer our nation anymore.


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